Beat the Heat in Basel This Summer

To an outsider, the name Switzerland conjures up images of snow-covered mountains, skiing, St. Bernard dogs with barrels of whisky dangling from their neck rescuing snow-stranded hikers, and the like. Until you live here, it is hard to imagine how hot Switzerland can get in the summer, especially in the more southern parts like Ticino, where the sight of palm trees is not uncommon, or in low-lying areas like Basel. While the average daily temperature is around 28ºC (82ºF) in the summer months, the daily highs can be well into the 30s (90s in Fahrenheit) for days or even weeks at a time—and often no air conditioning in sight!

Our relationship with the warm season is quite ambivalent—we wait for it all winter, but as soon as it arrives, we do everything to escape it! In Switzerland, there are many ways to beat the heat when the temperatures soar, even if air conditioning is not nearly as prevalent as in many other countries. Traveling to the higher elevations in the Alps, where daily temperatures can be 10–15 degrees less than in Basel, is a nice way to enjoy outdoor activities with gorgeous views in more comfortable daytime weather and cooler night temperatures for a more comfortable night’s sleep. But even when you find yourself in Basel over the summer there are numerous ways to stay cool. The obvious one is to go to a local swimming pool or take a dip in the Rhein or even in one of Basel’s large public fountains (see our post and But there are other things you can do to stay cool during the dog days of summer!

Keep Your Body Cool

Before you think about fans, ice buckets, and the like, start by keeping your own body cool. Wear loose-fitting clothes made of thin fabrics and, if possible, open-toed shoes. Eat light food and only in small portions at a time. Above all, get plenty to drink—not beer or fancy alcoholic drinks with umbrellas (this will have the opposite effect), but preferably the high-quality drinking water that comes straight out of Basel’s taps. A fan aimed at your body is cooling because it blows away the warm layer of air that lies like a thin envelope directly over our skin (because our bodies are constantly releasing heat and moisture) and replaces it with cooler and drier air (cooling by convection). It also facilitates the evaporation of sweat, which improves our perspiration—which is the body’s natural way of protecting itself from overheating. A quick shower before bed to remove the salt and oils from your skin is wonderfully refreshing, and on those sweltering nights, going to sleep with a wet facecloth (small towel) on your chest is better than any air conditioner!

Keep Your Apartment Cool

The best way to keep your apartment cool, especially if you live in an old building, is to keep it as dark as possible during the day. Those metal roll blinds are ideal for this purpose. Keeping a fan running creates air flow, which helps to keep the rooms at a comfortable level, without the need for expensive, energy-guzzling air conditioning units that are a real burden to the environment. However, the motor of a fan produces heat; therefore, it is best to turn off the fan when no one is directly benefitting from its airflow. Ceiling fans also have a cooling effect as long as the fan blades are at least 2.3 meters from the floor. Air coolers/fans that include humidity or water mist to cool are more effective than an ordinary fan, provided that they are aimed directly at the body and that the room temperature is warm and dry; they are not effective when the air humidity is 60% or higher. In Switzerland, fixed air conditioners require a building permit to install. Mobile air conditioners are freely available but require between 1,000 and 2,000 watts of power. While they cool the room air, they produce even more heat that is expelled outside, which contributes to heating the environment much like car traffic and the sun’s heat on the tarred pavement. Moreover, mobile air conditioners consume 20–50 times more energy than your good old-fashioned fans. If you are determined to buy a mobile air conditioner, check the mandatory energy label and be sure to choose one in a “good” energy class, bearing in mind that they all consume a lot of electricity and produce extra heat that is released into the environment precisely when the outside temperature is already very high!

Keep Your Pet Cool

Just like humans, animals can suffer tremendously from the heat. To keep your pet cool, make sure that they have plenty of fresh, cool water to drink and access to shade, especially when outdoors. While dogs don’t sweat, they cool themselves down by panting as well as through their paws and the spaces between their toes. Garden fun with a hose or sprinkler, wetting their feet in a baby pool, or a dip in cool water (there are a couple of dedicated areas where dogs are allowed to go into the Rhein) are all great ways to cool down a dog. Their pads are thicker than the skin on our feet, but they can still get burned on hot pavement; you can determine the risk with this “rule of thumb”—if the ground is too hot to touch with your thumb, it is too hot for your dog’s feet. Therefore, on hot summer days, it is best to walk your dog in the morning before it gets too hot, or in the evening after the sun has set. Long-haired dogs also benefit from a “summer cut,” so talk to your groomer about options. If your dog is panting excessively, has a rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting, staring, or an anxious expression, this can be a sign of a heat stroke that needs immediate attention. It is not normal for a cat to pant, so if your cat is panting, get it into a cool (air conditioned) place and if panting doesn’t cease, to an emergency veterinary hospital.