When it comes to choosing a holiday destination in Italy, the country rife in history, tradition and pure beauty certainly makes it hard, especially when you have to choose between places like Lake Como and Lake Garda. Both lake destinations merge looming mountains and piercingly blue lakes with buildings practically painted into the natural canvas. As you can imagine, Lake Como and Lake Garda also offer 360-degree beautiful views at every summit, corner and bedroom window. They are home to dangerously winding roads and steep hiking trails that weave around their most in common and prominent feature: the lake.
Lake Garda is the largest lake in the entire country, while Lake Como is the third largest of its kind. But no matter the size, each lake boasts a plethora of activities that will certainly cater to your bucket list. Unfortunately, because of monetary and time restrictions, you usually have to choose between Lake Como or Lake Garda. It’s not an easy choice when it comes to the elegance and villas of Lake Como and the laid-back natural wonder of Lake Garda. But these factors will help you plan the perfect holiday:
While each place is home to the same main attraction, both destinations have other unique itineraries that you won’t necessarily find elsewhere.
Lake Como is home to various small towns and villages that dot the lake’s shores and cluster below the mountains. Each cluster of buildings offers something for tourists and locals alike, including impressive villas.
Some of the most easily accessed villas are Cernobbio’s Villa d’Este and Tremezo’s Villa Carlotta. The latter was even featured in one of the Star Wars movies, which upholds Lake Como’s status as celebrity magnet and getaway. Who knows, maybe while you’re kayaking or boating along the landscape dotted with elegant villas you will spot George Clooney or Madonna’s famous retreats. Speaking of kayaking, Lake Como is also home to various action sports like kitesurfing, waterskiing, hiking and cycling. Cycling is especially popular here because of well-mapped climbs like the Muro di Sormano that put you under the tough gaze of the Alps. And if you’re keen for a few day trips, Lake Como is in a great location to visit wineries, Milan or to board the Bernina Express train that offers unreal views of the surrounding area, including stops in Switzerland.
Lake Garda is the more rustic and naturally-wild cousin to Lake Como. It’s known for its entertaining amusement parks, Roman history and well-established waterfront that is more welcoming to swimmers than Lake Como. While Lake Como is more spread out across various villages and towns that have their hidden gems, most of Lake Garda’s hustle and bustle comes along the southern shores.
Here you will find Gardaland amusement park, one of the most popular parks in the entire country. Plus, it’s family-friendly with rides for every age! Other similar attractions can be found around the lake too, including Caneva World, Aquatico Cavour, and Parco Naturo Viva, which is a safari park that you can drive through! For history buffs, Sirmione offers castles and Roman ruins to wander through and imagine their roots, while Riva del Garda is home to the castle of Malcesine and medieval influences.
For the Adrenalin junky, you won’t find a shortage of activities within the expanse of Lake Garda’s lapping shores. Lake Garda draws in free climbers, experienced sailors and hardcore triathletes looking to conquer peaks and miles in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Similarly, to Lake Como, Lake Garda also offers epic hiking trails, like Monte Baldo that summits around 2,000 metres.
Choosing between these two destinations is so hard because of the beauty they both exude. Imagine piercing mountains framing every view of the lake with perfectly manicured Italian details to make your picture that more Instagram-worthy. And no matter which you choose, your camera will be full of inspiring views.
As compared to Lake Como, Lake Garda is less refined, but in a mystifying and wild way that makes you feel like automatically relaxed amongst the hues of greens, blues and wooden accents. Even the towns and villages sprinkling the shoreline are far more subtle and more traditionally Italian than Lake Como.
Although the real beauty of Lake Garda is in the unspoiled views of mother nature, including whispers of the Dolomites and snow-peaked mountains. For the most refreshing taste of Lake Garda, head north where you can find peace, quiet and relaxation away from most tourist attractions.
Lake Como’s elegance and luxury is a subtle whisper that does not take away from surrounding natural beauty, but instead adds the necessary details of the masterpiece. When visiting this Italian staple, you will be struck by the flow of colours, and how the villas twinkle in tune with the still water and the rising sun. One of the most beautiful parts of Lake Como is the winding promenades that flow endlessly with the lake and stream of tourists. Here you will find benches and hidden alcoves to steal a moment to yourself to take in your breathtaking surroundings.
No matter what vacation your planning, the cost is an important factor, and unfortunately, there is a bit of a different budget when it comes to comparing Lake Como and Lake Garda.
As a more family-friendly holiday, Lake Garda is far more manageable when it comes to budgeting. This is also a great getaway for backpackers, especially because of all of the free outdoor activities that this destination offers.
When you travel to Lake Como prepare for a life of luxury and the expenses that come with it. In general, the Lombardy region, where Lake Como calls home, is rather expensive as compared to other regions in the country. Although when choosing between Lake Como and Lake Garda, it should be factored that Lake Como is a bit more accessible than its counterpart, and thus actually travelling to this destination may offset the costs of actually staying here.
A trip to Italy is nothing without the food, and Lake Como and Lake Garda both have their delicacies to entice travellers. Although their plates vary with the regions, the stunning views and bucket list dining experiences are very much the same.
Lake Como’s culinary palette is full of recipes like polenta and braised boar. But a must-try is Bitto and Bresaolo, a combination of local cheese and dried beef that is made in ancient caves north of the lake. The best place for this experience is in Chiavenna. Or another hidden gem where you can not only devour Risotto con Filetti di Pesce Persico and taleggio cheese but also watch the mountains fall silent under the moon’s gaze can be found hidden away above Menaggio. La Baita is very much a local haunt hidden away from the well-worn traveller’s trail, and it’s worth the trip!
While Lake Como offers a heavier affair of meats and cheeses, Lake Garda focuses on the simple details that make Italian food so special. Here you will find some of the best olive oil and wines to pair and add to your meals. The one recipe that will send your taste buds into a state of euphoria is the Risotto All’Amarone, a merging of classic risotto, Monte Veronese cheese and the region’s famous Amarone wine.
Depending on your other travel plans and location, one destination may make more sense logistically. Although Lake Como and Lake Garda are only about 2.5 hours away from each other in northern Italy. Also, do you plan to rent a car and take day trips? This will surely factor into which destination you choose. Either way, be prepared for tight turns, winding roads and the quintessential experience of driving in Italy, whether you’re behind the wheel or not.
Lake Garda is situated across the Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino Alto-Adige regions of northern Italy. And it is easily reached by Venice, Verona and Milan. Although Verona is by far the closest city to this staple. You can reach the lake’s edge within 15 minutes by train and 30 minutes by car, depending on what you choose. Although Milan’s airport produces more traffic and frequent flights, it is also over a two-hour trip from the airport to the lake. Plus, there is a higher chance for traffic on the Autostrada A4 if you choose to drive. If you choose to take the train, then make sure you get off at the Peschiera del Garda stop.
You will find Lake Como in northern Italy’s Lombardy region, near Milan. Lake Como is one of the most accessible non-city destinations in all of Italy. By train or car, you can reach your getaway within an hour if you’re travelling from one of Milan’s airports, Milan Linate and Milan Malpensa. Both are international and local hubs for flights too! If travelling by train you will want to stop at Como Lago or Como San Giovanni depending on where you’re staying. Then you can take a public bus, or walk, from there!
If taking on the challenge of driving in this lakeside region, then you will cruise on the Autostrada A9 before you hit the more daunting roads that flow along with Lake Como. Don’t forget to have money for tolls!
Unlike places like Puglia that still remain relatively untouched by tourism, Lake Como and Lake Garda are two of the most popular destinations in this European country not only because of their unrelenting beauty and attractions but also because of films and novels like Call Me By Your Name and villas occupied by celebrities, poets, musicians, etc. They are international icons for travelling.
Because northern parts of Lake Garda are less accessible than their southern counterparts, Lake Garda can feel more touristy than Lake Como. But if you actually make the effort to go beyond hubs like Sirmione, then you will be surprised to find an untouched paradise waiting in the cool of the mountains. Also, like Lake Como, Lake Garda is also a day-trip haven for people trekking from Verona to Venice.
Lake Como is busiest during the summer months, especially in areas like Como, Bellagio and Menaggio. On the weekends, tt also welcomes high amounts of foot traffic from Milan day-trippers throughout the year. Although the draw of Lake Como is not only how accessible it is but also how every town and little village is spread out around the lake. So, it is definitely possible to escape from the hustle and bustle and experience a quieter, more relaxed and authentic Lake Como experience.
The best times to visit are during the shoulder seasons where you can still capture perfect weather but without the crowds. And usually, the boats are still running according to the summer schedule.
There’s no denying how incredible both holidays to Lake Como and Lake Garda would be for any traveller. These lakeside retreats offer all-encompassing views of the mountains, similar refreshing temperatures, authentic Italian experiences and once-in-a-lifetime memories.
But when it comes to romance, luxury, elegance, shopping and spas then you can’t go wrong with Lake Como. This destination gives your senses the five-star treatment in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes.
As compared to Lake Como, Lake Garda is wholesome, simple, wild and adventurous. Come here for history, ancient ruins, extreme water sports and a little bit of everything for you and your little ones.
So, Lake Como or Lake Garda? Either way prepare for a holiday rife with breathtaking views, natural wonders, epic hiking and inspiring Italian culture.
To discover more about Lake Como, Lake Garda and the rest of your Italian holiday, check out Italian Breaks for where to go, where to stay and what to do.