Lenno, Lake Como © Daniel Peckman/Flickr Lenno, Lake Como © Daniel Peckman/Flickr

Top 10 things to do in Lake Como

From quintessential tourist sights to lesser known locations, here’s our list of 10 things that simply can’t be missed on Italy's most luxurious lake

The jewel in northern Italy's crown, Lake Como is an idyllic retreat one hour north of Milan. In the foothills of the Alps, the lake and it's numerous towns are rightly famous as havens of luxurious tranquility, with Michelin starred restaurants, boutiques and water-sport and boat trips galore. The wishbone shaped lake is best experienced from early spring until late autumn, when the glaring sun warms the waters and flower gardens are in full-bloom. A host of tourist friendly activities are now available for those who have tired of lapping up the luxury. 

1. Peruse the markets

If your idea of heaven is strolling around stalls, you won’t be disappointed. Food markets include the Sapori di Terra-Sapori di Lago (Tastes of the Earth-Tastes of the Lake) which sells traditional foods and crafts of the region, perfect for picking up presents for family and friends back home. Antiques lovers can choose from La Curtesela, which sells antiques and furniture, and Mercatino di Antiquariato, and for crafty types there is Chi Cerca Trova, which specialises in hobby items and Mercato dell' Artigianato, a handicrafts market.

2. Visit Como Cathedral

Como-CathedralThe cupola of Como Cathedral 

The last of the Gothic cathedrals built in Lombardy, Il Duomo di Como took three and half centuries to finish, meaning that it is a unique mix of different architectural styles, with contributions from a number of architects and artists. The inside is filled with art, including 16th century tapestries, paintings, frescoes and sculptures. www.cattedraledicomo.it

3. Top up on olive oil

Generic-oil-1Olive Oil Tasting

Sample shots of world famous olive oil before you buy at the Vanini Osvaldo oil press in Lenno. You will also find other products made from the oil, including soaps, shampoos and creams for sale in this small family-run factory that was established in 1850. www.oliovanini.it

4. Take the funicular

Como-FunicularComo Funicular 

The Como to Brunate funicular, inaugurated in 1894, is still the fastest way to travel between the two towns, but with the breath-taking views across the Lake, you’ll probably wish the journey would never end. www.funicolarecomo.it

5. Explore Varenna

Varenna-Lisa-MathiasenVarenna Lisa Mathiasen

A treasure trove of things to see and do; from Castello di Vezio, a medieval castle surrounded by an olive grove, to the tiered terraces and gardens at Villa Cipressi and the start of the shortest river in Italy, the Fiumelatte (Milk River). A trip to Varenna is a must. www.varennaitaly.com

6. Visit Piona Abbey

Abbazia-di-Piona2Abbazia di Piona

Abbazia di Piona, built in the Lombard Gothic style with French influences, was reconstructed in the 12th century and the bell tower dates from the 17th century. A number of incredible frescoes were uncovered in 1906. The monks of Piona produce a number of products that are offered for sale in the onsite visitor shop, including Gocce Imperiali, a potent liquor made from an ancient recipe, which can be added to water, milk, coffee or tea and is believed to have health-giving properties. www.abbaziadipiona.it

7. Stop by San Fedele Church

San-Fedele-ChurchSan Fedele Church

This Romanesque church dating from 1120 is filled with detailed frescoes and jewel-like stained glass windows. The cafes opposite are perfect for admiring the exterior and a spot of people-watching. www.parrocchiasanfedelecomo.it

8. Step back in time for a Medieval re-enactment

galler testataPalio del Baradello

In the last week of August the streets of Como are transformed into a battleground for the Palio del Baradello, a re-enactment of the combat between the ancient people of Como and the Medieval emperor Federico di Svevia il Barbarossa. The city holds a vibrant street party with banquets, fireworks, parades and boat races, with participants in medieval costume. www.paliodelbaradello.it

9. Take the boat to Bellagio

Bellagios-centre-Salita-Serbelloni-at-the-sunsetBellagio's centre Salita Serbelloni at sunset

Bellagio is by far the most loved of Como's lake towns, frequented by numerous tourists year-round. Amble the cobblestone streets, gets lost down alleyways and browse the many high-end boutiques that are scattered among traditional restaurants. www.bellagiolakecomo.com

10. Go to the lido at Menaggio

Mennagio-LidoMennagio Lido

Just over the water from Bellagio, Mennagio is an opulent little town full of little restaurants. It's best kept secret though is the existence of the lido, a 15 minute walk from the harbour. Complete with swimming pool, beach and deck that runs out onto the lake water, this is the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon in the sun. www.lakecomo.it/lidomenaggio

1 Como Cathedral
2 San Fedele
3 Oleificio Vanini Osvaldo
4 Como–Brunate funicular
5 Varenna
6 Abbazia di Piona
7 Bellagio
8 Mennagio Lido