What Are the Largest Lakes in the World?

The Kazakhstan coast of the Caspian Sea.

A lake is an open or closed body of water that’s surrounded by land. They vary in shape, location, depth, and size, and can be found in continents all over the world. 

Lakes are important for many reasons – they provide homes for many species, provide means for transportation, supply communities with water, help farmers grow their crops, and can serve  as tourist and recreation spots. There’s no denying that we need them, and we probably can’t survive without them.

There are millions of lakes all over the world. According to a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers found that there are approximately 117 million lakes with a surface area larger than 0.002 cubic kilometers worldwide. Since it’s impossible to become familiar with all of them, we’ve come up with a list of a few of the largest lakes in the world, measured both by area and volume.

Largest Lakes in the World by Area

Caspian Sea

Don’t let the name fool you. The world’s largest inland body of water, the Caspian Sea is typically considered a lake, despite being saline. Covering an area of 371,000 square kilometers, it’s the largest lake in the world and reaches several countries, including Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran.

Lake Superior

Following the Caspian Sea is North America’s Lake Superior, which covers a surface area of 82,100 square kilometers. Shared by Canada and the United States, Lake Superior is the largest of the five Great Lakes of North America.

Lake Victoria

Third on the list is Lake Victoria, named after Queen Victoria by an English Explorer. As one of the African Great Lakes, it covers an area of 68,870 square kilometers and is the largest lake in Africa. Lake Victoria is bordered by Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Lake Huron

Another one of the 5 Great Lakes of North America, Lake Huron covers an area of 59,600 square kilometers. It’s connected to Canada and the United States and was named by early French explorers. This lake also contains the world’s largest lake island called Manitoulin Island, located in the Canadian province of Ontario.

Lake Michigan

The only of the North American Great Lakes located entirely in the United States, Lake Michigan comes in at 5th on our list. With a surface area of 58,030 square kilometers, the lake is bordered by Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Major cities along its shores include Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay.

Lake Tanganyika

Possibly not as well known as the previous five, Lake Tanganyika is the second largest of the African Great Lakes and covers an area of 32,600 square kilometers in East Africa. It reaches the countries Zambia, Burundi, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lake Tanganyika is also among the oldest freshwater ancient lakes, meaning it’s been carrying water for over one million years!

Largest Lakes in the World by Volume

Lake Superior, part of the North American Great Lakes.

Caspian Sea

Classified as an endorheic basin (a basin without outflows), the Caspian Sea is the largest lake in the world both in size and volume. With a volume of 78,200 cubic kilometers, it contains about 3.5 times more water than all five of North America’s Great Lakes combined. Because of its large size and saltiness, ancient inhabitants in the region formerly believed the Caspian Sea to be an ocean.

Lake Baikal

With a maximum depth of 1,642 meters, Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest lake. Located in the Southern Siberia region of Russia, it has a volume of 23,600 cubic kilometers and contains approximately 22-23% of the world’s fresh surface water. Lake Baikal is also believed to be the world’s oldest ancient lake, possibly dating back 25-30 million years. 

Lake Tanganyika

Sixth on the list for the largest lakes by surface area, Lake Tanganyika is also one of the deepest. Bordered by Tanzania, Zambia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, this East African lake has a volume of 18,900 cubic kilometers. It is the deepest African lake and carries 16% of the world’s available freshwater.

Lake Superior

Next on the list is North America’s Lake Superior. As previously mentioned, it’s one of the five Great Lakes connecting to Canada and the United States and is the world’s second largest lake by area. Lake Superior is also one of the deepest, with a volume of 11,600 cubic kilometers. 

Lake Malawi

Also one of the Great African Lakes, Lake Malawi has a volume of 7,725 cubic kilometers. It’s located between Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania and is the most Southern lake in the East African Rift system – an active rift zone in East Africa. What’s interesting about Lake Malawi is that it carries the largest number of fish species for any lake in the world, with most species considered endemic.  

Lake Vostok

Lake Vostok is the largest of Antarctica’s known subglacial lakes, located at the Southern Pole of Cold under the surface of one of the known ice sheets in Antarctica. Lake Vostok has an estimated volume of 5,400 cubic kilometers  (±1,600) and is the sixth-largest by volume. “Vostok” means East in Russian, as it was named after the Russians because it’s located directly beneath their Antarctic research station.

Think you can remember what the biggest lakes are? Try taking these quizzes: