Top tips for visiting the Italian Lakes

With a mild climate, romantic waterfront views and lush vegetation, the Italian Lakes have an enduring appeal. Add sports, culture, fashion and gastronomy, and it is little wonder that they remain one of Europe's most popular tourist hotspots. Here are our top tips for visiting the Italian Lakes region.
The Italian Lakes: The town of Cernobbio on Lake Como.
The Italian Lakes: The town of Cernobbio on Lake Como.

The town of Cernobbio, which sits on the shores of Lake Como. Photo: Shutterstock 


When it comes to the Italian Lakes, there are six main holiday lakes, all of which are quite different in character: Orta, Maggiore, Lugano, Como, Iseo and Garda (from west to east).

German-orientated Lake Garda is the largest of the lakes and receives the most tourist visitors, and its beaches, theme parks, sports and nightlife attract a younger crowd as well as families. Lake Maggiore – famous for its jewel-like Borromean Islands and mountain-girt northern shores – is the second-largest lake, with its northern section lying in the Swiss canton of Ticino. Lovely little Lake Orta lies to the west, and is noted for its spiritual air and excellent small hotels, while romantic Lake Como, north of Milan, offers dramatic scenery, quaint ports and belle époque villas. Meanwhile, captivating and tranquil Lake Iseo, between lakes Como and Garda, is the region’s best-kept secret. 

Speak to a local expert arranging a tailor-made trip to the Italian Lakes, or check out our existing Enchanting Italian Lakes itinerary

Here are our top tips for making the most out of the lakes!


Lunch with a view, looking out over Lake Orta. Photo: Shutterstock


Trentino logo

When in Trentino, keep an eye out for the "Osteria Tipica Trentina" signs, indicating restaurants that only serve seasonal local cuisine. These have to offer at least five Trentino cheeses, as well as local wines, grappa and mineral water.


Activities on Como

To take the effort out of arranging your own sports on Lake Como, contact the Cavalcario Outdoor Club, which organises mountain-biking tours, trekking, paragliding and horse-riding in the mountains around Bellagio. 


Tickets

Note that you can buy a combined entry ticket for both Isola Bella and Isola Madre from either Borromean island; it is cheaper than paying separately to visit each one. 


Reserving for lunch

Restaurants in the region typically tend to be very busy, especially at lunchtime. To avoid having to queue and, at worst, the disappointment of having to miss out altogether (especially if you have your heart set on eating at a particular restaurant), it’s recommended to book a table in advance. To dine at one of the area’s Michelin-starred restaurants, be sure to book very well in advance. Note that Milan is a business city, so many of its restaurants close all day Saturday and at Sunday lunchtime. If in doubt, check before setting out.


Catching the ferry/ ferry timetables

It may sound obvious, but when you consult ferry timetables, do make sure you pick the right ferry for the right day. Unless you are familiar with the leaflets, the differentiation between weekday and Sunday/holiday travel is not immediately obvious – especially on lakes Como and Iseo. To see timetables online in advance of travel, visit www.navigazionelaghi.it for Maggiore, Como and Garda, and www.navigazionelagoiseo.it for Iseo. 

Mountain biking near Lake Garda. Photo: Shutterstock


On your bike!

Monte Isola is inundated with visitors in summer and at weekends, but is a delight off-season. You can walk or cycle around the entire island on the lakeshore path (9km/ 5 miles), or hike up to the island’s summit, which commands wonderful lake views. Bikes can be rented from Peschiera Maraglio or Carzano.


Restorative waters

The Italian medical profession insists that the lake climate is beneficial for "the stressed and neurotic, the arthritic and the asthmatic, the elderly and young children." As a result, the spas in the region are highly valued, especially those in Sirmione.


Dress appropriately

Remember to dress respectfully if you are visiting churches or other holy places. In some places, this might mean no shorts, mini-skirts or skimpy vest tops.

Lake Lugano, on the Swiss-Italian border. Photo: Shutterstock


This blog was originally published on April 21, 2016


Planing your trip to the Italian Lakes

Speak to a local expert about arranging the trip of a lifetime to the Italian Lakes here, or browse our fully customisable Enchanting Italian Lakes itinerary here. If you'd like to read more, visit our online guide or check out our top attractions. We also have a guide to exploring Lake Garda by ferry, boat or dinghy, the Italian Lakes for kids, the most romantic locations, and a guide to the region's finest wines, and the Lakes on a budget...


Read more:

Best places to go in June, July, August

Best places to go in September, October, November

Things to do in the Italian Lakes this summer

How to do the Italian Lakes on a budget

The Italian Lakes for kids