We spent the last week of the summer holidays exploring Lake Maggiore, the second largest lake in the Italian Lakes. We enjoyed lazy days playing on the shores of lakeside beaches, took turns to float on the lake on an inflatable lilo, visited pretty villages by boat and drove across the border into Switzerland to splash in mountain streams and waterfalls.
We were absolutely blown away with Lake Maggiore and the nearby Swiss mountain valleys and towns. The scenery completely surpassed our expectations and we were amazed at how much there is to do in the region with kids. To be honest it was a little bewildering because there is SO much choice… countless lidos, cable rides, boat excursions, water parks, train trips, markets, chocolate factory tours… Fortunately we were staying in a villa owned by Jo from Bookings For You who is an Italian Lakes expert. Her knowledge and comprehensive online holiday guide came in very handy when picking the best places to visit in Lake Maggiore with kids.
Below I’ve shared the family days out we enjoyed in and around Lake Maggiore. Attractions that we thoroughly recommend if you ever visit the Italian Lakes.
15 things to do in Lake Maggiore with kids…
No. 1 – Ride in a bucket lift!
Without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight of our week was travelling in a bucket up to the summit of Mount Sasso del Ferro (1,100 metres). When we arrived at the Funivie del Lago Maggiore (cable car) station it was very quiet and we literally stepped straight onto the open-topped ‘buckets’ without having chance to think about it.
Moments later I couldn’t see my husband in the bucket lift in front of mine as he was crouched down low trying to convince our youngest son Harry to check out the views. My eldest son travelling with me was absolutely loving it! Whooping and pointing out all the interesting sights we were passing by. I’ll be honest I was holding on for dear life with one hand whilst trying to take photos with the other. (I didn’t realise until the next day that I had spent both the 16 minute ascent and descent with my legs in a deep squat trying to stop the bucket from rocking… It felt like I was recovering from a hard gym work out for a couple of days after).
The views from the summit were truly spectacular and even though it was a rather overcast day we could still clearly see the Alps. The €22 we spent on our family ticket was the best money we spent all week. An experience not to be missed if you are ever in the area.
Orta San Giulio and the tourist train
Our first night was spent in Orta San Giulio, a picturesque hillside village facing Lake Orta. The village is a maze of pretty streets and narrow cobbled lanes best explored onboard the tourist train with little ones. I would recommend it as a perfect stop over place if flying into Milan.
Car ferry ride from Intra to Laveno
Yes I know this is hardly an attraction but my kids loved it. (And yep hubby and I throughly enjoyed the experience too!) One of the things we had to quickly get used to during our week in Lake Maggiore was hopping on and off ferries – both car ferries and passenger ferries. The many boat trips we took over the week made us feel very adventurous and we were pro’s by the end of the week.
Our first boat trip took us by surprise. We were travelling from Orta San Giulio to check into our villa on the eastern bank of Lake Maggiore. One minute we were driving along blindly following the sat nav directions and admiring the lake views and next minute we were being told to embark a ferry with our car!
The car ferry turned out to be a really scenic and fun option for travelling across Lake Maggiore. It was certainly a much quicker alternative to driving around the entire lake (see map below) and very reasonably priced too.
We spent one morning at the historical market of Luino which dates back to 1541. It’s the largest weekly market in Europe and attracts visitors from as far as Germany.
We enjoyed a few hours browsing through the stalls, (possibly me more than my boys to be honest!) We chatted to the stall owners and indulged in fresh Italian delicacies including the most delicious gelato I have ever tasted. I’ll never forget how excited my boys were at the gelato stand… Choosing their gelato flavours became a daily highlight which they discussed at lengths every day.
Top tips – The Luino market takes place weekly on a Wednesday, if you like Italian shoes and handbags take lots of cash as you will be blown away by the choice. Other local weekly markets can be found here. Take a change of clothes for your kids as there is a great new water feature on Luino prom. Perfect for cooling off on a hot day.
Macagno beach and water sports
It took us a couple of days to find our local beach in Macagno but it was worth the wait. Trees provided lots of shade, there was a kids playground, beach bar, cafe, water sports and toilet facilities. My boys spent hours building dens, paddling and shifting through rocks to find ‘gems’ which they insisted they brought home with them!
Take a stroll and enjoy water sports in Cannobio
We took a real shine to Cannobio with its cobbled streets and colourful quirky buildings. Looking back on photos it’s not surprising that we spent a couple of days there.
Cannobio is the perfect place for people watching from one of the many outdoor coffee shops or enjoying water sports as there is a well equipped water sports centre down by the beach and two huge inflatable aqua parks in the lake.
Swim and sunbathe at the Locarno Lido
There are several lidos in the area and we deliberated for ages about which lido to visit. We decided in the end on the Locarno Lido as it has an indoor pool with slides and several outdoor pools located next to a beach. To be honest it’s not the cheapest of days out but if you go on a hot day where you can make the most of the facilities and enjoy a picnic it’s a great place for a relaxing and fun family day.
Locarno lakeside promenade
We left the Locarno lido and took a lovely stroll past the marina and all the way along the promenade to a playground which my boys loved. It was a great spot to soak in the views whilst enjoying a coffee from one of the many coffee shops.
Get up close to the famous Verzasca Dam
On our last day we crossed the border again into Switzerland and made our way to this well-known film location….
Do you recognise it? Clue – It starred in the opening scene of a James Bond movie!
After marvelling at the Verzasca Dam (and unsuccessfully willing someone to come along and jump 220 metres with only a rubber band wrapped around their ankles!) we continued driving along the mountainous road. We stopped every mile or so to get up close to waterfalls, admire the rivers and explore the chocolate-box mountain villages.
Other things to do in Lake Maggiore with kids
Our week in Lake Maggiore flew by far too quickly and we didn’t get to go to all the places we hoped to. During our next visit (and there definitely will be a next time as we fell in love with the region) we plan to visit lots more family friendly attractions near Lake Maggiore. I’ll pop links here so you can check them out for yourself…
Swiss Miniature a miniature world with over 120 toy models of houses, castles, cathedrals and other buildings of Switzerland. It also has 3500 metres of railway with lots of trains, funiculars, rack-railways, cable-cars and boats in motion.
Again we deliberated lots about whether or not to visit a water park with our boys and decided they were happy just playing in the lake with their lilo, buckets and spades. These water parks look great fun though – Ondaland in Vicolungo, Wave in Sesto Calende and Splash and Spa in Rivera-Monteceneri.
Phew I think that’s it. Looks like our second visit to the Italian Lakes will be a busy one too! If you’ve visited the area and have more tips about the best attractions to visit in Lake Maggiore with kids please do pop them below. Arreviderci!
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