While sweeping beaches and crashing blue waves are a beautiful holiday backdrop, there’s something truly magnificent about mountains and lakes. From craggy, snow-capped peaks to rolling green ridges, mountains provide a sense of awe and wonder – and when they loom over tranquil, gleaming lakes, it’s difficult to imagine a more dramatically beautiful view.
There’s much more to holidays than sun, sea, and sand, so if you’re thinking about visiting mountains and lakes on your next break, where are some of the best locations?
We’re especially lucky here in the UK that many of these awe-inspiring places are right on our doorstep in places like France, Norway, and North Macedonia. So whether you want a high-energy hiking holiday or a relaxing trip lounging by the water, here are nine of the best mountain and lake destinations to visit in Europe.
1. The Italian Lakes
The Dolomites are known for boasting some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Europe, and if you’re looking for unspoiled vistas and laidback luxury, this might be the destination for you. From rugged stone peaks to vibrant green valleys and sparkling streams, the Italian Lakes are stunningly beautiful whatever time of year you visit.
This whole region is littered with cerulean blue lakes, and each has something different to offer…
Lake Garda is the largest, and its shimmering waters (formed by a glacier millions of years ago) are hugged by hulking mountains, so it’s ideal for outdoor enthusiasts. You can swim and sail in the lake, hike to the top of Monte Baldo, or simply soak up the local culture.
Known for its beauty and glamour, Lake Como is another top spot. Home to grand hotels, sumptuous villas, splendid architecture, and ancient villages, there’s plenty to see and do here – and that’s without mentioning the deep blue waters of the lake itself! Lake Como is also famous for its lavish gardens. For example, the lush grounds of Villa Carlotta have over 150 different varieties of azalea and Villa Serbelloni boasts 10 miles of maze-like paths, surrounded by exotic vegetation.
Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake, and from the picturesque town of Stresa, you can jump on a ferry to its three Borromean Islands – Isola Bella, Isola Pescatori, and Isola Madre. These are wonderful places to visit on a day trip. On Isola Bella, you can marvel at the Baroque palace and stroll through luxuriant Italian-style gardens. And Isola Pescatori is a really nice place to visit to try out a delicious lake fish lunch.
Visit the Italian Lakes
2. The Salzkammergut, Austria
When thinking of idyllic mountain destinations, there’s a good chance that Austria is one of the countries that first comes to mind.
This is a country that’s spectacular whenever you visit: in summer, you can hike through deep valleys, through flower-adorned meadows, and swim in mirror-like lakes; in winter, you can strap on your skis and tear down the slopes, or explore pristine mountain glaciers.
Of all the regions in Austria, the Salzkammergut boasts the most dramatically beautiful mountains and lakes. This part of the country is known as the Austrian Lake District, and here you’ll find Alpine lakes, rolling hills, and soaring mountain ranges. Whether you want to hike up the slopes, cycle along the valleys, or swim, sail, and sunbathe by the lakes, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Some of the most visited parts of the Salzkammergut include Wolfgangsee, Mondsee, and Hallstätter, where you can make the most of these crystal-clear lakes before exploring the many chocolate-box villages and historic towns that dot the local area.
If you’re looking for adventure, you can find that here too, as these glacial rivers and rugged mountains are perfect for rafting and canyoning.
Take a trip to the Salzkammergut
3. Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
The beauty and charm of North Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid might not be as well known as Lake Garda or Lake Como, but the upside of this means that this is a destination that’s much more suited to travellers on a budget. And although it’s easier on the pursestrings than the Italian lakes, it’s no less impressive.
Huge, tranquil, and a deep, dazzling blue, Lake Ohrid is the jewel in Macedonia’s crown, and this mountain-fringed lake is the country’s most enchanting and popular holiday destination. Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest and deepest lakes in Europe, and its shores boast dozens of historic villages and ancient settlements that are fascinating to explore.
The old town of Ohrid is the main attraction and wandering its lively cobbled streets, and admiring its frescoed churches, Roman amphitheatre, and medieval castle, is a must. There are plenty of pretty restaurants lining the shores, and you can spend lazy days swimming and sailing on these pristine waters.
If you fancy a hike, the mountains of Galičica National Park are just a short drive away.
Find adventure in Lake Ohrid
4. Lake Bled, Slovenia
The North of Slovenia is home to the country’s most popular resort – and most magnificent scenery. It’s no exaggeration to say that Lake Bled is an absolutely magical destination – a place that will take your breath away at first sight, and remain in your memories for years to come. Encircled by the grand Julian Alps, the blue-green waters of Lake Bled are truly otherworldly.
The backdrop of pine forests and rocky, snow-capped peaks is ideal for hiking, and much of the Julian Alps range is contained within Triglav National Park, which offers plenty of other gorgeous trails and wild swimming spots. The nearby Vintgar Gorge area also boasts dozens of paths that wind over hilltops and dramatic rock faces, and is the perfect place for a picnic.
But Bled has plenty to offer travellers too, not least its medieval castle that clings precipitously to a rocky cliff face. In the middle of the lake, there’s a little island that’s home to an ancient white church, and taking a boat out to visit is on most tourists’ itineraries.
With picture-postcard views, romantic architecture and lots of opportunities for an exhilarating adventure, Bled has something for everyone.
Experience the wonder of Lake Bled
5. The Bavarian Alps, Germany
While many visitors to Germany are drawn to its cosmopolitan cities, its natural surroundings are just as attractive. And of all the German states, it’s arguably Southern Bavaria that’s the most beautiful, especially if you’re looking for mountains and lakes. Germany might only be home to a small portion of the Alps, but it definitely makes the most of them.
Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, and the ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the ideal destination if you want to hit the slopes. Or, in warmer months, the Berchtesgadener Land – with its rugged and towering peaks, dark and mysterious forests, and green, flower-filled meadows – provide scenery that’s absolutely perfect for hiking.
Bavaria also boasts gorgeous lakes, the prettiest of which is the Königssee, which is circled by snowy Alpine peaks. Lake Starnberg and the Chiemsee are idyllic spots too, as is Lake Constance, which is home to the historic town of Lindau. With its half-timbered houses, it feels like you’ve stepped back in time – and that’s without even mentioning the fairytale castles this region is so famous for!
6. Chamonix, France
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in an environment where jagged, snow-swathed mountains loom all around you, you might want to head to Chamonix in France. Home to the mighty Mont Blanc, Chamonix might be known for being one of Europe’s top ski resorts, but this stunning region has much more to offer than its pristine pistes.
In summer, you can hike and bike in the valley, and explore the many gleaming lakes and thundering waterfalls that are dotted around the peaks. Or, if you don’t fancy hiking, you can simply take a cable car up to the top of the mountains. The Aiguille du Midi cable car takes you almost to the summit of Mont Blanc, where you can admire unrivalled views of the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps.
And of course, there’s plenty for thrillseekers to do here. In winter, skiers and snowboarders can whizz down the slopes, go off-piste in the glacial La Vallée Blanche, or take the Panoramic Mont Blanc cable car and watch the plucky mountaineers as they attempt to scale Mont Blanc.
The town of Chamonix buzzes with life, and there are all the fine restaurants, hotels, and bars you could wish for.
Explore the beautiful town of Chamonix
7. Jungfrau Region, Switzerland
With more than half of Switzerland’s land curled and crested by the mighty Alps, it’s no wonder that this small but spectacular part of Europe is one of the best mountain destinations in the world. But the Swiss lakes are just as glorious. This is a country that’s almost impossibly beautiful – all gleaming glaciers, sky-high peaks, roaring waterfalls, and turquoise lakes.
So when it comes to choosing which part of Switzerland to visit, it can seem an impossible task, but the Jungfrau Region is definitely one of the highlights. Located in the Bernese Oberland, there are resplendent views pretty much every way you turn. And home to three of the country’s tallest mountains, Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, there are all the mountaineering and hiking options you could want.
Another reason this destination is so perfect is thanks to its famous Jungfraubahn, which is Europe’s highest railway, where you can enjoy sensational views of the Alps. The railway connects the mythical mountains of Grindelwald, the waterfalls of Lauterbrunnen, and the glassy lakes and adventure sports of Interlaken, allowing you to take full advantage of this glorious landscape.
Visit the stunning Jungfrau Region
8. The Lake District, UK
If you live in the UK, there’s good news: you don’t need to step on a plane to visit dramatic mountains and lakes.
The beauty of the Lake District has inspired countless artists and writers over the years, and it’s home to England’s deepest lake as well as its tallest mountain. The green valleys are dotted with charming villages, and you can spend weeks hiking, sailing, swimming, or relaxing.
If you want to enjoy some strenuous mountain hikes, you can climb Scafell Peak, which at almost 1000 metres high is the country’s highest peak. You can admire mesmerising views of the whole Lake District from the top – and if it’s a fine day, you even see Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. There are plenty of gentler hikes too, and more tranquil beauty spots than you can count.
Then there are the lakes – the big, glacial blue Lake Windermere, the beautiful Coniston Water, and lovely Ullswater, which backs onto the majestic Helvellyn Mountains. And that’s just three out of the area’s sixteen lakes!
There are also fascinating world heritage sites like Castlerigg Stone Circle, and historic villages like Grasmere, Kendal, and Keswick, so there’s plenty to keep you busy.
9. Geirangerfjord, Norway
Of all the countries in the world, Norway has got to be a contender for the most dramatically beautiful.
With its rocky coastal islands, glistening ice fields, sheer cliffs and, of course, the desolate beauty of the Arctic, this is a country that will leave you breathless. But if you’re drawn to mountains and lakes, it’s the wild beauty of the Norwegian fjords that will probably appeal to you the most.
While it’s true that fjords aren’t really lakes – they’re deep and narrow inlets of land surrounded by cliffs – the extraordinary beauty of this landscape means that it has to be featured.
Geirangerfjord in particular is known for its mesmerising landscape, and this UNESCO World Heritage site has it all: tumbling, icy cascades, emerald green waters, and some of the steepest cliffs in Norway.
To admire this wild yet tranquil landscape, one of the best ways is to hop on a boat, where you can marvel at the jagged mountains, glittering blue waters, and impressive waterfalls as they drift by.
It’s no surprise that such gorgeous scenery has such splendid hiking trails, too: some of the best are the Storsæterfossen waterfall route, the Ljøbrekka path, and the Homlong trail.
While some people are drawn to beaches and the ocean, there are many of us who feel the pull of mountains and lakes. In the mountains, you can often feel a sense of timeless power, and there’s a feeling of peace and tranquillity that’s hard to find in other places. And when there’s a pristine lake beneath, things can’t get better.
Whether it’s the Swiss Alps that you find most alluring, the gleaming Lake Bled, or our very own Lake District, Europe is dotted with stunning mountain and lake destinations. And more good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy visiting these idyllic places. While some destinations aren’t cheap, others are perfect for travellers on a budget – which means everyone can enjoy the beauty of these unique places.
You can see plenty more lakes and mountains holiday ideas on the TUI website.