7 European lake holidays for 2019

How about trading that sizzling hot, crowded beach for calm lake waters with amazing views this summer? Check out our alternatives to your favourite beach spots for an unforgettable summer vacation.

Jamaica mia! Spiaggia Giamaica, Italy

Spiaggia Giamaica, also known as Jamaica beach, is located at the very tip of the Sirmione peninsula reaching out into the southern shore of Lake Garda. It’s not so obvious to find but totally worth.

The beach itself is made of a large slab of white and smooth rock. It has a beautiful view of the lake and mountains on one side and the old village of Sirmione on the other.

Sirmione is a resort town known for its thermal baths and the medieval castle of Rocca Scaligera. The castle sits silently on the lake water and guards the old bridge, which is the only entrance into town.

The Scaliger Castle in Sirmione, Italy — Marco Rubino / Shutterstock 7 European lakeside holidays for 2019 lake beach
The Scaligero Castle guards the only entrance into town, Sirmione, Italy — Marco Rubino / Shutterstock
 

Overlooking the beach is Grotte di Catullo. The villa dates back to the first century CE and it is a complex of the largest Roman ruins in northern Italy.

Most of the entire lake is surrounded by the mountainous Dolomites but Jamaica beach lies in the flat area on the southern side of the lake.

The area offers plenty of opportunities not only for fun water activities but also for hiking through the green valleys of the mountains.

Any way you turn in Bled, Slovenia

This lake is probably more famous than anything else in Slovenia. Anywhere you are around this lake, you’ll have a postcard view of Blejski otok which lies in the middle of Lake Bled.

This small island is Bled’s true centrepiece. You can get there by different means but all of them involve getting into the water. Renting a rowboat will most likely cater to the most memorable experience.

A view of Bled's true gem — Shutterstock 7 European lakeside holidays for 2019 lake beach
A view of Bled’s true gem — Shutterstock
 

And as you approach the island, you’ll probably hear the church bells ringing. An old legend goes that whoever rings the bell will have their wish come true.

Turn your head around and you’ll have a great view of Castle Bled perched on a hillside next to the lake. Getting up to the castle will provide for a nice outing and exploration of the area plus you’ll get amazing views of the lake.

Right next to it is a small village bearing the same name as the lake itself. Not only is it a cute place, it’s also where you can get the delicious Bled cream cake, or less affectionately Cremeschnitte. The cake is a custard delight (and a calorific disaster depending on how you look at it) and available at most places in town.

Pelicans, cormorants, buffalos at Kerkini, Greece

Greece is mainly known for its pristine waters and lazy afternoons at the beach. However, towards the Bulgarian border, some 100 km north of Thessaloniki lie some of Europe’s most important wetlands — the Kerkini lake.

Hiding in the shadow of the Belles mountain, the area has since the 1932 floods become a national park. Kerkini might not be the typical sunbathing choice but minimal human intervention has attracted a wide variety of animals and vegetation.

Wild willows and suspended water lilies stretch over thousands of hectares and provide a home to over 300 bird species. Some nest here while some only visit briefly to refresh themselves. Either way, you can spot pelicans and the pygmy cormorants.

Kerkini is home to pelicans threatened by extinction — Shutterstock 7 European lakeside holidays for 2019 lake beach
Kerkini is home to a large number of different species of animals — Shutterstock
 

The waters are teeming with fish and the shores host otters, red foxes, wildcats and occasionally also grey wolfs or golden jackals coming down from the mountains. The biodiversity of the place is truly extraordinary.

There are even water buffalos running across the land. Their milk and meat add extra uniqueness to the local cuisine, like for example the buffalo mozzarella.

And what can humans do around the lake? Besides the obvious animal watching, you can venture out on walks, bike or boat rides or go horseback riding. It’s the perfect place for outdoor activities.

The midsummer lake’s dream of Lake Annecy, France

From all the beautiful lakes in France, Lake Annecy has a reputation of one of Europe’s cleanest. It’s also one of France’s largest lakes and visitors can find plenty to do around here.

Thanks to its position at the foot of the Alps, you can enjoy some beautiful scenic sites and views along the lake.

Lake Annecy is one of Europe's cleanest — Shutterstock 7 European lakeside holidays for 2019 lake beach
Lake Annecy is one of Europe’s cleanest — Shutterstock
 

The main village of Annecy on the north shore is known as the Venice of the Alps. Its endless winding cobblestone pathways will have you roaming around until it’s time to taste some delicious local cuisine and fresh produce. Not tasting the local freshwater fish and sundry meals from the unique blend of French and Italian cuisines would be a culinary crime.

Apart from swimming in the lake, you can also rent a motorboat or go for a hike or a bike ride around the lake. The surrounding area has a lot of spots and views to discover.

Only about 10 km outside of Annecy you’ll find the Gorges du Fier. It’s a gorge carved in the rock by the flow of the local river. Another great way to spend an afternoon at Lake Annecy!

Totalitarian dream of Balaton, Hungary

During communist times in Europe, this Hungarian inner sea was a favourite destination among many holidaymakers. Lake Balaton is home to diverse landscapes featuring ancient fortresses, underwater caves, and historic towns.

Balaton is set in the midst of volcanic, mineral-rich hills. The mountainous area of the northern shore is covered with hundreds of vineyards giving a rustic feel to it. There are also plenty of hiking trails. As a contrast, the flatter southern shore is known for its resorts and historic sights.

The waters of the southern part of the lake are quite shallow compared to the northern bit containing some deeper beds. The average depth is just over three metres and it reaches a maximum of about 12 metres. Both sailing and windsurfing are at their finest here, alongside the more obvious swimming and sunbathing.

Swimming is just one of the many pastime activities at the Hungarian lake — Vera Petrunina / Shutterstock 7 European lakeside holidays for 2019 lake beach
Swimming is just one of the many pastime activities at the Hungarian lake — Vera Petrunina / Shutterstock
 

Other breathtaking sites around the lake are the Tapolca lake caves. Through the mixing of various streams of water, including volcanic, the temperature of the underground water keeps at a constant 20C.

Be it an active holiday or a relaxed couple of days of sunbathing, Balaton has it all!

Flood of lakes but mainly Saimaa, Finland

The Finns love their lakes. And forests. And pretty much everything that has to do with nature and being outdoors. It’s a good thing then that the country nurtures precisely 187,888 lakes within its borders. 

Since expanses of water are literally all over the land, it might be a good idea to do some exploring around and visit a number of different lakesides. However, Finland’s biggest Saimaa should probably be on your list either way you go or swim.

You can wend your way through the Saimaa canal on one of the cruise ships — RAndrei / Shutterstock 7 European lakeside holidays for 2019 lake beach
You can wend your way through the Saimaa canal on one of the cruise ships — RAndrei / Shutterstock
 

A must-do activity while here is to take a canal boat tour across the border to Vyborg in Russia. This leisurely cruise will see you climb 77 metres of altitude through eight locks in the space of five hours with no visa required at the border. If you love locks, you’ll love this trip.

Summers at the lake are relaxing, you can swim or ride a boat across the water and enjoy some island hopping as Saimaa has about 14,000 islands in total. On the way back to your campsite you can pick fresh berries and mushrooms and throw them on the grill together with muikku fish and other fresh local produce.

The nights here are short since the sun only sets for a few hours and even then it never really goes too dark. Perhaps it’s the perfect moment to sit back, breathe in the fresh air and listen to the peaceful sounds of the Finnish forests.

Lake Brienz and Lake Thun: a Swiss package deal

Travelling here is a package deal: get two lakes for the price of one. Lake Brienz and Lake Thun sit right in the heart of the country with views over the snowy ridges of the Swiss Alps.

Only a tiny strip of land and the town of Interlaken connects the two lakes nowadays. Interlaken aptly translates as between lakes which is exactly where the town sits. And there are other charming small villages scattered around the lakes where you can enjoy local hospitality and a bite to eat.

There are a number of ways to experience both lakes to the maximum. A boat ride is certainly amongst the most popular and regular service across the lakes has been operating since 1839.

Hike up to the two lakes bridge to get a stunning view of the two lakes — Shutterstock 7 European lakeside holidays for 2019 lake beach
Hike up to the two lakes bridge to get a stunning view of the two lakes — Shutterstock
 

Alternatively, you can put your feet to good use and scout the territory following the hiking trails around the lakes.

And while at it, take a trail (or a cable car) up to the two lakes bridge of Harder Kulm. At a height of over 1,300 m above sea level, you can enjoy magnificent views over the lakes, mountains, and pretty much anything all around you, just perhaps on a smaller scale.