VACATION IDEAS

12 Most Beautiful Lakes in the World

These 12 lakes go to all the right extremes—highest, deepest, clearest—and showcase nature at its most spectacular. Soak up the views from a boat, a cable car, a trailhead, or a castle tower.

SCOTLAND
Loch Lomond
With a backdrop of windswept rolling hills and medieval castles, Loch Lomond feels like it's straight out of a Victorian romance novel. The 24-mile-long lake is dotted with islands, some so small that they disappear when the water levels are high, and others large enough to be (sparsely) inhabited. Most ferries stop at the largest island, Inchmurrin (population 11), so visitors can get a look at the remains of a 7th-century monastery and the 14th century Lennox Castle, used often as a hunting lodge for kings.
Nearby: The lake is 24 miles north of Glasgow and 66 west of Edinburgh.

ITALY
Lake Garda
If the shape of Italy is a couture boot, think of the imprint of Lake Garda as a design from the funky sister line—long and skinny at the top, opening up toward the bottom. Garda is the country's largest lake and one of the most popular vacation spots among Italians. The southern shore is home to hot springs, resort towns with pastel villas and terra-cotta-roofed hotels, and most of Garda's 28 miles of serene, pebbly beaches. To the north are the jagged peaks of the Dolomites, a magnet for hikers and bicyclists who want to test their endurance. In Malcesine, an adorable speck of a town with cobblestoned streets and a medieval castle, you can board a cable car up to Mount Baldo for one of the best aerial views of the lake.
Nearby: Lake Garda is about halfway between Milan (89 miles away) and Venice (109 miles away), but to get the full, relaxing effect, stay in one of the south shore's many small towns.

FRANCE
Lake Annecy
This alpine lake in the heart of the French Alps is a looker, but don't expect to spend your visit gazing over the water in quiet reflection. Lake Annecy is all about activity—particularly in August, when Paris shuts down and the French take extended holidays. Sailors, kayakers, and water-skiers crisscross the water; bikers and hikers hit surrounding nature trails; and refugees from the city fill the outdoor tables at the lakeside restaurants and bars. Repeat visitors know to plan their trip for the first Saturday of August, when a staggering, nearly two-hour-long fireworks display illuminates the water.
Nearby: The closest major city is Geneva, 30 miles north, in Switzerland, but most people stay right on the lake.

CROATIA
Plitvice Lakes
These 16 blue-green lakes, hidden by thick vegetation and connected by hundreds of waterfalls, could be the set for the next Jurassic Park. For adventure as well as killer views, start at one of the lower lakes and work your way up following the sturdy wooden planks that turn what could be a treacherous trek into a fun hike. Take a detour along the 10-minute loop that leads to the region's tallest fall, 230-foot-high Veliki Slap ("Big Waterfall"), a breadth of streaming white water that collects in turquoise pools. While hiking, keep your eyes peeled for deer, wildcats, boars, wolves, and bears—a more likely sighting than a T. rex.
Nearby: There are four hotels in Plitvice Lakes National Park, but most people drive in for the day from Zagreb, about 2 hours by car.

KENYA
Lake Nakuru
The water is blue enough, and the backdrop—grasslands and rocky hillsides—has the makings of a nice photo, but neither is what sets this lake in central Kenya apart. The real draw here is the mass of pink on Nakuru's edges. Flamingos are one of the few species that can withstand the lake's hostile conditions—the water has so much sodium carbonate that it burns nearly everything that touches it —and they flock to the lake en masse. There can be as many as a million birds feeding on algae in the shallows at one time, wading side by side.
Nearby: The lake is in the heart of Lake Nakuru National Park, a sanctuary for black-and-white rhinos, three hours by car from Nairobi.

NEW ZEALAND
Lake Matheson
Alternately known as Mirror Lake, this South Island lake is famous for its reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. Visiting just after dawn is ideal, when the water is at its calmest and mirror images are impossibly perfect. The lake itself is well worth exploring, too. Park near the Clearwater River suspension bridge and follow the 1-mile loop past kahikatea and rimu trees, which have extra-tall trunks and fanciful bushy tops and look like something from a Dr. Seuss book.
Nearby: Fox Glacier township, a village that serves as a base camp for trekkers, is three miles east of the lake.

A SHORE THING

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