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Situated in the North of Italy, Lake Maggiore is part of the Italian Lake District and a very up and coming tourist destination. Located in what is known as the Lombardia area of Italy, Lake Maggiore sits in the middle of various small Italian towns and even borders part of Switzerland.
When travelling to this region of Italy many people make the decision to choose between Lake Maggiore or Lake Como, I personally recommend Lake Maggiore. It is calm and relaxed but still holds the same beauty as Lake Como. There are plenty of things to do in Lake Como and this guide will aim to show you all you need to know for your visit.
How to get to Lake Maggiore from Milan
Milan to Lake Maggiore by Car
As mentioned, Lake Maggiore is located in the North of Italy, in very close proximity to Switzerland. The most popular airport to fly into is Milan Malpensa, from the airport it will take you roughly one hours drive to get to each of the lakes (based on travelling to the town of Luino)
We hired a rental car during our trip through Sicily by Car which we collected (and dropped off) on arrival to Milan Malpensa airport. We hired a Fiat 500 which cost around £50 for four days with one driver and basic insurance.
The drive itself is pretty straight forward, it is mainly motorway/highway type roads until you reach the lakes, at this point, you will come across some narrower and steeper roads. You will go through 2 toll roads on the route, these can be paid with either cash or card (I believe one toll was €1.60 and the other €4).
Milan Airport to Lake Maggiore by train
You can catch a train from Milan Malpensa Airport to Stresa, Lake Maggiore. The train takes 1 hour 18 minutes and includes one change (usually at Busto Arsizio).
The train price varies on time and day but generally costs around €10 each way. I recommend purchasing your train tickets online prior to arriving in Italy, this will ensure a smooth transit on arrival. The best place to purchase your tickets from is Trainline Europe, as they highlight the cheapest tickets available (as well as the fastest!) and they arrive instantly after purchase.
Guided tour to Lake Maggiore from Milan
Another option would be to take a day trip from Milan to Lake Maggiore. Below is a day tour from Get Your Guide which has great reviews and price. Generally, I book all my tours in advance when I have limited time in a city this helps to ensure I get a place on the tour I want as well as paying the best price:
Lake Maggiore Accommodation – Where to stay
During my visit, we opted to stay in a private villa on Lake Maggiore. By choosing to stay in a villa we could save money by purchasing food from the many supermarkets around to cook our own meals.
We also had a rental car, which meant we could base ourselves in Lake Maggiore but still take day trips to the more expensive areas such as Lake Como and Switzerland. I found this to be a much more cost-effective way to visit the Italian Lakes towards the end of Summer.
The villa was booked through Bookings For You, who has villas and apartments in both Lake Maggiore and Lake Como, most of which offer stunning views of the lakes. I really enjoyed the villa experience, I found it to be much more relaxing due to the homely feel and if you are travelling as part of a bigger group, it is actually a very affordable option.
If you are looking to booking a villa, I definitely recommend checking out Bookings For You, not only are their villas fantastic, I also appreciated the extra effort they went to with their service. Prior to arrival, we received detailed instructions on how to reach the villa, as well as itinerary ideas and restaurant recommendations.
Again on arrival, further ideas were made available as well as a welcome bottle of wine and a few snacks. All wonderful personal touches I feel you lose when staying in a hotel.
Getting around Lake Maggiore
Hiring a car will give you the most freedom to explore the area around Lake Maggiore. However, if this is not possible then there are public ferries which run daily across various parts of the lake including to the Borromean Islands in Stresa. We found this really helpful guide which has a timetable for all of the ferry routes.
If you do not want to rely on the public ferry and would enjoy further information during your visit, then you can book onto a guided boat trip.
Here are some of the recommend Lake Maggiore boat tours:
I believe Uber may be available in some parts of Lake Maggiore, however, we found it to be sporadic and not available in the higher parts of the lakes. Taxis are available for booking in Lake Maggiore.
Things to do in Lake Maggiore
Visit the Borromean Islands
The Borromean Islands are named after the Borromean Family. They Italian Aristocats who purchased three rocky islands in Stresa and over time transformed them into the beautiful Islands they are now – Isola Bella, Isola Dei Pescatori and Isola Madre.
The Borromean Islands are the most popular thing to do in Lake Maggiore and are easily accessed by booking a ferry tour.
Brave the Laveno bucket lifts
Quite literally buckets which take you up the side of the mountain! This one is definitely for the adventurous but it gives you an incredible view of the lake (you can even see Lake Como on a clear day). Tickets are priced at €10 per person for a return per person and each bucket can hold two people.
At the top of the mountain is a gift shop as well as a restaurant, we did not get a chance to eat here but it looked very popular and the food seemed to be a fair price as well.
Walk around Arona
Arona is one of the many little towns situated around Lake Maggiore, there is not actually too much to do attraction wise in Arona but I found it be extremely pretty. You can spend time meandering around the cobbled streets, eating Gelato and looking out on to the lake, out of all the towns we stopped at, Arona was my favourite.
Spend a day at Locarno lido
If you are visiting Lake Maggiore during the summer then definitely plan a day at the Locarno lido. Not only does the pool offer 4 outdoor and 3 indoor pools it also has waterslides, diving boards and an inflatable obstacle course. It is a great thing to do in Lake Maggiore with kids.
The Locarno Lido is located in Ascona, which is in the Swiss area of Lake Maggiore, therefore remember to take your passport in case it is needed for the border crossing. Also, be aware prices are much higher in Switzerland, therefore I would recommend taking food with you for the day.
Visit Castelgrande Castle in Bellinzona
Like Locarno, Bellinzona is also located in Switzerland. There are 3 castles in Bellinzona – Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro. These castles were built in the medieval age and, in the 1500s, were part of a fortress protecting Switzerland from Italy. Now they are a UNESCO World Heritage site and can be toured by the public.
The main thing we enjoyed here was visiting Castelgrande Castle. The grounds are beautiful and there is a lookout tower which gives an incredible view of the town surrounded by mountains. Entry to the castle is free, which also a bonus.
Day Trips from Lake Maggiore
If you are looking to travel further afield there are plenty of day trips to take from Lake Maggiore.
The most popular day trip, of course, is to Milan. Milan is a great tourist city with a ton of things to see, the most popular being the Catherdral. If you are limited on time, I definitely recommend purchasing a skip-the-line ticket in advance which also includes rooftop entry.
Alternatively, you can take a day trip to Lake Como from Lake Maggiore, in particular, the famous towns of Como and Bellagio. We did this trip and found it to be a great compromise, as we still got to see Lake Como but got to escape from a large number of tourists and higher prices at the end of the day.
It will take roughly 1.5 hours to drive from Lake Maggiore (Luino/Stresa) to Como (2 hours if you would like to drive to Bellagio).
If you would like to go further still, then you can drive from Lake Maggiore to Verona in 3 hours or Venice in 4 hours. This may be slightly too far for a day trip, but would be a lovely opportunity for an overnight stay during your break or as part of a Northern Italy road trip.
Lake Maggiore is not a destination to be glossed over when visiting Northern Italy. The classic Italian beauty is ever-present but the lack of crowds and too much tourism make for a wonderful atmosphere, overall helping you feel like you have stumbled upon somewhere special and still relatively secret.
This post was created as part of a press trip with Bookingsforyou.com