Last updated on March 29, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in the European Alps & North of Italy

Lake GARDA vs Lake COMO – 10 key differences

I know it’s hard to choose between Lake Como and Lake Garda. They are both so beautiful, however, they are also so different.

In this guide, I compare the two lakes based on 10 key differences. If you are running out of time, I have organised a quick comparative table of Lake Garda Vs Lake Como, with my short conclusion for each subject, otherwise, keep reading for the more extended version.

Bellagio view from the approaching ferry
Lake Como: Bellagio view as I approached the town with the ferry

Lake GARDA vs Lake COMO – Key points

SubjectLake GardaLake ComoMy Conclusion
How to get thereVery accessible with Verona Airport nearby, cheaper travel optionsRequires transfers, generally more expensive and less frequent transportGarda is easier and less expensive to reach
BudgetMore budget accommodations, cheaper meals and activitiesDominated by luxury accommodations, higher costs for meals and activitiesGarda offers a better experience for budget travellers
Family FriendlinessAmusement parks, family resorts, and beach clubs make it ideal for kidsLimited attractions for children, lacks sandy beaches and playgroundsGarda is superior for families with children
Romantic GetawayOffers adventures and beautiful sunsets, but can be crowdedKnown for its ultra-romantic atmosphere, quieter and more intimateComo is the preferred choice for couples seeking romance
Beaches and SwimmingOver 100km of shoreline with beaches suited for swimming and sunbathingVery limited beaches, mostly concrete docks or pebbly stretchesGarda is better for beach lovers and swimmers
HikingAdvanced hiking in the Dolomites, diverse trailsMore gradual paths, lacks the dramatic lake views of GardaGarda provides a more thrilling hiking experience
NightlifeVibrant bars and clubs in resort towns, lively after-hours sceneQuieter, focuses on fine dining and intimate eveningsGarda wins for those seeking nightlife
Weddings and HoneymoonsOffers wedding venues and activities, but less tranquilUltra-romantic settings, luxury accommodations for intimate celebrationsComo is ideal for weddings and honeymoons due to its scenic beauty and tranquility
3-Day Itinerary FeasibilityMore flexible for short trips, diverse activities and townsBest suited for longer stays to fully appreciate its beautyGarda is more suitable for a short 3-day visit
Accommodation OptionsWide range, including budget-friendly and family optionsSkews towards luxury, with fewer budget optionsGarda provides more varied and affordable accommodation choices
Comparison in 10 key points
The Scaligera Castle and the town of Sirmione
Garda Lake: The Scaligera Castle and the town of Sirmione

How to get to Lake Como and Lake Garda

With Verona Airport located just 20km away and budget carriers offering cheap flights from across Europe, Lake Garda provides very affordable and easy access. Direct buses also run frequently from Verona and Milan while efficient trains connect easily from Venice and beyond on Italy’s north-south rail corridor.

The proximity to major transport will allow you to reach Lake Garda quickly and cheaply.

In contrast, Lake Como relies solely on trains requiring transfers in Lecco or Milan. While very scenic, trips run longer and more expensive than the convenient options to Garda Lake.

Flixbus is now running direct buses from Malpensa Milan Airport to Como but the frequency is poor and only in July/August. You would need first a transfer from the Airport to Milano or Saronno and from there a train to Como. Budget around one hour for the train from Milan to Lake Como.

Unfortunately, getting to the town of Como requires more time, planning and money.

The effort pays off in magnificent lake vistas, but Lake Garda takes the accessibility and affordability crown for stress-free Italian lake trips.

If you rent a vehicle in Italy (my favourite car booking website is DiscoverCars) the best airports to arrive at are Milano/Malpensa and Milano/Orio al Serio, for Lake Como and Verona for Lake Garda.

Driving around either Lake Como or Garda is usually easygoing during the week (best time to visit) but it can be quite busy during the summer weekends.

Travelling by ferry is easy and inexpensive

A pearl in the world’s crown

– Goethe on Lake Como

Is Lake Como or Lake Garda cheaper for budget travellers?

Stretching over 50 kilometres across Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda suits budget travellers with campgrounds and family-run hotels clustered around the lake, especially in Peschiera del Garda and Toscolano-Maderno.

These accommodations offer rates often less than half found at Lake Como, especially outside peak summer months. Meals and activities also cost noticeably less, especially further from luxury hotspots like Sirmione.

For backpackers and families watching their wallets, Lake Garda provides the best budget Italy lake experience by far.

In contrast, luxury prevails around Lake Como with ornate villas converted into 5-star hotels and high-end restaurants lifting prices far beyond Lake Garda.

Even ferries and buses come at a premium. While doable for short stays, budget travellers fare much better around Lake Garda for an affordable Italian lake.

The beaches of Torbole that will get busy later in the day with wind activities
Lake Garda: The beaches of Torbole will get busy later in the day with wind activities

Lake Como or Lake Garda with kids

With amusement parks like Gardaland and Canevaworld Aquapark, resort towns catering to families like Peschiera del Garda, countless beach clubs ringing the shore, and windsurfing schools teaching watersports, Lake Garda clearly prevails as the best Italian lake destination when travelling with kids.

Its consistent summer warmth and shallow waters are bliss for both the kids and the parents too that do not need to be consistently alerted.

Conversely, Lake Como offers limited attractions tailored specifically for children beyond lush villa gardens and postcard villages to explore.

While family-friendly hiking and sightseeing abound, the lack of sandy beaches and playgrounds poses challenges for keeping kids continually engaged. For family vacations, Garda’s endless energy and diversions cater best to pleasing everyone.

Enjoying the Aquapark near Peschiera
Enjoying the Aquapark near Peschiera del Garda

Lake Como or Lake Garda for couples

Renowned as a haven for the rich and famous with emerald waters set against magnificent Alpine backdrops, Lake Como provides an ultra-romantic Italian escape for couples.

Lake Como is better for tranquil cruises, world-class wine tastings, and lavish hotels occupying former aristocratic villas

While lively Lake Garda has its fair share of honeymoon hideaways in destinations like Limone sul Garda, the summer crowds and noisy club nights around larger resort towns are certainly not the best if you are looking for a romantic break.

That said, Lake Garda offers more to couples looking for adventures, from hiking to biking, from kite/foil surfing to sailing before enjoying a lovely sunset on the east part of the lake.

Travelling by ferry through the Como Lake
Travelling by ferry through the Como Lake

Which lake has better beaches and swimming, Lake Garda or Lake Como

Lake Garda claims over 100 kilometres of shoreline with a mix of pebbly public and silky smooth private sand beaches perfect for swimming and lounging lakeside.

Family-friendly destinations like Sirmione and Desenzano del Garda offer colourful cabanas and beach clubs catering to swimmers of all ages. The gradual slope of Lake Garda’s shores also keeps water shallow and far from the banks, creating a safe wading environment.

Combined with consistently warm summer temperatures, you won’t be disappointed by the local beaches, ideal for classic relaxation.

I like Lake Como but honestly, it offers very limited beaches due to its steep shoreline topography and rocky Alpine foothills lining the banks. Most lake access features concrete docks or small pebbly stretches lacking facilities. Swimming mainly happens at pools, usually on the side of the lake, formed from dammed streams rather than proper beaches.

While postcard-perfect and serene, Lake Como is not as good as Lake Garda when it comes down to sunbathing and swimming.

Drone view of Torbole town
Lake Garda: Drone view of Torbole town where you will find some great beaches

Como or Garda Lake for better hiking

Ringed by dramatic cliffs and some amazing places to visit and stay in the Dolomites, Lake Garda shines for advanced hiking with endless trail networks ranging from moderate day hikes to multi-day hut-to-hut treks at higher elevations.

Destinations like Riva and Limone sul Garda give direct mountain access to challenging terrain with stunning panoramas over lake vistas hundreds of metres below. Thrillseekers can also combine water sports like canyoning and kite surfing for active adventures.

Lake Como also has some great hiking trails but they are more gradual paths along ancient olive groves, vineyards and villages linked by ancient stone pathways.

While aiding accessibility, the lower-altitude hikes lack the dazzling panoramic views from the steep precipices found around Lake Garda.

However, you can still find amazing hiking spots also in Como Lake. My favourites are around Lecco, and more precisely the Resegone and the Grigna Group, with the Alta Via delle Grigne being one of my beloved treks.

The lovely Malcesine
Lake Garda: The lovely Malcesine

Is Nightlife better in Lake Garda or Como Lake

With buzzing resort towns like Peschiera and Desenzano del Garda featuring vibrant bars and nightclubs pumping beats until dawn, Lake Garda clearly prevails for travellers seeking hot nightlife.

The summer crowds and lively atmospheres continue the excitement long after the sunset deep in the early hours of the morning (typically 4-5 am).

In contrast, Lake Como villages pride themselves on exclusive pampering over party scenes. While visitors can enjoy postcard-worthy aperitivo settings, late nights tend to centre around intimate fine dining and moonlit strolls rather than bustling clubs.

For traditional Italian glamour, Como rules – but Garda revels after-hours.

Time for some nightlife

Lake Como vs Lake Garda for weddings and honeymoons

Renowned as a haven for the rich and famous with emerald waters set against magnificent Alpine backdrops, Lake Como provides an ultra-romantic Italian escape perfectly suited for intimate weddings and honeymoons.

Luxury hotels occupying former aristocratic villas satisfy every whim for pampered stays.

Lake Garda is also very popular with wedding venues and honeymoon hideaways, namely in destinations like Limone sul Garda. However, the summer crowds and noisier energy around its resort towns can’t match Lake Como’s natural majesty and tranquillity.

That said, adventure-loving couples could still prefer Lake Garda’s mix of hiking and sailing for unique bonding.

An eternal backdrop for timeless romance

– The Lakes Area in Italy

Amazing secret corners of Como Lake

3 days in Lake Garda and Lake Como

My preference still goes to Lake Garda. True, it’s the largest lake in Italy, but still, it shines for first-time visitors seeking the quintessential Italian lake experience, especially over a short 3-day trip.

Visitors can mix some navigation to picturesque towns like Sirmione and Limone sul Garda with amusement parks and beaches based in resort hubs like Riva del Garda.

You could be a bit overwhelmed with the many things to do in Lake Garda. That’s why I have organised a quick itinerary to experience the lot. It can be a road trip and probably works best for 5 days but if you are an active traveller you will be able to do most if not all of it.

DayActivitiesMorningAfternoonEvening
Day 1: Sirmione and SurroundingsExplore Sirmione– Visit Scaliger Castle and enjoy panoramic views. Stroll through the historic centre and visit the Grottoes of Catullus.– Relax at the Sirmione Thermal Baths – Enjoy lunch at a lakeside restaurant.– Have dinner in the town centre – Take a leisurely walk along the lakeshore promenade.
Day 2: Northern Garda LakeAdventure in Riva del Garda and Torbole– Head to Riva and explore the MAG Museo Alto Garda – Enjoy a morning coffee with views of the lake.– Try windsurfing or kitesurfing in Torbole – Have lunch in Torbole and explore its historic centre.– Return to Riva for dinner- Take a sunset walk along the lakefront.
Day 3: Eastern Garda LakeWine and Nature in Bardolino and Garda– Visit Bardolino and explore local vineyards for a wine tasting session – Walk along the Bardolino promenade.– Head to Garda and visit the Rocca di Garda for beautiful views – Enjoy a leisurely lunch in Garda.– Explore the shops and cafes of Garda town – Have dinner at a restaurant with lake views.
3 days itinerary in Lake Garda

While you can visit Lake Como in 3 days, you will get only an overview of it. In a few words, you will hardly scratch the surface.

This is a lake with an intricated topography and Lake Como’s towns are actually quite dispersed.

Better suiting week-long retreats, in fact, you might prefer the flexibility of Lake Garda if you are restricted to 72 hours.

I have organised a 3-day itinerary also for Como Lake. It certainly doesn’t cover all but it will give you a good idea

DayActivitiesMorningAfternoonEvening
Day 1: Como and SurroundingsDiscover Como City– Visit the Como Cathedral and stroll through the historic centre – Take the funicular to Brunate for panoramic views.– Enjoy a lakeside lunch in Como – Explore the Villa Olmo and its gardens.– Dinner in Como’s vibrant town centre – Evening walk along the lake promenade.
Day 2: Bellagio and VarennaExplore the Mid-Lake Region– Take a boat service to Bellagio – Visit the Villa Melzi gardens and stroll through Bellagio’s alleys.– Lunch in Bellagio – Boat service to Varenna and visit Villa Monastero.– Enjoy dinner with a view in Varenna – Relaxing evening by the lakefront, watching the sunset.
Day 3: Northern Lake ComoAdventure and Relaxation in Menaggio and Tremezzo– Head to Menaggio for a morning of kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding – Explore the Menaggio promenade.– Take a short boat trip to Tremezzo – Visit Villa Carlotta and its botanical gardens.– Have dinner in Tremezzo or Menaggio – Enjoy a leisurely evening walk, soaking up the tranquil atmosphere.
3 days itinerary in Lake Como
Enjoying the Bardolino wine at a nearby winery
Enjoying the Bardolino wine at a nearby winery

Accommodation – hotel options, costs, booking tips for each lake

Ringed with campgrounds, apartments and family-run hotels, Lake Garda suits any budget. While fewer luxury hotels exist compared to Lake Como, Garda still offers villas with pools dotting olive groves. Booking 6+ months out secures summer deals.

Here are 3 of my favourite accommodations I have short-listed from my guide to where to stay in Lake Garda.

Contrastly Lake Como is synonymous with exclusive five-star hotels occupying former aristocratic villas on the lake’s forested banks, commanding rates from €300-2000+ nightly.

While some towns have apartments and B&Bs, I personally suggest Como Lake for a special splash-out occasion versus regular trips. Plan for the splurge!

Here are 3 of my favourite accommodations I have short-listed from my guide to where to stay in Lake Como.

Travelling around Como Lake by car can unveil amazing corners
Travelling around Como Lake by car can unveil amazing corners
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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