Last updated on March 23, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in the European Alps & North of Italy

Lake MAGGIORE or Lake COMO – 10 key differences

I grew up between these two beautiful destinations so it’s going to be difficult for me to say if Lake Maggiore or Lake Como is better. They are both beautiful but they do have some differences.

In this post, I have listed the 10 major differences that may drive your decision depending on the type of trip you have in mind.

But let’s start straight away with a quick table that compares Lake Como and Lake Maggiore followed by a more exhaustive description of every point.

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

Lake Como Vs Lake Maggiore – Key points

SubjectLake MaggioreLake ComoConclusion
AccessibilityRegular rail connections from Milan and Switzerland, easy bus transfersRequires transfers from Bergamo or Milan, longer bus journeysMaggiore offers greater transport efficiency
CostBudget-friendly options available, cheaper day tripsFew budget options, dominated by luxury hotels and restaurantsMaggiore is more budget-friendly
Family SuitabilityVibrant resort towns, playgrounds, family excursionsFewer family-friendly features, upscale atmosphereMaggiore is better suited for families
Romantic couplesRomantic hideaways in Stresa and Isola BellaWorld-renowned for romantic settings, exclusive retreatsComo is the quintessential Italian honeymoon destination
BeachesMore accessible, pebbly but suitable for loungingSteep terrain, limited, and swimming areasMaggiore has better ones for sunbathing and swimming
Scenic VillagesMore bourgeois resort ambianceFairytale villages, historical architecture, intimate atmosphereComo is known for its picturesque and romantic villages
Tourist CrowdsEasier access leads to more visitors, especially in summerLess touristy once away from Como town, more secluded hideawaysComo offers greater tranquillity and seclusion
AccommodationsMix of luxury and budget options, cheaper ratesHigher rates, luxurious lakefront manors, fewer budget optionsMaggiore provides a wider range of affordable accommodations
Weddings and HoneymoonsMajestic scenery but less historical grandeurOpulent wedding venues, idyllic for intimate celebrationsComo is preferred for its grandeur and exclusivity
3-Day Itinerary SuitabilitySuitable for a short trip with diverse activitiesMore intricate topography, requires longer stays to fully experienceMaggiore may be more flexible for a short visit
10 major differences between the two lakes
Drone view of the Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori in the background
Drone view of the Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori in the background

How to get to Lake Maggiore or Lake Como

While neither lake offers direct airport access, Lake Maggiore provides greater transport efficiency for visitors.

Regular rail connections from Milan and Switzerland will get you straight to Stresa and the west coast in about an hour. The fast links coupled with Maggiore’s flat terrain also enable easy local bus transfers.

In contrast, accessing Lake Como requires laborious hills/mountain transfers from Bergamo or Milan airports. Trains terminate at outlying towns, necessitating long bus journeys that can get backed up in heavy traffic winding along slender cliffside roads.

Though spectacularly scenic, the absence of routes directly reaching Como villages makes simple trips time-consuming endeavours.

If renting a car in Italy, try to fly to Milan Malpensa for Lago Maggiore and Milano/Bergamo Orio al Serio for Lake Como, the closest airports

My tip: both airports have a terminal fully dedicated to low-cost airlines. They are very busy, any time of the day. Arrive at the security & screening with your carry-on baggage at least 1.5-2 hours in advance. I experienced super long queues, especially in the morning in Bergamo.

My favourite website to rent a vehicle is DiscoverCars. It’s like an Airbnb of cars that compares the best deals based on customer feedback and local/international providers’ fees. They also offer 8 Euros/day full insurance, which is a great lifesaver, especially considering the narrow streets of the lakes.

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

Travelling by ferry is easy and inexpensive

A pearl in the world’s crown

– Goethe on Lake Como

Is Como Lake or Lake Maggiore cheaper?

As a luxury retreat for aristocrats and movie stars (George Clooney has a mega villa that hosted even the Obamas), Lake Como offers a few options for budget travellers beyond picnic lunches from Como town supermarkets.

While possible, finding affordable lodging and dining proves challenging in waterside villages like Bellagio where five-star hotels dominate. this lake is mostly for special occasions, although you can still find economical stays, especially in the cities of Lecco and Como.

Conversely, the mix of resort towns and camping grounds in Lake Maggiore opens the budget-friendly potential for cost-conscious travellers willing to stay in hubs like Arona rather than Stresa during high season.

Quick trains from Milan also limit transportation expenses for daytrippers (Castelletto Ticino and Sesto Calende are also two budget options close to the lake). While still featuring upscale options, Maggiore allows enjoying Italian lake magic on a budget.

The charming Cannero
Male Maggiore: The charming Cannero

Lake Como Vs Lake Maggiore with kids

With few beaches for lounging plus upscale hotels and restaurants dominating its scenic shores, Lake Como offers limited family-friendly features beyond pretty gardens and boat tours keeping children occupied briefly.

Unless staying at a villa with ample grounds, the lack of amusement parks and playgrounds will not impress you.

In contrast, Lake Maggiore’s vibrant resort towns like Arona or Stresa provide playgrounds and family-style eateries catering effortlessly to children.

Enriching excursions like paddling to the Isolino di San Giovanni, adventure parks in the forest and taking tramways up magical mountains make Maggiore a preferred and convenient pick for families hitting Italy’s lakes.

Drone view of Arona
Drone view of Arona

Lake Como and Lake Maggiore for couples

Lake Como is world famous for its mix of Alpine landscapes, beautiful water and aristocratic villas. This is one of the most romantic places in Italy, although it doesn’t come cheap.

If travelling on a budget, you can always limit your trip to lake cruises, gelato walks along the coast and the few public beaches.

While romantic hideaways certainly exist around Lake Maggiore, especially in Stresa and Isola Bella, its towns and efficient infrastructure serve more mainstream tourism.

Couples seeking exclusive escape amidst postcard-worthy scenery need not look further than spectacular Lake Como for the quintessential Italian honeymoon.

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

Is Lake Como or Lake Maggiore better for beaches?

With lakeside promenades and grassy shores surrounding resort hubs like Stresa, Lake Maggiore is a better option with greater accessibility for lounging alongside the water.

While mostly pebbly rather than sandy, Maggiore’s beaches feature cabanas and concessions catering easily to sunseekers and swimmers throughout summer.

Lake Como’s steep terrain and the mountain backdrop lead most of its banks to be thickly forested or lined with stone docks suitable for a dive but not for sunbathing.

For sunbathing and swimming, Maggiore decisively surpasses Como in amenable shoreline recreation.

A lovely sunset on Mergozzo Lake near Lago Maggiore
A lovely sunset on Mergozzo Lake near Lago Maggiore

Most scenic towns and villages in Lake Como and Lake Maggiore.

Lake Como prevails for fairytale villages that excel at romance and nostalgia. Destinations like Varenna and Bellagio showcase an architectural mix of aristocratic villas, flowery winding lanes, and olive and cypress groves clinging to steep hillsides surrounding the glittering lake.

While beautifully located as well, Lake Maggiore’s towns embody more of a bourgeois resort ambience intermixing shops and cafés between scenic promenades catering to mid-range travelers.

While Maggiore offers winter resort towns plus vibrant summer hubs great for sunbathing and sightseeing, Como Lake remains the connoisseur’s choice for intimate multi-day stays surrounded by historical buildings and unique scenery.

My 3 favourite towns in Como Lake:

  • Bellagio – This jewel anchored on the peninsula between lake forks dazzles with ancient alleys and aristocratic villas cascading down cypress-dotted hills to the shoreline.
  • Varenna – Hailed for its captivating beauty, this intertwining maze of pastel houses and flowery lanes lined with olive and citrus groves charms lovers.
  • Menaggio – Overlooking the central lake, Menaggio provides authentic village life with compact old-town charm.

My 3 favourite towns in Lake Maggiore:

  • Stresa – Elegant turn-of-the-century villas frame scenic walking paths behind the bustling main piazza filled with shops and cafés leading to boats for the islands, Isola Madre included.
  • Cannero Riviera – This tranquil fishing village snaking along the wooded shoreline offers visitors a taste of bygone-era simplicity amidst castles and vineyards.
  • Baveno – A lakeside town that offers something to everyone, a charming historical centre, a few boutique places for swimming and easy access to amusement parks for adults and kids (check out Alpyland)
Sunset light on the Bellagio lake front
Como Lake: Sunset light on the Bellagio lakefront

Is Lake Como or Lake Maggiore less touristy?

Located further from major transit hubs, Lake Como has greater tranquillity and fewer tourists once you break away from the bustling Como town.

While the mid-lake ferry route sees crowds in peak season, especially on weekends, romantic corners like Varenna and Mandello excel at providing exclusive hideaways avoiding masses.

Como Lake and Switzerland are next to each other but there is a mountain and Lake Lugano that separate them almost zeroing the Swiss tourism.

In contrast, Lake Maggiore’s easy Milan and Switzerland access funnel large visitor flows towards resort towns like Stresa throughout summer.

Even the famous Borromean Islands turn crowded by midday in season. So for travel emphasizing quality over quantity, Como Lake promises greater seclusion.

Enjoying a walk through the villages around Lake Maggiore
Enjoying a walk through the villages around Lake Maggiore

Accommodation in lake Como and Maggiore

At Lake Maggiore, Stresa captures 5-star luxury hotels in old villas but also offers affordable hotels in towns like Arona. If you’re looking for a wider choice then this is the lake to be.

Expect to spend €80-120 for budget/mid-range hotels to €200+ on lakeside resorts, less off-season. Book 4-6 months out for summer savings.

Below are my favourite 3 hotels that I have picked from my guide to where to stay on Lake Maggiore

Como Lake hotel rates start higher at €150+ for basic hotels to €400-2000+ for luxurious lakefront manors. This is the lake to choose for a glamorous holiday.

Besides camping or staying inland, budget travellers have fewer lodging options, especially for last-minute summer bookings that require deep pockets. Plan luxury stays here in advance.

Below are my favourite 3 hotels that I have picked from my guide to where to stay on Lake Como

3 days in Lake Maggiore and Lake Como

Below are two possible itineraries for an itinerary of 3 days

Lake Maggiore

DayActivitiesMorningAfternoonEvening
Day 1: Stresa and the Borromean IslandsStresa City Tour and Island HoppingVisit Villa Pallavicino and its zoological gardens- Take a boat to Isola Bella, and explore the palace and gardens.– Lunch on Isola dei Pescatori – Explore the quaint fishing village and enjoy the artisan shops.– Dinner in Stresa with views of the lake – Evening stroll along the lakeside promenade.
Day 2: Cannero Riviera and SurroundingsHistorical Charm and Natural Beauty– Visit the ruins of the Castelli di Cannero – Relax at one of the lidos (organised beaches).– Lunch in Cannero Riviera – Bike ride or drive to the Orrido di Sant’Anna.– Dinner at a local trattoria – Enjoy the sunset from the lake path, perhaps with a gelato in hand.
Day 3: Day tripDay trip to Lake Orta or Lake MergozzoDAY TRIP #1
– Rent a car to visit Lago d’Orta and the historical centre of Orta San Giulio
DAY TRIP #2
– Take a train to Lago di Mergozzo for a swim and a visit to the lovely Mergozzo town, so charming and untouristy
– Dinner on the lakefront, possibly in Verbania

Lake Como

DayActivitiesMorningAfternoonEvening
Day 1: Como and SurroundingsDiscover Como City– The trip to Lake Como starts with a visit to the Como Cathedral and a 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 the town’s alleys.– Lunch and 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 side of the lakeAdventure 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
Travelling around Como Lake by car can unveil amazing corners
Travelling around Como Lake by car can unveil amazing corners

Lake Maggiore vs Lake Como for weddings and honeymoons

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

I personally suggest a stay in the Bellagio, a famous place for fairytale weddings and honeymoons.

While boasting its share of majestic scenery, Lake Maggiore’s resort ambience around lively hubs like Stresa lacks the intimacy and historical grandeur sought by couples seeking exclusive escape in grand Italian style.

For magnificently opulent wedding splendour or honeymoon hideaways, Lake Como takes the cake, however, a stay in Isola Bella can be a really unique experience.

An eternal backdrop for timeless romance

– The Lakes Area in Italy

Amazing secret corners of Como Lake
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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