Lake Como is in Northern Italy’s Lombardy region. Known for its dramatic scenery on the foothills of the Alps, and as a romantic destination to visit when in Italy. The lake is surrounded by several adorable Italian villages to stay in and visit while there, and it has been on my Italy bucket list since my last visit in 2010.
One of the best parts of Lake Como is how close and easy it is to hop around to the different villages, and you can seriously spend days exploring each one. That’s why I wanted to put together this little guide on how to village hop in Lake Como with some of my tips and recommendations from my recent trip.
How to get around Lake Como
The ferry is so easy to navigate around Lake Como and they have a fantastic system. I did find their online ticketing system to be a bit confusing to determine which tickets to purchase though so we ended up just getting to the ticket booth early in the day we wanted to village hop to purchase our ticket from the booth. They offered a day pass from the Varenna terminal that covered the “triangle” of the lake a.k.a. Varenna, Bellagio, Menaggio, and all the towns in between for one price (€ 15/each). You can also, of course, purchase individual tickets to whatever town you want to go to.
If you are visiting in high season, there will be a line for the ticket counter so try and go early. Even if you don’t plan on departing for a few hours. Once you have your ticket, you just keep an eye on the screen by the terminal for the times of the ferries and the platform/dock to catch it on. The ferries are frequent between the major towns and the schedule changes with each season. More details and tickets can be purchased here.
A car is not necessary for visiting Lake Como, however, if you have one, be prepared for some winding, narrow roads. You’ll also want to ensure your hotel has parking as parking is pretty limited. My suggestion would be to drive TO the town you are visiting in Lake Como, and park your car for the rest of your time there since ferries will be quicker to reach the lakeside villages.
Can you take your car on ferries in Lake Como? Yes you can but they only operate with this ability between the main towns of Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio, and Cadenabbia.
Where to go in Lake Como
The top three places that people visit are Bellagio, Menaggio, and Varenna. However, if you have more days in Lake Como, you really can’t go wrong exploring any of the towns around the lake. Since these three are the most popular, they are obviously the most touristy but still beautiful and worth visiting!
A village located a stone’s throw away from Menaggio and Varenna, Bellagio is definitely known to be the ritziest and most famous town around the lake so it can be hard to find budget-friendly accommodations here. However, even if you stay in a neighbouring town, a visit here is a must.
When you arrive in Bellagio you’ll want to visit the town centre, walk along the waterfront, and get lost in the picturesque streets. You also will want to walk to Punta Spartivento, the point at the end of the peninsula for great views, and visit the gardens of Villa Melzi. Lastly, Bellagio is known for its shopping. You’ll find the best souvenir options here.
Tip: Since Bellagio is so popular, it’ll be a zoo during high season (the summer months). To avoid the crowds, try visiting later in the day/afternoon or early in the morning. However, note that visiting earlier in the morning, you’ll get the picturesque streets and views to yourself, but shops and restaurants likely won’t be open yet.
Located on the Western shore of Lake Como, directly across the lake from Varenna, Menaggio is also a great spot to visit for a few hours or to base yourself in. Start your visit in Menaggio by walking down Via Calvi and popping in and out of all the cute shops, and take a peak at the Church of Santa Marta. Stopping for a drink or gelato in Piazza Garibaldi is a great people-watching spot, and walking along the lake promenade supplies you with those beautiful views of the lake.
Another area of Menaggio that you’ll want to pay a visit to is the old town. This upper part of town still maintains its medieval look and is really cool to walk around the narrow streets.
Where to eat in Menaggio: We had a fantastic lunch at La Piazzetta. We picked this spot on a whim because we were starving and later I noticed it actually didn’t have the best reviews. However, most of the reviews were in regards to their pizza and we both had pasta which was fantastic!
This is where I actually centered myself on my trip. What’s great about Varenna is not only is it beautiful but there is also a train station there that directly connects you to Milan making it easy to get yourself to the centre of Lake Como in just under 2 hours. Varenna is a picturesque town and one of the most beautiful around the lake.
I personally loved just walking around the streets and visiting the main centre of the town, but there are also some great sites to see too. You can go to Villa Monastero and walk through the extensive botanical gardens alongside the lake. Walking (uphill) to Castello di Vezio is also a great activity in Varenna for the beautiful views.
Where to eat in Varenna: There are a few really highly rated restaurants in Varenna and unfortunately both were closed for vacation when I visited in shoulder season. However, if you are in the area I definitely would recommend making a reservation at Al Prato or Il Cavatappi. Another highly recommended restaurant is Osteria Quatro Pass. Reservations are necessary during high season!
Located on the Southern end of the lake, Como is a vibrant city and is well connected to the train system to Milan, as well as buses. Como offers historical attractions like the Cathedral of Como, art museums, and more. It’s also loaded with great eateries, nightlife, and shopping (they are world famous for their silk), and because it’s a bigger town it is cheaper to base yourself here than in some of the smaller towns mentioned above. The downfall of this is that it is located on the far end of the lake making the key attractions and towns on the lake that you’ll want to visit much further and less convenient to visit.
I have only scratched the surface of places to visit around the lake, but here are some other ones you can check out if you are looking to avoid the crowds or see some of the lesser-known spots:
FAQ & Tips
Where should I stay in Lake Como? It totally depends on how you are arriving in Lake Como. If you are driving, the world is your oyster, however, most people arrive by train. The key train stations are in the town of Como and in Varenna. Como is definitely a larger town, and Varenna is small, cute, and picturesque.
When arriving at either of the train stations, you can easily get to the ferry terminal to take a ferry to any town you want to stay in. For us, we opted for Varenna because not only is it beautiful, but the direct access to the train made it the most convenient.
What time of year should I visit Lake Como? The best weather will be from April to October when the weather is warm/mild since it is situated in the north of Italy, it does get colder here. Consider though that the summer months (June-August) are the busiest months, so if you want to beat the mass crowds, try to visit during the shoulder season for fewer crowds.
How many days do I need in Lake Como? This is hard to answer because we spent 3 nights, and 4 days, but you can also spend a week (or more) here if you want to bounce around to all the different towns. I found 3 nights enough as we still visited multiple towns around the lake, and got enough out of our time here.
I will say that the popular towns to stay in are small so they don’t take long at all to see (a day maximum but can see the key attractions in a few hours in some towns). So keep that in mind depending on how fast-paced you like your trips/vacations.
Time of day to village hop: If you are visiting in high season each town is going to be BUSY! If you can’t visit in the shoulder season, try to plan to visit the towns early in the morning, or late in the afternoon. Note the opening times for any attractions, restaurants, or shops you want to visit if you opt for early in the morning.
Restaurants: Towns are small, and restaurants are busy. Make reservations during high season or get there early to put your name on the list. I found restaurants also closed earlier here than in the cities in Italy so we weren’t going for dinners at 9 pm like in Rome. You’ll also want to be mindful of the mid-afternoon closures of shops and restaurants as many close from 2 pm to the dinner hour.
Overall, I LOVED my time in Lake Como. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the picturesque views, and I could wander through the narrow, cobblestone streets all day. It is definitely a destination that you don’t need a jam-packed itinerary for because you can spend days just hopping village-to-village and exploring each town you land in.
What is your favourite spot to visit around Lake Como? Share your recos below in the comments.