Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Top Places to Go and Things to Do

Lake Maggiore, west of Lake Como, is Italy’s second-largest lake. Lake Maggiore is a long, narrow lake with more than 90 miles of shoreline that sits in a beautiful setting in the Alps, making it an ideal location from which to explore the parks and mountains. With a fairly mild climate and year-round activities, it’s a good place to visit almost any time of the year.

lake maggiore
Lake Maggiore photo by Susan Van Allen

Photos by author Susan Van Allen who leads Golden Weeks in Italy for women. See Susan Van Allen’s Italy.

Stresa

  • Stresa is the town best set up for tourism. It has many restaurants and shops, a train station and harbor with excursion boats, hydrofoils, and ferries to the Borromean islands and towns around the lake. Along the lake is a walking path with gardens and Belle Epoque mansions. Isola Bella is 10 minutes by boat from Stresa and from town there are great views of the island. Villa Pallavicino, an easy walk along the lake shore from Stresa, has a large zoological park with botanical gardens and more than 40 animal species.

Susan Van Allen recommends staying at the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées where she stays with her groups or the more economical Hotel Elena, a family-run 1-star hotel in the center of town with big, simple rooms with balconies. She also says, “the Sky Bar at Hotel La Palma is a must at sunset”.

stresa on lake maggiore
Stresa, Lake Maggiore by Susan Van Allen

Top Places to Go on Lake Maggiore

  • The Borromean Islands, three picturesque islands and two islets between Stresa and Verbania, make up one of the lake’s main tourist attractions. Isola Madre, the largest of the islands, has a large park with English-style botanical gardens with more than 2000 plant species and the royal Borromeo Palace. Isola Bella has beautiful Italian gardens, a Baroque palace with 20 rooms of art works, and a few restaurants. These two islands are closed to the public from November through mid-March. Isola Superiore (also called Isola dei Pescatori), the only island still inhabited, has a traditional fishing village as well as shops and good fish restaurants. The islands can be reached by ferry from Stresa, Verbania, Baveno, and Arona.

Where to Stay on Isola dei Pescatori: Hotel Belvedere and Villa Toscanini both have a lake front restaurant and rooms with lake views.

Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore
Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore by Susan Van Allen
  • Arona, on the southwestern shore, is the first town reached on the train line from Milan. Arona has ferries to other towns and shops and restaurants. The Rocca di Arona sits on the cliffs above town and has a public park that attracts ducks and peacocks and good lake views. We stayed at Hotel Giardino in town near the lake and a short distance from the train station.
  • Baveno, also on the train line, has beautiful mansions lining the lakefront. The 19th century Villa Henfrey-Bianca was built in the style of an English castle. Where to Stay in Baveno: Grand Hotel Dino is a lake front hotel near the ferry dock with a private beach, gardens, wellness center, and 2 swimming pools. Hotel Splendid is a lake front hotel with private beach and swimming pool.
  • Verbania, the largest town on the lake, is home to two villas with beautiful gardens – Villa Taranto, open late March through November, and Villa Giulia used for concerts and exhibits. Itra is the historic town, a short walk from the main town. Ferries to the islands and other towns around the lake as well as excursion boats leave from Verbania and there are many restaurants and shops. Where to Stay in Verbania: Belvedere Hotel San Gottardo is by the beach and the dock for ferries going to the islands. Il Chiostro is a hotel in a renovated monastery in Verbania’s old town (Itra).
  • Locarno, Switzerland is the northernmost city on the rail line. From Stresa you can take a ferry or hydrofoil to Locarno and return by train for a scenic and fun day trip.

Things to Do on Lake Maggiore

Kayaking, boating, hiking, and biking are popular activities in and around the lake, as well as swimming in summer. In Baveno, the Aquadventure Park offers a variety of outdoor activities including suspended trails, hanging walkways, rock climbing, tennis courts, and bicycling (rentals available) and has a covered swimming pool. The Sant’Anna Gorge, at the end of the Cannobino River, is known for whitewater rafting and kayaking.

Head into the mountains above the lake for more hiking opportunities. From the town of Laveno Monbello, take the funivia, a 16 minute ride in a bucket lift almost to the summit of Mount Sasso del Ferro. In addition to beautiful views, there’s a panoramic restaurant at the top and places to hike.

Above the medieval town of Angera, on the eastern shore, visit the castle and museum of Rocca di Angera.

From late July until September the Stressa Music Festival presents concerts in churches and historic buildings.

Getting to Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore is on the border of Italy’s Lombardy and Piemonte regions and Switzerland’s Ticino region in the north. The western shore of Lake Maggiore is served by the Milan to Geneva (Switzerland) rail line with stops in Arona, Stresa, Baveno, and Locarno, Switzerland. The closest airport is Milan’s Malpensa AIrport, about 12 miles south of the lake. Bus service runs between Malpensa Airport and some of the lake towns including Arona, Stresa, Baveno, and Verbania. Local buses and ferries run between the towns along the lake shore.

Italian Lakes Guide Books

Rick Steves Travel Snapshot: Milan and the Italian Lakes District
Lonely Planet Italian Lakes
The Rough Guide to Italian Lakes

lake maggiore
View of Lake Maggiore by Susan Van Allen

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Lake Maggiore Travel Guide originally appeared on MarthasItaly.com , updated: Feb 17, 2024.