Things to do in Lake Como
Lake Como is the third largest and the deepest freshwater lake in Italy. The glacial water makes it a magical swimming spot in the sweltering summer months, and it’s extremely popular because of its proximity to Milan and Bergamo.
However, don’t let the crowds put you off; there are plenty of tucked-away villages and beaches to explore, whether on foot or by boat.
If you’re only here for a few days, stick to the three central villages that make up the ‘Golden Triangle’. These are named Bellagio, Varenna, and Menaggio.
1. The Famous Shores of Bellagio Village
Bellagio, also known as the ‘Pearl of Lake Como’, is probably the most famous village in the area. Its popularity means big crowds during the high season. However, it’s definitely worth a visit for some great local restaurants and cute shops.
As well as its pretty cobbled streets, bustling piazzas, and charming churches, the central location means it is a great base to visit other nearby villages. A few hours is enough to explore, leaving you plenty of time to hop on a ferry and venture to other parts of the lake.
Tip: If you have a rental 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 is a 19th-century mansion that overlooks Lake Como, within walking distance of Bellagio’s old town. Unfortunately, you can’t visit the interior of this palatial building, but it is surrounded by stunning English-style botanical gardens, complete with small ponds, quaint bridges, a chapel, and the original orangery (now a museum). Take a picnic and unwind in this peaceful oasis.
Open March-October 10 AM-7 PM. Tickets cost 8 EUR (± 8.7 USD).
Restaurants in Bellagio
Some of our favorite places to eat in Bellagio are:
- Ristorante Billacus
- La Grotta (pizza)
- Trattoria San Giacomo
- Terrazza Barchetta
The best views of Lake Como and the surrounding foothills of the Alps are from the water! Hire a boat and experience the life of the rich and famous for the afternoon, speeding past luxury villas and colorful villages.
Stop off for a delicious lunch at one of the many lake-side restaurants, or find your own private beach where you can swim and sunbathe.
In four hours, you can cruise most of the lake and still leave time for a leisurely lunch or swim.
What do you need to hire a boat in Lake Como?
You can hire the boat to drive yourself, which is much easier than it sounds and only requires a form of identification (no boat license required!). However, it is challenging to moor in some villages, so if you want to stop off at some of the villas or towns around the lake, we’d recommend hiring a boat with a captain. This way, you can sip on a glass of prosecco and take in all the stunning views with less hassle.
Price of boat rental: Depending on the company and type of boat, the rental can cost anywhere between 220-320 EUR (238-347 USD) for the afternoon. Or up to 850 EUR (921 USD) with a captain.
Visiting Varenna is one of the top things to do in Lake Como. Plus, the village has a slightly more peaceful vibe than busy Bellagio. The stunning lakeside village is also one of the most picturesque places in the area, and you can easily spend a few hours just walking around the peaceful streets and piazzas with their colorful buildings.
Orrido di Bellano
Orrido di Bellano is a natural ravine over 15 million years old! Narrow staircases, footbridges, and walkways lead you around the site, which hug the rocky sides of the gorge. Pass close to thundering waterfalls and over a mighty river that crashes underneath you with quieter pools of bright blue water; it’s an impressive sight!
The cooler temperature here makes it a refreshing place to come in the hotter months if you want to get out of the sun.
Tip: Check out the House of the Devil museum at the entrance, which explains the site’s satanic history!
Villa Monastero is a gorgeous villa with impressive botanical gardens that stretch 2 km along the waterfront. It’s the perfect place for a pleasant stroll, home to colorful grounds full of rare trees and fragrant plants.
Built originally as a monastery, the villa is now a museum that shows the house as it would have been in the late 19th century. It also includes stunning examples of the original decor and furniture.
Opening Hours & Entry Fee: 13 EUR entry (14.10 USD) to see the house and garden. Closed January-March. Check the website for opening times in other months, as they can vary.
Get a photo at the iconic waterfront in Varenna, one of the most beautiful spots in Lake Como! The tiny bay should not be missed, sandwiched between authentic Italian houses on one side and an incredible view of the lake and mountains on the other. Take a seat at one of the cute lakeside cafes and take in the draw-dropping vistas and relaxed atmosphere.
Restaurants in Varenna
Enjoy delicious Italian dishes at these fantastic restaurants in Varenna
- Caffe Varenna (stunning location right next to the lake)
- Osteria Quatro Pass (pricey)
- La Vista
- Al Prato
4. Swim at Acquafraggia Waterfall
If you fancy something different or have already explored a lot of Lake Como, consider heading out to Acquafraggia Waterfall in the Bregaglia Valley. The towering waterfall is seriously impressive at over 1800 m high and is located in a stunningly beautiful nature reserve in the Alps. Spend the day hiking the many trails, taking in sweeping panoramic views, cooling off in the clear pools, or just relaxing in the sunshine with a picnic in this alpine haven.
5. Explore Como City
Como is a small city that lies at the southern end of Lake Como and is worth exploring if you are passing by or if you’ve arrived from Milan by train. It is full of charm and character, with stunning churches, great restaurants, and incredible lake views.
Grab an espresso in the city’s main square, home to the spectacular Duomo di Como (Como Cathedral). The building is a beautiful example of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, with a gorgeous marble facade and pretty blue domes.
If you have time, wander inside and marvel at its incredible interior. Alternatively, climb up to the top of the main dome, where you are greeted by panoramic views of the city.
Tempio Voltiano is a small science museum dedicated to Allesandro Volta, a local scientist who invented the electrical battery! The gorgeous neoclassical building with its impressive pillars is a short 10-minute walk from Piazza Duomo along the lake.
It’s also an excellent spot for pictures, particularly at night when the temple is beautifully lit up.
Opening Times & Entry Fee: Open 10 AM-6 PM every day except Monday. Tickets cost 5 EUR (5.42 USD). Booking is required in advance.
Basilica di Sant’Abbondio (Basilica of Saint Abundius)
The Basilica is an ancient 11th-century Romanesque church just outside the city’s main walls, nestled at the bottom of Mount Croce. Only a short stroll from the city center, the beautiful church has gorgeous painted murals and an impressive exterior, as well as an incredible natural backdrop of the surrounding mountains. Come here for a slice of history and to escape the midday sun!
6. Discover the Wonderful Vistas of Brunate
This tiny hidden village known as the ‘balcony of the Alps’ sits on the hilltop above Como. Hop on the funicular at Piazza de Gasperi and be met by jaw-dropping views of the lake and the nearby Alps. The train has been in use since 1894 by both tourists and locals and is a unique way to see the surrounding area.
Take a walk to Voltiano lighthouse while you’re here; this is another beautiful monument dedicated to the scientist Allesandro Volta offering more panoramic vistas.
The funicular runs every 30 minutes from 8 AM – midnight every day. A return ticket costs 6.10 EUR (6.61 USD).
7. Wander the Historic Streets of Nesso
This tiny historic village tucked away on a steep hillside epitomizes the dolce vita lifestyle. Embrace a slower pace of life in this traditional town by exploring its cobbled staircases and twisting alleyways, sipping on negronis at the local bar, and relaxing in the sunshine by the water.
Afterward, wind your way down the steep hill to the Ponte Della Civera, a Romanesque bridge that acts as an entranceway to the village by boat. This is a popular spot in the summer when locals jump from the stone walls into the refreshing water below! This is also a great viewpoint of the other landmark in Nesso, the Orrido di Nesso (Nesso Gorge). This towering waterfall thunders down from the top of the hill, surrounded by lush greenery.
Tip: There is limited parking in town. Because of this, it is better to park a bit further out and walk in, or better yet, arrive by boat!
Restaurants in Nesso
Enjoy drinks and food in beautiful Nesso at these great eateries:
- Pizzeria Trattoria da Eugenio
- Bar Alimentari Verigaa (coffee/drinks)
8. Greenway del Lago di Como
The Greenway is a beautiful 10k hike through tiny villages, colorful gardens, and shaded olive groves where you can fully appreciate the incredible natural surroundings of Lake Como. Wander along ancient Roman roads, duck into beautiful churches, and pass gorgeous villas (including the famous Villa Balbianello) with amazing views at every turn.
The trail goes from Colonno to Griante along the lake’s western shore, with many small hamlets to explore along the way. Each village has its charm and historical significance, providing an insight into local life away from the crowds. Don’t be afraid to veer off the trail at times – there are some gorgeous corners to explore, including tiny pebbled coves and centuries-old churches.
Getting there: Take a short boat ride from Bellagio to Griante to hike the whole trail. Alternatively, you can travel to Tremezzo or Lenno for a shorter walk.
9. Go Shopping in Menaggio
This idyllic lakeside town is perfect for a lazy afternoon of wandering. The laid-back village with its dusty-colored houses is one of the only flat towns on the lake, so it’s a good spot if you are tired of trekking up and down steep hills! Sip on a cappuccino while you people-watch in the Piazza Garibaldi, explore the pretty streets, and dip in and out of local shops.
Don’t miss out on a walk along the flower-filled promenade to take in the incredible views of the lake and surrounding mountains. This promenade is also home to a cute night market on a Friday evening that’s perfect for finding hand-crafted and artisanal souvenirs.
Menaggio is also closeby to two of the most famous and beautiful villas in Lake Como:
The palatial 17th-century villa, with its many blue-shuttered windows, boasts expansive botanical gardens with splashing fountains and flower-filled trellises. Wander through the grounds which lead down to the shoreline of the Tremezzina Riviera (the area with the most temperate climate in Lake Como).
Inside, discover opulent rooms filled with grand paintings and statues and an exciting exhibit on the region’s famous silk industry.
Opening Times & Entry Fee: Open March-September, every day from 10 AM – 7 PM. 15 EUR (16.25 USD). Booking required.
Discover Villa Balbianello, another stunningly elegant villa with an incredible alpine backdrop, once owned by an eccentric Italian explorer. Live out your film star fantasy in a place that’s been the setting for movies like James Bond and Star Wars! Wander under ivy-covered archways and among the terraced gardens and get a picture of the iconic dome-shaped tree, which is meticulously maintained to preserve the spectacular view of the lake.
Getting there: Take a 30-minute bus (2 EUR / 2.17 USD) to Lenno, and from here, walk the 1 km to the villa. Otherwise, arrive in style by water taxi!
Best Cafes & Restaurants in Lake Como
There are scores of fantastic restaurants in the area, whatever budget you are on, from 5-star restaurants with unforgettable views of the lake (often frequented by celebs!) to small, family-run trattorias offering big portions of delicious traditional dishes. Make the most of locally caught seafood, freshly made pappardelle, and decadent desserts while you’re here! Here are some of our favorites:
- Figli Dei Fiori (also a flower shop!)
- La Fagurida
- Il Gatto Nero
- Azienda Agricola Sorsasso (a farm with fantastic food + wine tasting experience)
- Antica Trattoria del Risorgimento
- Ristorante Aurora Lezzeno
- Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Grand Hotel Tremezzo is a pricey hotel 5-star, but it is one of the most iconic venues on Lake Como. Because of this, it’s worth splashing out on an overpriced Aperol for the experience and incredible views.
Where to Stay in Lake Como
Lake Como is perfect for a trip of a few days or more, particularly if you are staying in Milan or Bergamo and you fancy a trip out of the hustle and bustle of the city.
Where you stay will depend on the atmosphere you are looking for. However, wherever you choose, you’ll easily be able to make day trips to other villages around the lake. Bellagio is the most popular destination, with plenty of restaurants and bars and frequent ferries from there to other towns.
How to Visit Lake Como
Close to Switzerland and the Northern Italian cities of Bergamo and Milan, Lake Como is easily reachable. Milan is the best city for flights with plenty of connections.
You can take the train from Milan airport to the Lake Como area in under an hour. Trains go from Milan Centrale to Como, Varenna, and Como Lago stations, and tickets are very reasonably priced.
Alternatively, rent a car yourself if you want more flexibility. Be aware that the roads can get very busy during the summer. Because of this, the train may be the better option in the high season.
The easiest way to see all the things to do in Lake Como is on a tour from nearby Milan or from one of the main villages in the area.
You can connect to most of the main villages by ferry. The public ferry company Navigazione Laghi offers speedy, regular, or touristic services, connecting the villages of Bellagio, Varenna, and Menaggio. Getting a boat is a simple and cheap option that also offers you alternative views of the lake!
Alternatively, rent a car to explore the smaller villages, or there are well-connected public bus services which take you to the main destinations.
Within the villages, it is best to walk, as narrow streets and cobbled steps make driving difficult and there is often limited parking in the town centers.
How Much Does Lake Como Cost?
Despite being a popular spot for the rich and famous, it is still possible to enjoy Lake Como on a budget. Public transport is very cheap, and you can buy fantastic fresh ingredients locally for picnics at the beach. Restaurants can be pricey, especially those right on the lake. However, you can find traditional trattorias in most villages which are very reasonably priced.
Best Time to Visit
The most popular time to visit Lake Como is during the summer when the weather is hot, and the water is most refreshing. However, this does mean more crowds and higher prices.
Instead, visit during the shoulder seasons of April-May or September-October when it is much less crowded, and you can appreciate a more authentic atmosphere and cooler weather.