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Best Italian lakes for families: where to stay and what to see with kids

For outdoor fun, stunning scenery and incredible food, head to the Italian lakes. Unsure where to make your base? Here’s our roundup of the best lakes in Italy for a family holiday, as tried and tested by Mumsnetters.

By Jenny Elliott | Last updated Feb 26, 2024

Best Italian Lakes for families

Laid-back sunny days spent swimming, boating and gorging on creamy gelato? The Italian Lakes offer families a taste of la dolce vita, especially during the warmer months from May to September. What’s more, there are usually good flight deals to nearby airports from the UK – meaning travelling to your dream lakeside getaway doesn’t have to break the bank.

But which scenic lake to choose as your family base? To save you hours scouring the internet, we’ve consulted our holiday forum to read hundreds of reviews from all-knowing Mumsnetters for tips on the best Italian lakes for families - whether you are travelling with little ones or teens.

Here’s our pick of the best Italian lakes for family holidays.

1. Lake Garda

Lake Garda

Lake Garda according to Mumsnetters

“We have been twice - stayed in Garda the first time and Sirmione the second. You absolutely don't need a car. The best way to explore the lake is to take one of the many ferries that go around the lake. Lake Garda is probably my favourite holiday destination.” – Iamastonished

“Definitely Lake Garda with teenagers, and somewhere near the bottom of the Lake for Venice/Verona trips. Sirmione is also nice and an alternative to Peschiera.” – Shesayso

Our verdict

Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and also one of its best for family holidays. Not only are its shores littered with family-friendly resorts and campsites (including the fun-packed Camping Bella Italia), but its crystal clear waters, sandy beaches and watersports centres have earned it the reputation as the ‘playground lake’.

Adventure seekers head to the breezy northern shores, where families can try windsurfing and kitesurfing. Alternatively, the southern resort towns are well located for the thrills and spills of Gardaland theme park and CanevaWorld aquapark.

Lake Garda is an excellent base if you fancy a little culture and shopping in Verona or Venice; trains run to both cities from the southern resort town of Peschiera del Garda. Verona’s compact size makes it ideal for exploring with kids – but don’t worry, it’s still awash with historical sites, beautiful piazzas and cute cafes.

Nearest airport: Verona Airport (approx 15 miles from the southern lakeside resorts).

2. Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como according to Mumsnetters

“There are various villas (one featured in Star Wars! ), boat trips, small towns to visit with gelato and small beaches. Como itself is worth a trip and has a series of water jets for children to run through, a funicular up to a viewing point over the lake” – LIZS

Our verdict

With its gorgeous towns, Alpine backdrop and Hollywood A-lister residents (well, hello there, Mr Clooney), Lake Como oozes glamour. But don’t be put off by its grown-up glitz; this wishbone-shaped lake in the northern Lombardy region also works well with kids.

Most families flock to the lake’s beach clubs and lidos, which offer swimming, sun beds, restaurants, bars and excellent people-watching opportunities. Reserve Lido di Argegno for its relaxed vibe, pool and pizzeria. Or, head to Parco Ulisse Guzzi, where you’ll find grassy lawns, picnic areas, a white pebble beach and shallow, clear waters ideal for little ones.

Hopping between Lake Como’s picturesque towns and villages is easy, thanks to the frequent ferries and high-speed hydrofoils. Families may want to make a beeline to elegant Menaggio, with its lakeside promenade and fun minigolf course. Alternatively, Como has both sweeping lake views and excellent transport links, making it a convenient base for train trips to Milan and across to Switzerland.

Nearest airport: Milan Malpensa International Airport (approx 32 miles from Como on the lake’s southwestern shore).

3. Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore according to Mumsnetters

“I went with my kids to Lake Maggiore mid-August last year and stayed in Arona - a bit further down the lake than Stresa. We loved it – a very pretty town with loads of places to eat and drink out, pedestrianised shopping street, lakeside promenade etc. and boat trips up the lake to the islands” – sanitygirl

“We did a lot of day trips from Stresa, and particularly enjoyed trips to Zermatt and Macugnaga. We went up in the cable car there, and the views of Monta Rosa were incredible” – novelsituation

Our verdict

Just south of the Alps, expansive Lake Maggiore sneaks into Switzerland, although most families stay close to the main attractions on its western Italian shores.

Stylish Stresa is understandably popular with both parents and kids, thanks to its glut of family-friendly restaurants and laidback beach club and minigolf course. Plus, it’s handy for Villa Pallavicino, which has beautiful gardens, a playground and a zoo.

Boat trips depart Stresa to the three beautiful Borromean Islands. Each island has its draw, although Isola Bella will particularly fire children’s imaginations thanks to its extravagant palace, tiered gardens and preening white peacocks.

Lake Maggiore offers true Italian escapism with its old-world charm and slower pace of life. That said, energetic groups will still find hiking trails, pedal boat and cycle hire, as well as the heart-racing thrills of riding in a bucket lift.

Nearest airport: Milan Malpensa International Airport (approx 18 miles from the southern resorts).

Read next: The best family villas in Europe to book for your next escape with the kids

4. Lake Trasimeno

Lake Trasimeno

Lake Trasimeno according to Mumsnetters

“If you want a lake try Lake Trasimeno. This is where Italians go for their holidays.” – SuckingDieselFella

Our verdict

Located in Umbria – Italy’s idyllic, rural heart – Lake Trasimeno will suit families who are keen to get off the beaten track but still want lots of kid-friendly activities.

Active broods can explore the romantic lakeside towns via the 43-mile bike path that loops the shore (bike hire is easy to find). Alternatively, rent a kayak or motorboat to head out onto the lake. For water babies, there’s also the pool, multi-lane waterslides and splash area at Luguna Park, close to the fishing village of San Feliciano.

It’s possible to catch a ferry from San Feliciano over to the lake’s largest island, Isola Polvese. Here, there’s lots of green space for little ones to roam and a medieval castle. Alternatively, head to the beach in the handsome town of Castiglione del Lago, where you’ll find deck chairs and umbrellas, a bar, a playground and pedal boats for hire.

Nearest airport: Perugia San Francesco d’Assisi Airport (approx 17 miles from the western resorts)

Read next: The best family-friendly hotels on the Amalfi Coast

5. Lake Bolsena

Lake Bolsena

Lake Bolsena according to Mumsnetters

“Lesser-known lake town with giant villas and a Medici castle that is still inhabited.” - Fraaahnces

Our verdict

Located in beautiful countryside, between Rome and Florence, Lake Bolsena is Europe’s largest volcanic lake. Its long black sand beaches and calm morning waters make it a great place for a family holiday away from the tourist crowds.

Both the scenic towns of Bolsena and Capodimonte, on opposite sides of the lake, are excellent bases for boat trips and have crowd-pleasing pizzerias and cafes. Older kids can try their hands at kitesurfing on the lake, and there’s also the chance for horse-riding tours.

Families may choose to stay at one of the lake’s budget-friendly campsites – some of which come with playgrounds, pools and beaches. Otherwise, there’s a good range of holiday apartments and some idyllic farmhouse stays.

Nearest airport: Perugia San Francesco d’Assisi Airport (approx 21 miles from the western resorts)

What is the prettiest lake in Italy?

For standout good looks, head to glamourous Lake Como. That said, all the Italian lakes on our list are worthy of a place on your Instagram feed.

Can you swim in the Italian lakes?

Yes, there are lots of good swimming spots in the Italian lakes - although it can be wise to pack water shoes, as some beaches and shallows can be pebbly underfoot.

Of course, it’s worth exercising common sense when swimming with children in a natural body of water. If you are unsure about the best places to swim, ask for recommendations at your hotel or head to one of the many beach clubs or open-air lidos.

Is Lake Garda or Lake Como better?

The answer to this age-old question depends on what you want from your family holiday.

If you fancy lots of kid-friendly activities plus some culture-filled day trips, Lake Garda is a good bet. However, Lake Como could make the ideal break if you and your kids prefer a slower-paced trip spent swimming, pottering around pretty villages and guzzling gelato.

What’s the best lake in Italy for a family holiday?

All the lakes come with their own charms. However, with its ability to please energetic toddlers through to thrill-seeking teens, we think Lake Garda is the most family-friendly lake in Italy for a holiday.

How we chose our recommendations

Because we know that there's nothing like a real recommendation, we first headed to the Mumsnet forums to find out which Italian lakes for families were being recommended for families.

We then did some online research, looking at which family-friendly lakes in Italy had won accolades or been featured in 'best choice' lists and what reviews said about them. Having collated all that information, we then narrowed our list down to the best lakes in Italy for a family holiday.

Why you should trust us

We work hard to provide unbiased, independent advice you can trust. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one.