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Lake Como or Lake Maggiore: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Between Italy’s Most Beautiful Lakes (2023)

Lake Como, Italy

by Coco Tran On October 23, 2023

As you plan your dream vacation to Italy, you may be debating between visiting two of the country’s most famous lakes – Lake Como or Lake Maggiore. Both offer stunning Alpine scenery, charming villages, luxurious villas, and plenty of activities for travelers. But which one is better for your Italian lakeside getaway?

I recently traveled through Northern Italy and extensively researched both destinations. In this complete guide, I’ll compare everything you need to know about Lake Como vs Lake Maggiore to help you decide which lake fits your travel style and preferences.

lake como vs lake garda

A Quick Overview of Lake Como and Lake Maggiore

Before we dive into the details, here’s a quick snapshot of how these two Italian lakes compare:

Lake Como is Italy’s third largest lake located in the Lombardy region, close to the Swiss border. It’s best known for:

  • Historic towns like Bellagio, Varenna, and Como town
  • Luxury villas and high-end resorts
  • Glamorous reputation attracting VIPs
  • Stunning mountain scenery
  • Water sports like sailing and waterskiing

Lake Maggiore straddles the borders of Italy’s Piedmont and Lombardy regions and Switzerland. It’s highlights include:

  • Beautiful resort towns like Stresa and Verbania
  • More budget-friendly than Lake Como
  • Borromean Islands – Isola Bella, Isola Madre, Isola dei Pescatori
  • Mild climate and botanical gardens
  • Relaxed, peaceful atmosphere
Boats on the Lake Near Mountains lake maggiore or lake como
lake maggiore, Italy

Now let’s explore these magnificent lakes in more detail to help you decide which one to visit!

Lake Como or Lake Maggiore: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Between Italy’s Most Beautiful Lakes

Lake Magiorre and Lake Como Accessibility and Getting There

The ease of getting to each lake may factor into your decision, so here’s an overview of how to reach Lake Como and Lake Maggiore:

Getting to Lake Como

  • Closest airport: Milan Malpensa – 1 hour drive
  • lake como by Train: Direct trains available from Milan/Malpensa airport and Switzerland
  • Car: Easily accessed by car from Milan or Switzerland via scenic mountain roads
  • Boat: Ferries connect towns along Lake Como

Gettig to Lake Maggiore

  • Closest airport: Milan Malpensa – 1 hour drive
  • Train: Direct trains from Milan/Malpensa and Switzerland
  • Car: Easily reached by car from Milan or Switzerland
  • Boat: Regular ferries connect lake towns and islands

As you can see, both lakes enjoy convenient proximity to Milan and Switzerland making them easily accessible. Whether you arrive by plane, train or car, expect beautiful Alpine scenery along the journey.

TIP: I’d recommend renting a car if you want maximum flexibility exploring the small towns and villages around the lakes. But trains and boats are reliable public transportation options too.

Or better yet, visit both!

Lake Como to Lake Maggiore and Lake maggiore to Lake Como

getting from Lake Maggiore to Lake Como in Italy:

  • The most direct option is to drive between the two lakes. It takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes to drive the 70km distance. simply take route SS33 from the Lake Maggiore area to Lake Como. This allows you to stop along the way as desired.
  • You can also take the train between Maggiore and Como. There are no direct trains, so you need to change trains in Milan. The journey takes around 2-3 hours with the train change. Some useful train connections include:
    • Arona to Como – change trains at Milano Porta Garibaldi
    • Stresa to Como – change trains at Milano Centrale or Milano Porta Garibaldi
    • Verbania to Como – change trains in Milano Centrale

lake como to lake maggiore by train

  • There are no direct train connections between the two lakes. You will need to change trains in Milan.
  • Useful train stations to start from on Lake Como include:
    • Como S.Giovanni train station
    • Varenna-Esino train station
    • Bellano train station
  • Useful train stations on Lake Maggiore include:
  • Popular routes include:
    • Como to Stresa: Take a train to Milano Centrale, then connect to Stresa. Total time around 2.5-3 hours.
    • Varenna to Verbania: Train to Milano Centrale, connect to Verbania. Total time around 2.5 hours.
    • Bellano to Arona: Train to Milano Porta Garibaldi, connect to Arona train. Takes around 3 hours.
  • Make sure to give yourself sufficient time for the transfer in Milan, at least 30-60 minutes between trains.
  • Purchase tickets in advance when possible, especially during peak summer months.
  • Validate your ticket before boarding trains in Italy to avoid fines.
  • First class tickets provide more comfortable seats but are not essential for the journey.
  • Dining cars are available on the longer Milan to Lake Maggiore route for meals and snacks.
  • Check train schedules in advance as frequency varies by season and day of the week.

For a more scenic journey, consider taking the bus between the lakes. There are daily bus connections that take around 2 hours. Useful routes include:

  • Stresa to Como
  • Verbania to Como
  • Arona to Como
lake como gardens
Villa Del Balvianello

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Lake Como and Maggiore Comparing Highlights and Attractions

Let’s explore the top sights and activities you can enjoy at Lake Como vs Lake Maggiore:

Lake Como Highlights: Things to do at Lake Como

  • Cruise historic Lake Como towns like Bellagio, Varenna, and Como town
  • Marvel at sprawling villas like Villa del Balbianello, Villa Carlotta and Villa Melzi D’Eril
  • Hike stunning trails including the Greenway del Lago and Path of the Witches
  • Visit the lakeside village of Nesso and its dramatic waterfalls
  • See world-class gardens like Villa Melzi
  • Tour silk factories and buy silk products
  • Enjoy watersports like windsurfing, kite surfing, and boating
  • Play golf – Lake Como has over 10 golf courses
  • Visit Menaggio, Lenno, and Tremezzo

Lake Maggiore Highlights: Things to do at lake Maggiore

  • Explore the beautiful Borromean Islands – Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori
  • Wander car-free Isola Bella and its lavish Borromeo Palace with stunning gardens
  • Hike mountains like Mottarone for breathtaking lake views
  • Visit lakeside towns like StresaVerbaniaPallanza, and Baveno
  • See elaborate villas including Villa TarantoVilla Pallavicino, and Villa San Remigio
  • Tour elaborate gardens like the Alpinia Botanical Gardens on Isola Madre
  • Ride the scenic Lago Maggiore Express train
  • Bask on pretty beaches and lakeshores
  • Enjoy water sports like sailing, boating, and kayaking

As you can see, Lake Como leans more heavily toward historic villas and cozy villages, while Lake Maggiore boasts elaborate gardens and unique islands. Both offer stunning Alpine scenery and outdoor activities on their beautiful waters.

Lake Maggiore or Como Comparing History and Culture

If you’re interested in history and culture, Lake Como has a slight edge with more historic villas and archaeological sites. Some cultural highlights include:

  • Ancient ruins in Como town like the city walls, towers, and a Roman theater
  • The Museo Archeologico Paolo Giovio in Como with Roman and Etruscan exhibits
  • Beautiful Renaissance churches and architecture
  • The Museo della Seta (Silk Museum) in Como highlighting the region’s silk heritage
  • Ancient paths like the Via Regina hiking trail

Lake Maggiore also offers cultural attractions but focuses more on aristocratic life in the Renaissance era:

  • Lavish former residences like Palazzo Borromeo on Isola Bella
  • The Santa Caterina del Sasso monastery perched dramatically on a cliff
  • Rocca Borromeo di Angera, a 13th century fortress
  • Traditional markets and festivals showcasing local crafts and produce

Lake Maggiore or lake como Comparing Shopping, Dining and Nightlife

In terms of cuisine, shopping and nightlife, Lake Como definitely has an upscale edge with glamorous destinations catering to the jetset crowd:

  • High-end shopping in Como town with designer brands
  • Excellent dining including Michelin-starred restaurants
  • Trendy cocktail lounges and lively nightspots
  • Historic Cafes and pastry shops like Caffe Plini
  • Boutique shops and artisan products

Lake Maggiore has more budget-friendly offerings focused on laidback holidays:

  • Local markets, bakeries, wine shops and cafes
  • Traditional trattorias, pizzerias and family-run eateries
  • Fewer designer shops and more artisanal goods
  • Local festivals, live music and low-key bars
  • Relaxed nights on the lakeshore promenades

So if you’re seeking glitz and glamour, head to Lake Como. But Lake Maggiore is better for unwinding at slower pace.

Lake como or lake maggiore Comparing Outdoor Activities

Both lakes promise gorgeous Alpine scenery perfect for getting active in nature. Here’s an overview:

Lake Como Outdoor Activities:

  • Hiking – routes like the Greenway, Wayfarers Path and San Martino Trek
  • Watersports – sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing
  • Cycling and mountain biking
  • Golf – over 10 golf courses in the Lake Como region
  • Parasailing and zip lining for aerial lake views
  • Boat cruises and boat rentals on the lake

Lake Maggiore Outdoor Offerings:

  • Hiking – trails on mountains like Mottarone and grid of trails along the lake
  • Sailing, boating, kayaking and paddle boarding
  • Swimming and sunbathing on lakeshore beaches
  • Scenic cable cars like the Laveno Funivia
  • Boat trips out to the islands and lakeside villages
  • More budget-friendly watersports rentals

Lake Como definitely has an advantage for high-thrill adventures like parasailing, but you can enjoy gorgeous scenery through hiking, boating and swimming on either lake.

Comparing Surrounding Towns and Villages

The charming towns and villages surrounding Lake Como and Lake Maggiore are part of their appeal. Here are some of the most popular ones on each lake:

Top Towns on Lake Como

  • Bellagio – “The Pearl of the Lake” with cobblestone lanes and lake views
  • Varenna – Quaint village on the eastern shore
  • Como – Historic city with an elegant lakeside promenade
  • Menaggio – Lovely village with a lively square
  • Tremezzo – Elegant town home to lavish villas
  • Lenno – Charming village with ancient churches and a lakeside boardwalk

Top Towns on Lake Maggiore

  • Stresa – Sophisticated resort town with cafes and boutiques
  • Verbania – Lively lake town with markets and restaurants
  • Arona – Ancient port town with cobbled streets and cafes
  • Cannero Riviera – Picturesque fishing village on the western shore
  • Baveno – Charming town near the Borromean Islands
  • Pallanza – Elegant resort town with lakefront promenades

Lake Como’s villages have a more rustic, quintessentially Italian charm. But Lake Maggiore’s towns also offer relaxed, lakeside living at a slower pace.

When to Visit Lake Como vs Lake Maggiore

The best time to visit these Italian lakes depends on your travel priorities:

Spring (March – May):

  • Mild weather in the 60s-70s°F/15-25°C
  • Flowers blooming – especially azaleas and rhododendrons
  • Fewer crowds than summer
  • May and October good for watersports

Summer (June – August):

  • Warmest weather with highs in the 70s-80s°F/20-30°C
  • Peak crowds at Lake Como from June to August
  • Best swimming weather, lots of sunshine
  • Most activities, attractions, boats, and tours operating

Fall (September – November):

  • Cooler weather in the 50s-60s°F/10-20°C
  • Fall foliage colors in October
  • Food and wine festivals at harvest time
  • Fewer crowds than summer

Winter lake como (December – February):

  • Highs in the 30s-40s°F/0-10°C, some snow likely
  • Many hotels and restaurants closed
  • Limited boat transportation
  • Quietest time to visit – good for local immersion

Spring and fall offer the best combination of pleasant weather, stunning scenery, and fewer crowds. But summer is ideal for swimming and watersports.

Lake Maggiore tends to be less crowded than Lake Como in peak summer. And Lake Maggiore enjoys milder winters if visiting in the off-season.

Lago di maggiore vs lago di como Accommodation Options and Costs

From luxurious villas to budget hotels, here’s an overview of accommodation options and relative prices at each lake:

Lake Como Accommodation:

  • High-end resorts like Villa d’Este – $$$$
  • Luxury villas rented by the week – $$$$
  • Mid-range boutique hotels – $$
  • Historic grand hotels – $$$
  • Charming B&Bs and apartments – $$
  • Campgrounds and hostels – $

Lake Maggiore Lodging:

  • Upscale resorts and spas – $$$
  • Charming family-run hotels – $$
  • Local B&Bs and holiday rentals – $$
  • Agriturismos – farmstay B&Bs – $$
  • Youth hostels and campsites – $
  • Guesthouses – $$

Lake Como offers more ultra-luxury options if your budget allows, while Lake Maggiore focuses more on cozy mid-range stays. But both have accommodation across the spectrum from budget to high-end.

TIP: Book early for the best rates, especially for summer stays at Lake Como which fills up quickly. And consider staying just a town or two away from the most popular spots to save money.

Lake garda or lake como which is better : Comparing Travel Costs

To help you budget, here’s an overview of average travel costs at each lake:

Lake Como:

  • Hotel: $100-500+ per night Genuis Hotel Discount Booking
  • Apartment Rental: $100-300 per night
  • Meals: $15-40 at local restaurants, $40-100+ for Michelin-starred restaurants
  • Gelato: $3-5 per cone
  • Coffee/cappuccino: $3-5
  • Beer: $5-15
  • Wine: $5-15 per glass, $15-50+ per bottle
  • Boat Tour: $20-100
  • Train Ticket (Como to Varenna): $5
  • Taxi: $75+ from airport, $25 between towns

Lake Maggiore:

  • Hotel: $80-250 per night
  • Apartment: $60-150 per night
  • Meals: $10-25 at local eateries, $30-60 for finer dining
  • Gelato: $2-3 per cone
  • Coffee/cappuccino: $2-3
  • Beer: $3-6
  • Wine: $3-6 per glass, $10-30 per bottle
  • Boat Tour: $10-40
  • Train Ticket (Stresa to Arona): $3
  • Taxi: $75+ from airport, $15-30 between towns

As you can see, Lake Como’s prices are around 25-50% higher than Lake Maggiore’s typical costs. But both offer options at every budget level.

Lake Como or Lake Maggiore: Which is Better For You?

Hopefully, this detailed comparison has helped you decide whether Lake Como or Lake Maggiore is a better fit for your Italian lakeside vacation!

Here are some quick tips on choosing between them:

Pick Lake Como for:

  • Fairytale towns like Bellagio and Varenna
  • Luxury villas and 5-star resorts
  • Glamour, nightlife and sightseeing
  • More cultural attractions and history
  • Parasailing and watersports
  • Hiking and outdoor activities

Choose Lake Maggiore for:

  • Seeing the beautiful Borromean Islands
  • Budget-friendly prices and activities
  • Laidback vibe and relaxation
  • Majestic gardens and grand residences
  • Less crowded summer getaway
  • Mild winters if visiting off-season

Whichever lake you pick, you’ll be surrounded by stunning Alpine scenery, crystalline waters, and charming villages. Have an incredible trip filled with bellissima experiences!

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