Things to do in Lake Como: Towns and Food

Varenna view

Our decision to go to lake Como in Italy was rather accidental. At that time I lived in Sheffield, United Kingdom with my husband, studied for MA and we both had part-time jobs, so it allowed more time and less budget for the trips.

When you are a poor student, the way you plan your trips is the following: open the Ryanair webpage, check the cheapest destination, get the tickets, and then research, whether you can do something nice around the area. In our case the destination was Bergamo for around 30 British pounds return, and you can do amazing things there, believe me! After we bought the tickets, I started my research on things to do in Lake Como, and found out that even a month there would not be enough. This lake is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and has a lot to offer starting from spectacular views to tasty food and stunning architecture.

Getting to Lake Como

Girl looking up on a boat
Ana on a boat

By plane

You can fly to Bergamo or Milan in Italy, these two would be the closest points to the lake Como. You can also fly to Lugano in Switzerland, and cross the border from there. The lake is very close to the Swiss border.

By train

There is one train from Milan to Como and another train from Bergamo to Lecco, continuing further along the lake stopping at Varenna and Colico.

By car

Always a good option. It just wasn’t an option for us, because renting a car in Northern Italy is not cheap at all.

Travelling around Lake Como

We tried several ways. If you came by car or have rented one, then this chapter might not be that relevant for you. But if not, don’t be sad. There are great ways to get around without the car.

Firstly, if you are going to travel around Lake Como or even further, and you came for several days, it might be worth getting a weekly local Lombardy transport pass. It costs under 50 euro for the whole week, and you can get it at the train station. The pass includes busses and trains (and also boats on Lake Iseo, just fyi), so you can also use it to travel from Bergamo and Milan to the coast of the Lake.

When you have reached the Lake, a great option for travelling is of course the boat. The timetables change quite a lot, so I will not link them here, and anyway the time is relative when travelling in Italy (“oh, can we just stop for a gelato for 10 mins?”), but there are boats going from town to town across the lake. Do check the timetables on arrival, as they can be not that frequent, especially off-season.

And then another great option is of course hitch-hiking. This way you travel fast, meet the locals and save the money, so if you are into that, it might be a good place to start. Actually, hitch-hiking is forbidden in Italy, but you can easily meet some friendly locals, driving along the coast of lake between the small towns, and some of them will be happy to take you along. For us it was one of the most fun things to do in Lake Como, the one I will remember with a smile.

Things to do in Lake Como: Towns

Lecco

Lecco, or Lecch in Lombard language, is a town of just under 50,000 inhabitants. It has four beautiful bridges over the river Adda, a historical old town and great mountain views.

For us it was the first place, where we learned about Lombard culture and language. Our host was a great local patriot and told us about his struggle for keeping the Lombard language alive. It is spoken rather widely, but mostly by elder population of the region. Marcel, our host, originally spoke Italian, but has learned Lombard from his grandmother and decided, that it is the language he should be speaking instead. He jokingly told us about his grandmother’s reaction to this change. Instead of being proud of her grandson, she actually thought it’s a shame he is speaking some village language instead of TV-Italian.

Como

Como is the biggest town on the shore of Lake Como. With the overnight visitors counted in, it’s over 200,000 inhabitants. Among those people are some I know by name: George Clooney, Madonna and Gianni Versace. So, if those people liked Como, we decided to see it as well.

After visiting Como, we were slightly disappointed. Sure, it had very nice villas, lake views and Rationalist architecture. But we very much preferred the smaller coastal towns, where you just stroll through, enjoy seeing crystal clear water, sit down for a coffee, and only one car would pass you in the whole hour.

Apparently, George Clooney and us have different tastes.

Other Lake Como towns: Mandello, Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio

These are the cities I’m speaking about! Small cities with no great historical monuments to see, but providing a never-ending supply of amazing views: lake, mountains, narrow ancient passages, small churches, cozy cafes, shadows on colourful house walls, sleeping cats and absolute silence of siesta.

I am a bad guide for you here: the thing I enjoyed most during this trip was strolling through the towns, forgetting their names and not visiting the sights, but enjoying sweet oranges and coffee, sun on my face and wind in my hair.

Things to eat in Lake Como: The food

If you let me stereotype, the cuisine of Lombardy is more similar to the German than what you would normally imagine as Italian. It includes a lot of polenta, meat, lard, maize and butter.

We found out that an imaginary cuisine border divides Northern and Central-Southern Italy. In the South the essential ingredient is pasta, while in the North it is rice. Pasta is not typical for the traditional Lombard cuisine, but you should definitely taste the local risotto!

While staying in Lecco, I quickly glanced through one of many regional cookbooks in our host’s house, and was surprised to see several recipes of rabbit. Seeing me reading one of those rabbit recipes, Marcel dropped a comment:

“You know that when it says “rabbit” in Lombard cookbook, it actually means “cat”?”.

Since then I haven’t met anyone from Lombardy to discuss this fact. Any of the readers familiar with the region? Please tell me that it was a blatant lie!

The coffee is great, as anywhere in Italy. It was February, so still season for Panettone, the traditional Lombard cake, and oranges.

The biggest problem for us regarding the food was the timing. As usual in Italy, the mealtimes are very strict, and as usual for us, we were not synchronized with the rest of the country. During the season you will not suffer too much because of this, but off-season finding an open lunch spot or even a shop during the siesta can be very tricky.

Liked this post? Pin it!

34 thoughts on “Things to do in Lake Como: Towns and Food

  1. Travel with Alaine says:

    I’m a little sad I didn’t get a chance to visit Lake Como or Lugano for that matter when I lived just across the border in Switzerland. Those pics look amazing!! I would certainly love it as Mountains are one of my favorite places to escape to.

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      I’m sure you saw many amazing places in Switzerland though! I love mountains myself, and coming from a totally flat country, I keep being amazed by them each time.

  2. Mina says:

    Risotto sounds yummy! Thank goodness I don’t eat rabbit. Poor kitties though ?
    The area around looks really charming and calm – do you think during the high season would be like that as well or it gets really packed? How was the temperature at that time?

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      Well, I still hope it’s a lie and no kitty was harmed. 😉

      It does get touristic during the high season, so I would prefer to go off-season. But it’s still better than some popular coastal towns in Italy, so it might still be a better option, if you don’t like crowds.

      And the temperature can differ, from rather hot (+30-+35) to cooler days and even occasional clouds and rain.

  3. Wendy says:

    I think this is one of the most beautiful regions in Italy. It has everything. Nice weather, cosy towns and I love Italian food. We were there many years ago and we liked Belaggio the most.

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      I like Bellagio too! I think I liked Lecco the most though, because of our experience with the local host and because we spent the most time there. How did you like the food though? Not too greasy? 😉

  4. Meghna Malhotra says:

    Como looks like a peaceful quaint little town full of rustic alleys and bylanes. Though I am surprised that it is inhabited by so many people and somehow this is the first time I’m hearing about this place! Loved your photos !

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      Thanks! Yeah, Como is actually not that big, but some other towns are even smaller. So coming to Como after them felt like leaving peaceful villages and going to the big city – which I didn’t particularly like 😉

  5. Isadora says:

    This is the first time I hear about this lake, I love it how you can have access to different small villages that doesn’t seem to be well known, so you can have a good idea how life is like in the non touristy places

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      Exactly! And when you come off season, it feels even better. We didn’t meet any tourists in some towns, and felt like locals ourselves. Great feeling!

  6. Rosie Fluskey says:

    Lake Como looks absolutely stunning. I bet it’s all heaving in the summer months so you picked a good time to go. What an absolute Ryanair find (love a Ryanair trip!). I have bookmarked this for next winter’s itchy feet.

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      I love those Ryanair finds! Most of the times you end up discovering some hidden (or not so hidden) gems, where you wouldn’t otherwise thought of visiting.

  7. Audrey says:

    Such a beautiful place! I had the chance to go to Lake Como once but it was years ago, would love to go back. Will probably skip the local food tho… a lot of polenta, meat, lard, maize and butter?!! Hahaha gimme my pasta!!

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      Yeah, and we had seafood pasta there, totally untypical, hahaha! Of that list of food I do love butter though. 😉

  8. Chiera says:

    Wow! Those pictures of the towns are beautiful! I feel you about that part-time work, book anything on Ryanair and plan later approach to travelling! haa

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      Thanks! We still do that with the Ryanair, even many years later, already having stable job and even a kid. There is some kind of bargain-adventure feeling that I just love. 😀

  9. Tasha says:

    A very informative post! I’d love to visit Lake Como so it’s interesting that you were a little disappointed. The coastal towns do look lovely though! Beautiful photos. I really hope it’s not Cat they were apserving as rabbit!

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      😀 Hopefully not!

      We actually really loved the like, just not the town of Como that particularly. But yes, it’s a great place for a holiday, I would absolutely recommend it.

  10. Katy says:

    Great to see beautiful Lake Como in the winter – it still has that glamorous charm. I loved exploring the towns and food too. We actually came across a local food festival which was amazing. Baked cat not included but lots of offal!

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      Food festival in the region would be great! I feel that I actually could explore the food scene a little bit more, I sort of didn’t appreciate it enough.

  11. Ania says:

    I visited Lake Como last summer and loved it! Menaggio, Bellagio, and Varenna were my absolutely favourite villages. I also flew through Bergamo because it was the most affordable. Great post!

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      So, I’m not alone in liking those ones best! Did you have some time to spend in Bergamo? It is also a great place!

  12. Aarti Kamath says:

    Wow!.. Loved the pics and your idea about the things to do. Recently, a colleague of mine (also in the UK) had been to Lake Como for a week long and she had almost the same opinion as you did and equally pretty pics… Regarding food, do you think we can find some typical Venetian food (Northern Italian) if we search for it?

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      Thanks a lot! I think the place itself is so photogenic that you just can’t take bad pictures of it!
      Regarding the food, do you mean at the lake itself? I’m sure you can. I wasn’t looking specifically for Venetian, but we found many option of Southern Italian and some other regions – and a yummy seafood pasta! So I’d guess that you could find Venetian as well. What is typical Venetian food anyway?

  13. Kate says:

    I went to Garda on my last Italy trip, so now I’m going to need to hit up Como. The buildings and views look insane! It looks like such a fun place to explore and relax.

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      Thanks for your comment, Kate. It definitely is! All the lakes are though, I’d love to go to Garda sometime as well.

  14. Sabine says:

    Beautiful photos! The lakes in Italy are really worth a visit, beautiful nature and gorgeous little villages. And Lake Como seems to be like that. Next time we have to make a detour for it!

  15. Anna says:

    Never heard of Lake Como but the streets here looks like a fairytale. And first banner photo is everything…!! Do you want to say that they eat cats?? ? oh.

Don't be shy, write what you think!