Como has to be without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in Italy. The large tranquil lake is surrounded by the Alps and offers dramatic scenic views from the lake itself and from above. If you happen to be nearby in Milan, doing a day trip out there should be a must-do. If you can, stay at least one night.
There are many train stations in Milan that get you to Lake Como, some have connections and some do not. For the shortest easiest way, you can take the train from Cadorna to Como Nord Lago. You can also take a direct train from Milan Centrale to Como San Giovanni. Lago is a bit closer to the funicular and the Cathedral. San Giovanni is closer to the villas lining the lake.
My recommendation to save you the most time is to get into the Como Lago station, then start moving toward the San Giovanni station and leave from there. The trains run pretty frequently throughout the day, so you don’t have to book in advance. This way, you can take your time and leave when you’re ready. Arriving from one station and leaving from the other saves you the trouble and time of doubling back to catch your train to Milan.
Things to do in Como
Take the funicular to Brunate
One of the most popular things to do in Lake Como is see it from Brunate, which is almost 600 meters higher. The funicular takes you from the lake up to Brunate in about 12 minutes. It’s worth pointing out that the best view of Como itself is from the funicular. When you get off, your view will be obscured by the villas and homes that overlook the lake.
In order to get yourself a decent view, you have to wait to sit the front of the funicular either on the way up or down. They depart every 15 minutes or so. By the afternoon, the lines for the funicular get ridiculously long, making this much more difficult. That’s why the funicular should be the first stop of the day.
Pro tip: If you don’t plan to get out and explore Brunate, you can simply stay on the funicular when it goes up and then move to the front for the ride down.
If you do plan to venture out in Brunate, there’s a small section of souvenir shops and some places to have coffee at the top of the funicular. You’re also just a few steps away from the church of Sant’Andrea. You might choose to do a scenic hike back down to Como instead of taking the funicular back. It would take about 1.5-2 hours to get down passing through the 15th century monastery of Eremo di San Donato.
Hike to the Voltiano lighthouse
Up in Brunate, you can also choose to hike up instead of down. To get a pretty great view of the lake and the surrounding mountains, you can go to the Voltiano lighthouse which is about 35 minutes from the funicular station. It’s a grueling hike, even in cold January. I can’t even imagine how it would be in the summer. Much of it is steep and cobbled so it’s rough on your feet, but you get a nice feeling of accomplishment getting up there and seeing the surrounding mountains. The area around the lighthouse gives you an unobstructed view of the cities nestled down between the mountains on Lake Como.
You can also choose to climb to the top of the lighthouse, but after all that walking… no, thank you.
Visit the Cathedral of Como
The 12th century Cathedral of Como, visible from the lakeside and the funicular, is free to visit and pretty spectacular inside and out. The main dome of the church that peeks out over the buildings that surround it is even better when you’re inside the church and standing under it.
Check the website for opening information, as it’s closed to tourists during religious services. If the tourist entrance is closed for mass, you can easily kill time around the cathedral, which has a ton of nice restaurants with sidewalk seating.
Tour Villa Olmo
One of the most beautiful things do in Como is to walk along the lake toward Villa Olmo. The entire walk is lined by gorgeous Italian villas, complete with neatly trimmed trees and sculptures. The Neoclassical Villa Olmo has a particularly beautiful garden area that sits directly on the lake, where you’ll see tourists posing for selfies and people walking their dogs. The best part about Villa Olmo is that it’s accessible to visitors for free. You can explore the opulent rooms like the Ball Room, the Hall of Mirrors, and the Hall of Bacchus, which was the dining room.
As you can imagine, the painted walls, gilded moldings, and wrought iron balconies of this place make it a perfect place for weddings and other events, so the villa may be closed for visitors at random.
Walk on the lake to the Life Electric sculpture
Sitting in the middle of the lake is a large silver statue that sometimes looks like the Star Trek symbol and other times like a silver vagina. To get to it, you have to access a long pedestrian bridge near the Tempio Voltiano. This takes you out between the docked boats to the sculpture, which also gives you an excellent 360-degree view of the lake all around you. It’s the best way of seeing the view from the center of the lake without having to get on a boat.