This is a guest post kindly contributed by Lily Meyers.
Europe is an incredible continent that’s full of natural wonders. However, an often-overlooked gem is its collection of beautiful lakes.
This post is all about my favourite lakes in Europe. I’ll explore what makes them so special and why you should experience them first-hand.
Some of these lakes are popular tourist destinations. Others are more off the beaten path. All are absolutely gorgeous and have attracted travellers from all corners of the globe for centuries.
Top 17 Best Lakes in Europe
A profound sense of tranquillity comes with being near water, and the “Great Lakes of Europe” offer that feeling in abundance.
Let’s dive in.
Lake Geneva, Switzerland & France
Straddling the border between Switzerland and France, Lake Geneva, or Lac Léman as the locals call it, stands out as one of Europe’s most iconic lakes.
Lake Geneva is one of the largest lakes in Europe. It’s about 73 km long and holds approximately 89 cubic km of water!
The lake is a popular location for sailing, and the Tour du Lac is a notable sailing event that navigates the circumference of the lake. Its pristine shores also support a thriving freshwater fishing industry.
Many believe that this lake offers some of the most captivating waterside views in the world. Indeed, gazing at the snow-dusted Jura Alps from the lakeside towns of Montreux and Vevey is an experience like no other.
While winter temperatures around the lake remain relatively mild, more dramatic weather patterns are seen in the adjacent mountainous areas.
Summer, on the other hand, welcomes a flurry of music festivals and art events, especially in the lakeside city of Lausanne.
Switzerland’s fourth largest city (after Zurich, Geneva, and Basel), Lausanne is a haven for artists, athletes, and adventure seekers alike.
With its picturesque lakeside setting on the north shore of Lake Geneva, Lausanne combines modern culture with Swiss heritage.
Lausanne is also home to a vibrant population, with over 30% of its residents attending one of the city’s three universities or other educational institutions.
Fun fact: T.S. Eliot wrote The Wasteland from a psychiatric hospital in Lausanne. Lake Geneva also served as the inspiration for several famous literary works, including Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The Prisoner of Chillon by Lord Byron.
Best places to stay near Lake Geneva
Alex says: I’ve visited Lake Geneva many times – both as a kid and an adult – and am still blown away by how beautiful it is.
Lake Balaton, Hungary
Lake Balaton’s waters, nourished by the Zala River, are a sight to behold. The lake features shallow depths in the south and deeper sections to the north.
However, the marvels of this region aren’t limited to the water. The surrounding areas are adorned with quaint villages, delightful towns, and expansive vineyards.
For foodies, the lake is also a hub of gastronomic delights. The hilly terrain around Lake Balaton also boasts some of Hungary’s premier vineyards and is an ideal spot to indulge in some of the delicious local wines.
Fun fact: Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe, covering an area of 229 square miles (592 square km) and stretching 48 miles (77 km) along the southern edge of the Bakony Mountains.
Best places to stay near Lake Balaton
Lake Garda, Italy
Lake Garda stands as one of Italy’s most breathtaking natural wonders, with its crystal clear blue waters framed by a backdrop of majestic mountains.
Its northern boundaries are fringed by rocky cliffs, while the southern expanse boasts gentle slopes adorned with citrus groves and olive orchards.
The name “Garda,” derived from the Middle Ages, was inspired by the protective rocks that fortify its northern shores, resembling a fortress.
The ancient Romans called it Benacus and associated it with Neptune, the god of water and the seas. Even today, you can sometimes hear it fondly referred to as “Benaco”.
Fun fact: Lake Garda straddles three Italian regions: Veneto, Lombardy, and Trentino Alto Adige.
Best places to stay near Lake Garda
Loch Ness, Scotland
A stark contrast to Italy’s sun-kissed landscapes, Loch Ness, located just a few miles southwest of Inverness, isn’t just a mere body of water. This famous lake features heavily in Scottish history, folklore, traditional music, and culture.
Of course, you can’t talk about Loch Ness without mentioning the enigmatic Loch Ness Monster — affectionately named Nessie. Encountering its mystique can be genuinely heart-stirring!
But Loch Ness’s allure goes beyond legends. It invites visitors to immerse themselves in the area’s rich history and cultural tapestry, take leisurely walks along its banks, and embrace the soul of the Scottish Highlands.
It’s also a great place to base yourself while exploring the various hidden gems in this part of the country.
Fun fact: The most extensive Loch Ness Monster hunt in 50 years took place earlier this year, drawing enthusiasts from all corners of the globe. She eluded them – again.
Best places to stay near Loch Ness
Alex says: Last summer I spent time exploring the southern shores of Loch Ness. It’s much less busy than the northern side – perfect for escaping the bus tours!
Lake Como, Italy
Nestled in the heart of the northern Italian region of Lombardy, Lake Como enjoys a world-class blend of natural elegance and cultural richness. The lake’s shimmering glacial waters, set against the towering Alps, provide a mesmerizing backdrop.
Picture yourself wandering through its quaint lakeside towns, where opulent neoclassical villas and sleek Ferraris epitomize Italian sophistication and opulence.
Or head to the quieter northern end of the lake, home to some beautiful beaches (that are perfect for a dip) and hiking trails amid the spectacular scenery.
Beyond the scenic beauty, Lake Como unfolds a myriad of experiences.
Whether you’re captivated by the vibrant city of Como itself, with its architectural gems and historical narratives, or the vast and serene expanse of water itself, there’s an adventure here waiting for everyone.
With a depth of 425 metres (1,394 feet), Como is the deepest lake in Italy (and the Alps), and one of the deepest lakes in Europe.
Fun Fact: Lake Como is said to house its very own mythical monster, Lario!
Best places to stay near Lake Como
Alex says: I stayed at Agriturismo Nona Rosa (above), at the northern end of Lake Como, last year. It’s owned by a lovely couple and has stunning views of the lake – highly recommended!
Lake Bled, Slovenia
In the picturesque Julian Alps of Slovenia, not far from Triglav National Park, Lake Bled is a beautiful sight to behold. Born from the glacial movements of the Alps some 14,000 years ago, this lake has an unbelievably picturesque natural setting.
The ambiance here is almost ethereal, amplified by the church and other structures perched on a tiny island at its centre, which add a fairy-tale charm to the whole place.
Spanning 145 hectares – 2.1 km in length and 1.4 km in width – Lake Bled is an unmissable destination and a great place to come at any time of year.
During particularly cold winters (usually between January and February), the glacial lake occasionally freezes over, forming a vast icy expanse. When this happens, you can rent ice skates and skate on its surface, or just venture out on foot.
In the warmer months, you can swim in the lake. Or walk around its shores, enjoying the deliciously fresh air, crystal clear waters, swimming swans, and the reflections of castles and churches on the lake’s surface.
Fun fact: Overlooking the lake, a church houses a “wishing bell” from 1534. Positioned high in the rafters, for centuries people have come here to make wishes and other special requests.
Best places to stay near Lake Bled
Alex says: I visited Lake Bled most recently last winter. Even on a cold, cloudy day, it’s still incredibly atmospheric!
Lake Annecy, France
The appeal of Lake Annecy is not just its crystalline waters or its majestic alpine backdrop, but the charming town of Annecy itself.
With its cobbled streets, lively bars, cafes, and pastel-coloured houses lining the winding canals, this chocolate-box town provides a setting that perfectly complements the beauty of its surroundings.
For those inclined towards aquatic adventures, the lake serves up plenty of opportunities for wild swimming, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, wakeboarding, and sailing.
Yet, Lake Annecy also appeals to those who just want to relax and take in the view while admiring the imposing Tournette Mountain which towers over the lake.
Fun fact: Lake Annecy is believed to be the cleanest major lake in Europe. There are environmental regulations governing the area around the lake, making it a perfect spot for swimming.
Best places to stay near Lake Annecy
Alex says: I’ve also swum in Lake Annecy – it really is lovely, and so clean!
Black Lake, Montenegro
Nestled within the Dinaric Alps lies the protected expanse of Durmitor National Park, home to numerous glacial lakes. Among these, the famed Crno Jezero (“the Black Lake”) near Zabljak is truly spectacular.
However, its exceptionally clear and vivid blue-green waters mean that “the Blue Lake” might be more apt.
Durmitor is covered in dense pine forests, with some trees more than 400 years old and reaching heights of up to 50 metres. The park has no fewer than 18 glacial lakes, with the Black Lake being the largest and most beautiful.
Fun fact: The lake was formed around 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, as glaciers receded and left behind a depression that filled with water.
Best places to stay near Black Lake
- Budget: Old Guest House 1964
- Mid-Range: Deluxe Studio & Rooms Zarubica
- High-End/Luxury: Monte Pine Chalets
Dragon Eye Lake, Croatia
Dragon’s Eye Lake in Dalmatia is a natural wonder. This oval-shaped lake, spanning 10,000 square metres, is surrounded by cliffs ranging from 4 to 24 metres in height.
Viewed from above, it really does look like the eye of a dragon. At its centre is a deep blue “pupil”, with a light green “iris” around the edge.
It’s uniquely connected to the ocean through a network of underwater channels and cracks in the limestone, reaching depths of up to 15 meters.
The lake is rich in hydrogen sulphide and other minerals that bubble up from underground. While swimming here is safe, the water temperature increases as you dive deeper.
Occasionally, you may witness the lake ‘boiling’ as salts and hot water rise to the surface.
According to legend, a fearsome dragon called Murin, born of the goddess Hera and the sea god Poseidon, safeguarded the local community from bandits.
However, his protection came at a chilling price: each year, he demanded the most beautiful maiden to be his bride.
I’m sure it comes as no shock, but none of these girls survived their wedding night. What is it with dragons and lakes?
Fun fact: Another myth associated with this location suggests that it’s actually a UFO crash site. Some people claim that every 30 years, aliens try to contact their home planet. This supposedly causes the water to boil and decimates the local fauna and flora.
Best places to stay near Dragon Eye Lake
Lake Hallstatt, Austria
Lying next to its namesake village in Austria, Lake Hallstatt is a true spectacle. Encircled by towering mountains that reach up to 3,000 metres, this picturesque body of water looks like something lifted straight out of a dream, or a fantasy movie.
But it’s not just its striking beauty that sets it apart. Lake Hallstatt is steeped in history, as affirmed by its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
If the sight of human skulls unsettles you, it’s best to avoid a visit to the Beinhaus. Also known as the Bone House, this macabre place is located in the courtyard of St. Michael’s Chapel and houses the skulls of 1,200 former Hallstatt residents.
Fun fact: There’s an exact replica of Hallstatt in China! In 2012, the Chinese mining conglomerate, China Minmetals Corporation, unveiled a full-scale imitation of the entire town in Huizhou, Guangdong province.
Best places to stay near Lake Hallstatt
Alex says: The area around Hallstatt is great for skiing. Krippenstein is my favourite ski resort in the area (it’s also cheaper than many other better-known resorts in Austria!)
Lake Saimaa, Finland
Lake Saimaa, Finland’s crowning aquatic jewel, also enjoys the distinction of being the fourth-largest natural freshwater expanse in Europe.
Spanning a vast 4,400 square kilometers, it shelters an astonishing 14,000 islands.
The sheer number of these islands gives Lake Saimaa a unique appearance, making it seem less like a singular body of water and more like an intricate tapestry of interwoven lakes and channels.
During the warm summer months, the serene lake teems with life as sailboats and motorboats meander from one island to the next.
Fun fact: As winter embraces the region, the lake undergoes a transformation. The once vibrant waterways freeze into a vast icy terrain, turning Lake Saimaa into a mesmerizing winter wonderland.
Best places to stay near Lake Saimaa
- Budget: Studio apartment in Joensuu
- Mid-Range: Lomavouti Cottages
- High-End/Luxury: Lomalehto Cottages
Lake Brienz, Switzerland
With its crystal-clear turquoise waters, Lake Brienz (or Brienzersee) is one of the most picturesque and beloved lakes in Switzerland. Nestled amidst soaring mountains, it’s easy to see why this alpine lake has captured hearts for centuries.
From swimming and boating to hiking and exploring charming towns along its shores, there’s no shortage of things to do at Lake Brienz.
But perhaps the most iconic activity here is taking a ride on the Brienz Rothorn Railway, a historic steam train that winds its way up to the summit of Mount Rothorn.
Fun fact: Lake Brienz boasts an impressive resident population of Arctic Char, a salmonid fish species that can only survive in cold, pristine waters.
Best places to stay near Lake Brienz
Loch Lomond, Scotland
Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater lake by surface area on the island of Great Britain (i.e. the main island of the UK – the one that consists of England, Scotland, and Wales – not Northern Ireland).
It’s found within the iconic Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, and is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience Scotland’s rugged beauty.
Loch Lomond is surrounded by wild mountains and ancient forests. It’s a really special place, tranquil and beautiful.
It’s also surprisingly accessible – less than an hour from Glasgow by car, and just under 2 hours from Edinburgh.
As with Loch Ness, Loch Lomond is also steeped in history and folklore. The traditional Scottish folk song “Loch Lomond” describes the yearning of two Scottish soldiers to return home to the beautiful lake.
Fun fact: Loch Lomond is also home to over 30 islands, each with its own unique history and charm. You can access many of these by boat or kayak for a truly memorable experience.
Best places to stay near Loch Lomond
Also, check out this post on the best luxury lodges in Scotland.
Alex says: As with Loch Ness, in my experience, the “other” side of Loch Lomond (the eastern side) is much quieter and nicer than the side (with the main road) that most people visit.
Lakes of Killarney, Ireland
In the heart of County Kerry, the Lakes of Killarney are an unmissable destination for anyone visiting southwest Ireland.
Consisting of three lakes – Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake – this picturesque area offers breathtaking views at every turn.
Lough Leane is the largest and most well-known of the lakes. It boasts enchanting views of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range and various historic sites such as Ross Castle.
But it’s not just about the beauty and history of these lakes. They also offer a wide array of activities for all ages.
From boat tours to fishing trips, hiking trails to paddleboarding, and even wild swimming for the brave – there’s something for everyone at the Lakes of Killarney.
Fun fact: The Lakes of Killarney are renowned for their ecological richness and biodiversity. They are home to a unique species of trout called the Killarney Shad, as well as to the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel. The surrounding oak woodlands are also some of the most extensive and intact in Ireland, hosting a diverse array of flora and fauna.
Best places to stay near Lakes of Killarney
- Budget: Killarney Glamping at the Grove
- Mid-Range: Loch Lein Country House
- High-End/Luxury: The Europe Hotel & Resort
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
When it comes to unique, fairytale-like natural beauty, few places can rival the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. Comprising 16 lakes interconnected by a series of breathtaking waterfalls, Croatia’s largest national park is a feast for the senses.
You can explore the lakes and falls on designated walking paths and boardwalks, or take a boat tour for a different perspective. The vibrant turquoise waters and lush greenery make this a truly mesmerizing place.
The Plitvice Lakes also have a unique geological makeup. The lakes are formed by natural dams of travertine – a type of limestone made from petrified organic matter – creating constantly changing and evolving landscapes.
Fun fact: With over 1 million visitors each year, Plitvice Lakes is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Croatia. Come early or late in the day for the best experience, minus the crowds. This place is particularly mesmerizing at sunset.
Best places to stay near Plitvice Lakes
Alex says: I was totally blown away by the Plitvice Lakes when I visited them 2 years ago. It looks like something out of a fantasy video game!
Lake Windermere, England
Emblematic of England’s picturesque Lake District, Lake Windermere is the largest natural lake in England and has long been a popular destination.
Surrounded by rolling hills and quaint traditional villages, this serene lake is perfect for leisurely boat trips or tranquil walks along its shores. It’s also a hotspot for water activities such as kayaking, sailing, and paddleboarding.
Lake Windermere has a rich literary history. This lake served as inspiration for many authors, including William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Swallows and Amazons both take place here.
Fun fact: Windermere hosts the Great North Swim, one of the largest open-water swimming events in the UK. Thousands of swimmers plunge into the lake’s waters each year to complete various distance challenges.
Best places to stay near Lake Windermere
Alex says: Windermere is an iconic Lake District destination. If you have time, be sure to visit Buttermere too! It’s one of my favourite spots in the UK.
Lake Lugano, Switzerland & Italy
Finally, no post on the most beautiful lakes in Europe would be complete without mentioning Lake Lugano. Located on the border between Switzerland and Italy, this stunning lake offers a unique blend of Swiss charm and Italian flair.
Surrounded by lush greenery, dramatic mountains, colourful towns, and attractive little villages, Lake Lugano is known for its idyllic scenery and laid-back atmosphere.
Take a leisurely stroll along the promenade, or a boat trip to explore the lake’s charming islands, hidden coves, and picturesque villages.
Fun fact: The area around Lake Lugano is home to numerous hiking trails, offering breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding mountains. One of my favourite hikes is the Olive Tree Trail, which showcases the lake’s Mediterranean character, despite being in the heart of the Alps.
Best places to stay near Lake Lugano
Final Thoughts: Europe’s Best Lakes
These awe-inspiring European lakes warrant a spot on every traveller’s bucket list. Each one possesses its own unique personality and distinct charm.
While I’d never recommend confining yourself to a stringent itinerary when travelling, consider using these destinations as waypoints, beckoning you to explore the abundant natural wonders Europe has to offer.
Let the serene waters and scenic vistas of each lake guide you on a journey through diverse landscapes, rich histories, and vibrant cultures.
In immersing yourself in the beauty of these lakes, you’ll discover more than just picturesque views. You’ll encounter tales of ancient folklore, marvel at geological wonders, and perhaps, uncover hidden gems tucked away in the surrounding regions.
Each lake is an amazing gateway to a wealth of experiences, inviting you to venture off the beaten path and embark on some epic adventures.