Visiting Italy is an experience that you will cherish for a lifetime. From the spiritual home of Christianity to the fashion capital of the world, Italy has an eccentric dichotomy to it.
As a melting point of art, history, and modernity, Italy continues to be one of the most visited places on the planet. In 2014, nearly 49 million tourists visited Italy and the numbers have only swelled since.
There are quite a few tourist attractions in Italy that covering them in a single blog post is a tall order. However, as this one is dedicated to lake travel, Italy sure doesn’t disappoint on this front too! With easy visa requirements to Italy ensuring you have a hassle-free trip, check out our guide to the perfect Italian lake holidays.
The Best Time to Visit Italy’s Spectacular Lakes
Italy’s magnificent lakes shine in different seasons, each offering their own charm and activities. While summer sees peak crowds, the weather allows full enjoyment of the water sports, beaches, gardens and Alpine trails. Travel during shoulder seasons of spring and fall for fewer crowds and pleasant weather, though some attractions may have reduced hours. Each lake region has microclimates, so check for rainfall and temperatures at specific lakes.
Spring still carries a chill in higher elevation lakes like Lake Como, best visited later from May to June when flowers bloom and before summer crowds. The warmer lakes like Garda and Maggiore welcome swimmers by April. Autumn dazzles with fall foliage reflecting on Lake Orta or Trasimeno’s crisper sunlit days.
By November, most lakes grow quiet when rain or mist shrouds the mountains. Winter is least crowded but freezing temperatures limit outdoor activities, though Christmas lights glitter from December through January before the snow comes and ferries reduce schedules. Whenever you decide to travel, Italy’s lakes offer inspiring beauty.
Most Beautiful Lakes in Italy
1. Lake Como
Lake Como gets its name from the Como province in Lombardy, Italy. Known for its celebrity residents (many famous celebrities have their mansions here!), the lake comes to life in summers.
Getting to Lake Como is easy, as it is just an hour’s drive away from Milan. Getting around at the lake is easy, with easy availability of boats and steamers. Most tourists head to the nearby towns of Bellagio, Como, Menaggio, and Varenna for sightseeing and affordable accommodation.
Best For: Glamour, romance, luxury escapes
What to Do: Take ferry boat tours, stay at lavish lakefront villas, soak up alpine views on funicular rides, explore elegant gardens, sample world-class Italian cuisine
Lake Maggiore is one of the most popular lakes of Italy, and its popularity dates to the 19th century. It remained a favorite tourist destination for the affluent families of Italy, and it has never gone out of vogue since then.
Located under Mount Rosa, Lake Maggiore is easily accessible from Milan and Piedmont. As Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy and largest of the pre-Alpines, it is quite popular among travelers from around the world.
Best For: Island hopping, breathtaking scenery, tranquil escapes
What to Do: Tour the Borromean Islands by boat, soak up old world charm in lakeside towns, sample locally grown wine and cheese, play golf along the lake
Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, and the most varied. Stretching from north to the south, Lake Garda offers tourists varied terrains. Many adventure activities are available to tourists including sailing, windsurfing, rappelling, and mountain biking. The lakeside towns serve as the perfect place for spending some quality time with family and friends. The best towns to stay around Lake Garda include Sirmione, Riva del Garda, Gardone Riviera, and Malcesine.
Best For: Windsurfing, hiking, family vacations
What to Do: Sail, windsurf or kayak on the lake, cycle mountain trails, tour olive oil farms and vineyards, explore well-preserved castles and Roman ruins
If you haven’t heard about Lake Orta till now, you are not alone! This is precisely the reason why we have this lake up on our list, as it is a hidden gem devoid of the chaos that sometimes engulfs other Italian lakes. Less number of tourists should not be equated with dearth of sightseeing and accommodation – the lake is as scenic and picturesque as it gets.
If you are looking for a peaceful retreat, you can stay in the beautiful town of Orta San Giulio. The cobbled streets and beautiful village houses will remain with you as a poignant memory for a long time.
Best For: Undiscovered romantic escapes, island time travel
What to Do: Wander medieval streets on Isola San Giulio, admire the baroque architecture on Sacro Monte di Orta, photograph dreamy lake vistas, sample regional food and wine
Like Lake Orta, Lake Iseo is also frequented than other lakes in Italy, but the reason it is on our list is because of its sheer beauty and sightseeing activities. The hills adjoining the lake make for a memorable amateur hiking experience, but for serious hikers, the challenging trail of Punta Almana with the promise of majestic views of Monte Isola is there to be taken. Talking about food options, a visit to Lake Iseo is considered incomplete if you haven’t tasted tinca or tecnh fish in Clusane. We highly recommend giving the dish a try, as the fish directly comes from Lake Iseo.
Best For: Cycling holidays, off-the-beaten-path adventures
What to Do: Hike and bike on Monte Isola, visit hilltop castles, explore tiny Franciacorta vineyards and wine cellars
6. Lake Bolsena
Oval-shaped Lake Bolsena has a fascinating volcanic history, forming over 300,000 years ago following a massive eruption that led to the collapse of the mouth of the vast volcanic crater that once stood here. Today, two tiny islands – Bisentina and Martana – dot the lake, remnants of volcanoes within the crater. The lake offers plenty for visiting travelers, including lakeside medieval towns where narrow stone lanes show off ancient churches and castles with stunning lake views.
Don’t miss a laidback meal of the local lake fish while gazing out over the sparkling water. Go for scenic hikes along the lush, forested shores to discover tiny coastal villages seemingly lost in time before capping it off with an evening passeggiata lakeside promenade.
Best For: Volcanic lake adventures, island castles and villages
What to Do: Swim in the lake’s warm sulfurous waters, hike through lush nature reserves along the shore, explore maritime history
7. Lake Trasimeno
Lake Trasimeno provides a unique Norwegian-esque experience amongst central Italy’s landscape of rolling hills. Its relatively shallow waters dotted with three islands offer breathtaking fjord-like views. The attractive lake town of Passignano sul Trasimeno makes an idyllic, tranquil base to explore the islands and surrounding countryside while feasting on freshwater fish from the lake.
Magione and Tuoro are other lakeside towns worth exploring to absorb their ambiance. Take a ferry out to visit Isola Maggiore to explore its quaint fishing village with narrow cobblestoned streets and 15th century ruins before stopping at uninhabited Isola Polvese to discover impressive birdlife.
Best For: Norwegian-style fjord landscapes in Italy, peaceful escapes
What to Do: Island hop to Isola Maggiore, cycle along rural roads, visit Olive oil farms, enjoy fresh lake fish dishes
8. Lake Bracciano
Lake Bracciano offers the classic combination of alluring mountainous scenery, historic hilltop villages and a glittering blue lake dotted with tiny islands – along with the bonus of Trevignano Romano’s popular beach. This lakeside town provides an easy homebase for your explorations where you can soak up the lively atmosphere or relax along stretches of manmade beaches created from imported sand.
Don’t miss Bracciano’s impressive medieval era castle and take a ferry to explore unspoilt Isola di Martana. For amazing panoramic views hike high into nature along trails in the surrounding Monti Sabatini park before returning to the glittering waters of the lake as the sun sets behind the hills.
Best For: Beach vacations and water sports by a lake
What to Do: Swim along Trevignano Romano’s popular lake beach, sail to Martana Island, tour Bracciano’s medieval castle
9. Lake Albano
Nestled below steep forested slopes around 20 miles south of Rome awaits the hidden gem of Lake Albano. Encircled by the craters and woods of the Colli Albani, this scenic crater lake offers a convenient escape to nature from the nearby capital. The lake stretches out next to Castel Gandolfo, renowned for its Papal palace.
Follow scenic hiking trails through the hilly nature reserves above the lake’s largely undeveloped shores blanketed in chestnut and oak forests then descend to Stunning views over the tranquil emerald waters. Unwind lakeside in the posh village of Castel Gandolfo or continue further to the ruins of magnificent Roman emperor Domitian’s villa.
Best For: Easy lake getaways from Rome, hikes with panoramas
What to Do: Tour the papal palace at Castel Gandolfo, follow scenic trails past waterfalls in parklands above the lake
10. Lake Viverone
Tucked away in a valley of the Italian Prealps in northwest Italy just 50km from Turin lies the gleaming Lake Viverone. Surrounded by gentle hills and mountains, Viverone attracts travelers looking for an active outdoor getaway centered around its aquamarine waters. The lake is especially popular for watersports like windsurfing, kayaking, pedal boating and swimming during the summer months.
Lake Viverone’s eastern shoreline features an appealing crescent-shaped beach and lakeside promenade bustling with cafes and attractions like an amusement park. Use the small town of Viverone with its colorful buildings as your base for exploration then spend languid days soaking up spectacular views across the lake to the majestic snow-capped Monte Rosa massif.
Best For: Watersports holidays with Alpine views
What to Do: Windsurf, stand up paddleboard or kayak on the lake, relax along Viverone beach and lakefront promenade, take in mountain views on gentle hikes
These were some of the best places to visit in Italy as far as lake travel is concerned. There are many other top lakes in Italy that haven’t made to this list, as we have made a conscious effort to give you a mix of popular lakes and those that are less frequented. You can share your Italy lake travel experience with our readers.