The Lombardy region in Northern Italy is also referred to as the Lakes Region for its numerous lakes and waterways that tend to draw water lovers from near and far.
The beauty of the lake is that visitors can enjoy it year-round. During the cold months, snow lovers can head to the mountains for skiing, snowshoeing, and other winter activities. Destinations such as Piani di Bobbio and Valtorta, Valsassina, and Valtellina are popular winter spots.
But truly, Lake Como is more of a warm weather paradise. It is when you can find a favorite restaurant along the lake and sit for hours watching the sun set while listening to the gentle waves greet the shore, or take a boat ride to any one of the many villages across the lake for shopping or sightseeing, or enjoy the many other activities—whether it be waterskiing or hiking.
There is a lot to see and do, and if you only have a weekend, getting the most of this incredible destination can require a bit of guidance.
Here are some tips on how to enjoy it best.
Hotel versus home vacation rental
There is no right or wrong approach to this. It really is a matter of preference. Personally, my family and I enjoyed the home rental experience. We loved walking to the market in the morning and making our own food. We also loved having access to laundry and our very own garden space with views for evening wine drinking and relaxing.
But the hotel experience in Lake Como can also be incredibly luxurious and fabulous.
Viewfinder Tip: If you want anything near the lake or with a lake view, consider reserving early, whether booking a hotel room or vacation rental.
CastaDiva Resort in Como is a luxury resort right on the lake with a floating pool and spa that encourage a fully relaxing stay. Hotel Bellagio is a bit more centrally located with more of a lively feel—still offering lake views.
Different town, different feel
Deciding where to stay around Lake Como depends on the kind of vacation experience you want.
Como, in the southern part of the lake, offers a bit of a bigger town feel. Bellagio is classic and touristy with lots of eateries, shopping, and walking—like the gardens at Villa Melzi. Menaggio is a bit more sleepy but also a nice town to walk around in.
Our absolute favorite is Varenna, in the northern part of the lake, for its more laid-back feel. Though there are a few shops and eateries, it isn’t as busy as neighboring Bellagio across the lake. And though hiking is something that can be done from any of the towns and around the lake, I rather enjoyed the hike up to Castello Vezio along the Sentiero del Viandante, an ancient Roman trail. More avid hikers can take the train to the mountains and kick-off their expedition from Sondrio near the Swiss border.
My advice is to purchase a day or two ferry pass and spend some time exploring the surrounding area. I believe that there is a town around Lake Como to appeal to a variety of travelers.
My family and I drove to the area, and from there we planned on heading to Switzerland. We absolutely loved the freedom to do this and to explore around the lake. However, its important to note that parking is extremely difficult in certain spots. We found a free parking spot that allowed us to leave our car for the weekend we were there, which even our vacation home host stated was a miracle. Otherwise expect to pay for parking. Few home rentals have garage parking access.
Aside from getting to the different towns by ferry, which has a schedule that varies by season and is pretty lost cost and easy to do, there are also some areas that have train access.
You can take the train from Milan to Varenna-Esino station, about a two and half hour ride. You can also take a train from Milan to Como, stopping at Como Nord Lago. If you want to visit Bellagio, you can take a ferry from either of these destinations, or a bus from Como.
Plan train travel ahead of time as you will need to purchase these tickets before departing Milan. The smaller stations aren’t always open to sell tickets. Also make sure to validate your tickets in the yellow machines found at the stations before boarding your train, as not doing so can lead to a hefty fine when inspected by train staff while in transit.
The main thing to keep in mind is that—although there is a lot that you can do on and around the lake—if a weekend is all you have, then just plan on long walks, lazy nights, and lots of stargazing.
This is the kind of place that pulls at your heartstrings and really makes you love Italy—even being still can feel overwhelming to the senses.
What is your favorite lake destination?