Lake Como is like something out of a dream, and visiting Lake Como is a perfect stop on any Italian adventure. The glassy lake water is surrounding by towering hills of rock, with perfect towns nestled in around it. The food, like everywhere in Italy, is to die for. The coffee is hot, and the gelato is wonderful.
1. Lake Como is BIG.
This is something you really should know before you go. It seems like it’s a small lake, but it’s actually quite large. There are a number of towns around the lake, and there is not a train that goes all the way around it.
2. The ferry boats are not all that frequent.
If you’ve been in Europe for any length of time, it’s easy to get used to frequent and constant public transport. The ferries on Lake Como are not the frequent. If you’re pressed for time and making your way around the lake, make sure to check the timetable and come back on time – otherwise your whole day’s schedule could be thrown off!
3. In general, there is not much public transport.
Lake Como is fairly easily accessible at both Como and Lecco, which have trains that go from Milan. On the Lecco side, you can take the train up to Varenna without any issue. But, for many of the storied, smaller towns, there is no public transport. You’ll need a car, or you’ll need to pay for cabs.
4. Consider the merits of Lecco and Como.
Bellagio, Varenna, and Menaggio are the towns you seem to hear about most – but these are the most expensive and can be the hardest to get to. If you’re somewhat pressed for time, money, or convenience, consider Lecco or Como. Como is more well-known, and can also be more expensive. It’s been said Lecco is the “uglier” town on Lake Como (which is like being the ugliest girl at Miss America – still gorgeous!). Lecco is more industrial and more residential – there’s a bit more authenticity there. Wherever you go, know it will be amazing!
5. Private water taxis are expensive.
This is one reason to keep an eye on the public ferry schedules. If you get stranded somewhere and try to take a private water taxi to another area of the lake, be prepared for the cost! It can easily cost over 100 Euro for a ride. It’s also an incredible experience – so go with what works for your budget!
6. Don’t expect a lot of lake swimming.
Generally speaking, there is not a lot of swimming in Lake Como. There are a few designated swim spots, but anywhere near the towns swimming is typically off limits. There’s usually a breeze to keep cool, even in the heat of summer. There are swimming pools dotted around the lake – but just know, there isn’t a ton of just jumping in off the shore!
7. Make sure to make time for the gardens!
There are a number of historical villas around the lake with incredible gardens and statuary. It’s one of the main attractions at the lake, and for good reason! Villa Monastero and Villa Melzi are two of the most well-known and are absolutely worth a visit. Strolling the gardens along the lakeshore is just mesmerizing.
8. Find a good place for sunset.
This is a good reason to pick Lecco or Varenna over Bellagio or Como. Lecco and Varenna are on the east shore of the lake, and therefore offer the most stunning views of the sunset. When the sun heads behind the mountains, you’re in for a special treat. Lake Como sunsets are some of the most gorgeous in the world!
9. Enjoy some aperitivo places in the afternoon.
Aperitivo tends to be a northern Italian tradition – and it’s an awesome one! In the afternoon, before it gets to be dinner, you’ll find restaurants that offer free or cheap bites to eat, generally discounted when you have a pre-dinner drink there. There are restaurants offering this all over Lake Como, and it can be a great (cheap) way to fill up!
10. It’s OK to rent a car.
Italy is one of those places where some places you definitely do NOT want to rent a car. (Naples, Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, and Rome for instance!) Luckily, the traffic and area around Lake Como is fairly light and steady. There’s far less craziness than other areas of Italy. There will be towns and places where parking is difficult, but on the whole, having a car in Lake Como will open up a number of options for you.
11. Consider an AirBnB or other Bed and Breakfast option.
There are a number of incredible hotels and resorts along the shores of Lake Como. They are absolutely worth visiting, but they come with incredible price tags. Look up AirBnB or Bed and Breakfasts around the lake. You’ll get an authentic experience and likely for far cheaper than a hotel! Plus, most will come with some sort of kitchen/refrigerator that will allow you to have slightly cheaper meals.
12. Bellagio is nothing like the hotel – in the best possible way.
Unlike the hotel named for it, Bellagio is a small gem of a town. There is very little glitz and glam, as it’s a quiet place on the lake. The only commonality you’ll find is that in the summer it can be quite crowded! (But even crowded – Bellagio is less crowded than the hotel!) Also – don’t expect any fountains!
13. Consider day tripping to Milan.
Some people stay in Milan and make Lake Como the day trip. Consider reversing that and making Lecco or Como your home base and then day tripping into Milan. From either city, it’s a pretty easy hour or so train ride that costs about 4 euro. Then, after a busy day in Milan, you can retreat to the wonder and quiet of the lake!