Last updated on January 18th, 2024.
For me, a visit to the Italian lakes coupled with a long weekend makes a winning combination.
Before arriving for our 3 days in Lake Como, I knew little about the area or the surrounding towns. But, like our 3 days in the Lake District in England, we were happy to find out for ourselves.
In this post, I’ll be listing the places we visited in Lake Como — both known and lesser known towns.
Make it your own northern Italy itinerary by choosing which of these places and sights you’d like to add to your list.
How many days do you need in Lake Como?
The number of days you decide to spend in Lake Como all depends on the M.O of your trip.
If relaxation is your main focus, a long weekend (2 or 3 nights) in Lake Como is sufficient. It’s enough time to take a swim, sunbathe, and maybe even book a spa treatment or two.
A 7-day Lake Como itinerary works better if you want to relax as well as explore the area. You’ll have enough time to visit more towns around Lake Como and to see more attractions.
As the title of this post says, we spent 3 nights and 4 days in Lake Como. For reference, we visited during the week and in late July. It was ideal for us, as we came to Lake Como for the purpose of exploring and not to chill out.
Meeting the (other) locals
If you visit Lake Como on the weekend, there’s a high chance that you’ll run into some Milanese locals. Traveling to Lake Como from Milan makes an ideal day trip given that Milan is around 1r 40mins by car.
The lake makes a perfect excuse for a weekend break.
3 days in Lake Como
Lake Como in 3 days: Day 1 — Sorico
There are 2 sides to Lake Como that exist. One caters to the celebrity, George Clooney and co stereotype, while the other showcases local everyday life.
And, it was the latter side of Lake Como that we were more interested in seeing. With this in mind, we chose Sorico as our base for our first night.
A small commune in the province of Como, Sorico is far from the glamorous perception that’s associated with Lake Como. But, it’s for this very reason why we chose it.
Located towards the north end of Lake Como, Sorico has a more local feel. Saying that, there are still signs of tourism around, with restaurants, bars and campsites in the area.
Hotels in Sorico, Como — is it worth staying in Lake Como?
Our base for the night was the charming Hotel Europa. A family-run hotel, with son Mattia in charge, it was a delightful stay in Sorico.
Just moments from the shores of Lake Como, the beach (Spiaggia di Sorico) was deserted aside from a few locals. Rooms are modern, clean and a good size, and Mattia and his family are very accommodating to your needs.
Abbazia Cistercense di Santa Maria di Piona (Piona Abbey)
You may be wondering why a monastery was our first stop on our Lake Como road trip.
For one, the Abbazia Cistercense di Santa Maria di Piona was an easy 30-minute drive from our hotel. The second reason was the weather. Heavy downpours had greeted our arrival in Como (yay) and though it had since stopped, dark clouds still loomed above.
Fortunately, the rain held off for our visit. A historic Romanesque-style monastery dating to the 13th century, Piona Abbey has a peninsula peak location and unbeatable lake view.
The drive leading towards the abbey is as scenic as the structure itself. Bumpy narrow lanes take you through a small town before you eventually reach the peninsula-based abbey.
Free to explore — things to do in Lake Como
Another good reason to visit Piona Abbey is that it’s one of the best free things to do in Lake Como. Within the grounds are historic cloisters and a small church.
The church has a simple, rectangular plan with 3 naves and a semicircular apse. Inside, are frescoes dating from different periods. They include several 14th-century paintings depicting the life of St. Nicholas and a 16th-century Last Judgment scene.
Towards the back of the abbey is a garden with an altar. Worshippers were there during our trip, so be mindful, and respectful, when visiting.
Next stop: Varenna
The drive from Piona Abbey to Varenna is one of the prettiest we’ve ever taken. By this point, the dark skies had completely dissipated, leaving us with the classic ‘bella vista’ of Lake Como.
How to get around Lake Como
When driving around Lake Como, avoid taking the ‘Galleria’ (tunnels) route with the car. Instead, choose the road that runs by the lake to make the most of your journey.
Another scenic way to get around Lake Como is by taking the ferry (traghetto). Check the Lake Como ferry timetable before arriving at the port. From our experience, ferries arrived every 25 to 30 minutes. Our ferry ticket cost €14.40 ($17/£12)* for a one-way trip.
Whatever you decide, boating on Lake Como will be something you’ll always remember.
Gelato and romantic views — what should you not miss at Lake Como?
Varenna is one of many towns to visit around the lake, and it’s also one of the most popular. But, if you’re expecting to find a long list of things to do in Varenna, you may be disappointed.
While the town’s as pretty as the pictures, Varenna is small enough to see in half a day.
Start at the harbor and follow the path that takes you around the town. A fitting name for its romantic vibe, la Passeggiata degli Innamorati di Varenna (Lovers Path of Varenna) is unmissable.
A foliage-covered red tunnel-like structure leads to an area with several gelateria, cafes and bars, all with lake views. Grab a drink, gelato, or have a sit-down meal. Whatever you decide, the views are really the icing on the cake.
Other things to do in Varenna
A short walk from the bars and restaurants is Varenna Como Lake Beach. Probably one of the smallest beaches I’ve seen in Italy, it’s a place to bathe, swim or relax.
I’ll be frank: Varenna Como Lake Beach isn’t a great spot. Unlike the beaches in Genoa, or in other areas around Italy, there are much better places to swim in Lake Como. More on that later.
Varenna Como Lake Beach, Contrada del Torchio 9
Another top attraction in Varenna is Villa Monastero. A villa overlooking the lake, the gardens are filled with colorful floral displays and stone statues. Inside, is a house museum decorated with furniture from the 19th century.
Today, Villa Monastero is used as a conference center as well as a wedding venue. You can book tickets online and also choose the time you’d like to visit.
Villa Monastero, Viale Giovanni Polvani 2
Map: 3 days in Lake Como
‘Horrid’ Orrido di Bellano
I’m not sure why we thought it’d be a good idea to visit Orrido di Bellano on an overcast day.
My mild claustrophobia and fear of heights didn’t help either when visiting the narrow and deep gorge. However, for an attraction that dates over 15 million years, I was prepared to face my fears head on.
The gorge is formed by the Pioverna stream, which has carved its way through the rock over centuries, creating a series of pools, waterfalls and rapids. The walls of the gorge are quite steep, and in some places, reach a height of up to 50m (164ft).
The clue’s in the name
‘Orrido’ translates to horrid in English. For me, I should’ve taken it as a clear sign of what was waiting ahead. Upon entering the barrier, we came across the first of several suspension bridges.
The paths take you through, and up, the gorge. My nerves got the better of me anytime I tried to see, and photograph, the depth of this incredible structure.
Sadly, but not by much, our time at Orrido di Bellano was cut short. Overcast skies had quickly turned dark, and we knew that rain was on its way (again).
While it was possible to continue, there’s no form of shelter once you’re inside. I’d like to tell you that we were disappointed, but I’d be lying. For us, Orrido di Bellano wasn’t worth the visit.
However, because it was on our way back to Sorico from Varenna, we decided to stop by. If you plan to visit, I strongly advise checking the weather beforehand. Tickets for Orrido di Bellano cost a very reasonable €5 ($5.90 / £4.25) for adults.
Orrido di Bellano, Piazza San Giorgio, Bellano
Lake Como in 3 days: Day 2 — Tremezzo
We said goodbye to a dark and stormy Sorico, and hello to a wet, but slightly brighter Tremezzo.
Another small locality in Como, Tremezzo was a completely different scene to our first base. Within minutes of arriving, we passed several luxury sports cars and jaw-dropping 5-star hotels.
Luxury price tags in Tremezzo — is Lake Como expensive?
If you’re traveling to Lake Como on a tight budget, Tremezzo probably isn’t the best fit. The biggest — and plushest — lakeside hotels, like Grand Hotel Tremezzo, can cost (approximately) €1,438 ($1,696 /£1,223) a night in August.
However, there are more affordable options in Tremezzo, such as Hotel La Perla. This mid-range 3-star hotel doesn’t have the 5-star credentials, but it does have comfortable rooms and incredibly friendly staff.
What’s more, its elevated location in Tremezzina allows for a perfect viewing point overlooking Lake Como. We only stayed for 1 night, but we could’ve easily stayed a little bit longer.
Walk the lungolago
Without a doubt, the best activity you can do anywhere in Lake Como is to walk along the lungolago. This is the road that runs alongside the lake.
Not only do you get to explore your surroundings, but it’s also 100% free.
A short walking distance from Grand Hotel Tremezzo is the exquisite Villa Sola Cabiati. A private villa owned by the hotel group, it’s available to rent for parties up to 12 people.
The villa has 6 suites, a manicured Italian garden, plus it comes with your own butler and maid. While we had zero chance of getting inside, admiring the exterior from afar was just as good.
Villa Sola Cabiati, Via Statale 36
A floral extravaganza at Villa Carlotta — what should you not miss at Lake Como?
Immerse yourself in the nature and art within the grounds of Villa Carlotta. Built in the late 17th century, it’s easily one of the best things to do in Tremezzo.
The botanical gardens are a joy to explore, with a wide variety of flora and foliage in bright fantastical color.
Highly relaxing, we walked at a snail’s pace, making sure we didn’t miss any part of the gardens.
Eventually, you reach the entrance of the villa. Beams of natural light illuminate the magnificent sculptures in Villa Carlotta, much beloved by its previous owner Giovanni Battista Sommariva.
There are several floors within the villa to visit, each leading to an outdoor area. Enjoy photographing the gardens and villas from different levels, as well as the lake’s landscape.
All in all, we highly enjoyed our visit to Villa Carlotta. It’s easy to understand its appeal as a visitor attraction, and it’s definitely worth visiting when in Tremezzo.
You can buy your tickets for Villa Carlottta online, or at the ticket office at the entrance.
Villa Carlotta, Via Regina 2
An unplanned detour to Lenno
There’s nothing I love more when traveling than going a little off schedule. And, with a short time to kill before dinner, we decided to take a detour to nearby Lenno.
Our reason for visiting the small town in Tremezzina was simple: to try to catch a glimpse of Villa del Balbianello.
Where movies are made
One of Lake Como’s most famous attractions, Villa del Balbianello has featured in several hit movies. They include Star Wars: Episode II and James Bond: Casino Royale.
However, because of heavy rain earlier that day, the area near the villa had been closed off to visitors.
Instead, we wandered further into Lenno and discovered another charming, and tranquil, town within Lake Como.
Escape the crowds
A pretty scene greets you upon entering Piazza 11 Febbraio in Lenno. To the left is a restaurant called Trattoria Santo Stefano, followed by an 11th century structure, Battistero San Giovanni.
As we walked towards the lake’s edge, we passed local children playing football in the piazza. It was a pleasing sight, and a nice change from the more touristic places.
Along the lake’s path are a few more restaurants and bars overlooking a quiet Lake Como. My eye, however, was firmly caught by La Fabbrica del Gelato. A gelateria selling homemade gelato and ice popsicles, we already made plans to return after dinner.
Sunset dinner at Ristorante La Darsena
A trip to Lake Como wouldn’t be complete without a lakeside dinner, and we booked ours at Ristorante La Darsena.
The restaurant also doubles as a hotel called La Darsena. Here, we enjoyed an evening of good food, wine and a perfect view.
Lake Como in 3 days: Day 3 — Bellagio
Our base for our final day on our Lake Como road trip was Bellagio.
The quickest way to get from Tremezzo to Bellagio (with car) is by ferry. Cadenabbia is the closest port with a journey time of around 10 minutes.
As pretty as its name — should I stay in Bellagio or Como?
For first-time visitors to Lake Como, we didn’t know whether to stay in Como or Bellagio. But, in the end, we chose the latter.
For one, it was more practical for us to stay in Bellagio given our route to return home. The second reason was that we were more interested in staying in a smaller town than a city.
Como has advantages over Bellagio. First, it’s bigger, meaning there’s more choice when it comes to hotels, restaurants and so on. There are also more attractions to see in Como, like its Gothic Duomo and the magnificent Villa Olmo.
Of course, you should choose whichever base best suits your needs. It’s very easy to travel between Como and Bellagio, and day trips are always an option.
Many say that Bellagio is the prettiest town on Lake Como and for us, we made the right choice.
Affordable hotels in Bellagio — is it worth staying in Lake Como?
While Bellagio may hold the title of being the prettiest town on Lake Como, it’s certainly not the cheapest. But, we managed to find an excellent mid-range hotel in Bellagio, and one that didn’t break the bank.
Borgo le Terrazze has huge rooms, modern furnishings and a terrace overlooking the lake. Its elevated location is ideal for capturing panoramic views and for escaping the crowds in the center.
Bellagio town center — what can you do in Lake Como for a day?
If you only have 1 day in Lake Como, Bellagio is a good choice. The town gives you the best of both worlds with the lake on one side, and a town center on the other.
Around the center, you’ll spot several high-end shops mixed in with bars, cafes and restaurants.
When it comes to looking for things to do in Bellagio, the list is slightly limited. However, the plus side of this, is that you really get to enjoy the town and its landscape.
Some of the main attractions to see in Bellagio include:
- La Basilica di San Giacomo: a Catholic church built between the end of the 11th century and beginning of the 12th century.
- The town center: explore the narrow streets that run up and down Bellagio’s center.
- Porto Punto Spartivento: a viewing point right at the tip of Bellagio
- Parchetto della Punta: a small park with panoramic views overlooking Lake Como
- Giardini di Villa Melzi (Villa Melzi gardens): a 19th century villa with a picture-perfect botanical garden. As stated in the name, the attraction is only the gardens and not the villa. It’s closed to the public — something you only discover this once you try to enter. To say we were disappointed is an understatement, but the gardens are definitely worth a visit. You can buy tickets at the entrance when you arrive. Tickets cost €8* ($9.40 / £6.90) for adults, while children under 11 enter for free.
Where can you swim in Lake Como?
If you want to swim around Lake Como, finding one of the many small beaches is your best bet. But, there are no lifeguards around, so think twice about venturing out too far if you’re not the strongest swimmer.
Here are some of the best places to bathe and swim around Lake Como.
- San Giovanni, Bellagio (Bellagio public beach): a popular beach just moments from Villa Melzi. Plenty of space to bathe, swim and enjoy the views.
- Isola Comacina, Tremezzina: Lake Como’s only island, you can reach it by swimming, or by taking a boat.
- Ponte della Civera, Nesso: a historic bridge, which is possible to dive off and swim in the lake below. One for more experienced swimmers.
- La spiaggetta di Urio (Urio small beach): a small beach located in front of an ancient Romanesque church. Reachable by car in 15 to 20 minutes from Como, it’s a popular spot to bathe.
- Lido di Villa Olmo, Como: a lido by the lake’s edge, with a bar serving coffee and light snacks.
- Lido di Faggeto Miamilaryo: Faggeto Lario: a lido where you can hire loungers and umbrellas. It’s also free to bring your own towel and relax where you want.
Is it worth visiting Lake Como?
Despite the hiccups with the weather, we’d an excellent time during our 3 days in Lake Como. We didn’t get to see as much as we wanted, but this only gives us another excuse to return. Touristic — and expensive — in parts, it’s still 100% worth adding Lake Como to your bucket list.
What are your thoughts on visiting Lake Como? Would you like to visit one day? Let me know in the comments below.
*prices correct at the time of publishing.
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Is 3 days enough in Lake Como?
You can fit in a lot in 3 days in Lake Como. Most of the towns like Bellagio and Varenna are within easy reach of each other and you can see plenty as long as you plan well.
Is it better to stay in Bellagio or Como?
If you want the experience of staying in a small town on Lake Como, choose Bellagio. It’s charming, colorful and one of the most popular towns on the lake for a good reason.