Salt & Wind Travel

14 Unmissable Experiences in Italy’s Lake Como (2024)

Glancing at Instagram, TikTok, or the TV series “The Morning Show” or “Succession,” it’d be understandable were you to mistake Lake Como for a movie set built to fulfill Americans’ fantasy of Italy. Or to think that vacationing there is a social shorthand to show the world you’ve arrived. 

But this glacial lake with stunning landscapes has captivated travelers for centuries as “some of the first out-of-towners to build villas on the lake shore were Romans.” In this guide, we will delve into the wonders of Lake Como, discover its enchanting towns, and explore the activities that make this region an ideal destination for food and travel enthusiasts.

Guide Lake Como Italy
Table of Contents

Why Is Como so Famous?

Known as Lago di Como in Italian, Lake Como has been a destination since Roman times. But it was cemented as a destination in the 17th century when it became an essential stop on the “Grand Tour.” Lake Como then became world-renowned as a center for silk manufacturing in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

These days, it’s the flashiest of the Italian lakes, with opulent neoclassical villas and the backdrop for many a celebrity vacation and wedding. It’s where the uber-wealthy own second homes and can be seen boating along in luxury boats and zipping about the winding roads in high-end sports cars. But, along with its glitz, Lake Como offers a blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Where is Lake Como Located?

Located in Northern Italy along the foothills of the Alps and near the Swiss border, Lake Como is in the heart of the Italian Lake District. There are five main lakes that sprawl across the Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto regions. From west to east, they are Lake Maggiore, Lake Lugano, Como, Lake Iseo, and Lake Garda. 

Also known as “Lario,” Lake Como is the third-largest lake in Italy and the deepest lake in the country at nearly 1,500 feet. About an hour’s drive north of Milan, it stretches over 146 square kilometers and is shaped like an inverted “Y.” 

Why Visit Lake Como?

Many blockbuster TV shows and movies have been filmed on Lake Como, including “Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones,” “James Bond’s Casino Royale,” and “Ocean’s Twelve,” only adding to its glamorous reputation. Lake Como attracts visitors seeking tranquility, beauty, and a touch of opulence. Discover ornate centuries-old villas, elaborate gardens, tiny churches, and numerous scenic strolls and hikes.

9 Towns To Know On Lake Como

The shore of Lake Como is dotted with picturesque villages — the most popular being Como, Cernobbio, Menaggio, Tremezzo, and Bellagio. Each offers unique attractions, but these are the towns our travel planning clients enjoy most:

Western Shore

The western shore is the most populated part of the lake because it is flatter, has easy access to Milan and Switzerland, and gets the most sunshine (there aren’t mountains blocking the light as in other parts). It begins in the south at the town of Como and extends north about 50 miles, after which you can head into the Valtellina wine region and onward to Switzerland.


First off is the town that shares its name with the lake. Set in a wooded valley at the southwest corner, Como is vibrant and cultured. And it holds its own in terms of history, having been established by Julius Caesar and as the birthtown of both Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger. 

Admire the lake as you stroll the lungolago (waterfront boardwalk), then explore the streets of the old town, including the charming main square, Piazza San Fedele. Visit the magnificent Como Cathedral (Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta) and enjoy stunning views from the Brunate funicular. Don’t miss the gardens of neoclassical Villa Olmo and the Museo della Seta (Silk Museum), which showcases the city’s rich textile heritage.
Best For: Easy access, history, and being in the lake’s main town


Located a short distance north, Cernobbio is a picturesque town known for its elegant villas and luxury hotels. Stroll along the lake promenade, hike the Sentee di Sort, visit the stunning Villa d’Este, and soak in the serene atmosphere.

Best For: Pure luxury and a slower pace


This small village halfway up the lake flies under the radar. You can find the lovely Santa Anna Church and peek at the River Telo. It’s also the launching point for the Funivia di Pigra cable car, which rises nearly 2,000 feet to the quaint village of Pigra. 
Best For: Escaping crowds


This chic town is best known to visitors as where you can most easily access the stunning Villa del Balbianello. But it also has a happening scene during the summer as those in the know frequent spots like the beach club, bar, and restaurant, Lido di Lenno.
Best For: Chic Tremezzina (midlake) culture


Tremezzo is a town of 1,300 people that is up against Alpine hills and has a lovely waterfront. It is famous for its luxurious villas and beautiful gardens, such as Villa Carlotta, which has an impressive art collection and stunning botanical garden. 
Best For: Villas, gardens, and luxe hotels


Menaggio is a charming town with a laid-back ambiance. To us, it is the best place to access sights and ferries while also staying among residents. If you love the outdoors, Menaggio is ideal because numerous rigorous hikes and mountain biking routes start there. And it’s also very easy to access Lake Lugano for a day trip.
Best For: Hanging with locals while in a smaller town than Como

Middle Fork and Eastern Shore

The middle fork of the lake is not only home to Bellagio but also to some of the newest luxury hotels. The Eastern Shore is quieter, with small historic villages well worth exploring.


Easily the most famous town on the lake, Bellagio is often referred to as the “Pearl of Lake Como.” Situated at the fork of the inverted Y of the lake, the old town is especially picturesque with its lakefront address. Wander the maze of cobbled streets, shop local boutiques, and visit the grand Villa Melzi with its stunning gardens. Be sure to savor the panoramic views from Punta Spartivento, where the lake splits into two branches, and you can see north to the Alps.
Best For: Being in the center of tourist vibes and the middle of the lake


Just across the water from Bellagio on the Eastern shore is the charming village of Varenna. This historic town started as a fishing village in AD 769, so it’s small but big in history. It has cobblestoned streets, historic villas, and gorgeous gardens but is far less frequented by tourists than towns like Como, Bellagio, Cernobbio, and Menaggio. While there, you can visit the San Giorgio church, the Villa Cipressi, or the Villa Monastero gardens.
Best For: Quiet village vibes that have great hiking too


Lecco offers a more laid-back and authentic experience at the southeastern end of Lake Como. Explore the charming old town, visit the neoclassical Villa Manzoni, and enjoy panoramic views from Piani d’Erna. Lecco is also a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, with hiking, climbing, and water sports opportunities.
Best For: Exploring the lesser-visited parts of the lake

More Than 10 Things To Do On Lake Como

Most travelers head to Lake Como to enjoy the towns, the lake, and the villas, but there’s much more to do. Outdoor lovers can dive into boating, biking, and hiking. At the same time, history buffs can take advantage of the numerous historical sites dotted around the lake, from villas and churches to museums. 

Visit The Villages

Many visitors spend a day driving the lake and stopping at towns along the way. If you were to drive the whole lakeshore, it would take about 4 hours. Most people drive just one stretch in a day (say from Como to Menaggio and back) to leave time to visit villas and villages.

Gardens and Villas

Speaking of, Lake Como is renowned for its magnificent botanical gardens and historic villas. Explore the opulent Villa Olmo in Como, the gardens of Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, the curious history of Villa Balbianello, and the stunning gardens of Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo. Immerse yourself in the beauty of these meticulously manicured landscapes and get a glimpse into the region’s rich history.

Private Boat Tour

One of the best ways to experience the allure of Lake Como is by taking a private boat ride. Cruise along the crystal-clear waters, admire the grand villas and picturesque towns and enjoy the serenity. Several companies offer a customized boat trip, allowing you to explore the lake at your own pace.

Helicopter Rides

For a truly unforgettable experience, consider a helicopter ride. Soar above the lake and capture breathtaking aerial views of the majestic villas and picturesque towns dotting the shores. Most flights take off from Como city, are private, and include 30 minutes of flight time, during which you can see Lake Como or nearby lakes like Lake Iseo and Maggiore. 

Brunate Funicular

Embark on a scenic journey to the village of Brunate aboard the historic Brunate funicular. As you ascend, marvel at the panoramic vistas of Lake Como and the surrounding mountains. Once at the top, explore the charming village, hike, and enjoy the tranquility of this elevated paradise.

Isola Comacina

This small wooded island off the Tremezzina (the middle part of the western shore) has been inhabited since ancient times, played a crucial role in local battles, and is said to be cursed. These days, you can visit by boat and have lunch at the island’s only restaurant. Some locals believe a lake creature (akin to the Loch Ness monster), nicknamed the Lariosauro, can sometimes be seen in this area.

Greenway del Lago

The Greenway del Lago is a scenic walking path that winds its way along the lake’s shores. This 6-mile trail connects the towns of Colonno and Griante and passes through charming medieval towns, churches, groves of olive trees, and scenic gardens on the way. 

Hike To Castello Vezio

If you’re spending time on the east shore of the Lake and in search of a hike, head to Varenna and do the couple-mile hike to Castello di Vezio for a great view.

Sacro Monte della Beata Vergine del Soccorso

Head to Ossuccio to see the famed Sacro Monte della Beata Vergine del Soccorso. This is just one of several chapels built along a path during the 16th & 17th centuries to symbolize Christ’s Passion and which are a UNESCO Heritage site.

Museo Della Fine Della Guerra Dongo

While most people don’t think of WWII when they think of Lake Como, it played a key role. Namely, Benito Mussolini and a group of fascist ministers were captured in the tiny hamlet of Dongo on April 27, 1945. Head to the small but interesting Museo Della Fine Della Guerra Dongo to look into this critical moment in the Italian side of World War 2.

4 Day Trips From Lake Como

Wine Tasting In Franciacorta

While a few family-owned wineries on Lake Como, two incredible wine regions — Valtellina and Franciacorta — are reachable during a day trip. Meanwhile, Franciacorta is a region between the historic hill town of Bergamo (where you can visit the stunning Palazzo Moroni) and charming Lake Iseo. It is where some of the best traditional method of sparkling wine in Italy is produced. 

Wine Tasting In Valtellina

The Valtellina is an Alpine valley near the border with Switzerland. It is known for producing red wines from Chiavennasca (the local name for the Nebbiolo grape) and home to the historic Castel Grumello.

Bernina Express

Speaking of the Valtellina, that is also where you can pick up the famous scenic train known as the Bernina Express. This more than 100-year-old train route allows you to see Switzerland up close as you pass through over 50 tunnels and nearly 200 bridges. The southern point of the train is in Tirano, about a 2-hour drive from Como town, so most of our clients do this as an overnight trip. It is possible to do part of it in one full day —  you would only go halfway to St. Moritz and return.

Lugano, Switzerland

This Swiss town on the southern shore of Lake Lugano is accessible by train or car from Como or Menaggio in just over 30 minutes. As the largest town in the Ticino (Italian-speaking) part of Switzerland, this lakeside town is home to banks (as it’s a major financial center) and beautiful gardens and historic landmarks like Villa Fogazzaro Roi.

Where To Stay On Lake Como

While you can find all kinds of lodging, from apartments for rent and small family-owned inns, Lake Como is known as home to some of Italy’s most celebrated luxury hotels, including historic 5-star hotels like Grand Villa Serbelloni, Villa D’Este, and the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. But, a new generation of luxury hotels has recently cropped up, such as Il SerenoMandarin Oriental, and the Passalaqua. Our clients enjoy smaller, more intimate boutique hotels like the Palazzo Albrici Peregrini in Como.

Where To Eat On Lake Como

The food in Lake Como is distinct, with lots of lake fish, the buckwheat pasta known as pizzoccheri, Alpine cheeses, and local wines from places like the Valtellina. Despite the lake’s expensive reputation, you’ll find a mix of classic trattorie, lakeside restaurants, and high-end fine dining. Contact us if you want help deciding where to eat on Lake Como. 

Lake Como FAQs

A large majority of visitors do day trips to Lake Como from Milan, Turin, Lugano, or Bergamo. However, we encourage you to do a long weekend and spend 2 to 3 days there if your schedule permits. If you wanted to dive into all the activities we mentioned, budgeting 4 to 5 nights should be more than sufficient.

Read on for our tips of how to get around Lake Como and you'll see that you don't need to have a car to enjoy Lake Como. However, if you are staying longer than a day, we'd recommend having a driver or driving so that you have the freedom to explore on your own terms.

The busiest time of year on Lake Como is mid-June through mid-September, but most services run from about early April until the start of October. We find the summertime too touristy and hot and humid, so we'd recommend visiting in the late spring or early fall. You can also visit in the winter, but it gets cold and foggy, but it is lovely if all you want to do is rest, relax, and avoid the crows.

How To Get To Lake Como?

The best way to get to Lake Como is by train or car. Most visitors fly into nearby airports or make a day trip from Milan, Bergamo, or Lugano.

By Airplane: If you’re curious about which airport to fly to reach Lake Como, there are three airports within a 1-hour drive from Como town: Milano Malpensa, Milan Linate, or Bergamo.

By Train: Trains run regularly from Milan’s main station to Como town and take approximately 1 hour, offering scenic views along the way. You can also reach Como easily from nearby Swiss towns like Lugano by train or car.

By Car: Lake Como is easily accessible by car, with major highways connecting Milan to Como and other towns around the lake. The drive from Milan takes around an hour, depending on traffic.

How To Get Around Lake Como

The three main ways to get around Lake Como are by car, ferry, or bus.

By Car: Many people drive Lake Como, but it has a lot of twisting roads and blind corners, so it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to navigate to a new spot. If you need help booking a private car service, just reach out!

By Ferry: Once you arrive in Como, you can explore the lake’s various towns by ferry. The extensive ferry network allows you to hop on and off at different points of interest. The lake has a network of ferries and hydrofoils that take off from the town of Como and run to Cernobbio, Lecco, and Gravedona.

By Bus: Otherwise, you can look into the ASF Autolinee buses.

Have Us Plan Your Italy Trip

Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency specializing in Italy travel planning? If you want to plan private or guided tours, our Italy trip planner services help you plan your perfect itinerary.

Photo Credit: All photos by Christine Davis and Kristen Kellogg

Travel Planning Resources

This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to our privacy policy.

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


We'll help you taste Italy Mexico California Hawaii Mexico France Spain the world

We specialize in food-focused experiences in the most interesting culinary regions of the world.

We host unique small group trips to California, Italy, and Mexico from Sicily to Oaxaca.

Our tailored-to-you trip planning services help you make the most of your trip.