Ultimate travel guide to Lake Como

Wondering about buying train tickets to Lake Como online vs on the day? Wondering about how to get to Lake Como from Milan’s airports? Wondering about the ferry services on Lake Como? Wondering whether a day trip to Lake Como is long enough? Here’s our ultimate travel guide to Lake Como.

Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy - find out the best way to explore one of the world's most beautiful places with out extensive tips and itineraries

Lake Como’s one of our favourite places in Italy. We rarely visit the same place twice, but we can’t stop going back to Lake Como. It’s absolutely beautiful. We get asked so many questions about it, we thought we’d share what we know.

So if you’re curious about train tickets, travel times or even where to propose on Lake Como, our ultimate Lake Como travel guide is here to help.

Our original post on how to get to Lake Como from Milan by train is perennially popular.

In fact, we get asked so many questions about Lake Como, we thought about starting our own travel agency! But instead, we’ve put all our answers here for free for you, and we hope it helps you on your travels.

Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy - Laneways of Bellagio with a sign for aperitivi and a wine bar. Steps lead down towards the lake

Ultimate travel guide to Lake Como

We’ve structured this post as a Q&A based on some of the most popular things we’ve been asked. But if you have a question that’s not answered here, please still ask us in the comments below!

This is a long post, so here’s a menu of topics. Hit a topic and you’ll be magically transported there. Alternatively, settle in and enjoy.

1. Is it best to buy train tickets to Lake Como online before you travel or on the day?
2. What’s the best time of year to visit Lake Como?
3. How do I get from Milan Airport to Lake Como?
4. How much time should you spend in Varenna, Bellagio and Lake Como in general?
5. Is it worth a day trip to Lake Como from Milan if I’m only in Milan for 2 nights?
6. Is it better to stay in Milan or Lake Como?
7. Is Milan and Milan Centrale Station safe?
8. Where’s the best place to propose on Lake Como? I want a stunning backdrop.
9. Do the ferries on Lake Como run during the winter?
10. Are there any restaurants with a view of the lake you’d recommend?
11. Which town is best to stay in and how can we see more towns around Lake Como?
12. Is it worth hiring a car to go to Lake Como?
13. Are there any supermarkets or grocers near Lake Como for self-catering stays?
14. What if I want to travel around before and after Milan and Lake Como, what are my options?

And don’t forget, if you have a question that we don’t answer here, feel free to ask us in the comments!

Green garden and stone bridge of villa on Lake Como

1. Is it best to buy train tickets to Lake Como online before you travel or on the day?

Buy them on the day from the ticket machines at the station. There’s no difference in price – in fact some booking sites might charge you more.

The upside of pre-booking is you might have to queue for the ticket machine at the train station and you don’t have to remember to validate your pre-bought tickets.

The downside to buying ahead is that you might have to specify which train you’ll be on, which can be limiting to your travel, plus don’t forget to print out the ticket before you get to the station. The inspectors won’t always accept digital tickets and ticket offices don’t have printers.

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Local ferry at Bellagio with car coming off and pedestrian passengers waiting - Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy

2. What’s the best time of year to visit Lake Como?

Peak season at Lake Como is – like the rest of Europe – July and August. It gets really quite hot there then and also very busy.

For that reason, I probably wouldn’t recommend going there then. Spring and early summer are beautiful – April, May and June are perfect. Autumn – like spring – is cooler and less busy. September and October is a lovely time to be at the lake.

Winter has its pros and cons.

Obviously it’s cold at Lake Como, especially being so close to the Alps. But it is also spectacularly beautiful and much quieter than any other time of year.

Because it’s so quiet, things tend to close. Restaurants and hotels shut for the winter and the ferry service is less frequent. As long as you don’t mind taking a hit on convenience, the tranquillity of the lake in winter would be very special.

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Looking at Bellagio from the water at night - Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy

3. How do I get from Milan Airport to Lake Como?

There are no trains that go direct to Bellagio – only roads. And there are no direct trains between Milan Malpensa Airport and Varenna, only multiple slow, complicated local lines.

Take either a taxi or train from the airport to Milan Centrale Station. From there, you can catch a train to Varenna on Lake Como. Here are the details.

Alternatively, if you have more time, you could catch a train to Como town, which is at the south end of the lake, then a ferry can take you all the way up the lake to Bellagio.

It would be a longer train ride, Como town isn’t that nice and the ferry takes a while too. However, the views as you head north on the ferry would be excellent.

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Bellagio at Golden Hour from the water - Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy

4. How much time should you spend in Varenna, Bellagio and Lake Como in general?

Obviously as much time as possible, but that’s not very helpful, is it?

For a day trip, we took a morning train from Milan Centrale and got to Varenna at about 10am. We found that was enough time to explore a bit of Varenna.

Then at around lunchtime we took the ferry out to Bellagio. We had a beautiful lunch out on the waterfront then got the last ferry back in time for sunset over the lake, which was stunning!

We grabbed dinner in Varenna at around 8.30pm, then got a train back to Milan at around 10.30/11.00pm. It was a full day, but not a busy one. And a day that neither of us will ever forget.

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Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy - long shot of little harbour in Bellagio

5. Is it worth a day trip to Lake Como from Milan if I’m only in Milan for 2 nights?

Good question. There’s plenty to do in both places – here’s our guide to Milan. But even with only 2 nights in Milan, I think it’d be worth taking a train out to Lake Como.

You can see the best bits of Milan like the amazing Duomo and the fashion precincts in an afternoon, then have aperitivo somewhere like this.

After breakfast the next day, go to Milan Centrale and catch the train to Lake Como from Milan. Spend lunch and early evening there, and head back to Milan that night. It’s pretty much what we did – though we didn’t really start off that early.

Trains from Centrale leave for Varenna quite regularly, then from there you can get a ferry over to Bellagio very easily. We ended up having dinner in Varenna too, but there are plenty of places in Milan to eat too.

Don’t bother with Como town itself though. Just head to Varenna or one of the other smaller towns. They’re less touristy and friendlier. Plus the lake seems to get prettier the further north you go.

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Town of Varenna, Lake Como from the water

6. Is it better to stay in Milan or Lake Como?

If you can, do both. We love Milan and Lake Como, so it’s hard for us to choose.

But if you only have 1 night available, stay on Lake Como. It’s much prettier, though Como town itself isn’t up to much.

If you have 2 or more nights, stay in Milan for one of them. There are some great bars and restaurants around, and the Duomo at night is fabulous.

For the most amazing night you’ll ever have, stay at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo on the Lake Como.

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Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy - Spectacular view of Lake Como down from the mountains behind the Grand Hotel Tremezzo

7. Is Milan and Milan Centrale Station safe?

Yes, both the city and its train and metro stations are safe, including Milan Centrale. Like any big city and major train station, there’s a risk of petty theft, but staying aware is all you need to do.

The only crooks to be aware of are the taxi drivers, who try their best to rip you off. Here’s how to cope with taxis in Italy.

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8. Where’s the best place to propose on Lake Como? I want a stunning backdrop.

The good news is you’d be hard put to find a place that doesn’t have a stunning backdrop on Lake Como.

But of everywhere in this area, I’d go with Bellagio. It’s got the name plus it’s where the two southern legs of the lake meet and you can look north from there all the way to the tops of the Swiss Alps.

Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy - Waterfront tables overlooking Lake Como. Trees, flowers and perfect light

Catch the ferry from Varenna to Bellagio and head north from the ferry terminal, then go up to the tip of Bellagio. There’s a little park right at the tip that would give you a bit of privacy. There’s also a little harbour wall that would be awesome too.

The view of the mountains, the lake and the little towns nestled around the shoreline is unbeatable. Just make sure you get him or her standing facing that view!

To top things off, there’s a little restaurant there called La Punta where you can stop and have a drink afterwards – believe me, you’ll need it!

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Romantic view of Lake Como from the park at the point of Bellagio - Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy

9. Do the ferries on Lake Como run during the winter?

In short, yes, they do. But the timetables change throughout the year.

The ferry service only releases the next season’s timetables a few weeks before, which isn’t very helpful for planning. Here’s a link to a PDF of the current ferry timetables. Click on ‘timetable pdf’ and choose the timetable you want.

Both the fast ferries and the regular ones run all year round, though Christmas week and certain public holidays do affect service. The only problem with visiting Lake Como in the middle of winter is that many of the shops and restaurants are closed.

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Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy - view from ferry of Lake Como and the mountains

10. Are there any restaurants with a view of the lake you’d recommend?

There are so many places to enjoy a drink or meal with a fantastic view of Lake Como.

But bearing in mind this is in connection with a post about getting from Milan to Lake Como by train, we’re centring our recommendations around three mid-lake towns. Varenna, Bellagio and Tremezzo.

These towns are on three different sides of the lake – the east, the central point where the left and right smaller lakes converge, and the western side.

Varenna, the town where the train from Milan arrives, has a wealth of restaurants and bars along its shores. Il Molo, which is elevated above the path, looks out over the lake and does great pizzas. It’s also great value for the food and view.

Riva is an excellent gelateria right on the water. It doesn’t look like much but has excellent gelato.

Il Molo Restaurant with a view of Lake Como in Varenna

Bellagio is home to so many restaurants and bars overlooking the lake. Off the ferry, you’ll see lots of places on the water. Some even hanging over it like La Terrazza – the restaurant of the Hotel Metropole.

Ristorante La Punta, which is out of town a bit, north of the ferry wharf, is right on the point of Bellagio and has beautiful views up towards Switzerland that very few other restaurants in Bellagio offer.

Tremezzo on the western shore has fewer options, but the most obvious and best would have to be the restaurants in the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. This stunning historic hotel is a must if you have time to see this part of the lake.

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Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy - Church and town of Bellagio, Lake Como from the water

11. Which town is best to stay in and how can we see more towns around Lake Como?

If you’re travelling by train from Milan to Lake Como, you’re probably best off basing yourselves in Varenna, where the train comes in.

It’s the most connected of the towns around that part of the lake and also cheaper than Bellagio, which is very popular. AirBnB has some good options, though even the hotels here will be cheaper than Bellagio.

For real 5-star luxury though, stay at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo on the western shore.

The lake’s ferries are an affordable way to see many of the bigger towns on the shoreline. They run regularly from Varenna to Bellagio and Tremezzo, and also up further to Menaggio across the other side.

The other option we’d highly recommend is getting a private boat tour one day. Here’s our post on private boat tours on Lake Como.

You can also get a seaplane ride over the lake, which looks amazing. I’ve seen it for only about €90 pp on one site.

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Varenna's fishing boats, waterfront and lakeside wall - Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy

12. Is it worth hiring a car to go to Lake Como?

No, I don’t think you need to get a car to explore Lake Como. In fact, I think it would probably make things more difficult.

Parking around Lake Como doesn’t look easy and the roads throughout the region are narrow once you’re out of Milan.

Both Varenna and Bellagio are only little towns. Just hop on the train, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the scenery. No need for a car.

On the other hand, we hired a car to go to Tremezzo (the hotel has valet parking thankfully) and being able to explore some of the other lakes nearby (Lugano, Maggiore, Iseo and Garda are quite close) is great. But some of the roads around Lake Como are a nightmare.

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Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy - Ristorante La Punta at the northern tip of Bellagio

13. Are there any supermarkets or grocers near Lake Como for self-catering stays?

No, not really.

Self-contained apartments like on AirBnB are a great way of saving money and also getting into the real life of a place.

However, towns like Varenna and Bellagio are more set up for restaurants than supermarkets, so you will probably need a car to reach that kind of shop.

On the other hand, pretty much every town in Italy has a baker’s, and a salumeria for cured meats and cheese… and everywhere sells wine and beer! That’s all you need, isn’t it?!

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Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy - Lake Como flag from the deck of a 1950s Venetian speedboat. Lake Como and the Grand Hotel Tremezzo in the background

14. What if I want to travel around before and after Milan and Lake Como, what are my options?

Italy is an amazing country to travel through. Its public transport and road systems are great, and every town you find has something different to offer.

With Varenna on a main train line, seeing Lake Como on a longer journey isn’t impossible.

For example, coming from Tirano on the Swiss border, visiting Venice then flying out of Milan would look something like this:

  • Tirano – Varenna (1h50min train)
  • Varenna – Milan (1h30min train)
  • Milan – Venice – Milan (2h30min train each way)

Or for an even longer trip, how about Milan, Florence, Venice, Assisi, Rome then fly out of Milan?

  • Arrive Milan, get a train down to Venice (it’s only a couple of hours and you won’t need a car when you’re there).
  • From Venice, get another train to Florence, also another couple of hours.
  • Pick up a car in Florence when you leave and drive to Assisi and then on to Rome. Drop your car off in Rome (you don’t want to drive in that city – it’s crazy!)
  • From Rome (Roma Tiburtina) to Milan Centrale is a 2h50min train.
  • Back in Milan, get the train up to Varenna as per this post and stay the night in Varenna or Bellagio – sunset over Lake Como is not to be missed.
  • Train it back to Milan, spend the day exploring the city and fly home.

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Travelling by train in Europe really is a pleasure. For the most part it’s comfortable, reasonable and most importantly reliable.

To think that even somewhere as beautiful and iconic as Lake Como is so accessible by public transport is amazing. So why not make the most of it?

Ultimate Guide to Lake Como, Italy - Varenna and its stone shoreside wall from the water

4 Comments

  • Reply March 13, 2019

    Gary Francis

    Great article. Really comprehensive. I’ve been twice and still found value in it.

    • Reply March 13, 2019

      Mr Romance

      Thanks Gary. Yes, it’s a place you can definitely keep going back to, isn’t it?

      • Reply March 14, 2019

        Katerina

        I relived my trip to Lake Como of 2 year ago reading your article, thank you! I would only suggest not to focus on Varenna and Bellagio exclusively. No doubt they are beautiful, but other little towns around – Menaggio, Lenno or Bellano – are just as pretty and less crowded even in peak season.

        • Reply March 15, 2019

          Mr Romance

          Hi Katerina. Thank you! So glad reading our story took you back there. It’s such a lovely part of the world, isn’t it?
          I agree, our focus here was very much on Varenna and Bellagio, and there are so many beautiful little towns all around the lake. In our defence, we wrote this with our own travel experiences in mind, plus we were basing it on a day-trip from Milan by train, which pulls in to Varenna. If visitors are planning a longer stay, I’d absolutely look around at visiting the less crowded towns nearby. So much to see there, isn’t there?
          Thanks again and a really good point. 🙂

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