Paris, Rome, Barcelona … Europe's most famous cities are unmissable destinations for any traveler, but its rural delights have just as much to offer tourists. When you've had your fill of shopping and museum-hopping, there's nothing better than escaping to a picturesque lake away from the hustle and bustle. Here are 5 of Europe's most beautiful lakes – guaranteed to take your breath away.
Lake Neusiedl, Austria
Lake Neusiedl (Ferto) holds the title of Europe's largest saltwater lake. It's home to a wide variety of birdlife, including the purple hero, great egret and red-breasted goose. One of the most idyllic spots in the region, the lake itself swells and contracts with the changes in winds and the streams that feed it. While the vast majority of the lake lies in Austria, a small portion resides in Hungary. It's encircled by a number of quaint little towns that are well worth a visit in their own right.
Lake Saimaa, Finland
Spanning more than 100 picturesque lakes and around 14,000 islands, Saimaa enjoys pole position as Europe's biggest – and possibly most beautiful – lake district. The picturesque Lake Saimaa itself is Finland's largest lake, and the fourth largest freshwater lake in Europe. Marvel at the contrast of the lush greenery against crystal clear waters in summer, or visit in winter for a taste of an icy winter wonderland. If you've got the time, book a cruise through the lake district all the way up to Russia for an even more unforgettable experience.
Lake Lucerne, Switzerland
Sometimes referred to as the heart of Switzerland, Lake Lucerne was an important transit route for much of the country's history. And getting out on the water is still one of the best ways to experience the lake, whether on a steamer with the midday sun warming your back or a romantic cruise in the dusky twilight. Feast your eyes on the towering peaks, dense forests and valleys, and an abundance of wildlife from deer to foxes. Walking, cycling and skating trails also abound, for those who'd rather experience the landscape on solid ground.
Lake Como, Italy
The famous Lake Como, or Lago di Como/Lago Lario, is one of Italy's prizes (George Clooney has a lakeside house in the area). Think waterfront villas and bucolic towns, framed by snowy peaks in the background. The lake's unique shape resembles an upside-down Y, and is bordered by a series of charming villages, culminating in the main town, Como, to the southwest. However, Bellagio is perhaps the jewel in Como's crown, a swanky village tucked away in a valley brimming with pastel-hued architecture. Alternatively, the less-trafficked eastern shore offers a respite from the beaten path.
Lake Achensee, Austria
The extraordinary emerald green waters of Lake Achensee draw their fair share of visitors every year. With easy access from all sides, diving and windsurfing are popular pastimes on the lake, which reaches a balmy 20+ degrees C in summer. Landlubbers have a myriad of options, too, from golfing to hiking to skiing. Majestic vistas also await sightseers; try taking a steam train or a cable car up into the mountains to experience the stunning views. For daring hikers, the Karwendel/Rofan range tops out at 2.5km above sea level, and encompasses a sprawling nature reserve that's ideal for exploring on foot.