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Set against the foothills of the Alps, Lake Como and Lake Garda are two of the best Italian lakes. Both are defined by fragrant forests, whimsical waterfront towns, and majestic mountainous backdrops. So just how does one decide between a visit to either Lake Como or Lake Garda?
Luckily, each lake has its own irresistible allure. Lake Como is more known for its exclusive luxury while Lake Garda, on the other hand, is recognized for its laid-back atmosphere.
Both lakes offer calm waters coupled with fresh mountain air — enough to revive even the weariest traveler. Taking into consideration your travel style, budget, itinerary, and Italian bucket list, we’re here to help you choose between these two romantic places in Italy. Let’s dive into the decades-old ‘Lake Garda vs. Lake Como’ debate.
Lake Como Overview
In the Lombardy region, deep in Northern Italy, the Y-shaped Lake Como makes for an easy day trip from Milan due to its 52-mile proximity to the city. Home to over 30 lovely lakeside towns, you’ll quickly lose yourself to exploring enchanting villas and lavish gardens. Here, you’ll find holiday homes owned by some of the most famous celebrities, including George Clooney, Madonna, and Richard Branson.
Lake Garda Overview
The southern shores of Lake Garda are conveniently located between Venice (114 miles) and Milan (85 miles). Although this area of the lake is easily accessible by train from either city, some visitors choose to rent a car for a day or two to drive around the entire lake. Once here, you’ll be mesmerized by brightly colored towns, castles, and even Roman ruins.
At the Southern end of the lake, expect a number of amusement parks, beaches, and vineyards that contribute to the lake’s lively atmosphere. The Northern end is much quieter, known for outdoor activities and picturesque towns like Malcesine and Limone.
Which Lake is Easiest to Access?
Both Lake Como and Lake Garda can be easily accessed from certain major cities. However, this ease of access depends on a couple of factors, like your starting point and preferred mode of transport.
Overall, Lake Como is easier to get to from Milan than Lake Garda. Lake Garda is more easily accessible from Venice than Lake Como. Here’s a more detailed comparison:
The easiest way to access Lake Como is via Milan. There are two rail lines connecting Milan to Lake Como. One line leaves Milano Centrale station and arrives at Como Lago Station in about one hour. The other stops at Lecco first and then at Varenna Esino station, also taking about 60 minutes.
Traveling by train from Milan to Lake Como is reliable, cheap, and fast. In the summer, you can easily get around the lake via the many daily ferries. Due to Lake Como’s smaller size, a car is not deemed a necessity.
You can travel to Lake Garda via train from either Venice or Milan since it’s conveniently located between the two cities. From Milano Centrale to Peschiera del Garda (the southern part of the lake), the train takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes. From Venice, trains leave from Venezia S. Lucia to Peschiera del Garda and take about two hours to reach Lake Garde.
Hiring a car to visit Lake Garda is always useful as it will grant you freedom from restricting bus timetables and long ferry queues, saving you precious vacation time. A rental car also allows you to explore the larger lake with more freedom and at your own leisure.
What Is the Atmosphere Like on Each of the Lakes?
Northern Italy’s Lombardy region is generally more expensive than other parts of the country. Lake Como’s luxury is only further exemplified by its grand hotels and opulent villas. Lake Garda is slightly less refined than Lake Como, with most of its hustle and bustle condensed into its southern shore.
Let’s look at each lake’s atmosphere a bit closer.
If shopping, sunbathing, and celeb-spotting seem right up your alley, you’ll be in your element in Lake Como. The lake’s enchanting atmosphere is attributed to the quiet contemplation and upscale luxury of its surroundings.
Lake Como is known for its numerous flourishing botanical gardens and grand waterside villas. The villas here are interwoven with art, architecture, and history, offering a glimpse into the past lives of writers, artists, and composers such as Vincenzo Bellini.
Lake Como is framed by a tapestry of picturesque towns, each with its own character and charm. Como and Bellagio seem to be the most popular towns for visitors. If you’re after somewhere a little more quiet, Varenna is known for its rustic charm and relaxed atmosphere.
Lake Como’s towns are closer together, and it’s more developed in terms of high-end shops and restaurants, giving a unique air of refinement and sophistication. It’s mostly favored by English-speaking tourists who are after a glimpse into the alluring Italian-luxe lifestyle.
The air here is different — somehow filled with the lightness and brightness of vacationers seeking both tranquility and excitement.
As the largest Italian lake, Lake Garda covers a whopping 143 square miles. Due to its sheer size, the lake is situated along the three regions of Lombardy, Veneto, and Trentino-Alto. Lake Garda has an impressive array of historical sites, such as castles, fortresses, ruins, and elegant villas set amongst the mountains.
Here, you’ll find multiple theme parks and tourist attractions. Add this liveliness to the lake’s countless castles, olive groves, ancient ruins, and medieval villages, and you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise on your visit to Lake Garda.
For the most part, Lake Garda’s Southern shores are busier than Lake Como, but if you’re after more idyllic oasis, head to the lake’s north side. With less traffic and fewer crowds, the northern part of Lake Garda is comfortingly wild and dazzlingly beautiful.
Lake Garda is generally preferred by Italian locals and European visitors alike. The atmosphere here is an acclaimed mixture of adventure, relaxation, and the more laid-back Italian lifestyle.
What Activities Are Available?
From boating and hiking to shopping or flying down water slides at full speed, Lake Como and Lake Garda present a range of activities to satisfy every visitor.
Lake Como is renowned for its beautiful boutiques and decadent designer stores. In fact, the town of Como is actually known as Italy’s Silk City. You can purchase a silk souvenir (the epitome of Italian luxury and craftsmanship) or simply stop by the Silk Museum to learn about the fascinating history.
At Annonario Market on Via Mentana in Como, you’ll find fresh flowers, porcini mushrooms, and cold meats and cheeses, among handcrafted ceramics and leather goods. You’ll not only leave here with tangible treasures but also memories of a true Italian experience.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, wealthy residents from Milan built large, luxurious villas on Lake Como to escape the dreadfully hot city summers. Today, many of these villas and their lush botanical gardens are open to the public. Lake Como is considered to have some of the top lakeside villas in Northern Italy.
Be sure to stop by Villa Monastero, one of the lake’s most renowned luxurious villas that includes a museum and a botanical garden that stretches along the lake’s shore for a mile.
And, of course, don’t forget to enjoy time on the water in order to revel in Lake Como’s natural beauty. A boat trip is on the list of great things to do in Lake Como. For those craving a connection with nature, explore the lake’s many running and hiking trails. These will take you from along the water’s edge up into the rolling hills.
From exploring Scaliger Castle to adventuring at Gardaland Resort, Lake Garda’s activities often draw in families looking for entertainment. With over four impressive water and amusement parks, it’s as if Lake Garda were designed for fun under the Italian sun.
Apart from going to theme parks, visiting the Roman ruins should be on every list of things to do at Lake Garda. The ancient relics tell magnificent stories of the area’s significance and its connection to the Roman Empire. Enrich your cultural insight by viewing the remains of ancient thermal baths, courtyards, and corridors, all against the lake’s majestic backdrop of the surrounding mountains.
If you’re a fan of the outdoors, make sure to pay Riva del Garda a visit — a small yet historic town on the northern tip of the lake. Explore within the medieval walls and enjoy activities such as windsurfing, cycling, hiking, and climbing.
After an active morning of Lake Garda sightseeing, unwind at one of its many wineries and vineyards. Sample some fine Italian Lugana – a group of white wines made at the lake’s very own southern shores.
What Accommodation Is Available?
Staying overnight in either Lake Garda or Lake Como opens doors to lake views, luxury rooms, and warm welcomes. Both lakes offer hotels, resorts, and smaller accommodations along the shores.
From grand luxury hotels to smaller, more traditional B&Bs, Lake Como’s accommodations will have your jaw on the floor. There are options for all when it comes to where to stay in Lake Como.
Most hotels here offer stunning lakeside views and easy access to both the lake and its attractions. If you’re after a more opulent stay to fully immerse yourself in the royalty of Lake Como, experience a stay at one of the lake’s luxury resorts. These magnificent establishments will most likely have spa facilities, fine dining options, and lakefront views.
Maybe you’re after a more modest, traditional approach and would prefer to be centrally located. Think about renting a self-catering apartment or a room at a small hotel in one of Lake Garda’s many lakeside towns.
Perhaps you’d like to experience an immersive stay at an agriturismo in the more tranquil north. Or maybe you’d prefer a B&B in the heart of all the fun in the South. When choosing where to stay in Lake Garda, first decide on activities you’d like to do or attractions you’d like to see.
If you’re after a cultural experience and peaceful retreat, fortunately, Lake Garda’s agriturismos are not few and far between. These farm stays offer a charm and cordiality that you likely won’t find anywhere else. Enjoy farm-to-table food as you focus on improving your Italian with the residents.
If you’re seeking a little more convenience, traditional hospitality, and value for money, consider staying at one of Lake Garda’s many local hotels.
Lake Garda or Lake Como – Which Italian Lake Will You Choose?
When planning to visit Lake Como or Lake Garda, the most useful way to decide between the two is to know your vacation demands. The Lake Garda region is great for those on a tighter budget, while Lake Como is better for those seeking to splurge a little more.
Are you more drawn to Lake Como’s seducing splendor and lavish lifestyle or the lively energy of Lake Garda? Whether you choose Lake Como or Lake Garda, you will no doubt have the chance to immerse yourself in fairytale villages, surrounding mountainscapes, and azure waters.
If you still can’t choose — why not divide your time between the two and get the best of both worlds?
Other Northern Italian Lakes Worth Exploring
If you’ve seen Lake Como and Lake Garda in all their glory and feel like another lakeside escape, here are some fantastic options to choose from:
- Quietly stunning, Lake Iseo is Lombardy’s fourth-largest lake, located halfway between Lake Como and Lake Garda.
- Lake Orta is thought of as one of Italy’s best-kept secrets and is only an hour’s drive from Milan Airport.
- Lake Maggiore, the second largest lake in Italy, offers fascinating history in its very own Borromean Islands.
- Lake Lugano, located between Lakes Como and Maggiore, offers many hiking opportunities and chilled-out vibes.