Lake Como or Lake Maggiore: Which is the Best Italian Lake for You?

Lake Como or Lake Maggiore? As dilemmas go, it’s not a bad one to face.

Italy’s northern lakes are renowned for their beauty, historic charm and cultural richness. Lake Como and Lake Maggiore are two of the jewels in this scenic crown but choosing between them can be a challenge.

As I have visited both Lake Maggiore and Lake Como, this is where I can help you. Read on to find out more about these lakes, how they differ and whether Lake Maggiore or Lake Como is the right choice for you.

elegant villa by the side of lake como italy

Lake Como: The Epitome of Elegance

Lake Como has been celebrated as a symbol of refined elegance and timeless beauty since the early days of the Roman Empire. Surrounded by the majestic Alps, the lake’s crystal-clear waters reflect a landscape peppered with historic villas, charming villages and lush gardens.

Lake Como is the epitome of sophistication, luxury and romance, with price tags to match. It is not a budget travel destination.

GETTING THERE

Lake Como is located in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. It’s a popular day trip from Milan, located around 50 miles to the south.

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

grey stone exterior of the duomo in como italy
Duomo, Como

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Lake Como is famous for its charming lakeside towns, notably Bellagio, Varenna, Tremezzo and Menaggio.

Often referred to as the “Pearl of Lake Como,” Bellagio is one of the enduring images of Lake Como. Featuring narrow cobblestone streets, charming cafes and artisan shops, it’s a lovely place to spend a relaxed afternoon.

people sitting at outdoor cafe tables outside ochre coloured buildings lining a narrow street in bellagio italy
ochre coloured buildings lining a narrow street in bellagio italy

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

Lake Como’s two cities are located at its southern end: Lecco and Como. Como has a charming historic centre, opening onto the lake and a magnificent 14th-century Duomo.

Lake Maggiore: A Tapestry of Nature and Culture

While Lake Como embodies elegance, Lake Maggiore weaves a tapestry of nature and culture. It is the second-largest lake in Italy (Lake Garda is the biggest) and extends into Switzerland. This lends an international flair to its charm.

If you seek a diverse experience that combines cultural exploration with natural beauty, Lake Maggiore could be the perfect fit.

the red roofs of the town on stresa by lake maggiore with mountains in distance
Stresa on Lake Maggiore

GETTING THERE

Lake Maggiore is located in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions of Italy.

Direct trains from Milan take around an hour to reach Arona, Stresa and Verbania-Pallanza, all on the lake’s western shore. You can check train times here.

WHAT TO SEE & DO

The Borromean Islands are a highlight of Lake Maggiore.

Isola Bella, with its opulent Borromeo Palace and terraced gardens, and Isola Madre, known for its botanical park and historic buildings, are must-visit attractions. With its charming fishing village, the third island, Isola dei Pescatori, offers a glimpse into traditional lakeside life.

Stresa, located on Lake Maggiore’s western shores, serves as a gateway to the Borromean Islands and is a destination in its own right. The town exudes Belle Époque charm, with grand hotels, lakeside promenades and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

vibrant yellow flowrs
small blue wooden rowing boat by the edge of lake maggiore

Nature enthusiasts won’t feel short-changed.

Botanical gardens on the islands, as well as the Villa Taranto Botanical Gardens on the lake’s western shore, showcase an array of plant species. The lake’s proximity to the Swiss Alps adds to its scenic splendour, making it an ideal destination for hiking and exploration.

Which is Better: Lake Como or Lake Maggiore?

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

Lake Como immerses you in timeless elegance, evoking the era of the Grand Tour. A week spent ferry-hopping between the towns and cities on its shores is hard to beat.

However, it’s a popular Italian destination and with this popularity come the peak-season crowds. One of my abiding memories from my last visit was an epic queue to board a boat in Como.

None of the Italian lakes are budget destinations, but Lake Como is particularly expensive. You’ll need deep pockets to stay in the area that George Clooney calls home.

Lake Maggiore, on the other hand, is a blend of natural beauty and cultural richness. The Borromean Islands add a touch of opulence, while the proximity to the Swiss Alps provides opportunities for outdoor adventures.

As it is not as well-known as Lake Como, crowds are fewer and it is not as touristy. Whilst this is a good thing, you may want to dust off your Italian (or have Google Translate fired up). Lake Maggiore is also cheaper than Lake Como.

I loved both Italian lakes and would be hard-pressed to pick a favourite. That said, Lake Maggiore felt more relaxed and a wee bit more authentic.

Ultimately, whether you visit Lake Como or Lake Maggiore, 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 Garda.