When you think of a lake, what do you see? For most of us, we imagine a small oval-shaped body of water, where we can easily see all the way across to the other side. The water is calm, blue and perfect for a quick refreshing dip after a long hike around the surrounding wilderness.
While this picture may be true of most lakes, the lakes of northern Italy – including Lake Como – are an exception to the rule. For starters, Lake Como is anything but oval: it’s more like the shape of the letter “Y” turned upside down. It’s also vast, with several stunning towns and places to visit situated around its wishbone-shaped layout.
Extending for approximately 30 miles (50 kilometres) from north to south, the lake is a hugely popular destination for tourists. It is so popular, in fact, that actor George Clooney actually bought a summer home there back in 2002, known as the Villa Oleandra.
It is easy to spend days on end exploring the lake’s shores, with the surrounding towns offering a plethora of stunning architecture and incredible attractions to view. However, if you’ve only got a day to visit, con’t worry. Here’s our guide on how to do Lake Como (and beyond) in a day.
Arrive at the Lake: Before 9am!
With so much to see and do, you need to make the most of your day around Lake Como. Save your lie-in for tomorrow and try to get to the lake before 9am. Whether you drive there or take a train into Como station, make sure you arrive nice and early, and remember to bring some snacks and water with you for the day.
When you arrive in Como, the first thing you need to do is walk up to the edge of the lake and admire the beautiful views along the shore. Depending on the weather, you should be able to see right across the lake to the other towns, and appreciate just how vast the lake is.
Next, it’s time to get your camera out – you’re going sightseeing! There’s a lot to see and do, so here are some of the top places you should check out as you wander around the town…
1 – Como Cathedral
A must-see during your visit, Como Cathedral – or Duomo – is located in the centre of town and is a fantastic example of Gothic architecture. What’s more, it’s also free to visit, so you can spend as much time in there as you like.
2 – Tempio Voltiano
Tempio Voltiano (or ‘Volto Museum’ in English) is a museum built as a dedication to Alessandro Volta – the prolific Italian scientist who invented the electrical battery. He spent nearly his whole life in Como, so the museum offers a fascinating insight into his life and work.
3 – Porta Torre
Porta Torre guards the entrance to Como and was built in 1192. Having stood for over a thousand years, the fortified tower gives a great sense of the town’s lengthy history; walking through the entrance allows you to see the city walls and the long-standing structures inside the town.
4 – Villa Olmo
Located approximately 20 minutes from Como’s town centre, Villa Olmo has beautiful landscaped gardens and stunning lake views for you to marvel at. It also has a free museum open every day of the week, except Mondays.
Once you have seen the main sights in Como, it’s time to take the Como-Brunate funicular railway into the mountains. This short ride saves you from having to walk up the mountain yourself, but you can do this if you would rather get the extra steps.
Once you reach the top, you will arrive into the small town of Brunate. Here you will find the usual things – shops, sights and restaurants – but the town’s crème de la crème is the stunning view across Lake Como. It can get quite touristy when you step off the tram though so, as a top tip, take a 20-minute stroll to the left of the station and you will find a great viewing spot where you can sit and enjoy your lunch.
Once you’re happy you’ve seen enough of the sights and have got back to Como, it’s time to visit Bellagio. There are two options you can take to do this – either take the slow ferry (which takes around two hours), or take the fast ferry (which takes more like 45 minutes). Since time is of the essence, we’d recommend paying slightly more for the fast ferry, but it’s up to you.
When you get to Bellagio, the first place you’ll want to visit is the Villa Melzi where you will find another example of a grand villa with perfectly manicured gardens. After spending an hour or so there, head to the Villa Balbianello where you can relax and take photos of the beautiful towns along the coast.
Next, wallets at the ready, it’s time to go shopping! Head towards the town centre where you’ll be able to find a collection of leather shops, perfume stores, small restaurants and much more.
Menaggio & Tremezzo: 3.30pm-6pm
After you have seen enough of Bellagio, it’s time to take the 15-minute boat ride to the town of Menaggio. Here you will find Castello di Vezio, which offers panoramic views across the Lake Como and beyond. Make sure you haven’t wasted too much of your camera’s charge when in Brunate!
While in Menaggio, take a stroll along the town’s elegant lake promenade and make time for a quick relax, refresh and coffee in Piazza Garibaldi. Once you are finished, head to the main road and catch the C10 bus towards Tremezzo. Here you will find Villa Carlotta, whose gardens are one of the most stunning attractions you will see during your time around Lake Como.
Como: 6pm till Late
Phew, what a day! It’s time to head back to where it all began, catching a return boat from Tremezzo to Como. After such a busy day, you will probably want to sit down and relax with some pleasant food and a couple of drinks by the waterside. There is no better place to do exactly this than at Ristorante La Cucina di Elsa. This family-run restaurant is located close to the waterfront and away from the more touristy areas, providing you with a truly authentic Italian dining experience.
After you have finished eating, grab a traditional Italian gelato (ice cream) from Gelateria Lariana on the waterfront. Then, take an evening stroll down the lake to soak up as much of the atmosphere as you can before heading home for the night.
For any further advice about where to go during your time in Como, contact one of our friendly team who will be more than happy to help.