Tip: Bring a packed lunch to eat by the water!

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Let’s talk about Italy’s hidden gem: Lake Iseo. 

Northern Italy has long been known for it’s beautiful lakes, such as the famous Lake Como and Lake Garda, or even the famous lakes of the Dolomites: Lago di Braies and Lago di Carezza. But what if I told you that there is a lake area that is just as beautiful with a fraction of the crowds? This is where the beautiful Lake Iseo (Lago Iseo) enters the scene. 

We recently spend some time in Northern Italy, using a small apartment in the charming city of Bergamo as our base. While looking for a way to escape the heat wave, we decided to rent a car and set off exploring the nearby lakes.

Rather than visit the famous Lake Como, sure to be full of tourists, we took a gamble at visiting Lake Iseo instead. We knew absolutely nothing about it before visiting, and it quickly stole our hearts. It is the perfect day trip from Milan, Bergamo, or even Venice!

I really didn’t know what to expect, but the only thing I could say once we arrived was, “why isn’t everyone traveling here?!” This lake is seriously the perfect day trip – and I would have gladly spent a few nights here soaking it all up.

You can rent a boat, kayak, or SUP to explore Lake Iseo
You can rent a boat, kayak, or SUP to explore Lake Iseo
The view of Lake Iseo from the surrounding hiking trails
The view of Lake Iseo from the surrounding hiking trails

Nestled between Lake Como and Lake Garda in Lombardo, you’ll find the beautiful Lake Iseo. Lake Iseo, which is located near the charming cities of Brescia and Bergamo, is the least popular lake in Italy’s Lombardo region.

Surrounding the lake you’ll find small, picturesque towns, and in the center of the lake is the beautiful Monte Isola. It is the very place to spend a day (or two) escaping the summer heat in Italy.

Before we dive into the article, here are some popular tours in Northern Italy if you are in a rush:

Top-5 popular tours in Northern Italy

Where is Lake Iseo located?

You’ll find Lake Iseo nestled almost directly between Brescia and Bergamo, two of the best places to visit in Northern Italy. The lake is located in the Lombardo region of Italy

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Things to do at Lake Iseo, Italy

Lake Iseo is an off-the-beaten-path experience compared to its more famous neighbors, Lake Como and Lake Garda. This hidden gem is packed with amazing things to do, whether you’re looking to explore a charming village, swim in the cool, crisp water, or hike in the mountainous trails above the lake. Let’s dive into the best things to do in Lake Iseo!

Explore the charming towns around the lake 

Lake Iseo is surrounded by small, charming towns. Popular towns include Iseo, Sulzano, Marone, and Sale Marasino in the south and east, and Lovere and Castro in northwest.

Iseo is the tourist capital of the lake, while Lovere has consistently been labeled as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

You can easily long sections along the lake on the various walking paths, either circling back to your car or getting back to Point A by boat or train.

Even though the lake looks small, it is actually well over 40 miles to walk around the entire lake. It takes just under 2 hours to drive the entire route, and 3-4 hours to bike it.

Go for a swim

One of the best things to do in Lago Iseo is to cool off from the hot Italian sun with a swim. When we visiting in late August, Italy was in the middle of a heatwave. With temperatures hovering around 100 degree Fahrenheit (38 Celcius), Lake Iseo was an amazing escape from the heat.

There are tons of great swimming spots along Lake Iseo. For example, in Iseo you’ll find some small beaches, whereas if you get closer to Sale Marasino and Marone you’ll find that most swimming areas are simply steps that descend straight into the water.

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Right across the street from BRIOLA 1955 you’ll find a perfect little swimming area away from the crowds.

Swimming area across the street from BRIOLA 1955
Swimming area across the street from BRIOLA 1955
Views of Lake Iseo
Views of Lake Iseo

Visiting the largest lake island in Europe – Monte Isola

One of the most popular things to do when visiting Lake Iseo is to visit Monte Isola – the largest inhabited lake island in Europe. You can easily reach the island by ferry, with routes from Sulzano to Peschiera Maraglio and Sale Marasino to Carzano.

Once on the island you’ll find restaurants, shops, cafes, and tons of charming roads to explore. Make sure to check out Sanctuary of the Madonna della Ceriola.

Rent a boat 

One of the best ways to explore the lake is from the lake itself! Whether that is by boat, kayak, SUP board, or even kitesurfing. You’ll find tons of companies around the lake that offer bother rentals and guided tours.

Bike around the lake perimeter

While the lake isn’t a bit too large to walking around, the 40 mile (65km) trail around the lake offers an amazing opportunity for road bikers. This is one of the best ways to explore all of the quaint villages surrounding the beautiful lake.

Hike the trails of the surrounding mountains 

The hills surrounding Lake Iseo provide endless scenic trails that lead to panoramic viewpoints. There are so many different trails to choose from, suitable for all levels.

One of the most popular trails is the Ancient Valerian Road which connects the eastern part of the lake between Pilzone d’Iseo and Pisogne and is just about 15 miles (24 km) long.

Visit the Lake Iseo cultural attractions – museums and churches 

You’ll find tons of history and culture in the various villages around the lake. Here are a few that you don’t want to miss:

  • Basilica of S. Maria in Valvendra
  • View from the Civic Tower
  • Galleria dell’Accademia Tadini
  • Pieve di Sant’Andrea
  • Church of Santa Maria del Mercato
  • Piazza Garibaldi

Visit the Big Benches

A series of seven benches have been installed through the Lake Iseo region as a way to promote getting out into nature. The larger-than-life benches are also a great photo opportunity, especially for families with children!

hiking trail signage lake iseo
There are so many hiking trails in the hills surrounding Lake Iseo
The charming villages around Italy's beautiful lake
The charming villages around Italy’s beautiful lake

Try local delicacies 

Like any region in Italy, you’ll find a number of local delicacies in Lake Iseo. One example is the risotto al nero di seppia (cuttlefish ink risotto), as well as freshwater fish from the lake.

Pair your meal with a glass of Franciacorta wine to complete the experience, of course.

Visit the nearby wineries of Franciacorta

Lake Iseo is located in the renowned Franciacorta wine region, famous for its sparkling wines. A great way to explore the area is to visit one of the local vineyards. Many of these vineyards offer tours and tastings.

How to get to Lake Iseo

Lake Iseo is strategically located near some of the best places to visit in Northern Italy, making it a perfect day trip. 

The lake can be reached by car or train. 

By car

If you have a car, then planning a day trip to Lake Iseo is super easy. We found that it much easier and much more affordable to book a car in Bergamo, when compared to Milan. Even if you’re staying in Milan, you can easily take a quick train ride to Bergamo to pick up the car, which will also help you to avoid some of the city traffic.

Below are driving distances from popular areas:

Milan > Lake Iseo: 1 hour 15 minutes 

Brescia > Lake Iseo: 30 minutes

Bergamo > Lake Iseo: 45 minutes

Verona > Lake Iseo: 1 hour 15 minutes 

Rent your car here

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🚗 If you are planning to rent a car, I highly recommend learning to drive a manual car (or traveling someone who knows. If you your car with DiscoverCars you’ll be able to save so much money if you book a manual car! We paid just $25/day during the high season.

By train 

Lake Iseo is also super accessible by train at one of the main stations around the lake. Popular stops around the lake include Sale Marasino and Sulzano. You will need to take a train to Brescia, and then transfer to a train directly to one of the lakeside stops. 

Tickets can be purchased in-person at the train station or ahead of time online. 

Book your train tickets here

Getting around Lake Iseo 

By car 

If you’ve traveled to Lake Iseo by car, then you can easily continue exploring the area, and the surrounding mountains by car. While having a car is super convenient for heading uphill away from the lake, it is not the best way to explore the villages on the lake’s perimeter.

This is because the lake is actually quite big, so traveling along the outside of it takes some time. Exploring by car is great if you only want to visit one of two areas, otherwise you’re better off leaving your car parked and hopping on a ferry.

You could drive the entire perimeter of the lake in just under two hours.

Rent your car here

By ferry 

There are ferries that operate on the lake, to connect various villages. This is a good way to get to Monte Isola, for example. You can check out the ferry schedule here.

By boat 

If you want to quickly access many parts of the lake, renting a boat is a great way to do that! You can also choose to join a tour, like this amazing sailing trip around Lake Iseo.

Where to stay near Lake Iseo

If you are visiting Lake Iseo, you can either visit as a day trip from nearby cities like Bergamo or Brescia, or you can choose to actually spend a night or two at the lake.

Photo credit: Milos Boutique Hotel

Hotel Antica

Hotel Antica is a gorgeous property just outside of Brescia, just a short drive from Lake Iseo. Except a delicious local breakfast.

Check rates and availability

Here are few well-rated hotels for both options:

TRAVEL TIPS

🏘️ Book your accommodation

Booking.com will help you to book accommodation in advance and check availability

✈️ Book your flight in advance

To find the cheapest flight options, you can use WayAway and find the most suitable option for you

🧾 Get your tickets and tours

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Visiting Northern Italy? Here are some other articles to check out:

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