7 Irresistible Reasons to Visit Lake Como
Whether you like to get active on holiday or prefer to relax with a book, Italy’s third-largest lake has something for everyone
Want to escape to the mountains? Lake Como is an enchanting destination, providing a real contrast to southern Italy’s sunbaked beaches. With its breathtaking natural beauty, postcard-perfect towns and vibrant culture, it’s one of those places you can’t quite believe is real. Our travel experts here at Plum Guide have been to this magical region many times, and it still blows us away. Wondering whether to book that holiday? Take a look at some of our favourite reasons to visit Lake Como.
Stunning mountain scenery
A view of a small boat in front of mountains, Lake Como, Italy
Lake Como is a must-visit to add to your bucket list if you love the mountains. Located in northern Italy’s Lombardy region, the majestic Bergamo Alps surround the lake. Cloaked in green in summer and white in winter, these peaks provide beautiful scenery all throughout the year. Lake Como is a paradise for keen hikers, offering a variety of trails ranging from easy to challenging. One of our favourite hikes is the Palmenwald-Cascata Loop. Starting in the pretty town of Menaggio, the 10-kilometre path takes you through verdant forests and past sparkling waterfalls. There’s an elevation gain of around 500 metres, so be sure to wear good hiking shoes.
If you want more of a challenge, why not take on Monte Legnone? At 2,609 metres, this is the highest mountain in the area. On the north side of the lake, its towering peak is visible from wherever you are. The hike takes around seven hours to complete and requires some scrambling here and there, but the sweeping views are well worth the effort.
Charming towns and villages
View of Varenna's brightly-hued homes on the water, Lake Como
Lake Como is home to a bevvy of lively towns and villages set along its shores. Each one has something unique to offer, and hopping between them is a fun way to sightsee. The largest is Como, the main tourist hub with plenty of shops, restaurants and nightlife. There are several interesting attractions here, including the mesmerising 14th-century Duomo and Piazza San Fedele. Another well-known town is Bellagio, so beautiful that it’s earned the nickname ‘The Pearl of Lake Como’. Take a stroll around the manicured gardens and admire the views from the promenade. Menaggio is another large town with historic churches, narrow streets and old buildings with colourful facades.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of quieter towns and villages where you can escape the crowds. Varenna is a quaint little village with one of the most spectacular waterfronts along the lake. There’s even a pebbly beach here, backed by the Walk of Lovers promenade and elegant villas. Those looking to spend time in nature should visit Cernobbio, a tranquil spot surrounded by stunning landscapes perfect for walking and cycling.
Ferry boat with cars and passengers crossing Lake Como with Alps in the background, Como, Italy
It goes without saying that one of the most exciting reasons to visit Lake Como is the variety of activities the lake offers. Its clean, deep blue waters will entice you for a swim, with plenty of designated swimming zones around its perimeter. Many towns have public beaches or lidos, too. Some of our favourites include Lido di Ossuccio, Riva Bianca Lierna Beach and San Giovanni Beach.
Naturally, Lake Como is a fantastic destination for watersports. Want to explore at a leisurely pace? Kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding are all relaxing ways to get around. For something a little more hair-raising, try out jet skiing, windsurfing and kitesurfing – you’ll find numerous watersport centres offering equipment rental and lessons.
Even if you don’t fancy getting wet, there are a range of boat tours and cruises to explore the lake. Whether you want a private guide to take you around or are keen to hire your own boat and enjoy the freedom, there are plenty of options. You can even ride on a historical steamboat for a unique experience.
Delicious local cuisine
Fancy yourself a foodie? Lucky for you, this is one of the best reasons to visit Como. As well as classic Italian dishes, you’ll also find local and regional cuisine to try such as risotto con filetti di pesce persico – creamy risotto served with perch caught in Lake Como. Another fish dish to sample is missoltino, a speciality made from the agone fish caught in the northern part of the lake. The fish are salted and sun-dried, then grilled and served with polenta.
If you prefer meat to seafood, one of the must-try dishes is brasato di cinghiale selvatico, which is wild boar slow-cooked in wine and served with polenta. It can also be cooked in a ragu with pasta. Speaking of pasta, one of the region’s most iconic pasta dishes is pizzoccheri. This pasta is made with buckwheat and cooked with cabbage, potatoes, garlic butter and a healthy dose of cheese.
If you still have room after all that, end on a sweet note with a slice of miascia. This is a cucina povera (poor cuisine) dessert made with stale bread, milk, butter, eggs, sugar, lemon zest, sultanas, apples and pears. After going in the oven, the cake is sprinkled with chopped rosemary as a final touch. If this sounds a little too heavy, there’s always gelato – Gelateria Lariana in Como is arguably the best in the area.
A rich culture and history
Piona Abbey surrounded by rows of olive trees, Piona, near Lake Como, Italy
A visit to Lake Como will fill your days with culture and history. If you visit only one place, make sure it’s the Silk Museum in Como. The town was once the heart of silk production in Italy, and the museum is a fascinating place to learn about this heritage. Another Como landmark is its cathedral, Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. This magnificent building was constructed in the 14th century and is a fantastic example of Gothic, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Grab a drink at one of the cafes in Piazza Duomo to admire the views of the cathedral. There are many other religious sites in the area, including the photogenic Piona Abbey and the Church of Santa Maria del Tiglio.
Lake Como is also known for its elegant villas. During the 18th and 19th centuries, it became a popular place for the upper class to holiday. These villas were built so that the elite could escape the hot summers of other parts of Italy. Many are open for visitors, such as the famous Villa del Balbianello, Villa Carlotta and Villa Monastero.
The range of day trips
The ancient amphitheatre in Verona, a day trip from Como, Italy
Lake Como is an ideal base for seeing other parts of Italy. It’s well connected with other destinations in the north, many of which are doable in a day. One of the best places to visit is Milan, just a fifty-minute drive or forty-minute train ride from Como. There’s so much to see and do in the city, from art galleries and museums to upscale fashion boutiques and world-class dining.
Verona is another city you can visit in a day, which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. Famous for its links to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this UNESCO World Heritage City offers a blend of culture, history, music and architecture. As well as visiting Juliet’s House, be sure to watch a performance at the Verona Arena. Dating back to 30 AD, this Roman amphitheatre is still used today.
One of the more unique things to do – and one of our favourite reasons to visit Como – is to pop out of the country for the day. Lake Como is just a forty-five-minute drive (or a half-hour train ride) from Lugano in Switzerland. Located on the shores of Lake Lugano, the city offers an interesting blend of Swiss and Italian culture, where you can find delicious food and drink, idyllic lake scenery and artisan shops.
Excellent shopping opportunities
Finally, shopping is one of our favourite reasons to visit Lake Como. Those who enjoy a little retail therapy on holiday will find plenty of places to splash the cast. The city of Como is a great place to start, offering a variety of shops and markets. Head down Via Vittorio Emanuele II for designer goods and high-street brands, visit Piazza San Fedele to hunt for treasures at the flea market, or check out Mercato Mercerie for local produce such as cheese, wine, olives and cured meats.
If antiques and art are your cup of tea, Brienno is a great place to seek bargains. Sitting on the western shores of the lake, this town is known for antique shops where you can find everything from furniture and ceramics to textiles and glassware. Brienno is also home to many artisan workshops specialising in handmade goods like woodwork and ceramics.
As mentioned above, Lake Como is renowned for its silk production. While you’re here, it would be rude not to pick up a few locally-made silk products like scarves, ties and other pieces of clothing that can make for unique souvenirs. A couple of our favourite shops are Bellagioseta and Carmen Como Silk, both in Bellagio.