20 of the best lakes to visit in Europe: readers' travel tips

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Highland hideaways, glacial lagoons, alpine watersports and lynx-spotting … our readers have tested the waters and know where to stay

Winning tip: Attersee, Austria

The bluest and clearest of the lakes near Salzburg, you can jump into Attersee and enjoy a wonderful dip. Surrounded by the mountains there are numerous walks and hikes, pristine farms and countryside. Seemingly off the tourist route, there are few of the tour groups found at other lakes in the region. The many public bathing areas, such as the one at Unterach am Attersee, provide food, watersports, shade, slides and shallow areas for children.

Marnemoende, Utrecht, The Netherlands

It’s hard to imagine getting closer to nature than sleeping on a lake. We enjoyed a weekend staying in a basic but completely adequate camping raft for two. We were provided with a canoe, which is the only way to reach your bed for the night, and some basic camping equipment. Marnemoende lake is beautiful and is bursting with wildlife. There is a village about an hour away by foot, but otherwise there is just peace and quiet and the most stunning sunrises to wake up to. We stayed with camping-raft.com and it cost less than £150 for the weekend.

Marnemoende, Utrecht, The Netherlands

It’s hard to imagine getting closer to nature than sleeping on a lake. We enjoyed a weekend staying in a basic but completely adequate camping raft for two. We were provided with a canoe, which is the only way to reach your bed for the night, and some basic camping equipment. Marnemoende lake is beautiful and is bursting with wildlife. There is a village about an hour away by foot, but otherwise there is just peace and quiet and the most stunning sunrises to wake up to. We stayed with camping-raft.com and it cost less than £150 for the weekend.

Peruća, Croatia

Until last week I had never heard of Lake Peruća. It is formed by a dam on the Cetina river as it rushes through the karst landscape, its source forming an agate pool that attracts a small number of tourists. They come for the peace, fresh air, clean water, excellent cycling and biking, fishing, unspoilt countryside and local culture. A new campsite on the lakeshore has pitches at €15 a day . The closest town, Vrlika, is overlooked by a fortress.

The Lakeland in Finland isat its most beautiful when you can’t tell where the lake ends and the sky begins. Saimaa is the country’s largest lake, an intricate maze of channels and basins that are home to thousands of islands, a number of which make up Linnansaari national park, where if you’re lucky you may spot one of the few ringed seals left in the wild. This part of the world is cottage country, where Finns retreat to relax. Eight of us rented a log cabin from Hugon Villas, complete with a wood-fired lakeside sauna – to us, that felt like extravagance, but we soon discovered that in Finland they’re as common as an indoor toilet.

Titisee, Black Forest, Germany

We camped right on the water’s edge at Camping Sandbank after just turning up and finding a spot. This site on Lake Titisee (50 scenic minutes on the train from Freiburg) gave us everything we needed for great water-based family camping. The kids spent hours on paddleboards messing around close to shore, and heading for pontoons where they could jump and dive in. The warm, calm water tempted me (a reluctant participant) into swimming across the lake. My reward – an authentic slice of black forest gateau.

Llangorse, Brecon Beacons, UK

Many centuries ago, crannogs – artificial islands built out into lakes as defensive homes – were found throughout Scotland, Ireland and Wales. At Llangorse Lake, in the Brecon Beacons, a viewing platform going out to a thatched roundhouse gives an impression of how these ancient people lived. The lake, surrounded by the Black Mountains, is south Wales’s largest natural lake and known for its bird and fish populations. An easy walk takes you through a site of special scientific interest, past a bird hide. Boating on the lake is popular and boat hire readily available.

Kinloch Hourn, West Highlands, UK

Remote and stunningly beautiful, part of the adventure of Kinloch Hourn is getting there. As you turn off the A87, 24 miles of single-track road lead to this outstanding sea loch, where you can see otters, seals and jellyfish in the crystal clear waters, as well as an abundance of water birds. The road in is not for the faint of heart, but take it slowly and you are likely to see deer by the roadside and soaring birds of prey. There is a little cafe and B&B (doubles £90, cottage £775pw, kinlochhourn.com) serving fruitcake and coffee, which is a lovely place to linger. There is a path along the loch with views of the surrounding mountains. Orchids and other wildflowers keep you company.

Llyn Geirionydd, Snowdonia, UK

We love Llyn Geirionydd in north Wales, because you can swim, paddleboard, sail or walk around it. There’s a lovely round-trip walk to the neighbouring lake, Crafnant, which has a cafe serving delicious sandwiches and offers fishing. Holiday cottages include Ty Newydd (sleeps 7, from £118pn), right on the lake. In fact, the whole of the Gwydir forest is dotted with lakes.

Llyn Idwal, Snowdonia, UK

Snowdonia is not just a land of mountains, but of wonderful lakes. Llyn Idwal is a beautiful, isolated lake backed by the cliffs rising above to the Devil’s Kitchen, a high fissure in the rocks above. Parking at a car park at Ogwen Cottage on the A5, between Snowdon and Capel Curig, follow a lower footpath around the lake and admire the rugged landscape above. In good weather there is a challenging walk up to the Devil’s Kitchen, following a rocky path. You can then scramble up to Llyn y Cwm, a small tan on the top, which is more satisfying for the effort and view than the lake, to then return on a knee-aching descent with stunning views.

Chew Valley, Somerset, UK

Chew Valley Lake is an idyllic spot for walking, eating, fishing or sailing. Grab your boots (or wellies on wet days!) for a scenic walk along one of the lake’s nature trails – Grebe trail or Bittern trail. If you are feeling peckish, a popular place for a bite is Salt & Malt, which has award-winning food with spectacular views of the lake and rolling countryside. The fish and chips are fantastic! Chew Valley Lake is also a birdwatcher’s paradise – there are six bird hides dotted around the lake and roughly 270 species in the area. For a more adrenaline-fuelled activity, sign up for a trial with Chew Valley Lake Sailing Club?

Loweswater, Lake District, UK

This is a lake few visitors to these parts seem to know about. Nearby Buttermere draws the walkers to its perfect lake path, but Loweswater offers scenery that’s just as stunning – and you may not spot another person as you stroll the four-mile circuit around its shores. We enjoyed gazing at the distinctively shaped fell Melbreak, which looms over the lake, and listing what it reminded us of. We also loved swinging out over the water on rope swings and watching territorial swans defending their patch. The iconic Kirkstile Inn and a pint of Loweswater Gold await at the top of the lake.

Bassenthwaite, Lake District, UK

Beside Bassenthwaite Lake, just outside Keswick on the A591 to Carlisle, sits the beautiful house and gardens at Mirehouse (£4 garden admission, £8.50 including house, children half price, under 4s free). The Lakeside Walk takes in woodland adventure playgrounds, an open-air theatre erected by The Tennyson Society, lambs in spring and a walled bee garden with an abundance of colourful and scented blooms. Take a little detour to pre-Norman St Bega’s Church. Car parking is at Dodd Wood, where there is an excellent tea room (sticky ginger pudding!), toilets and osprey viewing platforms.

Vouliagmeni, Athens

On the southern outskirts of Athens, in the area known as the Athens Riviera, Vouliagmeni lake is a wholly unexpected find a short way away from the city buzz. A naturally formed spring- and sea-fed lake, it’s seen locally as a spa destination, with mineral-rich warm sulphurous waters that are thought to be therapeutic. It’s equally attractive for those wanting to swim or snorkel in calm natural waters, the towering rock surroundings providing little alcoves to explore. Facilities include lockers, a playground, sunloungers and a cafe/restaurant. Located close to a beach, the lake can be reached by public transport (metro, tram or bus) or by taxi (around €20).

Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Probably not a great place to swim, but Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in south-east Iceland offers boat tours among the icebergs floating in its waters. The best photo opportunities occur when the weather is bad – the murkier the skies, the bluer the icebergs appear. Boat tour over, visit the aptly named Diamond Beach, where the lagoon flows out to sea. The black sands are strewn with transparent chunks of ice which have been carved by nature into abstract shapes: an ever-changing outdoor sculpture gallery.

Ohrid, North Macedonia

This wonderful lake straddles the border between North Macedonia and Albania. Base yourself in Ohrid (on the North Macedonian side) to enjoy strolls round the old town with its interesting churches, and take a boat trip to the monastery of St Naum, set in beautiful grounds with peacocks wandering around. In the evening, sit by the lakeside in Ohrid with a drink or a meal (at a very reasonable price), taking in the scenery and watching the swans on the lake. It’s easier to get to than you might think – Wizzair flies from Luton direct to the small resort city of Ohrid.

Lakes of Limousin, France

I love La Grange Fleurie, a renovated barn in Gourdon-Murat, an hour’s drive south-east of Limoges. It has two small lakes on its doorstep: Viam, small and tranquil; and Lake Barriousses, larger, with activities for everyone – there’s even an area for dogs. You can sit in the shade on the grassy bank or worship the sun on its immaculate white sand beach. For the more active, there are canoes, pedalos, petanque and badminton. A bouncy castle in the water keeps the kids busy. The lake itself has a sandy bottom and is a pristine deep blue surrounded by beech and pine trees. There are also restaurants, of course.

Lac d’Allos, Provence, France

The lakes of France’s Mercantour national park are truly wonderful. A stone’s throw from Nice and accessible via breathtaking hikes through alpine pastures bursting with wildflowers, you’re spoilt for choice in this plodder’s paradise. However, my highlight has to be Lac d’Allos (pictured above), the largest natural mountain lake in Europe and the jewel of the Haut Verdon. Nestled between the imposing Mont Pelat (3,052 metres) to the north and the trio of peaks known as Les Tours du Lac to the south, Lac d’Allos’s shimmering cerulean waters are a characteristic of all the spectacular glacial lakes in the park. Forget the Côte d’Azur and head for les lacs d’azur.

Nedre Noren, Sweden

We stayed in a large house on the shores of Lake Nedre Noren, in Norhyttan, Dalarna county in the centre of the country. The garden includes a wide sundeck with beautiful views across the water, to farms and forest. The gently shelving lake bed is safe for small children to swim. Clean water heats up fast in warm weather. Nearby is a secluded grassy bathing spot with a mini-beach. There’s a boat for fishing, watching beavers, deer, elk, eagle owls, cranes, red squirrels and lynx. You can windsurf to two other linked lakes. There are numerous bathing spots on other nearby lakes. Windsurf or ski, skate and snow-cat in winter.

Caumasee, Switzerland

Lake Caumasee is known as the Jewel of Flims… no filters are needed to capture its iridescent turquoise depths. Farmers used to take their cows to heal in these waters when my great-grandparents lived there, and I return from time to time for its cooling, healing properties and to breathe the clear Swiss mountain air. Walk through the pine forest from Haus Am Waldrand, a less-trodden path, to reach the lake and find a tranquil spot to sit and read, or swim around the island. Late August/early September is quieter. Entrance fee to the lake is around £12 adults/£6 children aged 6-16.

Bohinj, Slovenia

If you’re hiking in the Julian Alps, make the last stop Komna Hut (€23-27 a night). From there, you can see Lake Bohinj shimmering in the distance. The walk down is a simple zigzag (around 12km), passing by Savica waterfall, crowded with day-trippers from nearby Lake Bled. Continue, and you will be rewarded with a picture-perfect expanse of calm, clear blue-green water, with alpine mountains as a backdrop. The lake is big enough that you can find a small cove just for yourself (especially in the morning), hire a kayak, swim alone, hang out with campers or watch shoals of trout from the picturesque bridge in Ribčev Laz. Motorised boats are prohibited.

20 of the best lakes to visit in Europe: readers' travel tips
Peruća, Croatia

Saimaa, Finland

Saimaa ringed seal, one of the world’s most endangered seal species

Titisee, Black Forest, Germany

Llangorse, Brecon Beacons, UK

Kinloch Hourn, West Highlands, UK

Llyn Geirionydd, Snowdonia, UK

Llyn Idwal, Snowdonia, UK

Chew Valley, Somerset, UK

Loweswater, Lake District, UK

Bassenthwaite, Lake District, UK

Vouliagmeni, Athens

Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Ohrid, North Macedonia

Lakes of Limousin, France

Lac d’Allos, Provence, France

Nedre Noren, Sweden

Caumasee, Switzerland

Bohinj, Slovenia