5 Do’s and Don’ts of Visiting Lake Como

Visiting Lake Como: Varenna, Italy

Originally published February 16, 2017; updated March 6, 2019.

This post contains affiliate links.

Tucked away in the foothills of the Alps less than an hour north of stylish Milan, travelers might recognize Lake Como from its charming, colorful villas (and from George Clooney’s Nespresso commercial). Visiting Lake Como is a bucket list item for thousands of travelers, but visiting may be easier than you think.

With such easy access from one of Italy’s most important cities, there’s no reason not to make the trip to this stunning lake. Here are some important things to remember when planning your getaway.

Visiting Lake Como: Varenna, Italy
Colorful Varenna.

Do: Use Omio to find the best way to get there.

I love using travel planning site Omio when trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B. It’s a great way to see all your transport options and sort them by price, duration, or type. It’s also a great starting point for when you’re in the early stages of trip planning and includes helpful information for tons of destinations—like Italy, in this case.

Visiting Lake Como is easy from neighboring cities such as Milan, known for its high fashion and amazing Gothic cathedral, or Bergamo, a beautiful Renaissance city in the Lombardy region. To arrive from Milan, I found a round-trip train ticket on Omio for less than 10 euros total—not bad at all! Trains typically depart Milan from Cadorna Railway Station near Sforzesco Castle and arrive in the town of Como.

Don’t: Just stay in Como.

Even though the lake is named after this town, there’s more to see and do all over the region. The town of Como is a lovely place to spend a few hours, but it shouldn’t be the only place you stay during your trip. Bellagio and Varenna near the northern point of the lake are two of the most famous and beautiful towns, and from nearby Brunate, most easily accessed from Como by cable car, you can see stunning views of the Alps.

After arriving in Como, get a bite to eat at one of the restaurants surrounding the cathedral (try Beretta il Fornaio to indulge your sweet tooth, or La Griglia for pizza) and wander the narrow streets before making your way down to the lake.

Visiting Lake Como: Como Cathedral
Como Cathedral

Do: Research various transit options to make your way around the lake.

To get from place to place, your best bet will probably be by boat. Stop by one of the ticket offices in towns such as Como to find ship or ferry tickets that best fit your schedule and budget. You can buy a single ticket from one town to another, a multi-journey ticket, or even a day pass that lets you get on and off the boats as you please in whatever town you want to visit.

Don’t: Panic if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Postcards of the Lake Como region often feature brilliant, sunny views of the mountain villages on what appear to be a beautiful summer day. My trip in late fall couldn’t have been more the opposite. Temperatures in the low 50s Fahrenheit (10°C), on-and-off rain the whole day, and a constant layer of fog meant that my trip looked nothing like the famous photos.

At first I was disappointed that the fog was hiding most of the wonderful view, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that the lake and its villages still looked stunningly beautiful despite the less than ideal weather. Don’t be afraid to brave the rain and cold. Visiting Lake Como is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for most people, and you don’t want your most potent memory to involve hiding from the elements inside the boat.

Visiting Lake Como
Visiting Lake Como

Do: Stay more than one day

Full disclosure: I didn’t actually do this. When originally planning on visiting Lake Como, I had no idea how much stunning natural beauty the region had to offer, and relegated it to a simple day trip.

In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t. Yes, Lake Como seemed like a great little day trip from Milan, but as we were on the train back to the city that night we realized that we hadn’t had nearly enough time to experience nearly enough of what we wanted to see. The regular ferry can take up to two hours to reach some points of the lake like Bellagio and Varenna, so visiting those two towns alone can eat up a good chunk of your day. If possible, take several days to really explore the region and its towns.

Visiting Lake Como: Varenna, Italy
Exploring Varenna
Visiting Lake Como: Bellagio, Italy
Arriving in Bellagio

Have you been to Lake Como or anywhere else in Italy? What do you wish you would have known before your trip?

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Lake Como is one of Italy's most picturesque and iconic destinations. Here's how to make the most of your time at this stunning natural gem.

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