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Lake Maggiore or Lake Como? What a wonderful predicament to have. Choosing between the two Italian lakes is not always an easy one, both have very strong appeals. Lake Como is, of course, the most famous, the glamorous one but Lake Maggiore has its own special charm as well. This blog post will compare Lake Como and Lake Maggiore to help you decide which is the best location for your trip to the Italian Lakes.
Lake Maggiore or Lake Como? A comparison
Where are Lake Como and Lake Maggiore?
Both of the Italian Lakes are located in the North of Italy, in very close proximity to Switzerland. The most popular airport to fly into is Milan Malpensa (marked on the map with a yellow point), from the airport it will take you roughly one hours drive to get to each of the lakes (based on travelling to the towns of Luino and Como).
It will take roughly 1.5 hours to drive from Lake Maggiore (Luino/Stresa) to Como (2 hours if you would like to drive to Bellagio).
Both Lakes are easily accessible by train from Milan City Centre and Milan Malpensa.
It is also possible to book day trips to both Lakes from Milan. Here are some more day tours from Get Your Guide which all have great reviews and prices. Generally, I book all my tours in advance when I have limited time in a city this helps to ensure I get a place on the tour I want as well as paying the best price:
As mentioned above, both Lake Maggiore and Lake Como are both in close proximity to Milan City and Milan Malpensa airport. Transport links are very good to both of them as well, therefore there is not a preference when it comes to this.
Lake Maggiore is the 2nd largest lake in Italy (Lake Garda is the largest) and part of it is in Switzerland. Meaning if you visit Lake Maggiore it is also very simple to take a day trip to Switzerland as well. Lake Como is further away and therefore, while it is possible, it is not as easy to do so. Therefore this may be a reason as to why you would choose to visit Lake Maggiore over Lake Como.
Most people have heard of Lake Como but not as many have heard of Lake Maggiore, but does this mean one is worth visiting over the other? Well, that really depends on what you are looking for.
Lake Como, Bellagio in particular, is raved about by everyone, celebrities such as George Clooney, Madonna, Donatella Versace and Sir Richard Branson all own villas there. Lake Como is definitely high on many people’s bucket lists, rightly so, it is beautiful, however, this also brings larges amounts of people.
Therefore it is important to weigh up the appeal with the number of people. During the height of summer, Lake Como can be extremely busy and it is not unusual to be waiting up to 1.5 hours to go on a boat ride (You can avoid this completely by booking a boat ride in advance, which I highly recommend doing). However, if you are visiting Lake Como in Autumn / Winter time you most likely not be affected by the number of people also visiting.
Lake Maggiore is nowhere near as famous as Lake Como, therefore I found it to be nowhere near as busy. Personally, I preferred this, I found the lack of tourist shops and restaurants gave a much more authentic visit to the Italian lakes.
However, a contrast to this, is in Lake Maggiore, as they are not as used to tourists, not as many people speak a second language to Italian, therefore there were some language barriers, especially in restaurants where menus were only in Italian.
If you do find you have this issue, I recommend downloading the Google Translate App. It is free and I use it in pretty much every non-English speaking country I visit. My favourite feature is the ability to take a photo of a menu (or any piece of writing) and it will then translate it back to your native language.
Cost plays a big part in people’s travels and it is definitely something to consider when deciding between Lake Maggiore or Lake Como. The Italian Lakes are definitely not a budget destination, however, there are ways to make a trip there more affordable.
Due to the increased popularity, Lake Como is more expensive than Lake Maggiore in terms of accommodation and food. For example, the cost of a pizza in Lake Maggiore was around €7 whereas in Lake Como it was €12. Quite a large difference.
In terms of accommodation, it is more expensive in Lake Como, however, there is more choice and therefore more potential to find something suited to your budget. For example, if you are backpacking Italy, Lake Como has hostels such as the Lake Como Beach Hostel (which includes free breakfast and boasts views of the Lakes) but at present, there are no hostels in the Lake Maggiore area.
During my visit, we opted to stay in a private villa on Lake Maggiore. By choosing to stay in a villa we could save money by purchasing food from the many supermarkets around to cook our own meals. We also had a rental car, which meant we could base ourselves in Lake Maggiore but still take day trips to the more expensive areas such as Lake Como and Switzerland. I found this to be a much more cost-effective way to visit the Italian Lakes towards the end of Summer.
The villa was booked through Bookings For You, who has villas and apartments in both Lake Maggiore and Lake Como, most of which offer stunning views of the lakes. I really enjoyed the villa experience, I found it to be much more relaxing due to the homely feel and if you are travelling as part of a bigger group, it is actually a very affordable option.
If you are looking to booking a villa, I definitely recommend checking out Bookings For You, not only are their villas fantastic, I also appreciated the extra effort they went to with their service. Prior to arrival, we received detailed instructions on how to reach the villa, as well as itinerary ideas and restaurant recommendations.
Again on arrival, further ideas were made available as well as a welcome bottle of wine and a few snacks. All wonderful personal touches I feel you lose when staying in a hotel.
Things to do
There are a wealth of things to do in both Lake Maggiore and Lake Como. One of the most popular things to do in both areas is to explore the many towns dotted along the lakes, you can either do this as part of a guided tour or by driving if you have a rental car.
In Lake Como, I recommend visiting the towns of Como and Bellagio, a popular thing to do is to take a boat trip between the two, many of which include a guide to point out the important sights. In Como, you can take a funicular to get an aerial view of the lakes, however, for the beautiful photos, Bellagio is definitely the more picturesque of the two towns.
In Lake Maggiore, I recommend visiting the towns of Stresa, Arona and Laveno. I found Arona to be the most beautiful and peaceful of the three, however, Stresa is definitely recommended as it is where the Borromean Islands.
The Borromean Islands are made up of Isola Dei Pescatori, Isola Bella and Isola Madre, each of these islands can be visited by ferry and are definitely worth an afternoon trip if the sun is shining.
In Laveno, you will find the famous bucket lifts, an adventurous alternative to the funiculars of the area, as they quite literally are buckets which take you up to the top of the mountain. It is not for the faint-hearted but they offer incredible views.
So Lake Maggiore or Lake Como, which should you choose?
Personally, I preferred Lake Maggiore and would recommend it over Lake Como. However, we opted to stay in Lake Maggiore yet I still wanted to visit Lake Como, so I could say I did, therefore I can see the draw.
In my opinion, Lake Maggiore is less touristy and therefore had the benefits of feeling more authentic, relaxing and less expensive. Three things I do look for when choosing a holiday destination.
I also found the landscape views of the mountains around the areas of Lake Maggiore to be more stunning as well, however, we did spend more time here and there may be other areas around Lake Como which offer these views as well.
Therefore, if you are looking for a long weekend break, I would recommend basing yourself in Lake Maggiore and taking a day trip to Lake Como (with a particular focus on Bellagio) but if you are limited on time, such as taking a day trip from Milan, it would probably be best to visit the more famous Lake Como.
You can book your day trip from Milan to Lake Como and Bellagio here through Get Your Guide.
Driving in the Italian Lakes
We hired a rental car during our trip through Sicily by Car which we collected (and dropped off) on arrival to Milan Malpensa airport. We hired a Fiat 500 which cost around £50 for four days with one driver and basic insurance.
The Italian lakes have a lot of steep hills and winding roads, therefore, I would recommend a small car to ensure you feel more comfortable. Generally, driving is pretty simple in this part of Italy and you will not come across many busy cities. Drivers are generally courteous and will just overtake if they feel they want to go faster.
I would take care or avoid driving in the dark, especially on the mountainous roads, as although they are relatively lit up, some of the roads have rougher edges and are not as well marked.
Deciding between Lake Maggiore or Lake Como can be a hard decision, however, I hope this comparison has helped. I feel Lake Como always seems to be the obvious choice, but I think, for a number of reasons, that Lake Maggiore should definitely be strongly considered.