The 10 Best Lakes in Europe

Europe often attracts visitors looking for experiences that focus on the continent’s long and illustrious history, its rich cultural centers, and its amazing attractions. However, there’s a relatively underrated travel aspect of Europe that we want to show some love -- its beautiful lakes. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best European lakes and what makes them so in the hopes that it will inspire your next vacation. 

1. Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Lake Lucern at the Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern/Oyster

Lake Lucern at the Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern/Oyster 

Lake Lucerne is the fourth largest lake in Switzerland and notably one of the most beautiful. Named after the city of Lucerne, it sits between two mountains and beautifully reflects the sky across the 44 square miles of its reflective surface. The lake is known for having some of the most diverse scenic landscapes in the country and is popular with tourists. Historically, Lake Lucerne holds some significance to Switzerland, too. A meadow above the lake was the spot where the foundation of the Swiss Confederations was laid out in 1291. 

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2. Lake Garda, Itay

Zen Garden at the Lefay Resort And Spa Lago di Garda/Oyster

Zen Garden at the Lefay Resort And Spa Lago di Garda/Oyster 

Seven percent of all of Italy’s tourists have Lake Garda on their itinerary. It’s the largest lake in Italy, with a Mediterranean climate in the beautiful northern hills and mountains. Lake Garda is characterized by clear blue waters and lovely olive trees, lemon groves, and cypresses, attracting plenty of tourists year-round. Sailing, windsurfing, and diving are especially popular here, as are activities surrounding the lake like mountain climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and paragliding. Sirmione, on the south side of the lake, is a popular historic tourist destination, with beloved attractions like the Grotte di Catulo. Riva del Garda and Garda are other often-visited towns on the lake. 

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3. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Leon Yaakov/Flickr

Leon Yaakov/Flickr

A trip to Croatia is not complete without seeing the Plitvice Lakes. Over thousands of years, the water at these lakes flowed over limestone and chalk to create an area filled with beautiful turquoise lakes, waterfalls, and caves, all of which is surrounded by beautiful forests. Today, the lakes are part of a national park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is open year-round to visitors and offers plenty of diverse hiking trails and views of the gorgeous lakes. 

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4. Lake Annecy, France

Lake view at the L'Imperial Palace/Oyster

Lake view at the L'Imperial Palace/Oyster

For the last 50 years, the French communities around Lake Annecy have worked to clean the water. And their efforts have worked, making it the purest quality of water in all of Europe. Located at an altitude of nearly 1,500 feet, the transparent green and blue waters of Lake Annecy are overlooked by the Tournette Mountain and forests. Water activities are plentiful here -- skiing, wakeboarding, swimming, and diving. Annecy is the most popular town on the lake and is known as the “Venice of the Alps” due to its canals, which are fed by the lake itself.   

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5. Loch Ness, Scotland

wilm/Flickr

wilm/Flickr

You're probably familiar with this lake due to the legend of Nessie. However, there’s much more to Loch Ness than the creature that may or may not live in its watery depths. Loch Ness is a freshwater lake in the Scottish Highlands. Boating trips are popular here, taking visitors from one town to the next, or to many of the famous attractions along the lake’s edge, such as Urquhart Castle. Fishing, sailing, and canoeing are popular, too. When choosing a place to stay nearby, Inverness is the most cosmopolitan city, with just enough historic elements to keep visitors entertained. 

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6. Lake Geneva

The Chambre Prestige Lac Room at the Hotel President Wilson, Geneva/Oyster

The Chambre Prestige Lac Room at the Hotel President Wilson, Geneva/Oyster

Lake Geneva sits on the north side of the Alps between France and Switzerland, making it easy for ferries to move tourists from one country to the next. Geneva is the most significant city on the Switzerland side of Lake Geneva -- it's an international and cultural hub. Thonon-les-Baines draws most tourists on the French side of the lake. As for lake activities, there’s tons to do on the largest body of water of France and Switzerland. There’s a 124-mile bike route around the lake which is popular with cyclists. It also boasts 116 public beaches, which are great spots for swimming between June and September. 

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7. Hallstatter See, Austria

The Double Room with Lake View at the Heritage Hotel Hallstatt/Oyster

The Double Room with Lake View at the Heritage Hotel Hallstatt/Oyster

Hallstatter See is one of the best-known lakes in Austria, as well as in Europe, for that matter. Hallstatter See and the town of Hallstatt both fall under the Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut Alpine UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hallstatter See sits just north of the Dachstein mountain range, creating a beautiful scene that draws tourists to the lovely beaches and picturesque historic towns along the lake. Here, travelers will find activities like scuba diving, boating, and sailing, though it’s a bit chilly for swimming, even in the summer. In the winter, the lake freezes over, which doesn’t seem to stop fishermen from setting up lines through the ice.    

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8. Windermere, England

View at the Macdonald Old England Hotel & Spa/Oyster

View at the Macdonald Old England Hotel & Spa/Oyster

Windermere is England’s largest lake at 10.5 miles long and 219 feet deep. The lake is surrounded by mountains and small towns, making it perfect for lake cruises and boating trips. Canoeing, fishing, kayaking, and sailing are other favorite past times on the lake. Bowness-on-Windermere attracts most visitors to the lake, and has an adorable attraction -- The World of Beatrix Potter, which commemorates Beatrix Potter, author of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit."

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9. Lake Bled, Slovenia

The Suite with Lake View at the Vila Bled/Oyster

The Suite with Lake View at the Vila Bled/Oyster

With emerald green waters, it’s no wonder that Lake Bled is a popular tourist destination in Slovenia. It’s home to the only island in Slovenia, which tourists can visit on traditional "pletna" boats manned by standing rowers. Once on the island, visit the small church and ring the bell -- it's an act that legend says will make your wishes come true. However, there’s more to Lake Bled beyond the island. There’s a beautiful castle along the shores, Bled Castle, and a trail that leads to the tallest mountain in Slovenia, Mt. Triglav. When tourists aren’t hiking along the lake, biking, or enjoying water sports, they’re digging into the Bled Cream Cake, a popular dessert of the Lake Bled communities.

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10. Lake Como, Italy

The Gran Lago Suite at the Hotel Villa Flori/Oyster

The Gran Lago Suite at the Hotel Villa Flori/Oyster

Set against the foothills of the Alps, Lake Como is well known for its historic villas and ancient towns along the coast. Today, it draws an upscale crowd to towns like Como, Bellagio, and Tremezzo for a lake holiday. Most villas along the lake are private, though tourists can find some public villas to tour, like Villa Carlotta, once the home of a 17th-century marquis. It’s easy to get between the towns on Lake Como by ferry. Sandy beaches aren’t plentiful around the lake, though many lakefront hotels offer direct access with docks that lead out into the water. 

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