Lake Como is one of the gorgeous places in Italy to visit, especially when in the north of the country. Filled with centuries-old towns, gorgeous views and a shoreline that’s second to none, it’s an area of Italy you cannot miss. Not only that, there’s a heap of the best things to do in Lake Como that are dotted all around the lake’s edge.
We totally loved exploring Lake Como and visited it as part of our road trip to Northern Italy. It’s the kind of area where you can easily spend weeks soaking in the vibe and history (which is everywhere).
Though, you can easily get a little taste on a day trip, too. In fact, it’s totally easy to visit if you’re in Milan and looking for a trip outside of the city.
So, to help you get the most out of your time in Lake Como, I’m sharing some of our favourite places that we loved on our visit. This way, whatever trip length you decide, you’ll get a heap of gorgeous places to explore!
Take a look, below, at the best things to do in Lake Como. Have an amazing Italian adventure.
Nestled right on the southern point of Lake Como, Como is the largest city on the lake’s shores. If you’re driving up from Milan, it’s likely that Como will be your first port-of-call.
Once here, make sure to stop off at Como’s iconic cathedral (signposted Duomo in the city). You see, it’s one of Italy’s most iconic 14th-century Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals and is totally gorgeous.
The towering marble facade is a marvel, filling one side of Piazza Duomo on one side and featuring richly detailed statues and stone carvings. Inside, you’ll spot the medieval rose window and a meticulously carved main altar. You can even climb the Como Cathedral’s dome and have a panoramic view of the city (which is lovely).
Also, don’t forget to see the neoclassical Tempio Voltiano, a museum dedicated to the work of Alessandro Volta. Tempio Voltiano was erected in 1927 as a commemoration of Volta’s centennial death anniversary. Nowadays, the museum houses some of the original equipment used in Volta’s monumental research.
It’s a great spot to visit but even better if you get caught out with a little wet weather.
Afterwards, take a gander at the nearby Villa Olmo that has the most gorgeous gardens and you can even pop inside, too.
Finally, for some great views, ramble on up to Castello Baradello. From the medieval ruins, you’ll get to see all across Lake Como. Though, one thing to remember is that the grounds are intermittently opened and closed. This means you should be prepared for a closed castle once you arrive.
One of the best things to do in Lake Como for the views, Brunate’s Terrace is a must-visit when in Como.
Technically just outside the remit of the city itself (though it doesn’t feel like it), it’s the kind of place that’s perfect at sunset.
Now, to reach Brunate’s terrace settlement, you need to take a funicular from the lakefront’s east end. At the top, you’ll get an encompassing view of the southern part of Lake Como, the villages surrounding it, and mountains in the distance.
We loved it! Plus, there’s a heap of little restaurants all with gorgeous terraces. We stopped off at Capolinea Bistrot for some Italian treats and coffee.
Plus, you can easily see Volta Lighthouse, another monument dedicated to Alessandro Volta. It’s perched right atop the hill in Brunate.
Around a 50-minute drive from the city of Como, Bellagio is another spot you have to visit when driving around the lake.
Once you’ve parked up, make sure to spend a good few hours exploring the waterside promenade, cobbled streets and little eateries that line the paths. It’s totally picturesque and you can easily spend a whole day chilling here (if not longer, if you want to take it slow).
Now, from Bellagio, you can hire your very own boat and sail the shores of Lake Como. It’s a great treat for an hour, especially if there’s a few of you to split the cost.
Talking of treats, for a great place to stay, check into the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni that’s right on the shore. Now, it is pricey but totally worth it for a very special occasion.
Nestled on the western shoreline of Lake Como (and easy to reach by boat from Bellagio), Menaggio is a dreamy lakeside town to visit.
Now, it’s often said that Menaggio’s promenade gives you one of the best views of Lake Como and they wouldn’t be wrong! The whole shoreline around Menaggio is stunning.
This all being said, there aren’t many attractions to explore once you’re here – but that’s all part of its charm. You can just take a lovely stroll and soak up the Italian charm of this timeless spot.
If you fancy staying overnight, check into the Grand Hotel Victoria concept and spa. Again, this can be pricey in the peak summer months but it’s a lovely treat.
5.) Villa Carlotta
Visiting Villa Carlotta is one of the best things to do in Lake Como if you’re looking for a lazy day of sightseeing.
Nestled in the Tremezzina Riviera, a Lake Como favourite for visitors, Villa Carlotta is incredible for its lush gardens and world-renowned paintings and sculptures.
Now, you can best visit its gardens in May, when the whole landscape is brimming with the vivid bloom of camellias and rhododendrons that are so gorgeous. I can’t say I’m the best at recognising flowers but the fragrance of the blooms were just incredible.
6.) Basilica di Sant’Abbondio
Yes, I know it’s in the city of Como but I just had to mention this in its own right!
While Basilica di Sant’Abbondio is predominantly Romanesque in style, this 11th-century church is a stunning combination of all the architectural trends that helped shape Como over the centuries. It’s almost like a timestamp to see the different influences that took hold in the region.
For me, the historic basilica, with its 13th-century frescoes is just incredible to see. I’m such a sucker for churches and religious buildings in Italy. They’re all so beautiful.
Now, while the basilica itself is well-maintained and in good condition, some items have been removed. For instance, the stone carvings previously found at the exterior of Basilica di Sant’Abbondio are now within the Museo Civico (if you want to take a gander).
Easily reached by boat from Bellagio or Cadenabbia, Varenna is one of the best things to do in Lake Como when exploring the little communes around the lake itself.
With picture-perfect streets and a stunning lakeside setting, Varenna is a great spot to visit if you don’t fancy battling the crowds in Bellagio in the busier summer season.
Once here, take a totally chilled stroll through its medieval streets and don’t forget to check out the gardens of Villa Monastero. Oh, and of course, the walled castle (complete with battlements and a drawbridge) of Castello di Vezio.
8.) Head to the museums
Another Como favourite, you’ve got to take some time to explore some of the museums that are perched around Como itself. The Archaeological Museum of Como and the Historical Museum of Giuseppe Garibaldi are two such spots.
Exploring ancient pre-history up to the middle ages, it’s the kind of place that museum-buffs will totally love. Most of the exhibits came from local excavations, so you’ll have a glimpse into the evolution of communities and settlements around Lake Como.
That being said, you might spot a few ancient Greek and Egyptian artefacts, too.
On the other hand, the Historical Museum of Giuseppe Garibaldi will take you through the history of Como, featuring a collection of handmade laces, exhibits highlighting local Italian traditions, and details of the battle of Risorgimento.
Now, if museums aren’t your thing, maybe give them a miss and stick to exploring Lake Como’s gorgeous shoreline.
9.) Villa Melzi
Nestled within Bellagio, Villa Melzi was built in the early 1800s by Melzi (who was a total big-wig during the very first Italian Republic (back in Napolean times).
The whole villa is totally iconic, but so are the gardens and park.
Now, Villa Melzi itself isn’t typically open to the general public, but you can stroll through the landscaped terraces and wander beyond the water garden and the white neo-Moorish pavilion.
Best of all, for a few coins extra, you can buy a two-day ticket that is great if you’re staying overnight in Bellagio.
Around a 30-minute drive from Bellagio, Lecco will likely be your last, or first, stop on Lake Como (depending on which way you drive).
For us, it was our last stop as we headed from Milan, via Como and up the coast via Bellagio to Lecco.
Once here, be sure to stop off at the Palace of Fears; a museum that houses thousands of exhibits with a really cool contemporary art collection. You can spend hours inside.
Also, don’t forget to visit the iconic Basilica of San Nicolò that stands proudly in Lecco. It’s said that the site has been home to some form of religious building for almost 1,000 years.
Getting hungry? Stop by Trattoria Corte Fiorina which’s perched right within the city. Their freshly made ravioli with fish from Lake Como is delicious.
For an evening out, book tickets to the Lecco Theatre that’s totally grand. It’s incredible to visit, though you might need to brush up on your Italian.