Lakes showcase some of water’s most alluring qualities, from mesmerizing ripples and mirror-like reflections to crstyalline clarity. The world has millions of them, from tiny grass-lined ponds to massive freshwater expanses easily mistaken for oceans, but some lacs, lagos, and lochs simply stand out more than others. A few of these irresistible bodies of water owe their charisma to climate, others to geologic luck of the draw, and some are even made by the humans who admire them. These 20 beautiful lakes—some of which may surprise you—differ in the details, but all are uniquely beautiful and well worth a visit.
By Donna Heiderstadt
WHERE: Lombardy, Italy
A place where you can stroll amid palm trees and blooming rhododendrons while admiring snow-capped mountains has got to be magical, right? Blessed with a superb microclimate, Lake Como in Northern Italy is the kind of place that leaves you searching for fancy words to capture its exquisiteness—but a simple “bellisima” (beautiful) is a start. Get on the water by hiring a vintage Riva speedboat to take you on a tour of the lake’s villas and villages.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lake Como Guide
WHERE: Alberta, Canada
There’s some mighty stiff competition in the Canadian Rockies when it comes to glacier-fed beauty—Lake Louise, Morraine Lake, and Peyto Lake each could easily have taken the crown—but what makes Maligne Lake (located in Jasper National Park and pronounced Maleen) so stunning is the surrounding landscape: perfect foreground pines, majestically jagged background mountains, and cornflower blue Alberta skies. For postcard-perfect views, be sure to kayak to Spirit Island.
Where to Stay: The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, which is located on its very own pristine lake.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Alberta Guide
WHERE: Udaipur, India
Maharana Udai Singh chose to build his City Palace here in 1559. Since then, Lake Pichola, one of a chain of lakes in Udaipur, has enjoyed an elevated status—even though it was artificially created in the 14th century. Adding to its allure are two islands, each with its own palace, that don’t need Instagram filters to look spectacular when silhouetted at dusk. Sail across the lake to visit Jag Mandir Island Palace, where royals used to hold parties, and have your own royal meal.
Where to Stay: Taj Lake Palace, a white marble 18th-century stunner built as a pleasure palace for Maharana Jagat Singh II, appears to float atop the water.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Rajasthan, India Guide
WHERE: Hangzhou, China
The beauty here is not just the landscape—a slice of verdant green in Hangzhou, but the lifestyle of its elderly residents who treat West Lake like a vast sunrise wellness center as they gather to practice Tai Chi, engage in graceful fan dances, or walk the perimeter listening to small radios playing Chinese music. In addition to this microcosm of daily life, the lake also offers stellar photo-ops, from the Tang Dynasty-era Broken Bridge to charming pavilions with upturned roofs.
Where to Stay: Sofitel Hangzhou Westlake, where you’ll enjoy a lake view from most rooms.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Eastern China Guide
This serene lake in north central Tasmania is home to the fabled Tasmanian Devil, as well as more cuddly looking wallabies and wombats, but Dove Lake’s main appeal is that it is the starting point for scenic day hikes as well as the rigorous 40-mile Overland Track. If you catch it at the right time and with the wind calm, you can also enjoy a reflection of distinctive Cradle Mountain.
Where to Stay: Cradle Mountain Lodge, where cabins let you spy on wildlife, especially at dusk and dawn.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Tasmania Guide
Switzerland has a bounteous array of beautiful lakes, but Lake Lucerne has traits that make it stand out: the pretty city of Lucerne, where water flowing into the lake passes beneath the 13th-century Chapel Bridge; a stupendous panorama that begins with Mt. Rigi, spans snow-capped Alps peaks such as Eiger and Jungfrau, and concludes with Mt. Pilatus; and vintage steamboats that have been plying its waters since the mid-1800s. For a relaxing visit, soak in the spring-fed pool at Mineralbad & Spa Rigi-Kaltbad, atop Mt. Rigi.
Where to Stay: The Montana, for its retro-chic vibe, nightly jazz, and a terrace with a view.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lucerne Guide
Sometimes man’s handiwork rivals nature, as is the case with Lake Powell, the striking free-form lake created in 1963 by damming the Glen Canyon and creating the U.S.’s second-largest man-made lake. Lined with beaches and popular with houseboat owners and sport fisherman, it photographs like a dream—a sublime mélange of swirling red-rock canyons and vivid sapphire-hued water. To enjoy the area take a boat tour to impressive Rainbow Bridge National Monument.
Where to Stay: Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, located on the shoreline and featuring Southwest-style décor.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Northeast Arizona Guide
WHERE: Peru and Bolivia
Lake Titicaca (it means “gray puma” in the native Quechua language) is an enormously beautiful body of water with a shoreline divided between South American neighbors Peru and Bolivia. At 22,400 square miles, it is larger than the entire island of Puerto Rico and features a number of islands, some with Inca ruins, as well as a water level that rises and falls an average of five feet depending on the season. Plan a day-trip by boat to Taquile Island and climb the 553 stone steps up to the ruins.
Where to Stay: Titilaka, a secluded and luxurious all-inclusive eco-resort with wonderful lake views.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lake Titicaca Guide
WHERE: Keswick, England
Derwentwater is a moody beauty. This three-mile-long cool blue expanse is located in England’s Cumbria countryside, also known as The Lake District, and is perhaps best known as the summer playground of author Beatrix Potter. Although idyllically glassy during the warmer months, the lashing winds of other seasons can generate choppy waves as snow creates a bundt-cake-icing effect on the hills. Enjoy a stroll along the Friar’s Crag path for an excellent viewpoint of the lake, mountains, and many tiny islands.
Where to Stay: Howe-Keld, a just refurbished bed-and-breakfast located just a five-minute walk from the lake.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s England Lake District Guide
WHERE: California and Nevada
Lake Tahoe is so beautiful that a ski resort with slopes overlooking the body of water named itself Heavenly. Driving around this crystal-clear alpine lake (the largest in North America) is enthralling, with the viewpoint at Emerald Bay a definite must. Then take the Heavenly Gondola up the mountain for a hike with a lake view. Both California and Nevada lay claim to its shoreline, (and you can ski in both states on the same day at Heavenly), making it not only a multi-season playground but also a destination for gamblers and nightlife lovers who flock to its Nevada casinos.
Where to Stay: Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, to relax on 26 lakefront acres.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lake Tahoe Guide
WHERE: Patagonia, Chile
It takes a few long plane rides and a bumpy transfer on mostly dirt roads to get to Pehoe Lake in Chilean Patagonia, but the magnificence that awaits you is worth it. Backed by the out-of-this-world beauty of the Torres Del Paine range (and part of the national park of the same name), this stunning lake is saturated with such deep shades of lavender at sunrise and tangerine at sunset that it’s almost unbelievable. Experience this wonder with the Walk Along the Cornices for elevated views of the lake and mountains.
Where to Stay: Hotel Explora—Salto Chico, a luxurious hikers’ sanctuary where you can enjoy panoramic views from your bed.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Chile Guide
Most people have never heard of Lake Atitlan, a mystical body of water in the highlands of Guatemala that’s fringed by a trio of volcanoes and home to a number of local Mayan villages, but once they visit, they can’t stop talking about it. The lake seduces visitors with its combo of intense volcanic lineage (it’s a caldera that filled with water more than 84,000 years ago) and serene ambience. The best way to see it all is to hire a guide and hike the 5-hour, round-trip trail to the top of San Pedro Volcano.
Where to Stay: Hotel Atitlan, for the authentic vibe, gorgeous gardens and the outstanding view.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Guatemala Guide
They aren’t called “Great Lakes” for nothing. While each of these massive lakes that make up hundreds of miles of our Canadian border is impressive, Lake Superior (the largest, deepest, and coldest of the five) got a special gift from Mother Nature: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This 40-mile stretch of sandstone cliffs, sand dunes, beaches, and waterfalls is a photographer, hiker and kayaker’s dream—but even if you just sit there and lake-gaze, you’ll be inspired.
Where to Stay: Holiday Inn Express Munising-Lakeview for waterfront affordability and easy access to the park.
WHERE: New Zealand
It’s glacial, so of course it’s gorgeous, but what sets Lake Wakatipu apart from other New Zealand lakes is the mountain range stretched out behind it: jagged peaks so stunning they’re named The Remarkables. For maximum scenic impact, book a helicopter flight. You can also enjoy all this rugged beauty from lakeside Queenstown, known as much for its natural assets as for the crazy adventures you can try here, from bungee jumping, to jet-boating, to zorbing.
Where to Stay: The Remarkables Mountain Lodge, for seven suites with sweet views.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Queenstown Guide
WHERE: South-Central Oregon
There’s no blue quite like the aquiline hue of Crater Lake, which earned its name because it formed when the caldera of volcanic Mt. Mazama collapsed almost 8,000 years ago. Now ringed with 2,000-foot cliffs and reaching an astonishing depth of 1,943 feet—making it the deepest in the U.S.—it captivates visitors with its clarity. Learn about the lake’s explosive past when you take a volcano boat cruise.
Where to Stay: Crater Lake Lodge for rustic circa-1915 timber lodge charm and water views.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Crater Lake National Park Guide
WHERE: Scotland Highlands
The Scottish Highlands are studded with lochs (lakes), many of them beguilingly beautiful, but Loch Duich tends to stick in travelers’ brains because it has the hauntingly picturesque Eilean Donan Castle. Located between Dornie and the Kyle of Lochalsh en route to the Isle of Skye, this 14th-century castle actually marks the point where three great sea lochs meet.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Northern Scottish Highlands Guide
We dare anyone to see a photo of the Plitvice Lakes and not ask, “Where on earth is that?” Located in Croatia, on the country’s main highway from Zagreb to Split to be exact, these 16 emerald-hued lakes connected by photogenic waterfalls are not only a national park, but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll a series of pathways and wooden bridges to discover ever-evolving cascades at this amazing natural wonder.
Where to Stay: Hotel Jezero, which while pretty basic is less than 1,000 feet from the largest lake.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Zagreb and Environs Guide
Lakes of Killarney
For the best experience around the Lakes of Killarney in southwest Ireland, opt to boat, hike, bike, or ride in a horse-drawn carriage to access the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow, four-mile mountain pass formed by enormous glacial rocks. As you cruise the peaceful, tree-lined lakes, you’ll pass the ruins of Ross Castle and hear the legends of Kate Kearney and Lord Brandon, and later see their cottages.
Where to Stay: Sheen Falls Lodge in nearby Kenmare for its luxurious waterfront setting.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Southwest Ireland Guide
Lake Kawaguchi has been immortalized in photographs as the place where iconic Mt. Fuji is perfectly reflected in the stillness of crystalline waters. These days you have to beat the tourists in motorboats to capture that effect, but still the shores of this watery expanse, about 90 minutes from Tokyo, deliver some of the best views of Fuji-San, especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Tokyo Guide
You might think of Bali more for its beaches than its lakes, but its volcanic origins mean that amid the terraced rice fields of its interior there’s lake country and freshwater beauty abounds. A photo-op not to miss is Lake Bratan, where the multi-tiered thatched roof of the Pura Ulun Danu temple is silhouetted against the lake, sometimes bathed in sunshine and other times shrouded in mist.
Where to Stay: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan, located about two hours away in Ubud, for contemporary-meets-traditional Balinese ambience.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Bali Guide