I’m not sure about you but I first heard of Lake Como when George Clooney got married there ;0. And I immediately added it to my bucket list (that was 2014 fyi).
A close friend of ours asked us to go with him to a Bruce Springsteen concert in Milan, Italy during his summer of 2023 European tour and with a little bit of research, I realized Lake Como is very close to Milan!
So I said – sign me up and call up Clooney to tell him we are coming (just kidding – he probably wouldn’t have cared…).
But still, my husband and I flew into Milan and headed straight to this peaceful lake community before rocking out to Bruce at the end of July that summer.
But here’s the scoop with Lake Como that I seriously did not find on any other blog post:
DO NOT STAY IN THE CITY OF COMO!!!!
That is not what you are seeing in all those Instagram posts or Pinterest pictures!
AND the city of Como is a very windy and long car and/or ferry ride to what they call the Golden Triangle of Lake Como (more below).
I just needed to put those tips at the beginning of this post so that you see it quite clearly because honestly – if you planned your trip to experience the beauty of Lake Como and stayed in the city of Como – I am confident you would be disappointed.
Just trust me on this one – see below for where to actually stay!
In a rush?
Lake Como Italy Travel Guide
- The Little Details
- Best Places to Stay in Bellagio
- Best Places to Eat in Bellagio
- Top Things to Do in Lake Como
- What to Wear in Lake Como
- Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
The Little Details
How to Get to Lake Como
Based on my statement above that you should not stay in the city of Como, I need to clarify that when I use the term “Lake Como” in this blog post – I will be referring to what is known as the Golden Triangle.
The Golden Triangle is the middle section of the actual lake and is made up of the three most picturesque towns in the area of Varenna, Menaggio, and Bellagio.
I know the map below is kinda blurry (it’s literally a photo of the hotel map sitting on the floor of my hotel 😂) – but can you see how far away Como and Bellagio are from each other???
Many people just do a day trip to Lake Como from Milan and if that is the case for your plans – take the train straight to Varenna (AGAIN – NOT COMO!).
You can buy your tickets on the Trenitalia website or app.
With the very windy and small roads plus very little parking in the Golden Triangle, driving your own car to the area is not recommended.
Being as how our extremely long travel day from San Diego to Lake Como was via London and Milan, we opted to take a private car from the Milan Malpensa Airport to the city of Como (I know – just hear me out!).
Because I knew we would be exhausted and jet lagged, staying in Como for just one night (and sleeping in the next day because we didn’t even arrive to Como until 8pm) made sense for us.
We then had another private car (arranged by our Bellagio hotel) drive us from Como to Bellagio on the 2nd day of our trip.
So yes – we did actually see a little bit of the city of Como – and that is why I can tell you with experience to continue on past this city.
While quaint, the places you are really looking for are another hour north of Como…
If you are coming from the western US (or even further than that!) – sure do as we did and spend your first night in Como to adjust and get some sleep.
But otherwise – plan to get yourself from Milan/Como to Bellagio -the best starting point and probably most Instafamous village on Lake Como which is easily reachable via a quick boat ride from Varenna (more details below).
There is also a ferry that can get you from Como to Bellagio with a hydrofoil that takes less than an hour and a slow boat that will take 2-3 hours – you can find out more on their website here (just be aware the hydrofoil does not run very often and their online timetables are quite tricky to navigate ;0).
But your best bet if you don’t want to use a private car, taxi, or Uber (yes there is Uber in the area!) to get you to the Golden Triangle is to get there via the train to Varenna mentioned above!
How to Get Around Lake Como
Once you have gotten yourself to the Golden Triangle area – each of the small towns are 100% walkable with a tiny bit of hills.
To get from town to town you will use the super easy and convenient ferry system. Ferries run often (especially in the summer months).
We did not need to buy any of our tickets any more than 15 minutes in advance – yes there were lines at each ferry terminal in July 2023 but nothing that wasn’t doable or expected for a hot summer day.
There are also car ferries and passenger only ferries but they both make the same stops so just use whichever one works into your plans at the time ;).
They seem to let everyone in line on and honestly don’t really care where you stand or sit while on the ferry 😳. However that did make for some great photo ops while on the water ;0.
When to Visit Lake Como
As with any destination nowadays, if you can avoid going in the summer months – do it!!
We were in the country for the Springsteen concert of which we had no control of the timing of – so July it was for us.
AND IT WAS HOT!! Like hot hot. And crowded…
But luckily – I had this lifesaving portable fan that I bought last minute!!
I have read that the shoulder months of April/May and Sept/Oct are quite pleasant in the Lake Como area so if you aren’t tied down to a school calendar or work schedule – I would recommend going then!
And if you really want to avoid the crowds – visit January through March (however expect to be able to do a lot less with many restaurants/hotels only being open seasonally).
How Many Days You Need in the Lake Como Area
I guess it all depends on how mellow you want your trip to be, but odds are you are in Italy to see more than just Lake Como.
That said, we spent a total of three nights in the area (with one of them being straight off a 20 hour travel day so does that even count?).
By spending two nights in Bellagio (after our one night in Como), we felt we had a leisurely pace to see all three Golden Triangle towns, adjust to the time change, and still feel like we got a good sense of the place.
While we both loved finally seeing this area in person, I honestly do not think it will be a place we return to.
It didn’t offer much more than a gorgeous view of a lake surrounded by hills with some cute towns and we honestly have such a long bucket list, this just isn’t going to be a ‘must return to someday’ place for us.
Money Details in Italy
Lake Como, Italy’s currency is the Euro.
We were able to use Apple Pay everywhere we went plus an actual physical credit card a handful of times.
There was no place in the area that we needed any cash however as I have said in all of my European travel posts – if you decide to have some cash on hand, use a bank ATM in the area for the best exchange rate and safety.
Do not use an ATM that is not affiliated with a local bank or an exchange counter at the airport or anywhere for that matter. The identity safety at a nonbank ATM is too risky and the exchange rate plus fees at both will really add up!
Best Places to Stay in Bellagio
This was where we stayed for our two nights in the area. We upgraded to a lake view room and were not disappointed.
We were there during a massive European heat wave and the AC in the hotel was struggling a bit but with the windows open and a few fans on our faces, we slept pretty well :).
The staff was incredibly courteous and attentive too which is always a pro in my book!
It is also located right in front of the ferry station so getting up early for a ferry ride to Varenna was easy enough for us.
For some serious luxury accomodations, book as far in advance as you can to stay here!
We pretended we were staying here to get past the security gate and got a few pics for this post (didn’t actually go inside) but if nothing else – it looked like a fabulous place to get a drink and enjoy the insane views this property has ;).
Best Places to Eat in Bellagio
Since we were only in the area for two nights without any true sit down meals with reservations, if that is something you are looking for – this website has a list of some great options ;).
HOWEVER, that is not to say that the pasta shop listed below was one of our favorites from our travels this year!!
Dai Viga Pasta Shop
No website and no social media…
But probably the best dang pasta we had on our entire two week trip in Italy!!!
I have added the location on the map below – they are only open until 6:30pm (and closed on Sundays) so get there before.
And if you have to take it to go because none of the ten seats in the shop are available – great. Bring it to the water front and enjoy!!
Top Things to Do in Lake Como
Walk the Hilly Streets of Bellagio
The street you are looking for is Salita Serbelloni.
It is in every travel guide for Lake Como/Bellagio.
And on most of the Bellagio postcards.
Tip for getting that famous photo? Go a little to the left of the benches at the top of the street (which by the way isn’t really a street – it’s a staircase).
My husband and I assumed we were in decent shape when we started at the bottom of the stairs and worked our way up. But by the time we got to the top, we were completely out of breath 🤷♀️.
At the top of the stairs is Via Giuseppe Garibaldi which is where most of the cute shopping boutiques are in Bellagio but be warned cars can drive on this skinny street with no sidewalks ;0.
Take a Quick Stroll to the Fishing Village of Pescallo
Located about half a mile (10 minute walk) from the Bellagio Ferry Terminal is the Pescallo fishing village steps.
While there isn’t really much to do on this side of the peninsula, it is a pleasant walk with a nice view of the water by the steps.
Enjoy the Sunset at Punta Spartivento
Walk to the tip of this upside down Y shaped peninsula and you will find some of the most stunning views of the area :). Try to time it for sunset or dusk even and you will be rewarded with some romantic views.
There is a restaurant located here – La Punta Ristorante – too that looked quite pleasant if you are looking for a meal with a view – I can’t speak to the quality of the food here but the reviews look good!
Take the Ferry to Varenna
As mentioned above under the ‘how to get around’ heading, the ferries in this area are especially convenient and easy to use.
You can find more here.
The best order to see all three of the Golden Triangle towns with the least amount of time on the ferries is Bellagio to Varenna to Menaggio then back to Bellagio. The views of all three towns are worth the ferry ride (even if you don’t want to get off!).
You can easily see both in a couple of hours. We did not buy our tickets online in advance but did not have to wait long in the line outside the Villa Monastero.
We purchased the House Museum entrance with our Villa Monastero garden ticket which was a quick 10 minute walkthrough ;0.
After visiting the gardens, we wandered the streets of Varenna, got lunch at a sidewalk cafe in the church plaza, and walked the waterfront.
Take the Ferry to Menaggio
We had spent about 2-3 hours in Varenna so by the time we made it to Menaggio on that hot summer day, we were reaching the end of our “wandering” tolerance (remember we were visiting during the great heatwave of 2023 ;0)!
To be honest, we didn’t find that much more to do in Menaggio than to walk the waterfront and the main street of the town. We probably didn’t spend more than an hour here.
And we both still say our favorite part was getting a beer at the bar next to the ferry stop while we waited for the next ferry to arrive 😉.
Do a Private Boat Tour
While this is not something we did during our two day visit to Lake Como, it looked like a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.
However this is something that needs to be booked well in advance (yes that is the reason why we didn’t do this while visiting…).
However, had I planned ahead, I would have booked with Bellagio Water Limousines as their classic wooden boats look exactly like what I’ve seen pics of Clooney in 😂.
What to Wear in Lake Como
We knew about the heat wave before leaving San Diego which helped us prepare to bring only quick dry/sweat wicking shirts for my husband and loose comfy sundresses for me!
These cooling slip shorts were a lifesaver for thigh chafing and when I returned home – I made sure to buy a bunch more. This trip was my first time trying them and now I don’t think I can live without them 😮.
My portable personal fan was another lifesaver that I would highly recommend getting before visiting anyplace warm!
Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
As mentioned above, this trip was to attend the Bruce Springsteen concert in Milan with some close friends.
However, we had also just had our 30th wedding anniversary and to celebrate we decided to renew our vows in The Dolomites (and stay there for a week too!).
So our Northern Italy itinerary included Milan, Lake Como, and the Dolomites:
- Fly San Diego to Milan on British Airways via London
- Arrive Milan 6:30pm and take a private car to Como, Italy
- Private car to Bellagio
- Car to Milan/Train from Milan to Bolzano/Rental car to the Dolomites
- Train from Bolzano to Milan
- Fly Milan to San Diego on British Airways via London
I hope you found this post helpful in planning your adventures in Lake Como, Italy.
The views of this scenic mountain fringed lake make it a worthwhile short stop on your Northern Italy itinerary :)!
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