Under ongoing climate change and increasing anthropogenic activity, which continuously challenge ecosystem resilience, an in-depth understanding of ecological processes is urgently needed. Lakes, as providers of numerous ecosystem services, face multiple stressors that threaten their functioning. Harmful cyanobacterial blooms are a persistent problem resulting from nutrient pollution and climate-change induced stressors, like poor transparency, increased water temperature and enhanced stratification. Consistency in data collection and analysis methods is necessary to achieve fully comparable datasets and for statistical validity, avoiding issues linked to disparate data sources. The European Multi Lake Survey (EMLS) in summer 2015 was an initiative among scientists from 27 countries to collect and analyse lake physical, chemical and biological variables in a fully standardized manner. This database includes in-situ lake variables along with nutrient, pigment and cyanotoxin data of 369 lakes in Europe, which were centrally analysed in dedicated laboratories. Publishing the EMLS methods and dataset might inspire similar initiatives to study across large geographic areas that will contribute to better understanding lake responses in a changing environment. © The Author(s) 2018.