Call me spoiled, but the first place I ever visited abroad was the beautiful Lake Como, Italy. I had planned to be in Europe for almost a month visiting a variety of different countries, but knew Lake Como was where I wanted to start. Even though it’s a relaxing, laidback destination, I loved how many things to do in Lake Como I found.
Let me tell you, if you ever need to relax, this is the place to go. You’re surrounded by the stunning lake and mountains, and it’s not a loud tourist destination.
People have been coming to Lake Como since Roman times to get away for vacation. There are many famous villas on the lake, including ones owned by celebrities such as George Clooney and Richard Branson (I saw both!). The lake is in an upside-down “Y” shape, with the town of Como being on the southwest part and Lecco being on the southeast part.
There are four different main cities surrounding the lake. Como is at the very bottom but is more of a busy city (I think I even saw a McDonalds – not the type of cuisine I had in mind in Italy!). You’ll want to stay at Bellagio, Menaggio, or Varenna further up the lake.
Bellagio is in the middle of the Y and is known for being posher than the other towns. The other two main towns, Mennagio (west side of Bellagio) and Varenna (northeast side of Bellagio), form a triangle which is connected by an efficient ferry system that runs hourly.
If you’ll be staying in Italy for one week, you’ll want to spend at least a few days visiting Lake Como. Here’s a guide on how to get around.
How to Get to Lake Como
If you’re coming from the US (especially the West Coast), chances are you’ll be flying into Frankfurt, Germany and taking a connecting flight to Milan. I got a private driver to drive me the hour up the lake, as the price was good when split with other people. Book one in advance for the best rates.
You can also take a train from Milan to Como and take a bus up from there, or directly to Varenna and take a ferry to the town you’re staying in.
Where to Stay in Lake Como
I stayed in the Bellagio area and loved it. For a mid-priced hotel with a view, I recommend Hotel Bellagio. This is possibly one of my favorite hotels ever. While the accommodations are basic, if you request a room with a balcony, the view is absolutely incredible. I loved sleeping every night with the door open and having the cool breeze come in.
If you’re looking for more of a luxurious stay, you’ll love the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. Everything about it is glamorous, from the rooms to the lounges. They have an outdoor restaurant with a view of the lake, which is the perfect place to have dinner or a glass of wine. There’s also a pool in case the lake is too cold for you to swim in.
Read more: Where to Stay in Lake Como
Best Things to Do in Lake Como
Here are some of my recommended things to do in Lake Como!
1. Visit Villa del Balbianello
Besides spotting George Clooney, the other famous sighting of the lake is Villa del Balbianello. It’s been featured in many famous movies, including Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones and James Bond’s Casino Royale.
I rented a boat and drove out as close as I could get to see it. You can tour the villa, as well as rent it out for events like weddings. It was built in 1787 and has had multiple owners, but now is with the National Trust of Italy. You’ll want to add this to your top list of things to do in Lake Como.
2. Have a Picnic on Your Balcony
Forget picnics on the grass – the balcony is where it’s at! If you go at a time that isn’t peak season, the prices are fairly decent for lake view rooms. The view from my room could not be more amazing.
Every night I slept with the doors open to let the cool air in and had espresso in the morning on my balcony while people-watching. This is one of the cheapest things to do in Lake Como, so it’s great for any budget.
My absolute favorite meal from the trip was grabbing a bottle of red wine from the deli down the street and getting a salad and pasta dish to go from a restaurant.
I’d much rather have a view of the lake instead of staring at the wall in a restaurant. It can be cheaper to do it this way instead of sitting at the restaurant and ordering more.
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3. Go Shopping
Since it is a tourist town, most people speak basic English. Not all shop owners know English though, so just point at what you want if it’s behind the counter.
They have a pretty wide selection of boutique shops, designer shops, and some regular (affordable) stores to choose from.
I got some beautiful locally made dresses and jewelry, and only stopped myself from buying more since it was the start of my long trip. I still get compliments on them and love to tell people they’re from Lake Como, Italy when they ask.
4. Kayak Around the Lake
After you’ve laid around enough and that bottle of wine is empty, it’s time to get up and be active. I took a tour of the lake when I was there by kayak, which was a fun way to see the lake. The tour tells you the history of the people and the lake and points out what you’re passing by. The lake is typically pretty calm, so even if you’re a beginner kayaker you’ll get around just fine.
5. Take the Ferry
The ferry goes to a handful of different towns around the lake, but the most popular are Bellagio, Menaggio, and Varenna. Varenna is smaller, but is where you’ll catch the train if you’re going to Milan or north to another country.
Menaggio is a larger town full of plenty of restaurants and shops, while Bellagio is a good place to shop and then grab a nice dinner on one of the lakeside restaurants.
Lake Como, Italy is a beautiful destination. Tremezzo is one of its most popular spots. There are plenty of things to do in Lake Como but almost nothing beats experiencing Tremezzo’s Art Nouveau style. This little settlement offers a lot to any visitor, especially gorgeous views.
Grand Hotel Tremezzo is a spot worth checking out. It’s extremely pricey but the restaurant and the unparalleled views are definitely worth experiencing for yourself.
7. Take a Cruise
If you’re not sure on what to do in Lake Como, then definitely consider taking a cruise. It’s the best way to see the beauty of Lake Como, Italy. These cruises depart from several lakeside locations, like Varenna, Bellagio, and Como.
Although you can get good views by using the ferry, nothing beats a cruise that will take you to the best locations. It’s one of the most worthwhile things to do in Lake Como.
8. Visit Pionna Abbey
Abazzia di Piona is a very old Lombard Gothic religious complex. It was originally constructed in the 7th century but was rebuilt in the 12th. The bell tower is one of the last additions which was built in the 17th century.
Seeing the old frescoes here is one of the best things to do in Lake Como. There’s just a unique sense of serenity around the abbey which is ideal for those unsure on what to do in Lake Como.
9. Jungle Raider Park
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure, then this is one of the best things to do in Lake Como. It has different paths, ziplines, bungee jumping, and so much more.
This is the spot to visit when you’re figuring out what to do in Lake Como. It’s adrenaline-filled but also family friendly. It has some paths that are aimed towards children. It’s one of the best things to do in Lake Como.
10. Sant’Abbondio Basilica
If you’re interested in history, then this is one of the finest things to do in Lake Como. This old church dates back to the 5th century but it’s been added on throughout the centuries.
Visitors can even tell which part was added later on. Lake Como, Italy is filled with plenty of spots like this but the basilica takes the cake. It’s the oldest church of its type in the region and definitely worth a visit.
11. Museum Moto Guzzi
This museum is dedicated to the history of Italian motorcycles. It has no admission fee and is one of the most interesting things in Lake Como, Italy. It’s perfect for motorcycle enthusiasts.
If you’re not sure what do in Lake Como while you’re in Mandello del Lario, make sure to check it out. It’s definitely worth it.
12. Botanic Gardens at Hotel Villa Cipressi
The botanic gardens are an old historic building from the 14th century. While the rest of the complex belongs to the hotel, the botanic gardens are open to the public. They’re one of the most beautiful things in Lake Como, Italy.
Besides the already gorgeous surroundings, you’ll overlook the rest of the lake. Definitely considering seeing them when you’re figuring out what to do in Lake Como is a must.
13. Forte di Fuentes
This fort is absolutely a must if you’re interested in history. It’s one of the few remaining historic buildings from the era when Spain ruled this region. It’s from the 17th century and one of the most unique buildings around Lake Como, Italy.
Forte di Fuentes used to be an important stronghold in the past and it was a rather large military complex. It also included its own church and even had a sizeable gathering square.
14. Sentiero del Viadante
Fans of hiking should definitely consider this spot when they’re figuring out what to do in Lake Como. It’s a gorgeous location with a stunning backdrop and it’s quite lengthy too. It stretches for over 45 kilometers, so it’s not an easy hike to do.
This path will take you along the eastern side of the lake and you’ll definitely want to do the whole hike. The sheer natural beauty is absolutely worth the time you’ll spend hiking this long trail.
15. Rent a Boat
Renting a boat on Lake Como is a great way to see just how big the lake is. I rented one for half the day, which I found was the perfect amount of time.
There are so many small villages on the lake to explore. The lake also many small churches on the outskirts of the towns that have been used for hundreds and hundreds of years.
I recommend making your way to the bottom of the lake and viewing the bustling city of Como, which is much more populated than the rest of the towns along the lake. You can bring your own food and drinks on the boat as well.
Lake Como Tours
Looking for a guided tour? Check out some of these so you don’t have to do any of the work planning your day!
Lake Como Classic Tour
This is one of the perfect Lake Como tours for those that want to experience the lake in one day. You won’t even have to book a hotel. You’ll explore the lake’s most popular destinations, like Como, Bellagio, and Varenna.
You’ll see many things along its shore and you’ll stop at a few key locations so that you’ll get a feel of the place. It’s a small tour so that the experience will be fairly intimate. You can check out the tours in this link.
Lake Como Day Trip
If you want to experience the full beauty of the region, then this is one of the best Lake Como tours. You’ll get to see historic buildings like the Sant’Abbondino basilica, and Villa Olmo.
A two-hour cruise of the lake is a great way to sightsee the region as much as possible. Check it out here.
Views of Lake Como
This is one of the finest Lake Como tours. You’ll get to explore the charming villages and towns along the coast, and experience the beautiful lakeside views. This tour takes an entire day, which gives excellent value for your time.
You’ll also have a personalized experience as your private tour guide will show you the best parts of the lake and its surroundings. You can view the tours here.
Wine Tasting Tour
Italian wines are an exquisite delicacy. On this Lake Como tour, you’ll get to explore and experience the process behind making these fine wines. You’ll tour the wine cellars of the winery, and you’ll sample some of its finest wines. Check out the wine tours here.
Cruise and Dinner on the Lake
There are few things as calming as having dinner while cruising a beautiful lake. That’s exactly what this tour is about. You’ll enjoy the stunning backdrop of the lake and the Alps while you’re having an exquisitely cooked dinner.
You’ll also get to hear tales about the history of the region, which is always a nice bonus. You can enjoy this tour by checking out this link.
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