It’s important to have a healthy amount of respect for the Aare and inform yourself about the possible risks beforehand. Swimming in the Aare is recommended for experienced swimmers only. The Swiss Lifesaving Society SLRG and the City of Bern provide (vitally) important tips for everyone who spends time in and on the Aare.
But before we get to the important questions, here’s our love letter to the Aare.
#1 The Longest River
With a length of 288 kilometers, the Aare is the longest river to run entirely within Switzerland. Along its route it encounters numerous villages and towns, and winds its way through a wide variety of impressive landscapes. The Aare river rises in the Lower and Upper Aar glaciers of the Bernese Oberland, then crosses the three cantons of Bern, Solothurn and Aargau as well as four lakes (Lakes Brienz, Thun, Wohlen and Biel). Its route north comes to an end in Koblenz, where it enters the Rhine.
#2 “17 Ways to Bridge the Gap”
17 bridges span the Aare river in the city of Bern (not including railway and highway bridges). The oldest of these, and one of the oldest bridges in Switzerland, is the stone Untertorbrücke (Untertor bridge), which connects the Matte district with Altenberg and was completed in 1487. The first version of the Untertorbrücke was made of wood and crossed the Aare from 1256 onwards, before being washed away in a flood. Until the first high-level bridges were built in the 19th century, the Untertorbrücke was the only pedestrian and vehicle route across the Aare river into the city of Bern.
#3 Aare River Temperatures
In 2018, the Aare river broke its own record: on 4 August, the water temperature rose above the previous record of 23.5 °C and reached its highest level since 1970. The Aare remained warm longest in 2016, when it was still 20°C on 14 September. In 2007, on the other hand, the water temperature never rose above 18.63 °C, which meant that swimming in the river was especially refreshing that year. The river's temperature reaches its lowest point in February, with an average of 5.35 °C. The thermometer has never gone below 2.62 °C. By the way: the water temperature is influenced by the temperature of the air, the discharge rate, the intensity of the sunlight, and the wind over Lake Thun, which, depending on its intensity and direction, causes water circulation. The measurements are carried out by the BAFU (Federal Office for the Environment) at the Schönausteg bridge between Marzili and Eichholz. And the Aare obviously has its own app for looking up its temperature: aare.guru.
Current Temperature of the Aare River
#4 Aare Rafting World Record
The world record for Aare river rafting was set in Bern in 2012, when a total of 1,268 people simultaneously drifted down the Aare river on rubber boats, from Kiesen to Eichholz. The entire operation was initiated by the online leisure portal Gonnado, and the total number of participants exceeded the previous year's record by 54 people.
It is important to treat the Aare with respect and find out more about the dangers before you swim. Swimming in the Aare is only recommended for experienced swimmers and is at your own risk.
The floodplains along the Aare river are particularly sensitive ecosystems. As a result, almost the entire river landscape between Thun and Bern is protected. We ask all those who stay around or on the Aare river to respect nature, not to leave any rubbish or disturb the animals unnecessarily.
Since 1986, the SLRG (Swiss Lifesaving Society) has organized the traditional “Zibeleschwümme” (Onion Swim) on the fourth Sunday in November, shortly before the traditional “Zibelemärit” (Onion Market). Around 100 colorfully dressed swimmers dare to take part, with water temperatures in the ice-cold Aare river reaching a maximum 6 °C. After a good swim, the intrepid water rats warm themselves up to the sounds of carnival “Guggen music”, hot tea, and soup. The route begins at Schönausteg and covers a total of 350 meters.
Some people can’t live without a dip in the Aare river, even at freezing temperatures. This is why the so-called “Gfrörli Club” meets twice a week from November to April for the winterly swim in the river at Altenbergsteg. These intrepid swimmers cannot stay away from the Aare, even when the water temperature drops to between 3 and 10 °C. They soon warm up with a hot cup of tea. The “Gfrörlis”, as the club members are known, swear by the stimulating effect and the feeling of happiness that they feel after the icy dip. We say “brrr” and raise our hat to this amazing achievement.
Watch the Video
#7 Switzerland’s Intangible Cultural Heritage
Since 2017, swimming in the Aare river has been on UNESCO’s list of living traditions and is therefore part of Switzerland’s intangible cultural heritage. The Swiss Federal Office of Culture decides which activities are classified as “living traditions”. The list reflects Switzerland’s cultural diversity and has been actively maintained and expanded since 2012.
#8 Marzilibahn Funicular
At just 105 meters long, the “Marzilibahn” is the shortest public funicular railway in Switzerland. It connects the Marzili district next to the Aare river with the Parliament Building and the city center of Bern. It was launched in 1885, and was powered by water until 1973. At the summit station, one tank under the cabin was filled with water from the city stream. Due to its weight, the carriage heading down pulled up the carriage waiting below, along with its passengers. Today, electricity powers the funicular up its 31 meters of altitude.
#9 Bernese “Dog Days”
In Europe, hot summer days are commonly referred to as “Hundstage” (dog days). In Bern this is taken literally. Because it’s not just people who cool off in the refreshing water of the Aare river, but their faithful four-legged friends are often seen taking a dip: dogs with life jackets, dogs with surfboards and dogs on piggyback... It’s a perfect dog’s life!
#10 Bernese Art Of Living
The people of Bern are known to embrace the art of taking it easy, a cliché that was scientifically proven in 2012. According to an ETH study conducted that same year, Bern’s residents cover an average distance of 1,354 meters per second when walking, compared to 1,422 meters per second for their neighbors in Zürich. Extrapolated to the minute, this means that Zürich’s residents cover an extra 5,3 meters per minute than their counterparts in the Federal City. The reason for this difference is the famous Bernese motto: “Nume nid gschprängt!” (take it easy). Rumor has it that this is why Bernese people like to swim in the Aare – so that they can get ahead a bit quicker.
#11 Exceptional Water Quality
If you accidentally swallow some water while swimming in the Aare river there’s no need for alarm: The Aare has excellent water quality. This has been confirmed by water samples, which ranked the Aare river in the EU’s “excellent quality” category in 2016. Thirsty throats can also make use of the more than 100 wells in Bern’s Old Town, which are a source of fresh drinking water.
#12 Famous Fish in the Lorraine River Bath
Plenty of fish can be found splashing around in the Lorraine river bath: They enter the pool from the Aare via the sluice. There are perch, pike and carp, amongst others, (the latter can actually live for up to 40 years!). But don’t worry, the fish don’t bite and prefer to keep out of the swimmers’ way. We suspect that they are secret foodies, as the Lorraine Bad is known to have the best fries in town. The fish are probably aware of this hot tip too, and hope to catch tasty treats as they fall into the water. We can’t blame them for that! Our tip: If you want to watch the pike as they hunt, look out for these predatory fish in the back of the pool early in the morning or in the evening.
About fish: Even catfish cavort in the Aare – and what catfish! In the summer of 2017, a 1.95-meter-long, 50-kilogram colossus was fished out of the river. It was released back into the water and might still be found splashing around in the Aare river.
#13 Aare Loop – Floating in Circles
In the mood for something new? If you already know the route between Eichholz and Marzili like the back of your hand, we have something to recommend to you. Once you pass the Lorraine river bath, the Aare flows on to the Felsenau and makes a loop around the Bremgarten peninsula. Whether swimming or floating on a raft, the small sand beach at Restaurant Zehndermätteli offers the perfect spot to enter the Aare river. And now here it is: After a 20-minute ride (duration depends on water level and current) you will reach a 200-meter long pedestrian tunnel. Only five minutes by foot to reach the starting point!
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