Near the border of Italy and Switzerland, Lake Como is surrounded by snow-covered mountains and home to some of Northern Italy's most charming and regal villages. It's often touted as one of Italy's most beautiful locales and is home to some of the country's most impressively luxurious villas. The near-alpine region also owes its popularity in part to its status as a go-to destination with celebrities like Richard Branson, Madonna, and George Clooney.
However, instead of spending your days in Lake Como scouring the bars and cafes for celebrities sipping on their aperitivi, make the most of your trip to this Northern Italian paradise by exploring the history of its villas and villages, taking a cruise on the water, or taking a day trip to the snowy slopes in the distance.
Explore the City of Como
Some people don’t realize that Como isn't just the name of the lake, it’s also the name of the city at the base of the lake. If you're not staying in the city of Como, there's plenty to see should you choose to take a day trip.
Like most Italian cities, Como has a cathedral, which was built back in the 14th century and features a mix of Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles. Other historical church structures worth seeing include the Basilica di Sant’Abbondino and the Basicilica di San Fedele. Como also has great shopping opportunities and happens to be the home of Italian silk manufacturing.
Take a Trip Up to Faro Voltiano
Some of the best views of Lake Como are found on the way up to the Faro Voltiano, a lighthouse located high up on a mountain overlooking the city and the lake. To get there, you can take a funicular ride from the water up to Brunate. Then, you'll have to hike about a mile uphill until you reach the lighthouse where you'll even be able to see the snowcapped Alps in the distance.
Spend an Afternoon in Bellagio
The town of Bellagio is located in the middle of the lake, right at the point where the water forks in two directions going north to south. It’s easy to get to as most ferries and water taxis will schedule stops there. While there, visit the Romanesque Basilica di San Giacomo which dates back to the 12th century, and stroll through the town’s little streets to shop or eat at one of the charming family-owned restaurants.
Bellagio tends to be one of the most popular cities for tourists in Lake Como, so be careful to avoid tourist trap restaurants located near the port. They will overcharge you and there's better food to be found if you know where to look.
Wander the Gardens of Villa Carlotta
The Villa Carlotta and its 20 acres of botanical gardens is one of the greatest spectacles in Lake Como. Located along the lake in the town of Tremezzo, Villa Carlotta got its name when the Princess of Prussia gifted the property to her daughter Charlotte. Today, the gardens are luscious with a wide variety of exotic plants, perfect for spending an afternoon of exploring in the sunshine. Don't miss a chance to take a look inside the villa too, where you'll naturally find plenty of beautiful artwork on display.
Pretend You're a Movie Star at Villa del Balbianello
Film aficionados will especially enjoy a visit to Villa del Balbianello more than most, as it has been used as a filming location for a number of popular movies. Located on the water in the town of Lenno, the house was used for scenes in Casino Royale, A Month by the Lake, and Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones. Of all of the properties operated by the National Trust of Italy, it has the highest rate of visitors, not just for its film history, but also for its terraced gardens.
Ski the Italian Alps
The snowy mountains of the Italian Alps are easy to reach from Lake Como and close enough to make a day trip out to the mountains for a little bit of skiing. The closest ski resort to Como is Piani di Bobbio, which has about 20 trails, but those staying on the north side of the lake might prefer visiting Skiarea Valchiavenna in Madesimo, which is a little closer and offers even more variety in its slopes.
Waterski on Lake Como
Not only can you ski in the Italian Alps around Lake Como, you can also ski on Lake Como itself. It's possible to rent a boat and driver for a couple hours, throw on a wet suit and waterski or wakeboard on the beautiful lake itself. It's possible to do this at any time of the year, but the best time is during the warmer months of the year between March and October. If its your first time trying the sport, companies like Lino Noleggio and Sambuca Effect Wakeboard School can provide lessons.
Go Boating on the Lake
Wherever you stand in Lake Como, the views are stunning, however there's nothing better than gliding along the beautiful lake itself—and it doesn't have to be as extreme as strapping on some water skis. You can choose to take a leisurely cruise by renting your own boat, with or without a driver, or save money and spend your day riding the ferries around the lake. Boats also happen to be one of the easier ways to get around, so they really are the best way to explore the region and take in as many glorious vistas as you can.
Spend Time in Varenna
Varenna is known for being home to Italy's shortest river—the Fiumelatte, which means River of Milk and is also the home of many of Como's villas. You can visit Castello di Vezio, which is a medieval castle surrounded by olive groves or take a stroll through the botanical gardens at Villa Monastero, If you want to spend the night check Villa Cipressi, a charming hotel located inside one of the classic 14th-century villas. Varenna is known for being home to Italy's shortest river—the Fiumelatte, which means River of Milk.
Hike Around the Lake
If you're the outdoorsy type, the terrain around Lake Como will provide plenty of of opportunity to break in those hiking boots. There are a wide variety of trails at different difficulty levels. Amateur hikers should start with either the Greenway del Lago and Sentiero del Viandante trails offer the most mild challenges suitable for all skill-levels. The Greenway trail begins on Via Strada Cappela in Colona and the Sentiero del Viandante begins a the Church of San Martino in Abbadia Lariana. Advanced hikers looking for a challenge can check out the climb on Monte Generoso or the trails in the Grigne Range.