Lake Como Travel Guide

Of all the Italian Lakes, it’s the forked Lake Como (Lago di Como) that comes most heavily praised. Wordsworth thought it is “a treasure which the earth keeps to itself”. Today, despite huge visitor numbers, the lake is still surrounded by abundant vegetation: zigzagging slowly between shores by boat can seem impossibly romantic. As well as lakeside villas to visit, there is also some great walking to be done in the mountainous hinterland hereabouts.

The best travel tips for visiting Lake Como

The principal towns, Como and Lecco, are at the southernmost tips of their own branches of the lake: Ramo di Como and Ramo di Lecco.

Narrow winding roads follow the shoreline above and through erstwhile fishermen’s villages past belle époque houses and Neoclassical villas up to the Centro Lago or centre of the lake. Here three small towns stand out as the highlight of the lakes: Varenna and Bellagio for unrepentant romantics, and Menaggio if you want a pleasant, affordable base for walking, swimming or cycling.

To the north, the Alto Lago is much more sedate, with the towns of Gravedona ed Uniti and Domaso making for good bases for sports enthusiasts, with hiking, mountain biking, windsurfing and sailing aplenty.

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Como city cathedral and city skyline © Shutterstock

Como city cathedral and city skyline © Shutterstock

What to do in Lake Como

From the Gothic-Renaissance fusion of The Duomo to taking the funicular up to the beautiful hilltop resort of Brunate, there’s plenty to do in Lake Como. These are the highlights.

#1 Go window shopping in Como

Standing astride main routes to and from Switzerland, Como is a comfortable, ancient town, much of its wealth coming from the factories dotted around the outskirts which produce luxury silk items for the fashion houses of Milan, Paris and New York.

The town reaches around a small bay at the southernmost tip of the western fork of the lake, but Como gets on with life relatively regardless of the lake and the visitors passing through.

At the centre of the bay, lakeside Piazza Cavour is bounded by hotels and the main ferry jetty. To the northwest the lakeside promenade curls through a pleasant park to Villa Olmo, while to the northeast the road curves round to the funicular station up to Brunate and on to Villa Geno.

Via Plinio leads back from Piazza Cavour to the tourist office and the eminently wanderable once-walled quarter: the crisscross of pedestrianised cobbled lanes reflect their Roman origins and offer the town’s main sight – the Duomo – plus plenty of window shopping and shady pavement cafés.

Villa Geno and fountain in Lake Como © Shutterstock

Villa Geno and fountain in Lake Como © Shutterstock

#2 Visit The Duomo, Italy’s best Gothic-Renaissance church

Work began on Como’s splendid Duomo in 1396, when Gothic held sway, but wasn’t completed until 1744, with the addition of a Baroque cupola. Today the church is reckoned to be Italy’s best example of Gothic-Renaissance fusion.

The fairy-tale pinnacles, rose windows and symbolic images are Gothic, while the rounded portals and statues of classical figures such as Pliny the Elder and Younger flanking the main door exemplify the Renaissance spirit. Inside, the Gothic aisles are hung with rich Renaissance tapestries, some woven with perspective scenes.

#3 See the Rationalist architecture of Palazzo Terragni (Ex Casa del Fascio)

In striking contrast to the town’s mediaeval buildings, across the train tracks behind the Duomo stands the definitive example of Rationalist architecture by Como-born Giuseppe Terragni.

Built as the headquarters for the local Fascist party in the 1930s, this light, deftly functional building is now dubbed Palazzo Terragni and houses the Guardia di Finanza. From a distance the angular building is almost transparent: you can see right through its loggia to the wooden hills behind.

Casa del Fascio (former National Fascist party seat) aka Palazzo Terragni designed by rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni © Shutterstock

Casa del Fascio (former National Fascist party seat) aka Palazzo Terragni designed by rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni © Shutterstock

#4 Chill out on the lakeside park

Northwest of Piazza Cavour, a lakeside park curves along the water; it’s currently being refurbished (and has been for several years) but it’s worth persevering past the hoardings and going in.

Inside the Tempio Voltiano, dedicated to Alessandro Volta, a Como man and pioneer in electricity who gave his name to the volt, there’s a small museum displaying some of his instruments. Next door, the stark Monumento ai Caduti, a memorial to the dead of World War I, was built by Terragni to the design of the Futurist architect Antonio Sant’Elia, who was killed in 1916 aged 28.

Ten minutes’ walk beyond, past the Seaplane hangar, the Villa Olmo is a Neoclassical pile which is compellingly illuminated at night. It hosts conferences and temporary exhibitions, but its gardens (open daily; free) are the biggest draw.

#5 Get the funicular to hilltop Brunate

From the base station of the funicular northwest from Piazza Cavour, it takes seven minutes to creep up the hillside past the gardens of wonderful nineteenth-century villas to Brunate, a small hilltop resort that has a few bars and restaurants and great views of the lake. It is also a good starting point for hikes – from a couple of hours to a two-day trip along mule paths to Bellagio; the tourist office has details of routes.

Funicular climbing from Lake Como, amazing view from Brunate, Como, Italy © Shutterstock

Funicular climbing from Lake Como, amazing view from Brunate, Como, Italy © Shutterstock

Best places to stay in Lake Como

It is highly advisable to make a reserve well in advance at Lake Como, especially in Como, Bellagio and Varenna. If all our out, try Lugano and smaller towns on the western shore. Here are the best places to stay in Lake Como.


With elegant villas and a run of charming hotels, Bellagio provides a central location to explore both the eastern and western shores of the lake.


On the eastern shore of Lake Como, directly across from Bellagio, Varenna has loads of accommodation options but gets very busy at the weekends.


Located at the southwestern tip of the lake, Como is the largest town on Lake Como and the ideal base for exploring the region. It’s also the priciest area.


On the western shore of Lake Como, Menaggio is another popular place to stay with a couple of decently-priced guesthouses being the main draw.


Luxurious Tremezzo is where to blow your dough on five-star hotels and upscale villas.

Explore more accommodation options to stay near Lake Como.

Alexander Volta monument in the Como city © Shutterstock

How to get around

By boat

Boats stop at many villages on the lake, supplemented by car ferries shuttling from Cadenabbia and Menaggio across to Bellagio and Varenna.

By bus and train

The #C10 bus runs northwards from Como, stopping everywhere on the shoreline to Colico, from where the train takes you back to Lecco and the #C40 bus to Como. The #C30 links Como and Bellagio.

By car

The lakeside roads are busy and narrow, and there are pay and display car parks on the edge of all the villages.

How many days do you need in Lake Como?

To see the best of Loke Como you will only need 2 to 3 days here. With 2 to 3 days, you can visit the main towns of Como, Bellagio, Varenna, and Menaggio and have time to take boat trips on the lake, too. Three days is also enough time to explore the beautiful villas and gardens and head up to Brunate on the funicular.

Lecco colorful square view, Como Lake, Lombardy region of Italy © Shutterstock

Lecco colorful square view, Como Lake © Shutterstock

What is the best time to visit Lake Como?

The best time to visit Lake Como is during spring (April to May) and early autumn (September to October). The weather is generally pleasant, with milder temperatures and fewer tourists in the towns compared to the peak summer months.

In spring, you'll witness the blooming of flowers and trees, creating a picture-perfect setting around the lake. The weather is usually comfortable for wandering through Como, taking boat rides, and checking out the manicured gardens. Early autumn also has favourable weather conditions with warm temperatures and little chance of rain. The trees around the lake also start to pop in red, yellows and oranges.

While summer (June to August) attracts more tourists due to school holiday and warmer weather, it is also a very popular time to visit Lake Como. Expect higher accommodation prices and larger crowds. Book well in advance.

Find out more about the best time to visit Italy.

War memorial on shore of Lake Como © Shutterstock

How to get here

By plane

There are a handful of direct trains to Como San Giovanni railway station from Milan-Malpensa Airport (every 2hr; 1hr30min). Trains to Como Nord Lago involve a change at Saronno (hourly; 1hr20min).

By train

The main train station is Como San Giovanni (Como S.G.), on the fast line from Milano Centrale to Chiasso and also served by several trains from Milano Garibaldi.

The station lies about a 10min walk west of the centre. Como Nord Lago station – the terminus of a line from Milano Nord/Cadorna – stands on the lakefront Piazza Matteotti, alongside the old quarter and the bus station.

By bus

The bus station is right on the water on Piazza Matteotti. Services link Como with the lake’s western shore (#C10); Bellagio (#C30); Lecco (#C40/#D41); and Bergamo (#C46/#D46).

By ferry

Boats dock at the jetties on Piazza Cavour, where you also buy tickets. There are regular services to all points along the lake as well as fast aliscafi services. In summer, private companies run evening cruises and day-trips around Centro Lago, the centre of the lake. In winter boats operate around the first basin only.

Plan your trip to Lake Como with our guide book to Italy.

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 19.09.2023

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