I find myself drawn to Italy. It’s one of those destinations that never gets old to me. The country is a perfect mix of delicious food, rich history, vibrant culture, and gorgeous landscapes showcasing both mountains and the sea. There is something for everyone’s taste. In this seven-day Lake Como itinerary, I will introduce you to small towns and mountains around Lake Como in Lombardy, a region in Northern Italy, sharing with you how to make the best of your stay in this charming area.
Table of Contents
Day 1: Arrive in Lombardy
The closest airport to eastern Lake Como is Bergamo, and the closest to western Lake Como is Milan. You can easily get to Lake Como by taking a train from either city. I chose Bergamo since it was the closest airport to my accommodations in Lecco and would allow me to focus on sightseeing in the eastern part of Lake Como.
Day 2: Start with Bergamo, Lombardy’s hidden gem
To some people, Bergamo might be just an airport, but for others, it’s quite a gem. This cute Italian town is divided into upper and lower towns. Upper Town (La Citta Alta) is technically the Old Town. This Old Town, located on a hill, offers stunning mountain scenery and beautiful medieval architecture and is small enough to be managed on foot. The Lower Town is more modern with the feel of a young professional district.
I focused my sightseeing on La Citta Alta. The Old Town is easily accessible on foot, but you also have the option to take a funicular/cable car or a bus to get there.
A few attractions for a day trip to Bergamo’s La Citta Alta
- Venetian Walls. This UNESCO World Heritage site, built in the 16th century by the Republic of Venice, is made up of walls that surround the Upper Town. You can enter the Old Town by one of the four gates. I recommend a walk alongside the walls to take in the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
- Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica. The beautiful basilica on Piazza Dumo has a rich history that dates to the ancient Romans and is spectacular inside and out. Your attention will be especially drawn to the stunning frescos inside the basilica’s walls and dome. Outside the basilica, you’ll find a coat of arms of local monarchs that depicts the three testicles that the monarch is believed to have according to one of the legends. You can’t miss it, as there will surely be plenty of tourists touching it for good luck.
- Piazza Vecchia. Enter the heart of the city and admire beautiful architecture spanning from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Your attention might be drawn to the Campanone, a 52-meter high city tower, along with Contarini Fountain with its sphinxes.
- San Vigilio Hill. Take a funicular to enjoy the most breathtaking views of the city. From a little terrace, you can enjoy the entire panorama of La Citta Alta.
- Botanical Garden. Don’t miss out on this free, off-the-beaten-path attraction. The garden offers an extensive collection of alpine, local, and exotic plants and is a lovely place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
- Local food specialties. Stop by one of many bakeries and pastry shops and try delectable local specialty foods such as polenta e osei (a dessert made from sponge cake, chocolate, butter, hazelnut creams, and rum with a little marzipan bird on top covered with chocolate).
Day 3: Visit the charming towns of Varenna and Bellagio
Next, head to Varenna, a picturesque small town by Lake Como. I took a bus from my lodging in Lecco to explore the town, but you can also arrive by ferry depending on where you’re staying. First, hike to the castle, Castello di Vezio. The lake views from the tallest tower are spectacular. You will not regret hiking there, nor will you feel guilty indulging in Italian cuisine afterwards. Stroll through town and, when you are ready, take a ferry or a bus to Bellagio.
Bellagio, another small town, is the most popular destination of Lake Como. I recommend taking a ferry for a different, more picturesque view of the water. Bellagio was one of the prettiest small towns I saw during my week’s journey through Lombardy, offering splendid views of Lake Como from all directions that are perfect for taking some postcard shots. While you explore all the narrow streets to find the best views, you can shop for souvenirs, grab a bite to eat, or enjoy an aperitivo.
Day 4: Hike Grignia Settentrionale, the most prominent peak of Lake Como
Lake Como offers excellent hiking opportunities, with several picturesque trails of various difficulty levels, including Monte Barro, Grignia Meridionale, and Grignia Settentrionale, and Monte Resegone.
Taking advantage of the warm, sunny weather, I opted for Lake Como’s most prominent peak, Grignia Settentrionale (7,907 ft/ 2,410 m). Of the many trails, I picked one of the easiest, which fortunately was known for its excellent views. Lacking a car, I took a train to Mandello del Lario and walked from there.
The trail first follows the stations of the cross toward the Santa Maria church. Beautifully situated on a hill, the church features pretty frescoes on its inside walls, so don’t forget to peek through the windows. Continue hiking towards Era, a lovely mountainous village that sits at almost 1,000 meters above sea level. Era is your last chance to refill on water. I hiked on a hot June day and had used all my water by the time I reached Era. From Era, continue your journey toward Bietti, a mountain hut. From Bietti, it gets steep, and there are moments when you will need to hold on to chains to make it up the hill. You might even encounter some snow depending on the time of year. The views throughout the whole trail are spectacular and worth every effort.
PRO TIP. Be mindful of the time. I started hiking late morning. By the time I reached the peak, it was late afternoon. Without enough time to take anything but a short route back, I chose a steep short trail back toward Pasturo, hoping to catch the last bus. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it in time. The only way to get back to Lecco at that point was hitchhiking. Fortunately, I met some kind strangers who gave me a ride back to Lecco.
Day 5: Explore Milan, the capital city of Lombardy
I wasn’t originally planning on visiting Milan, but, due to the moody weather, I opted for a day trip to Lombardy’s capital. As I made my way from a train station to the Old Town, I could immediately tell that Milan is part of the quintessential Italian experience. I was seeing Milan come to life in the early morning hours, with people on scooters commuting to work and a lively café culture. I partook in that culture by enjoying a croissant and an Italian double espresso (after all, Italy is the place I first fell in love with espresso). When I got my bill after sitting down to enjoy my breakfast, I immediately remembered why everyone stands at espresso bars – you pay more if you sit down!
A few attractions for a day trip to Milan
- Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Even if you don’t plan to shop, stroll through the shopping mall to admire this beautiful building. Don’t forget to stop by the Bull of Turin; you’re supposed to spin around three times with your heel on the bull’s testicles for good luck.
- The Duomo. Right next door, you will find one of the largest cathedrals in Italy and in all of Europe. It is the most iconic and impressive building in Milan. Come inside and take in the cathedral as well as numerous exhibits offered by the cathedral’s museum.
- Opera at Teatro alla Scala. This prestigious opera house is just a few minutes’ walk from the Duomo. Tickets are extremely hard to get, but you can always admire the opera house from outside.
- Sforza Castle. Next, make your way to Sforza, a medieval castle that now houses Milanese museums. Learn about the city’s past and admire the works of the most influential Italian painters, including the unfinished final work of Michelangelo.
- Sempione Park. After leaving the castle take a walk in Sempione Park, the largest green space in Milan surrounding the castle and stop by the Peace Arch marking an entrance to the park.
- Santa Maria delle Grazie. This church is known for being the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper painting. Note that you will need to buy a ticket in advance for a timed entry.
Day 6: Relax in Lecco, Lake Como’s off-the-beaten path destination
Lecco is an excellent choice if you want to enjoy the natural scenery. Located by the southern tip of Lake Como and surrounded by mountains, it offers marvelous views and a less touristy vibe. Whether you choose to relax on the beach or go hiking or cycling, you will enjoy your time there. You will also find many excellent restaurant choices in downtown Lecco, where I had the best pasta carbonara.
I recommend visiting Monte Barro Park right next to Lecco. Mount Barro (3,025 feet/922 m) offers the best panoramic views of Lecco. The hike is short, easy, and appropriate for all skill levels. You can either walk to the trailhead from Lecco or take a bus.
Day 7: Say bye to Lombardy
If you’re thirsty for more, add another small town or two or a short hike around Lake Como to your itinerary. Otherwise, take it easy, pack your bags, and take a train to the airport or your next destination.
Logistics Guide to Lake Como
When to visit Lake Como
The best time to Visit Lake Como is between April and October. For sightseeing and hiking, I recommend the shoulder seasons of spring (April–June) and fall (September–October). In summer (July–August), temperatures are the highest, making it the best time for the beach but also the busiest time of year. Temperatures tend to drop from November to March, and a lot of hotels close for the season. Lake Como has a subcontinental climate with cold winters and muggy summers. When planning your hiking trips, keep in mind that there is a lot of humidity, especially in warmer months.
How much time to spend in Lake Como
I would recommend spending a few days to a week in Lake Como, depending on your activities of interest. Since most towns around Lake Como are small, you can see a few of them in a day if you’re only planning on sightseeing in small towns. If you also want to do some hiking, relax on the beach, or see other cities in Lombardy, a week might be a better option.
Where to stay in Lake Como
This depends on the places you want to visit as well as your needs and your budget. The Lake Como area offers hotels, hostels, house rentals, or luxury villas. If you’re driving to Lake Como, make sure you find accommodation with parking. If you’re commuting on public transportation, make sure you choose a place with good public transit options. Note that some hotels, especially in smaller towns, close for the low season, so you might need to choose a larger town.
I was interested in more of a local rather than a touristy vibe and opted for Airbnb accommodation in Lecco. In fact, it was so local that there were times when it was difficult to communicate in English. I even got a lecture in Italian after attempting to speak English to locals. Note that Lecco is not a touristy town, which can help you save money. It is still beautifully situated right by the mountains, making it a great place to explore outdoorsy attractions.
How to get around Lake Como
There are plentiful modes of transportation around Lake Como. Pick the one that works best for you, or mix it up a little bit for a different experience.
- By ferry. You can choose a ferry that will take you to all the small towns around Lake Como, giving you a chance to see the area from a lake perspective. This is the prettiest option for getting around Lake Como.
- By bus. Buses offer the most efficient service while also being the most affordable option.
- By train. All towns on the eastern side of Lake Como have train stations. However, on the western side, Como is the only town with a train station.
- By taxi. Not your cheapest option, but, if you need them, they are there. You will find taxis close to bus and train stations.
- By car. In general, I do not recommend driving in the Lake Como area unless you plan to visit some off-the-beaten path destinations not served by public transportation. The roads are narrow, with limited and pricey parking. The Lake Como area is especially popular during the summer, leading to a lot of traffic.
For more info about Lake Como, I suggest this local website.
Like every other Italian experience, I very much enjoyed my stay in Lombardy and look forward to returning. I hope this seven-day Lake Como itinerary will give you some ideas for things to do. If you end up going, share your favorite part in the comments. Happy sightseeing!