This destination guide was created for you by our global team here at Go Ahead Tours! Whether we’re designing new trips or writing guides like this one, everything we do is handcrafted. Read on to get our staffers’ insider tips from their travels.
You’re cruising around a crystal-clear turquoise lake, gazing up at the mountains that tower around the water. You spot a delightful hilltop village with Roman architecture and cypress trees lining the streets. The smell of fresh fish dishes lofts from the restaurants of this charming town. You’ve found yourself in Italy’s northern Lombardy region, home of Lake Como. Read on to find out the best things to do in our Guide to Lake Como!
Currency: The euro
Languages: Italian, but you’ll find that the locals of popular destinations like Lake Como speak English quite well.
Best way to get around: By boat. We recommend taking a boat ride (or two!) to take in everything this spectacular region has to offer. Once you’ve docked, the best way to get around the small lakeside towns is on foot.
Phrases to know: Waking up to such a breathtaking view of Lake Como will make you want to speak, and possibly sing, in Italian! “Buongiorno” means good day, and you’ll find that Italians are always quick to happily greet you this way. Make sure you also know the phrase, “Parla Inglese?” to politely ask the locals if they speak English.
WHEN TO TRAVEL TO LAKE COMO
Lake Como is known around the world, and for good reason—it’s stunning. While our travel experts agree that traveling in the off-seasons of fall, winter, and spring is always a good idea for fewer crowds, summertime in Italy is full of special events and sunny days! We would be remiss if we didn’t include a few summer events to enjoy on our list of travel tips for Lake Como.
- The Sagra di San Giovanni festival in June. This festival on Lake Como’s Comacina Island takes place on the weekend that falls closest to John the Baptist’s birthday. The most notable festival events include a dramatic fireworks display, music show, regatta, and parade of people in colorful costumes. This event is not to be missed if you happen to be visiting Lake Como in June.
- Art exhibits at Villa Olmo in July. Every July, the city of Como hosts three weeks of events revolving around art and culture at a historic neoclassical villa called Villa Olmo. This location hosts an international art exhibition that is renowned in northern Italy, as well as musical performances.
- The Lake Festival in Varenna in July. Who doesn’t like another festival on the lake? If you’re interested in tasting delicious Italian dishes, listening to traditional (and modern) music, and watching historical re-enactments, then this festival is for you! Oh, and don’t forget about that lakeside fireworks show that is typical at all Lake Como festivals.
- The Lake Como Swim in July. This summertime event is fun for all ages and one of the reasons why July is the best time to visit Lake Como. Participants swim, paddle, or float between Moltrasio and Torno, two towns across the lake from one another. Although it’s technically a “race,” the feel of this swim matches the rest of Italy: relaxed.
- The Menaggio Fashion Show in August. If you’re a fashionista, then make sure to stop by this annual fashion show at a park right on the lake. It’s true: There are so many ways to see Lake Como for every personality type.
Visit Lake Como on tour
WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO LAKE COMO
Leave it to us to give you a packing list for your trip to Lake Como, so you can focus on dreaming about that lakeside way of life! Here are a few things to have on hand for your Lake Como tour.
- A bathing suit. What’s a trip to a world-famous lake without the proper water-friendly attire? Whether you’re on a boat ride on a hot summer day or just chilling at the Lido, or beach, make sure you’re prepared at all times to take a dip in the refreshing lake water.
- Comfortable walking shoes. Remember all those walking paths we mentioned before? You’ll enjoy the stunning views even more if you’re wearing sensible shoes. There are many towns to walk through on your journey through the Lake Como region, so don’t leave home without those sneakers!
- Extra laters. Visiting Lake Como in any season will require you to pack layers. It can sometimes be cloudy or windy on the water, especially during that boat cruise that you’ll take. We recommend packing a light jacket that you can always take off if the sun starts shining.
- Sunscreen is a very important item to bring when traveling to this region. The sun is very strong, and we want you to be happy and comfortable without burning. You can pack sunscreen in your checked luggage, but keep in mind that you can also buy it in the towns you visit.
WHAT TO DO IN LAKE COMO
Our guide to Lake Como would not be complete without a list of the best things to do in the area. As if the lake and the mountains aren’t lovely enough, our team of experts has come up with some great places to visit, adding to our list of helpful travel tips for Lake Como.
- Admire Bellagio. We visit the charming hilltop town of Bellagio on our tour of Lake Como, the Italian Riviera & Venice for a reason! Bellagio is right on the tip of land where the two branches of the lake come together and has earned its title as the Pearl of Lake Como. It’s famous for its villas along the water, narrow cobblestone pathways, and boutiques where visitors can buy local food, perfumes, leather goods, and keepsakes. Visiting this well-known town is one of the best things to do in Lake Como.
- Visit Villa Carlotta, which is located in the town of Tremezzina, right across the lake from Bellagio. Key features of this impressive 17-acre property include the ornate gardens that bloom in the springtime, an on-site museum, and of course, the view of Lake Como from all around the villa.
- Ride on the Como-Brunate Funicular. Want to keep soaking in gorgeous views of the lake? Look no further than the funicular railway that connects the city of Como with the village of Brunate. This train made its first journey way back in 1894 and hasn’t stopped since. It conveniently runs every 30 minutes for tourists and locals alike.
- See the Forte di Fuentes, one of the few remains of Spanish domination in this area. If you’re a history buff, these ruins are a must-see. The fort is high on a hill, so the views of the mountains are spectacular!
- Stop by Villa del Balbianello. This spot makes a cameo in many famous films thanks to its stunning appearance, consisting of two residential buildings, a church, a terrace, and elaborate gardens. If you have the time to visit the inside of this villa on tour in Lake Como, you will be surrounded by sculptures, artifacts, and glass paintings.
HOW TO SPEND FREE TIME IN LAKE COMO
In addition to simply savoring the unique views that the Lake Como region offers, we want to make sure you have these special experiences during your trip. Here’s a list of things to do in Lake Como during your free time.
- Take a boat cruise—it’s one of the can’t-miss excursions on tour in Italy! Staffer Claudia agrees that it was one of her highlights from her tour of Lake Como. “The best way to experience Lake Como is by boat, and the Lake Como Cruise excursion is a must,” she said. “You hop on a small cruise with your group and get to spend the afternoon exploring beautiful lakeside villages like Bellagio, and marveling at some of Italy’s most stunning estates, including George Clooney’s breathtaking Villa Oleandra.”
- Stroll along the Lake Como Greenway. If you enjoy taking in striking views while you walk, this nature path is one for the books. Beginning in Colonno, the path takes walkers through a few of Lake Como’s villages, past colorful gardens, and of course, past stunning villas. You won’t want the trail to end!
- Shop on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, the main road in the old town in Bellagio. If you are looking for a place to shop for authentic, local goods, this road is where you’ll want to begin.
- Take in the views from Punta Spartivento. If you’re a bit tired after your shopping trip in the old town, this vista in Bellagio is the perfect place to slow down and take in more beauty. The foot bridge out onto the lake will give you a 360-degree view of the lake’s famous “branches.” It’s the perfect spot to take that Lake Como selfie!
- Walk along Sentiero del Viandante. Craving more nature walks? Good, because we have another one for you! This path on the eastern coast of the lake dates back to the Roman period and has some interesting spots for you to stop along the way, including the Castle of Vezio that sits on a hilltop overlooking the lake.
Plan a dream trip to Lake Como
WHAT (& WHERE) TO EAT IN LAKE COMO
The cuisine of Lake Como is almost as incredible as the lake and mountain views! Our team here at Go Ahead always recommends eating as the locals eat, and our guide to Lake Como gives you a list of the most delicious and traditional Lombardian dishes and treats to taste on your tour.
- Polenta originated in Lombardy and it’s definitely a must-try dish if you’re visiting Lake Como. Polenta is boiled cornmeal that can be served hot and creamy, or as a loaf once it has had time to solidify. It has a mild flavor, so is often topped with delicious cheese, cooked vegetables, and sauces.
- Risotto alla Milanesa. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t love the beautifully creamy and cheesy Italian dish, risotto. “Milanesa” stands for Milan, the city where this famous dish was originally created. The dish is simple yet sophisticated, with a strong yellow color from the saffron, which sets it apart from other risotto dishes. The restaurant Agriturismo la Selvaggia is known for serving traditional dishes from this region, and it is very likely to have this delicious risotto dish on their menu!
- Tortelli di zucca. Autumn in the U.S. isn’t the only time and place to enjoy pumpkin dishes! This pumpkin-stuffed pasta dish is available year-round in the Lombardy region. Made with fresh pumpkin puree, a blend of spices, Parmesan, crushed amaretti biscuits, and candied fruits, this delicate balance of sweet and savory is what makes the dish unique.
- Torrone. You will find that nougat is a popular dessert or snack in many European countries. The Lombardy region is known for its “Torrone di Cremona.” There’s even a celebration in Cremona in honor of this sweet treat made with honey, almonds, and vanilla.
- Panettone is a festive bread usually served around Christmastime in Italy. You’ll see it sold at European Christmas markets, but you’ll want to make sure you try it while you’re in Lombardy, since that’s its region of origin. Like torrone, panettone is filled with candied fruit, almonds, and honey.
- Gelato is something you basically can’t leave Italy without trying. Staffer Claudia recalls, “When summer starts, there are so many gelaterias to choose from. Make sure to stop by Gelateria Lariana for the best gelato in Lake Como. There are so many flavors to choose from, and they stay open late. They also have non-dairy options and even gluten-free cones. Don’t forget to add a delicious waffle cookie to the gelato of your choice!”
WHAT TO DRINK IN LAKE COMO
We want to make sure you can relax to the fullest while you’re on tour in Lake Como, and having a nice beverage in hand always helps. Here are a few regional sips to try.
- Amaretto. You might recognize this sweet liqueur from many desserts. The name Amaretto stems from the Italian word “amaro,” which means bitter. Although this liqueur contains notes of sweet almonds, it leaves a bit of a bitter taste on your palette.
- Fernet, an herbal liqueur, originated in Milan. Local enjoy it as a digestif, but many have come to know this beverage in the classic drink “Fernet-Cola.”
- Sforzato di Valtellina is a dry red wine produced in the province of Sondrio, Italy. This wine is quite strong in flavor, so it’s often sipped on its own. Due to the high alcohol content, a novice to this wine may also want to enjoy it alongside an aged cheese.
- Negroni Sbagliato is a sweet cocktail that was originally made by mistake at a bar in Milan. The Milanese people are definitely thankful for this mishap, because it’s one of their most well-known drinks. A Negroni Sbagliato is made with sweet vermouth, Campari, and most often, Prosecco. It’s a refreshing drink to enjoy lakeside during your stay!
SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN LAKE COMO
This list of keepsakes will have you dreaming of your wonderful visit to Lake Como for years afterward and will maybe even give you the urge to return someday! Either way, Lake Como has something for everyone.
- Local silk. “Lake Como is famous the world over for its production of silk,” says staffer Claudia. “Strolling through the town and stopping at a boutique to purchase a silk item is a great way to help boost the local economy.” We recommend a beautifully designed silk scarf that will dress up any casual outfit!
- Leather, leather, leather. Italy is known for leather, so you won’t want to leave without a keepsake made from this luxurious material. You can find leather goods in every price range, so make sure to look around town for the best bargain.
- Local art. Many galleries sell local art. We recommend picking up a stunning painting of the lake or a site you visited during your trip that you always want to remember.