Visiting Lago di Como in Italy and wondering what to expect and what to see and do in the area? This guide should give you a good overview of all the top sights and the best things to do in Lake Como. Find out!
Lake Como (also known as Larius or Lario) is one of the most beautiful places in Northern Italy. With jaw-dropping landscapes, lovely little towns, and splendid grand villas, it’s an extremely picturesque destination with lots of history and charm.
There’s a lot more to see and do in Lake Como than it looks at first glance. So if you can, plan to spend at least a few days in the region. But even if you only have a day or two, Lake Como is absolutely worth a trip and it will leave you wanting to return!
In this article, we share only the VERY BEST places to see and TOP things to do in Lake Como that are worth your time the most. Yes, there is a lot more to do in Lake Como, but if this is your first trip and you only have a few days, this list will help you see all the musts.
Good to know: To help you plan your time, our recommendations below also include practical information such as how to get to a place or how much time you need to visit. We also created a map indicating all the top spots on Lake Como. Take a look!
How to use this map: Use your computer mouse (or fingers) to zoom in or out. Click on the icons to get more information about each place. Click the arrow on the top left corner for the index. Click the star next to the map’s title to add it to your Google Maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open Google Maps, click the menu and go to ‘Your Places’/’Maps’. If you want to print the map or see it in a bigger window, click on ‘View larger map’ in the top right corner.
These are the best places to visit and things to do in Lake Como:
The most famous of Lake Como towns, Bellagio should certainly be at the top of your list of places to see in the area. Sitting in the middle of the lake, Bellagio has the most amazing setting, stunning views, and is also very centrally located to stay for exploring the region.
Known as the Pearl of Lake Como, Bellagio is popular among the rich and famous, but it’s also a really charming little town that has a lot to offer to any kind of traveler. You’ll find plenty of shops, hotels, and restaurants for all budgets here (although – in general – Lake Como is not a low-budget destination).
There is a lot to see and do in Bellagio beyond shopping and dining! Explore the old town and walk to Punta Spartivento from where you can enjoy nice lake views. Don’t miss the gardens of Villa Melzi – while you can’t visit the villa itself, the lakeside gardens are among the prettiest in the area. With more time, consider a tour of the gardens of Villa Serbelloni.
Good to know: The best way to explore Bellagio town center is on foot, but if you also want to visit several other places nearby, consider a hop-on-hop-off tourist train. It’s the easiest way to get to the charming villages of Pescalo and San Giovanni just nearby.
Getting there: The fastest way to get to Bellagio is by boat. From Milan, take a train to Varenna followed by a short ferry ride to Bellagio. You can also come here by boat from Como and any other town on Lake Como. We do not recommend driving to Bellagio, unless in a quiet season.
TIP: Pretty much all organized day tours to Lake Como include Bellagio in their itinerary (see here for the best options).
How much time do you need: We recommend 2-3 hours for a short visit to Bellagio or a full day if you want to see everything. If you want to explore deeper, stay late in the evening or even spend a night in Bellagio. That way, you can avoid the biggest crowds of day visitors and discover the more authentic, local side of this charming but very popular lakeside town.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Bellagio
Varenna is another must-see place at Como Lake. This colorful town with a scenic lakeside location encompasses the very best of Lake Como in one place. Varenna has a historic old town, a castle, and several grand villas with botanical gardens, but also a nice waterfront area, beaches, and plenty of hiking possibilities.
You can’t miss the waterfront area and the old town center of Varenna. Another must-see is Villa Monastero, one of the area’s most impressive villas with stunning landscaped gardens. I also highly recommend climbing to the top of the hill to visit Vezio Castle. The views from here are unparalleled!
Getting there: Located on the eastern side of the lake and easily accessible by railway, car, or by boat, Varenna is very easy to visit. You can get here by train from Milan, which makes it rather simple to plan a day trip to Lake Como, starting or ending in Varenna.
How much time do you need: We recommend planning at least 2-3 hours for Varenna. Add 1.5-2 hours if you also want to visit the castle.
TIP: Most of the organized day tours from Milan include Varenna in their itinerary, together with a few other must-sees in Lake Como. If you only have a day to visit this beautiful area and want to make the most of your time, check out this highly-rated tour. And no, you won’t be able to see all the top places of Lake Como in a day, but this tour has a very good itinerary covering as much as possible in a short time.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Varenna
3. Boat trips on Lake Como
A scenic boat tour is one of the very best ways to experience Lake Como. Whether you are short on time and want to see some of the nicest scenery in just a few hours or have several days in the area and are looking for something really nice to do in Lake Como, you should really consider a boat trip on the lake.
And no, it’s not the same as taking a ferry trip between different towns. A private tour will take you closer to the shores allowing you to enjoy the best views from a unique perspective. You also travel slower, can stop for photos or even for a swim, etc.
Good to know: There are many places where you can take a boat trip on Lake Como. However, if you only have a day or two in the area and are traveling in the high season, it’s wise to prebook. Not only are you sure to be able to do this, but you can also see the prices, the itinerary, and customer reviews and find the boat tour that suits you best.
When we visited, our hotel also had the possibility to book a boat tour through them. However, their prices were quite a lot higher than what we found online AND the tours were unavailable on short notice.
Here are some of the most popular (private) boat tour options starting from the main towns of Lake Como:
- From Como town (1 hr): Scenic classic-speedboat tour.
- From Como town (2 hrs): Scenic classic-speedboat tour or this – amazing value – speedboat tour.
- From Como town (3 hrs): Scenic boat tour with an aperitif.
- From either Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio, or Tremezzo: Private classic speedboat tour (2 hrs).
- From Bellagio: Sightseeing sailing tour (3hrs) or sunset sailing trip (2 hrs).
- From Paré (Lecco): Sailing tour on the eastern side of Lake Como (3-4 hrs small group tour).
Keep in mind that most boat tours only run in the warmest months. Some are possible from around May to October, others – only in the summer. Weather permitting, this tour from Como is available the whole year round, and this tour starting from any of the main towns in the center of the lake also runs in all seasons.
The biggest town in the area and the place that gave the lake its name, Como is another must-see in Lake Como. It has a very rich history and a really nice historic old town with a cozy atmosphere. You’ll find several interesting landmarks here, lots of nice shops and plenty of restaurants.
Unlike the smaller towns in the central part of the lake, Como remains lively in the low season as well. They even host a really nice Christmas market here from the end of November to the beginning of January. If you are visiting Lake Como in the winter, Como is one of the best places to stay (see also our detailed guide on where to stay in Lake Como).
In the old town of Como, don’t miss the Cathedral, the medieval city gate Porta Torre, and the lively town square Piazza Cavour. There are also several other interesting churches and a few museums to visit. Be sure to also take a walk on the waterfront promenade. Here, you can visit Tempio Voltiano, a museum dedicated to Volta, the inventor of the electric battery. About 20 minutes walk from the center, you’ll also find one of the most impressive villas of Lake Como – Villa Olmo.
TIP: Take a funicular to the hilltop village of Brunate – more about it further below.
Getting there: You can easily reach Como by car or by train from Milan. The town has the best boat connections on Lake Como too, allowing you to easily reach all the other places from here. Most organized tours to the area also include Como in their itinerary.
How much time do you need: We recommend at least 2-3 hours for a quick visit, but you can easily spend an entire day here. In fact, there is so much to see and do in Como that we highly recommend you plan a day for the city.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Como
Brunate is a hilltop village located just above Como town. Sometimes called the ‘balcony on the Alps’, Brunate offers some really nice aerial views of the town and Lake Como. What makes it even more attractive is that you can easily get here by funicular from Como.
The Como-Brunate Funicular is an attraction in itself and is one of the most popular things to do in Lake Como. Dating back to the 19th century, this historic funicular has been refurbished many times, and it now only takes 7 minutes to reach the top. The scenery along the way is really nice, but for the best views, try to get the lower carriage.
Good to know: The Brunate funicular runs every 15-30 minutes, sometimes even more often if it’s busy. In the high season and on weekends, it operates until midnight. You can just get the tickets on the spot.
The main reason to visit Brunate is the amazing views. The village itself is quite small but you can see several nice villas and be sure to visit the Sant’Andrea Apostolo Church.
The hilltop lighthouse Faro Voltiano offers even better views, but it’s quite a steep 30-minute walk from the funicular. Sometimes, there is also a shuttle to the lighthouse available – it’s pricey but it will save you a long climb.
How much time do you need: Depending on what you plan to do, you need 1-2 hours in order to visit Brunate.
6. Villa del Balbianello
With its unique location surrounded by water from three sides, Villa del Balbianello is probably the most famous of all Lake Como villas. You may recognize it from several Hollywood movies. It was used as a filming location in James Bond Casino Royale, Star Wars, and quite a few others.
Over the centuries, Villa Balbianello has served as a prestigious vacation residence and had various owners. Nowadays, it’s owned by the National Trust of Italy and serves as a museum.
The museum is dedicated to the last private owner, Guido Monzino, who was an avid explorer and climber. He made over 20 climbing expeditions all over the world and led Italy’s first expedition to Mount Everest. Inside, you can see all kinds of memorabilia from his various trips all over the world.
Villa Balbianello has several buildings and is surrounded by very picturesque terraced gardens that offer stunning views of the lake. Visits of the interior of the villa are possible too, but you can only do it with one of their guides and the spots are limited. In the high season, you need to book tickets for the museum weeks in advance.
But don’t worry if you can’t get the tickets to visit inside. It’s well worth coming here just to see the villa and walk around its gorgeous gardens.
Good to know: Villa del Balbianello is located next to Lenno town on the western side of Lake Como. It’s open daily except for Mondays and Wednesdays, between mid-March and January. If you want to visit inside, book a guided tour via their website well in advance. You can also get a ticket for the gardens online – it can save you a long wait.
Keep in mind that the gardens are hilly and there are quite some steps – not ideal for people with mobility issues.
Getting there: Villa Balbianello is located next to Lenno and can be reached on foot or by boat. If you walk, it takes about 20-25 minutes from town. Alternatively, you can take a small boat shuttle, which is a nice experience in itself. To reach Lenno, you can take a ferry from one of the bigger towns in the area. We do not recommend driving since parking in Lenno is very limited.
How much time do you need: You only need about 0.5-1 hour to visit the villa. However, keep in mind that it will take quite some time to get there. Depending on where you are coming from and how you travel, you’ll likely need to plan half a day for a visit here.
LEARN MORE: Villa del Balbianello: How to Visit & Useful Tips
7. Villa Monastero
Villa Monastero is another exceptional villa that should be high on your Lake Como bucket list. It’s located in Varenna and is much easier to visit than Villa Balbianello. And in my opinion, it’s just as impressive!
Originally a 12th-century Cistercian convent, the villa has been rebuilt and expanded over the centuries by its various owners. Nowadays, it’s owned by the state and serves as a museum and a conference center. Also here, it is possible to visit both – the villa and its gardens.
Inside the villa, you can visit its beautifully decorated rooms. But the main attraction here is the botanical garden. The terraced garden is built along the shores of Lake Como and offers fantastic views. There are many walkways and you’ll find all kinds of statues and structures making it even more picturesque and enjoyable. There is a big variety of plants from different climates from all over the world, so the garden is lovely throughout the year.
While you can just visit the gardens, we highly recommend getting a ticket which includes entry to the villa-museum as well. It doesn’t take much time and we found it well worth a small extra fee.
Good to know: Villa Monastero is open all year, but the opening times vary a lot depending on the season. In the summer, the gardens and the villa are open daily. For more information, see their website.
If you want to be sure to visit at a specific time, you can buy your tickets online in advance, but it’s not a must.
Getting there: Villa Monastero is located in Varenna and is just a short walk from the old town center.
How much time do you need: You can visit Villa Monastero and its gardens in about an hour.
If you want to experience all the best that Lake Como has to offer, consider a short visit to the picturesque lakeside town of Menaggio. It’s a nice place to come if you want to visit one of the prettiest towns in the area without the biggest crowds. Tour groups do not visit here and so Menaggio is incomparably quieter than Bellagio or Varenna which are just a short ferry ride away.
While you won’t find any famous villas or gardens here, Mennagio is so charming that it’s worth a visit just for the atmosphere. The town center is small and has a very relaxed feel to it. The best thing to do here is to simply walk around, enjoy the views, get a gelato, or sit down for a drink and do some people-watching. You’ll also find some nice restaurants for lunch.
If you are looking to do some sightseeing, there are a few churches in the old town. The organ was playing when we visited one of them and it was magical. Also, check out the walled marina on the southern end of the waterfront promenade.
Getting there: Menaggio is best visited by boat. There are ferries from Bellagio or Varenna. You can also drive here, but parking is very limited.
How much time do you need: 1-2 hours are plenty for Menaggio.
9. Villa Carlotta
Located in Tremezzina on the western side of the lake, Villa Carlotta is one of the grandest villas of Lake Como. The 17th-century villa is so big and so well-kept that it almost feels like a palace.
Nowadays, Villa Carlotta is a museum and is everything that you would expect from a luxury vacation residence. With its impressive facade, lushly decorated interiors with valuable artworks, and huge botanical gardens, it’s one of the most popular destinations on Lake Como. It’s absolutely worth a visit!
In the 19t century, the villa was bought by Princess Marianne of the Netherlands, who later gifted it to her daughter Charlotte (Carlotta), to whom the villa is now named. She and her husband refurbished the villa and created several themed gardens introducing a wide variety of botanical species from all over the world.
The botanical gardens of Villa Carlotta are much bigger than those of any other villas that you can visit in the area. They are divided into so many different sections that exploring them is an attraction in itself. You’ll find Italian gardens with citrus tunnels, Japanese gardens with a bamboo forest, but also hundreds of different types of rhododendrons and azaleas, centuries-old trees, etc.
You can easily spend several hours wandering around here. However, there are multiple routes to choose from and you’ll get a map with time indications for your reference. So you can decide how much you want to explore depending on how much time you have.
Good to know: Villa Carlota is open from March to the first week of November. There’s just one type of ticket here and it includes the villa and the gardens. You can book a skip-the-line ticket online in advance, but it’s not a must. See the official website for more info.
Getting there: Villa Carlotta has its own ferry station on the western side of Lake Como. In the high season, you can easily get here by ferry from Bellagio, Varenna, and other towns nearby. You can also take a bus or a car to come here, but the boat is much easier.
How much time do you need: You’ll need at least 1.5-2 hours for a visit to Villa Carlotta, but you could spend 2-3 hours as well. Depending on where you are coming from, you’ll likely need half a day for a visit here.
10. Villa Melzi
When it comes to the best things to do in Lake Como, there’s one more villa that really deserves to be mentioned, and that’s Villa Melzi d’Eril in Bellagio. Dating from the early 19th century, this is one of the most impressive private residences on the shores of Lake Como.
Villa Melzi was originally the summer residence of Francesco Melzi d’Eril, the Vice-President of the Italian Republic. The Melzi family later sold the villa to the Gallarati Scotti family.
Because the villa is still privately owned today, you cannot visit it inside. But the beautiful gardens and the buildings in the gardens are open to the public, so it’s well worth coming here, also because it’s just a short walk from the center of Bellagio.
The lakeside avenue of plane trees offers really nice views, but be sure to also explore the rest of the gardens. Close to the northern entrance of the park, you’ll find a Japanese pond and a quirky hidden cave. The Moorish pavilion is also very nice to see and just next to the villa, you’ll find a small artificial pond with water lilies and a nice little sculpture.
Don’t miss the Melzi family chapel and the Orangery which houses a small museum filled with Napoleonic memorabilia.
Good to know: In the high season, the gardens of Villa Melzi are open daily. You can get the tickets at the entrance. For more info, see their website.
Getting there: Villa Melzi can be reached on foot or by a hop-on hop-off tourist train from Bellagio. The gardens have two entrances, one of which is very close to the town center.
How much time do you need: Count at least an hour for a visit to the gardens of Villa Melzi.
While it’s not the reason why most visitors come to Lake Como, the area is also famous for its many hiking trails.
From easy waterside promenade walks and rather flat trails between the villages along the shores of the lake to steep uphill hikes in the mountains surrounding Lake Como, there are quite a lot of options for all difficulty levels.
One of the most promoted trails is Greenway de Lago di Como. This 10 km (6 mi) sightseeing path brings you to some of the nicest areas between Colonno and Cadennabia/Griante on the western side of the lake. It follows the main road and some village streets and is a rather easy ‘hike’.
On the way, you can visit Villa Balbianello, Villa Carlotta, and also many villages and churches, etc. You need about 3-4 hours for this trail, but if you also opt to visit the villas along its route, it will take you the full day. You can find the interactive map of this trail here.
Another famous hike at Lake Como is Sentiero del Viandante, on the eastern side of the lake from Abbadia Lariana to Piantedo. This multi-day trail dates to Roman times and is about 45 km (28 mi) long. Hiking the entire trail would require a separate vacation in Lake Como, but you can also just do a part of it.
These are just a few – rather extreme – examples of Lake Como hikes. I encourage you to do some more research if you want to go hiking in this area because the possibilities are endless.
Good to know: The best season to go hiking in Lake Como is early fall or late spring. The summer months can be really too hot, especially if you want to tackle some of the steeper hikes. You will need good hiking shoes for most Lake Como hikes.
12. Beaches & Swimming
One of the best things to do in Lake Como in the summer is enjoying the lake to the fullest, and this includes swimming, of course!
Do not expect wide white-sand beaches with palm trees here, but there are quite a few places where you can swim along the shores of Lake Como. Most beaches are rather small and very low-key while some others have umbrellas and beach chairs for rent. And some boat tours also include a stop for a swim on the lake – which can be nicer than any beach.
One of the best public beaches in the most popular areas of Lake Como is the beach of Bellagio (Spiaggia Pubblica di Bellagio) in San Giovanni and there is a nice small beach in the center of Varenna.
Some other ‘beaches’ – like Lido di Bellagio, Lido di Varenna, or Lido Menaggio – are more like private beach clubs. They have designated areas on the shores of the lake with all the beach facilities, sometimes a pool, and some kind of access to the lake. Often, there is a wooden platform from which you can jump in the water for a swim. So it’s not a typical beach experience, but it’s also something that’s unique to Lake Como.
As long as you know what to expect and see it as part of the experience of visiting Como Lake, it can be nice. But if you come here expecting a typical beach, you’ll likely be disappointed.
TIP: Ask locals for beach recommendations in the area where you are staying, or – probably better – book a hotel with a nice swimming pool. Some luxury waterfront hotels also have access to the lake with some kind of swimming possibilities (but none of them have an actual sandy beach). Take a look at Grand Hotel Tremezzo or Hotel Villa Serbelloni if you are looking for a hotel with direct access to the lake.
PRO TIP: If you are planning to spend some time on Lake Como beaches, be sure to pack water shoes! The pebbles can be quite sharp.
13. Local Food & Cooking Classes
Italian food needs no introduction and you probably already know that some of the best memories of any trip to Italy are those related to food… So of course one of the things you must do in Lake Como is try some traditional regional food.
If you try just one local specialty, make it Risotto with perch (Risotto con filetti di pesce persico), the most famous dish of Lake Como. Every local restaurant has its own version of it, but we never had a bad experience. It’s truly delicious!
TIP: If you are looking for something more ‘local’ to do in Lake Como, consider a cooking class with a local. There are quite a few options, mostly in Como town, but also in Bellagio and other bigger towns in the area. You can find an overview of Lake Como cooking classes on GetYourGuide and an even bigger selection on Viator.
And if you rather not cook, but want to get acquainted with several traditional dishes in a short time, there’s also a very nice food tour in Como.
READ ALSO: Traditional Italian Food (by region)
So, this is our guide to some of the best things to do in Lake Como.
I know that it’s not always easy to choose where to go and what to see in the Lake Como area, especially if you are short on time and only have one or two days. So I hope that this guide gives you a better idea of what to expect and helps you pick the sights that look most interesting to you.
You can’t really go wrong with any of the towns or villas mentioned in this guide. In the summer, Bellagio and Varenna would be my top choices, and try to see at least one or two villas mentioned in this guide. Whereas, in the low season, I suggest visiting Como.
A boat trip on the lake is worth it in any season (ideally not in the rain, though). It’s one of the best ways to get a glimpse of the nicest places of Lake Como in a short time.
TIP: For more practical information and tips for your visit, take a look at the following guides on our blog as well:
Have a great trip!
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- … for many more destinations, see our Italy travel guide.
Wednesday 23rd of November 2022
In Varenna. Check the castle website a week in advance. The falconry demonstration days vary but amazing to watch various birds of prey while overlooking Lake Como from above, great pics too. Get the ticket that includes lunch, very well priced. I took a taxi up, then walked the path downhill back to town. I stayed in Varenna, easy train access from Milan, minutes to LC central ferry. Took Bernina Express daytrip on scenic train thru Swiss Alps, stopped at fondue place on way back. Just watch train times to not miss last train back to Varenna!
Thursday 24th of November 2022
Thanks for sharing your tips and experience, Kim. Happy travels!