Bellagio, Menaggio, Varenna, and more: what town in Lake Como is really the best?
Lake Como is one of the most beautiful places in the world. With towering peaks and sparkling water, it’s no wonder that celebrities have chosen to call Lake Como home!
If you’re planning a trip to Lake Como, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to say. What are the pros and cons of each place? How can you be sure that you’re making the right decision for your dream trip?
Find out where to stay in Lake Como and the pros and cons of each lakeside village with this complete guide!
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Where is Lake Como?
Lake Como is located in northern Italy, a quick train ride from Milan. When shopping for flights, Milan – MXP – is the closest major airport. Venice is also pretty close.
A picturesque lake at the base of the Italian Alps, this gorgeous region feels straight out of a fairytale. With towering mountain peaks, sparkling blue water, and beautiful Italian architecture, Lake Como is the ideal destination for relaxation or romance.
Celebrities such as Madonna, George Clooney, and Versace have even chosen to live on the shores of Lake Como!
Lake Como is in the Lombardy region of Italy. If you recall, the Lombardy region was hit particularly hard at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. When I visited, I couldn’t stop thinking about this. The region is somewhat isolated and transportation options out of Lake Como are limited, which I’m sure contributed to the situation worsening.
Lake Como at a glance
Lake Como is shaped almost like a wishbone or an upside-down Y. This can make it difficult to pick where to stay and where to visit.
However, if you zoom in a bit on the map below, you will notice dotted lines bisecting the lake – those are boat routes, and they are a good indication of the most popular destinations.
If traveling from Milan, your train will either arrive in the town of Como or in Varenna. The train ride to Como takes about 40 minutes but requires a ride on either the foil or ferry to the main lakeside towns. The train to Varenna, however, takes just over an hour but is direct. Check rail schedules on Trenord.
Lake Como – with or without a car?
Once you arrive along the shores of Lake Como, almost all your travel will be done by boat or walking. A car will not add anything to your trip and, in fact, will likely a lot of inconvenience and expense. You have no need for a car in Lake Como, so don’t even bother.
If your travels following Lake Como call for a car, I would recommend just renting one from Milan. The train will take you there, anyway, so it won’t add much time or inconvenience.
Transport along Lake Como
As mentioned above, almost all of the transportation around Lake Como is done via boat! There are three main transportation options on the lake: ferry, boat, and hydrofoil. The ferry transports people & vehicles, the boat transports people only, and the hydrofoil is a high-speed boat connecting only the biggest towns.
If you want to search for specific options, you can do so on this website. To see the general schedule, check out the menu options on that same website and navigate to Timetables and Lines > Lake Como > Select either “Ship & Fast Service” or “Ferry Boat” to see schedules.
When you go to buy a ticket, the attendant will help you figure out which option is the best, so don’t be intimidated! After a trip or two, you’ll be an expert.
Bellagio – the Glamorous Lakeside Town
The most popular place to stay in Lake Como is Bellagio. Often called the “Pearl of Lake Como”, Bellagio is filled with shopping, dining, and gorgeous architecture that you’re sure to enjoy.
Pros of Bellagio
- Location, location, location! Bellagio is the main hub connecting all the other popular lakeside towns. Situated at the junction between the three sections of Lake Como, you’re in the center of the action
- Plenty of shops & restaurants (especially shops – if you want luxury goods, Bellagio is the place to be!)
Cons of Bellagio
- Price – Bellagio will cost you more than other lakeside towns
- Tourists descend on Bellagio while making daytrips from Milan
- To reach Bellagio via train, you must travel to Como then take the hydrofoil to Bellagio
Varenna – Budget-Friendly & Less Touristy
Varenna is a stunning, pedestrian-friendly village on the shores of Lake Como that is very popular with tourists. Once you get towards the center of town, vehicle traffic is sparse which makes Varenna very safe and walkable.
Pros of Varenna
- Price! Varenna is cheaper compared to Bellagio while still being central
- Varenna is accessible directly by train from Milan (no hydrofoil transfers)
- Slightly less touristy so it doesn’t get overrun by crowds
Cons of Varenna
- Fewer dining options than nearby Bellagio
- Not nearly as much shopping as nearby Bellagio
Menaggio – a Cute Alternative
If you’re driving, the easiest lakeside town to visit is Menaggio. It’s a quick drive to or from Switzerland and offers all the same beauty as the other villages on Lake Como.
Pros of Menaggio
- More local feel, much less touristy
- Easier parking, if you insist on driving
- 30-minute drive to Lugano, Switzerland if driving (if traveling via train, there are no time savings)
Cons of Menaggio
- Fewer things to do than nearby Varenna and Bellagio
- No direct train access so you must either take a train transfer in Como or travel to Bellagio and Varenna and transfer via water from there
Como – the Region Capital
Situated on the southwestern tip of Lake Como, Como is the region’s capital. If you’re looking for more of a “big city” feel, Como might be the best choice for you.
Pros of Como
- Easy & direct access to Lugano and Milan
- Big city feel, so more dining & shopping options
Cons of Como
- (Yes, I realize I listed this as a pro, but…) big city feel. Como doesn’t feel like a retreat the same way the other lakeshore villages feel
- Distance to the other lakefront towns – you must transfer to Bellagio first to visit the other popular destinations
Final verdict: where is the best place to stay in Lake Como?
Of all the towns in the Lake Como area, my personal favorite is Varenna.
I love that it is convenient by train from Milan, easily walkable, less touristy, less expensive, and stunningly beautiful. It certainly helps that I had a wonderful Airbnb host that made me feel like family, but I think Varenna would have felt like “home” even without Giorgio.
If money were not an object, I’m not sure I would prefer Bellagio. Bellagio was gorgeous, of course, but returning to Varenna felt like a sigh of relief. I genuinely adored by time in Varenna.
However, we all have our own preferences. You will enjoy your time on Lake Como no matter where you stay!