Best places to stay in Lake Como 2019 [from a local]

Best Places to stay in Lake Como

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 old pier in Bellagio

The old pier in Bellagio

Best town to stay in Lake Como

Map of the best towns to stay in Lake Como

Map of the best towns to stay in Lake Como. Check the interactive Map on Google

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):

  • Bellagio: the most popular and touristy town in Lake Como. This is where you will likely share hotels, shops, restaurants, bars with plenty of tourists. It’s a romantic village with lots of character however it can be really busy in the weekend when the “Milanesi” arrive on herds.
  • Varenne: as beautiful as Bellagio, however in a smaller scale. So famous for the sunset view, doesn’t matter where you are. Very practical with the frequent trains from/to Milan (just over 1 hour). It may not offer the same facility selection, and quantity, of Bellagio, however, you will have more of a local feeling with fewer tourists around.
  • Como: with over 100,000 people, Como is actually a city with the own football team that was once in the major league and, legends say, so close to signing Messi in the kids’ team. You will not have any lake feeling as you may have seen in the photos. It’s practical, with good nightlife and a great base to explore the surrounding but not a romantic place to stay in Lake Como.
  • Lecco: it has more character than Como, but it doesn’t have that nice feeling you expect from a lake location. It’s directly connected to Milan by train and the other towns by bus and ferry. A low budget base for a long stay, with plenty of restaurants and supermarkets.
  • Menaggio: it seats between the city life of Como/Lecco and the romantic feeling of Bellagio/Varenne. It’s flat, no stairs, so much easier to walk around. You can have a nice local experience with more authentic restaurants. It’s greatly connected to Como (fast ferry) and to Lugano/Switzerland (bus)
  • Tremezzo: just a short distance from Menaggio, facing Bellagio and the amazing Alps (incredible view). The village is almost non-existing and mostly based on a few hotels. Very well connected with buses and ferry to all of the towns above. It’s another practical destination.
  • Cernobbio: a beautiful village a few kilometres outside Como, very popular with Sunday trips of “Milanesi”. I see it more as a (half)day destination. However, if you are looking for the best luxury place to stay in Lake Como then here you find one of the most famous in the world, the Villa D’Este.

Check out the famous Villa D’Este

Villa D'Este gardens

Villa D’Este gardens

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.

Travelling by ferry is easy and inexpensive

Travelling by ferry is easy and inexpensive

Como or Bellagio, what works best?

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.

Travelling around Como Lake by car can unveil amazing corners

Travelling around Como Lake by car can unveil amazing corners

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.

Bellagio view from the approaching ferry

Bellagio view from the approaching ferry

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.

Varenna or Bellagio, both beautiful but…

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.

Sunset light on the Bellagio lake front

Sunset light on the Bellagio lakefront (nostalgic winter, when most of the shops are closed)

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.

Walking through these steep lanes can be challenging with a big luggage

Walking through these steep lanes can be challenging with a big luggage

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.

Lake Como itinerary

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.

The Cadenabbia pier

The Cadenabbia pier

2 or 3 days in Lake Como

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.

Check last deal at La Limonera

Residence La Limonera

Residence La Limonera

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.

Check availability at Villa Serbelloni

Villa Serbelloni

Villa Serbelloni

In 2 or 3 days consider

  • taking the ferry to Menaggio for a day visit and lunch on the lake
  • grab a bus to the “Madonna del Ghisallo”, a small chapel dedicated to the cyclists, a very unique experience, especially if you are a rider yourself
  • Take a private boat tour
  • Have a walk to the Punta Spartivento, where you can have a view of the whole lake, from left to right
  • Visit Pescallo (10 minutes), a nice small little fishing village
The Madonna del Ghisallo chapel

The Madonna del Ghisallo chapel

For lunch or dinner consider one of the following options:

  • Ristorante Mistral, for the great position with almost every table facing the lake. It is a Michelin star restaurant, so expect a great selection of food. For the special occasions
  • Babayagav, if you are after an Italian pizza off the beaten path, which means a more original taste and dining between more locals than tourists
  • Bistrot Restaurant, a nice boutique restaurant, best for lunch with a nice outdoor area. Family run, it offers great food besides being a fantastic value, especially considering it’s in Bellagio

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.

Check availability at the Royal Victoria

Royal Victoria

Royal Victoria

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.

Check price at Hotel Beretta

Hotel Beretta View

Hotel Beretta View

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

The fisherman silhouette

The fisherman silhouette

5 days in Lake Como

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:

  • easy to reach by train
  • easy to organise day trips. It’s 20 minutes by train to Lecco and 1 hour to Milan, 15-45 by ferry to everywhere on the lake. Really well connected.
  • on a rainy day, you can plan a trip to Milan, for some shopping and a few of the best museums in Italy
  • a few options for trekking the mountains above
  • interesting day trips like the one to the Moto Guzzi old office and museum in Mandello (a must for motorcyclists)
  • good value town, especially considering how beautiful it is.

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

Check the great deal at Casa Mary

Casa Mary in Varenna

Casa Mary in Varenna

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.

Check availability at the Garni Corona

Hotel Garni Corona

Hotel Garni Corona

Milan to Lake Como on a day trip

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.

Travelling by ferry through the Como Lake

Travelling by ferry through the Como Lake

Milan to Lake Como day itinerary on your own

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.

  1. Take the train in Milano Centrale at 8:20am to Varenna (confirm the time on the Trenitalia website). This is one of the quickest options you can get (it takes just 1 hour), and the time is neither too late nor too early.
  2. Spend 2-2.5 hours exploring Varenna, including a stop for a cappuccino with “cornetto” at the Cafe Il Monasterio.
  3. Take the ferry to Bellagio (check the weather conditions to avoid those rare bad days when they stop the navigation, usually in winter)
  4. Lunch at the Bistrot Restaurant, a lovely boutique corner of Bellagio
  5. Budget around 3 hours for Bellagio, or even more if you plan to visit also Pescallo
  6. Ferry back to Como at around 5 pm (check the timetable here). It will take around 1 hour, but you will not get bored with an absolutely fantastic scenery
  7. You can decide to take the next train to Milan or spare a couple of hours in the city

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.

Day trips from Lake Como with a private tour

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.

Check price & availability of private tour

Amazing secret corners of Como Lake

Amazing secret corners of Como Lake

From Milan airport to Lake Como

There are essentially two ways from Milan Airport to Lake Como:

  • if your final destination is Como than catch a train from Malpensa and get off at Saronno Station (20 minutes). From there grab a train to Como (25 minutes)
  • if your final destination is Lecco, Varenna or Bellagio than catch a train from Malpensa to Milano Centrale (1 hour). From there catch a train direction Sondrio and get off the train to either Lecco or Varenna. For Bellagio, you will still need a ferry leg from Varenna.

Travel Photography Stefano FerroStef 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. 


Stefano Ferro
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.

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