Lake Como or Lake Garda? Choosing the Right Italian Lake for You

Are you wondering whether you should visit Lake Como or Lake Garda?

Lake Garda and Lake Como are jewels in Italy’s scenic crown, each offering a seductive blend of natural beauty and cultural richness. It can be tough to choose between these two mesmerizing lakes but this is where I can help you.

I have visited both Lake Garda and Lake Como and can steer you towards which one might be the right choice for you. Read on to find out more about these lakes, how they differ and whether Lake Garda or Lake Como is the right choice for you.

Person sitting on a bench next to the town of bellagio on lake como in italy

Lake Como: The Romantic Retreat

Lake Como has been Italy’s prestige romantic lake since the early days of the Roman Empire.

Surrounded by picturesque villages, lush gardens and majestic mountains, the lake has captivated the hearts of poets and artists – and celebrity or two –  for centuries. The timeless charm of Lake Como is embodied in its elegant villas, charming towns and crystal-clear waters.

Lake Como is all about luxuriant beauty, often with price tags to match. This is not a budget travel destination.

elegant villa by the side of lake como italy

GETTING THERE & GETTING AROUND

Lake Como is located in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, around 50 miles north of Milan. It’s a popular day trip from the Lombardy capital or the Ticino region of Switzerland.

If you are coming from Milan by train, the easiest jumping-off point is Varenna on the lake’s eastern shore. I last visited Lake Como on a day trip from Locarno and took the train to the city of Como on the southern shore.

You can check train times here.

It’s easy to get around Lake Como if you don’t have a car. Boat services criss-cross the lake and some of its towns are served by trains.

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Lake Como is renowned for its lovely lakeside towns, notably Bellagio, Varenna, Tremezzo and Menaggio.

Bellagio is one of the most iconic images associated with Lake Como and is often referred to as the “Pearl of Lake Como.” With its narrow cobblestone streets, charming cafes and artisan shops, it’s a lovely place to while away a leisurely afternoon.

ochre coloured buildings lining a narrow street in bellagio italy
people sitting at outdoor cafe tables outside ochre coloured buildings lining a narrow street in bellagio italy
small piazza with a clock tower in bellagio italy

I visited Belaggio on a boat tour of Lake Como. This quintessential experience gives you a close-up view of the opulent villas that line the lake’s shores, including the famous Villa del Balbianello.

At the southern part of Lake Como are its two cities: Lecco and Como. Como has a charming historic centre opening onto the lake and a magnificent 14th-century Duomo.

grey stone exterior of the duomo in como italy
person walking along a street lined with ochre coloured buildings in como italy

Lake Garda: The Dynamic Playground

If Lake Como exudes an air of timeless romance, Lake Garda is a dynamic playground that caters to a diverse range of interests. Italy’s largest lake combines natural beauty with an abundance of recreational activities.

It’s safe to say that Lake Como is less status-conscious than Lake Como and attracts a wide range of visitors, from sun-seekers to sailors.

GETTING THERE & GETTING AROUND

Lake Garda straddles three regions of Italy: Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino.

There are two train stations at the southern end of Lake Garda, at Desenzano and Peschiera. These are also landings for the lake’s hydrofoils and steamers.

blue and white pleasure boat in harbour

You visit it on a day trip from Milan or Venice. However, the one-way train journey clocks in at least 90 minutes.

A better bet is to visit Lake Garda as a day trip from Verona. It’s a 20-minute train ride from Verona to Desenzano.

It’s easy to get around Lake Garda by car. The two roads hugging its western and eastern shore – Gardesana Orientale and Gardesana Occidentale – make the waterfront your oyster.

However, I found that public transport around Lake Garda is not as extensive as that connecting towns at Lake Como.

WHAT TO SEE & DO

The southern part of Lake Garda is characterized by its Mediterranean climate, creating an ideal environment for olive groves, citrus orchards and vineyards that pepper its shores.

The town of Sirmione, located on a peninsula jutting into the lake, is a highlight and has a medieval castle, Roman ruins and hot springs. The Scaliger Castle, perched at the entrance of Sirmione, provides panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding hills.

I last visited Lake Garda as a day trip from Verona, spending most of my time in Desenzano. This charming lakeside town has a picturesque old port, a castle and Roman ruins.

harbour in lake garda viewed through a giant red love heart
sculpture of a giant lime green rabbit on the waterfront at lake garda

Winds are stronger at the northern part of the lake, creating a Mecca for windsurfers and sailors. Colourful kites and sails dotting the horizon create a vibrant tapestry against the backdrop of the Alpine foothills.

Families and thrill-seekers won’t be short-changed. Gardaland, Italy’s largest amusement park, is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Garda.

For a more tranquil experience, head to Malcesine on the eastern shore. It has a medieval castle, cobbled streets and a cable car that will whisk you to the top of Monte Baldo.

Which is Better: Lake Como or Lake Garda?

While Lake Como and Lake Garda are equal when it comes to natural beauty, they diverge in their character and the experiences they offer.

Lake Como is the epitome of refined elegance, where the pace is unhurried and the ambience is steeped in romance and cultural richness. If you are searching for a serene retreat surrounded by timeless architecture, this could be the Italian lake for you.

However, Lake Como’s high-end vibe often comes with high-end prices.

Lake Garda on the other hand is a more dynamic destination, catering to a wider range of interests. If you crave a more active and varied vacation that combines water sports, amusement parks and historical exploration, this Italian lake might be the perfect fit (I recommend wine tasting near Lake Garda).

The downside of visiting Lake Garda is that you need a car to visit it independently, particularly if you want to take advantage of the less-touristy spots.

Ultimately, whether you visit Lake Como or Lake Garda, it’s a win-win decision.

Finally, if you are thinking about visiting another Italian lake, Check out my comparison of Lake Como and Lake Maggiore