Last updated on January 18th, 2019 at 09:57 pm
I was born and raised around this beautiful part of Italy and, although I have been living in Australia for a long while, I am back on a regular basis.
How many times I have been asked where to stay in Lake Como? Way too many for not having even a post on it.
It was time to write what has been in my head for a long time, with a local Italian touch. Lots of memories mixed with practical information and a few tourist notes.
The best part? It’s all updated to 2019, no old stuff
I also suggest checking the newspaper La Provincia (use Google translator for an English version). It lists all the local town events.
Let’s get straight to the map and the best areas.
The lake is spreading through a vast area and each town has somehow the own feeling, there is no great or “less” great, they just have a different character.
And in this respect, there is not the best place to stay in Lake Como. It all depends by a few factors which I will explain later.
But let’s go down to a short list of the popular spots/villages (there are over 20 in total, here you find the most interesting ones):
You can visit the Lake Como either by car or public transportation (more on this in a chapter later).
Trains are available from Milan to Lecco, Como and Varenna. Very easy going
All of the other towns can be accessed either by ferry or local bus, although it can be quite slow and not as romantic as the ferry boat.
I had an Australian friend staying in Como for 3 weeks and he absolutely loved it.
He had a bike and with that, he could explore all the major sites, mountains and even explore Switzerland (just a few kilometers away).
He had easy access to all he needed for his stay, supermarkets, bars, cafes, restaurants.
Moreover, on a rainy day, he could grab the train and be in Milan in 30 minutes to visit the city, the unique museums and the great shopping.
Como was his base, the starting point.
It is a great place to stay in Lake Como if you are after a practical location with easy access to all the modern facilities.
Como has a bit of a town feeling but honestly, nothing compared to other towns around the lake.
And here comes the difference with Bellagio, a town you can’t stop loving it, even in the busy season, from June to August.
Como is a practical destination, however, you will not be able to experience the romantic stay you may have dreamed of.
In Como, when you open the window in the morning you will have more of a city “welcome”, with busy traffic in the peak hours.
Meanwhile, in Bellagio, you will feel straight on a postcard holiday with the town seating on the steep lake coast.
At night you can have your dinner in one of the many local “trattorie”, mostly family run and walk through the tiny alleys and lane illuminated by a romantic soft light.
Walk on the west side of Bellagio for the beautiful sunset, or go to the east side for the amazing views of the Italian Alps.
Personally, I find Bellagio cozier in winter or autumn, with that fog that comes around sunset.
Bellagio, unfortunately, is not that practical unless you plan to travel by car. Access to the town can be challenging, especially if you have lots of bags.
The easiest and most romantic way is to take a train to Varenna (just over 1hr), walk down to the little pier (10 minutes) and grab a 15 minutes ferry to Bellagio.
Walking down from the train station in Varenna is not a problem If you have a small suitcase. It can be challenging if you have a big case with wheels (stairs and stairs). Even more tiring on the way back.
Alternatively, you can take a train to Como (40 minutes), walk to the Bus Station in S.Rocchetto and catch a local bus to Bellagio Lido.
This route will take longer and there is more walk involved however it will be mostly flat.
Como or Bellagio, my tip: if you are after just a few days and a “typical” lake experience, then Bellagio is a better option, more romantic, more boutique.
If you plan for a long stay, with day trips around, then Como opens up more possibilities.
They are both beautiful towns, both facing the lake, both so romantic.
But…..there are a few differences between the two.
Bellagio is the most popular and tourist destination in Lake Como. This can be seen as a positive or negative thing.
Bellagio has the largest selection of hotels, restaurants and bars. You can have drinks till late. Don’t expect, however, any nightlife.
If you are after a stylish, boutique or elegant accommodation you will be quite likely to find it in Bellagio, not so in Varenna.
If you plan to have a special dinner, in an elegant restaurant, then Bellagio is the place to be.
In saying that, you will share the town with many other tourists and in high season, June to August, the locals are definitely a minority.
On a nice warm weekend expect a big crowd, including many “Milanesi” walking back and forward along the town waterfront.
On the contrary, Varenna is less busy and you will experience more of the local life.
If you are after the best location for sunset then Varenna has to be, facing Bellagio and Menaggio. But you will miss out on the Alps view.
Menaggio has a great advantage. You can access the town with a direct train from Milan in just over 1 hour.
Varenna or Bellagio, my tip: if you are after a local experience, with family run restaurant and hotels, in a town with lots of character (and steps) then Varenna is a great choice and usually it comes cheaper too.
It can be a great solution also for a long stay, considering the direct train to Milan (just over one hour trip).
From Varenna, you have also access to a few trekking options.
However, if you plan more of a dreamy and romantic stay, then Bellagio is probably the best option.
Walking at night through the little alleys is really an experience by itself.
How many days should I stay in Lake Como?
The length of the stay is based on the kind of experience you want to have.
For a short stay I would suggest at least 2 nights and in this case, you should book your hotel in one town only, otherwise, you may spend more time in packing, unpacking and moving than actually enjoy the place.
My friend stayed for three weeks and he told me he enjoyed every single day.
It all depends on how many places you want to visit and how you want to visit them.
Here are a few itineraries I tend to suggest.
Choose an accommodation in either Varenna, for a local experience, or Bellagio, for a romantic and exclusive stay.
With such a short stay base yourself straight in the most beautiful towns of Lake Como.
If you decide on Bellagio I suggest a stay at the Residence la Limonera. It’s an affordable accommodation, 5 minutes from the ferry pier, with a nice garden area which is perfect if you have little kids.
For a more romantic and glamour stay, facing the lake, you may check the Villa Serbelloni. It’s like stepping back in time with an amazing interior of the old charming days. The swimming pool is a great plus in summer. It is a hotel for the great occasions, very often booked out.
In 2 or 3 days consider
For lunch or dinner consider one of the following options:
If you decide for Varenna than the Hotel Royal Victoria is a fantastic romantic place to be, with a pool and an amazing view of the lake. You can experience one of the coziest accommodation of your life.
Alternatively, the Hotel Beretta is great value for money with a fantastic location, right in the centre of town and 5 minutes from the train station and the pier. Breakfast is included which helps to start the day in a comfy way.
Once in Varenna consider
Have dinner at the restaurant Il Cavatappi, an institution with such a great service, on the boutique size (you better book a table).
Another favourite of mine is the Crotto del pepott, hidden behind trees in a magical atmosphere. Homemade cuisine inspired only by local products. Another place to book in advance
With 5 days, or more, you can also think to split your stay in Lake Como between 2 towns or you can book your accommodation in one single place and use it as a base to visit the lake.
If your option is for a single place, I would strongly consider Varenna because of these advantages:
For a long stay in Varenna, I would suggest the Hotel Beretta (Great value).
Otherwise, just rent an apartment, AirBnb style, like the Casa Mary Varenna. This comes at a bargain price, especially considering the location and the amazing view. You will have more of a local experience. Book well in advance for this one
Alternatively, you can split the trip into two towns. I would include Menaggio for 2/3 days and Bellagio (or Varenna) for 3/4 days.
Menaggio will allow you to experience more of a local life. More authentic.
There is also a nice beach, in case you plan your trip in summer.
In Menaggio, check out the Hotel Garni Corona for its amazing location (lakefront and central to the town) and the newly renovated interior, not to mention the outstanding service.
Yes, you can visit the Lake Como from Milano also on a day trip, however, is going to be an intensive day, especially if you want to visit Bellagio, the pearl of the lake.
How to get from Milan toLake Como?
The best way to travel from Milan to Lake Como is of course by train. It’s quicker and you will not have any trouble with parking the car.
The alternative is to join a private tour.
Both options have the own advantages.
There are a few trains leaving from Milan direction the lake. They may take 40 minutes as well as over 1 hour to arrive in Como, based on the type of train.
I would personally suggest planning the quickest route because the train trip does not have any particular beautiful scenery.
Here is a possible itinerary that will allow you to visit most of the interesting places.
You will not see Lecco and the time will be limited in both Bellagio and Varenna, however, in one day I think this is the best itinerary to cover the most interesting places of Lake Como.
This is the no worries solution. You jump on a private bus and they will take you around the iconic places.
The great advantage is the guide that will show and explain all about the lake, from the history to the anecdotes.
You will also take a private boat instead of the public ferry, that will take you to a few unique sites.
There are essentially two ways from Milan Airport to Lake Como:
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.