How to Visit Lake Como If You’re Not George and Amal
When you arrive in Lake Como, the scenic destination in northern Italy best known as a playground for the rich, George and Amal Clooney’s villa is visible from the main road. Any local or taxi driver can point out the impressive lakeside home, and Clooney himself has become synonymous with the area in recent years. Lake Como, which is comprised of a main town and numerous small towns around its shores, can feel inaccessible to the average traveler—but it’s not. You may not be a Clooney (or Chrissy Teigen, who married John Legend in Lake Como in 2013), but you can still experience the charming luxury of the destination, even on a budget.
Much of Lake Como shuts down during the winter, so it’s best to plan your visit between April and September. Aim for early in the season if you want to avoid crowds and hot summer weather, and be sure to make hotel bookings far in advance, particularly when staying at the more popular properties. Give yourself at least three nights as there is a lot to explore. We can’t promise you’ll actually see George, but you can live it up like a celebrity regardless.
How to Get There
Lake Como may sound like an exotic, hard-to-reach destination, but it’s actually really easily accessible from Milan. Visitors should fly into Milan’s Malpensa Airport or Linate Airport, both of which connect to destinations around the world, including with direct flights from the U.S. From the airports, there are several options depending your budget and needs. If you’re willing to brave the narrow, busy roads around Como or want to explore the lesser-visited areas around the lake, consider renting a car. That’s not necessary, though, since Como town connects to Milan via train and there is plenty of (inexpensive) public transportation around Lake Como, from ferry boats to local buses. Uber doesn’t really exist in Italy outside of the major cities, but you can book car services or taxis through your hotel if you want to keep things simple.
Where to Stay in Lake Como
For a splurge, book into the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, a luxury five-star property that overlooks the water (ask for a lake view room). The hotel has three swimming pools, including one that is actually floating on the lake alongside a man-made beach. The historic property also has a spa, an overly indulgent breakfast buffet and lush gardens designed by landscape architect Emilio Trabella, who is also responsible for the Clooney villa down the road.
If your budget is extra tight, there are a few less pricey options around Lake Como (although you should still come by Grand Hotel Tremezzo for lunch or a cocktail). Ostello Bello Lake Como is a nice hostel in Como town featuring both shared dorms and private rooms. The Sheraton Lake Como Hotel, also in Como town, is another relatively inexpensive option, especially for families with kids. Located in a private park, the hotel features a swimming pool and is walking distance from the lake’s shore. There are also numerous Airbnb choices, from small studio apartments to larger houses, if you prefer to rent your own space.
What to Eat in Lake Como
Before you actually sit down for a meal, join Lake Como Food Tours for an English-language walking tour to discover local bakeries, olive oil producers and wine shops. The female-owned tour company shows visitors around Como town, Bellagio and Lecco (the Como town trek is highly recommended) and the groups are kept small enough that you’ll be able to ask questions and get involved.
Lake Como has only one island, and it’s there you’ll discover Locanda dell'Isola, a restaurant that has featured the same menu since it first opened in 1947. Book in advance to secure an outdoor table and bring cash since the restaurant doesn’t take credit cards. An unbelievable list of celebrities (including, of course, Clooney) have dined here and you’ll want to be among them.
For dinner, grab a table at The Kitchen, a modern Italian restaurant that is the perfect place for a celebration or special occasion. Located close to Como town, it’s a good starting point for a night out (head to Minimalismo Livingroom for cocktails after). If the dinner menu is out of your budget, book in for lunch, where a prix fixe menu gets you two courses, a glass of wine and coffee for €35.
Those on a budget should look for affordable eats around Como town, including burgers at Como Burger, sandwiches at Passion Como and pizza and pasta at Pizza Garage. Or, of course, you could just sustain yourself on gelato, which is plentiful and delicious.
For a low-key glass of wine and a plate of cheese, head to Cantina Follie, a wine shop and bar with a cellar and terrace. Enjoy your tray of meat and local cheeses outside or cozy up at an indoor table. If you enjoy the wine, there are plenty of bottles for sale to take home.
What to See and Do in Lake Como
The main thing you’ll want to see in Lake Como is the lake itself, which is best done from the water. The ferry boats, which connect different towns and attractions around the lake, are an inexpensive way to experience boat life, but it’s worth indulging in a private boat tour. Book a trip with Bellagio Sailing, which allows you to unwind out on the water and fully explore the area. Many of the hotels, including Hotel Grand Tremezzo, also have their own motorboats, which can be booked by guests to traverse the lake.
Bellagio is one of the best-known areas of Lake Como, primarily accessible by ferry or boat. It has plenty of shopping (look for the silk scarves made in Como), restaurants and charming little streets to explore. While in the area visit I Giardini di Villa Melzi, a private home that opens its lush lakeside gardens to the public from March. On the other side of the hill, seek out Pescallo, an adorable little town where you can sip an Aperol spritz alongside boat docks.
Lake Como is all about historic villas, which overlook the lake from all sides. Several iconic villas are open to guests, including Villa del Balbianello, which you’ll recognize from the Star Wars prequels and Casino Royale. Located on a peninsula, the villa, formerly owned by a rich explorer who accumulated a massive collection of artifacts and furnishings from around the world, offers guided tours and truly insane views. In Tremezzo, Villa Carlotta features a museum and botanic gardens worth an afternoon. The gardens, best in the spring and summer, are extensive, with paths leading you through bamboo forests and colorful blooms that look like something out of Dr. Seuss.
In Como town, look for the Como Cathedral, a gothic building with impressive rose windows, and the Como Gate Tower, which was built in 1192. History buffs should seek out the Museo Archeologico Paolo Giovio, an archeological museum that recounts the history of the area with artifacts from ancient Greece, ancient Rome and prehistory. After you explore Como, hop the funicular to Brunate, a small hillside town with impressive views—which are best glimpsed from one of the restaurant terraces. The town is known as the “balcony of the Alps,” which means there are several nearby hikes and walks. Head to San Maurizio from the funicular stop, the beginning of what is known as the “La Dorsale del Triangolo Lariano” trail, which runs nearly 20 miles (you don’t have to trek the entire thing).