The Six Most Beautiful Lakes in the Balkans

Want wild swimming, hikes through flower-strewn hillsides and suppers in time-wizened villages? If you love the outdoors, it doesn’t get much better than a lake trip. From Slovenia’s fairy-tale waters to the screensaver-perfect pools of Albania, here are six of the most beautiful places to get back to nature in the Balkans.

Craving wild-swimming sessions, jaunts through flower-strewn hillsides and suppers at time-wizened villages? For those of a more outdoorsy disposition, it doesn't get much better than a lake trip. While many people schlep up to the Alps come autumn - into the sky-high, moneyed enclaves of Switzerland and Austria - there are more affordable alternatives to be found in the Balkans, that patch of southern Europe that stretches from Croatia to Bulgaria, from the Adriatic to the Black Sea. We should know. Looking for fairy-tale pools with screensaver-perfect views? Here are six of the most beautiful lakes in the Balkans.

Wild swimming, scenic hikes and boat trips: the best lakes in the Balkans

Lake Bled


We'll start with the obvious one. Lake Bled is so conventionally beautiful - dense, Yves Klein-blue skies, pale waters and frothy, cloudlike forests - that it feels like the product of an Instagram algorithm. It's on the Interrail route, so many people swing by in passing en route to Krakow or Ljubljana, but it's a worthy destination in itself. Make sure to check out nearby Vintgar Gorge too. Those with a fear of heights might be a little unsteady on the rickety old boards that snake through this ravine but the lustrous waterfall at the end is the stuff of Disney films.

Lake Bohinj


Just a half-hour drive from Lake Bled sits Lake Bohinj, Bled's larger but less-visited sibling. While Bled has become a real fixture for nature tourism in recent years, Bohinj is a little less glamorous. Still, there are plenty of walking and cycling routes to explore (try Mostnica Gorge for starters) as well as a thread of humble hamlets which line the lakeside, each with their own poky but endearing restaurants. Those really hankering for the rustic lifestyle should stop in at the Alpine Dairy Farming Museum.

Crno Jezero


It's name might translate as "black lake" but, like most glacial lakes, Crno Jezero is vehemently powder blue. A shallower stretch of water bisects this pool in Montenegro's Durmitor National Park, so in the height of summer, it actually becomes two separate lakes. The town of Žabljak is a good place to bed down for the night and marks the epicentre of many epic hikes whose paths culminate at Crno Jezero and other, smaller lakes in the area. Bring binoculars: deer, weasels and otters are just some of the fauna you might spot.

Lake Ohrid

North Macedonia

This lake straddles the border between North Macedonia and Albania, making a boat trip across the water from one country to the other very tempting. North Macedonia isn't known as a sublime natural beauty, but Ohrid's old town is a serious contender for the title of Europe's prettiest enclave. In summer, the lake is dusted with kayaks and visitors jostle for tables at waterside restaurants, which is why we're visiting in autumn, when the weather is still temperate and we can have the whole lot to ourselves.

Lake Skadar

Albania and Montenegro

Largely untouched by humans and riven with fleets and flocks of rare, endemic animal species, Lake Skadar is a real treat for nature gluttons. It can be wild and unkempt in the hills which loom over the lake, so we suggest asking a local guide to take you out on hikes. Down by the water's edge, you'll find wispy bamboo paddings and carpets of waterlilies. To see the lake in full, hop on a boat from Virpazar in Montenegro - just don't expect to find a whizzy little speedboat, but a handmade wooden number. Life is slow here.

Lake Koman


Lake Koman is something of a catfish. Despite appearances, this luscious pool of sparkling blue which curves around vertiginous, verdant hills punctuated by farmsteads hasn't existed since the dawn of time. It was created as part of a huge hydroelectric-power project in the 80s but is known today as one of Albania's most beautiful bodies of water. Find yourself a boat and head for the lake's serene caves or hike into the Valbona Valley National Park for views over this wiggly pool.

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