Lake Como Versus Lake Garda: Which One Should You Visit?
by Coco Tran On September 8, 2023
Lake Como Versus Lake Garda: Which One Should You Visit?
Hey there! Planning a trip to the Italian Lakes and trying to decide between Lake Como and Lake Garda? Lake Como versus Lake Garda, Both are incredibly beautiful lakes with stunning scenery, charming towns, and plenty to see and do.
Choosing between these stunning destinations can be difficult. They both offer breathtaking Alpine scenery, charming villages, luxurious villas, and fabulous food.
But they also have distinct personalities. Lake Garda tends to be more budget-friendly and family-oriented. Lake Como leans sophisticated and romantic.
This in-depth guide will compare everything from activities and nightlife to getting around, so you can decide whether Lake Garda or Lake Como is better for the Italian lake vacation of your dreams.
I recently spent 3 amazing days at Lake Como, so I’m going to share my experience and impressions to help you choose which lake is right for you!
Short on time? Here’s a quick summary of the two. Scroll down for a detailed breakdown between Lake Garda or Lake Como
Lake Como is best for:
Lake Garda is best for:
In This Article: Table of Contents
Overview of Lake Como Versus Lake Garda
Lake Garda vs Lake Como: Which One to Visit?
how to decide which Italian Lake to visit?
The easiest choice is simply to visit both! With their proximity and excellent transportation links, you could spend several days at each lake. Get your fill of culture and nightlife at Lake Garda first, then unwind at peaceful Lake Como.
If you only have time for one lake; Lake Garda and Lake Como each have their own flavor. Garda provides something for everyone at an affordable price. Lake Como feels more exclusive
Lake Garda is best for:
- Families and travelers with children
- Visitors on a tight budget
- Those who dislike driving on narrow roads
- More beautiful beaches
- Anyone craving diverse towns, cuisines, and activities
- Lively nightlife seekers and water sport enthusiasts
Lake Como is best for:
- Couples looking for a Romantic, exclusive, luxurious holiday
- Peaceful Luxury Lakeside Views and Eateries
- Scenery admirers prefer charm over buzz
- Great transportation links
- Quintessential Lake Como Gardens and Villas to visit
- Hikers seeking challenging mountain trails
- Charming Architecture and quaint villas
- Retirees and solo travelers seeking tranquility
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Let’s start with the basics of Lake Garda vs Lake Como
Where is Lake Como located?
Lake Como sits entirely in Lombardy, around 60 miles north of Milan. Often described as an inverted Y shape, it covers 56 square miles but still has an extensive 99-mile shoreline. Steep mountains and cliffs surround much of the lake.
Where is Lake Garda Located?
Lake Garda straddles three regions in Northern Italy – Lombardy, Veneto, and Trentino. At 143 square miles, it’s the largest lake in the country. Its fjord-like shape creates nearly 100 miles of shoreline. The southern shores are flatter and more developed. The northern shores are mountainous.
Both lakes have been popular retreats for millennia, from Roman times through the Renaissance to today. Their stunning natural beauty and Mediterranean climates continue to enchant visitors. Now let’s look at the factors that distinguish these two quintessentially Italian lakes.
What’s The Difference between Lake Como vs Lake Garda location?
Lake Garda straddles Lombardy, Veneto, and Trentino. Lake Como is smaller and more enclosed by mountains. Garda is larger with a more open feel.
How Far is Lake Como from Lake Garda?
Lake Garda is on the West of Lake Como. Lake Como is about 2 hr 42 min (209.8 km) via A4 road.
Is there a train from Lake Como to Lake Garda?
How long is the train from Lake Garda to Lake Como?
The train ride between Peschiera del Garda and Como takes roughly two and a half hours on average.
Lake Garda to Lake Como by train
The exact travel time varies depending on the specific train you take, but you can expect a journey of one and a half to two and a half hours.
With frequent service daily, the train is a convenient option for traveling between Peschiera del Garda and Como. The scenic views make the two hour trip fly by!
How To Get To Lake Como vs Lake Garda
Is it easier to get to Lake Como or Lake Garda?
Getting there is pretty easy for both. But overall, Lake Como is better connected with transportation such as trains and roads and therefore easy lake to get to.
Lake Como, you have more options and more frequent trains. It’s also a straight shot from Milan to Lake Como with no train changes and it’s a quick 45 minutes from Milan.
When I visited Lake Como, I rented a car in Milan and drove to Lake Como. The reason is that I needed the rental car to travel to the Italian Dolomites after Lake Como.
You can easily take the train from Milan to Lake Como in just over an hour.
Lake Garda, on the other hand, is a bit more remote. It is located about halfway between Milan and Venice, around 2 hours from each city by car or train.
The closest major Italy airport is Verona, about an hour’s drive away. While still accessible, Lake Garda takes more effort to reach than Lake Como if you’re coming from Milan. From Venice, the journey is comparable.
If you’re renting a car, Lake Garda provides more flexibility to explore its large area at your own pace. But if you’re relying on trains, Lake Como is much easier to navigate. The train stations along Lake Como are centrally located in each town, while in Lake Garda, you sometimes need to take buses or taxis to reach lakeside villages from the train stops.
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Overall, I found getting to and around Lake Como without a car to be very straightforward.
Winner: Lake Como for accessibility
Lake Como Lake Garda which is better to get around?
Once there, getting around is easier on Lake Como. Ferries crisscross the lake frequently, connecting all the towns. Driving is trickier with lots of switchbacks on narrow roads.
you will need a rental car to properly explore Lake Garda since the towns are more spread out and the ferries are limited.
While both lakes can be explored via public transit, Lake Como’s comprehensive bus and ferry network makes getting between towns easy and convenient. The ability to rely on public transportation allows more flexibility and freedom once you arrive without the cost of renting a car.
Winner: Lake Como for ease of public transportation
Lake Como Or Lake Garda Which is nicer?
When it comes to scenery, wow – they’re both so gorgeous but with very distinct feels to them.
Lake Como feels more intimate and luxurious, with quaint villages nestled against rugged cliffs. The inverted Y-shape means you can see stunning vistas around every bend. With luxurious hotels and jet setters who frequent.
Lake Como has celebrities who live there like George Clooney, Bradd Pitt, Richard Branson, Sylvester Stallone, Gianni Versace making Lake Como feel more elevated and exclusive. Lake Como is more like ” classic Italian old money vibes”.
Lake Garda has a more open, expansive landscape that’s just as lovely. The northern towns like Riva del Garda are backed by breathtaking mountains. It feels more laidback with an outdoorsy feel.
There is also incredible alpine scenery in the northern reaches near the Dolomites. Lake Garda’s rugged cliffs and mountains create jaw-dropping vistas.
While the built landscapes differ, the natural beauty of the azure waters, gentle lakeside promenades, and surrounding mountains is stunning at both lakes. Overall, Lake Como skews more luxurious and cultivated, while Lake Garda has an easygoing, traditional allure. It comes down to personal travel style and preferences.
Winner: Tie! Both have incredible yet contrasting beauty.
Lake Garda or Lake Como which is better for Vibes and Activities?
Now let’s talk about the vibe and attractions.
Lake Como is arguably more high-end and fashionable. I noticed lots of designer shops in places like Bellagio. The fancy villas and lush gardens give it a sense of opulence.
If you enjoy wandering through grand villas and gardens, Lake Como is where it’s at. Two of my favorite experiences were touring Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo and Villa del Balbianello near Lenno. Lake Garda has villas too, but they’re not really the focus.
Boating, water sports, hiking and biking are all popular in Lake Garda. The winds coming off the lake make it a top sailing and windsurfing spot. If that’s your thing, Garda wins hands down.
If you’re a vino lover, Lake Garda Vineyards dot the hills around towns like Bardolino. They produce crisp, mineral-y whites and easy-drinking reds. Lake Como has fewer wineries to visit.
When it comes to things to do, Lake Garda emerges as the winner with a greater variety of activities. The southern towns like Sirmione and Peschiera del Garda have amusement parks, water parks, and family-friendly attractions.
There are multiple medieval castles and ruins to explore. The lake is renowned for windsurfing and sailing given its windswept northern shores. There are thermal spas, picturesque hiking trails, and opportunities for canyoning and rock climbing in the mountains. Lake Garda suits active travelers and families seeking fun diversions.
Lake Como offers a more limited but still enjoyable range of things to do. Hiking in the surrounding mountains or getting out on the lake itself via ferry, garden and wooden boat tour, or kayak rentals are top choices. Sightseeing attractions are focused on luxurious villas like Villa Melzi and Villa Carlotta.
Shopping and dining in the upscale lakeside towns are satisfying diversions. The atmosphere is more leisurely and slow-paced. Lake Como has many things to do, and it suits those looking to unwind, stroll through attractive villages, and partake in scenic boat excursions rather than high-adrenaline activities.
Winner: Lake Garda for its wider diversity of attractions and recreation
Lake Garda lake Como Towns
Let’s talk about the towns. Lake Como has quintessential Italian villages with winding cobblestone lanes, pastel houses, and waterside promenades.
Bellagio is the most famous, sitting on a peninsula that splits the lake. Varenna captured my heart with its sloping alleys down to the water!
Castle in Lake Garda
Lake Garda has similarly beautiful towns. Sirmione is a great base with an old town center and 13th century castle.
Scaliger Castle in Sirmione, Italy. This impressive fortress has quite a fascinating history.
Built in the 13th century, Scaliger Castle was constructed under the rule of the Della Scala family, who controlled Verona and many territories around Lake Garda at the time. Strategically positioned on the narrow peninsula jutting out into the lake, the castle served as an important defensive fortification, allowing the Scaliger lords to control and monitor traffic on the critical trade route between Milan and Venice.
The castle itself is a magnificent sight – surrounded entirely by water on three sides, with imposing high walls and towers that project an aura of impregnability. Walking across the drawbridge through the imposing gatehouse, you feel transported back to medieval times. Within the walls is a small inner courtyard and palace that served as the residence for the Scaliger family.
One of the most interesting aspects of Scaliger Castle is its rare design as a fortification built specifically to control a lake, rather than land routes. The water-bound location provided natural defenses, and the castle battlements feature arrow slits and machicolations perfectly positioned for raining missiles down on approaching enemy boats.
Now wonderfully preserved and restored, Scaliger Castle remains one of the iconic landmarks of Sirmione and the entire Lake Garda region. I highly recommend visiting this impressive medieval fortress if you are ever in northern Italy! The strategic location and unique architecture provide a fascinating look into medieval life and warfare. Let me know if you have any other questions!
Riva del Garda and Malcesine are lively northern towns backed by the mountains. Gardone Riviera, in between Salo and Maderno, is one of Garda’s most upscale spots.
Lake Garda or Lake Como Accommodations
When it comes to accommodations, both lakes have a huge range from budget to luxury. I found Lake Como a touch pricier, especially for hotels with lake views. But there are deals to be had, like my lovely Airbnb just outside Bellagio.
Let’s compare accommodation options at both lakes, which range from luxurious villas to budget B&Bs.
Lake Como has lavish 5-star hotels and waterfront villas converted into vacation rentals. Many hotels boast historic pedigree, top-notch amenities like spas and pools, and divine lake vistas.
There are also mid-range boutique hotels in the $150-300 per night range. Budget hotels and B&Bs can be found in the smaller towns away from the lakeshore, with rates starting around $100 per night. Lake Como excels at luxurious lodging well-suited to a special occasion splurge.
A boutique hotel in Lake Como I stayed at:
In Lake Garda, you can also find both opulent hotels and more affordable options. Sirmione has a selection of 5-star properties with prices over $400 nightly.
But there are also nice 3 and 4-star hotels for $100-200 per night in Sirmione and other towns like Limone sul Garda, Riva del Garda, and Malcesine. Great value Airbnbs and holiday rental apartments are easy to find as well. The range of choices makes Lake Garda accessible for different budgets.
If you have your heart set on a palatial hotel stay, Lake Como is tough to beat. But Lake Garda usually offers more lodging diversity and value.
Winner: Lake Garda for its range of accommodation types at varied price points
lake garda vs lake como Nightlife
Are you looking to experience some Italian nightlife during your lake visit? Then Lake Garda is undoubtedly the better choice, with livelier towns that stay open late with bars, discos, and summer music festivals.
Places like Desenzano del Garda and Sirmione have hopping bars and nightclubs that get going after dinner time and stay open into the wee hours. The lake also lights up with fun fireworks displays in summer.
Lake Como has a much more subdued vibe after dark in comparison. The cobbled alleys empty out and towns feel tranquil. You’ll find some bars and lounges that have post-dinner crowds, but true nightclubs and late-night revelry are rare. Instead, Lake Como’s towns provide a peaceful retreat at the end of the day.
If you want to experience the regional Italian nightlife, Lake Garda is where you’ll find the action. Lake Como has a relaxed, lights-out early atmosphere.
Winner: Lake Garda for its lively nightlife scene
lake garda or lake como Budget and Expenses
You may be wondering whether Lake Garda or Lake Como is more budget-friendly and affordable. The answer depends on your travel style.
Is como more expensive than garda? is Lake como expensive?
My experience in Lake Como is that costs are higher across the board. Hotels, dining, shopping, and activities come at luxury price points. However, it is possible to visit relatively affordably by choosing budget lodging away from the main lakeside towns and eating simple meals. Public transportation and free attractions like churches and piazzas help manage costs once you arrive.
Lake Garda is generally more budget-friendly, especially regarding lodging and dining. The greater variety and availability of mid-range hotels and eateries makes it easier to control expenses. In addition, the range of free recreational activities like hiking, beaches, and sightseeing make it possible to have an enjoyable trip without overspending.
If you’re seeking luxury, Lake Como provides it with gusto. For budget-conscious travelers, Lake Garda is the more wallet-friendly choice.
Winner: Lake Garda for overall value
Lake Como versus Lake Garda Beaches
Let’s not forget the beaches! Both Lake Garda and Lake Como have a range of beaches and places to swim along their shorelines.
Beaches on Lake Garda
On Lake Garda, some of the best beaches include Punta San Vigilio, Baia delle Sirene, Spiaggia Dei Sogni, and Spiaggia La Romantica. These have smooth rocks or small pebbles with gorgeous backdrops of mountains and castle ruins. There are both lively and secluded options. Many towns along Lake Garda have a “lido” area with beach clubs renting umbrellas and lounge chairs.
For Lake Como, popular beach choices are Lido di Cernobbio, Lido di Menaggio, and the small but beautiful Piazza del Lido in Bellagio. The Lidos offer manicured grassy areas, while Piazza del Lido is a pebbly beach. Given the colder waters fed by mountain snowmelt, the beaches on Lake Como tend to be smaller and used more for sunbathing than lengthy swims.
Both lakes have lovely spots to sunbathe and take a dip, but Lake Garda’s beaches offer greater variety and better swimming.
Winner: Lake Garda for its abundance of excellent beaches
lake garda or lake como for Day Trips
If you have time to take a day trip or two from your chosen home base lake, Lake Garda offers more possibilities.
The lake is close to culturally rich cities like Verona, famous for its Roman amphitheater and Shakespeare associations. You can also visit Padua, Vicenza, and Mantua nearby. There are excellent wine regions like Valpolicella and Soave within an hour’s drive. From Sirmione, you can reach Venice in under 2 hours.
From Lake Como, the most popular day trip is to Milan, under an hour away. You can also visit Bergamo or Lugano in Switzerland. But Lake Garda’s proximity to Verona, Venice, and several smaller artistic cities gives you more options to choose from.
Winner: Lake Garda for its multitude of fantastic day trips
Lake Garda or Lake Como for Food and Wine
Italy is renowned for its cuisine, so you can dine extremely well at restaurants around both Lake Garda and Lake Como. Local specialties include fresh lake fish like trout and perch, risotto, oven-baked meats, and cheeses like taleggio and grana padano.
What I noticed is that the food around Lake Como has more Northern Italian influence, including creamy polenta dishes, hearty stews, and rosemary-infused grilled meats. Check it out the best food tours in Lake Como here.
The cuisine around Lake Garda tastes more Mediterranean, with pasta, tomatoes, olive oil, and herbs taking the spotlight. Both regions produce excellent wines to accompany your meals, from Valpolicella to Lugana.
In terms of quality, you’ll eat memorably well at both lakes. However, you’ll find more variety and affordability in Lake Garda. Towns like Sirmione and Desenzano del Garda have bustling pedestrian streets lined with pizzerias, gelaterias, cafes, and family-run trattorias. Eating out doesn’t have to break the bank. At Lake Como, dining is concentrated in the upscale lakefront restaurants that cater to an affluent crowd.
Winner: Lake Garda for diversity of affordable dining options
Lake Garda or Como for Shopping
Both Lake Como and Lake Garda offer plenty of shops and boutiques to browse during your visit. However, the shopping scene differs quite a bit between the two lakes.
In Lake Como, shopping revolves around luxury fashion, jewelry, and local artisanal wares.
The upscale towns of Bellagio, Varenna, and Como Town have the largest concentrations of shops. You’ll find boutiques selling designer clothing, handcrafted leather goods, fine jewelry, ceramics, olive wood products, and more. There are also gourmet food shops with cheeses, cured meats, olive oils, and wines.
At Lake Garda, shopping tends more towards practical souvenirs, beach gear, and casual Italian fashion rather than luxury boutiques. Towns like Sirmione, Desenzano del Garda, and Riva del Garda have shops selling swimsuits, beach coverups, sunglasses, sandals, sun hats, and casual dresses and tops. There are gourmet olive oil stores and wine shops as well.
Local crafts like pottery, embroidery, and artwork represent more affordable gift options. While Garda lacks the ultra high-end shopping of Lake Como, you’ll still find plentiful retail therapy.
For exclusive high-fashion boutique shopping, Lake Como is the clear winner. But Lake Garda offers more diversity for casual vacationers looking for practical, affordable souvenirs and beachwear.
Lake Como or Garda for Hiking
With mountains flanking the lakes, hiking is an awesome activity to try. Lake Garda wins for the sheer variety and length of hiking trails, but Lake Como also has some stunning routes.
At Lake Garda, you could spend weeks exploring the various hiking paths! Some stunning trails ascend Monte Baldo for panoramic vistas over the lake. Other routes take you along rugged cliffs and to secluded coves only accessible on foot.
Family-friendly walks are available on Monte Brione or the Rocca di Garda Natural Reserve. Serious peak baggers can tackle trails on Monte Altissimo di Nago or Monte Stivo. From easy nature walks to hardcore multiday treks, Lake Garda has it all for hikers.
Lake Como also features some world-class hiking opportunities, especially on the western side of the lake. Trails lead through chestnut forests and up to bald peaks like Monte Grona and Monte Berlinghera.
You can day hike to lakeside hamlets only reachable on foot like Torno, Acquaseria or Musso. The views of the lake and surrounding mountains are phenomenal. While Lake Como has fewer long distance trails, the lake vistas are unparalleled.
If you want lengthy, strenuous mountain treks, Lake Garda is a hiking paradise. For moderate day hikes with sensational lake outlooks, Lake Como perfectly fits the bill.
Lake Garda or Lake Como for Families
When it comes to picking the best lake for a family holiday, Lake Garda wins hands down. Its abundance of family-friendly attractions, activities, beaches, dining options and budget lodging make it an ideal family destination.
Kids love Gardaland Amusement Park, with its thrilling rides and shows. The Caneva Aquapark provides watery fun on hot summer days. Medieval fortresses like Sirmione Castle and Renaissance ruins capture young imaginations.
Windsurfing schools offer lessons for teens, while paddleboarding and kayaking provide lake fun. Affordable pizzerias, gelato shops, and casual eateries satisfy family appetites and budgets. Hotels and holiday rentals often come with kitchens and enough space for the whole crew.
Lake Como has fewer diversions tailored specifically for children. While scenic boat rides, lake swimming, and gelato provide some family enjoyment, the lack of amusement parks and budget dining make it a less obvious family choice compared to Garda. The upscale ambiance and hotels also skew romantic rather than kid-friendly.
Considering the range of fun attractions, family dining and lodging options, Lake Garda stands out as the winner if you’re looking for a memorable Italian lakes vacation with the kids.
At the end of the day, here’s my verdict Lake Como versus Lake Gardo which is better
If you want a quick Italian Lakes getaway from Milan by train, go for Lake Como. The ferry system makes getting around a breeze. Choose Como if you really want to take in those lavish villas and gardens too. It’s ideal for honeymooners and romantics who will swoon over those dramatic vistas.
Head to Lake Garda if you prefer a more laidback, sporty lake experience. The larger towns offer great nightlife and dining too. Garda also works better if you want to base yourself near Verona or Venice.
Honestly, you can’t go wrong visiting either lake!
I chose Lake Como because it’s more idillyc and famous for my first-time visit. I would definitely visit Lake Garda my third time around when I come to Italy!
They both have jaw-dropping scenery, interesting attractions, fantastic food and wine. If you have more time, do Lake Garda for half your trip and Lake Como for the other half. Or just flip a coin – I promise whichever one you pick, you’ll have an amazing time at one of Italy’s most beautiful lakes!
Let me know if this helps you decide between Lake Como and Lake Garda. I’m happy to answer any other questions as you plan your Italian Lakes getaway! Enjoy your trip!
Traveling To Italy | Italy Travel Planning Guide
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- Book Trains & see Schedules Here
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Planning Your Italy Trip: Tips & Guides
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