Lake Como or Lake Garda: Which Italian Lake to Visit?


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If you don’t have time to visit all of the Italian Lakes in the north of the country, it can be hard to know if you should head to Lake Garda or Lake Como. As two of the largest lakes in the region that spans Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino, both Lakes Garda and Como have a lot to offer visitors. Boasting incredible vistas, peaceful waterfronts, opulent villas and charming towns, both lakes are very much worth visiting in their own right.

However, if you don’t have time to head to both and you want to know whether Lake Garda or Lake Como is the right one for you, you’ve come to the right place. Though on the surface, they may look very similar, they both offer different things and can suit some travellers over the other. There are lots of things to consider when determining whether to visit Lake Como or Garda and some of these things may tip the scale one way or another.

So if you can’t decide which Italian lake is the one for you, you’ve come to the right place. Here, I’ll outline the accessibility, affordability and things to do in both Lakes Garda and Como so you can determine for yourself which one fits your personality and travel style the best!

Lake Como

Located in northern Italy’s Lombardy region about 60 kilometres north of Milan, Lake Como has long been associated as the summer playground for the rich and famous. Boasting countless idyllic towns and plenty of fancy villas, Lake Como makes for an excellent place to visit on any trip to the north of Italy.

Varenna in Lake Como
Varenna in Lake Como

Accessibility

As mentioned already, this lake is situated in the Lombardy about 60 kilometres north of the city of Milan. Because of its proximity to the Lombardy capital, it is very popular to go on a day trip to Lake Como from the city.

And while this is certainly an option (it only takes about an hour by train to reach the town of Varenna from Milan), you also can get a lot more out of the towns if you’re able to spend a few days in Lake Como exploring the area. You can browse and book train tickets online here.

As mentioned, Lake Como is very easy to reach from Milan and it is also quite well-located to the city of Bergamo – again, it would only take about an hour to reach the lake from Bergamo centre. Because of Lake Como’s northerly location, it is also situated quite close to the Swiss border so it is possible to loop a trip to the lake onto a longer trip to Switzerland.

It is easy to get to a few of the towns on Lake Como via train, however, getting to the lake via bus isn’t really an option as there are few, if any, connections.

You can also very easily get to and around Lake Como via car and this option will give you the most flexibility. If you do want to hire a car while visiting Lake Como, we suggest browsing RentalCars.com in order to browse great deals across a number of different rental companies.

Once in Lake Como, it’s necessary to be able to get around. Fortunately, this is relatively easy and straightforward, even if you don’t happen to have your own vehicle. While it certainly can be a lot more convenient to have your own car, a combination of the train and ferry services on the lake make getting around via public transit an incredibly viable option.

All in all, there are a lot of options to get to and around Lake Como and it is really easy to navigate once you’re there — whether or not you have a car.

Boarding the ferry in Lake Como
Boarding the ferry in Lake Como

Affordability

Is Lake Como or Lake Garda more affordable? Is there even a difference? Well, it depends. When it comes to the bottom line, neither place is going to be the most affordable place to visit in Italy but nowhere is going to come with the pricetags of places like Venice, either.

In general, if you are a budget-conscious traveller and this is a major determining factor, you may find prices in Lake Como to be generally higher than in Lake Garda. This doesn’t, however, mean that you cannot visit Lake Como on a budget.

Lake Como tends to cater more towards a luxury traveller, however, you can still find affordable accommodation, meals and other things in the towns – especially if you wander a bit away from tourist centres. Just because it tries to be a bit of a posh destination, doesn’t mean that it has to affect your own hard-earned travel budget.

So while there isn’t a huge difference between the two, Lake Como is the marginally more expensive option.

Como Cathedral
Como Cathedral

Things to Do in Lake Como

Lake Como is a world-renowned destination with plenty of things to see and do. However, it does offer a slightly different experience compared to Lake Garda. As mentioned earlier, Lake Como is just a bit “fancier” than Lake Como and the towns really reflect that.

Of course, both Lake Como and Lake Garda have a number of lovely lakeside towns to visit. The most famous on Como would definitely be Varenna, Bellagio and Menaggio. All three of these towns are located in the central part of the lake and accessible from each other via ferry – meaning that it is very easy to get between them.

Lake Como is also home to two relatively large cities on either side of the southern part of the lake. The city of Lecco on the southeast end of Lake Como is a little bit less popular to visit and on the smaller side, but it is still charming and worth exploring. Como on the southwest side of the lake is a major attraction, complete with a grand cathedral and even a funicular that provides excellent views of the city and lake below.

The town of Lecco
The town of Lecco

Another very popular thing to do while visiting Lake Como is to tour one (or more) of the many villas that line the lake. These are historic manor homes of the rich and famous and many have been turned into museums and botanicals gardens, displaying the lavish private art collections and beautifully landscaped grounds of the elites.

Many other villas have actually been converted into luxury hotels, so if you’re so inclined to splash the cash, you could even spend the night in one of these places.

No visit to either Lake Como or Lake Garda would be complete without getting out onto the water. There are plenty of passenger ferries that can shuttle you between most of the lakeside towns or you could opt to take a guided boat tour on the lake, as well.

In general, if you’re on the hunt for a holiday to an upmarket destination full of swanky towns and luxurious villas, then Lake Como is the destination for you.

Arriving in Menaggio
Menaggio

Where to Stay in Lake Como

If you’ve determined that Lake Como is the one for you, then you’re going to want to find a great place to stay. There are countless accommodation options on offer, from luxe hotels to cosy apartments that you’re sure to find something that suits.

Villa Lario Resort Mandello – This opulent hotel is an excellent choice for those looking to splash the cash and live in the lap of luxury in Lake Como. Located in the town of Mandello del Lario about fifteen minutes south of Varenna, they have a range of plush amenities to ensure your stay is a perfect one. Click here to see their availability

B&B Villa Rosalinda – Located in the town of Dongo on the quiet northern coast of Lake Como, this bed and breakfast is perfect for those looking for a quaint and comfortable stay on the lake. They have a range of rooms available, a wonderful breakfast each morning and plenty of great amenities to make sure your stay is fantastic. Click here to see their availability

Miralago B&B and Apartments – If you’re after a self-catering place to stay on Lake Como, then this is an excellent option for you. Located just outside of Bellagio, they have fully-furnished one and two-bedroom apartments available along with individual ensuite rooms, should that suit your fancy. Breakfast is also available on request. Click here to see their availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Lake Como hotels!

Arriving in Bellagio via ferry
Arriving in Bellagio via ferry

Lake Garda

As the largest lake in Italy, Lake Garda straddles the Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino regions in the north of the country. Lined with charming villages and boasting countless stunning vistas, Lake Garda makes for an excellent destination – whether you’re going on a day trip from Venice or Verona or are planning a longer Lake Garda itinerary.

Accessibility

As mentioned above, Lake Garda is actually set in three different regions of Northern Italy – Lombardy to the west, Veneto to the east and Trentino to the north. Located about 150 kilometres east of Lake Como, Lake Garda doesn’t make as good a day trip destination from Milan as Lake Como.

The lake is located about equidistant between Milan and Venice. Garda is, however, located relative close to the city of Verona (it’s only about 40 kilometres from Verona to the town of Sirmione), making it a popular day trip destination from this lovely Italian city. There are very frequent trains connecting Verona to the southern town of Sirmione in 30 minutes or less, meaning that reaching the south bank of Lake Garda is incredibly accessible.

You can also reach Lake Garda by train from Venice in about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Trains run frequently in both directions, so it is possible to do a day trip. It takes about the same amount of time to reach the south of Garda from Milan by train.

Scaligero Castle in Sirmione
Scaligero Castle in Sirmione

Lake Garda, however, isn’t quite as well-served by public transit as Lake Como and you will likely only be able to visit one town rather than a few different towns. While there are ferries on the lake between towns, there are not as many as on Lake Como nor are they as frequent.

By far the easiest way to get to and around Lake Garda is by car. If you have a car when visiting, you will be able to visit a number of different towns and interesting places and really get a good feel for the area.

So, if you’re not looking to hire a car and drive around, your best bet would be to opt for an organised tour of Lake Garda if you’ve determined that this is the place for you.

In general, Lake Garda is quite accessible by car but not as accessible via public transit as Lake Como. If you want to travel independently but don’t want/can’t hire a car, then Garda may not be the best option for you.

Limone sul Garda
Limone sul Garda

Affordability

As mentioned in the Lake Como section, there really isn’t going to be a huge difference between the prices in Lake Garda vs Lake Como. As mentioned, Garda may have marginally lower prices than Como, however, it isn’t really anything to make note of.

In fact, Lake Garda could actually turn out the be the more expensive destination to visit if you factor in transport prices. If you want to travel independently, you pretty much need a car to do this in Lake Garda, which can be a significant expense for travellers.

In Lake Como, a car isn’t altogether necessary in order to enjoy the lake. However, if you do end up renting a car in Lake Como, you will likely end up spending more than you would be renting a car to get around Lake Garda when factoring in the cost of a car ferry ticket.

All in all, the prices in Lake Garda vs Como aren’t really too different and one destination isn’t inherently more affordable than the other.

Salo on Lake Garda
Salo on Lake Garda

Things to Do in Lake Garda

Where Lake Como is all about the post towns and fancy villas, Lake Garda is a little bit more humble and relaxed. The towns are a bit less upmarket and while there are a handful of villas to visit, they are nearly as ubiquitous as they are in Lake Como.

Being the bigger of the two lakes, there are a lot of lovely towns and villages to visit on the Lake Garda coast. A popular destination is the town of Sirmione, which is known for its castle and fortress.

Keep in mind that this place is frequently slammed with tourist crowds so be prepared! The town of Malcesine is another popular spot on the eastern coast of the lake, boasting pretty winding lanes and a castle to visit.

The town of Limone sul Garda is known, unsurprisingly, for its lemons. You can visit a lemon museum here and pick up plenty of lemon-themed souvenirs (from limoncello to lemon-printed pottery).

If you’re after a larger settlement, the Riva de Garda at the north of the lake is the unofficial capital of the region, with a funicular cableway, inviting piazzas and a wonderful promenade.

For something a bit quieter, head to Salo, a city on the southwest coast of the lake that is often overlooked by tourist crowds.

There are also plenty of activities to enjoy on the lake itself. Go for a sailing trip or rent a kayak or pedalo to enjoy the water splashing around you. If you’re a wine lover, there are also plenty of vineyards and tasting rooms you can visit in the surrounding towns.

In general, Garda has a lot to do and has plenty to offer visitors. It is a bit less posh and more laid back than Lake Como so it can appeal to a different sort of traveller.

Riva de Garda
Riva de Garda

Where to Stay in Lake Garda

If you’ve decided that Lake Garda is the Italian lake of your dreams, then you’re likely looking for a great place to stay around the lake. There are countless places to choose from ranging from luxury hotels to homely bed and breakfasts. If you’re wondering where to stay on Lake Garda, have a look at these suggestions:

Grand Hotel Fasano – If it’s luxury you’re after, then you cannot go wrong with this plush hotel. Located in Gardone Rivieria, right in between the towns of Saló and Maderno, they have countless luxe rooms on offer to suit all travellers. There are also two swimming pools, a bar and a spa and wellness centre on site. They even allow pets. Click here to see their availability

Wind Hotel – This mid-range hotel located in the town of Malcesine is a great option if you’re looking for something clean, comfortable and convenient without completely breaking the bank. They have a number of different rooms available, a seasonal swimming pool and there is breakfast available each morning. Click here to see their availability

Blue Sky Garda – Sunset – If you’re after you’re own place rather than a hotel, then this apartment is a great option. Located in Malcesine, this two-bedroom apartment has all of the amenities one would need to feel at home on Lake Garda. It is also in a convenient location for exploring both Malcesine and the lake as a whole. Click here to see their availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Lake Garda hotels!

Exploring Malcesine
Exploring Malcesine

Lake Como or Lake Garda: The Verdict

So is Lake Como or Garda the place for you? Well, it depends on what it is you’re after.

If you’re looking for a quick getaway from Milan where there is no need to rent a car, then Lake Como is a great choice. It’s also a better option if you’re keen to visit a villa or two and are more interested in pretty towns, high-end shopping or simply are more of a luxury sort of traveller.

Lake Garda is a great option for those looking for something a bit more laid back and less posh. There are still plenty of lovely towns to visit and it is by no means less touristy than Lake Como, but it is a bit less fancy.

There are also more towns to choose from on Lake Garda simply because it is a bigger lake. However, you will likely need to have your own means of transport if you want to visit independently.

Beautiful Lake Garda
Beautiful Lake Garda

Regardless of whether you choose to visit Lake Garda or Lake Como, you cannot make a bad decision. Both lakes have something to suit all kinds of travellers and this is truly a gorgeous region to visit in Northern Italy.

Are you trying to decide between a visit to Lake Como or Garda? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. When she’s not dreaming of far-away lands, Maggie enjoys drinking copious amounts of coffee, Harry Potter, and coaxing stray cats into her home.

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