A tour of the 7 best lakes in Switzerland
Published on April 17, 2023
Switzerland may be small, but this alpine country is full of natural beauty. Despite not bordering any sea or ocean, it has many idyllic water spots to recommend. Over 1,500 lakes pepper the four main rivers crossing the Swiss cantons: Rhine, Rhône, Inn and Ticino. Gleaming with clear blue water, these lakes are surrounded by breathtaking mountain landscapes, picturesque villages and resorts.
Some Swiss lakes share their shorelines with neighboring countries, while others are fully Swiss. Some are easy to access, with large cities sitting on their banks while others hide in remote locations. Adding to the fun, these popular destinations offer many water and land activities, from sailing and fishing to biking, hiking and winter skiing. To help you choose one for your next holiday, here is our selection of the seven best lakes in Switzerland.
Let’s start big, with the largest of all the lakes in Switzerland. Lake Geneva (or lac Léman in French) sits in the northern Alps at 372 meters above the sea, with one part set in France and the other in Switzerland. Due to its ideal position, it offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, in particular Mont Blanc and Grand Combin. Highlights among Lake Geneva’s shoreline include the city of Geneva with its high-end luxury shops, popular resorts like Montreux and Vevey, and a smattering of hillside vineyards, pretty villages and castles, such as the Romanesque Chillon castle. Even if you don’t own one of the yachts that leisurely float in its waters, you can enjoy a cruise around the crescent-shaped lake along with a host of water activities, such as sailing, rowing, wind-surfing and water-skiing.
Another top Swiss city, another lake. While visiting Zurich, the financial and economic capital of Switzerland, make sure to take a paddle-steamer cruise across this banana-shaped lake. There’s simply no better way to marvel at the grand architecture of the bustling city or take in the dreamy beaches, majestic houses and fairytale-like villages that line the shore. You can also take the opportunity to stop by one of the four islands on the lake.
Sitting on the Northern Alps, Lake Constance displays some geographical features that set it apart from other Swiss lakes. Most strikingly, it’s composed of three bodies of water connected by the Rhine River. Its location means that it is also split between German-speaking Switzerland, Germany and Austria.
Lake Constance is particularly popular in summer, thanks to its mild weather and plethora of outdoor activities. Depending on your tastes, you may go for a cruise or one of the many water activities on the lake. If you prefer to stay on land, you may choose one of the many biking and hiking trails that make it easy to take in the landscape and discover medieval towns along the shoreline.
With deep, turquoise waters surrounded by the snow-capped Alps, Lake Lucerne dates back 12,000 years. It originated when the glaciers of the river Reuss shrunk, as the Jardin des Glaciers de Lucerne (Garden of Lucerne’s Glaciers) continues to remind visitors.
Lake Lucerne also benefits from overall mild weather, beautiful beaches and coves and a huge number of outdoor activities. But if this lake stands out from all the other lakes in Switzerland, it’s without a doubt thanks to the Grütli mountain meadow. According to legend, this is where the first Confederates swore the Rütli Oath, which set Switzerland on the path toward independence. On the 1st of August, for Swiss National Day, the meadow welcomes political figures and hosts folk events and traditional sports to commemorate the event.
The city of Lucerne, which gives its name to the lake, is also worth a visit thanks to its medieval architecture, extraordinary monuments and many boutique shops.
Though it’s most associated with Italy, where the major part of the lake sits, Lake Maggiore still crosses over to the southern part of Switzerland. The Swiss side of the lake includes the Brissago islands and, more notably, the larger island of San Pancrazio, which is home to the Parco Botanico del Canto Ticino (Botanical Garden of the Canton of Ticino).
The beautiful city of Locarno, with its majestic Piazza Grande, fancy boutique shops and cozy cafés, also sits on the lake’s shore. Lake Maggiore is an idyllic destination, with stunning landscapes, pleasant swimming beaches, mild weather and delicious eateries to enjoy all the best of Swiss life.
Lake Walensee is not just one of the largest or most beautiful lakes in Switzerland — it’s also one of the most remote. Steep vertical cliffs, mountains and large peaks surround it. The very scenic road running along the south coastline is the only quick way to access the lake. This is also where you can find all the lake towns and villages. Only the historic hamlet of Quinten is located on the north side. Entirely free of cars, you can reach it exclusively by boat or foot.
Such isolation may have inspired Johanna Spyri to set her famous Heidi books in this part of Switzerland, which is now commonly known as “Heidiland.” Fans of the two novels will enjoy the tourist attraction Heididorf in nearby Maienfeld. Alternatively, visitors can devote their time to skiing at the Flumserberg sports resort in winter or to boating, climbing, hiking and biking in summer.
Even if you’re only a beginner in German, you may have recognized that Schwarzsee means “black lake” in German. The lake owes its name to the dark tones created by the shadows of the Eastern Freiburg Pre-Alps. Indeed, this small lake is entirely surrounded by mountains. It is equally popular in winter as a skiing destination and in summer for all its outdoor activities, such as rowing, fishing, swimming and hiking.
These seven lakes are only a tiny fraction of all the bodies of water that speckle Switzerland’s many cantons and regions. But they encapsulate the varied landscapes and attractions of the best lakes in Switzerland. They cater to all tastes and inclinations, from sports to leisure activities and from cultural tourism to boutique shopping.