Switzerland is not a large country –it’s only 41,285 square kilometres- but it’s known to be a beautiful one thanks to its diverse geography. It’s landlocked between the Alps and the Jura Mountains, with the Swiss Plateau sandwiched in between. Switzerland also happens to be home to more than 1,500 lakes and holds six per cent of Europe’s entire fresh water stock.
There are four major rivers running through the country -Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhône- with many lakes being found along them. Most are high in the mountains and are shared with neighbouring countries, and happen to be some of the largest lakes in all of Western Europe. There are also numerous lakes that are located only within Switzerland. Many of the lakes are magnificent, what with their mountainous backdrop and amazing clear blue water. Here is our list of the 15 best lakes in Switzerland.
1. Lake Geneva; Vaud, Geneva & Valais
One of the largest lakes in Western Europe, Lake Geneva sits along the Rhône and is shared with neighbouring France. Still, more of the crescent-shaped lake is in Switzerland, although both countries in essence share the lake for annual yacht racing and rowing events.
Lake Geneva is known not only for its size –it’s the largest lake in the country- but also for its jaw-dropping beauty. It sits at an elevation of 372 metres and is completely surrounded by mountain peaks, boasting views of both Grand Combin and Mont Blanc.
The lake’s northern shoreline is dotted with castles and villages that look particularly beautiful when riding on one of the Lake Geneva General Navigation Company boats that connect the cities and towns on the lake. It’s also a great place to go rowing, sailing, wind surfing, water skiing, wakeboarding and even scuba diving.
2. Lake Lucerne; Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden & Lucerne
Lake Lucerne literally translates to the ‘Lake of the Four Forested Settlements’, as its spreads across four Swiss cantons. The lake has an irregular shape that makes it appear as if it sits within four different valleys, although 113.6 square kilometre lake sits in the Reuss Valley.
It’s a truly spectacular lake, being entirely surrounded by mountains and offering sweeping views of their snowy peaks. Still, even though the lake sits at an elevation of 434 metres above sea level, it has a mild climate.
A must for all visitors is a cruise on a historic paddle wheel steamer or salon motor vessel around the lake to admire the views and the historic communities that lie along its shoreline. A walk around the Swiss Path -a loop around one arm of the lake- is also highly recommended.
3. Lake Constance; Thurgau, St. Gallen & Schaffhausen
Shared between Switzerland, Germany and Austria, Lake Constance sits in the northern foothills of the Alps along the Rhine and is actually three bodies of water that are connected by the river. At 536 square kilometres, it’s the third largest lake in Central Europe.
Lake Constance boasts a 273 kilometre shoreline, 72 kilometres of which are located in Switzerland. It’s a magical place, with countless walking trails and cycling trails, particularly along the 260 kilometres long Lake Constance circular route (Bodensee Rundwanderweg).
Around 70 million people visit the lake each year to enjoy its surrounding natural flora and fauna as well as its plethora of recreation activities. Swimming, sailing, fishing and diving are enjoyed in the warm months, while skiing is offered in the winter.
4. Lake Thun; Bern
Lake Thun sits at an elevation of 558 metres above sea level in the high Berner Oberland region of Bern. The alpine lake was created during the last glacial period between 115,000 and 11,700 years ago.
The lake is known for its clear blue water that reflects its mountainous backdrop. Its shoreline is home to picturesque towns, walking trails and a great selection of accommodations.
Windsurfing and sailing are particularly popular here, although many visitors come to Lake Thun to go canoeing or go on a memorable cruse around the 48.3 square kilometre lake. Some of these scenic cruises even offer a fabulous gourmet dinner that can be enjoyed while watching the beautiful sunset.
5. Lake Zurich; Zurich, St.Gallen & Schwyz
Being located right in the capital city makes it easy to visit Lake Zurich, which is a must for anyone visiting Switzerland. The banana shaped lake is stunningly framed by the lbis, Zimmerberg and Pfannenstiel hills, as well as the bustling city of Zurich.
The 88.66 square kilometre lake is shared between three cantons, although most of it lies within Zurich. Still, there are picturesque towns and villages in all three cantons surrounding the lake, including the medieval town of Rapperswil and the village of Au.
The lake’s northern coastline between Zollikon and Feldmeilen is known for its magnificent houses and villas, and sunny beaches. There are also plenty of places around the lake’s shoreline that offer swimming, although if there is one thing not to miss it’s riding on a historic paddle-steamer.
6. Lake Maggiore; Ticino
The largest lake in Southern Switzerland, the 212.5 square kilometre Lake Maggiore is located on the south edge of the Alps and is shared between Switzerland and Italy. Most of the lake is actually in Italy, although the Swiss side is home to the Brissago Islands.
The Brissago Islands are one of the lake’s biggest draws thanks to the famous botanical garden (Parco botanico del Canton Ticino). The lake is also surrounded by towering snowy peaks, making it a truly spectacular place.
Lake Maggiore is a romantic place to holiday, what with its stunning scenery, mild climate, accommodation options and superb eateries. As well, the Lake Maggiore Express is highly recommended for exploring the lake and its surrounding areas.
7. Oeschinen Lake; Bern
Located in the Berner Oberland region of Bern at an elevation of 1,578 metres above Sea level, Oeschinen Lake is nothing short of breath-taking. It’s quite a small lake, but it truly is a picturesque one that is nestled between the steep cliffs of the Blüemlisalp.
The lake is part of the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s not hard to see why. The best views of the stunning lake can be seen high above on the gondola ride from Kandersteg to Oeschinen.
The 25-minute hike to Oeschinen Lake is just as magnificent as the lake itself, passing by waterfalls, melting glaciers and alpine meadows. Once at the lake, take in the amazing views.
8. Lake Brienz; Berne
Lake Brienz sits in the Burnese Alps at an elevation of 564 metres above sea level. The lake is known for its views of the high Faulhorn and Schwarzhoren that tower over 2,000 metres above the picturesque lake.
The lake is named after the town of Brienz that sits along its northern shoreline, while the resort town of Interlaken can be found on the south side of the lake. Lake Brienz is known to be one of the most romantic places to holiday in Switzerland thanks to its magnificent colour, and surrounding mountain peaks, waterfalls and cliffs.
There is a hop-on-hop-off boat that traverses the 28.9 square kilometres lake, stopping at each village. There are also renovated steamers that offer cruises around the beautiful lake, some of which offer BBQ cruises, breakfast cruises and fondue cruises.
9. Lake Neuchâtel; Neuchâtel, Vaud, Fribourg & Bern
Lake Neuchâtel is the largest lake that’s located entirely inside of Switzerland. The majority of the lake is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, which also happens to be the side of the lake that is framed by mountain peaks.
The northern side of the 218.3 square kilometre lake is lined with vineyards and hilly landscapes, with the Jura Mountains as a backdrop. The lake’s southern shoreline is home to a large marshland and is a bird lovers paradise.
Charming villages are scattered around the lake, with boats going from one village to the next. The national “Mittelland” Cycle Route 5 can be found along Lake Neuchâtel’s south-eastern shore.
10. Blausee; Bern
Although Blausse is very small, it’s one of the Bernese Oberland region’s most popular tourist destinations. Blausee literally translates to Blue Lake and its magnificent colour is what draws so many people to it.
The lake is surrounded by the Blausee Nature Park, which features picnic areas, restaurants, a small museum and romantic walkways. It even has a spa, an organic trout farm and a lovely 3-star hotel.
Blausse is located in the Kander valley at an elevation of 887 metres above sea level. It’s accessible by bus or by train, or, of course, you can drive yourself there.
11. Walensee; St. Gallen & Glarus
Also known as Lake Walen, Walensee is one of the largest lakes in the country and sits at the western end of the Swiss holiday region known as Heidiland. The south side of the lake is where the towns and villages can be found, while the Churfirsten mountain chain is on the north side.
Walensee boasts spectacular views of the massif of the Mürtschenstock that overlooks it, though Todi is the largest peak in the lake’s surroundings. The road along the lake’s southern shoreline is its only access and is extremely scenic.
The historic hamlet of Quinten is the only settlement along the north side of the lake and happens to be completely car-free, being accessible by boat or on foot. The Flumserberg sports resort is just minutes away from Walensee, offering skiing in the winter, and hiking, biking and climbing in the summer.
12. Bachalpsee; Bern
Often overlooked by many, Bachalpsee is absolutely stunning, having the Schreckhorn as a backdrop. This is the highest peak in the Bernese Oberland and the northernmost peak in all of Europe that is over 4,000 metres.
The lake itself sits at an elevation of 2,265 meters above sea level and is only accessible on foot. The trail leading to Bachalpsee starts at the First Station and takes around one hour to get to.
The hike to the lake is easy and boasts spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains, streams and hills. Once there, there is a bench to sit and rest on and enjoy the magnificence of Bachalpsee and its surroundings.
13. Lac de Joux; Vaud
This is the largest lake in Switzerland that lies above 1,000 metres, as it sits at an elevation of 1,004 metres. Lac de Joux is located in the Vallée de Joux in the Jura Mountains.
The small lake is a haven for outdoor lovers that want to enjoy both the lake and its surroundings. Windsurfing, yachting, water skiing, wake boarding and rowing are offered on the lake, while hiking cycling and mountain biking are popular land activities.
In the summer, a boat travels around the lake on weekend, taking tourists on a memorable ride. In the winter, Lac de Joux freezes and becomes a massive skating rink.
14. Lake Biel; Bern
Located in western Switzerland, Lake Biel sits in the Jura Mountains at an elevation of 429 metres. The 39.3 square kilometre lake is named after the city of Biel, which sits along its northern tip.
The Chasseral Regional Park is on the lake’s northern shoreline and features vineyards, pastures and woods. A stroll along the Vineyard Way from Biel to La Neuveville is highly recommended.
In addition to waking paths, there is also a path for cycling and rollerblading around the lake. Boats travel around Lake Biel, which is a great way to take in the spectacular views of the mountains, the villages and the vineyards around the lake.
15. Schwarzsee; Fribourg
Schwarzsee is also known as Lac Noir, or Black Lake, because of its dark appearance caused by the shadows of the Eastern Freiburg Pre-Alps. In fact, the small lake is completely surrounded by mountain peaks.
The lake is a popular destination due to its nearby alpine valley, glaciers and vacation resort. Many families come here to go skiing, snow-shoeing and snowboarding.
Schwarzsee is also a summer destination, offering swimming, rowing, fishing and hiking. In addition to a four kilometre path circling the lake, there is also a 200 kilometre network of paths in the lake’s surrounding area.