The Complete Guide to Lake Como, Italy

September 24, 2023

One of the most stunning vacation destinations, Lake Como is located in the Lombardy region of Italy. It has long been enjoyed as a place for aristocrats, royalty, and celebrities to come and relax. But, luckily, you no longer need to be a millionaire to spend time in this dreamy destination – it can be enjoyed by all.  Lake Como is home to picturesque villages, lavish villas, green mountains, and sparkling blue shores. So what’s there to do in Lake Como? I’ll share all my tips in the detailed guide below.

The Complete Guide to Lake Como, Italy

What to do in Lake Como?

1. Hit the Famous Beaches in the Village of Bellagio

Bellagio, also known as the “Pearl of Lake Como”, is probably the most famous village in the area. Its popularity means a flow of more tourists during the high season. However, it is definitely worth a visit, as it offers some great local restaurants and fantastic shops. In addition to the beautiful cobblestone streets, bustling piazzas, and charming churches, the central location means it’s a great base to explore other nearby villages. A few hours is enough to explore Bellagio, leaving you plenty of time to hop on a ferry and head to other parts of the lake.

Tip: If you’re renting a car, you can even bring it with you to Bellagio by boat! There is a car ferry to Bellagio from Tremezzo every 40 minutes.

Villa Melzi

Villa Melzi is a 19th-century villa overlooking Lake Como, within walking distance of the old town of Bellagio. Unfortunately, you can’t visit the interior of this magnificent building, but it is surrounded by stunning English-style botanical gardens, with small pools, bridges, a chapel, and the original orangery (now a museum). I recommend having a picnic there and enjoying the relaxing ambiance.

Lake Como

2. Rent a boat on Lake Como

The best views of Lake Como and the foothills of the surrounding Alps are from the water! Rent a boat and experience the life of the rich and famous for an afternoon, cruising past luxury villas and colorful villages.

Stop for a delicious lunch at one of the many restaurants along the lake, or find your own private beach where you can swim and sunbathe.

In four hours, you can explore most of the lake and still have time for a leisurely lunch or swim.

What do you need to rent a boat on Lake Como?

You can rent the boat and drive it yourself, which is much easier than it sounds (no boat license required!). However, it can be challenging to dock in some villages, so if you want to stop at some of the villas or towns around the lake, we recommend renting a boat with a captain. This way, you can sip a glass of prosecco and enjoy all the amazing views with less worry and effort.

Boat rental prices: Depending on the company and type of boat, the rental can cost anywhere from €220-€320 ($238-347) for an afternoon. Or up to €850 ($921) with a captain.

3. Visit the Lakeside Village of Varenna

Visiting Varenna is one of the top things to do in Lake Como. The biggest draw is that this village has a slightly more relaxed atmosphere than the busy Bellagio. This stunning village on the lakeside is also one of the most picturesque places in all of Lake Como, and you can easily spend a few hours just wandering around the quiet streets and piazzas, admiring the colorful buildings.

Tip: Don’t miss the Passeggiata Degli Innamorati (Lovers’ Walk) at sunset for a dreamy romantic evening.

Orrido di Bellano

Orrido di Bellano is a natural gorge over 15 million years old! Narrow staircases, bridges, and walking paths lead you around the site, hugging the rocky sides of the canyon. Pass close to roaring waterfalls and over a mighty river crashing below you with calmer pools of bright blue water; it’s an impressive sight! The cooler temperatures here make it a refreshing place to come in the hotter months if you want to escape the sun.

Tip: Check out the Devil’s House Museum at the entrance, which explains the area’s satanic history!

Villa Monastero

Villa Monastero is a stunning villa with impressive botanical gardens that stretch 2 km along the water’s edge. It’s the perfect place for a leisurely stroll and is home to colorful grounds filled with rare trees and fragrant plants.

Riva Grande

Get a photo at the iconic Riva Grande beach in Varenna, one of the most beautiful spots in Lake Como! The tiny cove is not to be missed, squeezed between authentic Italian houses on one side and stunning views of the lake and mountains on the other. Sit at one of the cute lakeside cafes and enjoy the captivating views and relaxed atmosphere.

Lakeside Village of Varenna

4. Admire the Acquafraggia Waterfalls

If you’re looking for something different or have already explored a lot of places in Lake Como, consider a trip to the Acquafraggia Waterfalls in the Bregaglia Valley. The impressive waterfalls cascade down over 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) and are located in a stunning natural reserve in the Alps. Spend the day hiking along trails with breathtaking panoramic views, cool off in the clear pools, or simply relax in the sun with a glass of white wine and some cheese.

Tip: The Acquafraggia Waterfalls are just a one-hour drive from Menaggio or Varenna.

5. Make a Side Trip to Como City

Como is a small town located at the southern tip of Lake Como and is worth visiting if you’re passing through or if you’re arriving from Milan by train. It’s full of charm, with stunning churches, great restaurants, and stunning lake views.

Piazza Duomo

Enjoy an espresso in the town’s main square, home to the magnificent Duomo di Como (Como Cathedral). The building is a beautiful example of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, with a stunning marble facade and blue domes.

Tempio Voltiano

The Tempio Voltiano is a small science museum dedicated to Alessandro Volta, a local scientist who invented the electric battery! The stunning neoclassical building with its impressive columns is just a short 10-minute walk from Piazza Duomo along the lake.

Basilica di Sant’Abbondio (Basilica of Saint Abbondio)

The basilica is an ancient Romanesque church from the 11th century located just outside the city’s main walls. A short walk from the center of town, the beautiful church features stunning frescoes, as well as a natural backdrop of the surrounding mountains.

6. Discover the Breathtaking Vistas of Brunate

This is a must-do on the list! This small, hidden village known as the “Balcony of the Alps” sits atop a hill overlooking Como. You’ll be treated to stunning views of the lake and the surrounding Alps. The funicular has been in use since 1894 by both tourists and locals, and it’s a unique way to see the surrounding area.

Take a hike to the Volta Lighthouse while you’re here, which is another beautiful monument dedicated to scientist Alessandro Volta and offers beautiful panoramic views.

The funicular runs every 30 minutes from 8 a.m. to midnight daily. A round-trip ticket costs 6.10 euros.

7. Wander the Historic Streets of Nesso

This tiny village tucked away on a steep hillside is the epitome of the Dolce vita lifestyle. With the slow pace of life in this traditional village, there’s no doubt that this is a special place worth visiting. I recommend sampling a negroni at a local bar and simply relaxing in the sun by the water.

Wander the Historic Streets of Nesso

8. Hike the Greenway at Lake Como

The Greenway is a beautiful hike that takes you through enchanting villages, colorful gardens, and shady olive groves where you can soak up the nature surrounding Lake Como. You can hike along ancient Roman roads, enter beautiful churches, and pass through stunning villas (including the famous Villa Balbianello) with stunning views around every corner. The trail runs from Colonno to Griante along the western shore of the lake, with many small villages to explore along the way. Each village has its own charm and historical significance. 

Getting there: Take a short boat ride from Bellagio to Griante to hike the entire trail.

9. Go Shopping in Menaggio

This beautiful town is perfect for strolling after you’ve hiked through all the villages. Bonus: it’s the only village that isn’t full of hills – so it’s great for lazy days. I recommend grabbing a cappuccino here and enjoying the selection of local shops. You can also walk along the lakeside promenade, which is full of flowers, and enjoy gorgeous views of the lake. On Friday nights, there’s also a cute night market, offering mostly souvenirs and handicrafts.

Menaggio is also close to two of the most famous and beautiful villas at Lake Como:

Villa Carlotta

This 17th-century lavish villa decorated with plentiful windows and blue shutters, is lush with botanical gardens and fountains full of flowers.

Inside, you can see lavish rooms filled with ornate paintings and sculptures.

Getting there: The bus from Menaggio is €1-2 and takes about 15 minutes. Taxis cost €15 and takes about 10 minutes.

Opening hours and costs: March-September, daily from 10:00-19:00. €15.

Villa Balbianello

Once belonging to an eccentric Italian explorer, Villa Balbianello is another stunning villa with a beautiful Alpine backdrop. This unique place has served as the setting for a variety of films such as James Bond and Star Wars.

Getting there: Take a bus to Lenno, which takes about 30 minutes (€2), and then there is a 1 km walk to the villa. You can also take a water taxi directly there.

Opening hours and costs: Open every day except Monday and Wednesday 10:00-18:00. The price is €11 for a self-guided tour. If you want a guided tour, it will cost you €22.

Tips for a Trip to Lake Como

1. Plan your trip in advance.

Due to its beauty, Lake Como is a very popular destination. This means that if you plan on visiting attractions and museums, I highly recommend booking as much as possible in advance. Accommodation should also be booked prior to your trip, ensuring a stress-free experience. Also, be sure to have a clear timeline for your trip to the lake so that you can really take advantage of each moment spent there. Make a schedule for each day you’ll there, planning out which areas you would like to see, as well as how you will get from point A to point B. 

2. Pack properly.

When packing for your trip, make sure you have everything you need. I recommend not relying on local stores as they can be expensive. This includes things like sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and insect repellent. If you plan on going for a hike or other outdoor activities, be sure to pack appropriate clothing and shoes. Don’t forget to pack swimwear either, as you will surely want to jump into the lake! 

3. Pack for all weather conditions.

Lake Como is located at the foot of the Alps, so the weather can be unpredictable (especially in spring). Pack for all weather conditions, including warm clothes for cooler evenings. When packing, bring a swimsuit and towel to enjoy swimming in the clear waters of the lake. The water is usually quite warm in the summer, so it’s a great way to cool off after a day of hiking.

4. Take advantage of the many activities on the lake.

There are many activities to enjoy around Lake Como. Whether you want to hike in the mountains, take a boat trip on the lake, or relax at one of the many cafes and restaurants, this place has something to offer everyone. Be sure to take advantage of the many activities and attractions available to you. It’s a great way to experience the local culture and create fantastic memories.

5. Explore the local villages.

One of the best parts of Lake Como is its charming villages, which we talked about in this guide. These smaller towns cannot be missed. With their winding streets and stunning views, the villages of Lake Como will blow you away. Every village has its own unique history and culture, so you’re sure to find one that you’ll really love.

6. Don’t forget to set up a data plan for Italy.

No matter how much time you’ll be spending in Italy for vacation, don’t forget to set up a data plan before you get there. Italy has become very expensive and the plans here are not cheap. If your device supports eSIM cards, I highly recommend going with this option. Based on experience, the company eSimple offers the best service and easiest set-up for Italy.

Final words

I hope you enjoy your vacation in Lake Como! If you have any other questions, feel free to leave a comment. I tend to visit Italy a lot, so I will always keep this post updated with any new attractions or restaurants that I find.

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