What you need to know about visiting Lake Como, Italy
Surrounded by mountains and incredible local culture, it is quite easy to see why Lake Como (or Lago di Como as the locals call it) has become one of Italy’s most popular holiday destinations.
At just over an hour drive north of Milan, Lake Como has many things on offer and is a perfect way to spend a long weekend.
We visited Lake Como in early September and the weather was spectacular. It was cool in the evenings and warm during the day.
Interesting Facts about Lake Como
Lake Como has an area of 146 square km’s (56 square miles) which makes it the third largest lake in Italy. It is also one of the deepest lakes in Europe at over 400 metres (1, 300 feet) and to add to that, the bottom of the lake is actually more than 200 metres (660 feet) below sea level!
Getting to Lake Como
After arriving at Milan airport, we picked up our hire car and made our way to Lake Como, which is just over one hour drive north of Milan Airport. The drive was quite pleasant, we simply popped on google maps and we were on our way.
For more information on hiring a car in Europe, what to see in Milan or using your mobile phone abroad, click on the below links.
Renting a car in Europe? Driving on the wrong side of the road? Freaking out? This one is for you!
Top 5 things to see in Milan!!
Travel tip; using your mobile phone abroad
Deciding on where to stay at Lake Como
For us, we found it difficult to decide where on the Lake is a good place to stay. We had received feedback from friends and had read reviews about not staying in the touristy parts of Lake Como, but rather stay in the quieter villages.
The principal towns around the Lake are:
Other villages around the Lake that are easy to commute from include:
- Villa Carlotta
We stayed in Lenno, which is easily accessible by boat and a quick journey to the other villages on the Lake, including Bellagio and Varenna.
Lenno has a few lovely restaurants to choose from and a range of accommodation choices as well. If you’re after a nice quiet relaxing holiday, I would highly recommend Lenno.
Bellagio is the most popular, touristy part of Lake Como. It is lovely to visit and there is plenty of things to see but it often is more expensive (and busy) if you stay here.
Varenna is a much smaller town than Bellagio but is still equally as beautiful. The impressive Castello de Vezio is located in Varenna and will give you incredible views over Lake Como.
Getting around Lake Como
Getting around Lake Como is quite simple. If you’re staying at one of the villages that has a ferry terminal, then it is simple! There is a frequent boat service that connects the central resorts. The stops include Lenno, Tremezzo, Villa Carlotta, Cadenabbia, Menaggio, Bellagio and Varenna.
Some hotels have their own private boat that will shuttle you from the resort to Bellagio. However, if this isn’t an option for you, you can buy tickets at the ferry terminal from the person working behind the counter.
The ferry ride is by no means boring! Cruising up and down Lake Como is beautiful. You see some amazing hotels and residences and there is always something to look at!
Our arrival story…
There is a funny story that goes with our arrival to Lake Como. We arrived at our hotel, Hotel Britannia Excelsior which we had booked and paid for through hotels.com. We were really looking forward to our Lake View room and unwinding after a whirlwind 24 hours in Milan.
Upon arrival, the hotel asked for our passports (standard procedure) to process our check in. Jenna has at that moment, realised that the passports were sitting in the safe.. at the hotel… in Milan.. yep, we left the passports in Milan! So, it clearly wasn’t a good start to the day. That aside, the hotel started to process our check in and came out after a few minutes to tell us that there was a problem with the booking and they did not have a room for us. At this point, I was off somewhere doing something else and had left Jenna to get us checked in… Jenna remained calm and patient while they tried to explain what happened… They had then booked us into another hotel, a 5-minute drive down the road and had offered us the complimentary all inclusive package to their hotel. This meant we could use the multiple restaurants, pool bar and drinks package at no extra cost. We seemed happy with their effort and packed the car up again and drove down to our new accommodation.
To cut a very long story short, the new hotel turned out to be a 2-star room above a news agency and was far from our superior lake view room at the 4-star hotel with amazing amenities. We didn’t even check in. We rang the hotel back immediately and said it wasn’t good enough. But, they wouldn’t do anything for us. So, after around 3 hours on the phone to hotels.com to find an alternative accommodation (to which they offered us another place, on a different lake, in Switzerland!!) we decided to give up on hotels.com and book something directly through one of the local hotels ourselves!
This was the last time we ever booked with hotels.com and I would absolutely recommend booking directly with the hotel even if you do use hotels.com as the initial starting point for your hotel search.
What to do in Lake Como
Bellagio: Bellagio is probably the most famous villages around Lake Como. It is at the very tip between the two southern branches of the lake. We spent the most part of a full day here and really enjoyed ourselves. It has that true Italy feel about it with picturesque lanes, narrow roads and a range of restaurants to choose from, often spilling out on to the lane ways.
The beautiful thing about Bellagio is from the moment you step off the ferry, you feel like you’re in this remote village in Italy, not only an hour or so out of Milan! There are cobble stone lanes that rise up to reach the main street in the village.
It is a gorgeous lane where you can do some shopping and for us, we stumbled across the most incredible Christmas decoration shop. For those who don’t know, Jenna picks up a Christmas decoration at every city we visit, unless the culture simply doesn’t appreciate Christmas! It makes for a very exciting Christmas when we put up our tree and reminisce our amazing adventures. This Christmas shop was so special, a local had made all of the decorations in the store and was happy to make them to order! She even kindly added a few finer details on our ornaments for us.
The shop was near Bellagio’s main town square. You will find the town church, the Romanesque Basilica di San Giacomo, which is worth popping in to while you’re there.
From the main square, you can walk down to the parkland for a peaceful view over the lake. There is a nice restaurant there, but we preferred to be up where the action was happening and do some people (and ferry!) watching!
Varenna: Varenna is a picturesque village on the eastern shore of Lake Como looking towards Bellagio. What makes Varenna so appealing is the old fishermen’s houses and how everything is a little understated compared to Bellagio.
Our main reason for visiting Varenna was to visit Castello di Vezio and take in the beautiful view over Lake Como.
We decided to walk up to the castle, and quite possibly took the most scenic way possible! It sort of like a little hike or bush walk… took around twice as long as what it should have, but it was an experience we’ll never forget!
When you arrive at the Castle, and you are overlooking the lake, you forget about the interesting walk to get there.
There are really interesting birds you can take a look at while walking around the grounds, as well as climb up to the top of a turret for an even more beautiful view over Lake Como.
We then took the ‘easy’ walk back down to the village. We had hoped to stop off at the local waterfall, but given how dry their summer had been, we were told there was no water so we decided to continue our journey back to town.
Faro Voltiano, Brunate: After our drive back from Milan to pick up our forgotten passports(!), we decided to drive to Brunate to see Faro Voltiano. The drive, according to google maps is just under 30 minutes to drive the 9.7km. However, we weren’t expecting roadworks! Nor were we expecting roads that were so narrow, it didn’t look like a car could even get through! It was probably the most stressful, yet enjoyable drive we’ve ever done! There were points in the drive, where someone had to reverse down the narrow lane way so the other could pass, side mirrors had to be folded in to avoid damage… all I can say is I am glad we had our little Peugeot 208!
We finally made it to the lighthouse, only to find out it doesn’t open on a Monday!
Whoops! Probably should have looked at the opening hours before we took the drive up… Anyways, the views were still really good and the driving experience alone made it worth it!
Thankfully, the drive down we managed to follow a local so we just stuck behind them and we got down pretty quickly! From Como town centre, the drive back to Lenno took us around 45 minutes.
Where to stay
Following on from our above story, we stumbled across Residence Lenno and drove down to the main hotel, Albergo Lenno to see if they had availability. We ended up booking a full lake view apartment and it turned out to be more than perfect! The staff at the hotel were so accommodating and said that they have problems with some of the other hotels overbooking and leaving customers stranded.
The apartment was spacious, bed comfortable and the views were simply breathtaking.
In terms of location, it was a short 3-minute stroll to the ferry terminal which is a quick ride to Bellagio or Varenna. There is also a supermarket less than a 10-minute walk down the street to pick up some drinks and snacks.
Like most visitors at Lake Como, we had a car and Residence Lenno had free guest parking at the front of the hotel. This was extremely convenient because if you’ve seen how narrow the streets are, having a private parking lot is something you don’t take for granted!
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Residence Lenno and I would stay there again when we return to Lake Como.
Where to eat
Lenno: I loved eating at Lenno, it was so quiet and the restaurants were amazing and food delicious! Our favourite restaurant was Plinio which was located on the lake.
It was by far the most popular restaurant so we needed to book in advance for our dinner. I ordered fresh grilled fish and Jenna the spaghetti pomodoro. The service was really good, the food delicious and the views are perfect.
We also ate at Bar Sport. We both ordered Arrabbiata and it was delicious and really well priced too! You eat right on the water so the atmosphere is perfect.
Bellagio: We decided to eat at probably one of the most touristy restaurants in Lake Como, Hotel Excelsior Splendide! But, it was perfectly positioned right on the front, overlooking the lake and ferry terminal.
The food… I don’t know what else to say but YUM! I ordered the lamb Pappardelle and Jenna ordered the Lasagne. Both meals were delicious.
The dessert.. well, take a look at the pictures, it was the most incredible dessert we’ve ever had!
It is definitely worth eating here, just make sure you get a seat along the front of the restaurant so you have uninterrupted views!
Varenna: We stopped in at a little restaurant called Nilus Bar. We wanted something quick and easy before our walk up to the Castle.
I ordered a vegetable sandwich and Jenna a pizza. The food came out quickly, the service was fairly average. It was a pretty cheap meal so we can’t complain too much!
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“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley
Another of my favourite places 🙂
Thanks Restlessjo! Would love to get back there someday ourselves!!
I always try and buy a Christmas tree decoration on holiday too. Your right it does make for a fun time decorating and remenising about favourite holidays at the same time.Fab photos.
Thanks Shazza! Yeah, it’s an awesome idea and we love it so glad there are others out there to enjoy the same thing!!
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Thanks for this, I am going to Bellagio in May!
You will have any amazing time. We just loved Lake Como!!
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I actually live at the lake of como exactly in lecco south east branch,of the lake.How is amazing read about your nice trip experiences here by us. We are so used to see every single day the locations you wrote about that it sounds beatifully strange. A pity that U.S. visitors stay just in nearby bellagio, varenna and tremezzo. The lake is large and offers fantastic panoramas everyway.
You are so lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world! We loved Lake Como and can’t wait to visit again one day. I am glad you enjoyed the read. Thank you very much!
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Hi, thank you for writing all of these details; iam planning to go there in May and i was wondering for a solo traveler what would be best and is it ok to hike alone in Varenna up to the Castle?
May will be a beautiful time of year to visit!! I think you will be fine to hike to Varenna on your own. You will find many people on the same route I’m sure. Have an amazing time!!!
May is certany a beatiful period to come to us visit lake of como and going ….sometime a bit wet and warm but it’s good for going visit by alone the path carries on the hill of the castle of vezio. You are never alone visit the castle and the view worths after the hard uphill.
Hi there from a true inhabitant of the lake of como since l’m living in lecco south parth of the branch of the lake. Coming alone travelling to Varenna it’s a good idea especially having as base milan . You can take a train stops Varenna and then you can tale the ferry going visiting bellagio and sorrounds and come back to milan at evening. Simply fantastic to do, cheap and, trust in me, warms hearth.
hi .. we are going to the Lake Como area in June 2018 …. which out of the towns surrounding the Lake would be the best to go to for a couple on their Honeymoon and both being Foodies ?? We are from Perth Western Australia but my soon to be wifes family originate from near by Chiuro .. Not that either of us have been there or Lake Como to be honest … for me this trip is my first trip into Europe .. So any advice will help..
Hi Matt, congrats on your upcoming wedding! What a beautiful part of Italy to spend your honeymoon and to also be your first trip to Europe – good choice! I personally don’t think you could go wrong anywhere on Lake Como. We loved Lenno and how beautiful and quiet it was. Bellagio on the other hand has a bit more to see and do so it depends on what you’re after. You can easily get around by ferry no matter where you choose to stay. In regards to the best food spots – we didn’t spend much time looking into the best spots, we just picked a different spot on the lake each meal! I hope that helps a little! Enjoy your honeymoon!
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HI.. What a great article. Thank you. My wife, 2 kids (8,9) and I are planning for early July 2018 trip. We are planning to go to Milan, Lake Como and Cinque Terre, Any general advice in addition to the questions below would be great:
1. In Como – Do we really need a car? I prefer not to drive. I was planning to take the ferry around, but once in different towns not sure if a car is needed or we can walk around or take taxi.
2. With kids is the area pretty kid friendly. Would recommend going the traditional hotel route or getting an apartment?
3. Perhaps the most important question: given our itinerary how much time would you recommend in Lake Como and Cinque Terre (not sue if you visited here)?
Hi TJ, I am glad you enjoyed our article!! You are going to have a fantastic time, I can promise you that. Your itinerary sounds perfect.
1. When you’re in lake Como you don’t really need a car. You can get around quite easily with the ferry and then walk around each town. From memory there was a little tourist train that can take you to heaps of places as well. We found the car helpful when driving from Milan to lake Como but could go without if needed!
2. I would say it’s pretty kid friendly. We were originally in a hotel but they buggered up our booking so ended up in a small apartment – it was great. We found the food in the smaller towns to be quite reasonable so didn’t need to worry about cooking ourselves. But if you did, you will find some convenience stores around to pick up some groceries.
3. Cinque Terre – one of our favourite parts in Italy!! We have written about this actually in detail, you may find that post helpful. It will be on our Italy page or you can use the search function on our home page and type in Cinque Terre and it should come up. If it doesn’t, let me know and I’ll send the link.
We spent around 5 days in each lake Como and cinque Terre and found it to be plenty. Lake Como is very chilled and relaxed and we found ourselves doing a bit of walking in cinque Terre.
I hope that helps a little. Any other questions, feel free to ask!! Have an amazing trip 😊
Thank you for your quick response and recommendations. I looked up the article for Cinque Terre and found it very useful. At this point we are still trying figure out the timelines and hotels for our itinerary. We are thinking 3 full days in Como, 3 full days CT and 1 full day in Milan. (Full days don’t include day of arrival). We were wondering if we should swap a day from CT and add it to Como. Thoughts?
We are travelling with 2 kids, any recommendation on hotels at CT or Como from anyone would be great.
We pretty much had a day in Milan and it was busy but you can see the main tourist spots so that’s a good choice. 3 full days in both Lake Como and Cinque Terre I think is good. You could take a day off CT but given the effort to get to CT I’d enjoy it for the extra day. The walk from Monterosso to Vernazza will take a day roughly and then you can enjoy another two days exploring the other towns. In saying that, you can fit it all in if you wanted to in two days. Como is somewhere I could spend weeks there. It’s so relaxing and peaceful. Given you will have your arrival day as well to explore whatever town you will be staying in, cutting a day off CT wouldn’t be the end of the world.
We rented an AirB&B in CT as there was 5 of us travelling – it works really well for us and have us more space. We struggled to find hotels in this area to suit. As for Como, I don’t have any personal recommendations for a family I’m sorry, I’d maybe look at Air B&B or an apartment style as it will give you the most space!
Hi! Loved your post. We’re actually staying in Lenno at the moment after three days in Milan. We’re struggling to work out if it’s possible to have dinner elsewhere on the lake and get later ferries back, it seems like they stop running around 8pm but we’re not sure! Wondered what you found when you were there?
Hi Brittany, I am glad you enjoyed our post and are having a great time in Lenno! We actually ate at the restuarants down on the wter at Lenno for most of the nights we were there and the other night we got some supplies from the supermarket and enjoyed them on our balcony! It does look like they stop around 8pm, I’ve just had a look myself. I would maybe talk to your hotel reception or check with a tourist information centre and double check just to make sure! We typically ate lunch at different locations across the lake and then just enjoyed dinner at Lenno 🙂
Enjoy the rest of your time at Como!!!
We are visiting Lake Como in October and researching various ways to get there from malpensa airport. One of the most cost effective ways does seem by hire car, however neither my husband or I have done any driving abroad on the “wrong side”. The route looks pretty straight forward though, would you agree?Out Hotel does have parking so that should not be an issue.
Hi Karen! How exciting, you will love Lake Como! The hotel parking is a great option and will save a lot of stress. We personally found the drive quite straight forward. We explored some local areas where the streets were narrow (could fit one car only) so needed some negotiating and reversing but other than that, the main roads we found easy! Steven did all of the driving – just take it easy and be aware and confident and I am sure you will be fine! Make sure to take insurance out on the car just in case you find yourself in a sticky spot!