This region of northern Italy is brilliant for those looking for active family holidays in Europe, especially if you and your brood love watersports. Once a preserve of the very rich and still attracting the likes of George Clooney, the Italian Lakes – part of the Lombardy region – are now one of the world's best family holiday destinations, as well as a great bet for day-trippers from the cities seeking a taste of the great outdoors.
Extending from Lake Orta and Lake Maggiore in the west to Lake Como north of Milan and east as far as Lake Garda, these lakes – part of the wider Lombardy region – are undeniably gorgeous too. Adding to their outdoor attractions is the fact that children are brilliantly catered for in the many well-equipped resorts.
Things to do with kids in the Italian Lakes
Explore Lake Garda – it’s the most developed of the lakes but for that reason has plenty to keep the kids occupied, from medieval castles to clean waters, and lots of opportunities to get away from it all. The sportiest of the Italian Lakes, it’s fabulous for older kids and teens, who can try their hand at windsurfing, sailing and canoeing. On dry land, there’s horse-riding, mountain-biking, treetop adventures, and many undemanding and scenic hiking routes on the eastern and western shores. Riva Del Garda, a pleasant 19th-century resort on the lake’s north-western tip, has pastel-painted hotels, lovely views and enough gelaterie and pizza parlours to keep any child happy.
Interesting sights around Garda are Il Vittoriale, a fantasy villa on the western shore, Sirmione with its medieval castle and maze of Roman ruins, Desenzano with its interesting ruins, and the castles at Torri del Benaco, Malcesine and Vallegio.
There’s also unadulterated fun at the themeparks tucked away between Lazise and Peschiera on Garda’s southeast shore – Gardaland is Italy’s largest themepark, offering jungle rapids, rollercoasters and a Fantasy Kingdom for little ones, plus two hotels of its own. Canevaworld combines movie-themed rides at Movieland Studios with slides and watery fun at Movieland Aquastudios. Also nearby is Parco Natura Viva, a decent zoo and safari park active in conservation. And if your accommodation doesn't have a waterpark or pool, you'll be glad of the presence of Acquasplash Franciacorta when you need to cool down.
Discover Lake Como, widely held to be the most beautiful of the Italian Lakes, surrounded by tall peaks that rise more or less directly from the water's edge. You can travel up the lake on an old-fashioned steamer, swim in its clear waters or head to its hills for all manner of outdoor activities. Avoid the main towns and stay in Menaggio, Varenna or Bellagio.
Menaggio, a good base for hiking, swimming or cycling, is great for outdoorsy families: water-skiing, mountain-biking and horse-riding are also readily available, and there's an 18-hole golf course close-by. Little Bellagio is one of Italy’s top family destinations – a long-established resort, it has two pretty gardens to visit, good swimming and lots of restaurants and boutiques. Kids love jumping off the pier into the lake; there’s also water-skiing, horse-riding and hiking. Up the mountain from Bellagio, Civenna offers aerial obstacles at Jungle Raider Park.
For Como’s best swimming, head to the northern towns of Gravedona and Domaso for uncrowded beaches and the cleanest water (flowing straight into the lake from the Adda River). Just north of Como is the best playground for children in the area, next to the Lido in Mandello del Lario, with a classic carousel and lots of activities.
Head for Lake Maggiore, second-largest of the Lakes and another well-established tourist destination, with hiking, mountain-biking and watersports. Base yourself at Stresa, a lovely town on the western shore, with good lake views, and visit the nearby zoological park and the Borromean Islands, three of which are open to the public (Isola Madre has heavenly gardens and an interesting puppet theatre).
Discover the smaller lakes, of which the Lago d’Orta is probably the best. Nicknamed Cinderella by locals, its gentle waters and famous island–village, Isola San Giulio, make it a very popular destination (try to come out of season to glimpse its 19th-century charm).
Windsurfing on Lake Garda.
Italy is famous for its child-friendly food and the Italian Lakes are no exception – you’ll find great places to eat wherever you go, even in the themeparks. Restaurants will always provide mezza porzione for younger diners, and local shops, markets and bakeries are rammed with incredible ingredients for an Italian feast in your self-catering accommodation or a lakeside picnic.
Rollercoaster at Gardaland.
When to go to the Italian Lakes
Sunny days and pleasant temperatures year-round make the Italian Lakes a great family holiday destination whatever the season. Summers are warm but not too hot, with temperatures between 25°C and 30°C in July and August, dipping a little at night (be prepared for cooler evenings).
High season begins at Easter and runs right through to September and October, peaking in August when Italian cities empty out for the summer and you need to book early for lakeside resorts.
In winter, facilities in many resort towns shut down.
Treetop adventures with Jungle Raider Park Bellagio.
You can spend a lot of money on family holidays in the Italian Lakes if you opt for luxury accommodation, but this can also be a good-value destination for family holidays, with a week’s camping costing as little as £350 for a family of four (excluding flights). Lots of competition and special offers means you may snag a good deal.
Competition of the weekEnter now for your chance to win a 7-night family holiday for up to 6 people with Eurocamp.
Flying time2hrs All flight times are based on flights from UK London airports, to the capital or nearest destination airport.
Carbon footprint1.05 CO2 Estimated tonnes of CO2 produced for return flights for a family of four.
A Lombardy dish of smoked sardine risotto.
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