Europe is blessed with some of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The Italian lakes are among the most famous lakes in the world, as are the lakes and mountains of Switzerland and Austria. Our guide to the most beautiful lakes in Europe takes you all around the continent. We range from the Balkans to the Highlands of Scotland, from the Spain-Portugal border to Snowdonia in North Wales. We hope you enjoy your tour of some of the best lakes in the world.
- 1 Lake Bled, Slovenia
- 2 Lake Como, Italy
- 3 Llynnau Cregennen, Wales
- 4 Königssee Lake, Bavaria, Germany
- 5 Lake Brienz, Switzerland
- 6 Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
- 7 Llyn Gwynant Lake, Wales, UK
- 8 Wastwater, England
- 9 Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
- 10 Loch Shiel, Scotland
- 11 Barragem do Alqueva, Portugal/Spain
- 12 Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
- 13 Hallstatt Lake, Austria
- 14 Koman Lake, Albania
- 15 Štrbské Pleso Lake, Slovakia
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Lake Bled is one of the prettiest lakes in the world. It’s located in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, and is an unforgettable sight. A church sits on an island in the middle of the lake. A medieval castle guards the area from a vertical cliff on the lake shore. Behind this, the Alpine peak Mount Stol dominates the landscape. Lake Bled also made our most beautiful landscapes in Europe list.
Lake Como, Italy
The Italian Lakes region has some of the best lakes in Europe to visit. Garda, Maggiore and Orta have everything – amazing lakes surrounded by magnificent mountains and lovely towns. Lago di Como has these too, and it’s the gorgeous lakeside towns like Bellagio that set it apart for us. One of the most beautiful lakes in Italy and on the continent.
Llynnau Cregennen, Wales
Llynnau Cregennen is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Wales, and one of the least known. It’s hidden away in the foothills of Cadair Idris, in the south of the Snowdonia National Park. There are two lakes, walks around each, and a great view of the Mawddach river estuary and Barmouth from the hill behind the car park.
Königssee Lake, Bavaria, Germany
Königssee is one of the best lakes in Germany. It’s a classic steep mountain valley lake in the Berchtesgaden National Park, in the east of the Bavarian Alps. It’s very close to the border with Austria and its second city, Salzburg. It’s a long, narrow lake, the sheer rock faces either side making it reminiscent of a fjord. There’s a lovely red-domed pilgrimage church, St Bartholomä, halfway down the lake, which can only be reached by boat or a 40 km hike.
Lake Brienz, Switzerland
We nearly didn’t get to see the Swiss Lake Brienz – Brienzersee in German – at all. We took the Brienzer Rothorn mountain railway to the summit café, but the clouds that had followed us much of the week weren’t going anywhere. They did eventually part, for two seconds, revealing one of the most beautiful lakes in Switzerland. The turquoise water was crystal-clear, and the backdrop of the Alps of the Bernese Oberland wondrous.
Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest lakes in the world, at two to three million years of age. It’s also relatively isolated, which has helped over 200 endemic species to survive there. It straddles North Macedonia and Albania. The lakeside Byzantine church of St Jovan Kaneo is one of the most iconic images of the Balkans. Lake Ohrid is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, both for its biodiversity and rich heritage and culture.
Llyn Gwynant Lake, Wales, UK
Llyn Gwynant is a stunning lake in the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. Unlike Llynnau Cregennen, it’s hardly a secret destination – it’s next to the main A498 road which runs down from the Llanberis Pass to Beddgelert. It’s one of the most beautiful places to see in Wales, in a deep valley in the shadow of Y Lliwedd, a peak adjacent to Mount Snowdon. Stop at each of the viewpoints on the way down, and again at the lake shore. It’s also a popular kayaking and canoeing spot.
England’s Lake District National Park has recently been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wastwater is its deepest and, for me, most beautiful lake. It’s surrounded by mountains, including Scafell Pike, the highest in England. Wastwater (sometimes written as Wast Water) was voted the UK’s Favourite View on a TV programme in 2007.
Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
Pristine Lake Bohinj is around an hour from Lake Bled, but attracts far less visitors. This lake is one of the best places to visit in Slovenia, a gorgeous lake surrounded by Alpine peaks, with a 12th century church at the head of the lake. It’s around a 12km circuit walk, with the best views towards the ends of the lake. Bohinj is one of the most peaceful places I’ve visited – the only sounds I heard all day were the Alpine cowbells from the fields above the track.
Loch Shiel, Scotland
Loch Shiel is one of several sublime lochs around Fort William, on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. It’s around 20 km (13 miles) west of the town, a one of the best lochs in Scotland, flanked by mountains each side. The Glenfinnan Monument at the northern end commemorates the start of the second Jacobite Rebellion under Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. Harry Potter fans will recognise the nearby Glenfinnan railway viaduct, on which the Hogwarts Express travelled in one of the early films.
Barragem do Alqueva, Portugal/Spain
This is one of two man-made lakes on our list. The Alqueva lakes are a system of reservoirs formed by the damming of the Rio Guadiana along the Spain-Portugal border. You get some amazing views, especially from the Portuguese side. There’s also a lovely drive linking historic castle towns such as Monsaraz, Moura and Mourão along the shore of the lake.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes are among the most famous lakes in the world. They’re a series of sixteen lakes on several levels, with waterfalls cascading down from one level to the next. They’re in the east of the country, in an area of forested limestone karst. The lakes are an incredible sight, with pristine emerald green and turquoise water at different places. They’re also amazing in all seasons.
Hallstatt Lake, Austria
Hallstättersee is one of the best lakes in Austria, in a wonderful mountain setting in the Salzkammergut region. It’s surrounded by 2,000-metre-high Alpine peaks, one of the most beautiful villages in Europe, Hallstatt, is on its western shore. This is one of the oldest inhabited areas in Europe because of the vast salt deposits underground. As well as visiting the village, it’s well worth taking the cable car ride to the summit area of Krippenstein mountain for the ‘Five Fingers’ viewpoint over the lake.
Koman Lake, Albania
The second man-made lake on our list is Lake Koman in northern Albania. The river Drin was dammed in the 1980s to create this reservoir, and the result is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It is surrounded by the spectacular Albanian Alps, and the boat journey from Koman to Fierza, which takes around three hours, is one of the best river cruises in Europe.
Štrbské Pleso Lake, Slovakia
Štrbské Pleso is one of the best places to visit in Slovakia. It’s a gorgeous glacial mountain lake in the High Tatras, the main mountain range in the country. It’s only a short bus or cog railway ride from nearby Poprad, the gateway to the Tatras. Some of the best High Tatras hotels are close to the lake, including the Grand Hotel Kempinski. Štrbské Pleso is the starting point for some of the best hikes in the Tatras, including the full day climb to Kriváň peak.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.