Known for its picturesque landscape, the stunningly beautiful Lake Como is the perfect destination for couples looking for a romantic Italian getaway. Surrounded by lush green hills, snow-capped mountains, and charming towns that have attracted visitors for centuries, this area is unlike any other.
Lake Como is the perfect place for your vacation if you’re looking for a picturesque place to relax and explore without the stress, planning, and physical effort of some of Italy’s more popular coasts. Here’s our guide to this breathtaking Italian gem’s best things to do, see, and experience.
THE BEST PARTS OF LAKE COMO
- Marveling at the beauty of Villa del Balbianello. The stunning villa, located on a promontory overlooking the lake, offers breathtaking views and an impressive collection of art and artifacts.
- Cruising on Lake Como. Taking a boat ride on the lake is one of the best ways to experience the beauty and charm of the surrounding towns and villas.
- Exploring the historic town of Bellagio. Often called the “Pearl of the Lake,” Bellagio is known for its picturesque streets, elegant architecture, and stunning views.
NAVIGATING THE LANGUAGE
Italian is the national language. As a Latin language, some words might be able to be interpreted without previous knowledge of the language. We found most younger people and those who worked in hospitality spoke very good English. The only times where there was a lack of communication were among older Italian citizens or those further outside of the main tourist areas.
However, any language barrier can always be quickly remedied by using Google Translate. While you definitely don’t need to know Italian to enjoy Lake Como, here are a few words that are helpful to know while exploring this city:
KEY ITALIAN PHRASES TO KNOW
- Buongiorno – pronounced bwahn-joor-no – means Good day (said before sundown)
- Buonasera – pronounced bweh-nah-seh-rah – means Good evening (said after sundown)
- Arrivederci – pronounced ah-ree-vah-dehr-chee – means Goodbye
- Ciao – pronounced chow – means Casual hello/goodbye (Say only after someone says it to you first, otherwise, use the more formal greeting and goodbye of buongiorno, buonasera, and arrivederci)
- Grazie – pronounced graht-seh – means Thank you
WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE COMO
While there are plenty of vacation rentals and hotels to choose from, we know you want nothing but the best in this spectacular destination. It’s important to know now that this is not a budget-friendly backpacker destination. This place comes with luxurious service, amenities, and views and the price tags reflect the destination. Prepare to budget at least $300 a night for a basic room, with a more realistic budget being about $500-$700 a night for a nice hotel. For the dreamiest hotels, plan to spend about $1,200-$1,800 per night.
We normally recommend 4-star level properties with all the modern amenities within the range of $200-$600 per night. That being said, for Lake Como, it’s important to know how far your dollar will go before you book the flight! Your average mid-range luxury price tag is steeper here – but the views and vibes are absolutely worth it.
How long should you stay in Lake Como? As there are many stunning towns to leisurely explore, we recommend planning to stay 3-5 nights. Two nights is just enough to scratch the surface. Three nights is ideal if you’re spending a little over a week in Italy and visiting one other destination. If you’re looking for a relaxing Italian holiday, stay for five nights in Lake Como and two or three nights in Milan. So where should you stay? Here are our top picks for the best hotels in Lake Como:
- BEST FOR: 5-star gorgeous hotel featuring a lakefront pool, lido, and lakefront views
- LOCATION: Tremezzo
- BEST FOR: 4-star Hilton property hotel with friendly staff, amazing breakfast, and great amenities
- LOCATION: Como
- BEST FOR: 4-star elegant hotel with a scenic views and charming design
- LOCATION: Bellagio
HOW TO GET AROUND LAKE COMO
We hope you don’t get seasick because lake life means getting around by boat – everywhere! While there are taxis in the area, boats, ferries, and water taxis are the most efficient mode of transportation here. Once you’re exploring a new town, get your walking shoes on! The only ideal way to navigate each town is by foot. In many historic areas, much is blocked off to cars anyway.
There is simply too much to explain in this one guide that a detailed guide about navigating to and around the lake needed its own blog post. From deciphering ferry times to hiring a private boat and everything in between, check out of full guide about How to get Around Lake Como for more detailed info!
ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO
Lake Como is a dream destination for honeymooners, couples getaways, those looking for a relaxing escape, and nature lovers. Here are some of the best attractions and things to do in the area:
- Explore the towns of Lenno, Bellagio, Menaggio, Como, Tremezzo, and Varenna. Stroll through the cozy villages of Lenno and Menaggio, the charming small towns of Varenna and Tremezzo, the larger city of Como with more modern amenities and a beautiful, long lakefront pathway, and Bellagio, one of the most popular stops (for a reason!) The most popular towns of Menaggio, Bellagio, and Varenna are called the golden triangle. It’s straightforward to access one town from another.
- Wander through the Villa del Balbianello. This stunning villa is located on the tip of a peninsula in Lenno and features beautiful gardens and terraces overlooking the lake. The villa has been used as a filming location for several movies, including Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Casino Royale.
- Visit the beautiful gardens of Villa Melzi. Known as I Giardini di Villa Melzi, these stunning gardens were created in the early 19th century for Duke Francesco Melzi d’Eril and feature a variety of exotic plants, sculptures, and a picturesque lakefront walkway. Conveniently located on the shoreline of Bellagio, this is an easy garden to access and enjoy.
- There are so many wonderful side trips to take from Lake Como. While you can reach several destinations nearby for a day trip, we actually don’t recommend you take any day trips from Lake Como, because the destinations you’d visit deserve so much more attention than a quick day trip! Instead, you should look at spending three nights in Florence or Venice, and two nights in Milan, Portofino, or Cinque Terre.
WHAT & WHERE TO EAT
While Lake Como’s views get all of the attention, the food in the region is equally noteworthy. With various dining options, from local trattorias to fine dining establishments, there’s something for every taste and budget. For a taste of the local cuisine, head to La Barcola in the town of Como for their famous Risotto di pesce, a delicious seafood risotto made with fresh lake fish. Another must-visit restaurant is Trattoria del Glicine in the charming town of Varenna to enjoy local specialties like the famous Cotoletta alla Milanese. For a sweet treat, visit Gelateria Edoardo in Bellagio for gelato made with high-quality ingredients and many unique flavors. For an aperitivo, head to Bar Il Molo in Tremezzo for their excellent selection of wines and aperitivi with a view of the lake.
DRINKS TO ORDER:
- PROSECCO – There’s not much better than a light, bubbly beverage on a boat in the middle of a stunning lake! If you’re on land, split a bottle at sunset with your sweetheart at a lakefront bistro.
- APEROL SPRITZ – the iconic cocktail of Italians during aperitivo (happy hour), we’re pretty sure it’s impossible to have a bad Aperol Spritz in Italy.
- CAMPARI – This bright red liqueur is a staple in Italy, and can be enjoyed on its own or mixed into a variety of cocktails including the Negroni, the Boulevardier, and the Garibaldi.
- ESPRESSO – need a caffeinated pick-me-up? You won’t see Italians sipping on large coffees. Instead, the typical way to order coffee in Lake Como is to walk into a bar (not like the bars in the States!) and order an espresso or doppio espresso (double espresso) to sip on quickly while standing at the counter.
FOOD TO ORDER:
- RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE – This creamy risotto dish is made with saffron and often topped with grated parmesan cheese. As this area is very close to Milan, you’ll seen many Milanese inspired dishes here.
- COTOLETTA ALLA MILANESE – Similar to a breaded and fried veal chop, this dish is a Milanese specialty and a must-try for meat lovers.
- OSSOBUCO – This slow-cooked veal shank is often served with gremolata (a mixture of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley) and risotto.
- GELATO – a no-brainer, nothing beats relaxing with a gelato in hand. Need it dairy free? Order a sorbetto (sorbet). For tips on ordering the best gelato, check out our essential tips you need to know before visiting Italy!
Italy uses the euro. If you’re wondering if you should bring cash or card, the answer is yes – both! Most nicer restaurants and larger stores accept cards. Still, you’ll almost always need cash for more local shops and smaller purchases of less than $30. I recommend using my favorite currency converter app to check the exchange rate when you go. This tool was also helpful when visiting smaller markets and asking the vendor, “how much?” (quanto? in Italian) They can type the number into the app like a calculator, and you can easily see the conversation rate there.
A helpful note about taking out foreign currency in cash:
The best practice (and cheapest) for having cash on hand in a new country is to go to your bank 5-10 business days before your trip and ask them for the new currency. Depending on your bank, this transaction will either be free or just a few dollars.
If you’re like us and realize the airplane tires hit foreign soil that we forgot to do this, then find an ATM to take out euros in cash! Yes, you can do this even with an international debit card and even some credit cards. There will typically be a small transaction fee along with the exchange rate. It’s still cheaper to take out cash this way than to go to a money exchange or Western Union.