Things to do in Lake Maggiore, Italy

Woman swimming in front of a hillside village in Lake Maggiore

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Situated in Northern Italy, Lake Maggiore (Lago Maggiore in Italian) is around 65 kilometres long, stretching over into Switzerland. It is the second largest of the Italian lakes, after Lake Garda and offers stunning scenery, pretty towns and plenty to do during your holiday there.

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Lake Maggiore with hills and elevated road

Lake Maggiore is the quieter, less-touristy relative of Lake Como and Lake Garda, so it feels a little more undiscovered. You also won’t find many tourists from the UK here.

It is popular with Germans, but we didn’t hear many English accents during our stay.

I recently headed to Lake Maggiore on a trip with Bookings For You who offer holiday villas and apartments in Italy and France. Read on for some of the best things to do in Lake Maggiore.

View of Cannobio from Lake Maggiore

How to get to Lake Maggiore

The nearest international airport to Lake Maggiore is Milan Malpensa. You can get flights directly to Milan Malpensa from the UK.

I booked my flights with Ryanair, which were relatively cheap at around £60 each at the end of June. We flew from Manchester Airport and the flight time was short at just under two hours.

Once you arrive, you can hire a car from the airport, or you can catch a train or bus if you’re staying in one of the bigger towns around the lake. Top tip: car hire here is quite expensive, so book your car hire as early as possible to get the best deal.

The lakefront at Luino

Weather in Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore’s weather is changeable thanks to its position, 200 metres above sea level. This means you may experience occasional showers and thunderstorms during your stay, but it dries out quickly.

During summer, temperatures can get up to around 35 degrees. During our stay at the end of June, we mainly had hot, sunny weather.

There were usually storms and showers overnight, and we had one cloudy day. The rain means the landscape continues to look lush and green all over summer.

The open plan living area at Villa Sereni

Where to stay in Lake Maggiore

We stayed at an amazing villa in Lake Maggiore with Bookings for You. Villa Sereni is a three-bedroom villa in the small village of Dumenza that sleeps six people.

There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and three terraces to enjoy.

The terrace with table and chairs at Villa Sereni
My favourite thing about the villa was the spectacular views over Lake Maggiore. We sat outside for hours chatting, eating, and drinking an Aperol spritz or two!

The nearest large town is Luino, where you can catch the train, check out the restaurants, and explore the lakeside. You need a car if you’re staying here as it is around 10 minutes’ drive away from Luino in a bit of a remote location.

Read my review of Villa Sereni here. There are some other suggestions for places to stay in Lake Maggiore here.

Large passenger boat on Lake Maggiore

Things to do in Lake Maggiore

There is so much to do in Lake Maggiore. You could easily spend a two-week holiday sightseeing here.

I didn’t even manage to scratch the surface of everything that there is to do during my stay.

Cobbled streets in Luino

Explore Luino

Luino is the nearest big town to Villa Sereni, where we stayed, so we headed there on the first day to explore and get our bearings. It’s a lovely little town on the eastern side of Lake Maggiore.

Here you can take a walk along the lakeside or head up into the town to wander the cobbled streets and check out the Italian buildings. There is a large free car park in the town, near to the harbour, where you can leave your car all day.

Luino market
On a Wednesday there is a market which starts in the morning and goes on until the late afternoon. The market sells everything from leather goods to homeware to fresh bread and vegetables.

It is one of the largest in Europe and attracts visitors from all over, including Germany and Switzerland. The town gets very busy on market days so, if you can, try to leave your car outside of town and walk in.

Woman swimming in front of a hillside village in Lake Maggiore

Head to a beach

There are beaches all around the lake where you can sunbathe and take a dip in the crystal clear waters. Most of the beaches are pebbled, and some have grassy areas which are comfortable for lying down.

The lake water is cool and refreshing but pleasant for swimming on a hot day. I took some Havaianas with a strap to swim in, as walking on the pebbles was a little uncomfortable.

At the bottom of the hill to Villa Sereni, there was a quiet little beach that had some locals enjoying it while we were there. There is a fantastic view of the hillside, and it’s an excellent place for a chilled swim.

Parco Giona beach
Our favourite beach was the Parco Giona in Maccagno. It’s a long beach which is very popular.

There are facilities here, including a cafe and a place where you can hire paddle boards and pedalos.

Three people being served pizza at a restaurant
There is also a lovely restaurant just around the corner, Ristorante Pizzeria Lido di Maccagno, where we feasted on pizza and pasta. It’s reasonably priced and offers stunning views over the lake.

As well as the beaches, there are also multiple lidos that offer swimming pools if you don’t fancy getting in the lake.

Woman watching a boat at Cannobio

Take a boat trip to Cannobio

From Luino, you can take a boat trip to nearby Cannobio, on the lake’s western side. The boat trip takes around 25 minutes and costs around 8 euros per person for a return trip.

There are several departures each day from the port in the town centre, and you can buy tickets on the day.

Man and woman walking through Cannobio
Cannobio is a picturesque town, and I think this was my favourite day in Italy. You can wander around the shops, take a walk along the lakeside and soak up the sun on the beach.

We took a swim in the lake, and there are water sports here too.

There are plenty of restaurants to choose from for a delicious lunch, and there’s a takeaway ice cream shop here, too, where you can cool down with a scoop or two. There’s a market here on a Sunday too.

View of Cannero from Lake Maggiore
The boat also stops at Cannero on the way, so you can explore here, too, if you have time. Cannero is known as the Riviera of the North, and it’s stunning.

It’s smaller than Cannobio and also has a beach. We didn’t have time to stop here as well, but we got a gorgeous view of it from the boat.

Woman standing in front of Milan Cathedral

Take a day trip to Milan

The city of Milan, Italy’s second-most populous city after Rome, isn’t too far from Lake Maggiore. If you love shopping, definitely don’t miss Milan, which is full of gorgeous designer shops.

There’s also the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s most beautiful shopping centres.

Castello Sforzesco
There’s plenty to see in the city, including the Duomo di Milano, the city’s cathedral, Castello Sforzesco, and Sempione Park. I also had the best pizza ever at Granaio.

It wasn’t the cheapest, but the restaurant is close to the cathedral, and the pizza was delicious.

You can take the train from Luino, which takes around an hour and 40 minutes. You have to change trains at Gallerate, but the Italian trains are easy to navigate, so it’s straightforward.

You can buy tickets on the Trainline website, which cost around £15 for a return.

Make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to return to the train station. Milano Centrale is a large train station, and it was pretty busy when we were there.

If you don’t want to get the train, you can drive instead, and it will take around an hour and a half. Driving in Milan can be a little hectic, but there is a park and ride outside the city where you can leave your car and catch the metro in.

Bucket lift and view of the lake at Laveno

Brave the bucket lifts at Laveno

Before my trip to Lake Maggiore, I had read several blog posts about the bucket lifts at Laveno Mombello.

The Funivie del Lago Maggiore is like a cable car, but you stand in open-top buckets as you ascend 3848 feet to Mount Sasso del Ferro. It’s 12 euros for a return trip.

I must admit, the bucket lift did seem a little scary at first – it was really high, and you feel like there’s not much holding you in – but you soon start to relax and enjoy the fantastic views over the lake. The buckets felt sturdy, and they weren’t swaying at all as we moved.

If you don’t fancy an open-top bucket, you can opt for an enclosed one, so don’t let being scared hold you back! At the top, there is a cafe and restaurant, and you can walk even further up to the summit of the mountain if you want to.

Woman standing with her arms spread wide overlooking the lake at Laveno
Laveno is also lovely for a little wander, so spend some time here walking around the harbour and the streets. There’s a car park at the train station which is free to park in every day except Sunday.

Other things to do in Lake Maggiore

There were also some things which I didn’t get chance to do during my stay which I would have loved to. This includes a trip to the Borromean Islands and a day trip to Switzerland. So it just means that I’ll have to visit again!

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