Self-Guided Trip to Lake Como
It’s so easy to fall in love with Lake Como’s beautiful landscape. Framed by the foot of the Alps and the glistening water, Lake Como has a distinctive inverted “Y” shape that was carved out of the mountains by an ancient glacier. Photographs don’t do justice to the old villages, historic churches, magnificent villas, and lush gardens that dot this breathtaking landscape.
Known as a luxury resort town, and the stomping grounds of George Clooney and celebrities, Lake Como is surprisingly tourist friendly. Lake Como is worth visiting as the main destination or for a few days on your next trip to Italy. Here’s what you need to know to take a self-guided trip to Lake Como.
Taking the Ferry in Lake Como
The ferry offers the best perspective of the villages and the villas, barely-visible from the road, can be seen in all its glory from the lake. There are also water taxis and private boats for hire if you don’t want to take the ferry.
Ferry tickets can be purchased directly at the counter for services offered by Navigazione Lago di Como steamboat company. There are a lot of times and routes available. For a one-day visit, take the high-speed ferry to any of the lake towns. Starting from Como, the ferry will make stops, and you can explore any of the towns along the way. We took the high-speed ferry to Bellagio (14.80€) making stops in Argegno, Lenno, and Tremezzo.
Which Towns to Visit
Como’s location on the southern end of the lake is a perfect starting point when visiting the area. Founded by the Romans, Como is a historic city that has inspired some brilliant minds in the past, including Alessandro Volta, and many composers like Wagner, Liszt, Rossini, and Verdi.
You could easily spend an entire day just in Como. There are many neoclassical villas along the west shore of Lake Como along a path called the “romantic promenade.” Many of the villas are now museums and are surrounded by elegant gardens. Check out Villa Carminati, Villa Saporiti, and Villa Gallia. Many villas offer free admission; others charge a nominal fee to contribute to the upkeep. At the end of the romantic promenade, is the famous Villa Olmo – there is a beach next to Villa Olmo with a pool, cafe, and public park. You can also swim in the lake, and there are beach umbrellas and loungers for rent.
Visit Como’s city center to see historical attractions such as the Cathedral featuring a gothic facade, the Civic Museums and Art Galleries. Visit the Silk Museum to see Como’s past in the textile industry.
Brunate is known as the “balcony” of the Alps. Ride the funicular up to Brunate to enjoy striking views of Lake Como and the Alps.
Cernobbio is one of the main tourist resort areas along the lake. You can take a leisurely walk of about 40 minutes to Cernobbio or take the ferry or bus. Here, you’ll find some of the most well-known villas of Lake Como: Villa Erba was the filming location for Ocean’s Twelve and a Gwen Stefani music video; Villa d’Este is now a luxury hotel with a starting price tag of 1000€ per night; Villa Pizzo is where my fave celebrities John Legend and Chrissy Teigen got married!
Talk about prime real estate. Villa del Balbianello, one of the famous villas in Lake Como, sits right on the edge of the lake and has terraced gardens. The balcony is where Padme and Anakin kissed in Star Wars Episode 2 and Casino Royale was also filmed here. Admission is 20€ to see the villa and gardens without a reservation.
This picturesque little village is enclosed by sheer mountains and the lakeside promenade.
Bellagio is Lake Como’s most famous town. Elegant boutiques and art shops line the narrow laneways and it’s where we spent the most time. Its location at the juncture where Lake Como splits 3-ways offers spectacular scenery.
By the time we got to Bellagio, we were starving for lunch! We walked up a flight of stairs from the ferry dock and came upon a cute restaurant called La Fontana Bellagio (Via Centrale 7). The creamy carbonara and pear, walnut, and parm salad really hit the spot. The owner was super helpful with giving us tourist tips.
It was already mid-afternoon by the time we finished lunch. We headed straight for Salita Serbelloni, the famous street for the iconic, postcard shot of Bellagio. Pro photo tip: the lighting around 3 PM was not great as it was too bright on one side. We spent the rest of the day walking around Bellagio, had gelato and espresso snack before calling it a day.
This is a charming little fishing village on the east side of the lake. The most notable attraction is Villa Monastero and a promenade along the lake. Varenna also has a train station and it’s where we took the train back to Milan.
Villa Carlotta, another famous villa on the lake is located in Tremezzo. You can visit the neoclassical interiors, the art collection, and admire the gardens. Visit the gardens in the spring when the beautiful pink rhododendrons and azaleas bloom. Admission is 9€.
When in Lake Como, you should have polenta made of yellow wheat or buckwheat. This famous dish is served with meat, fish or cheese. The traditional fish is misultitt (a dried fish), trout, pike, and perch served with risotto. If you’re a huge Chrissy Teigen fan like me, you’ll also have to try the cacio e pepe!
How to Get to Lake Como from Milan
Read about taking the train to Lake Como from Milan.
Have you been to Lake Como? What were your favourite spots?