What you need to know about visiting Lake Como, Italy
Surrounded by mountains and incredible local culture, it is quite easy to see why Lake Como (or Lago di Como as the locals call it) has become one of Italy’s most popular holiday destinations.
At just over an hour drive north of Milan, Lake Como has many things on offer and is a perfect way to spend a long weekend.
We visited Lake Como in early September and the weather was spectacular. It was cool in the evenings and warm during the day.
Interesting Facts about Lake Como
Lake Como has an area of 146 square km’s (56 square miles) which makes it the third largest lake in Italy. It is also one of the deepest lakes in Europe at over 400 metres (1, 300 feet) and to add to that, the bottom of the lake is actually more than 200 metres (660 feet) below sea level!
Getting to Lake Como
After arriving at Milan airport, we picked up our hire car and made our way to Lake Como, which is just over one hour drive north of Milan Airport. The drive was quite pleasant, we simply popped on google maps and we were on our way.
For more information on hiring a car in Europe, what to see in Milan or using your mobile phone abroad, click on the below links.
Deciding on where to stay at Lake Como
For us, we found it difficult to decide where on the Lake is a good place to stay. We had received feedback from friends and had read reviews about not staying in the touristy parts of Lake Como, but rather stay in the quieter villages.
The principal towns around the Lake are:
Other villages around the Lake that are easy to commute from include:
- Villa Carlotta
We stayed in Lenno, which is easily accessible by boat and a quick journey to the other villages on the Lake, including Bellagio and Varenna.
Lenno has a few lovely restaurants to choose from and a range of accommodation choices as well. If you’re after a nice quiet relaxing holiday, I would highly recommend Lenno.
Bellagio is the most popular, touristy part of Lake Como. It is lovely to visit and there is plenty of things to see but it often is more expensive (and busy) if you stay here.
Varenna is a much smaller town than Bellagio but is still equally as beautiful. The impressive Castello de Vezio is located in Varenna and will give you incredible views over Lake Como.
Getting around Lake Como
Getting around Lake Como is quite simple. If you’re staying at one of the villages that has a ferry terminal, then it is simple! There is a frequent boat service that connects the central resorts. The stops include Lenno, Tremezzo, Villa Carlotta, Cadenabbia, Menaggio, Bellagio and Varenna.
Some hotels have their own private boat that will shuttle you from the resort to Bellagio. However, if this isn’t an option for you, you can buy tickets at the ferry terminal from the person working behind the counter.
The ferry ride is by no means boring! Cruising up and down Lake Como is beautiful. You see some amazing hotels and residences and there is always something to look at!
Our arrival story…
There is a funny story that goes with our arrival to Lake Como. We arrived at our hotel, Hotel Britannia Excelsior which we had booked and paid for through hotels.com. We were really looking forward to our Lake View room and unwinding after a whirlwind 24 hours in Milan.
Upon arrival, the hotel asked for our passports (standard procedure) to process our check in. Jenna has at that moment, realised that the passports were sitting in the safe.. at the hotel… in Milan.. yep, we left the passports in Milan! So, it clearly wasn’t a good start to the day. That aside, the hotel started to process our check in and came out after a few minutes to tell us that there was a problem with the booking and they did not have a room for us. At this point, I was off somewhere doing something else and had left Jenna to get us checked in… Jenna remained calm and patient while they tried to explain what happened… They had then booked us into another hotel, a 5-minute drive down the road and had offered us the complimentary all inclusive package to their hotel. This meant we could use the multiple restaurants, pool bar and drinks package at no extra cost. We seemed happy with their effort and packed the car up again and drove down to our new accommodation.
To cut a very long story short, the new hotel turned out to be a 2-star room above a news agency and was far from our superior lake view room at the 4-star hotel with amazing amenities. We didn’t even check in. We rang the hotel back immediately and said it wasn’t good enough. But, they wouldn’t do anything for us. So, after around 3 hours on the phone to hotels.com to find an alternative accommodation (to which they offered us another place, on a different lake, in Switzerland!!) we decided to give up on hotels.com and book something directly through one of the local hotels ourselves!
This was the last time we ever booked with hotels.com and I would absolutely recommend booking directly with the hotel even if you do use hotels.com as the initial starting point for your hotel search.
What to do in Lake Como
Bellagio: Bellagio is probably the most famous villages around Lake Como. It is at the very tip between the two southern branches of the lake. We spent the most part of a full day here and really enjoyed ourselves. It has that true Italy feel about it with picturesque lanes, narrow roads and a range of restaurants to choose from, often spilling out on to the lane ways.
The beautiful thing about Bellagio is from the moment you step off the ferry, you feel like you’re in this remote village in Italy, not only an hour or so out of Milan! There are cobble stone lanes that rise up to reach the main street in the village.
It is a gorgeous lane where you can do some shopping and for us, we stumbled across the most incredible Christmas decoration shop. For those who don’t know, Jenna picks up a Christmas decoration at every city we visit, unless the culture simply doesn’t appreciate Christmas! It makes for a very exciting Christmas when we put up our tree and reminisce our amazing adventures. This Christmas shop was so special, a local had made all of the decorations in the store and was happy to make them to order! She even kindly added a few finer details on our ornaments for us.
The shop was near Bellagio’s main town square. You will find the town church, the Romanesque Basilica di San Giacomo, which is worth popping in to while you’re there.
From the main square, you can walk down to the parkland for a peaceful view over the lake. There is a nice restaurant there, but we preferred to be up where the action was happening and do some people (and ferry!) watching!
Varenna: Varenna is a picturesque village on the eastern shore of Lake Como looking towards Bellagio. What makes Varenna so appealing is the old fishermen’s houses and how everything is a little understated compared to Bellagio.
Our main reason for visiting Varenna was to visit Castello di Vezio and take in the beautiful view over Lake Como.
We decided to walk up to the castle, and quite possibly took the most scenic way possible! It sort of like a little hike or bush walk… took around twice as long as what it should have, but it was an experience we’ll never forget!
When you arrive at the Castle, and you are overlooking the lake, you forget about the interesting walk to get there.
There are really interesting birds you can take a look at while walking around the grounds, as well as climb up to the top of a turret for an even more beautiful view over Lake Como.
We then took the ‘easy’ walk back down to the village. We had hoped to stop off at the local waterfall, but given how dry their summer had been, we were told there was no water so we decided to continue our journey back to town.
Faro Voltiano, Brunate: After our drive back from Milan to pick up our forgotten passports(!), we decided to drive to Brunate to see Faro Voltiano. The drive, according to google maps is just under 30 minutes to drive the 9.7km. However, we weren’t expecting roadworks! Nor were we expecting roads that were so narrow, it didn’t look like a car could even get through! It was probably the most stressful, yet enjoyable drive we’ve ever done! There were points in the drive, where someone had to reverse down the narrow lane way so the other could pass, side mirrors had to be folded in to avoid damage… all I can say is I am glad we had our little Peugeot 208!
We finally made it to the lighthouse, only to find out it doesn’t open on a Monday!
Thankfully, the drive down we managed to follow a local so we just stuck behind them and we got down pretty quickly! From Como town centre, the drive back to Lenno took us around 45 minutes.
Where to stay
Following on from our above story, we stumbled across Residence Lenno and drove down to the main hotel, Albergo Lenno to see if they had availability. We ended up booking a full lake view apartment and it turned out to be more than perfect! The staff at the hotel were so accommodating and said that they have problems with some of the other hotels overbooking and leaving customers stranded.
The apartment was spacious, bed comfortable and the views were simply breathtaking.
In terms of location, it was a short 3-minute stroll to the ferry terminal which is a quick ride to Bellagio or Varenna. There is also a supermarket less than a 10-minute walk down the street to pick up some drinks and snacks.
Like most visitors at Lake Como, we had a car and Residence Lenno had free guest parking at the front of the hotel. This was extremely convenient because if you’ve seen how narrow the streets are, having a private parking lot is something you don’t take for granted!
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Residence Lenno and I would stay there again when we return to Lake Como.
Where to eat
Lenno: I loved eating at Lenno, it was so quiet and the restaurants were amazing and food delicious! Our favourite restaurant was Plinio which was located on the lake.
It was by far the most popular restaurant so we needed to book in advance for our dinner. I ordered fresh grilled fish and Jenna the spaghetti pomodoro. The service was really good, the food delicious and the views are perfect.
We also ate at Bar Sport. We both ordered Arrabbiata and it was delicious and really well priced too! You eat right on the water so the atmosphere is perfect.
Bellagio: We decided to eat at probably one of the most touristy restaurants in Lake Como, Hotel Excelsior Splendide! But, it was perfectly positioned right on the front, overlooking the lake and ferry terminal.
The food… I don’t know what else to say but YUM! I ordered the lamb Pappardelle and Jenna ordered the Lasagne. Both meals were delicious.
The dessert.. well, take a look at the pictures, it was the most incredible dessert we’ve ever had!
It is definitely worth eating here, just make sure you get a seat along the front of the restaurant so you have uninterrupted views!
Varenna: We stopped in at a little restaurant called Nilus Bar. We wanted something quick and easy before our walk up to the Castle.
I ordered a vegetable sandwich and Jenna a pizza. The food came out quickly, the service was fairly average. It was a pretty cheap meal so we can’t complain too much!
Do you have travel insurance?
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If you’re looking for alternative accommodation to either save some money or share with friends or family, click here for information on Air B&B ($50 discount on your first booking), hotel price comparison websites etc.
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley