Tips for Exploring Lake Como

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Although Rome, Venice and Florence are certainly the shiniest jewels in Italy’s crown, the entire country is packed with incredible destinations. Today, we’re taking you to one of Italy’s most picturesque areas, known for not only its stunning beauty, but as the home of one of America’s most famous actors.

Kris Bordessa from Attainable Sustainable, recently shared her travel tips for Venice and Bologna with us. Now she’s back to share her tips for exploring Lake Como.

Situated in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, the commune of Como, sits in the shadows of the Swiss Alps at the edge of a 28-mile long lake that goes by the same name. The natural beauty of this area is breathtaking, and yet, mention Lake Como and the first question is often about George Clooney, who has a home in the area. (No, we didn’t see him.)

view of large lake surrounded by mountains
Just look at that view!

An easy train ride from Milano Centrale, Lake Como offers up a little something for everyone. Lakeside villas and dramatic views of the Alps make it a photographer’s dream location.

Meals featuring local cheeses and handcrafted pasta will keep the gastronomes happy. And access to hiking, biking, and windsurfing make it a perfect spot for exploring the outdoors.

view of large lake surrounded by mountains

My husband’s family hails from this region, so we spent some time visiting areas rich in family history. There are plenty of historical sites to visit in the area for those who don’t have ancestors here, though. From the Volta Temple (Tempio Volitiano), dedicated to the scientist who invented the electric battery to historic villas, castles, and churches, the area is rich in history.

Getting Around Lake Como

an aerial view of a funicular going down towards a lake
Hop on the funicular for a quick ride with stunning views!

There are three train stations in Como proper, but for getting around the lake you’ll either need a car or be willing to utilize the ferry system. The ferries run regularly between the various lakeside communities, though parsing the schedule – in Italian – may prove difficult.

view of large lake surrounded by mountains

If you plan to take a meandering tour of the shoreline by automobile, pay close attention to the road signs. One missed exit and you’ll find yourself on one of the region’s bypass highways that run through miles and miles of tunnels. They work beautifully for avoiding the lakeside traffic that can make commuters impatient, but they’re not very scenic!

What to See in Lake Como

a large brick cathedral
The Como Cathedral is one of the region’s most popular landmarks.

The city of Como is the largest on the lake. There’s a bustling shopping scene inside the old medieval walls, where buildings have been refurbished in a historically appropriate manner.

Shops are situated below, with apartments above. The impressive Duomo is worth a stop, and there are numerous restaurants in the area of Piazza del Duomo.

Take the funicular to Brunate for stunning lake views. If you’re up for a bit of an uphill hike, follow the signs to Volta Lighthouse.

Dark medieval tower
The city’s medieval tower is a popular meeting point.

Menaggio and Bellagio are a couple of the more famous villages located on the lake. They cater to visitors with a multitude of shopping and dining options.

Don’t hesitate to explore some of the less popular stops, though. That’s where you’ll get a glimpse of the little hillside communities that overlook the lake.

domed top of cathedral
The beautiful cathedral holds court over the center of the city.

On the far side of the lake, near Alto Lario, bird enthusiasts will enjoy the Pian di Spagna Natural Reserve.

Boomer Travel Tip

Inspired to start planning an Italian adventure? Check out our Italy Travel Planner.

Where to Stay in Lake Como

The options for staying on Lake Como vary widely, from posh hotels, such as Villa d’Este, to Airbnb locations and even camping. We opted to stay in an Airbnb home in Vercana, above the lake. Booking a vacation rental is also a good option.

Out of the way locations like this have much to offer (oh, the view!) but a rental car is mandatory in order to get around. Hotels on the lake are substantially more expensive, but the ferry system makes it easy to get around without a vehicle.

small italian plaza
Typical street scene in Como.

Those looking for a more outdoorsy holiday may want to try camping. On the northeastern shores of the lake, between Dongo and Domaso, there’s a long stretch of resort-style campgrounds at lake’s edge, popular with European visitors.

Pitch a tent if you have one. Or utilize one of the trailers or cottages that are equipped with the basics.

view of homes on the shore of a large lake surrounded by mountains

Non Parlo Italiano

wet street with pastel colored buildings
The rainy weather makes the city all that much more romantic.

While larger cities in Italy, such as Rome or Florence, have a population that’s fairly well-versed in English, the people living in the communities surrounding Lake Como – especially those in the hills above the lake – are much less likely to speak English.

Take time before you visit to learn a few simple phrases in Italian, and practice up on your game of charades. Google translate came to the rescue when an older Italian gentleman in a tiny town above the lake engaged me in a one-sided conversation about a construction project happening at the local church.

Sasso, sasso! He told me, gesticulating at the church and the workers. Ah, STONES.

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

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