Lake Como travel guide – la dolce vita on the Italian lakes

Lake Como travel guide

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In another life I think I like to think I was a 1950s Italian glamourpuss. Think Sofia Loren. All big hair, immaculate grooming and cat eye sunglasses.

I would have ridden a scooter around Lake Como stopping off to admire the views over a glass or two of prosecco before jumping in my classic wooden speedboat for dinner in Bellagio.

Glamour – an attractive of exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing

So I just had to try to live out this fantasy on our family trip to Lake Como. In the end it wasn’t that difficult. Lake Como oozes glamour and you soak it up easily.

Even if you don’t have Sophia Loren’s hair.

Here is how to get your glam on when you visit Lake Como Italy.

Lake Como travel guide – the most glamorous experiences

Bellagio Lake Como things to do

When you visit Lake Como you are mesmerised by the natural landscape. The lake’s shimmering waters cover 146 square kilometres and forms the shape of an upside down ‘Y’. Forming a dramatic backdrop to the lake, the Italian Alps rise majestically in the distance.

This region has been the playground of the aristocracy since Roman times, although George Clooney put it on the map more recently. People come to Como for its (relative) quiet seclusion, natural beauty and easy way of life.

Visit one of the many villas overlooking the lake

Villa Carlotta Lake Como travel guide

We loved Villa Carlotta with its small collection of restored rooms and much larger and diverse gardens. Explore the 17th century villa and enjoy the views from the balcony of boats darting across the lake from town to town.

You could spend hours in the gardens enjoying the various ‘rooms’ or sections. There are formal and  organic spaces created over 70,000 square metres to explore.

Villa Carlotta is open daily from March to October and on selected days during the winter. Adult admission is €10 and children under 6 visit for free.

Other villas worth visiting in Lake Como

Villa del Balbianello 
A famous movie location, this elegant villa starred in the movies Casino Royale and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.

Villa D’Este
If you were looking to splurge and take your glamourpussing to new heights then Villa D’Este would be the place I would choose to stay. The luxury hotel is also home to several bars and restaurants with spectacular views over the lake.

A private boat cruise on Lake Como

Lake Como private boat cruise - things to do in Como

I absolutely covet this experience and unfortunately this time it was not to be. Take a 2 hour or half day tour of the major sites in a classic wooden topped speedboat and you are bound to feel instantly glamorous.

If you have an active imagination and a smaller budget ride the many ferries that connect Lake Como’s pretty towns. Just add scarf and shades and stand on the deck of the boat in awe of the beauty that surrounds you.

Taxi Boat Varenna day tours were recommended to us by the host at the apartment where we stayed. We saw the boats out on the water and they looked so sleek and elegant.

Ferries depart from various towns along the lake throughout the day. The main ports are Como, Bellagio and Mennagio – visit the local ferry operator for timetables and more information.

READ:   Top resources for planning a trip to Italy

Watch the sunset in Bellagio at the water’s edge

Lake Como sunset Bellagio italy

I defy anyone, even the most hardened and grumpy of souls, to not be entranced watching the sun edge its way down over the horizon, behind the alps.

We saw a few sunsets on the days we visited but none matched the rose hued beauty of the sun descending behind the mountains from Bellagio.

Shop the boutiques

Como is a thriving city and we browsed several stores selling beautiful homewares and fashion. You will also find local produce stores with a variety of specialties from the Lombardy region.

A carefully chosen accessory always helps me feel more glamorous. Bellagioseta in Bellagio is world famous for its selection of silk scarves, ties and leather goods.

Experience a food festival

Italy food experience - Food festival in Italy

Sophia Loren famously said “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti”. Far be it for me to argue with the great actress.

If you are looking for an amazing meal in Lake Como attend the local food festivalApart from enjoying a delicious meal you will notice that the people of the city are dressed to impress.

READ:   The missing bite .. a discovery of tastes in Italy

Take in the views from up high at Brunate

Como funicular and views from Brutante - what to do in lake como

Take the funicular railway from Como to the hillside town of Brutante for wonderful views of the lake and the city of Como.

The trains leave every 15-20 minutes and cost around €5 for an adult return. At the top of the hill enjoy the views over a coffee or take a stroll around the town or on some of the local walks.

Favorite towns on Lake Como

Simply cruising around the lake either by boat or car or both feels glamorous. In an area blessed with so many pretty places some of the towns we visited stood out as my favourite.

Brienno

Brienno Lake Como - towns around lake como

With a slightly more rustic feel than its sophisticated neighbours Brienno rests quietly on its considerable charms. The views across to Bellagio are divine and the houses that linesteep cobbled lanes that rise up the hillside offer fleeting glimpses of the lake below.

Bellagio

Cobbled streets of Bellagio Lake Como - best towns on lake como

The sun descended slowly over the shimmering lake, light reflecting off the mountains in an ethereal haze. I think I took over 100 photos after pausing to enjoy the moment. Possibly the most famous of the towns on Lake Como’s shores, Bellagio captured me at sunset.

Read: 50 beautiful small towns in Italy 

After browsing the chic boutiques along the towns steep cobbled streets we sat on a bench and watched the sun set taking in the scent of colourful blooms and the passing parade of couples holding hands.

Sunset at Bellagio Lake Como

A friendly waiter ushered us to our table with a view and organised the children’s pasta so we could relax and enjoy the spectacle. I will remember this dinner forever. We were laughing and smiling, the view was incredible and our meals delicious.

Varenna

Visit Lake Como - pretty Varenna Lake Como towns

If your idea of heaven is a medieval town full of colourful buildings perched upon a lake then you will no doubt fall in love with Varenna as I did.

Away from the hustle and bustle of Como and Bellagio, Varenna reminded me of the secluded beauty of Lake Orta.

A lakeside promenade winds around the shore leading to a pretty square off which climb stone alleyways hiding boutiques and gelaterie. When I return to Lake Como I would like to stay in Varenna.

READ:   Lake Orta - the most beautiful lake in northern Italy

How to get from Milan to Lake Como

Como is a short train ride or drive from Milan. Catch the express train from Milano Centrale you can be enjoying the fresh lake air in around half an hour.

For that reason, many tour companies offer a day trip to Como from Milan and this is a good option if you are short on time.

If you have a little more time, hire a car and make the most of the smaller towns on the lake. Not keen on driving in Italy? Check out my guide on tips to driving in Italy to build your confidence. It’s really not as hair raising as you would think.

Even if you don’t drive you can catch the ferries from town to town. This is much slower but who cares! It’s the Italian lakes.

Where to stay on Lake Como

Como duomo views - things to do at Lake Como

We chose to stay in Como town as we wanted to do a day trip to nearby Switzerland and tour the lake from a central base. Como is a thriving and living city, not simply a tourist town.

It has several significant buildings including the magnificent duomo or cathedral  decorated in the gothic style. I loved pretty Piazza Cavour where restaurants spill into the square and children play while their parents sip wine.

Our apartment in Como

I like to think I am becoming quite the expert on picking great vacation rental properties and our apartment in Como was among the best we have stayed in.

Built on ancient foundations, the huge newly renovated two bedroom apartment was in the centre of town within walking distance of the lake, the Duomo and a wonderful gelato shop.

Beautifully decorated with local touches I also loved the history of the building. Original Roman remains are integrated into its structure. You can see these from the pretty secret garden the apartment is named for.

Como Secret Garden apartment main bedroom

Our welcoming host Alessandra was so kind and patient, taking the time to tell us about the local attractions and helping us find a secure car spot. It seems we were not the only guests to find the property appealing.

You can book the apartment and read more reviews on Booking.com and Tripadvisor.

Recommended hotels on Lake Como

 

Lately I have spent a lot of time day dreaming and researching our return to this beautiful part of Italy. Here are some of the places I think are the best hotels in the best towns to stay in Lake Como.

LuxuryGrand Hotel Villa Serbelloni [Bellagio]

 

The ultimate in glamorous Lake Como accommodations, no request is too much trouble at Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. The 5 star hotel boasts incredible views over the lake (think of those sunsets!) and a Michelin star restaurant on site. >Check availability and prices

Boutique – Filario Hotel [Lezzeno, near Bellagio]

 

Perfect for a modern romance, the Filario has an infinity pool looking over Lake Como and a private beach. Guests can arrange private water taxis from the hotel but the comfortable and stylish rooms mean you might not want to leave. >Check availability and prices

Classic charm – Hotel Royal Victoria [Varenna]

 

The classic views from the terrace at 4 star Hotel Royal Victoria in Varenna are the stuff of dreams. Varenna is a quieter option if you want to stay away from the crowds and the hotel is the perfect spot to enjoy this peaceful side of the lake. >Check availability and prices

Where to eat on Lake Como

Visit Lake Como and eat Fritto Misto

Rodrigo Restaurant – Via Regina, 7, 22011 Griante

A short stroll from Villa Carlotta, the wonderful Rodrigo Restaurant has been serving patrons classic Italian dishes and local specialties since the 1920s. In its heyday the restaurant was renowned for its opulent style but these days I can heartily recommend the pizza.

Ristorante l’Antica Riva – Via Lungo Lario Trieste 50, Como

We feasted on the freshest fish at this elegant restaurant overlooking the city of Como’s shoreline. Our children were spoiled by the attentive waiters who made sure, in wonderful Italian fashion, that they were fed first so we could enjoy our meal.

delicious caprese salad

La Terrazza Metropole – Hotel Metropole Bellagio

Perched above the gentle lapping waters of Lake Como we had one of our most memorable meals of the year at the terrace restaurant of Hotel Metropole Bellagio.

Fantastic food and service were only eclipsed, quite unfairly, by the sunset spectacle across the lake. We recommend the caprese salad and truffle linguine.

Gelateria Lariana – Via Lungo Lario Trento, 5, Como

I sat outside this gelateria with my son one evening and we bonded over a mutual love for gelato. He announced that his favourite flavour is mint and I thought that was quite sophisticated for an almost three year old.

Gelateria Lariana meets all my criteria for great gelato and I can recommend trying the bacio, lemon and of course mint flavours.

A final word on visiting Lake Como

Lake Como is a wonderfully glamorous place, even if you are travelling with a couple of almost three year olds, and should definitely be included in your travel plans for Italy.

Most days I don’t feel like I ooze glamour but I certainly felt it on our visit to this most classic of Italian lakes during the last days of summer. And wouldn’t you know, Sophia Loren has a property on its shores.

Sophia Loren Rockin' Her 1955 300SL Mercedes-Benz SL Gullwing


I hope you liked our Lake Como travel guide.

Have you visited Lake Como? How glamorous was your experience?


Find more Italian glamour on the Italian Riviera and its pretty towns, Venice off the beaten track, beautiful Lake Orta, and the hills of Tuscany


Lake Como Italy - a guide for discovering the glamour of the classic Italian lake


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61 thoughts on “Lake Como travel guide – la dolce vita on the Italian lakes

  1. Bumble Bee Mum says:

    You made me wish I had spent some time at Lake Como instead of all my time shopping a Milan when I was in Italy. If only I could turn back time. Actually no, I just need to get air tickets to Italy again. #FarawayFiles

  2. Clare Thomson says:

    Just love that photograph of Sophia Loren – you do look remarkably similar! Lake Como and Villa d’Este have been on my list forever and now even my sons are badgering us to book a trip. This is a great guide of all the things to see and do – we’d love to go on a boat trip, wander those streets and eat all that delicious food. #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Oh Clare you are so lovely but I think you need your eyes checked! I am sure your glamour loving boys would enjoy it immensely. I forgot to mention all the prestige cars we saw!

  3. Trish @ Mum's Gone To says:

    Some years ago we had a fabulous family holiday in Lake Garda and ever since I’ve been wondering about trying Lake Como. Some great info here and I think it would be perfect for us as a couple now my son has left home. I’ll remember my scarves and shades and attempt to be a glamourpuss!
    #farawayfiles

  4. Urska - Slovenian Girl Abroad says:

    My husband and I talked about driving to Lake Como so many times, but we never found the right moment. After reading your post, I see we’re missing a lot. I think we need to make this trip a top priority for the upcoming spring/summer. #FarawayFiles

  5. Allison says:

    Lake Como does sound glamorous! I seriously wish I lived in Europe so I can just jet off to all these places I read about. There are so many places I want to go in the world but my heart has always belonged to Europe. #farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      I get it Allison! We are here in Europe for a few more years with my husband’s job and I am trying to squish as much in as possible

  6. MummyTravels says:

    I’ve never been to the Italian lakes – it definitely makes me think glamour and elegance (therefore not exactly families…or me) but I love the sound of your trip. I do already have cats eye sunglasses and love spaghetti… #farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      I think you would fit right in Cathy. Anywhere in Italy is great for kids in my opinion. There are always playgrounds and all the restaurants we go to there just swing into kid action as soon as you arrive and make sure they are comfortable and happy so you can enjoy a prosecco or two.

  7. afamilydayout says:

    I’ve been to Lake Garda but from the looks of your photos Lake Como is definitely more glamorous. I don’t think you can beat Italy for its all round appeal of sights, food, weather and scenery, a fantastic country to visit. #Farawayfiles

  8. Hilary says:

    ooh! Everything looks so lovely, the food, the lake, the sunsets. I’ve always wanted to visit Lake Como, and I’m definitely looking into renting an apartment next time we travel. #farawayfiles

  9. Ali May says:

    I’ve never visited Lake Como before, but I imagine it to be a place where you can rub shoulders with the rich and famous, or at least pretend to be in a movie. You accommodation sounds like a real winner, and those sunset views at dinner by the lake seem magical. What an experience!

  10. wandertraum says:

    Lake Como and the surrounding towns look like exactly the kind of place I would fall in love with instantly. I’m currently hoping to find my way to Italy (for the first time!) for two weeks this May, and although Lake Como wasn’t really on my radar before it definitely is now! It’ll just be impossible to choose what place to kick off in order to make it there…

    • Katy says:

      Oh Addie, I hope you do make it there. My advice would be to pick two places and really enjoy them. There’s a temptation to fit everything into one trip but there is so much to explore and just chill out and enjoy.

  11. Kat says:

    As much as I love your photos of Como, my favourite is actually the apartment bedroom, hahah! Am I the only one who feel that way?? 😉 That bedroom oozes luxury and elegance. I love reading your posts on great places like these in Europe plus great tips on sights, accommodation and food. Cheers! #farawayfiles

  12. differentshoresblog says:

    I always found the Italian lakes a bit sedate and snooty but stunningly beautiful. My favourite places were Varenna and Bellagio. You have made it all look amazing, compliments on your post! Your food pics are also making me salivate right now…

    • Katy says:

      I can see why you would say that but I found everything quite relaxed – especially Varenna. I don’t think I can be objective about Italy though. Even the average experiences there are a cut above everywhere else to me!

    • Katy says:

      Love it Erin. I’m so glad my backpacking days are over. Yes they were fun but I cant even face a ham sandwich to this day as I think it is all I ate when I toured Europe in my 20s. Lake Como definitely requires a bit of budget!

    • Katy says:

      Ooh lucky you Melissa! I loved Lake Garda and its pretty medieval towns when I visited many years ago. I haven’t been to Maggiore but we did stop by Lake Orta on our way to Como and it is nothing short of magical.

  13. aholeinmyshoe (@a_holeinmyshoe) says:

    Lake Como has been on my list forever, the closest I’ve got was seeing the lake whilst passing through on the train to Milan. You’ve sure wet my appetite to move this place higher up my growing list, thank you. Loved the pic and quote from Sophia Loren, nice touch.

  14. Danielle Wisniewski says:

    Wow! What a beautiful place. Lake Como always seemed “too expensive” for me, but compared to the UK and Ireland it doesn’t seem that bad. Can’t get over how pretty this is! #farawayfiles

  15. WanderMum says:

    Lake Como is beautiful! We’ve been a couple of times. Once for a wedding – an incredible setting for it. I remember passing Villa D’este – looked like THE place to go -so when we visit again one day I’ll aim to up the glamour and stay there! #farawayfiles

  16. mycountryepoque says:

    Hi Katy, thank you for bringing Lake Como to us. It is my dream to visit there one day, I have read about it time and time again and the next thing is that am not going to read about it, I am going to write about my dream that came true. I cannot wait to visit such place.

  17. Wilbur's Travels says:

    I visited Como last year with Mrs Wilbur and we loved it. We took the train from Verona, did a great boat trip across the lake and also up the funicular before training to Tirano after two nights. I would like to go back and visit Bellagio & Varenna like you did either by boat or train. Great post with lots of glamour. Capri or Venice next? Wilbur.

  18. Sara Eckert says:

    Do you happen to know what tour company does these tours below? I can’t find one after trying to research. I want to see as much of the lake as possible on our one full day there on Monday, July 3, 2017.

    “Take a 2 hour or half day tour of the major sites in a classic wooden topped speedboat.”

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