Last updated on March 10, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in the European Alps & North of Italy

Best 7 lakes in Italy near Milan to visit including a hidden gem

I was born in northern Italy and spent so much time around these lakes near Milan. Lake Como and Garda are surely the most famous but there are others.

In this article, I will talk about the 7 most beautiful lakes in Italy around Milan including a secret gem, my favourite place for a swim, with one of the cleanest water you can find in the north of Italy and a charming medieval village unknown to most travellers.

But let’s start with a quick summary table that compares them all before getting into the juicy stuff.

European Alps & Northern Italy
North of Italy and the 7 lakes near Milan

Best 7 lakes near Milan in Northern Italy – Summary table


Best forConsHighlightsDistance from Milan Airports by CarPublic TransportationSwimmable and BeachesBudget
Lake ComoScenic beauty, Romantic escapes, Luxury staysExpensive, TouristyVilla gardens, Boat tours, Picturesque townsMalpensa: 70km, 1h-1h30min; Linate: 50km, 1h-1h30min; Orio al Serio: 40km, 1hFrequent trains, ~1hrFew beaches, limited swimmingHigh-end, expensiveFerries available
Lake MaggioreFamily activities, Beach access, Budget-friendlyCrowded, Less exclusiveBorromean Islands, Cable car, Lakeside promenadesMalpensa: 20km, 25min; Linate: 85km, 1h-2h; Orio al Serio: 110km, 1h-1h30minVery frequent trains, 1-1.5hrMore beaches, good for swimmingMore affordableFerries available
Lake OrtaRomantic getaways, Artistic inspiration, Quiet atmosphereLess known, Limited nightlifeSan Giulio Island, Medieval villageMalpensa: 50km, 1h; Linate: 100km, 1h30min-2h30min; Orio al Serio: 130km, 2h-3hReasonably easy, ~1h30minVery good, clear watersModerateLimited ferries
Lake LuganoShopping, Cross-border charm, Lakefront diningPricey area, Busy summerMonte Brè, Swiss casinos, Chic boutiquesMalpensa: 50km, 1h; Linate: 90km, 1h30min-2h30min; Orio al Serio: 120km, 2h-2h30minEasy, ~1hrGood, some private lidosHigherRegular ferries
Lake IseoNature lovers, Quiet retreats, Authentic charmSmaller scale, Fewer amenitiesMonte Isola, Nature reserves, Wine cellarsMalpensa: 120km, 1h30min-2h30min; Linate: 80km, 1h30min-2h; Orio al Serio: 30km, 40minModerately easy, ~1h30minGood, some natural beachesReasonableFerry service
Lake GardaFamily fun, Watersports, Historical sitesTouristy areas, Occasional congestionScaliger Castle, Gardaland, Wine tastingMalpensa: 170km, 2h-3h; Linate: 120km, 1h30min-2h; Orio al Serio: 80km, 1hQuite easy, ~1h30minExcellent, numerous beachesModerateExtensive ferry service
Lake MergozzoQuiet relaxation, Clean waters, Natural surroundingsLimited services, Smaller sizeAmazing water, Tranquility, Fishing villageMalpensa: 60km, 1h; Linate: 120km, 1h30min-2h; Orio al Serio: 150km, 2h-2h30minLess frequent, ~2hrExcellent for swimmingMid-rangeNo ferries
7 top lakes close to Milan

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Travelling by ferry through the Como Lake
Travelling by ferry through the Como Lake

Lake Como (Lago di Como)

  • Best for: Scenic beauty, Romantic escapes, Luxury stays
  • Cons: Expensive, Touristy
  • Highlights: Villa gardens, Boat tours, Picturesque towns
  • Distance from the 3 Milan Airports by car:
    • Malpensa: 70 km, 1h-1h30min
    • Linate: 50 km, 1h-1h30min (based on Milan traffic)
    • Orio al Serio: 40 km, 1h
  • Public transportation to the lake: Trains available, frequent runs, about 1 hour from Milan Central
  • Swimmable and beaches: Just a few beaches, limited swimming
  • Budget: High-end, expensive
  • Lake Navigation: Ferries available, scenic routes
  • My favourite accommodations: Grand Hotel Victoria (Menaggio), Oriental Coast Apt (Varenna), Lecco Apartment. Explore more options in my guide to the best places to stay in Lake Como

Lake Como is the jewel of Lombardy’s Alpine lakes, renowned as a premier romantic getaway with landscapes so poetic and timeless that they’ve been immortalized by artists and writers for centuries.

As the third largest Italian lake bordering the mountainous Swiss region, its inverted Y-shape adds 146 square kilometres of intricate shoreline to explore.

On my next trip, I am planning a visit to the northwest of the lake, the small villages of Dongo and Domaso with its famous Adventure Park that my kid will love. This is the only part I have still not experienced and I am so looking forward to it.

It’s the most romantic lake of my selection, with emerald waters reflecting off the snow-capped peaks surrounding aristocratic villas with lush botanical gardens, a real fairytale setting catering for a luxurious stay.

This dreamscape does come at a cost, however, with hotels, restaurants, and attractions skewing towards high-end extravagance around destinations like Bellagio and Menaggio rather than budget options.

The popularity also means Lake Como sees its share of tourists packing ferries and filling scenic lakeside towns during the mid-summer months despite the more remote location requiring roughly a 1.5-hour train journey to reach central Milan (Como city and Lecco are around 1 hour away).

And for unforgettable vistas, you can splurge on five-star villas turned intimate hotels with private docks, Michelin-caliber restaurants, and acres of manicured palace grounds directly kissing the waters.

My Tip: My favourite towns are Bellagio and Menaggio, besides Varenna, the most accessible of all, with direct trains to Milan through Lecco and easy access to freeway/highway

Another Tip: If you arrive late at night stay in Milan, plenty of accommodations there, and the Central Station neighbourhood is one of the cheapest areas to stay in Milano.

Bellagio view from the approaching ferry
Bellagio view from the approaching ferry

Lake Maggiore (Lago Maggiore)

  • Best for: Family activities, Beach access, Budget-friendly
  • Cons: Crowded, Less exclusive
  • Highlights: Borromean Islands, Cable car, Lakeside promenades
  • Distance from the 3 Milan Airports by car:
    • Malpensa: 20 km, 25min
    • Linate: 85 km, 1h-2h (based on Milan traffic)
    • Orio al Serio: 110 km, 1h-1h30min (based on Milan traffic)
  • Public transportation to the lake: Trains available, very frequent, 1-1.5 hours from Milan Central (ideal for a day trip from Milan)
  • Swimmable and beaches: More beaches, good for swimming
  • Budget: More affordable, varied options
  • Lake Navigation: Ferries available, Borromean island access
  • My favourite accommodation: Grand Hotel Dino, Hotel Cannero and Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromee. Explore more options in my guide to the best places to stay in Lake Maggiore

As the second largest lake in Italy straddling the border between Piedmont and Lombardy regions, magnificent Lake Maggiore dazzles with its majestic Alpine backdrop reflecting across glacial waters towards charming islands.

Its more accessible location, just 20 kilometres from Malpensa airport, and efficient rail links make Lake Maggiore a popular choice for short stays and family holidays promising classic Italian lake pursuits at more affordable rates, which is one of the biggest differences between Lake Como and Maggiore.

Known for elegant Belle Époque resort towns like Stresa lining its western shores, Lake Maggiore offers lively pedestrian promenades bustling with cafés, gelaterias, aperitivo bars and shops catering to visitors of all ages.

On the scenic coast, you can also find grassy banks dotted with cabanas (lidos) for leisurely afternoon swims near most towns – a contrast from Lake Como’s steep terrain and few beaches.

Maggiore Lake is also a fun place with kids. My little one definitely loved the few adventure parks around and the exploration by boat of Isola Madre, with aristocratic palaces and gardens, and Isola Pescatori which still remains an active fishing village (mostly for local usage).

With its pleasing climate, smooth lake access, and varied attractions from cable cars whisking visitors up mountain peaks to coastal trails perfect for bicycling, this lake allows effortlessly keeping all ages entertained without breaking budgets on luxury hotels.

My Tip: Both Piedmont and Lombardy sides are beautiful however for a first trip I suggest staying on the West Coast. It’s more spectacular and with the most beautiful old towns too. On the East Coast, I highly suggest visiting the Eremo di Santa Caterina del Sasso, a monastery partially carved into the cliff, the most unique destination of the lake.

Drone view of the Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori in the background
Lake Maggiore: Drone view of the Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori in the background

Lake Orta

  • Best for: Romantic getaways, Artistic inspiration, Quiet atmosphere
  • Cons: Less known, Limited nightlife
  • Highlights: San Giulio Island, Medieval village of San Giulio
  • Distance from the 3 Milan Airports by car:
    • Malpensa: 50 km, 1h
    • Linate: 100 km, 1h30min-2h30min (based on Milan traffic)
    • Orio al Serio: 130 km, 2h-3h (based on Milan traffic)
  • Public transportation to the lake: Trains and buses available, reasonably easy, about 1h 30min from Milan
  • Swimmable and beaches: Very good, clear waters
  • Budget: Moderate, various options
  • Lake Navigation: Limited, mainly local boats

Enveloped by wooded hills with the towering Monte Rosa peak (over 4,000m) visible on the horizon, the small Lake Orta claims a dreamy corner of northwestern Italy just a skip away from its popular neighbour Lake Maggiore but worlds apart in ambience.

Far from crowds flocking busy Maggiore resorts, Orta is more of a boutique destination, with plenty of nature around, a quiet environment and a few amazing historical places.

The calmness and beauty of this lake once inspired famous fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote poems about the island town of San Giulio with its 12th century basilica church – the top attraction bringing visitors to explore the peaceful lake by boat or bike.

The small harbour villages like Orta San Giulio feature winding alleys under colourful houses with red flowers, making you feel transported back in time.

Tucked away from the main sightseeing route between Milan and Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta draws intentional travellers seeking inspiration more than flashy excitement. You can practically have the fog-cloaked island and surrounding medieval towns to themselves off-season.

When lights glitter on the serene waters at night, the magic grows stronger but evenings focus more on intimate dinners over late-night parties.

This is the best lake around Milan if you are looking for a taste of nostalgic Italian countryside filled with romantic history, perfect for proposals or writing.

My Tip: This is a small lake and you can also think of visiting it on a day trip from Lago Maggiore if you are driving a car. It gets more complicated with public transportation but it can be done.

Lake Lugano (Switzerland)

  • Best for: Shopping, Cross-border charm, Lakefront dining
  • Cons: Pricey area, Busy summer
  • Highlights: Monte Brè, Swiss casinos, Chic boutiques
  • Distance from the 3 Milan Airports by car:
    • Malpensa: 50 km, 1h
    • Linate: 90 km, 1h30min-2h30min (based on Milan traffic)
    • Orio al Serio: 120 km, 2h-2h30min (based on Milan traffic)
  • Public transportation to the lake: Trains and buses available, easy, about 1h from Milan
  • Swimmable and beaches: Good, some private lidos
  • Budget: Higher, Swiss influence
  • Lake Navigation: Regular, connects to Swiss towns

Surrounded by tall mountains, Swiss-Italian Lake Lugano brings together efficient Swiss pleasures and relaxed Italian joys for a unique borderland retreat. You can ride regular ferries and tour boats linking photogenic hamlets, enjoying la dolce vita by day and flashy Swiss casino clubs at night.

Scores of high-altitude hiking paths loop around the lake revealing stunning views, while lake level brings an energetic lakefront promenade from posh Gandria past cafés and boutiques.

All around, chic Michelin-listed restaurants and spa resorts pamper guests with 5-star refinement reflecting the lake’s blend of cultures.

Beyond pretty towns gracing its glittering waters, this lake also promises meadow-top trails and splashy casinos surrounded by evergreen peaks. With Lake Como’s fame but greater accessibility, Lugano brings the quiet Swiss lake experience conveniently into Italy’s lake district backyard.

Besides the city casino, you can also visit for a glamour night Campione d’Italia, an Italian enclave with a luxurious casino. From there you can also drive or hike to the scenic viewpoint called Balcone d’Italia, which translates to Balcony of Italy, for the best panorama of Italy and Switzerland.

My Tip: Whenever you are close to the border set your phone signal to the Italian network if your contract has free European roaming. I forgot once and I received a 50 Euro bill for just 2 hours of connection with the Swiss mobile network (btw, Switzerland is not in the European Community)

Lake Iseo

  • Best for: Nature lovers, Quiet retreats, Authentic charm
  • Cons: Smaller scale, Fewer amenities
  • Highlights: Monte Isola, Nature reserves, Wine cellars
  • Distance from the 3 Milan Airports by car:
    • Malpensa: 120 km, 1h30min-2h30min (based on city traffic)
    • Linate: 80 km, 1h30min-2h (based on city traffic)
    • Orio al Serio: 30 km, 40min
  • Public transportation to the lake: Trains and buses available, moderately easy, about 1h 30min from Milan
  • Swimmable and beaches: Good, some natural beaches
  • Budget: Reasonable, good value Lake
  • Navigation: Ferry service available, mainly to Monte Island

Escape the crowds and unleash adventure amidst untouched natural beauty along Lombardy’s hidden Lake Iseo gem tucked between verdant cliffs scattering a dozen photogenic villages.

This is a small lake, especially if compared with the neighbour Lake Garda, but it delivers on outdoor activities and wild panoramas.

You can rent a kayak to paddle lazy mornings away tracing the craggy shoreline’s grottos or you can hike trails up ancient pilgrim paths including the celebrated via Valeriana revealing extraordinary lake vistas.

Back at lake level, you can hop aboard ferries to explore Monte Isola’s pristine fishing hamlets seemingly lost in time before catching the scenic lakeside train to medieval sanctuaries like Ceratello carved into the rugged cliffs.

Lake Iseo is the best place for a breath of fresh air whether cycling country roads between hillside wine cellars or feasting at tucked-away trattoria. The lower-key atmosphere also translates to budget savings on hotels and dining, which is great if you are looking for a cheap break by the lake.

My Tip: Besides being a great outdoor place, I highly suggest this lake if you are flying to Milano-Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport, so close and easy to get to your final destination! Here are a few great places to stay in Bergamo if arriving late or departing early in the morning.

Lake Garda – from Milan, Verona and Venice

  • Best for: Family fun, Watersports, Historical sites
  • Cons: Touristy areas, Occasional congestion
  • Highlights: Scaliger Castle, Gardaland, Wine tasting
  • Distance from the 3 Milan Airports by car:
    • Malpensa: 170 km, 2h-3h (based on city traffic)
    • Linate: 120 km, 1h30min-2h
    • Orio al Serio: 80 km, 1h
  • Public transportation to the lake: Trains and buses available, quite easy, about 1h 30min from Milan
  • Swimmable and beaches: Excellent, numerous beaches
  • Budget: Moderate, varies by town
  • Lake Navigation: Extensive ferry service, well-developed
  • My favourite accommodation: Casa Katy, Relais Corte Paradiso and Du Lac Et Du Parc Grand Resort. Explore more options in my guide to the best places to stay in Lake Garda

Lively Lake Garda delivers nonstop family fun between medieval fortress towns and beaches dotting over 100 kilometres of villages rimming Italy’s largest lake.

Watersports schools catering to windsurfing, kite surfing and the newish wing surfing contrast ancient Roman ruins and Gothic castles like Scaliger Castle towering above pastel-coloured towns like Sirmione.

Beyond the postcard villages, Gardaland thrills kids with rollercoasters while adults can island hop aboard ferries to underrated destinations like Limone Sul Garda and trace olive groves to wine-tasting rooms.

The extensive northern lakeshore also promises mountain hiking amid alpine vistas leaving visitors awestruck by the merging of stunning nature and villages lost in time. It has to be said that the northern tip is far away from Milan and it works better if you land at Verona airport.

Owing to its scenic setting within easy reach of Milan, Verona and Venice Lake Garda sees its share of crowds swarming hotspots in peak season, especially on weekends.

My Tip: Avoid this lake if you are flying to Malpensa. Driving through Milan can be a nightmare. Fly instead to Milano-Bergamo Orio al Serio or even better Verona. Garda is also well connected to Venice, in case you are on an Italian itinerary. It could be actually a great place to stay as a stop-over between the two cities.

Another Tip: If you can, combine a trip to Lake Garda with 2-3 days in one of the most beautiful places to stay in the Dolomites. These mountains are truly spectacular and a few days hiking there will be an unforgettable experience.

The Scaligera Castle and the town of Sirmione
The Scaligera Castle and the town of Sirmione – Lake Garda

Lake Mergozzo – the secret Italian lake

  • Best for: Quiet relaxation, Clean waters, Natural surroundings
  • Cons: Limited services, Smaller size
  • Highlights: Amazing water, Tranquility, Fishing village
  • Distance from the 3 Milan Airports by car:
    • Malpensa: 60 km, 1h
    • Linate: 120 km, 1h30min-2h (based on city traffic)
    • Orio al Serio: 150 km, 2h-2h30min (based on city traffic)
  • Public transportation to the lake: Less frequent trains, buses available, around 2 hours from Milan
  • Swimmable and beaches: Excellent water quality, good for swimming
  • Budget: Mid-range, reasonable prices
  • Lake Navigation: None

Nestled away from the famous lakes, like the glamour Lake Como or the family-oriented Lake Garda, Mergozzo is my secret gem for you. I visited it for the first time probably 30- years ago and I was back last summer for a family day by the beach. Honestly, it has not changed that much.

The medieval village is absolutely stunning with just a couple of local cafes to exchange a few words, a few local family-run trattorias and my beloved Birreria Freelance, a beer hall right on the water with amazing panoramic views, excellent for a sunset drink or aperitivo.

Here, the highlights aren’t just the amazing water and the tranquillity it offers but also the intimate connection with a community that seems to have stood still in time. The owner of Bar Sport has been there forever, at least as far as I remember him.

Getting to Lake Mergozzo requires a bit of a journey, with it being about an hour’s drive from Milan’s Malpensa airport, making it the most accessible of the three Milanese airports. For those relying on public transportation, the adventure begins with a less frequent train ride from Milan, taking around two hours to reach this secluded paradise.

Unfortunately, the train frequency is a bit of an issue with either an early (6.30 am) or late train but nothing in the middle. And in this respect, I suggest this lake only if you have decided to rent a car in Italy.

Although Lake Mergozzo may lack the extensive lake navigation seen in other lakes, its untouched beauty, excellent swimming conditions, and peaceful atmosphere more than make up for it.

A lovely sunset on Mergozzo Lake near Lago Maggiore
A lovely sunset on Mergozzo Lake near Lago Maggiore

Lake tours from Milan

If you prefer to join an organised lake tour from Milan, here are 7 great options you should check out

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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