18 Absolute Best Things to Do in Lake Como, Italy

There are so many things to do in Lake Como, Italy that it can be hard to narrow down the best ones.

I was lucky enough to visit this stunning region three times already and I was absolutely blown away by its beauty and charm every single time. If you’re planning a trip here, you’re definitely in for a treat!

In this article, I’ll share my top recommendations for things to do in Lake Como, from exploring charming towns and visiting gorgeous lakeside villas to cruising the lake and indulging in delicious Italian food.

Let’s get started!

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Are you planning a last-minute trip to Lake Como?

If your trip is coming up soon and you still haven’t booked anything, we have you covered! Below you can find our top picks when it comes to hotels, tours, getting around, and more.

Best Day Trips to Lake Como

Best Tours and Experiences in Lake Como

Best Places to Stay in Lake Como

Bench on the lakefront promenade in Bellagio, Lake Como

Best Things to Do in Lake Como You Can’t Miss

1. Wander through the streets of Bellagio

Bellagio is one of my all-time favorite towns in Lake Como. With its picturesque streets, colorful buildings, and stunning views of the lake, it really looks like it came straight from a postcard.

There are many fantastic things to do in Bellagio, but strolling along the winding cobbled pathways just never gets old, and I could happily spend hours doing this every time I visit.

One of my favorite places is the waterfront promenade which is the perfect place to catch your breath and get some peace. It’s especially beautiful when the flowers are in full bloom!

The Old Town of Bellagio is the kind of place where you won’t be able to put your camera away. Traditional Mediterranean buildings in every shade of pink, orange, and yellow, flower-filled balconies, and cozy cafes line the streets, each more beautiful than the last.

This is also where you’ll find Salita Serbelloni, a stunning street that you’ll instantly recognize as it’s among the top things to see in Lake Como.

It features in every other picture you’ll see from this part of Italy, but there’s nothing like seeing it with your own eyes.

View of Bellagio Lake Como from the water
Bellagio from the water

2. Tour the famous Villa del Balbianello

Both Star Wars and James Bond have used Villa del Balbianello as a filming location, which is a testament to how incredible this centuries-old mansion is.

Located on the lakefront in the tiny village of Lenno, Villa del Balbianello is oh-so-elegant inside and is home to perfectly maintained gardens, so it’s no surprise that it’s become a popular wedding venue.

You can also visit the inside of the villa if you’re interested in history and architecture.

But even if you don’t go inside, a stroll around its gardens is one of the best things to do in Lake Como. You’ll find centuries-old trees, beautiful flowers, and stunning views of the lake from different vantage points.

And let’s not forget about that famous balcony overlooking the lake, where you can channel your inner Anakin Skywalker or James Bond. It was so unreal to see it in person and I definitely recommend adding this to your Lake Como itinerary.

Can you imagine getting married here?

3. Discover the town of Varenna

Towns like Varenna almost look too amazing to be real, so much so that I felt like I was living in a dream the entire time I was there. For a town so small, you can surprisingly still find lots of things to do in Varenna.

Villa Monastero is Varenna’s biggest claim to fame, but this small village brings so much more to the table.

My personal favorite is the Passeggiata degli Innamorati, a short little walkway right along the water’s edge that you have to check out.

Other spots to explore include the Villa Cipressi and the Church of St. George, and if you’re feeling like hitting the great outdoors, you can hike up to the thousand-year-old Castello di Vezio, but I have more on that a little later.

Even if you’re short on time, a quick visit to the Old Town and lunch on the waterfront is a wonderful way to spend a few hours.

My favorite place to get some drinks and appetizers is at Bar Il Molo, which has an amazing terrace overlooking the lake.

Colorful houses in Varenna, Lake Como
Varenna from the water

4. Explore Villa Carlotta

The only spot that I think can rival Villa del Balbianello is the regal Villa Carlotta, a huge three-story property with its very own botanical gardens in Tremezzo.

Much like Villa del Balbianello, Villa Carlotta has been renovated into a museum filled with sculptures, paintings, and ornate furniture from the last few centuries.

But the real draw of Villa Carlotta is its expansive gardens. They’re much larger than other villas in Lake Como and have an incredible collection of flowers and plants from around the world.

Make sure to stop at the lakeside gates to witness one of the most jaw-dropping views of Lake Como. It’s no wonder the original owners chose this location for their summer house!

Getting tickets to Villa Carlotta is easy and can be done at the entrance or online. The ticket includes the gardens and the villa, so you can explore at your own pace.

5. Take a ferry ride across Lake Como

One of my favorite memories from my trips to Lake Como is taking a public ferry ride across the lake. It’s definitely the best way to see all the different towns and charming villas along the shore.

All of the main towns are connected by frequent ferries, so moving from place to place is quite straightforward and usually pretty quick.

Not to mention that it’s super affordable! Shorter routes like Bellagio to Varenna can cost as little as €5, and even if you’re traveling from Como to Bellagio which is almost 2 hours, it’ll only set you back around €10.

You can check the official Navigazione Laghi website for the schedules and fares, and I also recommend buying your tickets online, especially during the peak season.

Colorful houses in Varenna, Lake Como
Varenna from the public ferry

6. Stroll around Menaggio

Menaggio is just as picturesque as the likes of Bellagio and Varenna but is noticeably quieter and has a lovely laidback way of life. It’s the perfect place to go if you want to relax and enjoy some peace.

The town features a lovely promenade with views of the lake and mountains, perfect for an afternoon walk. You can also find excellent restaurants serving up delicious Italian cuisine in Menaggio.

One of my favorite things to do in Menaggio is to sit at one of the cafes along the waterfront, especially around Piazza Guiseppe Garibaldi, and take in the stunning views while sipping on an Aperol Spritz. It’s pure bliss!

There’s not as much to do in Menaggio as in some of the neighboring towns, but that’s part of why it’s so peaceful and easygoing.

7. Tour Villa Monastero

Varenna’s most popular attraction, Villa Monastero is a must-visit when in Lake Como. This former monastery has been transformed into a museum and botanical garden, making it an ideal spot for history lovers and nature enthusiasts.

While the museum is absolutely worth visiting, it was the gardens that really took my breath away. Stretching for almost 2 km (1.25 miles), every corner of the gardens is immaculate, vibrant, and steeped in history.

Strolling through the gardens was undoubtedly one of my favorite things to do in Lake Como!

Even if you’re not usually one for museums, I highly recommend visiting Villa Monastero for its incredible gardens alone.

However, if you have the time, I suggest buying the combined ticket to visit both the villa and the gardens for a well-rounded experience.

Villa Monastero in Varenna, Lake Como

8. Take a walk through Orrido di Bellano

One of the most unique and lesser-known spots in Lake Como is Orrido di Bellano, a natural gorge formed by the Pioverna River.

The walk through the gorge is truly breathtaking as you follow a wooden walkway through tunnels, over bridges, and past waterfalls. It’s unlike anything else you’ll see in Lake Como and definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

What I found remarkable about Orrido di Bellano was how close it is to Bellano town, as it feels like it’s tucked away miles from the center. In reality, a 5-minute stroll from the heart of the town will get you right to the entrance.

Though Orrido di Bellano is quite well known, many visitors often overlook it, and I can’t understand why. It’s also just a 5-minute train ride from Varenna, so it’s very easy to get to.

9. Head out on a private boat tour

Although seeing Lake Como from a ferry or the shore is fantastic, nothing beats experiencing it on a private boat tour. It’s undoubtedly one of the best ways to take in all the beauty and charm of this stunning lake.

You can rent a boat yourself (most boats don’t require a license) or hire a driver to take you around.

Like most private tours, these tend to be significantly more expensive than classic guided trips, but if you’re traveling with a group, it can be quite affordable.

Aside from the obvious beauty, one of my favorite things about taking a private boat tour is that you have complete control over your itinerary. You can stop wherever and whenever you want for photos or to take a dip in the crystal-clear waters.

There are lots of options, such as this private 2-hour tour with your own captain, or you can don the captain’s hat yourself and rent a boat for 2 hours which gives you the ultimate freedom to explore on your own.

If you’re staying in Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio, or Tremezzo, this luxurious Lake Como boat tour will be the best option for you.

Alternatively, you can also find a bunch of skippers offering private excursions from each of the main towns, so it’s possible to do this activity at the last minute if it’s not too busy.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo Lake Como

10. Explore the ruins of the Castello di Vezio

In terms of more outdoorsy things to do at Lake Como, it’s hard to beat the hike to the Castello di Vezio. The trail will take you around 30 minutes to complete, so it’s a relatively short but steep hike.

Once you reach the top, you’ll be greeted by spooky ghost statues scattered around the grounds, 12th-century ruins, and some of Lake Como’s best views. Anyone with an interest in wildlife will also enjoy checking out the collection of birds of prey that reside here.

This castle has lived many lives, including serving as a military outpost during World War II, and you can read up on the background through the information boards at the top.

As it’s a steep hike, I recommend wearing suitable shoes and bringing plenty of water. I stupidly did this hike in sandals and it was horrible to get down on the slippery paths so I wouldn’t recommend that!

Girl at Castello di Vezio

11. Stroll through the botanical gardens at Villa Cipressi

Another stunning garden to explore on Lake Como is at Villa Cipressi in Varenna. This gorgeous villa has a beautiful terraced garden with incredible views of the lake.

Villa Cipressi now operates as a hotel and it’s definitely one of the most stunning Lake Como hotels with lake views!

The building itself dates back to the 15th century and retains all its old-world charm through its outdoor patio, luxury guestrooms, and traditional decor. Sadly, only hotel guests are permitted inside the property.

However, the botanical gardens are open to the public and are just as sensational, packed with hundreds of plant species in the prettiest of surroundings. It’s a lovely place to spend an afternoon, especially if you’re looking for a quieter spot away from the busy towns.

Villa Cipressi, Lake Como

12. Try some watersports on the lake

Lake Como is the perfect place for a relaxing getaway, but it also has plenty to offer for travelers who like to get their adrenaline pumping.

Wakeboarding, windsurfing, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding are just some of the watersports offered along the lake, and the calm waters make it much less daunting for first-timers.

When the warmer weather comes around, towns and villages like Bellagio, Varenna, and Lenno operate a ton of exciting watersports, and many hotels have the likes of jet skis and kayaks available to rent.

This is a fantastic way to experience the lake from a different perspective and add some excitement to your trip.

Kayaks on Lake Como

13. Enjoy a funicular ride up to Brunate

The town of Como is linked to the nearby village of Brunate by a funicular railway that’s been in operation since the late 1800s.

Brunate lies 500 meters (1,640 ft) above Como, making it an excellent spot for panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

The journey itself only takes around 7 minutes, and during peak seasons, it runs roughly every 15 minutes. After you land in Brunate, you’ll have the Phare de Volta lighthouse and quaint churches like Parrocchia Sant’Andrea Apostolo to explore.

We opted to visit for sunset and I couldn’t recommend it enough. The sky lit up in the prettiest shades of pink, orange, and yellow, with the lake sparkling below us. It was a truly magical experience!

Sunset from Brunate, Italy

14. Explore the historic center of Como

Como is the capital of the Province of Como, and I’ve always found this city to be terribly underrated.

It’s much larger than cute villages like Bellagio and Varenna, but it has so much to offer in terms of history, culture, and nightlife.

You’ll have no problem catching a ferry to Como for the day, as it boasts fantastic connections to most of the smaller towns, but spending a few nights here is also definitely worthwhile.

The exquisite Como Cathedral is the centerpiece of the city, so a visit here is a must to see frescoes and stained glass windows that’ll blow you away.

Other things to do in Como include visiting Villa Olmo, a palatial property that looks more like a royal residence, plus the Basilica of San Fedele.

Como also has a direct train connection to Milan, so it’s an easy day trip from the fashion capital of Italy if you’re based there.

Como Cathedral from the water
Como from the water

15. Attend an Italian cooking class

Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best things to do in Lake Como is to take part in a cooking class.

As well as being a wonderful opportunity to learn the craft of Italian cooking, these classes are such a blast and usually include some local wines to enjoy alongside your home-cooked meal.

This tour equips you with all the skills you’ll need to craft your own pasta at home, and you’ll also learn how to whip up a mean tiramisu. The class is usually only made up of around 10 to 12 people and runs from your local chef’s own home.

An Italian dining experience wouldn’t be complete without an aperitif, and these classes generally offer some prosecco to sip on before your meal, plus some light bites and nibbles.

Tiramisu at La Lanterna Bellagio
Tiramisu is hands down the best dessert you can get in Italy

16. Visit Villa Melzi Gardens

As you’ve probably gathered by now, Lake Como has an abundance of high-end villas and immaculate gardens, and Villa Melzi is one that I instantly fell in love with.

Just a quick stroll from the center of Bellagio, Villa Melzi is actually one of the newer villas in the area, having been constructed in the early 1800s.

The interior of the villa is off-limits to visitors, but the museum, chapel, and gardens are open to the public from March to November each year. 

From the Romanesque and Egyptian statues to the serene Japanese pond and the meandering walkways, these gardens are just magical and really encapsulate the beauty of Lake Como.

Bellagio can be quite hectic during the summer months, and Villa Melzi will check all your boxes when you’re looking for somewhere that’s easy to reach but away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets.

View of Villa Melzi in Bellagio, Italy from the lake

17. Eat in a lakeside restaurant

You won’t have to go far to enjoy dinner with a view in the Lake Como area, as there are more waterfront eateries than I’d even attempt to count.

Classic Italian fare like wood-fired pizzas, arancini, burrata, and bruschetta are available in most restaurants, so you’ll be spoiled for choice no matter where you pick.

Having said that, it’s not uncommon for bistros and cafes with incredible locations to be lacking in quality when it comes to the food, so I have a few suggestions for you to ensure you won’t have to sacrifice on views or taste.

For an upscale experience, make sure to visit Bar Giardino at Hotel Royal Victoria in Varenna. The view from the outdoor terrace is simply incredible, and the food is equally as impressive.

Or for a more casual option, head to Bar Il Molo, just a few steps from Hotel Royal Victoria. I must admit, the food here can be a bit of a hit or miss, but the view from their terrace and the cocktails are top-notch.

Ristorante La Punta is another favorite of mine, and it’s located right on the tip of Bellagio’s peninsula, making it the perfect place for a sunset dinner. With its elegant decor and delicious seafood dishes, this restaurant is a must-visit while in Lake Como.

18. Take a dip in the lake

It goes without saying that one of the most enjoyable things to do in Lake Como is to dive into the refreshing cobalt-blue waters.

Lake Como is a lovely place for a dip, especially when you’ve spent the day under the sweltering sunshine. After all, Italy is no stranger to scorching summer temperatures!

There are many hotels perched right along the waterside with their own stretch of private land, but there are a number of designated swimming areas in most towns.

Unless somewhere is marked as safe for swimming or is a beach area, it’s best to avoid jumping in, as some patches of the lake have less favorable swimming conditions than others.

Some gorgeous spots for a quick splash include Lido di Bellagio Beach Club, Spiaggia Pubblica di Bellagio, or Lido di Varenna.

Lido di Bellagio, Lake Como
Lido di Bellagio

Where to Stay in Lake Como

The most popular areas for accommodation in Lake Como are Bellagio, Varenna, and Como. These towns have the most tourist attractions and offer great accommodation options ranging from luxurious villas to budget-friendly guesthouses.

Varenna and Como are especially great because they have direct train connections to Milan, so it’s very easy to get to. However, keep in mind that Como is very far from the middle part of the lake where most attractions are located so you’ll spend a lot of time commuting.

If you want to know more about the best places to stay around the lake, check out my in-depth guide about where to stay in Lake Como. It covers all of the best areas and gives you some insider tips on where to find the best deals.

If you’re in a hurry, here are my top recommendations for the best hotels in these towns.

Best places to stay in Bellagio

Best places to stay in Varenna

Best places to stay in Como

Bar Giardino at Hotel Royal Victoria, Varenna
Hotel Royal Victoria in Varenna

Planning a trip to Lake Como?

Then you might want to take a look at all our other travel guides about Lake Como. I promise, they are just as awesome as this article was!

Lake Como hotel guides:

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Lake Como itineraries:

Other Amazing Destinations in Italy: Cinque Terre | Dolomites | Florence | Lake Garda | Rome | Venice

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