Skip the seaside and visit these European lakes instead

Aug 22, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. And we’ll be here to help you prepare, whether it’s next month or next year.

While visiting Spain’s Mediterranean coast or one of Croatia or Italy’s many islands seems like the perfect vacation. activity, it also comes with a (high) price. Pretty much everyone else has the exact same idea — especially during the busy season of summer. And the resulting hefty airfare, expensive hotels and crowded beaches may put a slight damper on your well-deserved getaway.

But there is an alternative plan. You can still cool off in Europe’s refreshing waters, just not salty ones. Instead, head to one of the many lakes scattered around the continent. Some of them are famous, some lesser-known, but each is a freshwater paradise that may surprise, even becoming your new favorite vacation spot.

Lake Iseo, Italy

Lake Como and Lake Garda seem to get all the fame, but the more obscure Lake Iseo is a hidden gem. Delightfully less pretentious and significantly less crowded than the other lakes in the region, Lake Iseo’s shores span a variety of villages along Northern Italy at the foot of the Alps, all with a slightly Swiss feel as you inch toward the border. Fork over a few euros to ferry over to Monte Isola, where you can rent bikes and peddle around the charming car-free island, stopping to swim in the cool water or indulge in a seafood frenzy at one of the local restaurants. Combine your lake trip with wine tasting in the nearby Franciacorta region, which produces sparkling wine using the Champagne method.

Spring sunny morning on the city Maroney. Italy, the Alps, Lake Iseo.
Spring sunny morning on the city Maroney. Italy, the Alps, Lake Iseo. Photo by Andrew Mayovskyy / Getty Images.

Getting There: Fly to Milan Malpensa (MXP). Once in Milan, rent a car to explore the region or take the train.

Lake Enol and Lake Ercina, Spain

Set deep inside the Picos de Europa National Park, the lakes of Enol and Ercina are some of the most picturesque in all of Europe. Keep your eyes peeled for cows on the precarious drive weaving through the mountains to get there. And the two lakes surrounded by snow-capped peaks are just a few of the highlights of the national park, which is also home to the famous pink Santa Maria church swirled in fog on a hilltop and the sacred cueva (cave), where the Virgin Mary was reportedly spotted during a battle in the year 722. Once you’ve admired the sights, dig into some hearty Asturian cuisine, like fabada, a bean stew with chorizo or a wedge of the region’s 50+ different types of cheese.

Lake Ercina, one of the famous lakes of Covadonga, Asturias , Spain
Lake Ercina, one of the famous lakes of Covadonga, Asturias , Spain Photo by Marques Photography / Getty Images

Getting There: Fly to Oviedo (OVD). From there, Covadonga National Park is about an hour-and-a-half drive from the city.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

One of the more touristy lakes on the list, Lake Bled has been growing in popularity in past years, which is no surprise when you see its sparkling turquoise hue and picturesque medieval castle artfully set mid-lake on a small, wooded island. The lake is surrounded by craggy mountaintops and green hills, and the best aerial view can be found after a hike up to Mala Osojnica. Pick up some locally made schnapps (try flavors like blackberry or cherry) to pair with some sausage sandwiches and have a Slovenian picnic along the shore. If you still haven’t gotten your fill of freshwater, drive 40 minutes west to Lake Bohinj, a quieter, quainter lake surrounded by mountains.

famous spa resort Lake Bled. Slovenia
famous spa resort Lake Bled. Slovenia (Photo by katerina sergeevna / getty images)

Getting There: Fly to Ljubljana (LJU). Plan to spend a few days exploring Ljubljana and then drive 45 minutes to Lake Bled.

Lake Hallstatt, Austria

For quintessential Austrian charm, head to the village of Hallstatt bordered by the famous Lake Hallstatt. Both the town and the lake are flanked by the Salzkammergut Mountains, a range of the Northern Limestone Alps. The town of Hallstatt is a UNESCO World Heritage site and known for its nearby salt caves. The town is car-free in the summer months, making it the ideal for a leisurely stroll followed by an energizing swim in the lake. The region is also popular for biking, hiking and rowing. Make sure to dine at some of Hallstatt’s restaurants to sample Austrian wines and fresh-caught lake trout.

Hallstatt is a village in the Salzkammergut, a region in Austria. Located on the banks of Hallstätter See (lake).
Hallstatt is a village in the Salzkammergut, a region in Austria. Located on the banks of Hallstätter (Photo by Praveen-PN / Getty Images)

Getting There: Fly to Salzburg (SZG). Once there, drive an hour and a half to Hallstatt.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Take your pick from 16 different lakes at the UNESCO World Heritage Site and national park of Plitvice Lakes. With over 100 square miles of forest in addition to the lakes, there’s plenty of space to hike, cycle and view the ever-changing blue-green colors of the lakes, some of which cascade into waterfalls. If you really want to get deep into the outdoors, there are places to camp nearby. Although it’s forbidden to swim in the lakes, you can drive a few miles north to the Korana River, and dive into the inviting water there.

Waterfalls in Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Waterfalls in Plitvice National Park, Croatia (Photo by Remedios / Getty Images)

Getting There: Fly to Zagreb (ZAG). Once in Zagreb, the Plitvice Lakes are about a two-hour drive away.

Lake Windermere, UK

Visit Lake District to enjoy an invigorating swim in the crisp waters of Windermere. The largest lake in Cumbria’s Lake District National Park, Windermere is known for being one of the best spots in the UK for boating and water sports. Of course, if that’s not your favorite, the Lake District was named for a reason — it has 16 lakes in total, so find another that fits your fancy. The whole area is also known for its family-friendly spots like the Lakes Aquarium, The World of Beatrix Potter and a variety of castles and farms.

The morning sun heats the mist causing it to rise from the water surface at Lake Windemere.A favorite fishing spot for the locals from Mudgee.
The morning sun heats the mist causing it to rise from the water surface at Lake Windemere. A favorite fishing spot for the locals from Mudgee. Photo by KF-Shots / Getty Images)

Getting There: The closest airports to the Lake District are Manchester (MAN) and Glasgow (GLA). A direct train runs between Windermere and Manchester.

Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Spanning both Switzerland and France, Lake Geneva is one of the most popular and largest lakes in Central Europe. The Swiss side is especially interesting if you like wine. The Lavaux vineyards, considered a UNESCO World Heritage site as they date back to Roman times wind along the banks of the lake for almost 20 miles. The cities of Geneva and Lausanne border the lake, so it may be difficult to decide where to call home base during your lake visit. We recommend seeing both if you have the time. And, don’t miss a visit to the 13th-century Chillon Castle in Montreux, which juts out into the lake’s clear blue water.

Looking down on the vinyards on the North coast of Lake Geneva on the edge of the Swiss alps.
Looking down on the vineyards on the North coast of Lake Geneva on the edge of the Swiss alps. (Photo by cdbr photography / Getty Images)

Getting There: Fly into to Geneva (GVA).

Lake Annecy, France

Lake Annecy has a number of beaches or grassy spots where you can enter the lake to swim or participate in many different types of water sports. It’s also possible to hike in the area or cycle around the lake. Make sure to cross the Pont des Amours, or the love bridge, with your significant other. Rumor has it if you cross the bridge together, you’ll end up together forever. Another spot for romantics, the medieval town of Annecy is dubbed the “Venice of the Alps” for its canals lined with colorful buildings and homes. Explore the castles and villages along the lake and throughout the region, and don’t forget to eat raclette, a melted cheese common in France and Switzerland. For more lake fun, you can also drive over to the nearby Lake Bourget in under an hour.

"Annecy, France - June 18, 2012: Annecy Lake and canal scenery in daytime, several people walking on bridge, called Pont des Amours."
Annecy Lake and canal scenery in daytime, several people walking on bridge, called Pont des Amours.

Getting There: Fly to Lyon (LYS), which is a two-hour drive to Lake Annecy. But, flying into Geneva, Switzerland (GVA), is only an hour drive away from the lake (see above for routing).

Featured photo of Lake Annecy by Milena-Pigdanowicz Fidera / Getty Images.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.