There are few things as truly magnificent as a beautiful lake. Oceans, rivers, waterfalls and deltas all hold their own unique appeal, but lakes are what the word ‘tranquil’ was invented for. These vast stretches of landlocked water used to be the epicentre of life throughout the ancient European landscape, and today remain one of its largest attractions. Here are the European lakes that make us want to get on a one-way flight to Europe.
Did you know? There is a term for people who love lakes; they are called limnophiles.
1. Lake Geneva (France & Switzerland)
Lake Geneva straddles the border between France and Switzerland, with the world-famous Rhone River as its main estuary. Known to the French as Lac Léman or Lac de Genève, the Italians as Lago Lemano or Lago di Ginevra, Lake Geneva is just about as versatile as its many names suggest. From powdery slopes that are perfect for skiing and zipline adventures over breath-taking scenery, to indulgent spa treatments and antique shopping along its stunning shoreline, there is something for everyone to enjoy throughout high season and low.
2. Lake Bled (Slovenia)
Lake Bled in the Eastern European country of Slovenia is what every little girl imagines her eventual fairy tale kingdom to look like. Picture it – a little white church perches on an island in the middle of an emerald-green glacier lake, overlooked by a castle at the foothills of the imposing Julian Alps. That’s the stuff that early Disney animations were made of! In fact, parts of The Chronicles of Narnia were filmed in the Slovenian countryside and it’s easy to see why. The lakeside town of Bled is relatively small, but nevertheless extremely popular with locals and tourists who go there to picnic along the shore, paddle in traditional pletna botes, and stroll along the walking and horse carriage trails that encircle it. A must-see on your trip of the capital of Ljubljana, which is an easy train ride away.
3. Lakes of Killarney (Ireland)
The Lakes of Killarney include Lough Leane (Lower Lake), Muckross Lake (Middle Lake) and Upper Lake that make up approximately 24% of the total area of Killarney National Park – a protected area that is home to astonishing native woodlands, rare fauna and flora and historic sites that date back all the way to the dawning of the Bronze Age. In fact, Ross Island on Lough Leane is the auspicious site of one of the oldest copper mines in all of northwestern Europe and there are ruins of a 7th-century monastery on Innisfallen Island on Lough Leane. This is also where the ‘Annals of Innisfallen’, rare and treasured records of Ireland’s early history, were written.
4. Lake Garda (Italy)
Lake Garda is the biggest lake in Italy and an internationally famous holiday destination that has inspired artists of all persuasions for centuries. The region surrounding this expansive lake is vast and offers a superb variety of leisure options – from charming villages and places of historical interest, to windsurfing, hang-gliding, sought-after MTB routes and the world-famous Gardaland Amusement Park. It also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous. If you ever make your way to Lake Garda, make sure that your camera is fully charged so you can take home some awesome shots of the lakeside castles and pastel-coloured houses that can be found along its shores.
Related: Lake Como is an easy 2-3 hour drive from Lake Garda. Read more about things to do in and around Lake Como.
5. Windermere Lake (England)
Taking the official title of England’s largest lake, Windermere is situated in the celebrated Lake District. With picturesque villages like Ambleside, Waterhead, Bowness-on-Windermere, Lakeside and Windermere along its shoreline, the lake is extremely popular with UK residents and visitors alike. Here you’ll encounter Britain’s finest scenery, greenest countryside and grandest views. Windermere also has a long and illustrious history as an important waterway for ancient industries – the Romans built their GALAVA for at Waterhead due to its pivotal role in their economy. These days it is a popular destination for boating pursuits of all sorts, as well as adventure activities that range from abseiling and archery to caving, climbing, canoeing, fishing and paragliding.
6. Loch Tummel (Scotland)
Loch Tummel in Perthshire, a wee bit west of Pitlochry, is a particularly beautiful lake, surrounded by Scotland’s Big Tree Country. This verdant neck of the woods is renowned for its spectacular leaf changes and very popular with walkers, runners and cyclists from all around the world who come here to enjoy the magnificent waymarked trails. There are various vantage points from which to view the loch and the mystical, heather-covered mountain of Schiehallion that flanks it, the most popular of which is Queens View – a well-appointed lookout that has its own tearoom, forest shop and visitors’ amenities.
Related: Find out what iconic Scottish destinations we’re talking about.
7. Plitvice Lakes (Croatia)
The Plitvice Lakes in Croatia form part of the Plitvice Lakes National Park and are comprised of no less than sixteen crystalline lakes that tumble into one another via a series of waterfalls and cascades. Visitors can explore the scenic bounty by means of 18km of wooden footbridges and pathways that inch along the water’s edge and stretch fearlessly across the tumbling waters.
8. Lake Hallstatt (Hallstättersee) (Austria)
Situated in Austria’s Salzkammergut region, made up of tree-covered mountains and storybook villages, Lake Hallstatt (known as Hallstättersee in German) is popular for scuba diving, scenic cruises and fishing. The surrounding landscape is also a much-loved hiking, cycling and paragliding destination due to its pristine beauty and dramatic cliffside scenery. The area’s rich history and long-standing culture and traditions – Celtic tribes had already settled here more than 4000 years ago – lead to the lakeside town of Hallstatt being named a UNESCO World Heritage site, which should be of some interest to history buffs.
9. Lake Brienz & Lake Thun (Switzerland)
The twin lakes of Brienz and Thun in Switzerland are a veritable water-based playground. Think turquoise waters and cool breezes at the foot of Alpine peaks that are covered in snow all year round – in short, the ultimate adventure sport and leisure destination. Join a laid-back cruise along mysterious lakeside castles and picture-perfect fishing villages or get that adrenaline pumping with a SUP tour, jet boat ride, wakeboarding excursion, water-skiing or family fun kayaking session.
Top Tip: If you’re there in wintertime, see if you can squeeze in a night sled to really make the most of your Switzerland adventure!
10. Lake Saimaa (Finland)
If it is absolute quiet and serenity you’re after, Lake Saimaa in Finland should be at the top of your travel list. Made famous by artists like Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Eero Järnefelt, the deep green forests and shimmering lakes of the Finnish Lakelands are protected by several national parks that offer the awe-inspiring experience of communing with nature in its most pristine state, alongside modern information centres and amenities – making it the perfect destination for extended walking trips or kayak excursions. Linked by numerous straits and dotted with islands, the sheltered waters of Saimaa are tailormade for kayaking, with guest harbours and small campsites within easy reach and gorgeous scenery all around.
With such an abundance of natural beauty just waiting to be explored, it’s easy to understand why Europe’s various lake districts are so popular with visitors from around the globe. Surrounding yourself with such pristine beauty makes for a wonderfully restorative travel experience. Here’s to superbly scenic adventures and lakeside revelry!