Are you currently trying to plan an epic holiday to the spectacular Lake Maggiore and not sure which are the absolute best places that you should visit? Well, this article has got you fully covered!
We just spent an amazing few days at one of Italy’s most beautiful lakes and I’m here to spill the beans!
From the prettiest towns on Lake Maggiore to the best things to do at Lake Maggiore. All of the information that you’ll need for an incredible vacation at Lake Maggiore will be covered in this article.
If you’ve read other blog posts of mine you know that I am a very efficient traveler and that I love to see as many places as possible in the short time that I sometimes have to visit a region.
Lake Maggiore, also known als Lago Maggiore, is often overlooked for the more opulent Lake Como. But this also means that it’s a lot more quiet and its hidden gems still feel authentic and not over saturated by tourists.
In this article you’ll find the best places to visit at Lake Maggiore and some insider tips to help plan your holiday even better!
The 12 Very Best Places To Visit In Lake Maggiore
Among the best places to visit in Lake Maggiore you’ll find all of what the region has to offer. From harbor towns next to the crystal clear water to Italian gardens and palazzo’s and some incredible hidden gems that we stumbled upon along the way.
I honestly don’t understand why Lake Maggiore is often overlooked for both Lake Como and Lake Garda. During the weekends it does attract its fair share of visitors but they mostly go to the areas of Stresa, Locarno or Verbania.
Even when doing my research for my own trip I found it hard to find some decent information. Literally every website was telling me the same thing and only covered the most touristic places. So we pretty much just drove around the entire coastline and tried to stop at every single place that felt like it would be a good fit for this Lake Maggiore travel guide.
How to get around Lake Maggiore
The best way to get around Lake Maggiore is to simply rent a car.
🚘 I always use SunnyCars when booking a rental car cause their company policy makes me feel the most at ease.
There’s never any hidden costs with them and free cancellation up to 1 hour before rental start. Their price is transparent and everything is included. So no worries about any extra costs when you pick up your rental. You won’t need any extra insurance cause its all covered in the original price.
💡 TIP – The following parking rules in Italy are a must to know if you don’t want to risk getting fined:
- Blue lines: You can park your car here but need to pay.
- White lines: Free parking where you’re allowed to park.
- Yellow lines: Only locals can park here.
I suggest picking up your rental car from Milan. If you’re arriving by plane chances will be very high you’ll fly into Milan and from there it’s only an hour driving. Especially if you’re flying to Milano Malpensa.
Where to stay at Lake Maggiore as a base
We decided to stay in Ascona, which is on the Swiss side of Lake Maggiore. This way we were able to explore both Ticino as the area around Lake Maggiore.
So if this is something you would like to do as well I highly recommend staying in Ascona. We stayed at Vista Lakefront Boutique Hotel, which is located at the waterfront and offers rooms with a balcony overlooking Lake Maggiore. Both breakfast and dinner are served overlooking the glistening water and the perfect spot for some people watching.
If you’re looking for a more budget friendly option then you should stay in the small Italian harbor town of Cannobio. Stay at Hotel Cannobio and have breakfast on your typical Italian balcony overlooking Lake Maggiore. Compared to the Swiss side of Lake Maggiore, its Italian counterpart is a lot cheaper when it comes to dining out.
If you’re looking for a hotel that radiates the true opulence of an Italian Palazzo then you have to book a room at the incredible Hotel Villa e Palazzo Aminta in Stresa. I stayed in this exact hotel with my mom when I was younger and literally everything about it is lavish.
The most beautiful places to visit around Lake Maggiore
1. Ascona, a charming Swiss village at Lake Maggiore
The picturesque Swiss town of Ascona was our base for visiting both Lake Maggiore and the region of Ticino in Switzerland.
Ascona is often referred to as “The Pearl of Lake Maggiore” and when you’re walking along the waterfront it’s not hard to see why. One of the most romantic things to do here is to simply walk along the Lake Promenade. The scenery is beautiful, and you can see all the colorful houses, elegant villas, lush hills, and mountains.
The Italian architecture stands out the most, making this one the prettiest Swiss towns to visit. The buildings in Ascona, such as restaurants, hotels, houses, and villas are painted in bright colors which resemble Venice or Burano.
💡 TIP – Have dinner at La Curt Bandida and drinks at the local wine bar in Vicolo delle Olive.
🚘 PARKING – Park your car at Autosilo al Lago and you’ll only be 5 minutes walking from the Lake Promenade of Ascona. Through Vista Lakefront Boutique Hotel we were able to get a parking card for 15 CHF/day.
2. Madonna del Sasso, the best place to visit in Locarno
Locarno is another charming town located on the Swiss side of Lake Maggiore. The Madonna del Sasso is a pilgrimage church in Orselina, located right above Locarno.
The sanctuary is linked to Locarno city centre by the Locarno–Madonna del Sasso funicular. Easily one of the most iconic religious sites in the Canton of Ticino, the current sanctuary dates back to the 16th-century.
Today, the sanctuary and place of pilgrimage are open to the public for free on a daily basis.
Opening hours – 7am to 6.30pm
From here you’ll have one of the best views over Lago di Maggiore and the underlying town of Locarno.
3. Cannobio, one of the top places to visit around Lake Maggiore
Cannobio is a picture-perfect lakeside town on the Western shores of Lake Maggiore. Not far from the Swiss border and situated in the region of Piedmont.
One of the best things to do in Cannobio is to make your way from the main Piazza Vittorio Emanuele III, along the waterfront promenade. The pastel colored houses are lined with flowers and all of their terraces are inviting you for some Aperol Spritz and bruschetta.
What’s especially fun about Cannobio is that there’s a lido at the very end of the town. When you reach the end of the lakeside path, you’ll discover one of the few sandy beaches on Lake Maggiore.
Another fun thing to do in Cannobio is to rent one of the boats to go out on the lake. No boating license needed.
💡 TIP – Have dinner at Pizzeria Eraora and make sure to try their freshly made pasta pesto with burrata. They also made a delicious non alcoholic cocktail for me!
🚘 PARKING – Park your car at the Lido Beach parking lot for free parking in Cannobio.
4. Isole di Brissago
Marooned in the glimmering waters of Lake Maggiore, this tiny pair of islands is famous for its botanic gardens designed in the 19th century. Magnolias, orchids, yuccas and agaves are among the 1700 species that flourish here.
The Brissago Islands are a group of two small islands in Lago Maggiore, Switzerland. Only the larger island is open to the public, and it’s home to a wonderful botanical garden that attracts more than 90,000 visitors every year.
To reach the Brissago Islands you’ll have to travel by boat, which only operate from April to early November. It’s possible to travel by boat from most towns on the lake shore, but the travel times vary depending on where you depart from. It takes about 45 minutes to get to Brissago Islands from Locarno, but just 15 minutes from Ascona.
Entrance fee – 8 CHF
Opening hours – From 9am to 6pm
💡 TIP – There’s only one restaurant one the island but it’s s food is pretty shitty so I don’t recommend eating here. Better to simply bring a picnic with you when visiting.
5. Cannero Riviera, a hidden gem at Lake Maggiore
The lakeside village of Cannero Riviera is located in the Verbano Cusio Ossola Province, on the shores of Lake Maggiore.
The main activity at Cannero Riviera is to follow the promenade along the lake. As well as attractive views across Lake Maggiore, there are also several impressive villas along the path. Unlike many towns, the promenade here is simply a path along the water, there are not many cafes and restaurants.
If you’re walking north, after a few hundred meters you’ll reach a small port. This is the Vecchio Porto di Cannero and the main reason I suggest you visit the town. Although not very big,it’s very picturesque and still a true hidden gem at Lake Maggiore.
On a small island in the lake to the west of the old port you can see the Castle of Cannero. Although the castle can not be visited, it adds interest to the view of the lake.
🚘 PARKING – Park your car at Parking Cannero so you’re right next to the promenade.
6. Giardini Botanici di Villa Taranto, one of the top things to do in Lake Maggiore
The beautiful Giardini Botanici di Villa Taranto is located in Verbania along the coast of Lago di Maggiore. Behind the entrance gates you’ll find a free parking lot, a ticket office, restrooms and a terrace where you can order something to drink or eat.
Entrance fee – €12. Children from 0 to 5 years are free to enter.
Opening hours – 9am to 7pm
It is possible to visit the garden with wheelchairs, following a path marked by signs.
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Strolling through the garden will take around 1.5 hour to see it all and to take some photos.
7. Stresa, the most famous town on Lake Maggiore
Stresa is most known for its islands Isola Bella, Isola Madre, Isola Pescatori and as a one of the main tourist destinations around Lake Maggiore. So don’t expect a quaint little fishing town with colorful houses. Instead you’ll be greeted by opulent hotels that still exude the grandeur of past elegance.
Stresa is about 1,5 hour driving from Milan and if you’re looking for one of the more scenic places to stay on Lake Maggiore I highly recommend booking a room at Hotel Villa e Palazzo Aminta. Their rooms offer a magnificent view over the lake and the Borromeo islands.
Stresa really began to be known as a tourist destination worldwide from the 19th century onwards. The wealthy British upper class enjoyed Stresa as a rest stop on their ‘Grand Tour’ after visiting the wonders of Rome, Florence, and Venice and before heading on to Switzerland.
But the main draw to Stresa are without a doubt the Borromean islands. All 3 can be visited in a single day and are only a short boat ride away.
💡 TIP – We booked our boat ride on the spot with CMV for €15 per person to visit two islands and transport back to Stresa.
🚘 PARKING – Park your car at Parcheggio Piazza Marconi, which is right in front of the Stresa Ferry Terminal. A bit further down the road you’ll also find some free parking spots but these tend to fill up super fast.
8. Isola Bella, the most famous Borromean Island
Isola Bella is by far the most popular one of the Borromean Islands and you can already admire it from the lake promenade in Stresa.
However, a visit to Lake Maggiore is not complete with a visit to the stunning Isola Bella! Exploring Isola Bella truly is an amazing experience. Even if you’re staying in Milan it’s definitely worth the day trip and the 1.5 hour drive from the city centre.
The palace, Palazzo Borromeo, is fascinating, encapsulating 400 years of family history, as well as its incredible portrait gallery and its gardens, some of the most spectacular ones in Italy.
You’ll start your visit by entering the palace. I was completely mesmerized by the grandeur of all the incredible rooms, their art collection and the views over Lake Maggiore from the windows and balconies.
But once you enter the gardens the true show begins. I’ve seen many beautiful gardens in my life but the one at Isola Bella takes the cake for sure. And if you’re lucky you’ll bump into the family of white peacocks that resides in the gardens.
Entrance fee – €20 for adults and €11 for children. You can buy your ticket directly at the cashier but you can also buy it online so you can skip the line.
Opening hours – 10am to 6.30pm. Do know that the palace and gardens are closed during the winter season. Isola Bella is typically open from mid-March through October.
9. Isola Madre, one of the best things to do at Lake Maggiore
Isola Madre couldn’t be more different from Isola Bella and exudes a more understated chique in its palace and gardens.
Isola Madre. isthe most northern of the Borromean Islands and is also the biggest out of all 3. Historically the island was also called the Isola di San Vittore and the Isole Maggiore.
Unlike the other Borromean islands, as soon as you disembark from the ferry you are at the ticket office for the palace, so there is little point coming unless you plan to pay to enter…there is nowhere else to go on the island.
Entrance fee – €17. You can buy your ticket directly at the cashier but you can also buy it online so you can skip the line.
Opening hours – 10am to 6.30pm. Do know that the palace and gardens are closed during the winter season. Isola Madre is typically open from mid-March through October.
💡 TIP – Visiting the Borromean Islands requires a lot of walking. If you’re feeling a little tired go straight up the stairs after the entrance so you skip the part where you simply walk around the edge of the island without missing a thing of the gardens.
10. Isola Pescatori, one of the best places to visit on Lake Maggiore
Isola dei Pescatori is part of the group of Borromean Islands in Lake Maggiore, in northern Italy.
While the other two important Borromean Islands – Isola Bella and Isola Madre – are occupied by grand villas and gardens, the Isola dei Pescatori is largely covered by a village. The name of the island, ‘Pescatori’, is the Italian for ‘fishermen’.
Despite the size of the village, there are only about 20 full time residents on the island. The island is now largely dedicated to tourism, although a small amount of fishing still takes place. Many of the houses are now guest houses, holiday rentals and holiday homes.
Around the harbor there are several cafes and restaurants, and sometimes a small market. There are just two main streets in the village, Via Ugo Ara and Via del Porto, which are both very narrow paved streets and then small side streets that lead to the edge of the island. The streets contain lots of small shops and cafes.
11. Gambarogno Riviera, colorful towns on the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore
The Riviera del Gambarogno is a world of its own. The eastern shore of Lake Maggiore boasts the typical charm of towns that look right out over the lake: villages full of colourful houses, cobbled streets, flowerbeds, a road that runs along the lake shore all the way to Italy and the blessing of the sun.
The shores of Gambarogno are particularly popular for their secluded beaches and lidos in the towns along the riviera, which look out over a stunning lake on which you can try your hand at countless water sports.
12. Santa Caterina del Sasso, a hidden gem on Lake Maggiore
There are two ways to visit Santa Caterina del Sasso. You can go by car and then walk down the stairs to reach the beautiful monastery or you can choose to arrive by boat which will grant you spectacular views.
Which way you choose will mostly depend on where you’re staying around Lake Maggiore. If you’re staying on the eastern side you can choose to visit Santa Caterina del Sasso by car and then hop on a ferry to either Stresa or Arona. But of course you can also do it the other way around. The ferry departs from Stresa and Arona on a daily basis and takes about 15 minutes.
Entrance fee – €5 and an additional €1 if you want to use the elevator.
Opening hours – From 9.30am to 7.30pm
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Is Lago Maggiore worth visiting?
Lake Maggiore is definitely worth visiting! As you can see from the above listed best places to visit at Lake Maggiore there’s something to see and do for everyone. Wether you want to spend your days exploring the history of the Borromean Islands, go hiking in the mountains or simply relax by the waterfront.
There’s some truly incredible architecture to be found around Lake Maggiore, as well as stunning botanical gardens, exquisite restaurants for foodies and a very laid back vibe.
And did I already mention that Lake Maggiore still holds on to its original and authentic charm and isn’t completely overrun yet by tourists compared to Lake Garda and Lake Como?
Charlotte Lint is the founder of Charlies Wanderings.
Charlotte has traveled all over the world and is based in Belgium where she also owns her very own dental practice.
She is an expert on writing efficient travel guides and finding unique places to stay.
Every month she helps over 134.000 people discover the most beautiful places in the world through her detailed travel guides.