5 Stunning European Lakes Everyone Must See

Discover Unforgettable Lakeside Holidays in Europe

  • 10th March 2024
  • 10 min read

Europe is brimming with breathtaking natural beauty, and one of the best ways to immerse yourself in it is to head off the beaten path and explore some of its most stunning lakes. There’s nothing more romantic than the sight of a shimmering lake, reflecting some of the continent’s finest fairytale architecture by day and millions of glinting stars by night. From the crystal-clear waters of Plitvice Lakes in Croatia to the dramatic landscapes of Lake Como in Italy, there's no shortage of options for nature lovers.

So, wash off your worries and let your troubles float away with these five stunning European lakes everyone must visit at least one!

Lake Annecy in France

When considering a holiday to Lake Annecy, timing is everything. The summer months, from June to August, offer the warmest weather and a flurry of activities, making it the peak season for tourists. If you're looking to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more tranquil visit, consider travelling in the shoulder seasons—spring (April to June) or autumn (September to November)—when the weather is still pleasant, and the natural beauty of the area takes on a different hue.

Lake Annecy is well-connected, with the nearest major airport located in Geneva, Switzerland, just 45 minutes away by car. Upon arrival, renting a car is a convenient option for those wanting to explore the lake's surroundings at their own pace. However, the lake is also accessible by public transport; buses and trains run regularly from Geneva and other nearby cities.

Accommodation options around Lake Annecy range from luxury lakeside resorts to cosy Airbnb rentals, catering to all tastes and budgets. For those interested in water sports or leisure activities, many places offer equipment rentals for kayaking, paddleboarding, and sailing. Likewise, cyclists and hikers can take advantage of the many trails that encircle the lake and wind through the adjacent Alps.

A visit to Lake Annecy wouldn't be complete without indulging in the local cuisine. The region is famous for its fresh fish from the lake, Savoie cheeses, and classic French dishes. Discovering the local gastronomy by dining in waterfront restaurants or visiting the markets in Annecy's Old Town will add an authentic taste of France to your trip.

For a truly unforgettable experience, ensure you spend time exploring both the natural wonders around the lake and the historic charm of Annecy itself. Whether you're drawn to outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or simply the pleasure of lounging by crystal-clear waters, Lake Annecy promises a holiday that combines relaxation with discovery.

Lake Annecy, France

Lake Orta in Italy

A visit to Lake Orta, situated in Italy's picturesque Piedmont region, promises a serene retreat away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. This charming lake, lesser-known compared to its larger neighbours, offers a tranquil setting perfect for those looking to relax and soak in the natural beauty. The lake's shores are dotted with quaint villages, each boasting its unique character and stories.

For history enthusiasts, the medieval village of Orta San Giulio is a must-visit. Here, cobbled streets wind their way towards the main square, offering breathtaking views of the island of San Giulio. This island, reachable by a short boat ride, is home to the Basilica of San Giulio, dating back to the 4th century. It's a serene place for reflection and exploring ancient frescoes and architecture.

Nature lovers will find the Sacro Monte di Orta, a UNESCO World Heritage site, an intriguing visit. With its twenty chapels depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi, set amidst lush forested hills, it offers both spiritual and visual nourishment.

For those looking to indulge in local cuisine, Lake Orta does not disappoint. The region is famous for its fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Enjoy leisurely lunches by the lake, tasting dishes prepared with fish from its waters, accompanied by fine wines from the Piedmont vineyards.

Whether it's strolling through ancient villages, exploring sacred sites, or simply enjoying the tranquillity of the lake, Lake Orta offers a perfect blend of relaxation, culture, and natural beauty. This hidden gem is waiting to be discovered, promising an unforgettable holiday experience that combines the best of Italian charm and idyllic landscapes.

Lake Orta, Italy

Lake Ohrid between Macedonia and Albania

Straddling the border between North Macedonia and Albania, Lake Ohrid is not only one of Europe's deepest and oldest lakes, but it's also a place where history and natural beauty converge, offering a truly unique holiday experience. Renowned for its crystal-clear waters and stunning biodiversity, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a sanctuary of peace and beauty that captivates both nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

When in Ohrid, make sure to explore the ancient city of Ohrid itself, often referred to as the "Jerusalem of the Balkans" for its once-possessed 365 churches. Today, it's a treasure trove of cultural heritage, with its well-preserved medieval architecture, amphitheatre, and the iconic Church of St. John at Kaneo, perched on a cliff overlooking the lake, offering magnificent views, especially at sunset.

For a closer look at Ohrid's natural wonders, a boat trip across the lake reveals secluded beaches, pristine waters, and the unique phenomenon of the springs of St. Naum, where the crystal-clear waters bubble up from the depths of the lake. Additionally, the lake's surrounding national parks are perfect for hiking, offering trails that meander through dense forests teeming with diverse flora and fauna.

Beyond its scenic allure, Lake Ohrid boasts a vibrant culture with festivals throughout the year, showcasing traditional music, dance, and crafts. The Ohrid Summer Festival is a particular highlight, drawing artists and performers from across the globe. Culinary adventurers will also delight in the local cuisine, featuring freshly caught fish from the lake, traditional Macedonian dishes, and world-renowned wines.

A holiday to Lake Ohrid promises an unforgettable blend of relaxation, exploration, and cultural immersion. Whether you're meandering through historic towns, swimming in the balmy waters, or enjoying a lake-side meal under the stars, Lake Ohrid offers a slice of paradise for every traveler.

Lake Ohrid, Republic of Macedonia

Lake Hallstatt in Austria

Set against the backdrop of the Dachstein Alps, Lake Hallstatt in Austria is a picturesque destination that epitomises the serene beauty of the Austrian landscape. This UNESCO World Heritage site, with its crystal-clear waters and charming village, offers a tranquil retreat for those seeking both relaxation and adventure. Visitors can explore the ancient salt mines, considered to be the oldest in the world, offering a fascinating glimpse into Hallstatt's mining history that dates back thousands of years.

For those interested in culture and history, the Hallstatt Museum provides insights into the area's past with artifacts that tell the story of the region's development. Meanwhile, the quaint streets of Hallstatt are lined with colourful houses, inviting cafes, and boutiques, perfect for an afternoon stroll.

Adventure seekers will be delighted with the array of activities available, from boating and fishing in the lake to hiking and cycling in the surrounding mountains. The Dachstein Ice Caves are a must-visit, offering awe-inspiring views of ice formations and underground landscapes.

Dining in Hallstatt means savouring local cuisine, with restaurants serving dishes featuring trout from the lake, alongside Austrian classics. Whether it's enjoying a meal with a view of the lake or discovering the cultural treasures of the village, Lake Hallstatt provides an idyllic setting for a memorable holiday that blends natural beauty, history, and culinary delights.

Lake Hallstatt, Austria

Lake Lugano in Switzerland

Whether you're seeking a tranquil escape or an outdoor adventure, Lake Lugano in Switzerland offers a perfect blend of both. Nestled at the heart of Europe, this stunning lake, flanked by picturesque mountains, provides a unique mix of Swiss sophistication and Mediterranean flair.

For those planning a holiday to Lake Lugano, there are a plethora of activities and experiences to enjoy. Begin your adventure in the city of Lugano itself, where lush parks, elegant buildings, and vibrant piazzas set the stage for a delightful exploration. Take a leisurely stroll along the lake promenade or venture into the heart of the city to discover art galleries, museums, and chic boutiques.

Adventure enthusiasts will find plenty to do, from mountain biking and hiking on Monte Brè or Monte San Salvatore, to indulging in water sports on the lake. Take a cable car to the top of either mountain for breathtaking views that stretch across the Swiss Alps and the Italian border.

Culinary delights await, with local cuisine reflecting the perfect blend of Italian influence and Swiss quality. Enjoy dining at lakeside restaurants, where you can sample traditional dishes such as risotto, paired with exquisite local wines.

For a day trip, the Swissminiatur in Melide is an enchanting attraction that showcases miniature replicas of famous Swiss buildings and landmarks – a delightful experience for all ages.

Finally, no visit to Lake Lugano would be complete without a cruise on the lake itself. Take in the majestic scenery, dotted with opulent villas and lush gardens, from the comfort of a boat. It's the ideal way to experience the serene beauty and elegance that Lake Lugano has to offer.

Whether you're marveling at its scenic landscapes, enjoying the local cuisine, or exploring its charming towns, Lake Lugano promises an unforgettable holiday experience, combining the best of nature, culture, and relaxation.

Lake Lugano, Switzerland

Remember, every good trip requires some planning. Before you embark on your European lakeside vacation, be sure to secure your travel insurance. With Compare Your Travel Insurance, rest assured that you're covered. Browse our site to find travel tips, guides, and of course, a wide array of travel insurance options tailored to your needs.

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Tommy Lloyd
Author: Tommy Lloyd, Managing Director

Tommy has over 15 years experience within the insurance industry, and his primary focus is helping travellers find the right cover at the right price!

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