More than 1,500 lakes dot Italy’s landscape, from the Alpine pools and three major lakes in the north to Calabria’s sole natural lake, at an altitude of 1,040 meters in the foothills of the Catena Costiera. The northern lakes always get top billing, winning by the numbers: Como the deepest at 410 meters, and Garda the biggest, with a surface area of 370 square kilometers. Maggiore is the second largest, with its northern waters flowing over into the Ticino region of Switzerland.
Nearly all these lakes are centers for water sports – swimming, sailing, windsurfing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, even scuba diving – and are popular vacation getaways for locals and tourists. Most have hotels and resorts overlooking them and in the nearby towns, and Lake Garda is known for the amusement parks along its southern shore.
It is easy to view Italy’s lakes as playgrounds, but don’t overlook the many top tourist attractions that line their shores – or the magnificent scenery that surrounds those in the north. Here, you’ll find historic castles, grand palaces, Roman sites, Art Nouveau villas, medieval churches, and lush gardens to explore. At Lake Ledro, you can explore the remains of a prehistoric lake village.
Trails lead hikers to panoramic views and challenging via ferratas, while mountain cable cars lead to Alpine gardens. You can hop boats to islands, including Europe’s largest lake island, and climb a UNESCO-acclaimed Sacra Monte – Sacred Mountain. In the south, Lake Bolsena, the largest volcanic lake in Europe, fills an ancient caldera and is a prime location for bird-watching.
Whether you choose the glamor of Lake Como, the playground of Garda, or the picture-perfect view from Lago Blu, with this handy list you can find plenty of things to see and do at the best lakes in Italy.
Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, situated halfway between Venice and Milan, meaning it can be a great option for a day trip from both cities. This lake can be a perfect destination for anyone, from romantic couples to friends and families with small children or seniors. The amount of water sports here is exciting, as you arrive, you will see a lot of bikers, windsurfers or simply nature lovers roaming the mountains, villages and the shore of the lake. There are several quite interesting towns around the lake which we recommend to visit, most of them are connected with a ferry line – do not miss fortified Sirmione and Castello Scaligeri, Roman ruins in Grotte di Catullo and charming Desenzano del Garda. There are also a few islands on the lake which can be visited, definitely try not to miss Isola del Garda. If you’re arriving with small children, maybe the highlight of your visit to lake Garda will be – Gardaland! Yes, one of the best-known fun parks in Europe is situated on the southeastern part of the lake. Bring your good mood and have fun.
The cover-girl of Italian lakes, glamorous Como has been where the privileged come to play ever since Roman times, when Pliny built his villa on its eastern shore. More recently, it’s Hollywood stars who choose it for their bolt hole. Long and narrow, Como divides into two arms at the south, giving it the shape of an inverted Y, with the chic and pretty town of Bellagio at the point in its center.
At the foot of the lake, and connected to Milan by train, the town of Como is a former Roman city whose prime attractions are a magnificent Romanesque cathedral and a cable car that ascends to views of the lake and snowcapped Alps beyond.
From Como, you can travel by boat either for a scenic lake tour or to reach its towns. Ferries shuttle back and forth between Bellagio, Tremezzo, and other towns, so it’s easy to get around without a car.
The “lake effect” makes Como’s shores a perfect climate for temperate and even semitropical plants: highlights are two lovely gardens in Bellagio; Villa Carlotta’s gardens in Tremezzo; the terraced gardens of Villa Monastero in Varenna; and the Baroque Villa Balbianello on its garden-clad point, reached by boat from Lenno. These flower-studded landscapes backed by the lake and Alps top the list of the best places to visit on Lake Como.
Only 32 kilometers from Rome, Lake Bracciano is also of volcanic origin, one of two lakes formed in craters of the same volcano. The other, Lake Martignano is smaller and almost perfectly round; together, they are part of the Bracciano-Martignano Natural Park, so motorized watercraft in either lake is limited to public ferries and authorized fishing boats. This makes Lake Bracciano especially good for kayaking, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, fishing, and scuba diving, and for swimming in the clear, clean water.
The town of Bracciano, on a hill overlooking the lake, has attractions of its own, including the Renaissance Orsini-Odescalchi Castle, which houses a museum of medieval armor and weapons in addition to its furnished rooms. Around the castle, wander in the maze of narrow lanes and stairways that lead down to the lake
No list of Italy’s lakes would be complete without mentioning the iconic view across tiny Lago Blu, in the Val d’Aosta region. Alongside the road leading from Valtournenche to the ski resort town of Breuil Cervinia, the glassy surface of Lago Blu seems to have been created as a mirror for the beautiful southern face of Cervinia – the Matterhorn.
Fed by springs and crystal clear, the lake is perfectly positioned to provide the best possible viewpoint for the Matterhorn, whose distinctive peak rises straight ahead, framed by larch trees. Bring a lunch and take advantage of the benches provided for picnickers as you savor one of Europe’s finest views.
By far Italy’s most romantic lake, Orta is usually overlooked, even though it is only a few minutes’ drive from Lake Maggiore. Tucked into a valley under the wooded western slopes of Monte Mottarone, little Lake Orta has a single tiny island, Isola San Giulio, reached by boat from the town of Orta San Guilio.
Almost the entire surface of the island is covered in the stone buildings of a convent and the 12th-century Basilica di San Giulio, said to have been built by the saint himself. Highlights of the church are its intricately carved marble pulpit and the frescoes. The Way of Silence wends among the old buildings and under the walls of the convent.
Orta San Giulio spreads along the lakeshore and climbs the hillside on charming medieval lanes. Small shops line its narrow main street and Piazza Motta, where you can board a boat to the island.
Above the town, paths wind among the chapels of the Sacra Monte, one of nine such hillside sanctuaries that are unique to this region. Twenty chapels house terra-cotta figures that show events in the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
The second largest of Italy’s lakes, Maggiore is shared with Switzerland, and the northernmost towns of Ascona and Locarno are in the Swiss Ticino region. But the greater part of the lake, where Maggiore’s main attractions are located, is in Italy. Towns along its western shore are on a direct train line from Milan, and the lower end of the lake is only a few kilometers from Malpensa airport.
Most of the major places to see are on the western shore, where you’ll find the lovely subtropical gardens and park of Villa Taranto and Villa Pallavicino. The latter has botanical and show gardens and a zoo with exotic animals, making it one of the favorite things to do on Lake Maggiore for families.
Stylish Stresa is a popular base, and from here boats take tourists to the three Borromean Islands. Although each of the islands has its appeal, the major attraction is Rocca Borromeo, the over-the-top palace on Isola Bella. Its grand salons and galleries, their sumptuous decorative flourishes encrusted with gold, cover most of the island, but the highlight of a tour is the even more elaborate formal garden that rises tier after tier above the lake.
Maggiore has fewer beaches than Lake Garda, but you can rent canoes and kayaks at several towns. For the best views, take a cruise on one of the lake steamers to see Angera Castle, lakeside villas, and the ever-changing mountains to the north.
Laghi – that’s lakes in Italian – have been drawing tourists since the heyday of the Roman Empire. They still are. There’s a good reason for this. These lakes, many of them in alpine regions in northern Italy, are the stuff picture postcards are made of. They’re indisputably scenic, casting spells over visitors so come back. An overview of the most beautiful lakes in Italy:
10. Lake Bolsena[SEE MAP]
As you stand on the hills overlooking Lake Bolsena, it’s almost as if you can see forever. Perhaps not, but you will get a scenic eyeful of this central Italy lake. This large lake is home to several islands, the largest of which is Bisentia, with its Etruscan ruins and pretty churches. If you wander the beaches you’ll find black volcanic sand – the lake sits in a volcanic crater. Lake Bolsena is a good place to fish, swim or watch birds, including egrets and gray herons. The lake also makes a good stopping point if you’re driving between Rome and Tuscany.
9. Lake Ledro[SEE MAP]
Lake Ledro isn’t the biggest lake you’ll find in Italy, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in scenic beauty. This alpine lake in the Trentino region is surrounded by forests, with crystalline waters making it one of the cleanest in Trentino. The water is warm enough in the summer for swimming and sail boating. Mountain bikers will likely find it challenging to ride around the lake’s perimeters. The lake is best known for archaeological finds, including Bronze Age dwellings, that showed up when the water level was lowered to build a hydroelectric dam. Best Places to Visit in ItalyPlay Video
Lake Lugano is sandwiched between Italy and Switzerland, which makes it doubly pretty. With the Alps running down to the shore, the lake draws tourists like honey does bears. The glacial lake is elongated with arms in several places, adding to its allure. Lake Lugano is very scenic, no matter what direction you’re viewing it from. You can go for a boat ride on the lake or take a funicular ride up a mountain for more panoramic views. Lake Lugano is a good place to go fishing or you could look for fossils on Monte San Giorgio.
Lake Lugano, Italian Lago Di Lugano, or Lago Ceresio, lake between Lakes Maggiore and Como with an area of 19 square miles (49 square km), of which the middle 12 square miles (31 square km) are in Ticino canton (Switzerland) and the northeastern and southwestern ends in the Lombardy regione (Italy). It lies at 889 feet (271 m) above sea level, among the outer spurs of the Alps that divide the Ticino River basin from that of the Adda, and is irregular in shape, with a western arm almost cut off from the main lake. Lake Lugano’s greatest length is about 22 miles (35 km), greatest width 2 miles (3 km), and maximum depth 945 feet (288 m). It is fed by numerous small mountain streams and is drained by the short Tresa River into Lake Maggiore. Between Melide, Switz., south of the town of Lugano, and Bissone on the eastern shore, the lake is so shallow that a great stone dam has been built across it to carry the St. Gotthard railway line and road.