There is a wide variety of beautiful lakes in Europe, ranging from rugged, fjord-like lakes in northern Scotland to scenic waterfall-like lakes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and from mountain-lined, icy lakes to endless, flat expanses of water surrounded by dense forests. But ask most travelers about Europe, and Lake Garda in Italy, Lake Geneva between France and Switzerland, and Lake Bled in Slovenia seem to be the best known and most visited.
That is why I have gathered here a collection of lakes that are not so well-known but equally beautiful, varied and for various reasons worth a detour or a longer stay nearby. There are some names that you will instantly recognize but may not have considered a worthwhile destination in their own right, while others may be quite new to you.
Here are my personal favorite and not so well known lakes to visit in Europe, and the reasons I recommend them.
1. Lake Zurich
Let’s start with one lake that you will surely have heard of: Lake Zurich. Lake Zurich stretches from Zurich about 40 miles into the landscape with a width of about 2 miles, and meanders past some of the world’s most expensive real estate, villages and islands. This lake is a beauty best explored by boat.
There are regular ferries that you can hop on to take you to the pretty medieval town of Rapperswil-Jona, with its sturdy castle, pretty marina and the annual Blues and Jazz festival. You can take themed cruises on the lake or take tourist trips, which have the advantage of providing you with interesting information about the area and its history.
Pro tip: Lake Zurich has some of the cleanest and clearest waters in Europe, so if you happen to be in the area during the summer, take a dip in one of the many public baths along the coast near Zurich.
2. Lac Inferior
A stone’s throw from the center of Paris and on the other side of the Peripherique, the busy ring road, lies a piece of countryside, one of the two ‘lungs’ of Paris: the Bois de Boulogne. This vast forest, park and piece of nature is part of the 16e arrondissement and offers a wonderful break from the city with its many hiking trails.
This is where Parisians walk their dogs on weekends, and one of the most beautiful walks – a loop of about 40 minutes – is once around the Lac Inferieur. It is no longer inferior, but simply the lower of two man-made lakes, the other of which is Lac Superieur. Surrounded by mature trees that come to their fullest in the fall when the leaves change color, the lake is a haven for birdlife and waterfowl, and you can rent rowing boats to splash around.
Pro tip: In the middle of the lake are two islands, on one of which is an excellent restaurant, Le Chalet des Isles, which can be reached by ferry. Especially in summer the terrace is enchanting.
3. Lake Constance
I first came into contact with Lake Constance, or the Lake Constance as we call it in German, when my mother took me on summer vacation. This lake is well known to Germans, but foreign visitors tend to forego the more famous examples like the Starnberger See or the Chiemsee. However, in my opinion Lake Constance has so much to offer – such as great swimming and water sports – and is big enough for decent sailing.
Lake Constance is even the largest lake in Germany. The beautiful towns of Meersburg and Lindau and the flower island of Mainau, bordering not only Germany, but also Austria and Switzerland, are must-see attractions not to be missed, as is the nearby Rhein Falls in Switzerland, one of Europe’s most spectacular waterfalls .
Pro tip: While exploring, head to the Kunsthaus Bregenz in neighboring Austria for some fantastic temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.
And while we’re on the subject of Austria, that’s another country dotted with crystal clear mountain lakes where each one is more beautiful than the other. My personal favorite is the Mondsee, or “Moon Lake”, 27 miles from the beautiful city of Salzburg. I first visited in the summer, and it was a hot one. The water of the lake glistened in the light, crystal clear as if fresh from a bottle of mineral water. I will never forget to run in the lake and then immediately run out again. It was So cold!
Fed by streams tumbling down from the surrounding snow-capped alpine mountains, the water is as fresh as it freezes. Ironically, I later discovered that the Mondsee is said to be one of the warmest lakes in Austria, actually known for its warm waters. I think everything is relative. I ended up going for a swim, and it was lovely. It just took some getting used to.
Pro tip: Stay a few nights in Mondsee Town, known for its old abbey and recognizable by The sound of music fans in front of Mondsee Cathedral, where Maria and Captain von Trapp were married.
5. Lake Como
If it’s good enough for George Clooney then you really can’t go wrong with this northern Italian lake, right? Often people descend on Lake Garda, the largest of the northern Italian lakes, or on Lake Maggiore with the world-famous Hotel Eden Roc, but I agree with Mr Clooney: Lake Como is simply beautiful, and if I could afford an Italian villa, I would like to be his neighbor.
Tiny villages nestle on the coast, next to villas most of us can only dream of, with palm-fringed gardens and their own private docks. While there are less touristy sites, the ones that are there are spectacular. For example, the beautiful basilica of Sant’Abbondio, which dates back to the 5e century CE, or the ruins of Forte di Fuentes are worth seeing.
Pro tip: This is an elegant part of the world that begs to be explored in style. Book a lake cruise with these sleek water taxis, don some big sunglasses and a great hat, and go ahead, pick your dream villa.
6. Plitvice Lakes
This is a magical, natural wonderland like no other. The Plitvice National Park, the largest and oldest in Croatia, is simply dotted with lakes and waterfalls. Covering some 30,000 hectares, this national park is not only full of natural beauty, from forests and rock formations to rivers, streams, lakes and waterfalls, but is also home to wild bears, wolves and countless other species of flora and fauna, making it becomes a wild gem.
To truly appreciate the natural beauty, take plenty of time to stroll through the park along designated paths and walkways, and don’t forget your camera. The park is beautiful in all seasons, with the foliage of the trees spectacular in the fall, as is the young greenery in the spring, and in the summer the watery landscape is refreshing and soothing. In winter, when the snow is covered, it is truly magical. The choice is yours.
Pro tip: Accommodation near the park is fairly basic, with camping and farm stays very popular. But there are a few hotels with many amenities nearby, such as the 16 Lakes Hotel.
7. The Lake District
Okay, this is a bit of cheating, but to pick a favorite of the 16 glacial lakes that make up the Lake District in Cumbria, North West England is very difficult. Spanning 912 square miles, the region is known for its quaint villages, such as Ambleside, Keswick, Kendal or Hawkshead; for poet William Wordsworth, who waxed lyrical about the tranquil setting and sights he enjoyed during his walks; and because it’s one of England’s best areas to explore on walking tours – all because of a breathtaking natural environment dotted with stunningly beautiful lakes.
Lake Windermere is arguably the most popular and thus busiest of them all, but that also means it’s the one with the most accommodation options around. It is a perfect base from which to explore further and see the other lakes as well.
Pro tip: To give yourself a break from hiking, why not embark on a little steam train adventure? Not such a small adventure, more like a train, but still fun.
8. Loch Awe
There are an incredible 30,000+ lochs to discover in the Scottish Highlands that everyone has heard of: Loch Ness. Lochs may look like lochs, and some are indeed almost completely surrounded by land, but they are in fact arms of the sea, fjords, stretching inland, getting sweeter the further inland they get.
Best enjoyed on a great UK road trip, Scotland is a vast, rugged country with so many natural wonders to see that it is highly advisable to take your time. There are so many lakes, and many of them have a castle or three nearby. As is the beautiful Loch Awe, with its picturesque 13 . Innes Chonnel Castlee century, the reflection of which in the calm water is breathtaking.
Pro tip: This largely freshwater lake is located northwest of Glasgow and can be used as a gateway to the Hebrides Islands.
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