The Italian Lakes are a fabulous family-friendly destination, packed with outdoor activities, safely landscaped lakefront beaches and promenades, and two of Italy’s largest theme parks. Even rides on turn-of-the-century trams, high-speed hydrofoils and cloud-scraping funiculars are bound to delight, while reasonably priced agriturismi (farm stay accommodation) and campgrounds abound.
Best Regions for Kids
Home to Italy’s best science museum, a castle and grand park, plus turn-of-the-century trams and canal cruises, Milan is more child-friendly than most imagine.
- Lake Maggiore & Around
Whiz up funiculars with bikes and binoculars, traverse the 'Hundred Valleys' by rail, picnic in flower-filled gardens, bobsled high in the mountains and wander with white peacocks on the Borromean Islands.
- Lake Como & Around
Head for the hills for walking and cycling trails or to Lenno and Villa Olmo near Como for lido-style lakeside swimming. To the north, in Gravedona, waterski or zip around in a zodiac.
- Lake Garda & Around
Ringed with campsites, furnished with two theme parks and blessed with an endless number of exciting activities, Garda is the most family-friendly lake. Windsurf, hike, cycle and horse ride with specialist operators that provide classes and tours for all age groups.
The Italian Lakes for Kids
If you’re looking for a family-friendly destination, the Italian lakes certainly fit the bill. The variety of museums, adventure parks, gardens, beaches, activities and shopping means that there is truly something for everyone.
Lake Garda is an activity hot spot, offering rock climbing, canyoning and water sports. Lake Como’s cloud-busting walking trails, funiculars, mountain-biking (book in advance) and chi-chi lidi (beaches) offer family fun with a touch of glamour. Lake Maggiore offers grand-slam sights and gardens within easy reach of Milan. And even in Milan and Verona large parks and family-friendly attractions and dining keep everyone happy.
Your most important pre-departure decisions will be accommodation and point of entry: Verona airport for Lake Garda; Milan Malpensa or Bergamo's Orio al Serio airports for Lake Como; and, Malpensa for Lake Maggiore. If you want to tour more than one lake, car hire is almost inevitable. However, think carefully about how much time you want to spend driving, particularly in summer when the roads are congested.
Agriturismi, country resorts and high-class campsites, such as Residence Filanda, Agriturismo Le Radici, La Garzonera, Agriturismo San Mattia, Camping Conca d'Oro and Campeggio Fornella are a good option for families, often with self-catering facilities and plenty of kid-friendly activities.
Many museums and monuments are free for children – but there is no single rule about the age limit for free admission (often up to six years). In Milan, Bergamo and Verona state museums are free to EU passport holders aged under 18. Otherwise, museums offer a reduced admission fee – usually half the adult price – for children, usually six and over. Students and young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 also get discounted entry with the appropirate ID.
Food & Drink
Lakeside towns have long been used to catering to Milanese and Veronese families on their summer vacations, and children are warmly welcomed in casual trattorias and osterie (taverns), although high-chairs are not always available. Menus always feature simple pasta dishes, cured ham as well as a varied selection of simply cooked fish and grilled meat. Restaurants in tourist hot spots like Stresa, Riva del Garda and Sirmione, as well as Milan and Verona, may have a menù bambini (children's menu), and are well served with pizzerias. If not, simply ask for a plate of pasta with butter or olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
Although having a car will allow you to move freely around the lakes, it is worth considering whether you really need one. Frequent trains from Milan connect with Stresa on Lake Maggiore and Como, while Sirmione on Lake Garda can be reached from Verona. What’s more, once you’re on the lakes its far quicker (and more scenic) to travel across them on the efficient network of ferries and hydrofoils.
If you do decide to drive, you’ll have more options on where to stay as the best value accommodation is usually situated a little distance from the lake shore. However, think hard about your itinerary and try to minimise inter-lake travel, which can be time-consuming. Children under 150cm or 36kg must be attached in an appropriate child seat for their weight and are not allowed in the front. Car seats should be booked in advance.
On public transport, a seat on a bus costs the same for everyone (toddlers and babies on laps are free). Children under 12 pay half-fare on trains and ferries.
Beaches & Swimming
- Idroscalo Milan's suburban water park that was once the liquid landing strip for seaplanes.
- Lido di Villa Olmo Lakeside lido backed by Como’s landmark Villa Olmo.
- Punta Lido Three kilometres of landscaped waterfront join Riva del Garda with Torbole.
- Parco Archeologico Rocca di Manerba A Unesco-protected nature reserve of evergreen woods and picturesque beaches.
- Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Let little Leonardos loose in Italy’s best science museum in Milan.
- Centovalli Train Cross the vertiginous ‘Hundred Valleys’ on this historic train ride into Switzerland.
- Museo Mille MigliaMarvel at the vintage racing beauties in Brescia.
- Rocca di Angera Lake Maggiore's most imposing castle with one of the best doll and toy museums in Europe.
- Sacro Monte di San Carlo Climb the colossal statue of St Charles and peep through his eye holes.
- Laveno Funivia Lake Maggiore's funkiest funicular with open-air capsules.
Gardens to Explore
- Parco Sempione Rollerblade around Parco Sempione then take the lift up the Torre Branca.
- Il Vittoriale degli Italiani Tour the wildly eccentric house then find the full-sized battleship in the garden.
- Villa Taranto Picnic and play amid rolling hillsides of rhododendrons, camellias and tulips.
- Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller Play eye-spy with world-class contemporary art amid the bamboo groves.
- Villa Carlotta Explore a fantastical floral landscape with a forest of ferns, a Zen garden and spectacular lookout point.
- Windsurfing & sailing The lakefronts at Riva del Garda and Torbole are lined with schools.
- Rock climbing Check out one of the world’s toughest rock-climbing festivals, the Rockmaster Festival, then take a few lessons with Arco Mountain Guide.
- Canyoning Jump, slide and abseil into crystal-clear waters with expert guides on Lake Ledro.
- Cycling Hire top-class off-road bikes from a national champion at Guti Bike Rent and Xtreme Malcesine.
- Kayaking Take a spin on the glassy waters of Lake Como in kayaks from Bellagio Water Sports.