From cobalt-blue glacial lakes to inky lochs, Europe is home to some of the world’s most stunning patches of water. Discover Nordic villages, old-world charm, and centuries-old folklores in this dreamy list of the 22 best lakes in Europe.
Loch Ness, near Inverness
Loch Ness is one of the most legendary lakes in Europe thanks to its mysterious resident, the Loch Ness Monster. At this 37km stretch of freshwater, just south of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, discover the medieval ruins of Urquhart Castle and shop for tartan kilts, whisky, and Nessie-themed gifts at the official Loch Ness Centre in Drumnadrochit, on the lake’s west shore.
Listen to folkloric tales of sightings of the elusive monster when you stop off for a ‘wee dram’ in one of the quaint local pubs, such as The Craigdarroch Inn on the lake’s east shore. Foodies will enjoy Lovat restaurant in Fort Augustus, which serves a wonderful Highlands menu showcasing local produce.
Lake Bled, Koper
Flanked by snow-capped mountains and hulking green forests, Slovenia’s teal-hued Lake Bled in Koper is one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe. In the middle of the lake is Bled Island, home to the iconic St Mary’s Church, also known as Our Lady of the Lake.
The fairytale-like Bled Castle, which sits atop a cliff on the north shore, is a must-visit landmark. Take a traditional timber pletna boat to make the pilgrimage to Bled Island or rent a kayak and paddle around the picturesque water.
Lakes of Killarney, near Cork
Off the bracing Wild Atlantic Way near Cork lie the Lakes of Killarney, which combine Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake on the legendary Ring of Kerry. Surrounded by rugged mountains, waterfalls, and outstanding hiking opportunities, the Lakes of Killarney are among the best lakes in Europe.
One of the best things to do with kids in Ireland is to board a kayak and explore the islands within the lake. Visit the ancient Muckross Abbey, Ross Castle, and the nearby Torc Waterfall. And take in stunning lake views from Mangerton Walk starting point, located on the southeast side of the lakes.
Read: Things to Do in Cork
Fire Lake, Azores
Fire Lake was formed following a volcanic eruption in 1563 on the Azorean island of São Miguel, making it one of the most unique places to visit in Europe. Nestled within a volcanic caldera, this stunning blue lagoon is surrounded by lush jungle forests that are reminiscent of Hawaii’s verdant nature.
Soak up the spectacular views from Pico da Barrosa mountain, situated only a short drive from the capital of Ponta Delgada, which offers far-reaching views of the island and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
Lake Mývatn, near Akureyri
Discover the otherworldly Lake Mývatn in the north of Iceland, near Akureyri. Lake Mývatn is home to many coldwater Arctic char, hot springs, and ancient lava caves that are filled with crystal-clear water, such as Grjótagjá.
Pack your bathing suit for a reinvigorating visit to the Mývatn Nature Baths in the town of Reykjahlíð, on the northeast of the lake. Hike the nature trail on Mount Vindbelgur for extraordinary views of northern Iceland’s volcanic landscape.
The Dead Sea, near Jerusalem
At 1,380-feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the place with the lowest elevation on the planet. Landlocked between Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank, this salt-water lake is mineral-rich and attracts thousands of bathers every year because of its healing properties that are said to help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Take a swim, lather the mineral-rich mud on your skin, or lay back and float away in the salty sea of the Dead Sea Resort.
Loen Lake, Olden
At the innermost point of Norway’s Nordfjord, you’ll find the shimmering turquoise waters of Loen Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe.
Jump on the near-vertical Loen Skylift, which claims to be the world’s steepest cable car. It will take you 3,317 feet above sea level to the summit of Mount Hoven, one of the most beautiful mountains in Norway. At the top, enjoy lunch at the sleek restaurant perched atop the cliff that affords the most awe-inspiring views.
Or hop on a kayak and wade through the water while admiring the thick-green forests, misty peaks, and tumbling waterfalls that encircle the lake in Olden.
Read: Best Hiking in Norway
Lake Kournas, Crete
Lake Kournas is the only freshwater lake in Crete. During the summer months, several pristine beaches are formed when the water level is low, making it one of the best destinations in Crete to soak up the sun. Sun loungers and parasols are available to rent for the day. Paddleboats are also on hand, although the lake’s warm water is best enjoyed during a leisurely swim.
There are some wonderful traditional tavernas in the area to try out, as well, where you can dine on grilled sardines and anchovies, red wine-soaked octopus, pork and chicken souvlaki, and marinated eggplant paired with a delicious local wine.
Lake Thingvallavatn, near Reykjavik
Once you’ve explored the must-visit sights in Reykjavik, head inland to Thingvellir National Park and stop by its dramatic volcanic lake, Thingvallavatn. There are some extraordinary natural landmarks on the north shore of the lake, including the Öxarárfoss waterfall and the Silfra dive site, where you can snorkel around the rift that separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Hike up the Hengill volcano passing steaming geothermal hot springs and admire the traditional Icelandic Pingvallakirkja church along the way.
Lake Garda, near Venice
Roughly two hours northwest of Venice, you’ll find Lake Garda, one of Italy’s best. Lake Garda has been beguiling travelers for generations thanks to its wonderful old-world charm, bougainvillea-filled gardens, and chic boutiques.
On balmy summer days, cool off by taking a dip in the calm waters. Explore some of the region’s finest wineries at Bardolino on Lake Garda’s east shore. Or take a relaxing stroll on the waterfront promenade in Riva del Garda at the lake’s northernmost tip.
Lake Windermere, near Liverpool
Located within England’s Lake District National Park, Lake Windermere is the country’s largest natural lake. It’s bordered by forests, quaint villages, and mountains, and is home to some of the best hikes in the UK.
Despite its year-round cool temperature, Lake Windermere’s glassy waters entice wild swimmers to enjoy the lake’s rejuvenating benefits. Explore the town of Bowness-on-Windermere, which is home to The World of Beatrix Potter, and stop by a traditional English pub for a pint and Ploughman’s lunch.
Hornindalsvatn Lake, near Alesund
Around a two-hour scenic drive from the town of Alesund, you’ll find Lake Hornindalsvatn off of Norway’s craggy west coast.
At 1,686 feet, Hornindalsvatn is the deepest lake in Europe. Its depth gives the lake an intense inky hue, which provides the perfect photo backdrop. Board the ferry that has operated there since 1880, which transports passengers across the water, or go kayaking, which is also one of the best ways to soak up the lake’s peaceful ambiance.
Swimming in the lake is an invigorating experience, although you should make sure to pack suitable swimwear. Consider a wetsuit to stay insulated during cooler periods and carry bug spray in the summer months when mosquitoes in the Norwegian Fjords can be bothersome.
Lake of Love, Bruges
Connected to the central network of canals in Bruges, the Lake of Love is a gorgeous spot with a romantic tale. Legend has it that everlasting love will befall couples who cross the lake’s Minnewater Bridge.
Once you’ve soaked up Bruges’ many galleries and museums, walk the cobbled streets around the Lake of Love and the adjacent tree-lined Minnewater Park, where you can take a seat at one of the waterfront cafes and bars for an alfresco lunch.
Read: Things to Do in Bruges
Loch Lomond, near Glasgow
The storied Loch Lomond is Great Britain’s largest lake. Surrounded by green glens and mountains filled with towering conifer forests and Atlantic oakwoods, Loch Lomond is a sight to behold.
Go swimming in Milarrochy Bay or wander to the end of the timber pier in the delightful village of Luss to soak up views of the mighty Ben Lomond, which sits across the lake.
Take a break at one of the cafes or pubs in Balloch, located at the southern tip of the lake. Request a window seat and enjoy the local cuisine at Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond, a popular lakeside-dining destination.
Lake Tolla, Corsica
The sun-drenched Mediterranean island of Corsica is home to the dramatic Prunelli Gorges and the gleaming turquoise water of the manmade Lake Tolla.
From the island’s capital of Ajaccio, the lake is reached via breathtaking mountain roads and hairpin bends. Once you arrive, board a paddleboat, canoe, or kayak, and cool off with a dip in the lake.
Enjoy a bucolic nature hike on the designated trail, soaking up floral scents of the Corsican shrubland along the way, like the Immortelle, a flower in a vivid shade of yellow during the summer, which is used to make essential oils.
Lake Malaren, near Stockholm
The stunning Lake Malaren is a hulking great lake that is home to over 1,000 tiny islands that form part of the Stockholm Archipelago. It’s one of the best lakes in Europe for its secluded beaches and the many hiking trails that weave through the dense Baltic landscape around it.
Discover the ancient city of Birka, a World Heritage Site on the island of Björkö, where eighth-century Viking artifacts were excavated. Enjoy a refreshing lake swim with locals and refuel with a traditional Swedish Fika, a local coffee break with cake.
Lake Tasersuaq, Qaqortoq
The remote Lake Tasersuaq, which translates as “large lake,” is a gem in Greenland’s town of Qaqortoq. The region is a nature lover’s dream, with a rugged landscape that is home to wildflowers and many species of birds.
Once you’ve immersed yourself in Norse culture and admired the colorful colonial-era houses in the area, go on a kayak ride and explore the water. Or hike up the trails around the lake’s perimeter and soak up the views of the incredible Arctic landscape.
Lake Saint Cassien, near Cannes
It’s easy to see why the sapphire-blue Lake Saint Cassien is a favorite spot with locals.
Located an effortless 20-30-minute journey from Cannes, Lake Saint Cassien is popular with swimmers and kayakers. Pedal and rowing boats are available on-site, as are horseback rides with a qualified equestrian guide.
Lake Saint Cassien is a blissful spot to enjoy a leisurely picnic by the water’s edge. If you forget to pack alfresco nibbles, there are some restaurants dotted around the lake. Remember to carry water to stay hydrated.
Lake Bracciano, Rome
Once you’ve explored the city of Rome and its major highlights, like the Colosseum, the Vatican, and climbed the city’s famous Spanish Steps, go off on a day trip and visit the stunning Lake Bracciano.
On a balmy summer’s day, cool off with a dip in the lake. Stop for a frothy cappuccino and visit the Renaissance-style Castle Odescalchi, which is also the venue where Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise got married in 2006.
Read: Three Days in Rome
Lake Djupvatnet, near Geiranger
At 3,333 feet above sea level, Lake Djupvatnet isn’t only one of the best lakes in Europe, it’s also one of the highest.
Located a 30-minute drive from the pretty fjord town of Geiranger, the beautiful Lake Djupvatnet is surrounded by mountains dusted in snow. Hike Mount Dalsnibba, to the north of the lake, for far-reaching views stretching as far as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Geirangerfjord.
Lake Peruća, near Split
Situated on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, one hour away from Split, is Lake Peruća, an idyllic spot flanked by grassy meadows, mountains, and woodlands. Hiking is popular there, as is swimming, fishing, and watersports. Beneath the waters of Peruća, there’s also a submerged church, which dates back to 1935. In 1958, when the lake was created, the Dragovic monastery collapsed and sank into the lake.
Lake Skomakerdiket, near Bergen
The glassy lake of Skomakerdiket is situated not far from the picturesque port city of Bergen. Flanked by lush Nordic forests, the lake has plenty of picturesque spots to stop and admire the view. During the summer, there is also a free canoe rental service.
Lake Skomakerdiket owns bragging rights to some lofty mountain hikes to Fjellhytten, Blåmann, and Mount Rundemanen with views that stretch far beyond Bergen.
Sip on hot chocolate and freshly baked “sveler,” or Norwegian pancakes, at Skomakerstuen cafe.
Now that you know everything about Europe’s best lakes, browse our exciting European cruise itineraries on our website and start planning your next vacation.