Tips for Visiting in Lake Como, Italy

Lake ComoThere’s no doubt that Italy’s Lake Como area is one of the most picturesque places on earth.  This Y-shaped lake in Northern Italy’s Lombardy Region is dotted with little quaint villages along its shores. It has long been a favorite spot of the rich and famous.  In recent years Hollywood greats, rock stars, and business moguls either have or have had villas in the area; George Clooney, Madonna, Julian Lennon, Sir Richard Branson, and Gianni Versace just to name a few.

The villas around the lake have served as sets for movies filmed in the area.  Most notably Villa Balbianello where Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and James Bond’s Casino Royale were filmed.  It’s no wonder given the area’s beauty!

Lake Como has even made an appearance in Las Vegas!  The creative entrepreneurs of Sin City recreated the delightful town of Bellagio in their 5 star luxury hotel of the same name. The dancing fountain that fronts the hotel is supposed to be Lake Como.  The Bellagio is my hotel of choice whenever I’m in Vegas!

Lake Como has always been on my travel bucket list.  I’ve wanted to visit for years, but given its famous tourists I hesitated, thinking it would be too expensive.  This year when we found ourselves flying in and out of Milan I decided that a quick trip to Lake Como was doable; after all we’d be in the area anyway.

Our 2 day trip to Lake Como was a last minute addition to our fall cruise which embarked from Venice and ended in Rome.  This summer we had decided we’d take the Emirate flight out of New York’s JFK airport to Milan’s Malpensa airport, a bit convoluted, but we love flying Emirates and to us it was worth the extra effort.  (We took trains to and from Milan to catch the cruise.)  Once this decision was made my husband decided we’d extend our trip a couple of days and asked me where I’d like to go.  I told him since we’d be in the area we should spend those days in Lake Como, I just had to figure out how and where, this proved to be a bit confusing, but well worth the effort.

I booked our airline tickets and turned my attention to finding a hotel, figuring out how to get to Lake Como, and what to do once I got there.  I didn’t realize what a challenge this turned out to be!

The easiest way to get anywhere in the area is to hire a private car and driver or rent a car and drive there yourself.  The cost of a private car is around 120 Euro each way.  The cheapest way is to go by train.  There is service to several lake towns from Milan’s train stations.  If you want to go to a town that isn’t serviced by rail, like Bellagio,  you have to get off at the nearest train station then catch a ferry or bus to your final destination.  Train tickets start at 4.80 Euro for a 2nd. class one-way ticket from Milano Centrale or Cardona Station; bus tickets start at 3.20 Euro each way; ferry tickets start at 10.40 Euro each way or you can buy a one day unlimited use pass starting at 23.30 Euro.

I didn’t want to spend over 200 Euro getting to and from Lake Como so of course I decided we’d take the train, we’ve travel all over Italy by train and we love it.  I knew I wanted to take the train from Milano Centrale as we would be arriving to that station after disembarking the cruise in Rome, I just didn’t know where I would catch the train to!  I wanted the easiest route as we’d be carting luggage on this train, so any route that involved a transfer was out of the question.  It seemed reasonable to base myself in a town with easy access to a train station, I didn’t want to catch a bus or a hydrofoil to get to and from my hotel, staying in Bellagio or any of the smaller towns was out of the question for us this trip.

After much research and a whole lot of confusion we decided that Como, the administrative capital of the Province of Como, was where we should stay.  It was easy to get to with direct trains from  Milano Centrale, it had ferry stations nearby so we could explore the region, and it had lots of shops and restaurants that were open late.

Lake Como

My next problem was finding a hotel in the area that fit my budget.  The Como area does not lack for hotels, from budget to luxury hotels there’s something to fit most everyone’s budget. I scoured the internet looking for my ideal hotel.  I ended up confused so I let my husband choose.

He choose the Sheraton Lake Como which is actually in Tavernola, about 6 km away from Como’s lake front area.  This hotel is rated 4 star and is situated in it’s own park.  It’s clean, modern, and has good size rooms with private baths.  The hotel provides breakfast (not great) and has a pool.  The hotel was adequate, although if you’re expecting a lake view forget it; the hotel is a couple of blocks from the lake and has no lake view.

The hotel is conveniently located.  We were able to walk to Como our first day, it was a pleasant stroll along the lakeside and took a bit over an hour.  It’s a 3 minute walk to the Tavernola ferry station and about a 15 minute walk to the town of Cernobbio where there are nice restaurants.  The ferry ride from the Como station to Tavernola is 8 minutes.

Lake Como

We had a wonderful time in Lake Como.  We spent a day sailing around the lake and stopped at Bellagio.  We also took the funicular up to the village of Brunate and enjoyed magnificent views of the lake and saw plenty of beautiful villas along its winding lanes.  We spent an evening wandering around Cernobbio and had a lovely dinner at Harry’s Bar.

 

 

 

 

 

Lake ComoAn added perk was the open market we stumbled upon in Piazza Cavor, it featured cute wooden kiosks selling regional handicrafts and food.  The Linzer and Sacher Tortes were delicious!

Most importantly I didn’t find the area ridiculously expensive.  Our standard room at the Sheraton Lake Como cost us 176 Euro a night and included breakfast; getting around town was fairly inexpensive with taxis to and from the Como San Giovanni train station costing 15 Euro each way, and the unlimited ferry day pass cost 23.30 Euro per person; admissions to nearby villas and museums are about 9 Euro per person and the Como-Brunate funicular tickets cost 5 Euro per person round trip.  Eating of course varied depending on what and where you dined, but cafes and restaurants around Piazza Cavor were quite reasonably priced with pizzas and pasta dishes starting at about 8 Euro and cappucinos were 2.50 Euro and house wine 4.50 Euro a glass, but if you’re feeling homesick for some burgers and fries there’s a McDonald’s down the street that even has outdoor seating.

Of course if you want to splurge you can book rooms for 500+ Euros a night at the Casta Diva Resort & Spa in Blevio or the Villa d’Este in Cernobbio; hire private transportation to get around; and dine at one of the many fine restaurants in the area.  In short there’s something for every budget in Lake Como!

I don’t claim to be an expert on the area but here are a few tips about visiting Lake Como to make planning your trip a bit easier.  Hopefully you won’t have to go thru all the confusion we went thru while we planned our trip when at times I found the internet more confusing than helpful!

The Area

The lake is basically an inverted “Y” shape that lies completely in Italy unlike it’s neighbor Lake Lugano and nearby Lake Maggiore which are partly in Switzerland.  (So if you book a hotel in Lugano you will actually be staying in Switzerland)Before you go it is important to understand the area’s layout so you can plan wisely to suit your needs and budget.

The town of Como, the administrative capital of the Province of Como, is located at the tip of the western leg of the lake.  Lecco located along  the eastern leg is the administrative capital of the Province of Lecco.

Both branches of the lake join in Bellagio.  The towns around the lake are linked by bus and ferries.  The towns on the eastern shore are also linked by train where there is fairly regular service running along the shore from Lecco to Varenna and Calico.  Como and Lecco are linked by train on the Como-Molteno-Lecco line.

There are hotels located in many of the towns around the lake and area attractions such as villas and gardens, pedestrian streets, churches, and cafes are also scattered in the surrounding towns.  The most visited and probably most expensive town is Bellagio, it serves as the hub for boat service around the lake.  Varenna, Menaggio (the main town on the western shore), and Tremezzo are also very attractive towns with cafes, villas, gardens, and other attractions.

Just about all the towns around the lake are picturesque, but not all of them have great tourist accommodations and boat or bus service to some of the smaller towns are not as frequent.  So if you do decide to stay in one of the towns that don’t have train service, such as Bellagio, check the ferry and bus schedules so you can get around.  Ferry service is not 24 hours, service on the Colico to Como route run from 6:06 am to 3:00 pm and the reverse route from 7:33 am to 7:20 pm.  There are a few later ferries but they don’t run the whole route.  The ferry to and from Lecco on the eastern leg are less frequent.  Bus service is mainly for commuters and begin early but don’t run very late in the evening.  Knowing the boat and bus schedules is important if you don’t want to get stuck hiring a taxi to get back to your hotel or if you have an early flight home or a late flight coming in.

Getting There

The main ways into the area is from Milan and Bergamo.  You can also reach it from Lugano, Switzerland where you will arrive in Menaggio.

The easiest way, but the most costly,  to get to the Lake Como area is by hiring a private car and driver, the cost each way from Milan to Como is 120 Euro.  Alternatively you can rent a car and drive there yourself.

The least expensive way is to use the trains. Trains run regularly from Milan’s stations to Como (there are 3 stations in Como, the main one is Como San Giovanni).  Trains from Milan and Bergamo run up the eastern shore to Lecco, Varenna, and Colico.

Having said that I can give more specifics on the Milano Centrale – Como S. G. route as this is in my opinion the “easier” way because you can hop on the train from Malpensa Airport to Milano Centrale and catch a direct connection to Como.

If you arrive at Malpensa Airport you can take the Malpensa Express  to Milano Centrale.  The ride is roughly about an hour and cost 12 Euro one-way or 18 Euro round-trip.  You can buy tickets in advance online from italiarail.com or the Trenord E-store or  app.  You can also purchase tickets at the ticket office located in the airport.

From Milano Centrale you have 2 options:

The Intercity Regional train run by the state agency Trenitalia.  You can buy tickets from italiarail.com or trenititalia.com (I find italiarail.com to be more user friendly).  These trains have assigned seating and one-way tickets cost $16 for 2nd. class and $19 for 1st. class.   They run less frequently than the regional trains below but make fewer stops if any so you can get to Como in about 35 minutes.

Or you can take the regional train run by Trenord the company that is responsible for train service in the Lombardy area of Italy.  These trains run more frequently (every half hour or so during peak times) and do not have seat assignments.  A second class ticket which can be purchased online from the Trenord E-store or app or from a ticket booth at the train station cost 4.80 Euro each way.  Be aware that some trains will require a transfer.  The direct trains take 35 minutes to get to Como, the ones with transfers take about an hour or more.

Lake Como

Both train services run to and from Milano Centrale.  Take note of the your train number and departure time and check it on the screens in the train station to find out which “binario” (platform) your train departs from.

If you purchased tickets online you must either print out your E-ticket or save it on you phone, you will need to show it to the conductor on the train.

If you have a paper ticket that you bought from the ticket office or at a self-serve kiosk at the station you must VALIDATE your ticket or you may be charged a hefty fee when the conductor sees your unvalidated ticket.

Lake Como

Validate the ticket by inserting it in one of the yellow boxes located in front of each platform and through out the station.  The box will stamp the date and time on your ticket.

Lake Como

It’s important to note that Italy has recently installed security gates at their main train stations, Milano Centrale included.  Only ticketed passengers are allowed on the platforms. If you are purchasing your tickets from the station’s ticket offices or want to grab a bite or shop you must exit the platform area.  Be prepared to show the guard your ticket when you’re ready to go to your platform.

There are a few shops and vending machines as well as restrooms located within the platform’s secure area.  You can buy tickets at the self-serve kiosk, grab a cup of coffee and snacks, or purchase a few items without having to exit the secure area.  But if you want more choices you will have to exit, there’s a whole shopping mall in the train station!

Hotels

Lake Como

There are many hotels in and around Como as well as the surrounding towns.  Prices start at around $75 a night depending on the hotel, the room you book, and the time of year you will be there.  Peak summer season is always the most expensive.

We stayed at the Sheraton Lake Como in the end of October so it was off season.  Our standard room cost 176 Euro a night and that included taxes and breakfast.

We choose this hotel not so much for price or location but more because we were familiar with the brand and are SPG members.  I have to admit I was quite pleased by my husband’s choice.  The room was spacious, considering many standard rooms in European hotels are tiny.  The property is fairly new and very clean and modern.  The staff are very friendly and helpful.  Our room had free wi-fi, a private bath equipped with a great shower, and a huge comfortable bed.  Our room overlooked the pool which was nice.  The hotel has a bar and restaurant.  I can’t speak for the bar, but breakfast at the restaurant was mediocre at best.  After having their breakfast we decided not to try the restaurant for any other meals; there are so many great trattorias, restaurants, and cafes around the area that were not only less expensive but served fantastic food as well.

I found this property quite convenient although it is located a few blocks from the lake and has no lake views.  It is close enough to Como (you can stroll on the main road and enjoy the views of Como, it takes a bit more than an hour or you can take an 8 minute ferry ride from the Como boat station to Tavernola station and walk 3 minutes to the hotel).  It’s also a 15 minute walk to reach the lake front area of Cernobbio where there is a ferry station, park, and restaurants.

Lake ComoThe Barchetta Excelsior on Piazza Cavor is located in the heart of Como’s lake front tourist area, it was one of the hotels we considered.  Rooms are less expensive starting at about $120 a night during off peak for non-lake view rooms and more for lake view rooms with balcony.  The pictures online don’t do this hotel justice.  It looks much nicer in person!

I can’t speak for the rooms as I didn’t stay there.  It is an older property but judging from the lobby it seems fairly modern.

It is however in a fantastic location surrounded by shops and restaurants, McDonald’s is around its corner on the left and there are many cafes and restaurants around Piazza Cavor.  The ferry station is located across the street on the right making it a very convenient base for exploring the towns around the lake.  Como’s cathedral and the piazza in front are less than a minute’s walk away as are many more restaurants and shops. The funicular to Brunate is about a 5 minute walk away along the lake front.  If you must have a lake view room and be in the heart of Como this in my opinion is a good option.

Lake Como

Another hotel we considered is The Hotel Metropole Suisse also located on Piazza Cavor.  Off season prices start at about $90 a room.

This is another hotel that the pictures online don’t do justice to.  It looks much nicer in person.  Again since we choose not stay here I can’t speak for the rooms nor the service, but the location is perfect for exploring the area.  The ferry station is literally a few feet away across the street!

Like the Barchetta Excelsior it’s an older property but is surrounded by the same shops and restaurants.  Both hotels also have restaurants on the main floor.  The Metropole’s restaurant is quite upscale with upscale prices and has outdoor lake view seating.

Lake Como

Another hotel we considered is Hotel Villa Flori. This hotel is located right on the lake on Via Cernobbio between Como and Tavernola.  Room rates during off peak season for a lake view room with balcony is a bit over $200 a night.

The hotel looks very nice, but again I can’t speak for the rooms as I didn’t stay there.  The reviews were very positive on this hotel, but it is an older property and in my experience rooms in older European hotels are tiny.

Yes it’s on the waterfront but it’s located between Como and Tavernola, you pretty much have to walk to Como or if you want to take the ferry then you walk back to the Tavernola station which to me doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since you will be walking in the opposite direction just to get on an 8 minute ferry ride.  But if you must be on the lake than this is definitely the hotel for you.

Lake Como

The last hotel we considered was the Palace Hotel located along the main lake front road of Como, Via Lungo Lario Trieste.  It is a 5 minute walk from Como’s Nord Lago station.  It’s in between the Como ferry station and the funicular station making it an ideal base to explore the area.

It looked like a very nice hotel in a nice location close to many shops, restaurants, and local attractions.  Prices start at about $125 a night during off peak season.

There are many more hotels in the area, I’m sure you can find one that will suit your needs and fit your budget.

Boat Service

Lake Como

Lake Como has excellent boat service that connects all the towns around the lake.  There a passenger and car ferries.

Before you board a ferry it’s best to familiarize yourself with the ferry schedule, better yet ask the ticket agent at the station to explain it to you. The ticket agents are quite friendly and helpful, most of them speak English very well. Keep a copy of the ferry timetable with you it is very helpful.

Aside from the car ferry there are 3 ferries that service the lake:  Como-Colico, Lecco-Bellagio, and Battello Navetta in Centro Lago (center of the lake) that runs from Bellano to Lenno stopping at Menaggio, Varenna, Bellagio, and Tremezzo (it crisscrosses the middle of the lake servicing both sides).

The Como-Colico line services the western leg and beyond with both Speed and Slow Services.  Some of these ferries have bars and restaurants on board.  The Lecco-Bellagio line services only the eastern leg with slow service to Bellagio.  If you want to go beyond Bellagio or to the towns on the western shore you must transfer to the Como-Colico line at the Bellagio ferry station.  To catch the third line you must transfer from the Como-Colico line at one of the towns listed above.

Take some time to learn how to read the timetable, it can be confusing.  Schedules are listed on 2 different tables for each line (Como-Colico is the top table Colico-Como the bottom table, the same goes for the other).  Take note that some of the ferries on the timetable run only on weekdays and others run only on Sundays and holidays.  Not all ferries stop at all the towns and not all will run the complete route.  The towns are listed in order from South to North (Como-Colico, Lecco-Bellagio, Lenno -Bellano  and from North to South (Colico-Como, Bellagio-Lecco, Bellano-Lenno) on the left and right sides of the table.  Boat numbers are listed across the top of the tables and are divided into columns.  Each column will list the departure time of the boat from the corresponding town.  It’s fairly easy to read once you get the hang of it.

Lake Como

You buy ferry tickets from the ticket booth located at each ferry station.  You can buy point-to-point tickets if you are going to a specific town or a day pass that allows you to hop on an off at all the villages.

The day pass is for the slow service only, if you want to use the rapid service you will have to pay a supplemental fee or buy a separate ticket. The cost of the pass is 23.30 per person, this gives you unlimited use from all day from Como to Menaggio, if you want to include Varenna and beyond the cost is a little bit more.

If you buy a day pass you will get the paper receipt shown on the left. Keep this with you all day as you will need to show it to the crew every time you board a ferry.

Things to Do

Lake Como

The main attraction in the Lake District is the lake itself and the villages along its shores.  One of the best things to do is to spend part of the day on a ferry and enjoy the ride!  You will pass the quaint towns on the lake shore and Isola Comacina in the middle of the lake.  You can of course hop of at any village for a bit of exploration.

The ferries are quite comfortable with both indoor and outdoor seating.  Some have bars and restaurants on board so you can enjoy a cappucino or a glass of wine as you watch the towns go by.

The ride on the slow boat from Como to Bellagio takes a little over 2 hours.

If you prefer something a bit more private you can rent a motorboat from one of the towns and putter around the lake on your own.  You can drive a boat around the lake without a license.  Boat rentals start at about 75 Euro an hour and includes the fuel.  Or you can rent a kayak or canoe and paddle around the lake, kayak rentals cost about 20 Euro an hour.  These smaller boats are fun and will let you get closer to some of the lakeside villas.  For more info on boat rentals check out AC Boat Rentals located in Menaggio, acboatrentals.com.

Lake Como

Visit the quaint town of Tremezzo.  Walk along the waterfront and enjoy the views of Bellagio right across the lake.  You can take a tour of the Villa Carlotta and see some lovely furnishings and artwork.  The Villa also has an impressive botanical garden.

Lake Como

Spend a few hours in the delightful town of Bellagio.  This town is built on a hill,  you have to climb stairs to get to the upper level of the town.  The stairs are lined with shops and restaurants, it’s pretty amazing.  I loved wandering the lanes and when we got tired we sat down for a snack at one of the waterfront cafes.

Lake Como

Take the funicular up to the mountain top town of Brunate. You can stroll along Via Pissarotino to the view point at the end of the road.  From the funicular station turn left and walk along Via Roma, you can stop at the  Chiesa di Sant’ Andrea, a pretty little church along the way. When you reach a fork in the road take the right path, that’s Via Pissarotino.  You’ll pass some impressive villas on your way to the viewpoint. There’s a restaurant at the view point where you can have a meal or drinks while admiring the awesome view.

You can also hike up to the Faro Voltiano, the lighthouse.  It’s about a 2 km walk up, but if you prefer you can take a ride on an old jeep to the lighthouse.  The driver is parked in front of the funicular station and will drive you up and down the windy road for 5 Euro.

Sit for a spell on the terrace of one of the restaurants to sip a glass of wine while you enjoy the view. Ristorante Bellavista located in Piazza Bonacossa is a nice option.

Lake Como

Tickets for the funicular cost 5 Euro round trip.  You can buy it from the ticket booth and wait for the next funicular after stamping your ticket at the turnstile.  It runs every 30 minutes from 8:00 am to midnight daily.

Lake Como

Explore the town of Como.  The main road runs along the lake shore and has benches scattered along the way so you can rest and contemplate the lake, or if you’re lucky watch the float planes land and take-off on the lake.

You can visit Villa Olmo said to be the most sumptuous villa in Como.  The villa hosts many exhibitions and events throughout the year.  If you don’t want to enter the villa you can hang out in the waterfront park around the villa.  There’s a small bar that serves snacks and light meals on the lake shore.

Admission to the villa is 10 Euro.

Lake Como

The Como Cathedral is a beautiful structure with wonderful reliefs on its facade.  It’s located minutes away from the waterfront and has a piazza in front that has some restaurants and shops around it.

Shop for a silk tie or scarf.  Como is known for its silk industry so you’ll find many shops filled with lovey ties and scarves.

 

 

Eating

Lake Como

There’s no shortage of food in the area.  Piazza Cavor is lined with restaurants, cafes, bars, and gelaterias.  The Metropole Suisse Hotel on the corner has a nice restaurant serving Italian specialties, it’s pricier than the other places but is a nice place for a special meal.

The piazza in front of the cathedral also has a few restaurants with outdoor seating as do the lanes and alleys in the surrounding area.

McDonald’s is located on the road between Piazza Cavor and the cathedral.  It has indoor and outdoor seating and has a clean restroom.

The main street along the lake is lined with more eateries.  They are mostly on the opposite side of the street and not lake side.  For waterside dining you can enjoy a meal at the restaurant in the Hotel Villa Flori located on the main road between Como and Tavrenola.

Lake Como

The area around the funicular station has many restaurants.  You can sit at an outside table and watch the funicular go up and down, the route is lit up at night.

Lake Como

Another option is to head to Cernobbio, it’s a 10 minute ferry ride from Como.  This town has many wonderful restaurants.  My favorite is Harry’s Bar located in Piazza Risorgemento just off Via Erba the main road going into Cernobbio.

The enclosed dining room has limited seating so dine early to avoid waiting or call ahead for reservations.

Tips for Visiting in Lake Como, Italy

Their menu offers a limited selection of Italian specialties homemade with fresh ingredients. The portions are generous enough to share, we ordered pasta with mushrooms for our primi and this veal Milanese for the main dish.  This left room for dessert, Tiramisu.  Delicious!

Prices are quite reasonable, specially if you share.  Our dinner ended up costing 78 Euro and that included a small bottle of wine and after dinner coffee.

The Lake Como area of Italy should definitely be on your bucket list.  Believe me it’s well worth the visit!  Here are some photos we took while we were there.  Enjoy!

Lake Como

The town of Como lit up for the evening.  This photo was taken from the lake side promenade as we walked from Tavernola.

 

Lake Como

The funicular route at night.  This photo was taken from the Como ferry station.

Lake Como

Lake Como as seen from the Brunate view point.

 

Lake Como

View of Bellagio from Tremezzo

 

Lake Como

Upper level of Bellagio

 

 

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