Britain’s most beautiful lakes

The UK is home to some truly beautiful lakes, lochs, pools, reservoirs and waters. Here is our pick of the best to visit, including wildlife highlights, heritage and nearby walks

Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia, North Wales

Lakes are an iconic feature of the British landscape and, rain or shine, their waters and bordering paths offer us boundless scope for adventure and discovery.

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Most of us have heard of Windemere, Loch Lomond and the mighty Loch Ness, but there are many more to be explored.

Lake District
Early morning mist in the Lake District ©Jake Graham

From the small but majestic Rydal Water in the Lake District to the bubbling Fairy Pools of Skye, here are some of the most spectacular lakes in the UK for sports, bike rides, water-side walks and picnics.

Castle and river

England

Ullswater, Cumbria, Lake District

Ullswater
Ullswater ©Getty

Ullswater is the second largest lake in the Lake District at 7.5 miles long, and is best known for it’s stunning scenery. The lake is situated at the foot of England’s third highest mountain, Helvellyn, making it an irresistible destination for walkers and hikers. Enjoy the view from the lake, or from the mountains, before finding refreshment at one of the many cafes and pubs in the area.

Enjoy a walk along the shores of the lake or book a scenic cruise across Ullswater and visit ullswater-steamers.co.uk 


Buttermere, Cumbria, Lake District

Buttermere lake
Buttermere lake ©Alamy

Henry David Thoreau wrote of tramping eight or 10 miles to “keep an appointment with a beech tree, a yellow birch or an old acquaintance among the pines”. Here in the Lakes, visitors can do the same with a walk of about eight miles, first climbing to the crest of Rannerdale Knotts before returning via the iconic Buttermere Pines and the lake itself.


Windermere, Cumbria, Lake District

Lake Windermere
Aerial view of Lake Windermere ©Getty

At 10.5 miles long, Windermere is the largest body of water in the Lake District. The lake was one of Arthur Ransome’s inspirations for Swallows and Amazons. These days, the lake shore is home to hotels, activity companies and sailing centres – perfect for exploring glistening waters and tree-topped islands.


Coniston Water, Cumbria, Lake District

Coniston Water, Lake District
Yachts on the Coniston Water in the Lake District ©Getty

Best known for Donald Campbell’s tragically failed attempt at the world speed record in 1967, Coniston Water is also a scenic gem, situated beneath the lofty summit of the Old Man of Coniston. Visitors can hire boats to truly appreciate the vista, and then head to John Ruskin’s former home, Brantwood, now a museum and centre for the arts.

Find out what’s on at Brantwood this summer by visiting  brantwood.org.uk


Rydal Water, Cumbria, Lake District

Rydal Water, Lake District
A lone Tree on a small island at Rydal water in the English Lake District gGetty

Despite being one of the smallest lakes in the Lake District, Rydal Water is not to be missed. Set in lush green surroundings, any lover of literature will appreciate the connections Rydal has. Two of Wordsworth’s homes are situated on the banks of the lake, as well as a cottage formerly occupied by Thomas Quincey and Hartley Coleridge.


Kielder Water, Northumberland

Kielder Water and forest, Northumberland
Kielder Water and Forest, Northumberland ©Getty 

Built between 1975 and 1981, Kielder Water is the UK’s largest artificial lake. Although the main use of the reservoir is to supply the North Tyne, Wear and Tees rivers, it is also a beautiful feature of the landscape, surrounded by pine forests and heather moorland. Visitors to Kielder Water can holiday in the woodland lodges and marvel at the star-studded night skies over the lake, which have been named the darkest in England.

  • Visit Kielder Observatory to stargaze and learn about the night sky, at visitkielder.com or take a walk around the lake with our route and map.

Malham Tarn, North Yorkshire, Yorkshire Dales

Malham tarn is a natural lake on high ground in the Yorkshire Dales.
Malham tarn is a natural lake on high ground in the Yorkshire Dales.

At 377 metres above sea level, Malham Tarn is the highest marl (calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud) lake in Britain. A short walk around Malham Tarn beneath the looming cliffs of Great Close Scar offers ramblers a chance to experience a variety of habitats, from craggy limestone bluffs, to thick forest, peatland and a wildlife-rich upland lake.


Wales

Llangorse, Brecon Beacons

Llangorse Lake, Wales
Swans paddle on Llangorse Lake in the Brecon Beacons national Park ©Getty

The largest natural lake in Wales, Llangorse is a wide haven of tranquility. It is particularly popular for boating and fishing, although as a site of Special Scientific Importance, there are regulations that must be abided by. Llangorse is also known for being the location of the only Crannog in Wales, an ancient lake defence thought to be constructed in the 10th century. Visit the lake and immerse yourself in its myth and folklore.


Llyn Idwal, Conwy/Gwynedd, Snowdonia

Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia, North Wales
Llyn (Lake) Idwal and the peak of Pen yr Ole Wen in the distance, Snowdonia National Park ©Getty

Nestled within the breathtaking rock formation of Cwm Idwal is Llyn Idwal, a small glacial lake supplied by freshwater flowing from the mountains. The area was recognised as Wales’ first National Nature Reserve for it’s unique landscape, making it hugely popular with rock-climbers and geologists. It is also a haven for botanists, being home to a variety of rare Arctic-alpine plants.


Lake Vyrnwy, Powys

Lake Vynwy
Lake Vyrnwy © Getty

Lake Vyrnwy was built in the 1880s to supply Liverpool with freshwater. In addition to the water activities available, the lake is also a RSPB nature reserve and, as a result, visitors can hope to spot pied flycatchers, redstarts and peregrines, among other species. There is a sculpture trail park and natural play area, meaning the whole family can enjoy the lake.


Llyn y Dywarchen, Gwynedd, Snowdonia

Llyn y Dywarchen, Gwynedd
Llyn y Dywarchen, Gwynedd ©Getty

Hike through deep valleys, along meandering forest paths and beside an old mountain railway to one of the most mysterious lakes in Britain: Wales’ Llyn y Dywarchen. It is across this lake that an island once floated – discover the mystery.


Llyn y Fan Fach, Camarthenshire, Brecon Beacons

Llyn y Fan Fach, Powys
Llyn y Fan Fach, Powys ©Getty

Park up in the small, gravel car park beneath Llyn y Fan Fach and you’ll already be aware of the solitude of this part of the Brecon Beacons – it’s the quiet understudy to the neighbouring central peaks of Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Cribyn, yet certainly no less spectacular.


Scotland

Loch Lomond, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Balmaha, loch Lomond, Scotland
Balmaha boats in the harbour, Loch Lomond ©Getty

Loch Lomond is one of Scotland’s most beautiful and peaceful lochs, and the inspiration for one of Scotland’s most famous songs: The Bonnie Banks o’Loch Lomond. Among other attractions, the loch contains around 30 islands, some of which form a Special Area of Conservation, home to otters, black grouse and golden eagles.


Loch Morar, Lochaber, Highland

Loch Morar, Highlands, Scotland
Loch Morar, Highlands, Scotland ©Getty

Loch Morar has the title of the UK’s deepest body of fresh water, with a maximum depth of 310m. The loch, formed through glacial action 10,000 years ago, now boasts a wonderful selection of walks, as well as prime opportunities for salmon and trout fishing. Visit its waters in summer and watch the sun set against the rolling hills.


Loch Shiel, Lochaber, Highland

Glenfinnan Monument
The Glenfinnan Monument at Loch Shiel ©Getty

Loch Shiel, wrapped by woodland and mountains, is notable for its abundant wildlife. It’s waters and shoreline are a vital breeding ground for black-throated divers and golden eagles, as well as salmon, sea trout and brown trout which can be fished with permits. The loch also features in several films – it’s the fictional Black Lake in the Harry Potter  films, and also a location in Highlander and The Master of Ballantrae. 


Loch Garten, Highland

Loch Garten is hidden within Abernethy Forest/
Loch Garten is hidden within Abernethy Forest ©Getty

Hidden within Abernethy Forest in the lowlands of the Cairngorms National Park is Loch Garten. With its ancient Caledonian pine forest, boggy woodland and rich waters, the reserve is an embodiment of the wild and compelling  nature of the Scottish Highlands. Take a walk along the loch shores with route and map


Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides

Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland ©Getty

Though not technically a lake, the Fairy Pools are among the most beautiful places to visit in Scotland. Situated on the Isle of Skye, visitors flock to the Fairy Pools in summer to enjoy the crystal clear waters and beautiful falls. The route to the pools is a walk of medium difficult, but you are rewarded with the chance to take a dip and cool off among the cascades.

To find out more about the Fairy Pools walk, visit isleofskye.com


Northern Ireland

Lough Erne, County Fermanagh

Lower Lough Erne, Fermanagh, Northern Ireland
Lower Lough Erne, Fermanagh, Northern Ireland ©Daniel Graham

Lough Erne is the second biggest lake system in Northern Ireland. The lough has 154 islands – some home to the scarce garden warbler – many of which can be explored on boat and foot. Today, the lough is popular for angling and water sports, as well as hosting the Lough Erne Challenge gold tournament. It is also steeped in mythology; there are various folk tales surrounding the name and origin of the lough, including that it was named after an ancient goddess.

Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland

UK, Northern Ireland, Lough Neagh
Lough Neagh ©Getty

Lough Neagh supplies 40% of Northern Ireland’s water and is the biggest lake in Ireland. Legend has it that the lough has its very own underwater Atlantis, after a spring rose up and flooded an ancient kingdom. There are now numerous activities to enjoy at Lough Neagh, from waterskiing to golf, as well as tours of the ancient ruins of Shane’s Castle, recently used as a filming location for Game of Thrones. 

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  • Explore the heritage and nature of Lough Neagh with one of the many tours available, at loughneaghtours.com