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How to Visit Lake Como, Italy — Luxury Hotels and Fairy-tale Towns Included



It’s hard to think of Lake Como without thinking of its famous residents: Clooney, Versace, Messi, Madonna. At one point or another, they’ve all staked their claim to a piece of lakeside real estate here. And one can hardly blame them for coveting a sliver of Como’s fabulous shoreline. No place in Italy has quite the cache of Lake Como, and its reputation as the epitome of the good life is well-deserved.

One of a cluster of northern Italian lakes that includes Garda, Maggiore, Lugano, and several smaller siblings, Lake Como, or Lago di Como, is Italy’s deepest lake. Its distinctive shape — an upside down Y — was formed by a massive glacier, and the lake is still fed from waters descending from the nearby Alps. That sets the scene for some high drama, landscape-wise, with steep mountains cloaked with dense forests and deep blue waters ringed by charming lakeside towns.

The Romans were the first to build grand villas on Lake Como, and ever since, generations of la dolce vita seekers have followed suit, using towns such as Bellagio, Como, Menaggio, and Tremezzo as the base for lakeside leisure. We asked several travel experts about their longtime love affairs with the lake, and got their advice on the best places to stay, dine, and experience Lake Como.

Top 5 Can’t Miss

  • Lake Como’s five-star hotels are numerous and legendary, including relative newcomer Passalacqua, which opened in 2022 and occupies an 18th-century aristocratic villa.
  • All of our experts agree that getting out on the water is a must, whether via a lake ferry, a privately chartered Riva boat, or a self-driven motorboat.
  • Whether you dine on the water — say at Harry’s Bar in Cernobbio — or journey uphill to Al Veluu for its sweeping views, make sure at least one of your meals takes in the scenery.
  • Yes, you can buy luxury fashion goods during your visit, but consider some Italian-made items, like the wine, olive oil, and vinegars from Enoteca da Gigi in Como.
  • Join a guided or self-guided hike or bike ride to discover the many scenic trails around the lake, where the gobsmacking views are the reward for all that elevation change.

Best Hotels

Courtesy of Il Sereno Lago di Como


Grand Hotel Tremezzo

“I always say the arrival to Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como is cinematic,” says luxury travel expert Annie Fitzsimmons, whose new book, “100 Hotels of a Lifetime,” features the art nouveau facade of this palatial resort on the cover. “I love everything about the view … the town of Bellagio across the lake, the swimming pool seemingly suspended over the water,” she shares, adding that owner Valentina de Santis and her team are “the best on the planet.”

Grand Hotel Victoria

TravelLustre travel consultant Nicole Bono calls this belle époque beauty her favorite hotel on the lake. “There’s a private beach club for guests steps away from the hotel where you can go for a dip, as well as a stunning pool,” she says. Samy Ghachem, general manager of La Dolce Vita Orient Express, says Victoria has “the best spa on the lake.”

Passalacqua

“Eighteenth century Passalacqua is a dream from another time,” says travel writer Nicole Trilivas. “It’s like walking onto a vintage film set, with cascading gardens, jewel-box sitting rooms, and pastel-hued suites as spoiling, decadent, and lavish as wedding cakes.” Trilivas is also a fan of their Bellini cocktail, made with white peach, pink pepper, and Champagne.

Il Sereno

A sexy ambience permeates this 40-suite hotel, where striking modern architecture stands out on a lakeshore dotted with centuries-old villas and art nouveau edifices. And on a lake known for its grand dames, it says a lot that Il Sereno was T+L readers’ favorite resort in Europe in 2023. Expect a swim-up suite, Riva boats for guest use, and Michelin-star dining.

Palace Hotel

For a palatial vibe right in the center of Como, Ghachem calls Palace Hotel, run by the Villa d’Este group, one of his favorites. “Cross the road and you’re on the water. The hotel is located within walking distance of most restaurants, shopping, and most activities, including the ferry terminal.”

See more top hotels in Lake Como here.

Best Things to Do

Amanda Blackard/Travel + Leisure


Go on a boat ride.

“I always advise every traveler going to Lake Como that the real beauty of the region is best seen from the water,” says Ghachem. “You absolutely need to get out on a boat. Most hotels can make arrangements for private Venetian-style boats or the more exciting and elegant Riva boats. There are, of course, less pricey options, including the numerous ferry routes.” Como Lake Artists offers reasonably priced self-drive boats.

Hire a photographer.

Eli Wagner, a Travel + Leisure A-list advisor and founder of Wagner Bespoke Travel, says the best way to preserve your Lake Como memories is to hire a pro. “Hire a photographer to join you and your family on the boat day. Instead of the traditional holiday cards, having Lake Como as the backdrop will be memorable for your holiday photos for many years to come.”

Hit the trail.

When you’re not on the water, head out on one of Lake Como’s numerous hiking trails. From Torno, Ghachem recommends the trail up to Montepiatto “for a stunning view over the northern and southern parts of the lake.” From Como town, it’s just an hour walk up to the village of Brunate, where Ghachem says “you’ll be rewarded with a number of bars and local restaurants before catching the funicular back down.”

Embrace la dolce far niente.

The sweetness of doing nothing — that’s a favorite pastime on Lake Como. “It’s a great destination to lounge with your spritz and do a whole lot of nothing,” says Bono. “People can just relax and take it easy, strolling, shopping, and enjoying the scenery.”

Best Shopping

Amanda Blackard/Travel + Leisure


Enoteca da Gigi, Como

“This is one of my favorite wine bars in the old town,” says Ghachem. “You can taste before you buy.” In addition to wines from all over Italy, he says the olive oil and vinegar selection here is top-notch.

Riflessi di Gusto

This old-school boutique for foodie gifts carries carefully and locally sourced, made-in-Italy products, including many hard-to-find items that slip easily into a carry-on. Ghachem says the selection of dry pastas is the best on the lake.

La Bottega del Legno 

“There are a lot of super-touristy stores all over the lake, but you can also find some wonderful boutiques,” says Bono. Bellagio’s compact old town is her favorite for shopping, and the historic Bottega del Legno is a great stop for wood-carved items, including real wooden toys.

Best Restaurants

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Al Veluu

Bono calls this hilltop restaurant “a true showstopper,” while Wagner says it “embodies the essence of Lake Como.” Fresh, locally sourced ingredients, including mushrooms delivered daily, earn high marks. “Go at sunset and take in the amazing panorama,” adds Bono.

Harry’s Bar

Ghachem appreciates the familiar comforts of this longtime restaurant on the Cernobbio waterfront. “You can’t go wrong here,” he says. “There’s great ambience — it’s just upscale enough.” Grab an outdoor seat overlooking the lake and take advantage of the terrific wine list.

L’Orologio

“Most concierges would not recommend this place as it’s almost too local,” says Ghachem, adding that this Como restaurant is “for sure the least touristy place in town.” Tagliolini with porcini mushrooms and truffle is his go-to order here.

Best Time to Visit

Amanda Blackard/Travel + Leisure


Our experts agree that shoulder season (September and October) is the best time to visit Lake Como. “The entire lake is lush — everything is so stunning this time of year,” says Bono. Wagner votes for September. “[This is] when the summer crowds have dissipated and the sun is still shining,” he shares. Ghachem also suggests May, before the summer crowds arrive. But note that if you do visit in these “in-between” seasons, you’ll find cooler air and water temperatures that may dissuade you from taking a dip in the lake.

June, July, and August are peak travel months for the lake. However, if you reserve early and prepare for the crowds, you’ll find a quintessential Italian lake experience awaits.

Many hotels and restaurants close for the winter, but enough remain open that if you want a quiet — albeit chilly — vacation, this might be the time to visit. At Christmas, the villages along the lake take on a magical atmosphere.  

How to Get There

Amanda Blackard/Travel + Leisure


Como town, the starting point for many vacations on the lake, is about one hour from Milan’s Malpensa Airport, and about a 40-minute train ride from Milano Centrale, Milan’s main train station. Bellagio, Menaggio, and other small towns along the lake are served by ferries (less frequent in the offseason) or can be reached by car.

Served by several intra-Europe carriers, Milan Bergamo Airport is about one hour and 40 minutes from Como by car.

How to Get Around

“If you’re happy to self-drive, having a car can be very useful,” says Bono. This is especially true for reaching destinations not directly on the lake. But if you don’t want to rent a car, Bono says, “private transfers and car services, as well as ferries and water taxis are the way to go.” Some hotels rent Fiat 500s, which make for fun driving and great photo ops, though Ghachem warns that the roads around the lake are very narrow and often quite curvy. 



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