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A favorite vacation spot for more than a century, Lake Como was once an exclusive retreat for local aristocrats and wealthy people. It is not only one of Europe's most beautiful lakes, but also one of the deepest at more than 400 m (1,300 ft). Surrounded by elegant villas, the lake has become a popular holiday destination for tourists because of its range of attractions, from landscapes, wildlife, and spas, to activities like sailing, windsurfing, and kite-surfing. The area has been an inspiration for artists since Roman times. English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote, "This lake exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty…It is long and narrow and has the appearance of a mighty river winding among the mountains and the forests." Take a look at our Italy online day trip planner to refine the details of your trip to Lake Como.
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Top Lake Como tours
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Places to visit in Lake Como
ComoTrip planner Best for: Church, Religious Site, Monument BellagioTrip planner Best for: Garden, Kayaking / Canoeing, Nightlife VarennaTrip planner Best for: Architectural Building, Hiking Trail, Church ColicoTrip planner Best for: Religious Site, Military Museum, Ruin VezioTrip planner Best for: Castle
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Lake Como Holiday Planning GuideLake Como was once an exclusive retreat for local aristocrats and the wealthy. It is not only one of Europe's most beautiful lakes, but also one of the deepest at more than 400 m (1,300 ft). Surrounded by elegant villas, the lake has become a popular holiday destination for tourists, with a range of attractions, from its beautiful landscapes and abundant wildlife to activities like sailing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing. The area has been an inspiration for artists since Roman times. English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote, "This lake exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty…It is long and narrow and has the appearance of a mighty river winding among the mountains and the forests."
Places to Visit on Lake ComoComo: Home to medieval-era city walls, Roman architecture, plazas, and some of northern Italy's most beautiful churches, the charming lakeside town is many visitors' first stop in the region and stands as one of the nation's top places to visit.
Bellagio: Set at the meeting point of Lake Como's two branches, Bellagio boasts a romantic atmosphere that shines through even the densest tourist crowds, accented by the town's pastel buildings.
Tremezzina: Known primarily for its stunning Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo bursts with color from both its buildings and the surrounding lush landscape.
Varenna: Colorful Varenna entices visitors with its array of brightly painted homes, dramatic mountain backdrop, romantic castle ruins, and an idyllic position nestled between forested slopes and shimmering water of the lake.
Cernobbio: Laid-back Cernobbio features luxurious villas along its waterfront, along with a host of posh cafes with spectacular views.
Menaggio: Once an important town along a vital Roman road, Menaggio still bears the legacy of its imperial past in the form of Roman ruins.
Colico: A transport hub for ferries and road traffic around the rest of the lake, Colico stands out for its windsurfing, medieval watchtowers, and proximity to several spectacular castles and fortresses.
Griante: Beloved by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow and Giuseppe Verdi, Griante features rocky outcroppings, forested hills, and secluded churches, along with a tiny harbor ringed with brightly colored buildings.
Brunate: Popular for its accommodation options and hilltop position overlooking Como, Brunate houses a famous funicular and offers stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Lenno: Travelers flock to Lenno to visit the spectacular Villa Balbianello, but this slow-paced town also features a lovely central plaza, lengthy lakefront promenade, and waterfront cafes.
Things to Do on Lake Como
Popular Lake Como Tourist AttractionsVilla Carlotta: This lakeside mansion doubles as a museum showcasing a collection of intricate statues, artistic masterpieces, and regional artifacts.
Villa del Balbianello: The elaborate Villa Balbianello boasts lush gardens, rich 18th-century architecture, and a romantic position on a private peninsula.
Funicolare Como-Brunate: Stretching 1,084 m (0.6 mi) from the shores of Lake Como up to the town of Brunate, Funicular Railway whisks visitors to a hilltop vantage point to enjoy stunning panoramic views of the area.
i Giardini di Villa Melzi: An outstanding and extensively landscaped lakeside gem overflows with colorful plants, sculptures, and artifacts, and enjoys a sweeping lake panorama.
Cathedral of Como (Duomo): A hodgepodge of Gothic, Renaissance, and Romanesque architectural styles, the stately cathedral and its 75 m (246 ft) dome tower above the surrounding buildings, and showcase an array of tapestries and stone sculptures.
Villa Monastero: Formerly a convent, Villa Monastero retains a subdued elegance on the outside; inside, you'll find extravagantly decorated rooms full of colorful furniture.
Villa Olmo: Famed for its public gardens, the neoclassical Villa Olmo lies a pleasant walk away from the town of Como.
Orrido di Bellano: Millions of years of erosion by a cascading waterfall resulted in the towering, rocky crevasse of Orrido di Bellano.
Castello di Vezio: Rising from the trees above Varenna, the 12th-century Castello di Vezio once stood guard over the area as a piece of a regional defense system; now, it hosts birds of prey.
Abbazia di Piona: Thought to date from as early as the 7th century, the picture-perfect Abbazia di Piona sits atop an idyllic peninsula, featuring a Gothic-style tower, ancient frescoes and ruins, and a jaw-dropping view of the lake.
Planning a Lake Como Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit on Lake Como with KidsComo hosts many attractions and places to visit, and makes a good first stop on any Lake Como family vacation.
You can spend time just wandering the streets and enjoying lakeside views with the kids, within easy reach of many of the lake's other points of interest. Bellagio, Lenno, Varenna, and Menaggio also feature accommodations and things to do, albeit on a smaller scale.
It's important to remember that many smaller towns and villages may be centered around one or two attractions, so stringing together several population centers on your Lake Como trip is often a viable option.
Smaller villages like Tavernerio can be good places to mingle with locals, somewhat removed from the crowds even at the height of tourist season.
Menaggio also makes for an interesting choice, as the kids can stretch their legs along the waterfront and explore the old town. It's a pleasant ferry ride across the lake to nearby Varenna.
Things to Do on Lake Como with KidsLake Como's towns and villages feature a wide array of historical attractions, from the medieval splendor of Cathedral of Como (Duomo) and Abbazia di Piona to the extravagance of Villa Carlotta.
Nearly every town of note around the lake boasts its own lido, or waterfront area, perfect spots for dining and strolling. Many also have their own beaches, pools, and water activities, such as water trampolines and water skiing, to keep the kids entertained. Lido di Menaggio is a notable example with a sandy beach with volleyball courts and kids' play areas.
You'll have countless options when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors on your Lake Como trip. In addition to gorgeous views of snow-capped mountains, green hills, and historic towns you'll have from just about anywhere along the shoreline, a series of nature trails around the lake offers great hiking opportunities.
Trekking up the hill to Castello di Vezio makes a good combination of nature and history, and the family can indulge in a pleasant forest walk and a stroll through the nearby medieval town on the way. At the top, the fairytale-like castle complex is sure to delight young minds, and the owl and falconry shows give rare insight into an ancient pastime and the majestic creatures that make it possible.
Grab funicular from Como up to Brunate and watch the kids' jaws drop at the amazing vista, or head for Orrido di Bellano for a daring exploration of a deep rock canyon.
Fans of the James Bond and Star Wars movies will love Villa del Balbianello, which was a setting in the films. If you prefer a water-based sightseeing adventure, you can hop aboard one of the area's many boat tours, which offer varying combinations of loops and routes around the lake.
To get the family up and about a bit more, Jungle Raider Park in Civenna is a fantastic option for an adventurous day out. Complete with long networks of treetop ziplines, intricate obstacle courses, and even some thrilling bungee jumps, this is one extreme experience.
Both Griante and Mandello del Lario boast extensive public parks and play areas complete with swings, soccer goals, slides, and wide-open green space.
Menaggio also has plenty of sports arenas and fields, along with a playground featuring jungle gyms and the like, while Cernobbio and Como also have city play areas of their own.
Tips for a Family Vacation on Lake ComoTransportation links in the area are good, both by road and by ferry, so when searching for family-friendly accommodations don't feel overly pressured to stay in a major town.
Sightseeing in Lake Como will keep you very busy, and in the warmer months in particular it can often be nice to just kick back and relax for a few hours along the shoreline. Letting the kids splash around in the water while you hang out on the sand can be a great way to recharge and let the little ones stretch their legs.
Keep in mind that some town beaches and swimming areas charge a fee for entry and sunbeds, so if you're traveling with a larger group consider making your way to a free swimming spot.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday on Lake Como
Cuisine of Lake ComoIn the heart of Lombardy, Lake Como features a fusion of cuisines that's much less typically Italian than you might expect.
Plenty of Italian favorites like pizza and pasta are commonplace, but this is mainly thanks to tourism. Lombard cuisine is actually very different from southern Italian fare, focusing more on meat-based dishes similar to those of Austria and Central Europe rather than the tomato-based food of southern Italy.
You’ll find a great deal of rice in Lombard food, with risotto one of the region's mainstays. Polenta (cornmeal) dishes are also very common, combined with a variety of toppings.
Fans of schnitzel will enjoy the omnipresent cotoletta which, like the famous Germanic dish, consists of breaded, flattened veal. The Lombard version is traditionally cooked and served with the small rib bone still attached. Accompanied by roast potatoes and a slice of lemon, cotoletta is a hearty favorite.
In the colder winter months, chow some warming cassoeula, a stew-like dish made up of cabbage, root vegetables, and plenty of tasty pork. The influence of nearby Milan has also contributed a great deal to the cuisine of Lake Como, notably through the popularity of ossobuco, veal braised with wine, typically accompanied by risotto. Around Christmas, try panettone, a delicious northern Italian holiday cake made with candied citrus fruits and raisins.
The natural bounty of the lake itself has long influenced local fare, so be sure to try local fish caught fresh from its sparkling waters. Pike, perch, shad, and whitefish are all common catches.
You'll find local fish accompanied by polenta and risotto, as well as marinated in combinations of vinegar, parsley, and other herbs.
One regional standout, known locally as agoni, is a small fish related to carp, which is caught and often fried up in a light batter of egg, sage, and butter and then breaded. Ask for the fritto misto di lago (fried lake fish mix) to try this delectable specialty. For an alternative typical dish, try missoltini, essentially a sun-dried and pressed agoni that's then grilled to release its flavor.
When you're ready for a break from sightseeing in Lake Como, stop by a stand or shop to grab some delicious gelato. Few things can cool you down on a hot day or revitalize you on a cold one like this colorful, classically Italian treat. Alternatively, opt for an espresso, local beer, or Italian wine on one of the area's many town waterfronts.
Shopping on Lake ComoMajor towns feature a diverse array of boutiques and high-end chains selling a variety of products, from designer clothes to luxury home accoutrements.
The region is also famous for its silk products, though these won't come cheap. Take a look at Azalea for some truly exquisite designs.
Cosmetic collectors may want to consider stopping Profumeria Bellagio, famous for its designer skin products, upscale perfumes, and massive selection of personal cosmetics.
While on your Lake Como vacation, reserve some time for exploring the region's many markets. Wares include everything from homemade salami and fresh produce to aged cheese and household goods.
The region's olive oil is particularly famous, so grab some "bottled gold" to add some quality flavors to your own cooking. Como, Lenno, Menaggio, Domaso, and Colico host sizable markets, and all are worth a look.
Check out the antique market that springs up during the weekend in front of Basilica di San Fedele to see if you can get your hands on a real vintage gem, or simply enjoy a leisurely browse.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Lake Como
History of Lake ComoAbsorbed by Rome just before the start of the first millennium CE, Lake Como became an important crossroads during Roman times, with trade passing through the area. The town of Como itself, once in the mountains, was relocated to where it now stands on the orders of Julius Caesar himself.
Revered even then for its mountains and unusual geographic features, Lake Como became a destination of choice for Roman elites, and was notably the birthplace and residence of famed Roman scientists Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger.
Consider adding Civic Archaeological Museum (Civico Museo Archeologico P. Giovio) or Como History Museum (Museo Storico G. Garibaldi) to your Lake Como itinerary to learn more about the region's pre-Roman and Roman periods, as well as to view a variety of relevant artifacts and exhibits.
In the 500s, the region fell to the conquering Lombards. Despite the conquest, a small Roman stronghold clung to existence as a bastion of resistance and culture on Isola Comacina, the ruins of which are still visible to visitors.
Charlemagne wrested Lake Como from the Lombards' grasp in 774, embroiling it in contentious regional politics of the era. Cities across the region formed a sort of loose conglomeration of self-governing states known as the Lombard League during the early medieval period, becoming wealthy and developed thanks to their position at a crossroads of commerce and trade.
Remnants of this turbulent period can still be found throughout the surroundings of Lake Como, including the defensive fortifications built by Barbarossa. You can get a glimpse of the last remaining structure at Baradello Castle, an ancient Roman fortification later restored to protect Como.
Beginning in the 15th century, Lake Como endured invasion and conquest by various Continental powers, ruled first by France, then Habsburg Spain, and then passing to Austria until falling to Napoleon in 1796. This period brought in many wealthy nobles. Each successive owner brought their own unique influences to local architecture and design, modifying older buildings and creating bastions of wealth and excess.
Cernobbio's Villa d'Este was constructed in the 1560s for Tolomeo Gallio, a local religious figure, and later passed to English nobility, who modified and extended the gardens.
Just over a century later, Marquis Giorgio Clerici commissioned Villa Carlotta. It was later purchased by German Princess Marianne of Nassau, who helped create its beautiful surrounding gardens.
Between the 17th and 19th centuries, other extravagant works like Villa Olmo and Parco di Villa Serbelloni also began to grace Lake Como's shores. You can see the influence of international elites on the region by adding these impressive estates to your Lake Como itinerary. Alternatively, you can view the impressive Volta Temple, dedicated to scientist and inventor of the electric battery, Alessandro Volta.
Since the end of World War II, Lake Como has developed into one of the most visited and renowned tourist destinations in Italy. Wealthy people and celebrities from around the world continue to make their home in the region, with villas belonging to famous names lining the lake's idyllic shores.
Landscape of Lake ComoCarved out by a glacier millions of years in the past, magnificent Lake Como is one of Europe's deepest lakes at 400 m (1,300 ft).
Shaped by the surrounding Grigna Mountains and the snow-capped peaks of the Rhaetian Alps, which provide much of the area's jaw-dropping alpine scenery, Lake Como resembles a giant, upside-down "Y," with its two "legs" extended to the southwest and southeast.
Bellagio lies on the natural meeting point of the two legs, resting atop a peninsula.
Providing the backdrop for the area's villas, thickly forested mountains seem to extend straight down to the water's edge in many places, leaving just a tiny strip of shoreline for construction. The hills also provide great vantage points for fortifications and retreats.
At 47 km (29 mi) long and 4 km (2.5 mi) across at its widest point, Lake Como is also one of Italy's largest bodies of water. While on your trip to Lake Como, you may even get a chance to make your way out to the lake's small island, ancient Isola Comacina.
Holidays & Festivals on Lake ComoLake Como celebrates major Catholic and Western holidays throughout the year, including New Year, Lent and Easter, and Christmas. You'll find plenty of fanfare surrounding these events in Lake Como. Services are held regularly in the region's churches, including Cathedral of Como (Duomo).
The yearly Lake Como Festival, run by the Amadeus Arte foundation, takes place over the course of spring and summer (usually between April and the end of June), and celebrates classical music and other arts with a series of concerts, often held around some of the lake's famous villas.
The Lake Como Film Festival, held in July, features a series of productions, documentaries, and projects from around the world, shown in a variety of locations around the region.
In Bellagio, the annual Bellagio Festival is a glitzy affair in which performers and artists from around the globe show off orchestral and musical performances in a variety of settings.
Around the region, there are also plenty of smaller festivals and celebrations dedicated to a range of culinary, musical, and other interests, as well as a world-class concert schedule. Keep an eye out on your Lake Como trip for signboards, posters, and other ads promoting local events.
Lake Como Travel Tips
Climate of Lake ComoLake Como enjoys generally mild weather throughout the year. This microclimate results in weather somewhat similar to that of the Mediterranean, with subtropical plants in bloom all through the year and relatively warm temperatures.
Rain is somewhat rare, usually arriving in the form of cloudbursts and brief thunderstorms--sustained drizzle is not something you're likely to find on your trip to Lake Como.
Though the surrounding mountains can be frigid and snowy in wintertime, the lake itself keeps the surrounding area warmer through the coldest months. All of these mild-to-warm temperatures mean that the lake itself can often reach pleasant levels on the thermometer, rising to temperatures of around 24 C (75 F) during the height of summer.
This, combined with the region's abundant sunshine, makes for great swimming, particularly around Bellagio, Menaggio, Griante, and Varenna.
Transportation on Lake ComoYou'll likely want to include several of the region's small villages, towns, and cities on your Lake Como itinerary, and provincial transportation makes the task relatively simple.
If you're staying primarily in towns like Como and Bellagio, you certainly won't need a car. Medieval streets, tiny alleys, and blind corners make driving challenging and impractical, but the compact town centers are easily walkable.
A well-developed bus network featuring frequent local and intercity buses serves the area around the lake, fanning out from Como and Colico and connecting them with most of the more important towns.
To save money on your trip, buy bus tickets beforehand at newsstands and tabacchi, as they can be significantly cheaper.
Ferry services are also a vital part of local transportation, and can help you to get the most out of your Lake Como holiday.
This extremely efficient network has three main service types, each dealing with a certain area of the lake.
The motorship service serves the western branch of the lake's north end, plying the route between Colico/Piona and Colico/Como. Fast versions of the motorship service also run with fewer stops on an express route.
Ferries generally serve the central area of the lake, running between more touristy towns and villages. Cities served include Menaggio, Bellagio, and Varenna, among many others, and the boats usually allow both foot and vehicle traffic.
You also have the option, via various water taxi companies and services, to hire your own boat and driver for set periods of time, allowing you to sail from town to town at your leisure. All of these services have the bonus of serving as a sightseeing tour from the water.
Language of Lake ComoLake Como and the surrounding region of Lombardy have long been strongholds of the Lombard language, a Romance tongue related to Italian.
Though not officially recognized as a separate language by the Italian government, Lombard is alive and well, and many in the older generation speak it well.
Italian is still the dominant language and you're unlikely to run into many people in Lake Como, particularly in cities, who don't speak it. Due to the sustained high levels of tourism in the region throughout the latter half of the 20th century, many locals can speak some English, particularly in busier areas and cities and among the younger generation. A
A few words of Italian (or Lombard) can go a long way toward making you stand out from the crowd, and a good effort is always appreciated.