Traveling in Italy’s Off Season: Lake Garda, Lake Como, and Lake Maggiore

Snow-capped mountains over Lake Garda... one of the perks of coming in the off season!
Snow-capped mountains over Lake Garda... one of the perks of coming in the off season!

Lake Maggiore in the off season: no crowds!

Italy’s “lake district,” including Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Garda, is simply spectacular… and we tend to be big fans of traveling to Italy in the off season, including the winter. After all, that’s when prices are lower and crowds are fewer!

That said, there are some caveats to know about visiting Italy’s lakes in the off season.

Need help deciding on your plans? Here’s some help! (By the way: This is the start of a series on what Italy’s most popular destinations are like in the off season. So stay tuned for Venice, the Cinque Terre, Tuscany, and more!).

When is the off season in Italy’s lake district? Late September to early June. In general, the high season in Lake Garda, Como, Maggiore and the other lakes is summer-specific: from mid-June to mid-September. Of course, the closer to the winter you come, the more of an “off season” it will really be!).

Snow-capped mountains over Lake Garda… one of the perks of coming in the off season!

What to expect in the off season: The good news: As the weather cools in Italy’s lake region, crowds disappear and prices drop. During the summer, traffic on the main roads circling the lakes can be bumper-to-bumper; that’s much less of a worry in the off season!

So if you want to experience the lakes’ beauty—and get a chance to see the mountains snow-capped—without the crowds, now is the time to come.

That said? There are some caveats to consider! First of all, this region is in the mountainous north, so it’s colder and receives more precipitation than Florence, Rome and the south. (And snow starts early—the Dolomites near Lake Garda, for example, often get their first snowfall in October). You might get some beautiful, sunny days, especially in early October. But cold, rainy days are much more likely than they are in the summer.

Even in the rain, the villas of Lake Garda are lovely!

A little rain, of course, never hurt anyone. But when it comes to the lake district, keep in mind that most of the area’s activities take place out of doors, like water sports, hiking trails, ferry rides, and gardens. So if you get a stretch of cold, rainy weather, you might find yourself without the same sightseeing options you’d have in a city.

Finally, most of the lake towns are resort towns. Come after October, and you’ll find many—though not all—hotels, restaurants, and cafes shuttered. Ferries still run, but on a much more restricted schedule (their “normal” schedule tends to be from the beginning of June to end of September). So plan accordingly!

If you come out of season: Bring rain gear… and an upbeat attitude! It’s also useful to have some ideas of day trips or museums you’d like to visit in the area in case the weather’s bad (like Milan, near Lake Como, or Verona and Venice, near Lake Garda).

The autumn colors are even prettier at Italy’s lakes!

If you’re planning on staying in a small town on one of the lakes, consider staying in an apartment, so that you can cook at home if nearby restaurants are closed, or staying at an agriturismowhere you can have at least one delicious dinner there at the farm.

Finally, if you’re renting a car after November 1, make sure it can deal with snowy weather and that you rent chains, which are a legal requirement in the mountains during the winter months.

14 Comments

  • Jessica says:

    I visited both Lake Como (based in Varenna) and Lake Garda (based Malcesine) in early April this year, and both were lovely! I love traveling in the off-season for lack of tourists, but – particularly in Varenna – encountered a great many restaurants I had been looking forward to trying that were closed. Also in Varenna, everything closed as early as 8:30 or 9pm, where-as in high season I’m told the lake-side cafes are open for a glass of wine much later.
    The rain in Malcesine made getting to the top of Mt. Baldo impossible, unfortunately, but after the rain the skies were gorgeous!
    One other thing to note about traveling in the winter / early spring months: not everything is blooming. In April the wisteria (my favorite!) is just beginning to bloom, but in the summer months is in full power. In the summer the sunflowers come out with the rest of the flowers and are a sight to be seen!

  • The first sensible and realistic post on off-peak season travel to the lakes I’ve read. I.e mentioning the fact that a lot of attractions, hotels etc are closed and that it can rain!

  • Simon Westland says:

    We have visited Lake Como many times and actually prefer to go in the winter months, flights permitting. The reasons are that we love the views of the white capped mountains and the absolute peace and solitude.

    OK, there aren’t as many restaurants or attractions open and it can get cold for sure, but the silence is all enveloping. We stay in self catering from Lake Como Homes as the prices are also much cheaper and no noisy summer tourists. Varenna is best we think and the most beautiful, provided you remember the last ferry across the lake is around 8.00pm from the Menaggio shore, especially if you want to visit the great wine bar in Tremezzo!

    I’ve added a link, not sure if its allowed though for rentals:
    Lake Como Rentals

    Looking forward to a January trip with no mobile!

    • Carol says:

      Hi Simon,we too enjoy the lakes out of season we will be visiting again next week (can’t wait) I was interested in the wine bar you mentioned ! Please could you let me have more details.we are staying in cadanabbia but travel about and as others have said,not many places stay open in the evening,so any suggestions will be welcome. Thanks carol wheeler

  • Como Lake says:

    Como Lake & Garda are very beautifull place 🙂

  • karen says:

    i will be going to lake como in mid oct. any recommended itineraries (as i found famous villa are quite scattered). and where would be the best place for autumn colour ? thanks in advance !

    • Hi Karen,
      It’s true that the villas are quite scattered. If you can, we recommend renting a car, which will give you much more flexibility with your itinerary. Do you have any idea yet where you might be staying? That will help structure your schedule, of course! As for autumn color, the whole lake area sould be quite beautiful.

  • In Italy all 4 lakes like Lake Maggiore, Lake Lugano, Lake Como, Lake Garda are so much beautiful and charms. Comoand Garda has great degree, and the access points for cycling are easier.all lakes have boat trips available.

  • Jeanette says:

    We will be travelling to Lake Garda on Thursday, October 1st. Are the Alps snow capped? Or not yet?

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Jeanette,

      With a recent drop in temperatures, some of the Alps are snow capped, though most are not, especially around Lake Garda.

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