Breathtaking Lake Towns You’ll Definitely Want to Visit
Sure, beach vacations are great, but there’s something particularly special about spending time in a small lake town.
For one, there’s a stillness to lakes that make them extremely relaxing, especially when you’re in a small town. Lakes can be surrounded by mountains, forests and even glaciers, and can be enjoyed in any season.
To help you plan your next peaceful retreat, we’ve gathered 15 amazing small towns that give you access to the most breathtaking lakes around the world.
15. South Lake Tahoe, California
Where to stay: The Landing Lake Tahoe Resort & Spa
Best time to visit: Year-round
*Each of these small lake towns has fewer than 25,000 people, and we ordered them from most to least populous.
The Experience: South Lake Tahoe
In our humble opinion, Lake Tahoe is the most beautiful lake in the U.S. If you disagree, you’re entitled to your wrong opinion. The crystal-clear, blue-green water reveals the large boulders that sit peacefully at the bottom of the deep lake. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to cover the experience.
One of the best things about Lake Tahoe is that it is a perfect year-round destination. Outdoor and indoor activities in and around the lake are available no matter the season. South Lake Tahoe has both beaches for the summer and ski resorts for the winter, and kayaking and hiking are particularly popular here.
14. Yellowknife, Canada
Where to stay: Lakeside cabin
Best time to visit: Winter
The Experience: Yellowknife
Located on the Great Slave Lake of Canada's Northwest Territories, Yellowknife is remote, rugged and almost always cold. One of the largest cities of northern Canada, it is still a gateway to the legendary Canadian wilderness and provides opportunities for safaris to see bears, wolves and bison. But what most people really come here to do is chase the elusive Northern Lights.
Even though you probably won't be swimming in the lake — let's be real, you'll be doing your best to avoid touching its frigid water — you can still enjoy many lakeside activities. Fishing is a popular one, as is boating. Boat races happen during the summer, which is also when you'll see many people enjoying their beautiful, brightly colored boathouses.
13. Cape Maclear, Malawi
Where to stay: Mgoza Lodge
Best time to visit: Dry season, between May and October
The Experience: Cape Maclear
Cape Maclear is one of the hottest villages on Lake Malawi, the sixth deepest lake in the world. And when we say hot, we don't mean that nightlife is thriving. On the contrary, this one-road village is as quiet and slow as it gets, which is why it's one of the most popular resort towns along the lake's shore.
If you've ever wanted to try freshwater diving, this is the place to do so. Yes, parts of Lake Malawi have crocodiles and hippopotamuses, but the lake is so long there are also plenty of safe spots to swim. The sandy beach of Cape Maclear is one such spot. Kayaking and taking boat tours, then heading into town to eat fresh fish are also highly recommended activities.
12. Queenstown, New Zealand
Where to stay: Hulbert House
Best time to visit: Year-round
The Experience: Queenstown
Queenstown is not just one of the best small lake towns in the world, but it also happens to be one of the best places on the planet — period.
Known as the "World Capital of Adventure Sports," there is no chance of getting bored in this town. Quieter activities include hiking along the several surrounding mountain and lake trails or going on slow boat tours to take in the beauty of the region.
But if you feel the need for an adrenaline rush, there are a ton of things to do: from bungee jumping to sky diving, whitewater rafting and swinging from giant ropes. You can also do excursions to nearby areas that range from tranquil vineyard tours to speed boating on the rocky Shotover River Canyon.
11. Bled, Slovenia
Where to stay: Penzion Kaps
Best time to visit: Year-round
The Experience: Bled
Bled is the gateway to the famous lake that bears its name. Undoubtedly one of the most astonishingly beautiful lakes on Earth, Lake Bled stands out for its singular small island, which houses a pretty white church with a terracotta roof and a tall bell tower.
The lake is achingly picturesque at any time of year, with the marked seasons bringing in different atmospheres. Despite its great popularity, Bled continues to be, at its core, a small, quiet town that is proud of its fluvial scenery.
Oh, and did we mention its a spa town? You really can't lose with a trip to Bled.
The Experience: El Calafate
Set on the shores of Lago Argentino, Calafate receives intrepid explorers looking to visit Los Glaciares National Park. Like most places in Argentinean Patagonia, the town's prettiness is almost impossible to describe — not necessarily for its human-made attributes, but for the natural wonders that surround it.
Lago Argentino is the largest freshwater lake in the country and provides numerous water activities to travelers. Fishing, kayaking, boating and ice trekking are some of the most popular ones. We especially recommend kayaking, as it's one of the best ways to get intimately close to the towering glaciers. The area is pretty year-round, but there's something special about seeing fall colors contrast the glacier's ever-present iciness.
If you have time, we also suggest hopping over to bordering Chile to visit nearby Torres del Paine National Park.
9. Copacabana, Bolivia
Where to stay: Las Olas
Best time to visit: Dry season, from April to October
The Experience: Copacabana
Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach may be more famous, but we'll dare to say Bolivian Copacabana is much cooler. (Fun fact: The Brazilian beach actually stole the name from this town.)
Sitting right on Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world, this small town completely centers around the body of water that is sacred to the locals. The lake's importance stems from legends that place it as the birthplace of the Incas. You'll be able to visit Incan ruins, one of the oldest Spanish churches in Bolivia and the lake's largest island — Isla del Sol — in a single trip. Boat trips on the lake are quite popular, but we also encourage you to simply take time to breathe and enjoy this special lake.
8. Yamanakako, Japan
Where to stay: Hotel Mt. Fuji
Best time to visit: Spring
The Experience: Yamanakako
Yamanakako, a Japanese village of fewer than 6,000 people, boasts two impressive natural features: Lake Yamanaka and Mount Fuji. Blessed with the visual combination of both, it is one of the most popular places for Japanese and foreign travelers who want to see the famous mountain.
As you stroll through the shores of the lake, you'll see Mount Fuji reflected on its water — a sight you are not likely to ever forget! Of course, hiking the mountain is the most popular activity, but there are also boat tours, and swimming is popular in the summer.
The town is gorgeous any time of year, but it is particularly inviting in the spring, when the bloom of the cherry blossoms contrasts with the white snow that covers Mount Fuji.
7. Menthon-Saint-Bernard, France
Where to stay: Le Palace de Menthon
Best time to visit: Summer
The Experience: Menthon-Saint-Bernard
Along Lake Geneva, Lake Annecy is easily France's prettiest lake. While the city that gives the lake its name is the most popular place to enjoy its shores, those looking for a quieter stay can go to Menton-Saint-Bernard.
The town has attracted Europeans looking for a quiet lakeside vacation since the 19th century. It distinguishes itself from other towns on the lake with the stone medieval castle that bears the town's name and dates back to the 11th century. It is also the birthplace of Bernard de Menthon, the patron saint of skiers — that's right, sports people need someone looking over them, too.
6. Banuang Daan, Phillippines
Where to stay: Sangat Island Dive Resort
Best time to visit: Dry season, November through May
The Experience: Banuang Daan
There are few words that can describe the otherworldly allure of the Filipino island of Coron in Palawan. With access to both the sea and numerous lakes, Banuang Daan is one of the best destinations on the island. Jagged karst cliffs rise from impossibly clear cerulean waters, hiding species like dwarf catfish, jellyfish and corals.
Controlled by the Tagbanua people, most of the island is off-limits to foreigners in order to protect it. But you will be able to go to Kayangan Lake, Barracuda Lake and twin lagoons, where people come to swim, snorkel, dive and kayak. And if you want a sea adventure, the area is considered one of the best spots in the Philippines for shipwreck diving.
The Experience: St. Lucia
The gateway into iSimangaliso Wetland Park, St. Lucia holds the honor of being a great lake and beach town at the same time. The park that it borders centers around the large Lake St. Lucia, where travelers can go on land and aquatic safaris. Animals you might see include elephants, hippos, crocodiles and leopards. At the right time of year, you'll also be able to see beautiful flamingos on the lake. At the wrong time, you might run into a Zambezi shark.
When you want a change of scenery, you can head to the beach. You'll find the St. Lucia Lighthouse, the dramatic landscape of Mission Rock Beach as well as typical sandy beaches. There are also beautiful corals offshore for those who like snorkeling or diving.
4. Varenna, Italy
Where to stay: B&B Il Bolentino
Best time to visit: Summer
The Experience: Varenna
No list of the best lake towns in the world could be complete without including at least one Lake Como town. Easily the prettiest of the Italian lakes, Como is a favored summer getaway for Europeans.
Though it is not as well known as Bellagio, we think Varenna is the prettiest town in Lake Como. And we're ready to stand by that as inevitable controversy ensues. The town has fewer than 900 residents and is considered to have one of the best-preserved Medieval cores of the region. Cobblestone alleys, centuries-old churches and lakeside homes painted yellow, orange and red make Varenna an absolute dream.
The Experience: Hallstatt
The picturesque village of Hallstatt is the perfect quintessential European lake town. Stacked houses at the edge of Lake Hallstatt make up the core of the village, which is surrounded by tall mountains. Many houses date back to the 16th century but are very well-preserved. Visitors enjoy walking down the narrow labyrinth of streets, looking for the perfect place to enjoy Austrian cafe culture.
Hallstatt and its surroundings are so undeniably mesmerizing that they have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Mexcaltitán de Uribe, Mexico
Where to stay: Hotel Ruta Azteca
Best time to visit: Spring
The Experience: Mexcaltitán de Uribe
Nayarit is mostly known for the laidback beach town of Puerto Vallarta. But if you want to go where most people don't and enjoy one of Mexico's most enchanting towns, head to Mexcaltitán de Uribe instead.
Located near Playa el Colorado, this unique town floats on a human-made island on the Laguna Grande de Mexcaltitan. It is oval by design, and its streets follow an intentional pattern typical of other Aztec cities.
You can only get here by boat, which is part of the reason that the town seems stuck in time in the very best of ways. Its tiny size means that there isn't a lot to do, but travelers will find that adjusting to a relaxed pace and enjoying the beauty of this designated Pueblo Magico is enough.
1. Matthew Town, Bahamas
Where to stay: Local homestay
Best time to visit: December to April (to avoid hurricane season)
The Experience: Matthew Town
If you've been to the touristy side of the Bahamas — the one that gets a neverending stream of cruise ships and is dominated by resorts — we highly recommend getting to the remote Great Inagua Island.
Matthew town is the only developed part of the island, whose middle has been devoured by the large Lake Rosa, known for its West Indian flamingos and part of Inagua National Park. With an estimated 80,000 in the flock, it is worth visiting the lake just for the sight of these majestic pink birds.
But don't expect to be pampered and catered in Great Inagua Island. This is one of the few places in the Bahamas where tourism doesn't rule. Instead, you can expect quiet beaches without beach chairs, beach bars or loud music. In fact, you might even find the beach without people! (We know, we know, it seems impossible in the Bahamas.)