Lake Como sightseeing opportunities are found mostly in the mid Lake area, the western side of the Lake, Como town and the northern end of the Lake (Alto Lario).
The mid Lake area (Menaggio, Bellagio and Varenna)
Menaggio is the most popular town on the western side of the Lake. At its heart is the broad, welcoming nineteenth century Piazza Garibaldi lined with cafes where you can relax with a coffee, or ice cream; read an international paper, enjoy the Lake view and get detailed information from the best tourist information office at the Lake. A stroll along the tree-lined lakeside promenade, past a ‘crazy golf’, brings you to a large commercial lido with, apparently, a Leonardo museum. Alternatively, you can explore Romanesque and later churches, visit the ‘living museum’ that is the Villa Vigoni Mylius, or follow one of the tourist office’s designated visitors’ walks – around the old town, or in the hills above it.
Bellagio – the ‘pearl of the Lake’ – is located on the promontory where the Lake divides into two branches. It may be the most handsome place on the Lake seen from the deck of an approaching ferry boat. Follow a one hour sightseeing itinerary around the town centre or a two hour route around the suburbs. Shop for craft and luxury goods in boutiques in picturesque alleyways; tour the Villa Serbelloni or Villa Melzi gardens, see Romanesque and later churches; visit the charming Museum of Navigational Instruments; enjoy lovely views from the beach or Lido, or combine local food and breathtaking panoramic views at restaurants in the mountains behind town.
Varenna is about fifteen minutes away from Menaggio by direct ferry, or the same from Bellagio. Follow a boarded lakeside promenade to cafes with waterfront terraces, tour the gardens of the Villa Monastero, see the Fiumelatte (the shortest river in Italy) and visit Castle Vezio – with a diversion to a raku pottery – for displays of falconry and possibly the spectacularly beautiful views you will ever see.
The Western branch
Opportunities for sightseeing on the western branch, south of Menaggio are all served by the C10 bus and many have ferry points. They include:
- The delightfully decorated Anglican church just over the road from the ferry point in Cadenabbia
- The white church of S. Martino, perched like an eagle’s nest on the rocky mountainside high above Griante
- Luxurious facilities in the public areas of the five star Grand Hotel Tremezzo
- The Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo – the only Villa at Lake Como with ticketed access to interior and gardens without a guide. Most interesting feature: erotic sculpture of Cupid and Psyche, based on original by Canova
- The spot in Mezzegra, marked by a black cross, where Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petachi, were shot dead by a patriot leader in 1945.
- The pedestrianised lakefront and the Lido at Lenno, which turns into a nightspot after dark
- The stunning Villa Balbianello, built as a place of delights, and featured in more major films (Bond, Star Wars) than most actors
- Ossuccio, with its Moorish tower of the church of S. Maria Maddalena ad Ospedaletto, is also the starting point for a walk past thirteen baroque shrines with wooden sculptures, to the Santuario della Madonna del Soccorso.
- Isola Comacina, the only island in the lake, home of an eccentric restaurant with a visitor list that reads like Who’s Who
- The charming village of Argegno and the dramatic nearby cable car ride, which hauls visitors up 800 metres in four minutes
- The C20 high level panoramic bus journey between Argegno and Como
- Laglio, where George Clooney has a villa.
- The piazza at Cernobbio with cafes , restaurants and an art nouveau ferry terminal
- The Villa D’Este five star hotel and the Villa Erbe conference centre, one of a very few large scale modern buildings around the Lake.
The town of Como is the most urbanised location around the Lake being the heart of the European silk industry. But it has a historic walled old town. Sightseeing opportunities include:
- Historic structures in the old town, including the Duomo (Cathedral), with statues of Pliny the Elder and Younger, the adjoining town hall (Broletto), opera house (Teatro Sociale), Romanesque basilica of San Fidele and Porta Torre gate in the old defensive walls.
- The Finance Police Headquarters, a masterpiece of ‘rationalist’ architecture.
- The Temple of Volta, on the Lakeside, containing documents and instruments left by the great scientist, and early versions of the Voltaic Pile or battery.
- Sant’ Abbondio church, Como’s former cathedral and the gem of its Romanesque period.
- The Funicular Railway that takes passengers up to Brunate for a spectacular, bird’s eye view of the town.
- The Aero Club Como, from where you can take a sea-plane trip above the Lake, landing on the water for a swim if you like.
- The elegant Villa Olmo, used for conventions and visiting art exhibitions
- The Silk Museum, and discount outlets
- Ferry rides along the Lake, including weekly dinner dance
Sightseeing at the northern end of the Lake (Alto Lario)
The western side of the Lake, north of Menaggio, is served by the C10 bus, which also runs round the top end of the Lake, as far as Colico on the east side. Places for sightseeing include:
- The gold room and museum of the resistance in the Palazzo Manzi in Dongo, where Mussolini was captured trying to escape Italy
- Gravedona’s beautiful churches and pedestrianised lakefront
- The large piazza in Colico with pavement cafes and imposing views of ‘pre-Alpine’ mountains
- The remains of a WW2 fortress near Colico
- Bellano, with its popular ‘Orrido’ water feature
- The lovely Abbey at Piona.