These days, it seems like everyone is getting married in Lake Como, from George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin to Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel (who we crossed paths with at their wedding, how cool is that?!). But before it was an ever-popular wedding destination, it was a classic Italian vacation spot, and still is among both tourists and celebrities who just can’t resist the siren call of Lake Como.
Known for its iconic Y-shaped lake, mountain views, and waterside villas, as well as shops, restaurants, hotels, and beaches, Lake Como is a top destination for a reason. There’s no end to fun things to do in Lake Como… but what if you want to do something a little different and see a unique side of this lakeside Italian town? We’ve got you covered there.
You may have set your sights on Lake Como for your next vacation, but knowing what to do when you get there is another thing entirely. Keep reading for 10 unique things to do in Lake Como, straight from the locals who love it most.
Don’t simply look at the beauty of Lake Como from the shore– take the time to rent a boat and coast along its famous waters. Known as the deepest lake in Europe, Lake Como is unlike any other lake around. Not only can you enjoy a taste of lake life, but you’ll also experience the beautiful Italian architecture from an entirely different perspective.
Take in the mountain views, villas, fishermen, and fellow sailors as you’re swept up in the two winds, the tivano from the north and breva from the south (yes, the winds here are so iconic we’ve named them!). We recommend taking a boat on the lake for an unforgettable tour of the most amazing villas and small Italian towns. Bonus points if you take a Riva, a classic Italian yacht that is completely iconic. Whether you rent a boat, take a tour, charter a private boat, or simply find something amazing at one of these amazing places to eat like a local on one of your stopovers, you’ll find that coasting lakeside in Lake Como is simply unmissable.
From the waters of Lake Como, you’ll catch sight of the pyramid-shaped Monte Legnone, which comes in at 2,610 meters at the summit. To take this panoramic hike, take the Via Normale route. We also recommend the stunning views of Sentiero del Viandante for a more leisurely but beautiful walk, and the Via dei Monti Lariani, for those seeking a longer, more scenic hike.
If you’d rather skip the walking but take in the sights, there are also several farms and cheesemakers nestled in the hills that welcome visitors for tours and tastings. You simply won’t want to miss trying Casoretta and Zincarlin cheese, which have been made in this area for centuries.
Whether you take in Lido di Bellagio (relaxing beach club by day, ultimate party scene by night), Lido Grand Hotel Tremezzo, or Spiaggia di Onno (a little less commercial and more laid back), relax on the deck in a lounge chair, get an Aperol Spritz, and tan to your heart’s content. If partying is your thing, venture back out at night for epic clubbing and a guaranteed good time.
Built in the late eleventh century, Castello di Vezio is a famous castle and ancient military outpost nestled on Varenna hill, with unparalleled views of Lake Como. The castle has been home to many people since its inception, from Ligurian-Celts to the Romans, so the history is quite rich.
Although the actual creator of the castle does remain somewhat of a mystery, there’s one former inhabitant that was never quite ready to leave the castle. Queen Teodolinda of the Lombards loved the castle so much, it’s rumored that her soul still roams the halls.
Even if you’re not a history buff, the castle is really an incredible sight to be seen, with gardens, dungeons, a lookout tower, drawbridge, and even birds of prey raised by a local falconer who offers demonstrations. Locals practice falconry from atop the mountain, and guests can reserve a spot to watch the large birds in action. It’s the perfect spot to catch the sun as it sets over the lake, or to watch the sailboats and fishermen below zip across the waters.
There’s something truly magical about the historical villas of Lake Como, which are known for their stunning classic architecture and botanical gardens. Take a tour of each villa, knowing they’re rich in history and representative of classic Italian culture.
From Villa Balbianello, known for its beautiful terraced gardens to Villa Monastero, which was once an ancient Cistercian women’s monastery, you’ll discover something unique at each one. Our other favorites are Villa Carlotta which features exquisite art and Villa Melzi, an iconic Bellagio gem right on the water.
As far as unique things to do in Lake Como go, you can’t miss this next one. Another unmissable villa is Isola Sola Comacina, which is on the only island in Lake Como, where you’ll discover remains of Roman marble columns, mosaics, Romanesque churches, and other artifacts in the Ossuccio Antiquarium. From its famous gothic tower to the rich history surrounding the battles against Barbarossa, this archaeological site is truly unique and unlike anything else you’ll see here.
Oh, and when you’re done exploring, you can enjoy local eats at Locanda dell Isola Comacina, a restaurant that has been on the island since 1947.
Italy may be known for its gelato, but that doesn’t mean every gelato spot is made equal. In fact, some even pander to tourists with overpriced and mediocre ice cream that decidedly is NOT gelato.
Luckily, that’s not the case at Gelab, which boasts natural gelato in a diverse range of flavors, from classic dark chocolate to black cherry, licorice, and stracciatella to their vegan gelato, which includes flavors like pistachio, almond, melon, and more. Trust me, there’s a reason it’s on our list of the best places to eat in Lake Como, and you’ll be so glad you tried this absolutely incredible gelato for yourself!
A low-effort but beautiful way to see even more of Lake Como, the Funicolare Como-Brunate is a 7-minute train ride up the side of the mountain to the village of Brunate. This scenic railway takes you up, and down, the mountain, through the countryside, where you’ll be able to see as far as Switzerland, which is not as far away as you may think from looking at a map. It’s also a great way to experience the smaller towns, without having to drive or walk. It leaves every thirty minutes throughout the day and is the perfect place to see a view of the lake below as well as the Alps surrounding you.
In Garibaldi Square on the third Sunday of each month (excepting August and December), you’ll find the vintage street market, where locals sell everything from handcrafted items to antiques, snacks, and beverages. You’ll love experiencing this unique taste of Como culture!
On the eastern shore of Lake Como, discover Nesso, a small town known for its incredible panoramic point (perfect for photos!) and the Orrido, a natural canyon where the river culminates in a 200 meter waterfall so large you can hear its roar before you set eyes on it.
Visiting Nesso is like traveling back in time, full of the structures you’d expect to see in a small Italian mountain town, virtually untouched by time. The buildings themselves appear to sprout out of the lake, connected by waterways and ivy covered bridges.
Further back from the lake is the iconic canyon, along with a spectacular waterfall. The turquoise waters of Nesso are ideal for a quick dip, weather permitting, of course. You can find these by boat or access it by the Strada Regia, an ancient route running along the shore of the lake.
If you like to explore all on your own, without a guide or plan, rent a car! Hit the Lake Como roads to see the lake from an entirely different perspective. Stop in one of the many towns like Brienno or Torno, just a couple that aren’t as frequently visited by tourists. This is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the beauty and culture of Lake Como by taking a route off the beaten path.
You’ll love Brienno for its charming old-world atmosphere, including the bell tower of San Vittore to the Romanesque church Nazario e Celso. The lovely piazza, shops, and restaurants make this town, just 20 minutes from Como, a beautiful stopover.
Now you can spend less time searching for what to do in Lake Como, and more time booking reservations. These ten unique things to do in Lake Como are local-approved, so you’ll want to give them a try!