Lake Como (also known as Lario) or Lago di Como in Italian, is one of Italy’s most renowned travel destinations. Its charming villas, luxurious resort towns, historic cobblestone alleyways, and quaint lakeside cafes attract many travelers.
A handful of tiny, beautiful villages speckle the lake’s unique upside-down “Y” shape that is surrounded by breathtaking naturescapes. As such, travelers, couples, and adventurers have been seeking out the lake for centuries!
Whether to indulge in the region’s finest wine and local delights or to explore northern Italy’s many breathtaking hikes and lakes, Lake Como is a bucket-list-worthy adventure. Here is a compilation for the best things to do in and around Lario.
How to Get to Lake Como
Lake Como is nestled at the foothills of the Alps in Italy’s northern Lombardy region. It also lies just south of the Swiss border. The easiest and most popular way to reach the lake is by air and train travel from Milan, Italy.
Getting to Lake Como by Plane:
The most convenient airports to get to the lake will be Milan Malpensa, Milan Linate, or via Bergamo Orio al Serio Lugano airport in Switzerland. However, most travelers arrive and depart from Milan Malpensa airport. If you’re traveling on a budget, check out my best day to buy airfare tickets and how to catch mistake fares guides!
Reaching Lake Como by Train:
Traveling from Milan by train is the fastest way to get to the lake. You can take the Milan Cadorna train station which offers service to Como Nord Lago via the Trenord line or depart from the Milan Central Station and arrive at the lake’s main train station at Como San Giovanni. Both trips should only take roughly 1-1.5 hours.
Driving to Lake Como by Car:
First, rent a car via Auto Europe as it has the most convenient way to get a car in Milan. Milan is located about 85 km (50 miles) from Como Town. You can easily rent a car at the airports in Milan. However, note that road traffic is often congested on the Milan-Como route and isn’t the most convenient way to get to the lake.
Alternatively, you can start your trip by first traveling to one of the lake’s smaller towns such as Varenna, Lecco, or Bellagio and then taking a ferry or bus to Como Town.
Alternative ways to get to Lario or Europe in general? Read my guide – The Best Ways to Get Around in Europe.
When to Go to Lake Como
The best time to visit the lake is during the warmer months from March to November, with July and August being the peak summer months to visit (but also the most crowded with tourists).
You can expect lots of rain in the wet, spring months during April and May. The drier months of June and July are best for outdoor activities such as water sports and hiking the lake’s many trails.
Where to Stay in Lake Como
You will be spoiled for choice when it comes to where to stay in Lario! All the historic towns dotting the lakeside will be sure to please even the snobbiest.
There are locations where you can stay if you wish to be closer to cultural activities or the best hikes. For example, the north end of Lake Como will feature some of the best naturescapes with scenic hikes, while the southern and western shores will place you at the heart of the top attractions.
Nonetheless, here are the top three places to stay in Lario to indulge in a variety of activities:
Varenna is one of the most beautiful towns to stay on Lake Como’s quaint eastern shore. It’s lined with romantic gardens, fairytale-like castles, and proximity to cultural highlights such as the Villa Monastero. Two noteworthy hotels based here are Villa Cipressi and Hotel Olivedo.
Bellagio is often dubbed the “Pearl” of Lake Como, and for good reason. Its convenient location, where the Y-shape lake divides, boasts some of the best Lake Como has to offer.
Imagine charming cobblestone streets, botanical gardens, and gorgeous villas peering out over the lake. The elegant Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni and the Hotel Belvedere Bellagio are two luxurious hotels not to miss out on when in town.
Tremezzo is another must-see waterfront town with impressive gardens and luxurious villas, with the iconic Villa Carlotta at its helm. It is located on Lake Como’s western flank, but no need to worry – you can easily reach any one of these three popular towns with a short ferry ride. To get the full Tremezzo experience, consider a stay at the popular Grand Hotel Tremezzo or the more humble Casa del Portico B&B.
No matter where you stay in Lake Como, be sure to book in advance in order to secure the best deal as hotels tend to fill up fast, especially during peak season.
Where to Eat around Lake Como
It goes without saying that Lake Como features a delicious spread of the best food Italian cuisine has to offer; from air-dried meats to top-of-the-line wine and cheese, pasta, pastries, and not to mention the tourist’s favorite – gelato.
Wherever you choose to base yourself in Lake Como, you’ll have plenty of options for extremely satisfying Italian fare. Here’s just a teaser for some of the best restaurants to eat at around Lake Como:
- Ittiturismo Ristorante Mella – Elegant restaurant featuring fresh catch-of-the-day seafood in Bellagio.
- Gelato Lariana and Gelato del Borgo – Some of the best gelato and ice cream in Lake Como.
- Agriturismo La Selvaggia – A farm-to-table restaurant hidden in the forest near Lecco.
- Locanda La Tirlindana – Lakeside restaurant featuring fresh ravioli and tiramisu.
- La Fontana Bellagio dei F.lli Patroni – Central Bellagio pizzeria with both unique and classic pizza styles.
Whether you are craving melty Italian pizza or freshly-caught seafood, Lake Como has some of the best fine dining and local hotspots to suit every budget.
Things to Do in Lake Como
Lake Como has an endless list of things to do ranging from leisurely sightseeing to adventurous outdoor activities! Whether you wish to explore beyond the historic towns or stroll around a botanical garden, here’s our recommendation for the top five best things to do in Lake Como.
1. Hike one of Lake Como’s scenic trails
Italy has some of the best hiking trails in Europe, from the epic hikes in the Dolomites to the famous summits of Mont Blanc, all the way down to the scenic alpine trails surrounding Lake Como. Some of the best hikes around Lake Como are the Pilgrim/Wayfarer’s Path, The Resegone, hiking up to Brunate, Mount Legnone, and Monte Generoso, among others.
If you find yourself eager to explore more of the hikes Italy has to offer, consider hiking the wilderness trails throughout the Gran Paradiso National Park.
These stunning trails can be reached in less than 3 hours from Lario, should you have some spare time to put your hiking skills to the test!
However, as Italy’s oldest national park, Gran Paradiso’s hikes aren’t for the lighthearted; you can expect difficult switchback ridges as you navigate rough terrain through the Graian Alps. You’ll also end up crossing high alpine pastures, deep valleys lush with flora and fauna.
You can always save time and money and go on a hiking tour. The Trails of Italian Lakes, for example, will take you around Lake Como and Lugano with a very knowledgable guide.
2. Visit the Best Villas around Lake Como
By now, you should know Lario is a special place when it comes to elegant and stunning villas. Whether perched waterfront or surrounded by a highly-curated whimsical botanical garden, Lake Como has all types of must-see villas.
Some of the most visited villas around Lario are the iconic Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, Villa del Balbianello in Lenno, Villa Olmo in Como Town, and Villa Monastero in Varenna. How many villas in the famous lake will you check off your bucket list?
You can, of course, take a Lake Como Walking tour and see lots of villas and even discover ones you otherwise wouldn’t from your guide.
3. Cycle up to the Iconic Madonna del Ghisallo Chapel
If you crave another outdoor adventure, consider doing a cycling day trip up to the chapel. Conversely, it’s dedicated to the patron saint of cycling itself – Madonna del Ghisallo.
The route features an intense 1640 ft (500 m) ascent up the chapel, a famed pilgrimage for many Italian cyclists. The climb is guaranteed to be difficult, but the rewarding vistas from atop the hill will make it all the more worthwhile. The Italian Lakes Cycle Tour covers this and much more!
4. Marvel at the Lake Views from the Castello di Vezio
The magnificent 13th-century Castello di Vezio sits high above the charming rooftops of Varenna overlooking the tranquil waters of Lake Como.
It’s the best place in Varenna for a picturesque panorama of the surrounding towns and mountains. The 30-minute hike, although steep, isn’t too rigorous. Simply take the cobblestone path up to Vezio from the north end of Varenna at Olivedo.
5. Tour all the Charming Towns around Lake Como
Your bucket list should have at least 2-3 historic towns other than Como Town or Bellagio on it! In fact, Lake Como is vast and far-reaching, so why not explore a little outside of the tourist zone to other quaint villages?
Navigating around Lake Como by ferry or train is fairly easy, so take the opportunity to discover new sights and smells. Better yet, immerse yourself into the towns to experience authentic working life in Lario like a local.
Cute towns to visit on Lake Como other than the tourist triangle towns of Bellagio-Tremezzo-Varenna are:
- Argegno – A small village of under 700 people just 50 kilometers north of Como.
- Bellano – The main attraction is the Orrido – formed through erosion by the Pioverna river.
- Cadenabbia – You can reach this town by steamer, 15 miles from the town of Como.
- Cernobbio – This town sits on the border with Switzerland and has a peak worth looking at, Monte Bisbino.
- Domaso – A small town with under 1,500 people northeast of Como.
- Gravedona – Has a small harbor that overlooks the lake and its eastern shoreline.
- Lenno – The town sits on a coastal stretch known as Tremezzina which surrounded by lush vegetation.
- Lecco – The town sits on the foothills of the Bergamo Alps and offers amazing alpine backdrops.
- Menaggio – A popular town that has a pretty promenade and offers hiking and cycling around the surrounding hills.
- Nesso – Not as touristy as the other towns and offers a more authentic experience.
If you’re strapped for time or have trouble making a choice with so many options, consider visiting these five towns around Lake Como first! You can always go on a Lake Como Getaway Tour. This will get you most of the highlights in three nights.
Five Alternative Towns to Visit Around Lake Como
Below are the lesser-known towns around Lario. If you’re more into the less trodden places, these towns are definitely worth a look as they offer different views of the lake!
Menaggio has one of the prettiest lake-side promenades of all Lake Como, especially in spring and summer when the flowers are in full bloom. Beyond the boardwalk lies a lively historic center with the Piazza Garibaldi square abuzz with cafes, and baroque-style neighborhoods painted in shades of pink. Because Menaggio is easily reached from both Bellagio and Varenna, it’s one of the more touristy “alternate” towns to visit around Lario.
Lecco is the town to visit if you wish to experience Lake Como like a local. Hiking enthusiasts will especially appreciate Lecco for its many trails winding through the foothills of the Monte Resegone overshadowing the town. And because of its southeastern location on the lake, Lecco makes for a great last-stop on your train ride back to Milan.
Argegno is perhaps one of the smallest towns around Lake Como with roughly 1,000 residents. As such, Argegno is very much one of Lake Como’s hidden gems. Despite its small size, the town is brimming with lovely hotels like the Hotel Villa Belvedere. Like most Lake Como towns, tourism plays a large role in the local economy. Argegno is an especially hilly, mountainous town that just might surprise you with its historic churches and restaurants.
Gravedona sits on the northern end of Lake Como and is the town to visit if you love medieval history and atmosphere with its 6th-century crypt at the Church of San Vincenzo and the Church of Santa Maria del Tiglio which features a 5th-century mosaic tile floor. History buffs will adore the medieval mystery shrouding Gravedona.
Domaso is your low-key, budget-friendly Lario town popular among young travelers. It’s also the unofficial capital of windsurfing of all the towns around Lake Como and is also a great location if you wish to go sailing, swimming, or fishing. In exchange for the luxurious hotels, Domaso has some of the best camping facilities you can find around Lario. Because of this, Domaso has an extremely down-to-earth and open atmosphere.
If you have plans to spend a few days around Lake Como, definitely make the effort to visit these off-the-beaten-track towns around the lake. As you’ll see, each is special in their own way. You won’t be disappointed!
Wrapping Up: What to Do Around Lake Como, Italy
For many people, a trip to Italy’s iconic Lake Como is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With all there is to do and see, try to plan a minimum of 2-3 nights, if not more!
Should you ever exhaust your Lario bucket list or crave a getaway to the mountains, don’t forget there are breathtaking hikes and epic trips just a few hours away in the Gran Paradiso, Mont Blanc or La Meiji. Ultimately, wherever you choose to base yourself in Lake Como, you will find a diverse array of indoor and outdoor activities to satisfy your curiosity and quench your wanderlust.
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