There’s a lot to be said for a lakeside vacation: fresh air, lovely views, and calmer water that’s better suited for boating, swimming, and watersports than the sea. While many people flock to the beach, you may find a more laidback vibe and fewer crowds when you vacation on a lake. Plus, lakes are more accessible, at least for many Americans — if you don’t live near the coast, there’s probably a lake within a few hours of your home.
However, if you have the means and the time, a lakeside vacation abroad can be an excellent way to spend a week or two, especially with the family in tow. Many of the world’s best lakes are surrounded by stunning landscapes of mountains and forests, as well as charming villages.
From to Te Anau in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park to Sweden’s lake district, here are six iconic lakeside vacation destinations to add to your list.
1. Lake Como — Italy
A Y-shaped body of water stretching its arms among mountain peaks, Lake Como sits on the Italian border with Switzerland in Lombardy, 32 miles from Milan. A resort community since Roman times, the lake is perhaps best known for the historic villas and picturesque villages along its shores.
Over the course of centuries, Lake Como has earned a reputation as one of the most beautiful and exclusive locations on earth, with a host of celebrities investing in property here, including the likes of Richard Branson, George Clooney, and Donatella Versace. The famous Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote about the beauty of the lake in his correspondence with friends.
Small boats are available for hire locally; they offer the best opportunity to explore Lake Como and reach the numerous small towns that line its shore.
2. Jasper — Canada
Jasper is a small town located within Jasper National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite attracting plenty of visitors during the summer, Jasper still manages to retain its rugged Western charm as an off-the-beaten track destination. Surrounded by small, beautiful lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, and the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies, it is the perfect vacation destination for outdoor lovers and nature enthusiasts. Maligne Lake, about 30 miles south of the town, is famous for its ice-cold, pale blue water. Fishing, kayaking, and canoeing are popular here.
Jasper National Park boasts more than 1,200 kilometers of hiking trails, although the park is so remote that much of it is backcountry wilderness. The park is also home to the second-largest dark sky preserve in the world, making it one of the best places on the planet to experience the aurora borealis, one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena.
3. Dalsland — Sweden
Boasting a vast network of interconnected crystal-clear lakes and numerous overnight shelters, Sweden’s lake district is the perfect setting for a serene adventure. Situated on the west coast, two hours north of Gothenburg, Dalsland’s deep forests are home to dense forests, beavers, moose, and very few people. Åmål is the only town of note. Lakes and waterways cover 170 square miles of the region, which also borders Vänern, the country’s largest lake.
Dalsland attracts canoeists from around the world with its 100-meter-deep lakes, most of which are long and narrow, with virtually no waves. The area also has more than 100 prepared wild campsites, all equipped with environmentally friendly restrooms, open fire pits, wood, and wind shelters.
4. Lake Atitlán — Guatemala
Located high in the Sierra Madre mountains, Lake Atitlán is famous for its deep blue waters as well as the volcanic peaks that tower over it. Created by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago, the lake is the deepest in Central America. The Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel people, part of the Maya ethnolinguistic group, make their home here.
The shores of the lake are dotted by villages, including Jaibalito, which is home to just a few hundred residents. Unlike some of the busier towns that surround the lake, Jaibalito has just a few hotels and hostels, although it does have a lakeside club with a hot tub and infinity pool.
A short boat ride away, San Marcos is an up-and-coming wellness hub with a heavy emphasis on holistic therapies like Reiki, massages, and yoga. Cliff jumping into the lake is popular here.
5. Fläm — Norway
Norway’s iconic fjords aren’t technically lakes, but they deserve a special mention due to their beauty. Perched on the shores of Aurlandshfjord, the village of Fläm is a popular gateway to the fjords. Visitors can take in the spectacular mountain scenery by taking a trip along a scenic railway, or paddling on the mighty fjord by kayak, taking in the surreal splendor of the surrounding mountains and deep valleys.
For those seeking excitement, fast-paced boat tours are also available locally on Nærøyfjorden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while nearby Flåmsdalen is home to the longest zipline in Northern Europe.
6. Lake Te Anau — New Zealand
Located in Fiordland National Park, Lake Te Anau is the largest on New Zealand’s South Island and the second-largest in the country. Surrounded by mountains and forest on one side and rolling hills on the other, Lake Te Anau lies at a north-south axis, with three large fjords snaking off to the west.
Popular activities include fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and boating, as well as wildlife viewing; several endangered bird species nest here. The limestone Te Ana-au caves are a big attraction as well, since they are home to bioluminescent glowworms. Hikers know Lake Te Anau as the starting point for the Milford Track , a 33-mile route through alpine peaks, rainforests, and wetlands.