The Top 10 Lakeside Drives in Europe

Discover the finest of Europe's lakes, from the Balkans' deepest and the Swedish freshwater archipelago to England's evocative Lake District.
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Buttermere in England's Lake District
Buttermere in England's Lake District  (Joe Cornish/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia/Albania
With cool breezes, clear waters, and a mountainous backdrop, Lake Ohrid is the deepest Balkan lake. The 56-mile (90 km) loop from Ohrid, the main town on the eastern, Macedonian side, lets you drive around the lake, crossing the border twice.
PLANNING: The most striking leg of the drive is the southeast shore between Pestani and the Mausoleum of St. Naum near Macedonia's border.

Lake Balaton, Hungary
While tacky resorts largely mar its southern shore, the northern coastline of Europe's largest freshwater lake rewards drivers with vineyards, decaying villas, thermal spas, and historic villages fringed by woodlands and reed-beds. From Balatonvilagos, allow four hours to circumnavigate the lake via the town of Siofok on the south coast.
PLANNING: Balaton offers pleasant swimming May–October, but avoid the high season (July–August). Genteel Keszthely makes a fine base.

Neusiedlersee/Ferto tó, Austria/Hungary
Central Europe's second largest steppe lake, shallow and windswept, has had dramatic fluctuations in water levels, now minimized by a sluice. From Neusiedl am See on the lake's northern shore, head south via Sopron in Hungary past tall reeds that shelter migratory birds, vineyards, and ancient villages.
PLANNING: The weather is best from late spring through early fall, although winter brings ice-skating.

Lake Constance, Germany/Switzerland/Austria
Near the Alps, Lake Constance is actually a giant swelling of the River Rhine. Drive clockwise around the lake from Konstanz, taking time to enjoy water sports, swimming, cruising, hiking, and lazing on beaches, as well as medieval towns, nature reserves, and vineyards.
PLANNING: Lake Constance is an hour's drive from Zurich. It is busiest in summer; fall is a good time to visit, with the grape harvest and wine festivals to enjoy.

Lake Maggiore, Italy/Switzerland
Renowned for its romantic beauty, this long, narrow lake is surrounded by hills to the north and mountains to the south. The 112-mile (179 km) long road passes abundant attractions, including historic Ascona, the botanical gardens on the Isole di Brissago and in the town of Verbania, the hiking paradise of Centovalli, the glorious Borromean Islands, the Borromeo and Cannero castles, and its main resort, the sedate town of Stresa.
PLANNING: The western shore is the prettier. A car ferry plies between Intra (Verbania) and Laveno on the eastern shore.

Reproduced with permission from Drives of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Most Spectacular Trips, 2010, National Geographic. All rights reserved.

Published: 16 Sep 2010 | Last Updated: 31 Jul 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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