Many aquatic ecosystems have deteriorated due to human activities and their restoration is often troublesome. It is proposed here that the restoration success of deteriorated lakes critically depends on hitherto largely neglected spatial heterogeneity in nutrient loading and hydrology. A modelling approach is used to study this hypothesis by considering four lake types with contrasting nutrient loading (point versus diffuse) and hydrology (seepage versus drainage). By comparing the longterm effect of common restoration measures (nutrient load reduction, lake flushing or biomanipulation) in these four lake types, we found that restoration through reduction of nutrient loading is effective in all cases. In contrast, biomanipulation only works in seepage lakes with diffuse nutrient inputs, while lake flushing will even be counterproductive in lakes with nutrient point sources. The main conclusion of the presented analysis is that a priori assessment of spatial heterogeneity caused by nutrient loading and hydrology is essential for successful restoration of lake ecosystems.