Northern Italy is known for many beautiful places – the metropolitan Milan, luxurious Lake Como, the towering Italian Alps – but one of its most unique and charming locales doesn’t seem to make it on Italy bucket lists. It’s time to discover hidden gem Lake Iseo and all the alluring places to discover on its shores.
Lake Iseo, or Lago d’Iseo, lies on the border between two provinces of the Lombardy region, Bergamo and Brescia. The shimmering surface and clusters of cute towns are not the only things that stand out about this landscape. In the middle of Lake Iseo is the largest lake island in all of Europe, Monte Isola.
Plus, Lake Iseo is the perfect size – not too big like nearby Lake Garda, but big enough to where you could spend a whole day boating from town to town exploring.
You can fit in Lake Iseo to your itinerary as a day trip from Milan or spend a night enjoying the local charm and watching the incredible sunsets over Monte Isola.
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Why You Should Visit Lake Iseo
Unique Geographical Landscape
It’s no secret that all of Italy’s lakes are beautiful and offer something unique to experience. Lake Iseo, however, is so underrated, as it’s one of the most unique lake landscapes Italy has to offer.
The imposing lake island of Monte Isola captures your attention whether on the water or hiking with a bird’s-eye view.
Less Traveled by Tourists
Of all the lakes in northern Italy, Lake Iseo is the least traveled by tourists. You’ll find many Italians enjoying the laidback life of this lake, and probably some central Europeans as well, but American tourists are definitely harder to find.
It’s not completely off the beaten path, but it’s a breath of fresh air compared to Bellagio of Lake Como or Sirmione on Lake Garda.
Not Too Big, Not Too Small
If you’re thinking Lake Iseo being a smaller lake is a bad thing, then you’ve got the wrong idea! One of the difficult parts to qualify about travel is using your time wisely and doing your best to completely enjoy a place your visiting, seeing everything it has to offer.
Lake Iseo is large enough to have several unique places to explore, but small enough that you can enjoy it for an entire day and feel like you’ve really explored everything there is to see. No one likes the feeling of leaving a stone unturned!
My last main reason for visiting Lake Iseo is because it’s the budget-friendly option of the lakes in northern Italy.
I don’t mean that it’s not going to cost you to be able to visit or stay overnight at Lake Iseo – you’re still in northern Italy, it is still a vacation spot for locals, which all makes it come out to be around a mid-range budget destination.
However, in comparison to your other options, Lago Maggiore, Garda or Como, Lake Iseo is surely the cheaper of them. You’ll be able to have waterfront dining not for a cheap price, but for a price that is cheaper than the other more popular destinations.
This all means you can spend more in other stops on your northern Italy itinerary.
How to Get Around
The most fun way to see all Lake Iseo has to offer is by hopping on a boat! The beauty of this lake is that it’s small enough to explore the entire area in a full day, without being in any kind of rush. That being said, you will have to put aside a whole day if you want to stop in a many spots around the lake.
There are several marinas where you can rent a boat for the day, but I’ve used Global Nautica. They have a good selection of boats for rental, both one’s that require a boat license and one’s that do not, and the prices vary based on the tourist season. You’ll pay the highest price between July and September – ranging from 145€ per day to 205€.
Only tough part is you’ll have to Google Translate their website if you don’t know Italian!
The more doable transportation for ease of movement and staying budget-friendly is to hop on the navigational ferries of Lake Iseo.
There is one specific ferry that runs all year round, which is the one from Sulzano or Sala Marasino to Monte Isola. To reach other destinations of the lake by ferry, keep in mind those lines only run from the end of March to October.
Tickets vary in cost for the ferries. They are divided between 5 zones of the lake, so you will buy the ticket associated with whatever zone you are traveling to from 2-6€. Or, you can buy a day ticket at 14€.
Use this interactive map to find the timetables between your destinations.
A less practical, but viable way to get around Lake Iseo is by driving from town to town by car. Driving in Italy can be challenging, especially in geographical areas like Lake Iseo, where there are mountains, narrow roads, and lots of people trying to get around.
It will definitely take you longer to visit place to place traveling by car!
Places to Visit on Lake Iseo
The most striking and must-visit place on Lake Iseo is the majestic Monte Isola, the largest lake island in Europe. Framed by the water and mountains of Lake Iseo’s shore, this massive island is a picturesque feature and boasts cute towns to stroll on its shores.
You can reach the island by ferry, going from either Sulzano to Peschiera Maraglio, which is what I did, or Sale Marasino to Carzano.
Peschiera Maraglio is more of the main town, so I recommend visiting there first. If you have more time, you can take the ferry to the other small communities on the island.
Stroll down the huge boulevard to take in the views and explore some of the unique features of this island, like the Rocco Martinengo castle! It’s private property, so unfortunately you can’t enter, but you can at least reach a panoramic viewpoint right next to a castle on an island in Italy – does it get more magical than that?
At the lake’s north end, you’ll notice a bit of change in the weather – enter wind. Similar to the north end of Lake Garda, the mountains around Lake Iseo curve in a bit and form a cove-shape, meaning tons of wind circulates this area!
Lovere is a must-stop if you’re looking to head north on the lake. Charming squares, panoramic walking paths, and homestyle Italian restaurants make it a perfect lunch spot to take a break midday.
For lunch, I recommend pizza at Ristorante Almici, close to the water and square for a lunch that is truly Italian style.
Bogn must be the most unique place to visit on Lake Iseo. Near Riva di Solto, this location is best enjoyed from a boat. The geography of this cove is unreal – it looks as if you wandered into wild island cliffs of the Pacific!
To describe these rock formations with words is difficult… so I’ll let the photo do the talking. Regardless, if you can get out on the water, make Bogn a stop on your boat itinerary.
At the very south end of the lake, you’ll find Sarnico, a perfect spot to start or end your day. This town is young and lively, with fun bars and restaurants, including one with mini golf – Swing1966!
You’ll also see tons of swans floating around the lake near this city’s edge, which boasts a panoramic boulevard, gazebo, and tons of areas to sit and picnic or just hang out and enjoy the view.
You’ll frequently mind markets in this town or some kind of attraction going on, which makes it fun to visit as a tourist.
Fun fact: there’s a bridge in the town center over the river that flows into Lake Iseo – this bridge separates Sarnico and Paratico, two different towns that also belong to two different provinces! Cross over to one bank, and you’re in the province of Brescia in Paratico, cross over to the other side and you’re in the province of Bergamo in Sarnico!
One of my favorite hidden gems on Lake Iseo is Darsena21. This house-turned-bar takes advantage of its epic views and intimate atmosphere to create the most unique dining experience on Lake Iseo – on a dock.
The dock is alit with lanterns at night and the bench seats come with comfy cushions to relax and enjoy a casual night out.
You can eat meals here as well, but I recommend it for drinks and a classic Italian aperitivo.
Visiting Lake Iseo with your lover? This is the perfect date night spot, with a cozy and romantic atmosphere.
Isola di Loreto
Isola di Loreto technically isn’t a hidden gem – but you can’t actually visit it, so I couldn’t add it to the list of “places to visit” – see my dilemma?!
It isn’t hidden because it’s right in the middle of the lake next to the much larger island, Monte Isola.
But if you explore Lake Iseo by boat you’ll be able to get up close and personal with the storybook castle that makes up this tiny island! You can’t enter unfortunately (somebody actually lives there) but you can admire from the outside and pretend for a moment that its your humble abode.
You’ll find many beautiful trails surrounding Lake Iseo, but the best one to take a casual stroll or bike ride along the lake is the Vello-Toline cycling and pedestrian path.
This path looks like it should be a road, curving right along the lake and through the mountainside, only open to foot and bike traffic.
Other hiking paths usually have to do with trekking uphill for the view, while this path is a more casual and up close way to enjoy Lake Iseo.
High up above the lake, along certain hiking trails, there is a unique initiative to encourage getting outdoors and taking in the view!
Climb to one of the many “big benches,” an activity perfect for families and anyone who likes to hike.
Where to Stay
If you want a truly unique experience on Lake Iseo, you must stay on Monte Isola. Tranquillity, nature, quiet and 360° views of the Orobie Alps and lake.
I stayed at the Vista Lago vacation home, a characteristic and cozy 2-bedroom home. It is hidden on the hillsides of Monte Isola, tucked away beyond a panoramic staircase. The highlight? The large, grassy terrace where you can lounge and take in the sweeping views. You’re constantly confronted by this incredible landscape also thanks to the wide windows in the main area of the house.
The local host Mauro also provides all the information you need with scannable QR codes linked to his recommendations on shopping, food, transportation and more!
The beautiful modern apartments of La Casa del Porto are not the only reason to book. This building is in the main square of quaint Lovere and has lake views.
Image courtesy of Booking.com
My top pick for budget-friendly Lake Iseo accommodation is this Lake View Villa with an insane view over Monte Isola and a picturesque pool to go with it. Even as a a local I’d be booking a getaway here!
Image courtesy of Airbnb
For a taste of local Italian life watching people stroll the promenade and an up-close view on a budget, Ca del Lac is an easy yes. Plus, the apartment is open, airy, and recently renovated.
Image courtesy of Airbnb
If you want to stay on the south end of the lake, consider spending your time at Hotel Ulivi in Paratico. The hotel has beautiful grounds, views, and amenities for guests to make it worth a mid-range price point.
Image courtesy of Booking.com
This hotel is perfect for those who want a peaceful, unique Italian getaway. On the island of Monte Isola, the location is enough to make you want to book. The rooms are simple, but what stands out is Italian hospitality (and a very budget-friendly price tag.)
Image courtesy of Booking.com
Camping on Lake Iseo doesn’t have to be pitching a tent. In fact Camping del Sole and others are villages of well-equipped mobile homes at a low price with prime real-estate on the lakes edge. This option is perfect for families or big groups who want to take advantage of the amenities and budget-friendly accommodation options!
Image courtesy of Booking.com
Psst! Sassabenek is also another popular and well-established campground with tons of amenities.
Extra Tips for Visiting Lake Iseo
- Hiking – Lake Iseo provides stunning views from above. Check out the Visit Lake Iseo website for all the different hiking trails so you can choose the perfect one for you!
- Cost – Lake Iseo is a mid-range budget destination. Restaurants on the waterfront won’t cost as much here as in Lake Como, for example.
- Swimming – It is not advised to swim in Lake Iseo. The water is not clear beyond a couple feet, there are lots of brush and plants that grow underwater and up close to the surface, and of course, there are currents running through the lake. Stay close to shore and in designated beach areas if you want to take a dip.
I hope that this guide helps you in deciding to come to Lake Iseo and in planning your trip! It’s a local gem that’s often overlooked for its more famous neighbors – but you can now consider yourself an insider and get off the tourist path!
What are you looking forward to seeing most on Lake Iseo? Leave me a comment!
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