Shock as Switzerland ranked 17th in Europe for swimming water quality

Shock as Switzerland ranked 17th in Europe for swimming water quality

While swimming in Swiss lakes and rivers is a popular pastime during the summer, a new Europe-wide study has revealed that when it comes to the quality of natural swimming water, the alpine nation finds itself in the mid-table. The report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) noted that while the water quality in Switzerland is not the best, the country cannot rank highly because of its geography.

Bathing water quality improves across Europe, says EEA

To create the study, the EEA analysed the water quality at 21.600 bathing sites across European Union member states, Switzerland and Albania. These included everything from beaches to brackish and fresh-water rivers and lakes. Each nation was then ranked by the percentage of natural bathing spots that were rated as having “excellent water quality” - water with the lowest concentration of bacteria and other pollutants.

In all, the report found that while European waterways have pollutants and bacteria that can threaten the health of swimmers, these risks are “limited” and vary hugely from country to country. They also made the point that in most nations, water quality has improved “significantly” over the past few decades.

Cyprus has the highest quality bathing water

According to the latest data, Cyprus is the country with the highest quality water for swimming. Of the 120 swimming sites analysed in the country, 99,17 percent of them were deemed to have “excellent water quality.” Cyprus was followed by Austria (96,92 percent) and Greece (96,55 percent) on the podium places. In terms of Switzerland’s other neighbours, Germany placed ninth (90,23), Italy nabbed 10th (89,56) and France found itself in 21st (75,91).

By contrast, Poland was found to have the worst swimming water, with only 55,93 percent of its 708 swimming spots rated as having excellent quality water. It was followed by Slovakia (59,38), Hungary (63,08), Estonia (64,62), Albania (67,23) and Sweden (74,84), with the Netherlands rounding out the bottom seven with 75 percent.

Switzerland ranked a dismal 17th for swimming water quality

With only 78 percent of bathing water ranked as excellent, Switzerland found itself in a quite surprising and somewhat dismal 17th place out of 29. This places the alpine nation below the continental average of 81,7 percent.

In all, of the 196 bathing spots analysed in Switzerland, 153 were classed as having excellent water quality, 13 (6,6 percent) were rated as good, two (1 percent) were considered to be "sufficient" and six locations (3,1 percent) were rated as having "poor quality" bathing water. The remaining 22 could not be classified because of a lack of samples or lack of consistent data.

However, before we march on Bern and demand the government do something about it, the EEA explained that the reason for Switzerland’s poor score is largely down to its lack of oceans. "The quality of coastal bathing waters is generally better than that of rivers and lakes,” experts noted, explaining that oceans have a greater capacity to clean themselves, unlike slow-flowing rivers and lakes.

Lack of oceans sees Switzerland score suffer

“Furthermore, many inland bathing waters in central Europe (like Switzerland) are located in relatively small lakes and ponds, as well as in slow-flowing rivers. Especially in summer, these inland waters are more sensitive than coastal areas to short-term pollution caused by heavy rains or summer droughts,” the EEA concluded. 

However, it must be noted that while this does let Switzerland off the hook, the EEA's explanation does make Austria’s score - the only landlocked nation in the top 10 - all the more impressive.

10 best EU nations for swimming water quality

In all, here are the 10 EU countries with the highest quality bathing water (by the percentage of bathing spots with excellent water quality).

  1. Cyprus (99,17)
  2. Austria (96,92)
  3. Greece (96,55)
  4. Croatia (95,62)
  5. Denmark (94,32)
  6. Malta (94,25)
  7. Bulgaria (92,71)
  8. Romania (92)
  9. Germany (90,23)
  10. Italy (89,56)

For more information, and to see how other nations fared on the list, check out the official study.

Thumb image credit: Michele Vacchiano /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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