At first glance, Lake Garda and Lake Como offer similar draws. Think of pastel-colored towns on the lakeside, surrounded by lush forests and towering mountains. Both are brimming with history and natural wonders, but that’s where the similarities end.
One of these lakes is a better pick for your trip depending on your preferences. And if you want to get to the bottom of that, keep on reading to discover each lake’s unique draws.
Lake Garda is a heavenly natural lake, formed millions of years ago during the Quaternary Ice Ages. A massive glacier was once ripped down through the valley, creating this scenic lake. Today, Lake Garda offers gorgeous sights with high mountains on one end and lush rolling hills on the other.
With picturesque views all around, Lake Garda is a tranquil retreat for thousands of tourists. But other than sightseeing, this area also offers a wealth of adventure.
As Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda is the most water-sports-oriented lake across the land. It also offers tons of scenic hikes, adrenaline-pumping activities, and more. Top that off with its exciting cuisine and ancient history, and Lake Garda is an enticing destination for just about everyone.
What Makes Lake Garda Unique?
Enchanting and Diverse Scenery
Blessed with a diverse landscape, Lake Garda is a nature lover’s paradise. Journeying from the north to the south feels like traveling to a new place. And this is what makes outdoor excursions more exciting in Lake Garda.
To the north are extensive mountain ranges, sloping down to meet the lake’s sparkling waters. Along the shore is a mix of stunning eye candy, such as ancient harbors and cliffside towns. On the south of Lake Garda, you’ll find rolling hills covered in vineyards and olive groves.
But Lake Garda’s stunning natural beauty isn’t only for sightseeing, as this is also the ideal setting for endless outdoor fun! Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, so there’s plenty of room for play.
Due to its dramatic landscape, the north is perfect for an all-out adventure. And because of its less dramatic landscape, the south is perfect for leisurely attractions.
No trip to Lake Garda is complete without dabbling in water sports! The north side of the lake has strong winds, so go here for windsurfing, sailing, and kitesurfing. The south is calmer, but still offers tons of water fun such as fishing, jet-skiing, canyoning, and more.
But no matter where you are, you can always go on a boat tour or kayaking to take in the lush scenery. If you want to relax instead, Lake Garda has no shortage of beautiful swimming spots. Some top-rated shores are Spiaggia Cola, Spiaggia Pini, and Jamaica Beach.
If you’d rather stay dry, Lake Garda still offers tons of things to do. Golf and tennis are popular sports here. But to truly take advantage of Lake Garda’s landscape, go mountain biking, climbing, or paragliding instead. These aren’t for everyone though. But hiking is something that everyone can enjoy in Lake Garda.
There are plenty of hiking trails here to choose from depending on your expertise. But all these give you an unmatched and phenomenal view of Lake Garda.
For an undemanding yet scenic trail, go for Ponale Trail or Forts of Monte Brione Trail. If you’re an expert, Lake Garda also has intimidating paths with cliff walks and iron ladders.
Explore Charming Towns
Fringing Lake Garda’s 93-mile (150 km) long coastline are charming towns and villages. With the area’s breathtaking scenery as their backdrop, these towns are incredibly paradisiacal.
Each of these small towns has something unique to offer. Some are brimming with history, while others draw in tourists for their sailing clubs. Others have massive vineyards and olive groves to wander in, while others have dreamy beaches or towering mountains.
Because each town has something to bring to the table, you’ll get a varied experience in Lake Garda. What makes this better is that you can easily go town-hopping! Take a scenic drive through towns, or ride ferries instead.
And while each town deserves a spot on your itinerary, some towns are absolutely unmissable.
Sirmione is the most popular town on Lake Garda. This small medieval city sits on the edge of a long and narrow peninsula. Due to its location, it has the best scenery of any southern town on Lake Garda.
Other than its stunning views, Sirmione is also home to fascinating historical sites. Spend an entire day wandering through an archaeological site, castle, and glorious churches!
If you’d rather soak in Lake Garda’s breathtaking views, make your way to the town of Malcesine. Pretty as a picture, this old town sits at the base of Monte Baldo and right in front of the lake. With its narrow medieval streets dotted with quaint cafes, shops, and more, strolling around Malcesine is a dream.
Popular yet retaining its small-town vibe is the town of Limone Sul Garda. Nestled at the foot of Dosso d Roveri mountain, this town is famous for its lush lemon groves.
You’ll find these lemon trees sitting on terraces just above the town’s charming harbor. The lemon industry has been thriving here since the 15th century. If you want to take a closer look at this, head over to La Limonaia del Castel, where you can tour a winter garden.
Fascinating Archaeological Sites
Due to its beauty, fertile land, and location, Lake Garda had long been a cradle of civilization, dating back to ancient times. Its history stretches back to 300 BC as a part of the Roman Empire. Having lived through several wars by a few European countries, Lake Garda still has remnants of its history across the lake.
Get an insight into the lives of its early settlers by visiting Lake Garda’s archaeological sites. Wander through ancient corridors and marvel at walls and floors decorated with elaborate mosaics. Lake Garda has over 15 ruins to explore to indulge the history buff in you.
If you can’t explore all these sites, you wouldn’t want to miss the ruins of a Roman villa, Grotte di Catullo. Located in Sirmione, the ruins have a stunning view of the lake. And even more enticing is its age, as it dates back to the beginning of the 1st century AD.
Historians theorize that the ruins were once an ancient resort or a sprawling bath complex. With gorgeous arches and olive trees surrounding the ruins, it’s easy to see why it can be either of the two. This site also has a museum at the entrance to further enrich your trip to Grotte di Catullo.
Another must-see site is the Villa Romana di Desenzano del Garda. Once a lavish villa, this site got buried underground due to a landslide that occurred in the 12th century. But this preserved 2583 square feet (240 square meters) of incredibly detailed floor mosaics. These give you a glimpse of the daily lives of the early Italians. Some of which are chariot racing and hunting.
With curtain walls and imposing towers, the castles dotted across the largest lake in Italy had guarded its towns for centuries. Around Lake Garda are 10 castles for you to discover. Some of them are almost entirely preserved, but all have tons of stories to tell.
If you’re not too keen on their fascinating past, visit the castles for their glorious views. With Lake Garda’s natural beauty as their backdrop, the stunning landscape is a unifying element of these castles.
And if there’s a castle that you shouldn’t miss in Lake Garda, it’s the Scaligero Castle of Sirmione. This is the most famous one in Lake Garda due to its well-reserved structure and beauty. Located at the edge of a promontory, its unique feature is its beautiful dock.
This dock was once where the Scaliger felt were anchored. It looks like a flooded courtyard to many, giving this castle the nickname the “Sinking Castle”. A visit allows you access through its medieval courtyards, climbing to the top of the towers, and more.
Another must-visit site is the Scaligero Castle of Malcesine. It may not be Lake Garda’s most famous castle, but it’s widely considered to be the most picturesque of them all.
Nestled on a hilly outcrop, this castle looks and feels like it’s straight out of a fairy-tale. The citrus trees, pomegranates, and cypresses that surround the structure only add to its alluring charm.
It was originally built by the Lombards to control the navigation around Lake Garda. Then the castle got passed around in the hands of various people who altered it for their needs. Now it’s a monument that hosts weddings but also houses a museum.
Mouthwatering Local Dishes
Other than its breathtaking scenery, Lake Garda also reels in tourists with its rich gastronomy. Thanks to its location and fertile land, the local dishes here are sure to give a burst of flavor in your mouth.
Lake Garda has an incredibly varied food scene due to its cultural diversity. It’s bordered by three regions: Lombardy in the west and southwest, Veneto in the east and southeast, and Trentino in the north. And Lake Garda’s cuisine takes in these region’s culinary traditions!
The main food products of the lake are fresh fish, olive oil, wine, and lemon. Mineral-rich water from the Alps feed these product plantations around the area. So not only are you spoiled for choice here, but you’ll also get the best quality ingredients.
With this in mind, make sure your culinary itinerary includes delicacies that use local olive oil and citrus. From pasta to meat to fish to desserts, Lake Garda has tons of dishes for you to sample. Though you shouldn’t miss the dishes that made many tourists fall in love with Lake Garda!
Grab a plate of a delicious Bigoli con le sarde del Garda. This hearty dish combines the best of Lake Garda and the Veneto region. It uses the lake’s typical fish, sardines, and Veneto’s bigoli, a homemade pasta.
Risotto all’Amarone is a crowd favorite among Lake Garda’s locals and visitors. This dish uses ingredients only found in Lake Garda.
The Vialone Nano rice is first cooked with Valpolicella wine, adding thickness to the dish and enriching it with an elegant flavor. It’s then topped with Monte Veronese cheese, creating this simple yet delectable dish.
End your culinary journey on a high note with Lake Garda’s best-loved dessert, Cassata Gardesana. Forming this sweet delight are ricotta, candied fruit, and honey. But what’s special about this is that it’s topped with a drizzle of Lake Garda’s extra virgin olive oil. Delightfully surprising, this adds a unique taste to the dessert.
Nestled at the foot of the Italian Alps, Lake Como features some of the most picturesque sceneries in Italy. Formed in the last Ice Age, Lake Como was a product of erosion by the melting of the glaciers. This created its characteristic inverted Y shape that forms its southern branches.
With steep peaks from the mountains, gentle slopes from the hills, and lush greenery everywhere, Lake Como is a romantic spot. Though its eye candy are its major draws, there’s more to Lake Como than its beauty.
It also has a rich history, lavish villas, and tons of adventure to offer. With all this, Lake Como offers the right balance of everything.
What Makes Lake Como Unique?
Picturesque Towns Galore
Fringed with charming towns by the lakeside, you have tons of options for your stay around Lake Como. Staying at a lavish resort is a highlight of any trip around the lake. But these are only launchpads for the wealth of day trips in Lake Como.
Just because you chose a base, doesn’t mean you don’t get to experience the splendor of the other towns. These towns are full of character and some of the prettiest ones you may lay your eyes on. And no matter what you want out of your day, there’s a town in Lake Como that fits the bill.
With only the lake’s sparkling waters dividing the towns, it’s easy to take endless day trips and visit each one. So grab your camera, hop on a boat, and prepare to tour the picturesque towns of Lake Como!
The town of Bellagio is arguably the highlight of any tourist’s trip to the lake. Nicknamed “the pearl of Lake Como”, this town has steep, winding streets lined with greenery and flowers. With ivy-clad pastel houses to boot, it’s Lake Como’s most Instagrammable town.
Make your way to the town of Como, the most underrated of the bunch. It’s seen as only a gateway to the other towns around the lake, but it offers a wealth of historic attractions.
Como will enchant you with its medieval beauty, as it feels like a town frozen in time. Marvel at the stunning architecture here, from its churches down to the ancient gate that once served as its only entrance.
If you’re seeking the ultimate tranquil retreat to the lake, make your way to the small town of Nesso. This town has such a laid-back vibe, which fits into the scenery it offers.
Nesso is famous for the series of waterfalls that gush out into a ravine, feeding the lake. Around the town are dreamy bridges from where you can admire the town’s impressive greenery and sparkling waters.
Marvel at Its Alluring Scenery
Nestled in a basin surrounded by lush woods and mountains, Lake Como has a breathtaking and varied landscape. This is the area’s crowning glory alluring tourists for its fairy-tale charms. With picture-perfect views at every turn, it’s easy to see why this gorgeous lake is a tourist favorite.
Around the lake are sharp peaks from the extensive mountain ranges that loom over the towns. No matter what month of the year you visit, these mountains are a stunning sight. They’re full of color during spring and summer and covered in majestic white snow during winter.
Connected to the mountains are the gentle slopes of emerald-clad hills that back up the lake’s picturesque towns. Lake Como’s thriving flora extends to its famous lakefront. By the water, you’ll find oleander trees along with olives, pomegranates, vines, and more.
Sprinkled across the lake are lavish and colorful gardens that add a whimsical touch to Lake Como. Marvel at hundreds of varieties of azalea, discover a garden of succulents, wander through a bamboo forest, and more.
With so many glorious sights to take in, a panoramic view of the lake is the best way to admire its beauty. Venture off to a vista by foot as you wander through lush, scenic paths.
Lake Como has tons of hiking paths to choose from. A popular one is the Wayfarer’s Path on the east, where you can also view some medieval and ancient structures. You can also hike at Monte Generoso at the west, which sits at the border of Italy and Switzerland.
If hiking isn’t for you, you can always take a funicular to the heights of Lake Como. You can find one at Piazza De Gasperi, located at the entrance of the town of Como.
Wander Through Lavish Villas
For thousands of years, Lake Como has been a relaxing retreat for artistic minds and big names. Its natural wonders inspired many poets and writers as far back as ancient times. Tucked away among the gorgeous landscape of the area, they stayed at the romantic villas sprinkled across the lake.
Lake Como’s legendary villas have layers and layers of history. Thus, exploring them will allow you to experience the lavish life of the wealthy in the distant past.
Some villas around the lake are privately owned. So enamored by Lake Como’s beauty, A-list celebrities bought some as holiday homes.
And if you have deep pockets, you can even rent a villa to get the full experience. If this isn’t in the cards for you though, you can always visit a villa to go sightseeing!
Though Lake Como has tons of villas for you to discover, here are some that you should put on your must-visit list—
Along Lake Como’s shores lies a movie star, the Villa del Balbianello. This jaw-dropping villa has been the backdrop of Casino Royal and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. And it’s easy to see why this villa has graced the big screen.
A photographer’s dream, there’s no shortage of pretty corners here. Stand on a panoramic terrace and get a panoramic view of the lake. Wander through avenues full of colorful flowers and detailed statues, and more.
Another unmissable villa is the Villa Carlotta. It’s a worthwhile visit year-round due to its extensive art collection.
But what gives the villa its wow factor is its well-manicured and lavish park. With more than 150 varieties of trees and flowers, you’ll feel like you’re stepping into enchanting woods from the fairy tales.
Indulge the History Buff in You
With Lake Como’s arresting natural beauty, it’s easy to forget that it has a long and fascinating history. The lake has always allured the powerful since ancient times. And for many years, it got passed from one conqueror to another.
Though it has been home to many races, Lake Como became significant during the Roman occupation. As the area flourished, it had fallen under the rule of the Spanish, French, and Austrian powers. And even today, you’ll still find some traces of Lake Como’s eventful past across the towns.
Lake Como has several archaeological sites in both museums and open-air spots.
The most significant of them is the Spina Verde, a park full of archaeological finds from the Golasecca period. There’s also the Mario Comense, which has a cemetery of more than 200 burial sites. Lake Como also has representations of the Bronze Age in the sites of Piani d’Erna and Piani di Barra.
No historical tour of Lake Como is complete without visiting the Duomo of Como for free. It has a magnificent 15th-century neo-Gothic structure, with sculptures of Pliny the Elder and Younger on its facade. It’s as glorious on the inside too, with tons of style influences that span hundreds of years.
A remnant of Lake Como’s Spanish rule is the Forte di Fuentes. There are only a few representations of the Spanish dominion in Lake Como, and this is one of the popular ones.
This Spanish ruin dates back to the 17th century, sitting at the northern part of Lake Como. Though it’s now reclaimed by nature, you can still make out some structures here. Today, you can wander through the remains of its church and square.
Exhilarating Outdoor Activities
Lake Como is such an idyllic and tranquil retreat that it entices you to laze by the lake with a book in hand. But the area isn’t only about relaxation, as it’s also an exciting playground for various outdoor activities!
If you don’t mind getting wet, Lake Como is perfect for water sports! With its calm waters, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and swimming are always a possibility. If these are too calm for you, you can always kitesurf for hours!
Another way to enjoy the sparkling waters is to go on a boat tour. This is among the greatest ways to appreciate Lake Como’s landscape from a different perspective.
You may want to take it even further and get a bird’s-eye view of the area from a helicopter! Sweep down from the sky and skim the surface of the water on a helicopter tour.
If that’s too much for you, you can always go on a trek to admire the lake from a vista. Lake Como has tons of hiking paths around to cater to every expertise.
If your trip coincides with the wintertime, the list of fun things to do in Lake Como just gets longer. Skiing and snowboarding in Lake Como is a must-try. Slide down from the snowy peaks of the Alps and soak in the beauty of Lake Como as you do.
Lake Como or Lake Garda – Which Is Better?
Lake Garda and Lake Como have tons of overlapping draws. But each has its strengths, which will help you pick between the two.
If you’re a foodie, choose Lake Garda as it’s renowned for its varied food scene. With influences from the three regions it borders, Lake Garda’s culinary scene is one of its assets.
If you’re prioritizing outdoor adventures, Lake Garda is also a better choice. Being the larger of the two, it’s a better playground that focuses on water sports and other outdoor activities.
If you want a more relaxing, romantic, or luxurious trip, Lake Como is your choice. Lake Como is better equipped to treat you like royalty, from its lavish villas to its spas.
Which Is Prettier – Lake Como or Lake Garda?
With both lakes backed by mountains and forest-clad hills, they offer similar views. Each lake has beautiful sights dotted across its area, though that differentiates one from the other. Due to this, no lake is prettier than the other. But you may prefer one depending on what you want to see.
Surrounding all sides of Lake Como are mountains, unlike Lake Garda. Lake Garda’s mountains are mostly on the north, but the south opens with panoramic views beyond the pretty towns.
Lake Como’s shoreside views exude an elegant charm with tons of lavish villas to marvel at. While Lake Garda’s unique feature is its fairy-tale-like castles that dominate the skyline.
Despite this, there are some downsides to both. Lake Como, while stunning, leaves little room on its shores for trees and wildlife.
Lake Garda doesn’t have this issue. It has plenty of room for olive groves, vineyards, and lemon groves. But its downside is that it feels and looks more commercialized than Lake Como.
Just for the views though, it’s Lake Como that often garners praise. Its romantic charm and renaissance buildings are what make the rich and famous buy villas across the lake.
Lake Como or Lake Garda for Families
If you’re traveling as a family, Lake Garda is a much better destination for you. Lake Garda is wholesome and simple yet packs a ton of family-friendly attractions.
Though it’s more commercialized than Lake Como, Lake Garda is better equipped to entertain a younger crowd.
Lake Garda has theme parks, such as Gardaland, which packs a ton of rides. There’s also Caneva World, which is popular for its water park and amusement park.
Lake Garda also has a safari, the Parco Natura Vivia. If you’re an adventurous family, Lake Garda also has tons of opportunities for treetop and zip-lining excursions.
Other than that, Lake Garda is also known to be a natural playground. Go cycling by the shore, take a boat tour, hike on easy paths, and more.
Not only that, but Lake Garda is also easier on your budget. It may not necessarily be affordable, but it doesn’t ask for VIP prices as Lake Como does.
Lake Como’s reputation lies in its luxurious experiences. Its price tag has A-list celebrities in mind. And while it also hosts tons of outdoor fun, it may not be suitable for younger kids.
Is Lake Como Near Lake Garda?
Lake Como and Lake Garda are only about three hours apart, so they’re quite close.
How Far Is Lake Garda From Lake Como?
The straight line distance from Lake Como to Lake Garda is around 72 miles (116 kilometers). But if you’re traveling by land, expect to cover a longer distance. The driving distance between the two is 93 miles (150 kilometers).
Lake Como to Lake Garda
There are no direct services between Lake Como and Lake Garda. Thus, you need to make at least one change along the way whether you’re taking the bus or the train.
Taking the bus is the cheapest way to travel from Lake Como to Lake Garda. Train tickets only cost around 15 to 24 USD. The downside is its long travel time which takes around 5 hours and 37 minutes.
From Lake Como, make your way to the bus station in the town of Como. Your bus journey will end at Garda via Milan and Peschiera Stazione FS.
Taking the train is a faster transportation option, though it’s more pricey. Ticket prices range from 60 to 110 USD. But the travel time is only around 3 hours and 29 minutes.
You can catch a train at Como’s train station. Then you’ll arrive at Sirmione’s train station, right at Lake Garda.
If you want a more private option, you can always book a private transfer from Lake Como to Lake Garda or drive yourself. This is a faster option as you’ll reach Lake Garda in around 2 hours. But this is also the most expensive choice, and prices vary between companies.
Lake Garda to Lake Como by Boat
There are no boat services between Lake Garda and Lake Como. If you wish to travel between the two, you’re only options are a bus, train, or private transfer.
Lake Garda to Lake Como by Train
You can travel from Lake Garda to Lake Como by train, but there are no direct services. Still, this is the best way to travel between the two lakes as it’s speedy yet fairly priced.
Your journey will start at Desenzano del Garda train station in Lake Garda. Then you’ll arrive at Como San Giovanni at Lake Como.
This journey covers a distance of 120 miles (75 kilometers). But it’ll only take around 2 hours and 38 minutes to complete. With faster trains, your journey can be as fast as 1 hour and 59 minutes.
Around 22 trains travel between the two stations daily. The first train leaves at 6:07 AM, while the last leaves at 10:07 PM. Since there are no direct lines on this route, you’ll have to make one change along the way.
Train ticket prices on this route start at 26 USD. But the actual price changes frequently. So make sure to check online so you can prepare ahead.