A Two Day Lake Como Italy Itinerary…
“When you write a love story, let it set against the banks of Lake Como” – Anonymous
You may be forgiven for thinking I live in a dream world, where every town and country I visit shoots moonbeams from its ass and glitter lines the roads we travel. I’m always completely gushing about our latest trip – I can’t help it, I’m a megawatt optimist. I eat sunshine for breakfast and unicorn steaks for tea! But let’s just say, Lake Como Italy is a place of contrasts, and for anyone who has visited Italy before, you will know what I mean and that it comes with a lot of rustic charm. Where a good earthquake could make €1 million worth of improvements. But don’t let that put you off – take the glamour with the grit and you will fall in love with Como as we did. In most places, it’s the perfect marriage of natural and man-made beauty.
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Best Place To Stay In Lake Como, Italy
After much research, we decided to hunt for accommodation in Bellagio, partly because it seemed to look after itself a bit more and partly because George Clooney hangs there. Not surprisingly Bellagio hotels are a fraction more expensive than some of the neighbouring towns but you can’t put a price on reliving a scene from ER and I had my best heart-attack impression at the ready in case George was present. Actually, we couldn’t believe our luck at the Bellagio apartment we booked for £70p/n – I mean, this was our view…
Acqua Dolce is probably one of the best apartment finds we have ever made and we can’t recommend it enough. Everything was perfect, including the location and the lovely lady who owned the place. Down to the smells from the nearby Jasmine trees and views of our own which made Bellagio’s promenade pale into insignificance. If there was ever a top accommodation recommendation from us, this would be it – a beautiful apartment in equally beautiful surroundings (For the best rates, click here). It was a 5 minute walk to the Bellagio shopping area and slightly further to the front of the Lake but it meant it was a little quieter and possibly the best pizza joint on this earth is just around the corner and share the same view from an open second-floor terrace. Locals eat there so the prices are low and the food is great! (Check out their website www.labellaginapizza.com). There’s also a nearby supermarket because you need to make the most of that balcony with those views and a bottle of Spumante. Bellagio hotel deals are hard to come by, it’s an exclusive town, so if you’re trying to do Lake Como on a budget but still want somewhere lovely, this is possibly one of the cleverest choices for places to stay in Lake Como, Italy.
Things To Do In Lake Como – Day 1
The list of places to see around Lake Como is pretty long but the weather is changeable, even in the Summer. Therefore, if you only have a short break here, you might want to check the forecast in order to get the best of Lake Como and a 2-day itinerary. But mix and match our suggestions and feel safe you’ll be covering the best highlights with our Lake Como travel guide.
Buy A Lake Como Travel Day Ticket For The Ferry
From your vantage point in Bellagio, you can see a great deal of other towns across the water, just ripe for the taking. And from this distance, they all look beautifully appealing. However, not all places are equal on Como and some are more worthy of your time than others. So which day trips from Lake Como should you take? Well, buy yourself an all-day ferry ticket, take in some of the beautiful scenery from the water, and we’ll tell you which ones to visit in our guide to Lake Como…
Varenna to Bellagio only takes ten minutes and you arrive at one of the most spectacular waterfronts on Lake Como. Make sure you have your camera ready because from the boat Varenna is one of the prettiest places to see in Lake Como.
It isn’t a large town but if you were staying in Varenna for a longer break there are a few nearby attractions that you could factor in. If you like nature and hiking and are looking for things to do in Lake Como you could visit Italy’s smallest waterfall, Fiumelatte, which isn’t too far and also great for some of the best views of Lake Como. Or take a ten-minute train ride to nearby Orrido di Bellano, an impressive gorge, natural canyon, with beautiful waterfalls and pools.
But if time is limited, just stick to Varenna. The promenade veers off to the right as you leave the boat and is a pretty walkway with a handful of cafes and restaurants – perfect for a thick Italian hot chocolate and pastry with a lake view. There aren’t many things to do in Varenna other than appreciate the handsomeness of this old Como town, but a wander through the colourful houses and cobbled streets up to the Gothic church will leave you in the most romantic of moods. Locals continue about their day as if these day visitors are just part of a pop-up film set and they themselves have been hired in as extras to bring in a little authenticity. Grab an Aperol Spritz and watch the residents buy their bread, confabulate with neighbours and transiently pause to cross themselves in front of the Chiesa.
If you can find the time, one of the main Varenna attractions is Villa Monastero – this was definitely one of our Lake Como highlights. The house part is a museum but we bought a ticket just for the Botanic Gardens – a beautiful slice of waterfront gardens on Lake Como made up of graduated terraces and stone-work pagodas, filled with some rare plant and tree species. It’s a real Lake Como gem and a great photo opportunity.
Menaggio has long been a tourist spot and makes it onto many a Lake Como travel guide due to its rail connections with Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore. (We loved Lake Maggiore, have a read about our highlights here) Hikers also use it as a starting point for some lush alpine trails like the Val Sanagra Park. Plus, the slopes aren’t as steep as other spots on Como, I mean, Menaggio even has a golf course – that either demonstrates the relative lack of sharp angles in the landscape or Italians just love chasing balls down hills? However, Menaggio is one of the best places in Lake Como to just chill and enjoy Italian life. There’s a picturesque promenade and a lovely old square, Piazza Garibaldi, where with your coffee comes an incredible view of Lake Como. Leading off from the square are several colourful and narrow streets full of small boutiques and traditional craftsmen’s wares like Italian leather goods and local delicacies – it’s a great place for shopping in Lake Como if you’re looking for some unique Italian souvenirs.
Menaggio was once a fortified town and some parts of it are pretty old. Take a walk towards the back of the town and as the cobble-streets start to incline and steal your breath, notice the old Medieval style homes. And if you want a trip further back in time, carry on until you reach some of the ancient fortified walls at Via Castellino da Castello for a walk along the perimeter walls where the Castle once stood.
If you’re in Lake Como with kids and the weather is good, head to the Lido Di Menaggio, a swimming pool on the Lake with play parks and sunbeds for the adults. Not far is also a lake-front mini-golf course too.
Visit Tremezzina (aka Tremezzo)
As the last stop with your all-day ferry ticket, our final recommendation of places to visit around Lake Como would be Tremezzo. It’s a popular tourist town and built up with grand looking hotels and a handful of ornate villas – some of which you can visit.
One of the most popular Lake Como attractions is right in Tremezzina – Villa Carlotta. This Neo-Classical Villa is one of the most recognisable ornaments on Como’s mantelpiece and a snap-shot from the water makes for the kind of photograph which goes on to attract visitors from all over the earth. She’s a beauty! Don’t miss a trip to Villa Carlotta if you are in Lake Como in Spring-time or early summer – the azaleas and rhododendrons are just stunning. The tale goes that the owner was in competition with an opposing Villa across the lake in Bellagio (his archrival), so when one added a new tropical flower or rare tree variety the other followed suit with an equal treasure of flora. Villa Carlotta carried on blooming when Russian royals took over several years later.
By the way, if you were wanting to live like a king and queen for the weekend, luxury 5 star hotels in Lake Como don’t come any more glamorous than the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. Check out their rooms here and if you’re up for blowing this months wages on the most romantic break in the Italian lakes, this has to be one of the best places to stay in Lake Como. Fact.
Before you board the ferry back home, take a pew at the Iron Gate Bar on the waters edge for an early evening spumante and great pizza – great food with a great view and lovely hospitality.
Lake Como at night is one of the prettiest sights, and because of its positioning, Bellagio is one of the best places to experience this – another great reason to make Bellagio your choice of where to stay in Lake Como. The sun dips down over the alps as you look north up the lake and Bellagio becomes the looking glass to one of the best views of Lake Como. There are several small bars and larger hotel terraces from which to enjoy an evening Bellini and if you’re lucky, the orchestra may be playing and folk may be having a little dance under the stars – there’s nothing more idyllic.
Day 2 Of Places To See in Lake Como, Italy
Visit Bellagio, Lake Como
Whether you are staying in the town or just want to visit Bellagio from another base, you should absolutely make a half-day trip part of your Lake Como itinerary. Bellagio is one of the best places in Lake Como, hands down. It may be full of shops selling €10 bars of soap and sunburnt pensioners with yacht keys in their pockets but there’s always a reason why places attract the wealthy and in Bellagio it’s because it’s so picturesque. So ignore the tight white jeans on old ladies and Versace poodles with hair-do’s and absorb a bit of an Italian beauty spot. Don your largest pair of sunglasses and you’ll fit right in!
Cafe tables spill out onto the street and storefronts are cleaned first thing to sparkle for another day. Flowers and vines cascade from every balcony, window-ledge and drain pipe making Bellagio a boast of blooms, offset by painted homes and boutique stores. Bellagio is undoubtedly the jewel of Lake Como.
Some of the cobbled streets are steep or layered with steps so progress can be slow-paced, especially when there are so many lovely shops to look in. But you’d be as well to wear sensible footwear anyway as there is another hidden gem worth taking a little stroll to. Pescallo is a little fishing village just around the peninsula, facing east as opposed to west from the promenade of Bellagio. If you took our advice and booked our recommended accommodation choice for Bellagio this gorgeous little spot is right on your doorstep. Lanes lead straight to the water where cute little row-boats are often moored and the briny smells and fishing accoutrements just lying around give you an idea of the more authentic residential side of this corner of Bellagio. It’s ideal for escaping the tourists of Bellagio although you may bump into one or two astute Instagrammers posing for shots against the gorgeous Italian lake views. Every now and then the streets open up to wider angles and a perfectly placed bench gives you an opportunity to sit awhile and watch the carpeted slopes across the other side.
Our favourite little find of Bellagio, Lake Como was a local bar not too far from Pescallo. I instantly fall in love with a place if it brings you snacks with your drink, and when I asked for white wine and got a fizzy Spumante, I smiled at the arrogance – Italians are proud of their wares and when an area produces a certain variety of food or drink they just presume that’s what you want, why wouldn’t you, it’s the best!
We found all of these Bellagio hidden gems on a Lake Como map we picked up from tourist information which led us on a 2-mile walk around town and beyond. It included some interesting local facts and gave us an opportunity to stray from the beaten path, see some local (incredibly beautiful) villas, dip into little churches and replenish our palate along the way. There are so many things to see in Lake Como but this was by far one of our favourite mornings. (Bellagio Tourist Information is on Via Roma next to the ferry stop)
Visit Villa Balbianello
There are so many things to do in Lake Como you could stay for a month and not cover all the highlights. However, on every Lake Como itinerary should be a visit to Villa Balbianello. It should be a general rule in life that if it’s good enough for James Bond it’s good enough for you!
Do you remember Daniel Craig in a wheelchair (Casino Royal) at the most breath-taking spot on a lake with the delectable Vesper? Welcome to the Lake Como Bond Villa. Balbianello was used as the location for that famous scene and if I ever need to pick a place to recover from multiple street fights and a few bullet wounds, then this is where you’ll find me too! It also makes a brief appearance in Star Wars – Attack of the Clones as well.
Built for a cardinal in the 1700s, and more recently owned by an explorer, Guido Monzino, the innards of this amazing Lake Como museum are filled with secret doors and passageways, and decorated with collections and works of art that make you comprehend the wealth of its history. I’d recommend the Villa Balbianello tour, it sets off at regular intervals. But the most impressive aspect of this beautiful Lake Como attraction is the ornate architecture and landscaped gardens. Even if you’re not a green-fingered aficionado there’s no way you will leave without 40 million photos from every different angle.
Villa Balbianello protrudes into the lake so that it can flaunt its beauty to everywhere else on Como. Like a pupil auditioning for a school play, Balbianello sits forwards in its chair, bouncing slightly, arm stretched high in the air, shouting pick me, pick me! And of course – George Lucas and Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) did.
If you were ever wondering what to visit in Lake Como, the Villa’s are aplenty and Balbianello is number 1.
Plan Your Villa Balbianello Visit
- Location : Lenno, Lake Como
- Opening Times : mid-March to mid-November, 10am – 6pm daily except Monday and Wednesday.
- Prices: €20 guided tour plus house and garden ticket, €14 if you have English National Trust Membership (must show your card)
We came back to earth with a bump when we left the coiffed world of Balbianello and made the mistake of going for a glass of vino at local town Azzano. The paint flaked a little more than usual and the cobbled alley’s smelled like a bad vets. Save yourself and visit Lenno instead if you have some extra time on your hands. It’s a nice enough place for a final Como beverage and you need to just find yourself a lakeside bar and soak up the final hours of your short break in Como.
Lake Como Travel Tips – When To Go
Many hotels close from November to March, but not all. Situated in the North of Italy, on the edge of the Alps, the weather can be quite changeable. We have experienced several awesome lightning storms over the years at the Italian Lakes so make sure you pack waterproofs and are ready to duck into a cafe at short notice. We prefer the ‘shoulder seasons’ (May and September specifically) because the temperatures are just right for exploring little towns. If you come in July and August, be prepared to share Lake Como with more than a dozen other tourists – it can get nose to armpit!
How To Get To Lake Como, Italy
Milan Malpensa is the closest airport with a busy schedule, including several budget airlines so choosing a short break in Lake Como is a simple strategy. If you are heading from Milan to Lake Como, travel is easy by train – there are stations at the Lake Como towns of Como, Bellagio and Varenna. Alternatively, there is a quicker train to Varenna (and cheaper too – around €13 return) but you will have to take the foot-ferry from there to your chosen town. Check the Trenitalia website for more information on times and ticket fares.
If you are planning on hiring a car, it takes approximately 1 hour 20 minutes to get from Milan to Bellagio. Sometimes it is worth checking to see if traffic makes it quicker driving up the west of the left leg of Lake Como (SS340) and getting the ferry across to Bellagio – although make sure you check the times of the last ferry or you could end up stranded.
So there you have our 2 day Lake Como itinerary full of great suggestions – now all you have to do is book that weekend away! Let us know how you get on and any further recommendations for future trips.
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