Lake Como

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The Essential Guide to Lake Como

Backdropped by the imposing Alps reflecting off glassy lake waters and shores lined with neoclassical villas, Lago di Como feels like something out of a Maxfield Parish painting. 

The third largest lake in Italy (and one of the deepest in Europe), Lake Como is located in the Lombardy region just south of the border with Switzerland. Long and narrow with a distinctive divining rod shape, Lago di Como and the surrounding towns and resorts attract more than one million visitors a year to its alpine-fringed shores. 

When you go

Generally, the best time to visit Lake Como is spring and autumn, when most of the summer crowds have dispersed, flowers are in bloom and temperatures have dropped. Lake waters may be too chilly for a dip or a water skiing adventure (unless you’re a polar bear), but there are plenty of activities that don’t require submersion, such as hiking, biking and sailing. From late August until mid-November, the leaves begin to change, creating a postcard-perfect setting.

When cold weather dusts the slopes with snow, winter sports enthusiasts will be within striking distance of Piani di Bobbio ski resort in Barzio (about a 20-minute drive from Lecco). 

During the period stretching from December to the Easter holiday weekend, ferries run less frequently and many hotels and restaurants close for the season. For those who enjoy a little peace and quiet, though, this more silent season can be a feature rather than a bug. 

How to get there

An easy train ride from Milano Centrale railway station makes Lake Como a popular day trip or weekend getaway destination for city dwellers. Just as accessible by car, Lake Como lies 53 miles (85 km) from Milan’s city center and less than an hour’s drive (around 18 miles/28 km) from the Italian-speaking Swiss town of Lugano.

By air

The closest airports to Lake Como are Malpensa International Airport (MXP) and Milan Linate (LIN). Malpensa is one of the busiest airports (second only to Rome’s Fiumicino) that handles mostly international long-haul flights. Linate serves domestic airlines within Italy, Europe and the UK. The advantage to flying into Linate is its proximity to the center of Milan and, in turn, its railway stations. 

By train

If your starting point is Milan, the fastest way to get to Lake Como by rail is from the city’s main train station, Milano Centrale. Making just three stops (Monza, Seregno and Como Camerlata), the train arrives at Como City’s San Giovanni station in about 40 minutes. From there, it’s a five-minute walk to the shores of the lake.

If you’re coming from Milano Centrale, another option is to ride the M2 subway for a couple of stops and take the train from the Porta Garibaldi station to Como San Giovanni. For budget-conscious travelers, the regional train from Milano Cadorna to Como Nord Lago station, like the one from Porta Garibaldi, takes just over an hour.

From Lugano, Switzerland, take the regional train from the city’s main train station to Como S. Giovanni (30 minutes).

By car

From Malpensa airport, drive directly to Lake Como via the new A36 motorway (Pedemontana Lombarda) then take the A9 towards Como/Chiasso and exit at Como Centro.

Alternatively, from Linate, take the A51 (Tangenziale Est) in the direction of Milan to the A9 motorway and continue north until you reach the Como Centro exit.

From Lugano, follow the A2, crossing the border between Switzerland and Italy at Chiassa, then continue on Via Bellinzona to Via Nino Bixio and then Viale Massenzio Masia to Via Giovio/Piazzetta Pietro Pinchetti into central Como.

Getting around Lake Como


Cruising the lake on a ferry is a wonderful way to see the sights between the picturesque towns on Lake Como. Boats run regularly and are both convenient and relatively inexpensive. Try it, but be warned: Few forms of public transport anywhere will ever feel as relaxing!

One of the most popular passenger ferry routes is between Como (on the southwestern tip) and Colico (to the north). It stops at all the towns with piers along the way, so it’s perfect for sightseers. If you’re in a hurry, a fast ferry makes fewer stops (at Argegno, Bellagio and Varenna). 

To transport vehicles, there’s a traghetto service that operates between the towns of Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio and Candenabbia. 

Connecting Lecco with Bellagio, y only operates in the summer. You can also book private boat tours in most towns on Lake Como.


Most of the towns around the Lake are connected by a local bus service operated by ASF Autolinee. Check their official website for information about routes, timetables and fares. 


Most Lake Como towns and villages have been designed for pedestrian rather than vehicle traffic, so unless you’re planning on exploring other parts of the region, you can safely forego renting a car in lieu of hoofing it. 

Best things to do and see around Lake Como

Villa Carlotta
Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo / Photo: elitravo via Shutterstock

Get the party started in Como city

Located at the southern end of the lake, which was once famous for its silkworm breeding and silk-weaving, the old part of town is encircled by a city wall and streets are lined with medieval buildings home to fancy boutiques, cool restaurants and trendy cafes. 

Along the lakeside is the Castello Baradello (tel. +39 031 21 1131), a fortress that dates back to the Middle Ages. Climb up the Tower Museum for a bird’s eye view of the lake and a history lesson on the origins of the lake’s inhabitants — from the Roman age to the Risorgimento.

If it’s the nightlife you’re after, take a lofty seat to sip some of the finest cocktails this side of the Alps at the rooftop Terrazza 241 inside the Hilton Lake Como (tel. +39 31 3382688).  

Stroll the streets and stairsteps of Bellagio

Known as the “pearl of Lake Como,” romantic Bellagio is situated at the apex of the Larian Triangle (where the water forks) — about equal distance between the towns of Como and Lecco. Once home to such dignitaries as Stendhal, Toscanini and Liszt, since the 19th century Bellagio has become better known as a playground for the rich and famous.  

If you want to shop ‘til you drop, explore the boutiques and galleries along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, the town’s main thoroughfare. Take a break from “retailing” at one of the many cozy streetside cafes for an afternoon jolt of espresso or a glass of the local vintage. 

If you’re interested in maritime history, the Museo degli strumenti per la navigazione (Museum of Instruments for Navigation) in Piazza Don Miotti (tel. +39 031 950309) is filled with precious objects used to sail the seas and explore new worlds. When you get to Piazza della Chiesa, stop to admire the Basilica of San Giacomo, a Romanesque church built between the 11th and 12th centuries.

Feel like royalty at Villa Carlotta

There’s no shortage of elegant palazzi on the Lake but what makes the late Baroque-era Villa Carlotta (tel. +39 0344 40405) stand out are its extravagant landscaped gardens. 

Located in Tremezzo, the 20-acre botanical gardens, named for the Princess of Prussia’s daughter Charlotte, were built at the end of the 17th century by Marquises Clerici of Milan. Inside, there’s a museum containing an impressive collection of art and artifacts that span over three centuries. On the second floor, you can visit a private apartment filled with the Princess’ furnishings and personal objects. 

Note: The gardens are completely wheelchair accessible (although some paths slope upwards) and dogs are permitted if kept on a leash.

Make a day of it in Varenna

Located on the eastern shore, the small village of Varenna was founded in the first century by a fisherman. Once the site of an ancient Roman forum, the town was destroyed by a rival municipality in the 12th century but eventually bounced back by taking in residents from a neighboring town who’d suffered the same fate. 

There are four small churches of note in Varenna. A wonderful example of 14th-century Lombard architecture, the Church of San Giorgio was consecrated in 1313. Set on the town’s main square, it boasts a lovely rose window, three naves, frescoes depicting scenes of St. Christopher, Hell with Satan and one thought to represent Pope Gregory. The Church of San Giovanni Battista is one of the oldest on the lake. Dating back to the 11th century, it contains 16th-century frescoes adorning the apse and the triumphal arch. If you look carefully on the wall facing south, you’ll see traces of Saint Christopher (with baby Jesus), Saint John the Baptist and Saint George on horseback. Construction began on the little oratory of San Marta in 1604 and was finally inaugurated in 1635. Inside this little Baroque church are important statues and religious paintings, along with an altar made of gilded wood set between two large spiral columns from nearby Villa Monastero (tel. +39 0341 295450).

Hikers can cut a path from the center of town to the castle perched high above. Start at Piazza San Giorgio until you’re connected to Vezio di Perledo (aka Wayfarer’s path) up about 160 meters (525 feet). Continue through the village of Vezio and climb up the hill to the castle. The views make the trek worth the effort. 

To get back to Varenna, descend along a shady cobblestone mule track next to the Hotel Montecodeno (Olivedo area).

After dinner in town, take a stroll along Varenna’s serene waterfront promenade.

Picnic on the banks of the shortest river in Italy

Just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Varenna is the town Fiumietto, home to the shortest river in Italy (hence its name, a diminutive form of fiume — river). 

The Fiumelatte (river of milk) measures 250 meters (820 feet) from its source to the lake. It appears seasonally — usually beginning its flow in March and mysteriously disappearing sometime in October. Barreling downhill over a series of rocks, it creates the foamy effect from which the “abbreviated river” gets its name. (Its curious nature caught the attention of Leonardo Da Vinci, who mentioned it in some of his writings.)

To get there, set out from Varenna’s Piazza San Giorgio and, in about 200 meters (656 feet) take Via Roma (cutting through a small cemetery). Ascend the small flight of stairs on the left until you reach a mule track at the top. Follow the trail, paralleling the lake, until you come to the unique waterway. A small picnic area is found on the right edge of the river.

A taste of Lake Como

Missoltini fish hanging out to dry
Missoltini fish hanging out to dry on Lake Como / Photo: Dellacquarita via Shutterstock

What to eat

No local “catch” in Lake Como is better than missoltino or missultin (in the area dialect). Made with sun-dried lake shad — a type of sardine — the fish is salted for several days and then hung out to dry. Once properly aged, the briny dish is typically served as an appetizer alongside slices of crusty bread.

Hearty lario (in Latin) or risotto con filetti di pesce persico is a creamy rice dish cooked with filets of freshwater perch found in many of the lakes in the north of Italy.

Another Larian tradition is polenta.The humble dish is made with corn or buckwheat flour, water and salt, which can be the main meal or served as a side dish. Enjoy it plain or combined with a number of ingredients. A popular version in these parts is called unica, made with cheese, garlic, sage and butter.

For a sweet offering, try La Miascia, a bread pudding-like dessert prepared with stale bread, apples, pears, raisins and liquor and served at room temperature.

What to drink

Rivo gin is an artisan spirit made with herbs and flowering botanicals hand-forages in the meadows surrounding the lake.

A lakeside favorite wine is Domasino. It comes in varieties of red, white and rose. 

Top events and festivals around Lake Como

In Como 

On Como’s Piazza San Fedele each Saturday is the Mercato dell’Artigianto e Antiquariato (crafts and antique market) selling vintage clothing, collectibles, housewares and furniture.

In Varenna

The International Naif Art Exhibition, dedicated to Pierantonio Cavalli, is held each year during the months of August and September. For information, visit the official Naif website.

Guide last updated by Toni DeBella, November 2022

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What others are saying about Lake Como

@panther asks:


My husband and I are celebrating our 30th  marriage anniversary in Lake Como in October. We would like to stay in a beautiful apartment that is near lake walks/hiking, cycling,  best restaurants  and lots of  town life.

@wddem asks:

My family and I have recently returned from a trip to Italy, which included time at Lake Como. We are of italian ancestry and are looking to purchase a small apartment on Lake Como. Any advice would be helpful.Best regards,Bill

@Ruddin asks:

Has anyone (non Italian resident) had recent experience of successfully getting an Italian mortgage for a new build or property in good condition?  How long did it take and are there any recommendations of lenders either in Italy or the UK that offer mortgages to non-residents.Thanks