16 Best Things to Do in Lake Como, Italy In 2023
Lake Como is a gorgeous lake surrounded by cutesy towns against a backdrop of the Lombardy Alps. As the deepest lake in Italy, Lake Como is popular for watersports and is full of marine life. Its substantial size as the third largest lake in Italy also means that there are plenty of things to do in Lake Como along its shores. There are luxurious villas converted into museums and incredible hikes if you venture away from the waterfront promenade. If visiting northern Italy, visit Lake Como for an exclusive lakeside atmosphere. Lake Como has stunning views of the surrounding mountains and beautiful old-town scenery.
Top Things to Do in Lake Como, Italy
We’ll take a look at the 16 best Lake Como attractions. From botanical gardens at Villa Carlotta to wine tasting and water sports, these are the best things to do in Lake Como. Let’s dive straight in.
1. Villa Carlotta’s Botanical Gardens
Villa Carlotta is a stunning villa-turned-museum dedicated to the arts. The luxury villa sits on the shores of Lake Como on 14 acres of lush gardens and strikes one of the most iconic landmark views in the region. The elaborate stairways to the front of the villa spill out into a famous botanical garden with rare trees and bursts of flowers.
Visitors are welcome to walk the gardens and relax outside. While those that want to go inside can head to exhibition rooms spread across two floors. You can grab your ticket here in advance including the ferry or you can opt for a private speedboat tour of the lakeside Villas here.
The first floor contains a marble and plaster room with stunning sculptures of historical figures. There’s also a painting room, a Napoleonic room, and the Magdalene room. Plus a tapestry room and parlors on the second floor. Lake Como is famous for beautiful gardens and beautiful villas, and Villa Carlotta ticks both boxes.
Villa Carlotta’s intimate artwork display also makes it worth visiting Lake Como. Art enthusiast or not, you can readily appreciate the beautiful setting and careful collections.
2. Take A Boat Tour
Boat tours are one of the most popular things to do in Lake Como. And understandably so, considering the whole area is situated around a scenic lake. Most tours last around 2 hours, although some last 4 hours or even a whole day if you want. Rather than the local ferry options, these chartered boat tours are dedicated to tourism. You can find dinner cruises, luxury Venetian boat tours, and specific itineraries like villa sightseeing boat trips. Establish your ideal time frame and what you’d like to see on Lake Como, then check out different boat tour itineraries to see what piques your interest.
This sightseeing tour is a classic option – including a little bit of everything with villas, lake history, and stunning views. Or a sunset dinner cruise if you want an evening activity. You can book boat tours on arrival in most ports along Lake Como. But it’s best to book in advance to guarantee a spot, especially in the hectic high season.
3. Villa Del Balbianello
Villa Del Balbianello is Hollywood heaven and easily one of the best things to do in Lake Como, Italy. It’s easy to be raptured by the elegant beauty of the villa. However, movie fans should also pay this Lake Como attraction a visit. Villa Balbianello has been used in several Hollywood movies, including Star Wars Attack of the Clones. Italy is no stranger to being used as a Hollywood filming location, but Villa Balbianello is something else. It’s easy to see why it caught Hollywood’s eye.
Guests can wander the 18th-century villa inside and out – admiring the scenery and architecture and reveling as they tread in the same footsteps as movie stars.
4. Sentiero Del Viandante
Sentiero Del Viandante was once an old mule track in the Roman era. Sentiero Del Viandante is hailed as one of the greatest hiking trails in Lake Como – if not Italy as a whole. The 45km trail runs along the eastern shores of Lake Como and can be completed in little sections if you don’t have time for a multi-day hike. The shorter sections are mostly 5 hours long, so they are perfect to complete as a half-day hike before stopping for a meal in a scenic village. You can easily hike between towns and catch the train on the east side.
Sentiero Del Viandante passes castles, beautiful views of Lake Como and its mountains, and many little villages with delicious places to eat. You can plan at least 2-3 stops at historical attractions regardless of which section you hike.
5. Villa Melzi
Villa Melzi is another one of Lake Como’s luxurious villas with botanical gardens. The villa is owned by Prince Fulco Gallarati Scotti, but its gardens are open to the public. If you are just interested in botanical gardens, it’s a fabulous alternative to Villa Carlotta, which tends to be busier and more touristy than this privately-owned attraction. Villa Melzi was built between 1808 and 1810 in a neo-classical style inspired by Napoleonic France. However, the garden is much more of a treasure trove.
Villa Melzi Garden is full of Egyptian and Roman statuesEnvision a total picture of romance and you might come close to an image of Villa Melzi. The garden is something David Attenborough or the most avid botanist would adore. Yet it’s beautiful enough to ensnare the untrained eye as well. It’s full of cedar trees, azaleas, rhododendrons, and water lilies. The garden opens between March and October from 10 am until 7 pm. During this time, you can walk the complex network of paths and enjoy all the attention to fine details. The best way to explore all of the Villas on Lake Como is with this tour which includes all the entries to the most popular stops.
6. Sagra Di San Giovanni
Sagra Di San Giovanni is one of the best things to do in Lake Como when visiting in June. Celebrating a local festival gives you a much stronger insight into a place and its people and history. If you’ve yet to finalize your dates to visit Lake Como, consider traveling to the lake for its famed festival Sagra Di San Giovanni. The festival is celebrated by hundreds of fireworks in a dramatic reenactment of the battles between Isola Comacina and Barbarossa in 1169. While the story itself is pretty dark, the festivities are flamboyant and totally infectious.
Fireworks over Lake Como are not a sight you’ll forget quickly. The display starts at around 10:30 pm in the evening and lasts just under an hour. You can watch from one of the promenades (or even your hotel window if you choose accommodation wisely). Or alternatively, splash out on booking a boat so you can watch the fireworks from the water.
7. Villa Monastero
You’ve guessed it – another of Lake Como’s beautiful luxury villas with a spectacular botanical garden. However, Villa Monastero’s gardens have a different vibe from the other two featured. Instead of a garden full of paths and towering plant life, Villa Monastero has gorgeous terraced gardens neatly arranged in stone overlooking Lake Como. Villa Monastero has a much more formal garden arrangement. Dating back to the 1800s, you can see the period’s opulence in its current aesthetic.
Apart from the terrace aspect, Villa Monastero focuses more on the view than the other villas. There are stunning viewpoints throughout and ornate seating areas to sit and relish your surroundings. Unlike Villa Melzi, you can also venture inside to see the rooms and examples of period architecture, which is a nice touch. It is perfect for anyone interested in internal architecture and a beautiful garden.
8. Enjoy Water Sports
You don’t stay next to the deepest lake in Italy and not enjoy some watersports. Lake Como isn’t the sort of place you go on party cruises or scream across the bay clinging to a banana boat. It offers more sedate watersports centered around tranquility and sightseeing. For instance, this kayak tour is a calm way to experience Lake Como from the water. Water sports are brilliant for getting a different insight into Lake Como and a more active alternative to boat trips. Fitness enthusiasts note this down as one of the most active things to do in Lake Como.
Rowing, sailing, diving, and fishing are available on Lake Como. While if you want to push the boat out a little with more exhilarating activities, wakeboarding and kitesurfing can be found with certain tour operators.
9. Castello Di Vezio
Castello Di Vezio is a gorgeous walled castle overlooking Varenna, one of Lake Como’s most popular towns. Situated on a hill that takes around 30 minutes to reach on foot from the town center in a moderately difficult climb. Castello Di Vezio is a stunning vantage point and a fascinating piece of local history.
The 12th-century castle is crammed with exhibits, uniting the history obsessed and the more serious tourists in a quest to fill a thirst for knowledge. The views of Lake Como and its mountains are even more beautiful from its tower. And for the brave among visitors, tours of Castello Di Vezio dungeons are one of the most spooky things to do in Lake Como.
10. Go Wine Tasting in Lake Como
When in Rome, right? Italy is hailed worldwide as an absolute goddess when it comes to wine production. The country has been producing wine for over 4,000 years, and its climate is ideal for viticulture. Italy has 20 regions with over 545 different vine varieties, so there are plenty of choices for the fussy (or enthusiastic) palette. Wine lovers will particularly love Lake Como. Lake Como is part of the Lombardy wine region. It has grape varieties, including white Verdes, Rosseia, merlot, and Sangiovese.
Visit Lake Como in autumn to get the most out of wine tasting, as you’ll arrive just in time for the grape harvest. Wine tasting is one of the best things to do in Lake Como. You get to experience delicious produce and get an insight into the culture and history of the region. Wine-tasting tours can be booked on boat trips or land excursions to wineries and scenic vineyards.
11. Day Trip To Menaggio
Assuming you stay in Como, you’ll want to plan a day trip or two to other towns around Lake Como. Menaggio is a classic choice for Lake Como town hopping, perfect for a day of swimming. Menaggio has a 25-meter-long lido and numerous public beaches. July, August, and September are the top swimming months in Menaggio – aim for a summer trip if you want an enjoyable swim. Spiaggia Lerai is the most popular swimming beach in Menaggio.
Menaggio is easily reached by bus or ferry. Traveling from Como takes around an hour on public transport. It is also a scenic route, hugging the entire western shores of Lake Como and cutting through countless awe-inspiring villages and towns. Jumping on a e-bike is a great way to get there.
12. Hike The Greenway Del Lago Di Como
Should you like hiking, the Greenway Del Lago Di Como is one of the top things to do in Lake Como. It is more of a sightseeing trail than a standard hiking trail – there’s just so much to see along the way. Little hamlets cling to the waterfront along the lake, and the trail occasionally veers off up some dramatic hills to a lookout or detour through shaded woodland. The Greenway Del Lago Di Como is a rewarding hike, and it takes around 4 hours to complete the 10 km stretch.
While there are some inclines here and there, the Greenway Del Lago Di Como is an easy hike overall. With enough rest stops, near enough, anyone can hike this trail. It has an easy path with stone flags in most sections and is ideal for a leisurely stroll with plenty of views.
13. Orrido Di Bellano
Orrido Di Bellano is a 15 million-year-old natural gorge. Visitors step into the gorge itself, walking along a narrow walkway attached to the side of the rock face. It is one of Lake Como’s most incredible hikes and a wonderful day trip. Orrido Di Bellano was cut by the glacial retreat of an old river Adda, and now an aqua-blue river runs through the base of the gorge. It’s a fascinating bit of geography, and the thunder of the river below is really atmospheric. The walkway railings are decorated with fairy lights in darker sections, shaded from sunlight by the rocks above.
Orrido Di Bellano is easily one of the top things to do in Lake Como. It takes around 1.5 hours to complete the hiking route – a splendid use of your time in Lake Como. This ticket even includes entry and an aperitif afterward.
14. Punta Spartivento
Punta Spartivento is a beautiful observation deck above Lake Como, Italy. As far as scenic things to do in Lake Como go, Punta Spartivento rates very highly. The deck actually stretches out over a small grassy area with railings spaced out and seating areas and picnic tables. If you are planning a romantic picnic, Punta Spartivento is a really good shout. With the Swiss Alps on the horizon and the shimmer of the water directly in front of you, Punta Spartivento has an almost magical serenity.
Punta Spartivento is located a 10-minute walk away from Bellagio’s ferry terminal. It is easy to access and one of the best viewpoints around Lake Como.
15. Tempio Voltiano
Tempio Voltiano is an important museum in the world of science. The attraction is dedicated to the memory and lifework of Alessandro Volta, who invented the electrical battery. Como born and bred, Alessandro did wonders for technological progression in the 18th century. And it’s only fitting that Lake Como has a museum for him, considering that he retired and died in Como in 1827. The museum opened in 1928 and has been a thriving attraction in Lake Como ever since.
Inside, visitors can admire the collection of Volta’s scientific instruments. Fascinatingly, there’s also a selection of his inventions (Volta was a prolific inventor outside of his creation of the electrical battery). Tempio Voltiano is a beautiful exhibit that captures the essence of the scientist behind closed doors. It is a slice of science history and a preserved archive of an incredible human life. The blur of science and human history makes it perfect for anybody wanting an indoor activity.
16. Enjoy The Old Town In Como Town
You must visit Como’s Old Town. It ticks off everything you’d hope to see in a historic Italian town center – from cobbled streets to al fresco restaurants. The best thing about every old town is its excellent restaurants, and grabbing something to eat in the Como’s Old Town is one of the best things to do in Lake Como. You can dine while taking in the ambiance and historical surroundings. The mixture of bright-colored buildings and timeless stonework is a stunning culinary backdrop.
After you’ve eaten, wander along to Como’s cathedral, Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, and the Basilica di San Fedele. Porta Torre is another striking traditional landmark worth seeing and a city gate dating back to 1192. Nothing beats a bit of sightseeing on a satisfied stomach. This guided tour includes it all and is amazing.
Visiting Lake Como: FAQs
Now that we’ve covered the best things to do in Lake Como, let’s look at some essential FAQs. These crucial snippets of information will help you finalize your trip to Lake Como.
How to Get to Lake Como
The easiest way to get to Lake Como is by flying into Milan. Milan has a massive international airport, with direct flights from departure destinations worldwide. If you travel from outside Europe, this is likely the route you’ll use. You fly directly into Milan’s Malpensa Airport and then catch a couple of trains for 2 hours to Lake Como. Giovanni and Como Nord Largo are the two main stations in Lake Como, and it only costs a few dollars per ticket. Alternatively, you can rent a car at Malpensa Airport and then drive to Lake Como in about an hour.
If you only have a short time we suggest hopping on this day trip from Milan, which includes a cruise, the village of Bellagio, and visiting Varenna, Menaggio, or other areas. A great deal for the money.
Another option is to travel overland – especially if you are already in Europe. Europe is incredibly well-connected, and it is common practice to interrail around the region, with deals and discounts on international rail pass to hop between countries. You can travel by train from Switzerland to Lake Como in less than 3 hours. Or even Amsterdam in 12 hours if you wanted. We suggest stopping in Germany and Switzerland along the way. Traveling to Lake Como by train is one of the most adventurous yet easily organized ways of transport.
You could also drive to Lake Como. This method allows more freedom but is much more tiring, with many narrow roads. The soft borders in Europe make for easy border crossings, though. If you have plenty of time, driving to Lake Como is one of the best ways to slowly experience the region at your own pace.
Getting Around Lake Como
Hands down, the best way to get around Lake Como is by boat or ferry. Forget boat trips; being shuttled around by water on one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy is easily the best form of public transport you’ll ever experience. The western side of Lake Como is exceptionally well connected by boat, and you can hop between the towns on ferries and little shuttle boats.
Of course, disregard our advice entirely on the eastern side of Lake Como – you’ll need to scrap the boat idea and run for the train. There are barely any ferry services in the east, offering many train services instead. The best way to get around on the east shores is by catching the train, with a station in most towns and villages.
A rental car is only a good idea if you are venturing out on many day trips. Even then, much of Lake Como’s surrounding areas are connected by train. For instance, by rail, you can reach Switzerland, many mountain villages, and nearby major Italian cities. Rent a car only if you want more freedom and road trip-style day trips. Or if you have members of your travel party with mobility issues since catching the train can involve lots of walking and steps.
Another option with cars is to hire taxis and shuttle services. Aim to book taxis in advance if this is the mode of transport you go for, as they are very popular, especially in the high season.
Of course, you could easily spend your whole stay walking along lakeside promenades – the amazing views help. If you stay in a town center, download Google Maps and explore on foot. Getting around on foot means stumbling across tiny backstreet restaurants with excellent traditional food and unmapped viewpoints.
Best Time to Visit Lake Como
The best time to visit Lake Como is May. May has average temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit but also avoids the inevitable crowds from June to September. May is a shoulder season, just on the cusp of the high season. The low season runs from November to mid-March. While the fewer crowds could sound appealing, it has cold weather and fewer attractions and hotels open. By choosing May, you get a bit of a compromise – fewer tourists but brilliant weather.
In spring, Lake Como’s towns and charming villages are full of wildflowers, and the botanical gardens are in full explosion. It is a captivating time of year to explore Lake Como. It is much more ethereal than visiting in the chaotic summer months in stifling heat and crowds.
Why Should You Visit Lake Como?
Visiting Lake Como is fabulous. In fact, it could be one of the best things to do in Italy. The entire region is full of natural beauty – from gorgeous gardens to mountain trails and private beaches along the lakeside. Despite its exclusive vibe and white-collar crowd, the area offers tourist attractions for all budget levels. There are many free things to do in Lake Como. Make the most of the natural attractions, museums, and organized experiences.
Looking for more inspiration about visiting northern Italy? Check out our guides on the best towns in Tuscany, top luxury hotels in Milan, and things to do in Lugano if you cross the Swiss border. Otherwise, have a wonderful time exploring Lake Como, Italy.