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The Perfect Weekend on Lake Como: 3-Day Travel Guide

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While not Italy's only mountainous lake, Lake Como is certainly its most well-known. Although I had Lake Como on my Italian bucket list of places I wanted to visit while living in Trieste, I hadn't quite been able to make the journey until one of my best friend's from home said she and her husband would be visiting.

What better excuse to finally see Lake Como than with those you love, especially those you don't get to see often enough.

I had already been to Lake Garda twice by this point and since I don't like doing too much research before arriving somewhere, I assumed it would look and feel pretty similar given their close proximity.

Wrong.

Both of these lakes are incredibly unique and each warrant a visit of their own. But, for today, I'll focus on Lake Como and how you can spend a fantastic long week exploring the shores, views, and waters itself.

Short on time? Here's the cheat sheet:

⛵Lake Como is an incredible alpine lake in Northern Italy that deserves all the hype it gets.
⌛Have minimal time? Stay somewhere centrally located so you can take advantage of the quick ferry routes to see different vantage points of the lake.
🎭Staying Longer? GetYourGuide and Viator offer a wide variety of tours and activities to suit your schedule, budget, and interests.
🛏️We stayed in Bellagio to be able to enjoy the town before and after the day trippers arrived. Skyway Apartment is centrally located, offers great views, and was super comfortable for our group of 3.
📅3 days should be enough to explore the lake but if you fall in love like I did, you might need a few more nights to have some downtime alongside all the exploring you'll want to do.
🏥Accidents happen so come prepared with nomad insurance, just in case!

Day 1 on Lake Como

Just like Matera, another of my favorite spots in Italy, Lake Como isn't super easy to get to, unless you plan to spend your time in Como the town. But more on how to arrive at Lake Como in the travel tips below.

To really see the lake and the towns that surround it, you need to put in a little more time and effort. So for Day 1, devote some extra time arriving to Bellagio, the centrally located base for your trip. Want some alternatives? I'll dive into those below as well.

Take the Scenic Route In

Most likely you'll be arriving at Lake Como from Milan. From there, I highly recommend you rent a car and drive along the coastline to Bellagio, going via either Como or Lecco. From Como to Bellagio, the drive is about an hour and from Lecco it's slightly shorter at 45 minutes.

If you decide not to get a rental car, no sweat, take the ferry again. Just know that queues for ferry tickets can be tedious so try to buy yours early and then kill some time checking out Como or Lecco while you wait.

While you won't be able to stop and take pictures from the road (too narrow and windy) or from the ferry, the surrounding mountains and emerald waters make for an incredible welcome.

But, if you do drive yourself, take advantage of that freedom and stop somewhere along the way for lunch. Since we arrived around midday to the lake, we started our trip off with lunch lakefront on the northeastern end of Como the town.

Check-In

If you choose to stay in Bellagio like we did, you'll want to plan your arrival strategically. Since there were 3 of us, we were able to tag team the effort of 2 of us dealing with the bags and 1 dealing with the car since there isn't any parking in old town.

While it might feel inconvenient in the moment, it's worth it to enjoy the town almost completely car-free.

📍Still looking for a great place to stay in Bellagio? I recommend:

  • Budget Option: Hotel Bellagio: Located right in the center of Bellagio, this pet-friendly hotel is a great choice for those that don't need all the space or amenities of an apartment. Plus, you'll get free breakfast!
  • Mid-Tier Option: Skyway Apartment: This is the apartment we stayed in. It was fantastic! It's split between 2 levels which we enjoyed and offers unbeatable lake views inside and from the private terrace. Plus you're right in town center, which is really impossible to beat.
  • Luxury Option: Palazzo Barindelli Suite Verde: Although the Skyway Apartment can sleep more guests, this one gives you more space and open views from every room. The location of this apartment is right on the lake.

Roam Around Bellagio

Here's the truth about Bellagio: even in "off season" (I was here in early May), the daytime crowds are insane. They pack the small alleyways and really do take away a lot of the charm this small town has to offer.

This is why I loved staying here, compared to what it would have been like to just visit. We spent our days out and about and then had Bellagio practically to ourselves in the mornings and evenings.

If it's late by the time you've arrived and checked in, head straight for dinner. I recommend starting off strong with drinks at Aperitivo Et Al. If you decide to eat here, too, try the pizzoccheri, one of Lake Como's traditional pasta dishes. For more meal options, walk across the alleyway to Trattoria San Giacomo. Note that neither place takes reservations.

You'll instantly recognize Bellagio's most famous street. If you've seen any pictures or videos from Bellagio, both of these spots are included in the famous shot. I initially thought that would mean they'd be tourist traps but after speaking with our host, he was right in convincing us they were more than just a pretty picture.

If you still have some time to kill and don't want to deal with the crowds, walk 10 minutes to the other side of the lake to Pescallo, taking a longer detour through the gardens that connect the two towns.

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Day 2 on Lake Como

Now I know we've already started the trip off with a bang but today the real fun begins! On our 2nd day on Italy's deepest lake, we took the waters. Just be sure to pack a blanket or cozy towels if you're not here on a hot sunny day as it can get chilly on the water.

Rent a Boat to Explore the Lake

If you have a few people to share the cost and experience with, renting a boat to fully see the shores from the water is an experience you can't beat.

Being able to see the villas, gardens, and even numerous waterfalls on our own schedule made this trip all the more special. Had it been warm enough to dive in it would have been icing on top of the cake.

We rented our boat in Bellagio through Bellagio Rent a Boat.

Just know that Lake Como is huge and even with 6 hours, if you stop for food or drinks along the way, you won't have time to see it all. We decided to go down near Como and then down to Lecce. In neither direction did we get to the end of the lake but we did squeeze in a drive up to Villa La Gaeta on the northern end.

Nearly all the villas you'll see on your boat trip will be mind blowing. If you're anything like my friends and me, your "favorite" one will constantly change as you see more and more. I finally settled on Sir Richard Branson's yellow and blue home...if anyone is asking.

Alternative Tours

While you now know we decided to take ourselves on a boat tour, if you either don't feel comfortable driving yourself or simply don't want to, there are plenty of boat tours you can hop on instead.

Many of these tours do start in Como the town or even in Milan although you can still find others that start from other towns on the lake.

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Enjoy a Meal & Drinks on the Water

The only caveat to renting your own boat is that you're limited to where you can dock it. You can't simply rock up to any docks or marina and get on land for a bit. Given the limited amount of docking space, I completely understand this but it wasn't something we originally thought of.

Different boat companies might have different agreements but if you rent through Bellagio Rent a Boat, you can only dock at:

  • Grand Hotel Tremezzo: We couldn't resist and stopped here for a cocktail on their waterfront bar. Prices are anything but affordable but the ambiance made it worth it to me. If you have the courage, I recommend walking into the hotel like you own the place to have a peak around. We did this during our walk on the Lake Como Greenway instead of with the boat.
  • Ristorante Crotto dei Platani: From all the restaurants on the list, we chose to eat at this one. Since the weather was chilly we had to sit in their main dining room, which for our style was a bit stuffy. While the views from inside are still great, I bet it's even better to visit here in the summer when you can dine outside. I recommend trying the fresh seafood or lamb.
  • Ristorante Aurora: Located off the shores of Lezzeno, although the reviews look great, we simply didn't have time to try it out.
  • Al Molo 5: This one is down the eastern arm of the lake in Vassena. What I do think would be nice about this one is unless they're really strict, you could probably roam around the town before or after your meal since it's located in the middle of the town unlike the other restaurant options.
  • Locanda La Tirlindana: This restaurant is in Sala Comacina, right on the coast from Iosla Comacina. This option looks great, too, but we didn't try it.

Having a Relaxing Night

After spending all day on the lake, you'll probably be pretty tired by the time you get back to Bellagio. Stroll the alleyways, enjoying the tranquility of the town after the daytrippers have headed off.

We opted for an early dinner of fresh pasta at La Lanterna and then brought a bottle of wine back home to sit on the patio, enjoy the sunset, and play some card games.

If you want to stay out longer, BStyle has a varied cocktail list to choose from, alongside a hearty wine list.

Day 3 on Lake Como

How much you're able to see and do on Day 3 will depend on your travel schedule but if you can stretch your stay to have at least until the late afternoon here, I highly recommend it.

Visit One of the Many Gardens

Lake Como is famous for a few things: sprawling villas, varied nature, and lush gardens. Today it's all about the gardens.

Before our boat trip, we knew we wanted to visit a garden but we hadn't yet decided on which one. After seeing a lot of the most famous ones from the water, we unanimously agreed, Villa del Balbianello was our winner.

You can easily get here from Bellagio by taking the ferry across the lake to Lenno. From there, the entrance to the garden is a short, scenic walk away. You can easily spend hours lounging around, taking in all the unique views, plants, and landscaping. If I had time to kill, it would have been an idyllic spot to bring a book and sit for a while.

Although we chose to visit Villa del Balbianello (you might recognize it from Star Wars and Casino Royale...I honestly did not), there are plenty of others you can choose from.

Other beautiful gardens to visit include:

  • Melzi Gardens: If you're short on time, this is a great choice because these gardens connect to Bellagio, without the need of taking a ferry.
  • Villa Carlotta: If you hang out for my next suggestion for today, you'll get to walk by this villa and can go in if you have the time.
  • Villa Monastero: If you want to visit another town today, this villa is right nearby Varenna.

Pro Tip: If you're going to visit any of these gardens or villas, plan your visit in advance and purchase your tickets online. We quickly looked this up the night before our visit and thought we just needed to pay in advance for a guided tour of the gardens, not just entrance. They're strict about how many people they let in, which certainly makes for a better visit, but if you're short on time, you will lose a lot of time waiting in line.

Walk the Lake Como Greenway

For those that have a few more hours to spare, I highly recommend walking the Lake Como Greenway. If you have time to do the full 7 miles (11.4 kilometers) go for it, I imagine it would be worth it.

We were running low on time though so decided to only walk the middle of it, starting at the Villa del Balbianello and ending at Villa Carlotta. The direct walk along the coastline would be 3 miles / 5 km but if you stick on the Greenway, it'll take you on a slightly longer route up in the hills for great views.

During that walk, I'd recommend skipping out on the restaurants in Lenno and in the heart of Tremezzo and instead eat at Bar Roma. This lakefront restaurant offers little frills but unbeatable views, great food, and all at a much lower price than you'll find elsewhere.

When you finish the walk, you can hop on the ferry back to Bellagio to grab your bags and say your goodbyes.

Take Another Route Out of Town

My friends dropped me off right where they picked me up at Como San Giovanni train station. But, if we had the flexibility, I would have driven out of Bellagio in the direction we didn't arrive to be able to soak up even more views.

Because why not?

Lake Como Travel Tips

Before I send you on your way to visit Lake Como, I have a few more tips to share to ensure your trip goes extra smooth.

Best Towns to Stay In

You know by now that we stayed in Bellagio but by no means do I think that's the only place to stay for your trip to Lake Como.

I'd also suggest staying in:

  • Tremezzo: While there's not so much to do in town, you'll be conveniently located right in the center of the lake to be able to get around it easier and quicker. Arriving to this side of the lake though can be the toughest.
  • Varenna: I didn't go here because it looked so, so crowded during the day (we opted for the day at the gardens instead) but I imagine it's a lot like Bellagio: super busy during the day but great for mornings and evenings. Since they have a train station, it can be convenient to get to if you don't want to rent a car.
  • Mandello del Lario: If you want to stay longer in Lake Como or have a more local experience during your weekend, this town looks like a great option. From my research it seems like it'll be cheaper than the other main towns.

I wouldn't recommend staying in Como the town unless you're super short on time. The mountain views aren't as impressive in that corner of the lake and I've heard it's the most crowded town given the fact that it's the easiest and fastest to arrive at.

Best Time to Visit

Like most places in Italy, you can expect to have 4 real seasons on Lake Como. I visited Lake Como in May and while the weather wasn't super warm, it was more crowded than expected. Given the popularity of the lake, the peak season here lasts longer than it does in other parts of the country.

Although if you decide to try and avoid crowds completely and visit in winter, know that not everything will be open. The ferry schedule changes in the summer months, offering more transfers, but it still runs all year.

If you really want to go swimming, you'll want to visit Lake Como in the summer. Just know that you'll have to fight the highest prices and most crowded experiences.

How to Get Around Lake Como

As you can imagine given its shape, Lake Como isn't super easy to get around. There are no bridges crossing the lake, meaning if you want to go around the lake, you'll need to take advantage of the ferry or water taxis.

Here's what you need to know about how to get around Lake Como.

Public Ferry

The public ferry is by far the most convenient way to get around the lake. Most popular towns and even smaller towns have a ferry stop, giving you the ease to hop around as you see fit.

The only big downside to this route is buying the actual ferry tickets. Maybe you can buy them online with more time in advance but since we were trying to purchase ours last minute, it wasn't possible. In the mornings the line wasn't too long to get them but we did notice people trying to leave Bellagio in the afternoon waiting in lines of 100+ people.

I'd recommend buying your ticket whenever you see the line low for a future time to save you from the big push that seems to happen right before each scheduled ferry.

Water Taxi

I didn't personally take a water taxi but I wanted to mention it because I did see them being promoted. If you don't want to deal with the ferry schedule, you don't have to. Water taxis would give you the freedom to get from Point A to Point B whenever you'd like but I do imagine there's a big price tag associated with that service.

Rental Car

Having a car rental made our lives a lot easier but it's important to share that we only used the car to get to Bellagio and to leave. From there, we left it parked and didn't move it even an inch.

Yes, there were places we could have visited with the car but after seeing parking in the towns, we quickly realized it'd be a lot easier (and more fun) to travel on the water.

While it's not needed to explore the lake, having a rental car will make coming and going a whole lot easier.

Train

If I could forever travel everywhere via train, I would. I would choose arriving by train over any other means of transportation, so long as the connection existed.

Unfortunately, Lake Como isn't one of those super train-friendly places.

On the western side of the lake, you can only arrive in Como the town via Como San Giovanni or Como Lago. On the eastern side of the lake, you do have more options with Lecco and Varenna as the most popular destinations. On the southern or northern side, there are no train stations.

Is a Day Trip Enough Time?

Yes and no.

Technically you can have a day trip to Lake Como from Milan. From there you can explore Como the town, Varenna, or Lecco, depending on the route you choose.

Is that enough time though? No.

If you know me by now, you know I'm a slow traveler. I love living in places more than just quickly stopping by them. For me, even 3 days wasn't enough for me to truly experience Lake Como, although I do think with 3 days I could see quite a bit whereas on a day trip you’d be seriously crunched for time.

How Will You Spend Your Trip to Lake Como?

I love my time visiting Lake Como and feel pretty confident you will, too. Although this Lake Como travel guide only scratches the surface of all the different towns, activities, restaurants, and endless views, it should give you an epic 3-day weekend.

Northern Italy truly has my heart. The more I see, the longer my list gets. While you might be fully content with simply 3 days in Lake Como, if you have the time, this region has far more than just this popular destination to make it shine.

Stay a while, you won't regret it!

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