From the lake to the villas in nearby villages: don’t miss Italo’s guide to Como, one of the most picturesque destinations throughout northern Italy.
Plan your trip to the delightful town of Como with its picturesque lake. Less than an hour’s train ride from Milan, it’s an ideal destination for an out-of-town trip. You can easily get around Como on foot, and it offers several cultural attractions in addition to the lakeside charm with its fairy-tale landscapes and luxurious historic villas.
Set out to discover real treasures of art, history, culture and nature that the city on the lake offers and enjoy a truly unique experience.
What to see and what to do in Como
- Duomo di Como
- The Volta Temple
- Church of Saint Abbondio
- Lake Como
- The historic villas:
Start your Como city tour from the Duomo, a 75-meter building begun in 1396 and finished in 1740. Admire the dome designed by Filippo Juvara, the facade with spires and pinnacles, its diverse Gothic and Renaissance styles, and the sculptural decorations dedicated to the Latin writers Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger by the school of Rodari. Inside the cathedral, you can see 16th- and 17th-century tapestries and 16th-century paintings by Bernardino Luini and Gaudenzio Ferrari.
Once you have finished your visit to the cathedral, you can stroll around Como and admire the streets, alleys, and the square dedicated to Alessandro Volta, built in 1838 by Pompeo Marchesi. You can also attend various cultural events, such as craft and food markets in Piazza Cavour and, to retrace some of the past, a visit to the Archaeological and Historical Museums.
A significant landmark to see in Como is the Tempio Voltiano, a 1927 neoclassical building by architect Federico Frigerio to celebrate the inventor of the battery, Alessandro Volta, on the centenary of his death. In this museum on the shore of Lake Como, you can admire the two statues, that of Faith and that of Science, and the apparatus, instruments and devices used by the celebrated scientist. Also worth seeing are Volta’s portraits, awards and publications. You should know that the Volta Temple is the only mausoleum in the world erected in memory of a scientist.
Another monument and place of cultural interest to visit in Como is the Church of Sant’Abbondio, one of the most important examples of the 11th-century Romanesque style. It was built on the site of a pre-existing early Christian basilica dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and named after the fourth bishop of Como, namely St. Abbondio. Admire the Romanesque-style remodeling undertaken by Benedictine Monks in the middle of 11th century, the height of the five naves, the double bell tower, the large columns, and the 14th-century fresco cycle that depicts the life of Christ.
After this intensive sightseeing, Lake Como is the ideal place for some peace and relaxation! You can get around the lake using the scheduled ferries or by one of the many cab boat services available in all the lakeside villages. The public ferry service is very convenient and enables you to move quickly between opposite shores of the lake. You can buy tickets for single routes or daily tickets at a price of €15 per person.
Lake Como is also the place to be if you love water sports or hiking because of the many scenic trails through the mountains. You can spend a whole day on a boat seeing the villages from the lake and the most picturesque views to take photos and take a dip in the lake’s clear waters.
You can step back in time by visiting the distinguished historic mansions and savor the splendor of yesteryear among the 19th-century drawing rooms and stately gardens, or stroll along the lakefront to admire breathtaking scenery and views. In short, Lake Como is strategically positioned where visitors can enjoy unique natural landscapes and experience timeless places with an ancient charm.
So don’t miss the tour among the luxurious villas on Lake Como built between the 17th and 18th centuries during the Habsburg domination. They are real residential mansions in which illustrious people actually lived. From the most famous Villa Olmo of the Marquis Innocenzo Odescalchi to the pearl of Lake, Villa Balbaniello, Villa Carlotta and its beautiful gardens and many others – they offer a sungular memorable experience. Here are the six villas that I strongly recommend for a visit.
Start your villa visiting walk from the most famous one, Villa Olmo, which is one of Como’s major landmarks. Built in the neoclassical style between 1782 and 1787 by Ticino architect Simone Cantoni, the villa is one of Como’s most sumptuous mansions. Visit its large Italianate garden overlooking the beautiful lake and relive what has been a popular destination for European nobility and personalities such as Giuseppe Garibaldi and Ferdinand I of Austria.
Villa Olmo is named after a magnificent 100-year-old elm tree that stood in its garden and which, unfortunately, no longer exists today. Admire the beautiful and evocative view of Lake Como, the setting also chosen for the filming of Adriano Celentano’s movie Madly in Love. Since 1925, Villa Olmo has been owned by the Municipality of Como, which has made it a prestigious venue for exhibitions, events, and conferences.
Villa Olmo and its park can be visited for free from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm.
The second villa I highly recommend you visit is located in Tremezzina, on a wooded promontory overlooking the lake. It was built in the late 18th century on the remains of a convent, and in the 1970s, it was purchased by Count Guido
Monzino who furnished it with oriental and western styles. You can admire its lush garden for a setting where nature and history blend to perfection, and if you climb to the top, the view from the famous balcony will leave you speechless.
You should know that this villa has been a gathering place for men of culture, artists, and academics over the centuries. If you are a movie lover, you cannot help but remember the scenes filmed among its rooms and beautiful garden for the movies Star Wars, Casino Royale, and 007. In short, one of the most fascinating and characteristic places that you absolutely must not miss!
Villa Balbaniello is open all day for visits from 10 am to 6 pm and closing days are Mondays and Wednesdays. The cost of the full ticket is €11, reduced admission for eligible categories is €6.
The third mansion you absolutely must visit is the late 17th-century Villa Carlotta. Its seventy thousand square meters of botanical gardens have a splendid spring bloom of rhododendrons and azaleas in over 150 varieties. At the entrance, in addition to the beautiful Italian garden, admire the imposing stone balustrade decorated with allegorical figures, the fountain with the statue of Arion of Methymna, and in the interior, the splendid priceless works of art.
Villa Carlotta is open to visitors every day from 10 am to 7 pm. The cost of the full ticket is €12, reduced admission for eligible categories is €10.
Another unmissable site to visit is the famous Villa Melzi in Bellagio. The house is a private property, and only its beautiful gardens are open for visiting. Admire it in all its splendor – the greenery of its surroundings and the blue of the lake that frames it. The famous French writer Stendhal also mentioned this villa when he was in Rome, Naples, and Florence. It is also one of the favorite places of actor Robert De Niro, who discovered it while filming Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.
The Villa Melzi Gardens are open every day from 10 am to 7 pm. The cost of the full ticket is €8.
Last but one, the villa I recommend you visit is located in Varenna, also on Lake Como: Villa Cipressi, a magnificent complex built between 1400 and 1800. This residence has belonged to several celebrities and has been designated for public use since 1980; today it is a luxury hotel with a restaurant and convention center. In the villa, you can admire the monumental staircase, frescoed rooms, and gardens, a true masterpiece of architecture with stairways and terraces overlooking the lake. Don’t miss the exotic plant species such as American agave, myrtle, tamarisk, cypress, diospyros, and various seasonal plants.
Villa Cipressi is open every day from 10 am to 8 pm. The cost of the full ticket to visit to the gardens is €8.
The last villa to visit is Villa Monastero, also in Varenna. It originated from the transformation of an ancient Cistercian convent dedicated to the Virgin Mary and founded in the late 12th century. As with the other villas, also this one has had several owners. It has been a House Museum since 2003. Inside, you can admire decorations and original furniture from the previous owners, the Black Room, in neo-Renaissance style, the Music Room, the Mornico Drawing Room, the Red Room, with Neo-Rococo tapestries and furnishings, and the Fermi Room, in which physicist Enrico Fermi gave his last lectures in 1954. Do not miss the wonderful botanical garden, rich in rare and exotic botanical species.
Villa Monastero is open every day from 9.30 am to 8 pm. The cost of the full ticket is €17, reduced admission for eligible categories is €11.