LAKE COMO TOWNS: ONLY THE BEST 8 TO LOVE
Lake Como, an iconic haven in the Lombardy region of Italy has been a famous tourist destination since the Roman times. Known for its scenic beauty, mountain vistas and lakeside residences of the rich and famous in Europe, Lake Como is mesmerising no matter which part of the lake shores you visit. The charming towns and villages that are peppered along these wonderful undulating shores feed your soul, your imagination and your curiosity. It is absolutely delightful!
I was pleasantly amazed and completely drawn to the simplicity and quaintness of the Lake Como towns. Historic ruins, quiet alleys, stunning views, and enchanting villas, are the charms and gems that you can expect when visiting some of the prettiest and most characterful Lake Como towns.
In this article, I share the 8 of the very best of Lake Como towns that should absolutely make your list of destinations when you visit this awe-inspiring Italian corner of the world.
Here is an overview of the 8 Lake Como towns covered in this article:
1 | Varenna;
2 | Bellagio;
3 | Como town;
4 | Tremezzo;
5 | Menaggio;
6 | Argegno;
7 | Lecco;
8 | Cernobbio.
The Best Lake Como Towns, Italy
1 | Varenna: The most picturesque of Lake Como towns to love
Perched between steep hills and the lake in the middle of the eastern shore of Lake Como, Varenna is one of the most picturesque towns in Lake Como. The town is said to date back to the 8th century when a fisherman took a liking to its location and established the first commune. This stunning and colourful traditional town is my personal favourite.
1.1 | What to see and do in Varenna
Due to its small size, everything in Varenna is within easy reach and can be explored on foot. Some of the best things to do in Varenna are:
1 | Explore the narrow cobbled streets of Varenna’s old town centre by the tranquil shores of the lake. Visit Piazza San Giogio, Church of San Giogio, walk along the lakeside promenade (‘Walk of Lovers’) and simply enjoy the tranquility it offers. Stop-by at one of the cafes that dots the narrow cobbled lanes.
2 | Visit the enchanting villas of Varenna: Villa Monastero is well known for its flora and fauna with a garden bursting with more than 900 rare plants but people come here mostly for the amazing panoramic views over the lake. Villa Cipressi is a luxury hotel and offers a romantic location with pretty botanical gardens snaking down to the shores.
3 | Visit the hilltop castle ruins of Castello di Vezzio for remarkable views over the nearby Lake Como towns.
1.2 | Getting to Varenna
Varenna is conveniently located. The town is easily reached by train from Milan Centrale Station, by car or by boat from many other towns and villages in Lake Como. Some of the popular day tours from Milan also include Varenna in their itineraries.
1.3 | How much time is needed to explore Varenna
Varenna can be explored from two to three hours to a whole day. You can easily walk through the town in about two hours. To really get to know the town, and to quietly explore you will need four to five hours if you want to visit the villas, castle and have lunch.
Recommended read: Varenna: 10 Best Things to do in this colourful town in Lake Como
2 | Bellagio: A renowned and most visited of Lake Como towns
Bellagio is one of the most renowned towns in Lake Como and one that you really can’t miss. This pretty town is located on the peninsula that separates the two southern branches of Lake Como. Its unique location makes it one of the popular ferry stops on the lake and most visited.
Known as the “Pearl of Lake Como”, Bellagio is a small, elegant town that will surely win you over. With steep winding paths where simple hues of pastel coloured houses provide the perfect pops of colour. Wine bars spill onto the street, flower-lined cobbled alleys, houses with ivy-covered balconies and the town’s classy villas along with unrivalled coastal views.
Bellagio is vibrant and is dotted with boutique shops along with a good range of eateries. The town has a luxury appeal where people come here for shopping, dining and to see and be seen. Accommodation and restaurant prices are generally higher in Bellagio than the surrounding Lake Como towns, although you may find some exceptions too. Despite its luxury appeal, Bellagio offers something for everyone with restaurants for all budgets.
2.1 | What to see and do in Bellagio
1 | One of the best things to do in Bellagio is to go off grid to the main streets. Walk around the labyrinth of streets in the old town and you will discover a totally different atmosphere to the touristy side of Bellagio.
2 | Visit Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni. Both are unmissable destinations in this town. Both are home to extensive gardens with stunning views and open to the public.
3 | Take a walk to Punta Spartivento, the northernmost viewpoint of Bellagio for more stunning views across the lake.
4 | You may also want to hop onto the little tourist train where you could visit the charming villages of Pescalo and San Giovanni.
2.1.1 | Good to know when visiting Bellagio:
In all of the main towns such as Bellagio, Varenna or Como in Lake Como, you will find several local companies offering boat rental or private boat tours. If you want to do this activity, factor in enough time for your visit to Bellagio. As well, if you are visiting during the high season, know that most boats will be booked-up days, if not weeks ahead. Therefore, if you are sure to experience a boating activity in Lake Como, book in advance. This private boat tour is one of the best valued boating experiences in Bellagio. It is a wonderful way to relax and visit some of the nicest places and villages at a slower pace.
2.2 | Getting to Bellagio
Bellagio does not have a train station. The town can be conveniently reached by car, bus or boat. By far the easiest way is to take a train from Milan to either Varenna or Como and then take a boat to Bellagio. The ferry ride from Varenna to Bellagio is about 15 to 20 minutes and from Como to Bellagio is about 50 minutes. Car ferries from Varenna or Cadennabia also stop here.
2.3 | How much time is needed to explore Bellagio
You can see the town centre in under an hour but if you want to see the villas and explore a little deeper, 4 to 5 hours is an ideal time frame. A full day is even better as it affords you time to explore the neighbouring villages, beyond the touristy spots, have lunch amidst the picturesque views and enjoy an aperitivo before taking the last ferry out.
Recommended read: Amazing 18 Things to do in Bellagio, the ‘Jewel of Lake Como’
3 | Como: An ideal base for exploring Lake Como
Como is a city and is an important strategically located destination, often regarded as the gateway to Lake Como. The town is well connected by regional, national and international railways as well as ferry boats and road transportation. Como is the biggest town among the Lake Como towns and well known for the Como Gothic Cathedral, the scenic funicular and a beautiful lakeside promenade.
Como town makes an ideal off-seasonal destination. While several of the Lake Como towns were partially shut down in the low season, Como exudes a vibrant scene and a cozy atmosphere although the crowds were less. If you are planning an off-seasonal visit to Lake Como, Como is a perfect place to stay at. Como was my base when I visited Lake Como in November. There were plenty of shops and restaurants open along with vibrant piazzas and busy Saturday markets.
The origins of Como predate the Roman conquest in 196 BC and became a Roman colony under Julius Caesar. Hence, this beautiful town has a rich history with several piazzas, Gothic architecture, and a silk industry since the 1400s. Como is the site of the National Institute of Silk. There are lots of shops here that sell all kinds of beautiful silk products at a reasonable price.
Como is relatively small and flat. The city centre is surrounded by the old city wall. It is compact and pedestrianised. The streets here are much wider than other Lake Como towns and make it easier to explore.
3.1 | What to see and do in Como
Como city centre is easily explored on foot.
1 | Visit the Como Cathedral, Como Archaeological Museum and Tempio Voltiano.
2 | Pass the Porta Torre, a 12th century city gate.
3 | Ensure you visit all the piazzas, they are located within a few metres of one another.
4 | A walk along the lakeside promenade is an absolute must for the gorgeous views of the lake.
5 | Go a little further to Villa Olmo and the secluded Villa Grumello. Both villas are stops along the “Kilometer of Knowledge” which is a pedestrian path that provides varying view points of Lake Como from elevated positions.
6 | One of the “really must do” things in Como is the funicular ride up to Brunate. Brunate is a hilltop village that offers spectacular views over Lake Como. Nearby is a lighthouse that provides even more amazing views of the undulating landscapes.
7 | In addition, one of the best things to do in Como is to take a boat tour. It really is an amazing experience to explore the lake-shores in a private boat tour. This highly rated 4-hour boat tour from Como is one of the best private boat tours where you get to see some of the prettiest villas and the nicest scenery.
3.2 | How to get to Como
Como is easily reached by car, train, bus or boat. Como is served by four railway stations but the two main ones are Como Lago and Como San Giovanni. You can reach Como Lago by train from Malpensa Airport or Como San Giovanni from Milan Centrale. Como has great ferry and boat connections to all the other Lake Como towns also. Many tour groups to Lake Como make a visit to Como.
3.3 | How much time is needed to explore Como
Some suggest that 2 to 3 hours or half a day is enough to explore Como. I would disagree with this and highly recommend that you spend more time in Como. At a minimum, a complete day is recommended to fully immerse in the vibes of a lake-shore town, to delve into the history and experience the spectacular views of Lake Como as well as indulge in the flavoursome dishes this city has to offer.
4 | Tremezzo, Lake Como Towns
Tremezzo is located on the western shore of Lake Como and is perched between the lake and a hill. The town is quite small and narrow. The restaurants, cafes and a few hotels are lined along the main road. The most impressive hotel here is the luxury Grand Hotel Tremezzo. It has a lovely restaurant/bar by the lake and provides a perfect setting for lunch or aperitivo by the waters.
A visit to Tremezzo must also include a visit to Villa Carlotta, a grand lakeside villa with a huge and stunning botanical garden along with an impressive museum. Villa Carlotta can also be reached by boat as there is a dedicated dock, a few meters away from Tremezzo ferry point.
4.1 | What to see and do in Tremezzo
1 | The main attraction in Tremezzo is Villa Carlotta with its impressive gardens and museum. The inside of the villa can be visited and the lavishly decorated rooms are certainly not to be missed.
2 | Nearby, is a lovely little church, Church of San Lorenzo with roots dating back to 1775.
4.1.1 | Good to know when visiting Tremezzo
Tremezzo is close to most of the enchanting villas and the prettiest towns in Lake Como. A private boat tour comes in handy here as you can see a lot more within the short time and your entire trip will be very scenic.
4.2 | How to get to Tremezzo
You can get to Tremezzo by bus, car or boat. The best way to get to Tremezzo is by boat and you can hop off either on your way to or from Bellagio.
4.3 | How much time is needed to visit Tremezzo
You would probably only need to spend about 1.5 to 2 hours here which includes a visit to Villa Carlotta and a quick walk-around the town. If you wish to have lunch/dinner or drinks at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, you are likely to need, perhaps up to 3 hours.
5 | Menaggio: A charming lakeside village
Menaggio is a beautiful village with an ancient origin that provides a haven to relax and to experience the lakeside atmosphere. There are no grand villas or splendid gardens here but a walk through the narrow street of the historic centre is an experience in itself. Menaggio has a charming lakefront, said to be one of the longest in Lake Como.
Menaggio is not touristy. The visitors who do come here are here to walk around the village, enjoy the beautiful serene views and perhaps, people watch from the restaurant terraces. If you have an hour or two to spare, Menaggio makes a nice little visit.
5.1 | What to see and do in Menaggio
1 | The main street is Via Calvi and hosts several small boutiques and shops.
2 | The liveliest place to visit is the town square, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi and Via Mazzini, located in the centre of Menaggio.
3 | One of the ‘must-do’ activities in Menaggio is to walk along the waterfront promenade that offers one of the most picturesque views of Lake Como. It is a nice lovely walk with trees and benches, and towards the south of the pier, you will reach a marina with more beautiful views.
4 | If you love nature and are feeling adventurous, you could explore several hiking routes. One of the most fascinating routes is Val Sanagra. The trek takes you along a beautiful wooded area and mountain pastures with a river that runs through it.
5.2 | How to get to Menaggio, Lake Como
Menaggio can be reached by bus, car or boat. Car parking isn’t great here and there are a few designated parking spots. The best way to get to Menaggio is to take the boat. You can reach Menaggio from either Varenna or Bellagio in about 15 to 20 minutes.
5.3 | How much time is needed to explore Menaggio
Menaggio is easily explored in less than an hour. However, you may want to take some time for an aperitivo and watch the comings and goings of boats or simply breathe the freshness in the atmosphere.
6 | Argegno: A small and quaint Lake Como town
Argegno is an unspoilt hamlet on the western shores of Lake Como. Located at just 20 km (12.5 miles) from Como, Argegno has a stream that divides the town with a connecting Roman bridge. With 688 inhabitants, this charming little village revolves around its central square, Piazza Roma. The characteristics of this hamlet are the stone buildings, narrow alleys and cobbled streets. There is a fascinating historic church, a cable car to Pigra, one of the steepest climbs in Europe, along with several hiking trails.
6.1 | What to see and do in Argegno
1 | Be sure to take the cable car from Argegno to Pigra for breathtaking views of Lake Como. The Argegno-Pigra cable car connects the two towns and takes you from 200m (655 ft) to 850m (2790 ft) in just 5 minutes. The ride runs every 30 minutes. Pigra is a favourite spot for hikers as they can access the surrounding trails such as Rifugio di Colonno.
2 | Visit the Church of St Trinita, which houses a delighful bell chime and a beautiful rose window. The facade has a striking mosaic. It depicts the saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Abbondia (patron saint of Como) and Santa Anna (patron saint of Argegno).
3 | Walk along the lakeside promenade and enjoy some fascinating views of Lake Como. There are some nice restaurants where you could stop for brunch/light lunch.
6.2 | How to get to Argegno
Argegno can be reached by bus, car and boat. Opt for the boat as the views from the waters are absolutely mesmerising. Ferries run an hourly service between Como and Argegno and the journey is about 20 minutes.
6.3 | How much time is needed to explore Argegno
Argegno is a place to visit as well as a place to stay for a few days. A visit here can take up to 2 to 3 hours which includes the cable car ride to Pigra.
Most visitors may prefer Argegno as a base for their Lake Como vacation. Accommodations in Argegno are relatively cheaper than its neighbours (Como, Bellagio or Varenna). Argegno is conveniently connected by regular bus service and boats to the larger towns in Lake Como. The tranquility of this small town is also a huge attraction for visitors.
ADD TO YOUR LAKE COMO TOWNS ITINERARY
7 | Lecco, Lake Como
This is a small commune but one of the larger towns in Lake Como. Lecco is situated at the southern end on the eastern shores of the lake, at the foothills of Bergamo Alps. This beautiful town is often overlooked because of its location and the fact that most of the top sights are located on the western shores. If you wish to visit a less touristy destination, Lecco makes an ideal stop.
7.1 | What to see and do in Lecco
Lecco is characterised by quaint streets and vine-covered balconies overlooking charming courtyards below.
1 | The historic centre of Lecco is home to the Neoclassical Teatro della Societa in Piazza Garibaldi and the medieval ruins of Torre Viscontea in Piazza XX Settembre. Both of these piazzas along with Piazza Zermanati are the busiest parts of Lecco. These are great places where you can grab a coffee or just simply people-watch.
2 | There are several impressive 18th and 19th century villas in Lecco. Notably, Villa Manzoni on Via Amendola. This is where the famous Italian poet, novelist and philosopher Alessandro Manzoni was born. The villa is a museum these days, dedicated to his life and works.
3 | Lecco is home to a number of religious buildings. Look out for Chiesa dei Santi Materno e Lucia with its bell tower which is one of the oldest churches in Lecco. The Basilica of Saint Nicholas and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Victory are also worth visiting.
4 | Take the cable car from Lecco that goes up to Piano d’Ema. The views from Piano are absolutely superb and worth the trip. You could either take the cable car back down or opt to hike. The hike will take at least a couple of hours.
5 | Finally, spend some time meandering along the lakeside promenade. Take in the wonderful views along the southern fork of Lake Como.
7.2 | How to get to Lecco, Lake Como Towns
You can reach Lecco by car, train or by boat. The easiest way to reach Lecco is by taking the direct train from Milan. Boat rides are also regular from Bellagio but the journey can take more than an hour.
7.3 | How much time is needed to experience Lecco
Depending on what you plan to see and do, a visit to Lecco can take anything from a couple of hours to almost a day.
8 | Cernobbio
Cernobbio is a splendid little town located on the southern end of Lake Como, near Como town.
8.1 | What to see and do in Cernobbio, a Lake Como town
Some of the famous Lake Como villas including Villa Bernasconi, Villa d’Este and Villa Erba are located here.
1 | Villa d’Este is one of the world’s most luxurious hotels. You can only visit here if you are a guest of the hotel. However, you may be able to admire the resplendent building and its gardens from the waters via a private boat trip.
2 | Villa Bernasconi is open to the public and you could visit to explore the historic villa.
3 | Explore the charming old town of Cernobbio. The streets here are lined with colourful houses, elegant shops and excellent restaurants.
4 | There are a couple of churches to visit. The Parrochiale Primitiv dedicated to Saint Vincenzo and the Church of Santa Stefano. Church of Santa Stefano sits on an elevated position above the town. A visit here affords lovely views over Lake Como.
5 | Make time to walk along the delightful lakeside promenade, known as Riva di Cernobbio. Walk past the fountains, and beaches, across the Art Nouveau bridge and through the exquisite Giardino della Valle.
8.1.1 | Good to know about things to do in Cernobbio
Finally, if you have time and want to explore the mountains, embark on the Lariani Mountain Walk. Cernobbio marks the start of this beautiful walking trail of 128.7 km (80 miles) marked out by the Italian Alpine Club. The trail leads to Monte Bisbino at 1325 metres above sea level where there is a 16th century sanctuary. The trail then continues to Buco della Volpe cave, and eventually ends in Sorico. This trek is challenging in some places and you’ll need to be fit to complete it.
8.2 | How to get to Cernobbio
You can reach Cernobbio by car, bus or boat. Parking is rather problematic given its limited parking areas. I’d recommend that you take the boat for an easy and quick journey. The best would be to take the boat from Como town.
8.3 | How much time is needed to explore Cernobbio
If you want to do everything that is mentioned above minus the hike, give yourself between 2 to 3 hours.
Therefore, this guide to only the best 8 Lake Como towns to love that are worth your time the most. My sincere wish is that this guide gives you a better idea of what to expect, what to see and do when visiting the Lake Como towns in the region.
If you are looking for ideas on how long is the ideal time to spend in Lake Como, take a look at the 5-day itinerary to help you plan your trip. This flexible itinerary contains useful info and tips, including a day trip to Milan from Como.
Read also: From Milan Malpensa to Como by Train
If you are planning a trip to Italy, you may like my recommendations and enjoy reading the following articles also:
- People and Culture of Italy
- Best time to visit Italy
- Complete Guide to Milan
- Getting around Milan like a local
- Best places to stay in Milan
- Best of Milan Cathedral
- Verona City Guide
- Food in Verona
- Guide to Verona Wine
For more inspiration and travel information for your trip to Italy, take a look at my Italy travel page. This page has detailed destination guides and experience based tips to support your travels.
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