The Mediterranean Sea comes to mind when you think of an aquatic vacation in Europe, but the continent's lakes are also quite compelling places to visit. Europe has lakes around which prehistoric humans mined salt, lakes with monastic islands, lakes for bird- and opera-watching, and just plain drop-dead gorgeous ones. Here are some of the most interesting lakes in Europe.
If there's a lake you can spend a whole vacation around, Lake Constance is the one. You'll find flower and butterfly islands, medieval villages, castles, production of fine wine, and a monastic island known for its vegetables. Lake Constance borders Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, so there is cultural diversity all over the place.
The town of Hallstatt on the shores of Lake Hallstatt is a very interesting place, with ancient salt mines in which summer music concerts are held reachable by foot or by funicular. You can go to the lake by train, then take a boat into the town of Hallstatt. It's a fun trip for kids, and if the weather is bad, you just hop the excursion boat when it's running. It'll take you around the lake, which is ringed by mountains. Idyllic.
You've heard of the big Italian lakes like Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta, or Lake Garda. But what's this Lake Massaciuccoli? Well, besides having a name that's fun to pronounce, this is the lake to come for the Puccini Festival in the summer. The rest of the time there's a fine "oasis" called Oasi di Massaciuccoli, a wetland park on the other side of the lake popular with photographers and bird watchers.
The Lake District is England's most densely populated national park, but there are no cities, large towns or major roads to ruin the landscape, which includes more than 50 lakes. This spectacular landscape inspired William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. You can see it for yourself on a steamboat through the lakes or from a mountain top that affords stunning views.
Here are the famous Italian lakes: Como, Orta, Maggiore, and Garda. The Alps guard Lake Como on the north, while steep cliffs form the banks at some points, making it a stunning scene of water and stone. And yes, grand villas like George Clooney's. Lake Garda claims the title of the largest of the four and is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Lake Orta is a small lake surrounded by greenery and the Alps. Lake Maggiore is a large lake that is graced with promenades and charming villages. It straddles Italy and Switzerland for some cultural appeal.
Finland is called "The Land of the 1,000 lakes," but the country actually has more than 188,000 lakes with 98,000 islands. There are lots of lakes and bogs in Finland's huge Taiga Forest, home to endangered species like the brown bear and the wolverine, as well as wild forest reindeer and moose.
Switzerland has many lakes, but Lake Lugano is a standout in the scenic department, and it spans a couple of countries, Italy and Switzerland. You can stay on the Italian side of the lake at Ponte Tresa and walk to Switzerland. A short train ride takes you to the scenic Swiss city of Lugano from there.
A little-known fact about Berlin is that the city and the surrounding state of Brandenburg have 3,000 lakes and is the largest area of waterscape in Germany. In the summer they're great for all kinds of water sports, including swimming, boating, kayaking, or just taking in the scene. Many of these lakes are inside city limits and are easily reached on public transportation.