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There is hardly a place in Europe that evokes images of beauty, glamour, and tranquility more than Lake Como in Italy.
For hundreds of years it’s been a popular destination with the rich and famous but there are plenty of things to do at Lake Como for the humble tourist, too.
Or, for your Italian honeymoon, since it offers the kind of romantic beauty that only Shakespeare can portray.
While Lake Como isn’t Italy’s largest lake (that honor belongs to Lake Garda), there’s no denying it is one of the most attractive and is packed with attractions and things to see.
If you’re not sure what Lake Como attractions to add to your itinerary, then read on to see the best gems in the area!
- Is Lake Como Worth Visiting?
- Getting to Lake Como
- Getting Around Lake Como
- Things to do at Lake Como
- 1. Visit The Lakeside Towns and Villages
- 2. Visit a Villa on Lake Como
- 3. Enjoy a Lake Cruise on Lake Como
- 4. Enjoy the Lake Como scenery
- 5. Hike the Sentiero del Viandante
- 6. Check Out Como Cathedral
- 7. Have a Picnic in Villa Carlotta’s Botanical Gardens
- 8. Ride the Como-Brunate Funicular Railway
- 9. Check Out The Remains of Porta Torre
- 10. Marvel at Basilica of Sant'Abbondio
- 11. Visit the Tempio Voltiano
- Where to Eat at Lake Como
- Best Time To Visit Lake Como
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Lake Como
- More Inspiration for Italy
Is Lake Como Worth Visiting?
It’s easy to see why celebrities like George Clooney and Richard Branson have purchased their own piece of paradise here and why many people take their holidays to Lake Como.
The lake (known as Lago di Como in Italian), is shaped like an upside Y, and is lined with lush gardens, luxury villas, and quaint pretty villages with traditional Roman-style architecture hugging the shore.
It was also the filming location for several Hollywood movies, including Casino Royale, the James Bond movie, and even Star Wars.
Just like the Cinque Terre, it’s known for its breathtaking scenery, and it also has a relaxing atmosphere and romantic vibe. The stunning views alone are stunning, but the endless number of activities make it 100% worth visiting!
Getting to Lake Como
Situated in northern Italy and close to the Swiss border, Lake Como is just an hour from Milan, making it the perfect place to take a day trip from Milan.
There’s a good road network servicing the towns and villages around Lake Como but driving can be a bit ‘white-knuckled’, especially during the summer months when it seems that half of Milan flocks to the lake.
Many of the roads are particularly narrow and winding, and with Italy’s wannabe F1 drivers sharing the ride with you, driving can be a bit nerve-wracking.
The City of Como, at the base of the western arm, is the biggest town on the lake and has a major train station on the Milan to Switzerland line.
On the eastern side of the lake, the Varenna-Esino station (Tirano-Lecco-Milan line) is a popular gateway for those staying in Varenna, Bellagio, or villages further north.
Getting Around Lake Como
The best way to hop between towns is by the frequent ferry services that operate on Lake Como. Ferries ply both arms of the lake regularly and are a relaxing way to get about.
Tickets can be purchased from the ticket offices at each ferry terminal where you’ll also find the daily schedules displayed.
Buses also connect the main towns of Como and Lecco with smaller lakeside towns as well as more remote villages in the surrounding mountains.
Hot TIP: Try to avoid driving to Lake Como from Milan on Saturdays during summer (and in the other direction on Sundays) as the roads are jam-packed with the Milanese who frequent the lake at weekends.
Things to do at Lake Como
Now for the fun part! Here are my top tips on what to do in Lake Como for any type of traveller!
1. Visit The Lakeside Towns and Villages
From the regional capital, Como, with a population of 85,000, to tiny hamlets, Lake Como’s towns all hold their own charm.
If you’re short on time, I suggest you include the following gems in your itinerary when you visit lake Como.
A thriving city, Como is a shopper’s paradise with the full range of services you’d expect in a large centre.
Famous for its silk production, Como is the place to buy silk products, including scarves and ties, at reasonable prices.
The historic centre is dominated by the impressive Duomo which dates back to the 15th century. The focal point of Piazza del Duomo, the cathedral is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
The pedestrianized piazza is lined with cafes and restaurants and is as good a spot as any to grab a bite to eat and people-watch.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the piazza, Como’s waterfront is lined with parks and is the perfect spot to cool off on a hot day whilst watching boats of all shapes and sizes bob up and down on the lake.
To see the lake from above, catch the funicular (cable car) up to the quiet village of Brunate.
There are nice views, a faded pink church to visit, and lots of walking trails for the more energetic.
Perhaps the most well-known town on Lake Como, Bellagio is perfectly located at the point where both arms of the lake meet.
The best way to arrive is by boat as the view will take your breath away.
Narrow cobbled streets, built on steep slopes, entice you along them. Lined with quaint buildings, shops, and eateries, it’s easy to spend hours wandering the alleys that snake up from the shore.
The busy lakeside promenade is a hive of activity during summer with more cafes and restaurants, shops, both ferry terminals, and the public swimming pool located here.
You can also board the tourist train here for a short trip around town.
Bellagio is also home to two gardens that are open to the public, Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni.
Whilst it doesn’t have any significant attractions, the village of Menaggio has plenty of natural beauty.
The lovely lakeside promenade is one of the prettiest on the lake and is busy with water sports in the warmer months.
A large public swimming pool with a private beach, mini golf, and an 18-hole golf course are just a few of the ways you can keep yourself occupied in Menaggio.
To my mind, Varenna Lake Como is the real jewel and one of the best Lake Como attractions.
Gelato-coloured houses cluster around a small harbour just a few steps from one of the best-preserved medieval centres of the region.
Whilst it is popular with tourists, Varenna doesn’t seem as over-run as Bellagio (it’s just a 15 minute ferry ride away), and I’ve chosen to stay here on both my visits.
Aside from the gorgeous lakeside setting, the main attraction here is Villa Monastero, once a Cistercian convent. Its extensive gardens are now open to the public and feature plant species from around the world.
Above the village on a high cliff sits Castello di Vezio. The walled castle, built around a squared tower, has restored battlements and a real drawbridge – and provides great views over the lake below.
There are regular falconry displays most days, too!
Home to the beautiful Villa Carlotta, visitors flock to The Riverira of Tremezzina to wander the gardens and enjoy the art exhibitions on display in this magnificent villa.
Also worth a look is the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, on the waterfront and with unsurpassed views across the lake to Bellagio.
Built over 100 years ago in the Art Nouveau style, this is an old-world luxury with a modern twist.
As well as over 20,000 sq. m. of private grounds, the hotel boasts three swimming pools including an infinity pool, and a floating pool that sits above the lake – you’ll see it as your ferry approaches the jetty.
You may not be able to afford to stay here and indulge in the facilities (rooms start from 729 Euro per night), but from one of the many restaurants lining the waterfront, you’ll be able to see how the other half live!
2. Visit a Villa on Lake Como
Lake Como must surely boast more luxury villas than anywhere else on earth. You’ll be hard-pressed to decide which ones to see but three definitely worth visiting are:
Villa Melzi (Bellagio)
An easy stroll from the centre of Bellagio, the park-like gardens of Villa Melzi is a good example of a traditional English-style garden.
The garden stretches along the lakefront and is home to a range of plantings, sculptures, a water lily pond, and an Orangery which houses a small museum.
The villa is a private residence and is not open to the public but the gardens can be visited daily from late March until October.
Villa Carlotta (Tremezzo)
Prussian princess, Carlotta, received the villa as a wedding gift from her mother in 1847. Today the villa is open to mortal subjects who can wander amongst the botanic gardens and visit the princess’s former home.
Most famous for the rhododendrons and azaleas that bloom in spring, Villa Carlotta’s gardens also include giant sequoia and Cyprus trees, a Japanese garden, tropical plants, and a beautifully tranquil fern valley.
The villa itself is furnished with period furniture and also serves as a gallery, hosting art exhibitions and musical events.
Villa Carlotta is open every day from mid-March to late October. It is easily reached on foot from the ferry landing dock at Tremezzo.
Villa Balbianello (Lenno)
Sitting on its own small promontory jutting into the lake, Villa Balbianello was built as a place for quiet reflection back in 1787. Not much has changed today – except when Hollywood calls!
Scenes for the 2006 version of Casino Royale and Star Wars Episode II were shot here and for this reason, the villa attracts many visitors who also admire the well-tended manicured gardens.
Inside the villa, rooms are furnished with 18th-century English and French furniture as well as a collection of Chinese, African and pre-Columbian art. Entry to the villa is by a guided tour only.
Open mid-March to mid-November, daily except Mondays and Wednesdays. There is limited access by foot from Lenno on Tuesdays and weekends so the best option is to take a taxi-boat from Lenno.
3. Enjoy a Lake Cruise on Lake Como
Taking a cruise is one of the best things to do at Lake Como and a good way to see some of the houses of its famous residents, like Richard Branson.
The views of the lakeside towns and villages are best seen from the lake, and whilst you can experience these from one of the regular ferry services, a lake cruise is highly recommended.
Cruises depart from many of the lakeside towns (Como, Bellagio, and Varenna to name a few), and a number of different vessels (including a lake steamer) offer various itineraries around the lake.
Another option is Taxiboat Varenna who offer fantastic cruises on their Venetian-style water taxi.
Captain Luca provides interesting and entertaining commentary as you cruise past some of the most spectacular scenery on Lake Como – sunset cruises are available, too.
If you want to catch a glimpse of Richard Branson’s villa or George Clooney’s house, this is the way to do it.
4. Enjoy the Lake Como scenery
Be sure to take some time to enjoy what brought you to Lake Como in the first place – the scenery.
Everywhere you look you’ll be greeted with spectacular views, so find a quiet place to sit and appreciate the gorgeous scenery all around you.
5. Hike the Sentiero del Viandante
Looking for more adventurous things to do in Lake Como? How about a 68km hike?
Okay, so most people don’t hike the entire Sentiero del Viandante hike from Abbadia Lariana to Morbegno, because this multi-day hike has been cut up into six sections.
We recommend doing the first section, which takes you from Varenna to the Orrido di Bellano Gorge. Here you have the thrill of hiking over suspended walkways and along rock faces, past the Pioverna River, and into dense forests.
As well as this, you also pass some sleepy villages before stopping off at Vezio Castle.
This is the perfect way to experience the beautiful countryside landscape of Lake Como.
Be sure to pack your trekking shoes, as this is a moderately-difficult hike!
6. Check Out Como Cathedral
The Como Cathedral, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta as it’s known in Italian, is a stunning cathedral in Como and is the official seat of the Bishop of Como.
The church is dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was built in 1770.
It’s one of the most important and beautiful buildings in the Lake Como region.
7. Have a Picnic in Villa Carlotta’s Botanical Gardens
Looking for a tranquil place to visit in Lake Como? Then you can’t go wrong with the Botanical Gardens of Villa Carlotta. In fact, it even has a ‘Romantic Garden’ which is full of English Roses and Hydrangea, which makes for the perfect setting for a picnic.
The botanic gardens sit on the grounds of Villa Carlotta, a museum that contains artworks by renowned Italian artists and sculptures, as well as the original furnishings of the original owners.
The ‘Italian Garden’ was built around the same time as the Villa. It has all the characteristics of a traditional Italian garden with a clock painted on the roof of the building, trimmed hedges, water features, and renaissance-inspired statues.
There is also a part of the gardens dedicated to agriculture and is where crops and food products for the villa were grown.
The botanic gardens can only be visited by reservation, so be sure to book your entry ticket in advance.
8. Ride the Como-Brunate Funicular Railway
Take a day trip from the City of Como to the village of Brunate on this funicular railway service.
The train has been running since 1894, and is the quickest and most scenic way to get to the village.
The train runs on a single track up the mountain and takes just 7-minutes. It’s the most relaxing and idyllic 7 minutes you’ll find as you pass through the sweeping Lake Como countryside.
9. Check Out The Remains of Porta Torre
Porta Torre is an ancient medieval town that was built in 1192. Not much is left of this town, except the town walls which are located on the south side of the City of Como.
The walls are around 40 meters high and made up of arches, which were used as gates for people coming from Milan.
The tower gate of Como is the most well-preserved part of the wall. It’s free to see the gate, which makes this one of the best free things to do in Lake Como.
10. Marvel at Basilica of Sant’Abbondio
Another stunning church on Lake Como worth visiting is the Basilica of Sant’Abbondio, which was built over a pre-existing 5th-century Palaeo-Christian church. It was rebuilt in 1050 and 1095 in a Romanesque style and was restored again in 1863.
It’s located 1km outside the city and was supposed to house several relics that Amantius brought from Rome.
It was the bishop’s seat until 1007 when the seat was moved to inside the city walls.
The church is known for its two bell towers and the stunning external decoration of the choir’s windows.
Inside, the basilica is lined with mid-14th-century frescoes on the walls and ceiling as well as intricately designed reliefs.
11. Visit the Tempio Voltiano
Are you looking to learn more about the history and culture of the Lake Como area? Then check out the Tempio Voltiano, a museum in the city of Como.
It is dedicated to the scientist and inventor of the electric battery, Alessandro Volta, who was born in Como in 1745.
The building was constructed in 1927 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death. Inside, you can find exhibits relating to scientific achievements, as well as the scientific instruments used by the scientist.
You can also see his personal belongings and awards on the first floor.
Where to Eat at Lake Como
There’s no shortage of places to find Italian cuisine around the lake, and in the summertime, the lakeside promenades are busy with visitors dining al fresco, sampling the famous Italian pasta and pizza, at the many cafes and restaurants.
You’ll generally pay more for a meal with a view so make sure you check out the dining options away from the waterfront, too.
Piazza Cavour is also a popular area to find restaurants and bars serving delicious dishes.
Fish is, naturally, a menu specialty.
HOT TIP: For a real treat, try La Vista restaurant at Albergo Milano (hotel) in Varenna where you’ll dine outdoors on a high terrace overlooking the lake. On a warm summer evening, there’s no better place to be. You might even get to enjoy a sunset like the one above. Advance bookings are essential.
Best Time To Visit Lake Como
The best time to visit Lake Como is from May to September, with the hottest months being July and August when average temperatures are around 22°C (72°F).
Temperatures can reach as high as 35°C + (95°F +) so it may be wise to check if your Lake Como accommodation has air-conditioning if this is a concern.
If you don’t like crowds, avoid visiting from June until the end of August!
By visiting just before and just after the peak months you may experience cooler weather but you’ll also have more chance of getting that prized waterfront table for dinner.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Lake Como
So there you have it, those are the best things to do on Lake Como and as you can see, there’s so much to see and explore.
Whether you’re looking for a private boat tour of the lake or looking to taste the local cuisine, you will find there is so much to ignite your senses at Lake Como.
We hope this guide helped you plan your trip and map out your itinerary.
More Inspiration for Italy
Are you planning to visit other parts of Italy? Then you may find these other resources useful…
- TUSCANY: Don’t miss these stunning places to visit in Tuscany and a guide to Chianti towns and how to spend a day in Siena.
- VENICE: Is it a trip to Italy without exploring these best things to do in Venice?
- FLORENCE: For one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, here are 16 amazing things to do in Florence and enjoy this food and wine tour of Florence.
- CINQUE TERRE: Here’s our top things to do in Cinque Terre including our favorite Cinque Terre boat tour, and here’s a little insight into the personalities of the Five Towns of Cinque Terre and how to spend one day in Cinque Terre.
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