Lake Como is one of Italy's treasures! The lake is absolutely beautiful seen by land or water, and it's lined with picturesque, colourful little villages. Despite its reputation as a luxury destination reserved for the likes of George Clooney, it's actually a great place for anyone to visit in my opinion, and you can spend a wonderful weekend here without blowing millions. Read on for my itinerary for a perfect weekend in Lake Como!
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To get to Lake Como, your best bet is to fly into Milan. There are 3 airports that service the Milan area - Milan Malpensa Airport (located 52km north west of Milan, 43 minute drive to Como), Milan-Bergamo Airport (50km east of Milan, 1h11 min drive to Como) and Milan Linate Airport (right outside the city enter, 54 minute drive to Como). Milan Malpensa has the most international flights so if you're flying from outside Europe, that's likely to be your airport. We had flown in to Malpensa very late after work on the Friday night, so we picked up our rental car from the airport and crashed at one of the airport hotels. This probably doesn't sound ideal, but when you're making the most of your Saturday / Sunday's, you do what you gotta do. If you are arriving to Italy after dark and plan on driving to Lake Como yourself, I'd highly recommend waiting till morning to head there. The roads are very narrow and the drivers are not so cautious, so unless you're very familiar with Italy's roads, I would wait it out and crash somewhere close to where you're arriving in the meantime.
Renting a car is not very expensive in Italy, but make sure you've got your international drivers' license on you if you're not European. Like with all rentals, keep in mind the rental fee will be higher if you're under the age of 25.
9am-10am breakfast: Grab a quick breakfast at your hotel before hitting the road. Depending which airport location you're coming from, the drive will take you anywhere between 45 minutes and 1 hour 15.
11am-12pm como: Before heading on to Bellagio, stop at Como. This city is the gateway to the rest of the lake, and although it's a little more commercial than some of the other low-key little villages along the lake, it's worth a stop. Grab gelato for the walk, stop by the Cattedrale di Santa Maria and continue on towards the water. Once you've had your first taste of Lake Como, head back to your car to make your way to Bellagio - it gets even better.
1pm-3pm wandering bellagio: We opted to stay at Borgo Le Terazze, a place that won us over online with its gorgeous pools and amazing views over the lake. We were not disappointed! This place is not directly in the town center, but they've got a shuttle that will bring you down and back up to the hotel. The rooms itself are a little outdated (in line with what I've seen throughout Italy), but the views more than made up for it. Once you've checked in, grab the shuttle down tom the center. If you've worked up an appetite, stop by Ristorante Terrazza Barchetta for glasses of cold beer or Aperol Spritz on their terrace, followed by delicious pizza.
3pm-6pm poolside lounging: If you have opted to stay at Borgo Le Terrazze (or any of the other spots on Lake Como with beautiful views and ultra-inviting pools, make sure to make the most of them. Grab the shuttle back to your hotel and settle in to enjoy the last rays of sunshine by the pool, or sitting out and enjoying cocktails while looking out over the lake.
6pm-10pm dinner & drinks: Once you've gotten your fill of the views (if that's possible), head back down to Bellagio and put your name down at Trattoria San Giacomo. They tend to be quite busy and have a wait but wait, that's a good thing... They've got ties to the wine bar across the street, so will invite you to go enjoy a glass or two there, and then your waiter will literally come fetch you at the wine bar once your table is ready. What dreams are made of! The restaurant is very assuming, but the food is absolutely delicious. Do not miss the tiramisu.
9-10am breakfast: Given the weather seemed to be a little cloudy in the morning (clearing up right before lunchtime), we didn’t feel the need to get up super early but I can imagine it being well worth-it in nice weather – take a peek outside your bedroom window before making the executive decision to get out of bed. Once you've worked up an appetite, time for breakfast. We opted for the buffet breakfast at our hotel (how could we say no with those views?) The cappuccinos made on-the-spot, fresh fruit and delicious pastries made the €9 good value for money.
10am-1pm villa melzi & an aperol break: Our plans for the day included a trip over to Varenna, but we were told that unfortunately ferries weren’t running that morning due to a holiday. Lesson learned – be sure to inquire about ferry schedules before committing to an itinerary because plot twists are an expected occurrence in Italy (or anywhere transport is involved, to be honest).
This unexpected delay to our plans ended up being a positive – we booked a 1:30pm ferry at the ticket counter and then walked over to Villa Melzi. Entrance to the gardens is €6.50 and you can simply pay at the entrance. The property is absolutely pristine and walking through it is just so relaxing and feels super luxurious. We weren’t able to enter the villa itself, but this didn’t bother us at all. Even if you’re short on time, a quick 30 minute visit to this place to visit the grounds is a must!
If you have a little extra time to spare, stop somewhere for a little pre-lunch Aperitivo (is that a thing? If it isn’t, it should be). An option that we visited was Ristorante Bilacus, a place we had noticed the day before for its cute terrace. We ordered the antipasto platter with a couple Aperol Spritz – we can’t attest to the quality of the food given cold cuts are pretty hard to mess up, but being on the terrace was super enjoyable and the Aperol Spritz were perfect as well.
1pm-4pm ferry to varenna: The ferry we booked boarded where the car ferry is, so we showed up 10 minutes early and walked on easily. The ride to Varenna itself is roughly 15 minutes, and it’s beautiful to see Bellagio from a different perspective as you cruise alongside its shore. If you want to take pictures of Varenna as you pull in, make sure to stand on the side of the ferry that is closest to Bellagio (the righthand side if you’re looking toward sailing direction). Varenna is super picturesque and seeing all the colours and houses seemingly squished together is best from the water.
Upon arriving, we took some time to just walk around Varenna and explore all the hidden alleyways and staircases with lake glimpses. Once hungry, we tried searching hard for Varenna’s best eats, but our searches kept redirecting us to places in Bellagio. Instead, we wandered around looking for a spot with a view – we found a busy little spot by the water called Bar Il Mollo. This wasn’t a ground-breaking restaurant, but the pizza was good and views overlooking the water were even better.
If there’s a queue, make sure you stand in line rather than trying to seat yourself. We saw one couple get kicked out of their seats because they skipped or hadn’t noticed the line-up of people waiting for a table.
4pm-7pm head back: After lunch, we headed back to Bellagio by ferry and stopped for gelato at Pasticceria Castelli. After enjoying our couple hours in town, we went to go pick up our rental car at the hotel.
We wanted to get the most winding, narrow part of the drive out of the way before dark, so we headed out around 5:30pm and stopped in Como for dinner (the drive gets waaaaay better after Como). Here we grabbed a casual glass of wine and bite to eat by the waterfront to wrap up two perfect days on Lake Como. We ate at a restaurant near the water called Touring Cafe Restaurant. It honestly was probably not the best / fanciest meal I've ever eaten, but it was just jam-packed with locals which made for a nice atmosphere.
From here, you can easily head home (Malpensa Airport is a 42-minute drive away), or if you’re less crunched for time, you can head to Milan itself (an hour drive). If you’re lucky enough to have the time to continue exploring lake country, you've got a few others within easy reach. Lugano, Switzerland is only 45 minutes away and Lago Maggiore is 1.5h away.
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what to pack.
✧ collapsable travel water bottle