It’s summertime in Italy and we all know why a visit to Italy might be at the top of your list. The food, culture, art, history, and, of course, the beautiful shimmering blue coastline are all some of the best in the world. But, instead of heading to the seaside, why not explore the best lakes in Italy instead?
Italy’s lakes offer almost everything the coast has available. You can swim, fish, waterski, sail, hang out on beaches and you’re usually doing with some of the most beautiful scenery and landscapes you can ask for.
Mountainside backdrops, shores dotted with stunning architecture, beautiful towns, amazing food, and ancient relics, what more could you ask for? Join us as we take a look at the best lakes in Italy.
You have most probably heard of Lake Como, Italy’s most famous lake, probably. Since Roman times, it’s been the place where the rich and famous went to enjoy their downtime, and today many Hollywood stars and global celebrities own a house along its shores.
Lake Como is one of the deepest lakes in Europe measuring 400 meters at its deepest and sit’s just North of Milan in the foothills of the Alps just by the Swiss border.
Standing on the shores of Lake Como is like sitting in a postcard, seriously. The views are out of this world as the shimmering lake waters combine with a backdrop of the Alps falling into them.
The main town of Como sits to the south of the lake as is a quick train ride away from Milan. It’s home to Roman cathedrals, a cable car that takes you up into the Alps, and there are regular ferries to most of the other towns on Lake Como’s shores.
Lake Maggiore is just a few miles west of its more famous cousin Lake Como and is the second biggest lake in Italy. It sits just outside the town of Varese in northern Itlay. The lake is actually shared with Switzerland as the northern part of it crosses the Italian Swiss border but all the bits to see are on the Italian side.
The western shores are the place to be if you plan on visiting. The charming towns of Baveno, Stresa, and Arona will take your breath away and you can visit the subtropical gardens and parks of Villa Taranto and Villa Pallavicino.
From Stresa, you can catch a boat to the popular three Borromean Islands. Each island has its own vibe but the most popular of them all is Rocca Borromeo which is home to Isola Bella – a super luxurious palace that will blow your mind.
Getting there is simple from Milan, the train takes under an hour or you can fly into Malpensa airport which is just a few kilometers south of the lake’s shores.
The views of the Alps across the lake are amazing and you can fish, rent kayaks, SUPs but there aren’t many beaches to tan on.
If you’re looking for an Italian lake to play on then Lake Garda is the one you for you. Known as Italy’s playground, Lake Garda has every watersport you could want. Whether it’s sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, wakeboarding, and more – they’ve got it.
In fact, Torbole at the northern end of the lake is known for some of the best windsurfing and kitesurfing in Europe thanks to its consistent winds – which makes the sailing great too.
Lake Garda also sits on the foothills of the Alps, so its views and landscape are just as spectacular as that of Lake Como. Sitting slap bang in between Milan and Venice, it’s easy to get to and the southern shores are covered in beaches that are delightful to spend the day on.
The surrounding hills and mountains are covered in walking trails, the towns are charming and feature the ruins of a Roman spa, and a lot more. If you have kids, there are family-friendly resorts, campgrounds, theme parks, and a lot more to keep the whole family entertained.
Just west of Lake Maggiore is Lake Orta, known as Italy’s hidden mountain jewel when it comes to lakes that is. Lake Orta oozes romance and if you’re looking for a place to spend some loving time with your partner, Lake Orta is it.
The views from the lake are as beautiful as Lake Como and the place to stay is in Orta San Guilio, just an hour’s drive from Milan. The town slowly winds up the mountainside with ancient cobbled streets and looks out upon the island of Isola San Giulio.
Isola San Giulio is covered in ancient buildings from the 12th-century convent of Basilica di San Giulio. You can hop on a boat from Orta San Guilio to the island and it’s the perfect place to take a romantic stroll over the cobblestone streets and stare at the view of the Alps.
Lake Iseo is another hidden gem. If you want to relax away from the crowds of Lake Como or Garda, then Lake Iseo is where you want to be. Off the beaten track, Lake Iseo offers just as beautiful scenery as Como or any of the others, just with way fewer people – heaven on earth in my eyes.
The lake is great for watersports including canoeing, kayaking, kitesurfing, sailing, wakeboarding, paragliding, and windsurfing.
The towns along the lake shores are cute towns full of great food and attractions like the 12th-century Romanesque church in the little port of Iseo.
There are also art installations integrated into the lake such as the 2016 Floating Piers installation which let people walk on water. Another installation from Lorenzo Quinn is set to be complete in 2023 where two hands will appear from the lake holding the earth, each continent painted in green.
The best part of Lake Iseo is the island of Monte Isola. It rises 600 meters out of the lake, is covered in forest, and is home to the tiny fishing village of Peschiera Maraglio, and at the top is the church of Madonna Della Ceriola.
If getting off the beaten track is your favorite thing then Lake Braies might be your favorite lake in Italy. Sitting near the Austrian border in the Dolomites, the lake was formed by a landslide that formed a dam.
The waters are a kind of deep blue with a hit of emerald green, and they’re surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks and dense forests. There isn’t much around the shores, in fact, if you search it on google maps you’ll find just one hotel.
The lake is a popular place for hikers as it’s the starting point for hikes up Croda del Becco and into the Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park. There is also a path around the lake that takes you via a tiny lakeside chapel, one of the most photographed places in the Dolomites.
You can rent boats to explore the waters with, go fishing, and there are quaint mountain villages down the road to stay at.
Lake Lugano is quite unique. It has Como to its east, Maggiore to the west, both ends are Italy, and most of the rest of the lake is in Switzerland. A tad confusing, you can change countries from one moment to the next.
There are a few villages along the shores but the main towns are Porlezza which sits on the east end in Italy and, Lugano in Switzerland. Porlezza is famous for its lovely beach which is great for swimming and it has a family vibe with great campgrounds and places to stay.
Just down the road in Clima, you can rent boats to explore the lake. The shores are steep, rugged, and super wild plus the Alps sitting in the background just take your breath away. You can also visit the caves of Grotte di Rescia.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly Italian lake to hang out at which isn’t super busy but still as beautiful as any other, then Lake Lugano is a great choice.
If I had to pick one lake in Italy to visit then Lago Blu would be it. This lake sits way up in the northwestern Italian alps right on the border of Switzerland and just under the Matterhorn.
The water in the lake is spring-fed, crystal clear, sapphire blue, and is probably one of the best views you’ll see in your lifetime. The lake is surrounded by trees, green grass, and if you’re there on a windless day, you’ll see the jagged face of the Matterhorn reflected on its surface.
If you’re brave enough, it’s a great place for a swim, if not then take a lunch and enjoy a picnic. Just down the road is the ski town of Breuil Cervinia which has some great places to stay all year round.
As you can see, the best lakes in Italy are pretty darn amazing and we have only just begun to scratch the surface in this article. But, just in the ones featured, there is a lake for everyone whether it’s a family-friendly vibe, a remote crowd less experience, or glamming it up with celebs in Como.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.