The world's 15 most spectacular inland beaches

Australians are a saltwater people. Most of us grow up near the coast; when we head to the beach, we automatically expect to see waves rolling in from the horizon. Around the world, however, beaches come in many different forms. Lakes, rivers and lagoons all offer scenic stretches of strand made for swimming, strolling or chilling. Our pick of the world's best inland swim spots includes beaches that are sandy, beaches that are stony, and even a couple that are seriously chilly - but all of them are well worth a visit.

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil

All it takes is some rain. When the wet season comes to this north-eastern corner of Brazil, the kilometres of sparkling white sand dunes known as Lençóis Maranhenses turn into an endless row of beaches, as water gets trapped in the hollows between the dunes and forms tranquil lagoons. Around July, when the water is at its peak, the lagoons can reach up to 90 metres long. Amazingly, these ephemeral lakes even contain fish; during the dry season, they lie dormant in the sand, only to emerge when the rains come down.

Lake Baikal, Siberia

Everything about Lake Baikal is big. It's the world's oldest freshwater lake, and the deepest, and the largest by volume, holding 20 per cent of the world's fresh water. It also has plenty of shoreline to be enjoyed. To make the most of it, time your visit for Siberia's glorious summer season, and explore past the western shore, where most visitors congregate. The less-visited eastern shore has pine trees, sand dunes, and tranquil beaches perfect for pitching a tent.

See: Seven reasons to do the Trans-Siberian railway

Havasu Falls, Arizona

Sure, the shore is rocky, but who cares when you find a swim spot this gorgeous? Not only is Havasu Falls simply stunning; it is also largely crowd-free. That's because the only way to get to this turquoise pool of water on the bottom of the Grand Canyon is to hike 16 km down from the top. Unless, that is, you catch a helicopter. The rain-fed water stays a constant temperature all year around, so Havasu is worth the hike whatever the season.

Lake Saimaa, Finland

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They don't get much of a summer in Finland. Even in the areas that fall below the Arctic Circle, summer arrives late and leaves early. Luckily, the Finns know how to make the most of it. They head to the area known as Lakeland, filled with thousands of forest-fringed lakes, where they happily kayak, swim and sauna under the midnight sun. One of the loveliest spots is Lake Saimaa, with its labyrinth of islands and peninsulas, where you may also spot the rare Saimaa ringed seal.

Strandbad Mitte, Berlin

First-time visitors are often surprised by the many waterways that wind through Berlin: the city reputedly has more bridges than Venice. So, with the do-it-yourself sensibility that has made them famous, the residents of this inland metrpolis decided to create their very own beach. At the sandy Strandbad Mitte, right by the famous Museum Island, locals stop by after work, pull up a deckchair, order a snack or a drink, and make the most of those long summer evenings.

Sand Harbor, Nevada

Lake Tahoe is an all-seasons destination. In winter, people flock to the surrounding mountains for superb skiing and snowing. In summer, the focus turns to the lake itself, an Ice Age creation that is an astonishing 500 metres deep. The shore is scalloped with pretty beaches; our favourite is Sand Harbor, where you can chase minnows and crayfish amid the granite rock pools, swim out to one of the islands, or just laze on the fine white sand.

Leopoldsteinersee, Austria

Mountains and lakes go together like strudel and whipped cream, so it is no wonder Austria is blessed with so many lovely Alpine pools to choose from. The Leopoldsteinersee in the province of Styria is one of the most tempting, its emerald green waters reflecting the surrounding mountains and forest. If the water, fed by underground springs, can feel a bit chilly, warm up by trying out the 3km hiking trail that circles the lake. If that is too energetic, hire an electric boat for a gentler type of sightseeing.

Lake Malawi, Africa

Africa hides plenty of marvels in its vast interior, but perhaps the most unexpected is its great lakes. One of the loveliest can be found in the small country of Malawi. The crystal clear waters of Lake Malawi - which covers an astonishing area of more than 29,000 km - are the perfect place to unwind after a safari. Chill out on the shore, dive down to discover colourful cichlid fish, or take a sunset cruise on a dhow. The lake is fringed with white sand beaches; we are taken with this little patch of perfection at Pumulani camp, on the lake's southern shore.

Lake Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

The centrepiece of Argentina's spectacular Patagonia region, Lake Nahuel Huapi offers one scenic vista after another, from thickly-forested fjords to plunging waterfalls. One thing this glacial lake doesn't have a lot of, however, is inviting beaches. However, this rocky beach on Victoria Island is a perfect spot to drink in the views. If you're making a day of it, hop on the boat to the nearby Quetrihué Peninsula, where you can visit a 250-year-old myrtle tree forest.

North Avenue Beach, Chicago

Chicago's beaches rival those of Sydney, despite this Midwestern city being a thousand kilometres away from the ocean. Although locals have 26 different swimming beaches to choose from, many opt for North Avenue Beach, with that striking skyscraper silhouette in the background. Apart from swimming, there are plenty of options to keep you entertained, from volleyball courts to bike and kayak rentals. The beach is also famous for its art deco beach house.

See: The three-minute guide to Chicago

Gulpiyuri Beach, Spain

What is a sandy beach doing in the middle of a meadow, 100 metres from the sea? Gulpiyuri Beach, near Llanes in the northern Spanish state of Asturias, may well be the one of world's weirdest beaches: marooned behind grassy hills, out of sight of the sea, yet still washed by salty waves. This shell-shaped beach is connected to the sea by a series of underground tunnels which flush water through as the tide changes. Go ahead, take the plunge; the water's fine.

See: 20 things that will shock first-time visitors to Spain

Blue Pools, New Zealand

A stony beach will always be less comfortable than a sandy one, but when the water is this inviting, we're prepared to put up with a few pebbles. The pools at the mouth of the Blue River may be the perfect shade of Tahiti blue, but we are a long way from Polynesia: Blue Pools is tucked into the fringe of New Zealand's Southern Alps, in Mount Aspiring National Park. Even armchair types should be able to handle the easy two kilometre walk from the main road, which winds through a pretty beach forest.

See: 20 things that will shock first-time visitors to New Zealand

Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Even in a country known for giving good landscape, Iceland's Jökulsárlón lagoon takes your breath away. Be mesmerised by the steady stream of icebergs that drift past, having calved off the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Some are tiny, some are the size of a bus, some are sculpted into fantastic shapes; our favourites are the ones that flip over, revealing iridescent blue ice. For the most memorable view, head to the black sand beach of Breiðamerkursandur at sunrise, when dawn breaks over icebergs that have piled up onshore.

See: Isolated Iceland's tourist boom

Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec

You won't hear Quebecois talking much about the Laurentians, or les Laurentides, as they are known in French. That's because they prefer to keep these lovely mountains to themselves. There are plenty of spectacular landscapes to explore here; one of our favourites is Lac-Saint-Jean in the Parc National de la Pointe Taillon, less than three hours from Quebec City. With 20km of beaches along the lake shore, this is the perfect place to walk off into the sunset.

Walden Pond, Massachusetts

How lovely is the shore along Walden Pond? So lovely, it inspired a literary classic. Henry David Thoreau's Walden – his account of living in the wood surrounding Walden Pond – still resonates after more than 150 years, and its message of self-sufficiency and simplicity is best contemplated from one of the quiet stretches of lakeshore. Note that Thoreau left a few things out of the book: not least the fact that, during his wilderness sojourn, Thoreau continued to take his laundry home to mum.

See also: Secret spots: 20 amazing destinations you've never heard of

See also: Australia's best swimming spots beyond the beach

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