The best things to do in Lake Como – Italy

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Discover the best things to do during your stay in Lake Como

 

Lake Como. The Y-shaped gem of Lombardy region, in northern Italy right at the border with Switzerland, hasn’t only been the cradle of the Italian aristocracy for several centuries, but it is also one of the country’s least solicited destinations. In fact, its sisters further south such as Rome and Naples have stolen the limelight from it until today. However, Lake Como has experienced a boom in recent years which gradually propels its notoriety all over the world. 

If you have come to read this text, it means that you are part of an elite who is on the verge of one of the most exceptional experiences!

Visit Como, the city

The city of Como is officially the administrative center of the region which bears the same name. It is indeed the largest city in the region and it is also where Lake Como begins.

You will be able to enjoy all that Como has to offer as a vibrant and eclectic atmosphere thanks to its lake view bars, its restaurants where you can savor a typical Aperitivo, and of course its central high street and local markets for shopping. From modern stores to the finest ones – Alta Moda –, there is something for every taste!

Get lost inside the Roman walls and go toward the center to admire the Cathedral of Como – Duomo di Como – with its sublime turquoise blue dome. Let yourself be carried away by the beauty of this monument, as you relax on the terrace right in front of it. From there you can then continue your stroll to Piazza Cavour, the city’s main square, directly overlooking Lake Como’s marina. The place is full of bars and restaurants, and also hides one of the best Aperitivos in the city (but shut it is a secret!).

Discover historical villas

If there is anything that makes Lake Como so special, it is the sumptuous Villas that line each side of the lake. Real vestiges of the Renaissance era make it possible to look back on the past and imagine the magical scenes of those days.

Villa Melzi

Let the magic of these villas captivate you as you take your time to relax in the gardens of Villa Melzi. Located right next to the historic center of Bellagio, the gardens of Villa Melzi are known for their rich variety of botanical plants from all over the world.

Built during the Napoleonic era, the classic style villa will enchant you with its summer atmosphere,  its views of Lake Como and its surrounding mountains. You will also find a grain of Japanese culture with its typical basins and maple trees.

Villa Carlotta

The elegant Villa Carlotta takes its name after Princess Charlotte of Prussia, and is located just 45 min from Como city. Villa Carlotta has the distinction of offering breathtaking views of Lake Como from its second floor. Take the opportunity to admire beautiful pieces of contemporary art including Francesco Hayez’s famous painting – “The Kiss” depicting Romeo and Juliet – at the museum located on the first floor. Once on the top floor, step out onto the balconies overlooking the lake. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself as the owner of this beautiful place.

Villa Balbianello

Located in the locality of Lenno, 35 min from Como, this famous villa welcomes visitors from all over the world throughout the year. The architecture and history of Villa Balbianello have made it one of the essential attractions of Lake Como. Did you know that one of the flagship scenes of Casino Royal was filmed in its gardens? And what about the scene during which Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala admiring the views of the lake in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones! And yes, it is at Villa Balbianello that the scene is happening. Right opposite the villa also appears the Isola Comacina – Comacina Island -, which can be reached by boat.

On the last  floor of the villa you can discover some of Guido Monzini’s property, former owner of the villa and explorer, dating back to his expedition to Mount Everest.

 

Villa Monastero

On the Varenna side is Villa Monastero. This prestigious villa located on the right branch of Lake Como is distinguished by its proximity to the romantic village of Varenna, its botanical garden with thousands of plants and colors, and its charming explanatory itinerary. Indeed, Villa Monastero was named “Casa Museo” – Museum House – by the region of Lombardy because of its 14 rooms and the proposed route. Its botanical garden stretches for 2 kilometers from Varenna to Fiumelatte.

Other villas: Villa Olmo, Villa d’Este, Villa Erba, Villa Berlasconi

 

Wander around Lake Como’s towns

Varenna 

Varenna, a former fishing village, is indeed a secret oasis in the middle of Lake Como. With quite a picturesque history, Varenna is today one of the most popular destinations on the lake. Its location on the right shores of Lake Como, and being only 20 minutes away by boat from Bellagio, offers it easy access but also an authenticity that other cities no longer know. 

The walk begins on a narrow path by the lake and ends in the center of the port with a magnificent view of the colorful houses and the church behind them.

Bellagio

The charming town of Bellagio, which also gave its name to the famous Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, is known to be the “Pearl of Lake Como”. Located in the center of the lake, Bellagio is a very attractive and pleasant place to visit thanks to its small old alleys full of life. 

You find here charming bars where you can have an aperitivo in front of the lake, small authentic cafés, shops selling local objects but also high-end products. The most beautiful street is the long staircase called Salita Serbelloni which starts behind the port and goes straight up the hill. From there, the Basilica di San Giacomo is only a block away, and continuing on the same route is the Punta Spartivento – the point that divides the lake – which offers one of the widest panoramas of Lake Como.

 

Lenno 

The beautiful village of Lenno is the gateway to the municipality of Tremezzina, a narrow strip of land on the shore of Lake Como nicknamed the “garden of Lombardy”. It is here that the most beautiful villas in the region are built. You can start exploring Lenno with a 20 minutes walk by the lake under the trees, where you find the small harbor at the end accompanied by a beautiful view of Lake Como and the beautiful wooded hills which border it.

The historic center of Lenno is called Villa and is accessible via a small road from the pier where the boats leaving for Villa Balbianello are located.

Further down this path, you can find private boats that transport passengers to Villa Balbianello, as well as the start of the path to the villa.

Tip: Stop at La Fabbrica del Gelato where you can have traditional ice cream. 

Menaggio

Located in the golden triangle between Bellagio and Varenna, Menaggio is one of the most beautiful villages on Lake Como, which enjoys a very cool atmosphere during summer. It is indeed one of the most practical drop-off points to discover the lake, because of its location in the center. The shuttles from here to the main points are very frequent, which allows you not to worry too much about the schedules.

In this Belle Epoque seaside resort, starting from the city center, the main road departs from the bank to give way to a delicious promenade with pretty grids and wrought iron balconies, from where the view of the lake is magnificent. We recommend you to explore the little deserted alleys that climb up the hill. You can discover beautiful villas and streets full of charms, paved with small round pebbles. Small squares surrounded by beautiful houses and fountains open onto the promenade and offer pleasant corners for a drink on the terrace.

 

Take a boat tour

One of the best ways to enjoy Lake Como is unquestionably is to take a boat tour from one of the villages.

It is true that experiencing the lake from the water offers amazing and exceptional views on the villas as Balbianello and Carlotta among others, all the cute villages such as Varenna, Bellagio, and Nesso, as well as discovering secret spots that are only known by the locals. Talking about Nesso, this beautiful spot offers one of the most fairy atmospheres thanks to the Orrido di Nesso, a unique Roman bridge that connects the old stone houses crossing a gorgeous waterfall.

Taking a cruise on the lake is also the easiest and fastest way to move from a strategic point to another. Do you wonder how much time it takes to do Como – Bellagio by boat tour? Or Menaggio – Bellagio? Here are some of the most common distances in Lake Como:

  • 1h boat tour for Como – Bellagio;
  • 45 minutes boat tour for Como – Lenno;
  • 10 minutes boat tour for Menaggio – Bellagio;
  • 10 minutes boat tour for Bellagio – Varenna;
  • 40 minutes boat tour for Como – Villa Balbianello

 

Admire Lake Como from above in a helicopter tour

Would you rather enjoy Lake Como from the sky? You can definitely get the thrill of a lifetime by taking a helicopter tour! This activity can actually be a great gift for your next big holiday or special occasion. Whether you are planning a surprise celebration or looking for some adrenalin, taking a helicopter ride is always an exciting way to admire a panoramic landscape from a different angle. 

We’ve put together 5 reasons why a helicopter ride in Lake Como might be the experience you were looking for:

  • Get the perfect shot of the lake and its beautiful mountains;
  • Makes the perfect birthday gift or date night;
  • During summer the ambient temperature is perfect;
  • You get close-up views to inaccessible sites;
  • You only live once 😉

 

Enjoy a typical Italian Aperitivo 

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is probably one of the most famous maxims from the Latin world, which is actually the perfect way of enjoying local experiences. And the famous Italian Aperitivo is obviously such a thing in Lombardia that it would be a shame not to taste one of these during your stay in Lake Como. 

This Italian tradition goes a long way back in history where it was already a common habit during the Roman times. Since then, the aperitivo has evolved and found its modern form in Turin. 

A typical aperitivo is a joyous and mood-lifting moment that takes place after a day of work, where people enjoy some relaxing time with friends and family before dinner time. It usually includes Italian beverages such as Prosecco and Spritz Aperol, as well as Italian cold cuts like Prosciutto di Parma, Coppa, Speck and Salami, and Italy’s best cheese such as Valtellina Casera, Bitto and Parmigiano Reggiano. Do you prefer non-alcoholic beverages? The San Pellegrino water can be found anywhere in Lake Como.

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