Last updated on April 20, 2023 by Wandering our World
Northern Italy is home to some truly awe-inspiring scenery, from the towering, majestic mountains of the Italian Alps and the shimmering blue waters of large lakes, like Lake Como and Lake Garda.
Both of these lakes are worth visiting, sure to marvel any visitor with their distinctive beauty and peaceful surroundings, but you might only have time to visit one. So, which should you choose between Como and Garda?
Well, it can be a tricky choice to make, especially as both of these lakes seem pretty similar at first glance. They’re both jaw-droppingly scenic, with charming surrounding towns, mountain views, and plenty of fun things to do.
However, there are some key differences between them. Lake Garda, for example, is famed as a family-friendly hotspot, with its own amusement park and other attractions making it a popular and lively spot. Lake Como, meanwhile, is a little more laid-back, but also famed for its elegance and celebrity villas.
You can have a fabulous time at either one of these astonishing lakes, but one might be better-suited for you than the other….
And that’s where we can help!
Here we show you which has the better activities, beaches, nightlife, which is better for families, couples, the budget-conscious and more. All so you can make the right decision!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Best For Day Trips?
- Which Is Best For Beaches?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Has The Best Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Hiking?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Is Better For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples & Honeymoons?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Lake Como vs Lake Garda
Lake Como: A Quick Overview
Lake Como is a large lake in northern Italy, in the Lombardy region.
Stretching out across 56 square miles (146 square km), this lake is the third biggest in the country, and it’s one of the deepest in all of Europe, with its lowest point being around 660 feet down.
The lake is formed in a Y-like shape, giving it an exceptionally long shoreline, which runs for around 99 miles, in total.
The surrounding landscape is mostly lush and mountainous, with the high peaks of the Alps all around.
Situated less than 40 miles from Milan, Lake Como has been a popular retreat for wealthy and famous people throughout the ages, from magistrates and poets of Ancient Rome to modern-day celebrities, like George Clooney, Madonna, and Lionel Messi.
Fittingly, this lake and its surrounding towns and villages have a very luxurious and glamorous vibe, with places like Bellagio, Menaggio, and Varenna being particularly charming. And there are lots of luxurious villas, high-end resorts, and fancy restaurants around the lake’s shores.
Lake Garda: A Quick Overview
Lake Garda is the largest lake in all of Italy, It stretches out across the provinces of Brescia, Verona, and Trentino, cutting into the southern edge of the Italian Alps and extending across almost 143 square miles (370 square km).
Despite being significantly more vast than Lake Como, Lake Garda actually has a slightly shorter shore length of just over 98 miles, taking the form of a long and narrow, fjord-like shape, with tall mountains around the northern half and a mixture of plains and hills to the south.
Like Lake Como, Lake Garda’s local economy is mainly based on tourism, and the lake draws in many travelers from Italy and beyond.
Over the years, the area along the southern shore of this lake has become a major family attraction zone, with theme parks, adventure parks, and more.
There are also many historic sites to visit around Lake Garda, like an ancient Roman amphitheater.
But the area, while beautiful and luxurious, doesn’t have the same elite, jet-set vibes of Lake Como, giving it a very different feel overall.
Which Is Easier To Get To?
Lake Como has the benefit of being pretty close to Milan, which has one of Italy’s largest and best-served airports.
Travelers heading there can simply fly into Milan and then hop on a train for a scenic, hour-long ride to the lake. It’s one of the most accessible natural landmarks in all of Italy.
Lake Garda, meanwhile, is almost equidistant between two of Italy’s most famous cities, Milan and Venice – it’s a couple of hours away from both of these locations by car.
Garda is also close to the city of Verona, which you can get to by train.
Overall, Como is the easier lake to get to, and it also has better local transportation options, which we’ll discuss more in the next section.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
Once you’ve arrived at either Lake Como or Lake Garda, you’ll need to think about how you’re going to get around. After all, both of these lakes are huge, with lots of towns, villages, and attractions dotted along their shores.
Lake Como is quite well-served in terms of public transportation, with a number of ferry and train services to take you from place to place and even a local bus service linking most of the shoreline’s towns together. Because of this, it’s not really necessary to have a car here.
The same isn’t quite true in Lake Garda. The public transit here isn’t as efficient, with fewer ferries; there are some public buses to take you to the main attractions, but you’ll most likely need to rent a car for maximum freedom and exploration.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Both Lake Como and Lake Garda are popular touristic locations with lots of development and many activities and attractions to visit.
But they offer quite different experiences, with Lake Como being best for boat rides and luxury villa tours, while Lake Garda has a more diverse range of attractions, including family theme parks and Roman ruins.
Lake Como: The Activities
Lake Como is famous for its striking villas, some of which date back hundreds of years. Some have even been converted into museums and are open to the public.
Villa Balbianello has been used as a filming location for Star Wars, for example, while Villa Monastero has some of the prettiest botanical gardens anywhere on the lake.
Some of the other large properties around Lake Como are still lived in, and a few are owned by world-famous stars, like George Clooney.
You might not be able to step inside, but many tourists take boat rides and guided tours of the water to see these extraordinary homes from a distance – you might even catch a glimpse of a celebrity, if you’re lucky.
There are also lots of towns and villages along the shores of Lake Como. These places are fabulously-maintained, with colorful buildings, clean streets, and glamorous atmospheres.
Como City is one of the biggest urban areas, with its own cable car and cathedral, while Bellagio is exceptionally romantic and Nesso is a peaceful paradise.
Of course, you can also hike all around the various mountains that surround Lake Como, as well as spending time on the water itself.
There are many ferries that can take you around the different towns, along with private boat rides. Or, you can rent a couple of kayaks with your friends and family and head out on the water for your own independent adventures.
Lake Garda: The Activities
While Lake Como is dominated by its luxury villas and dazzling towns, Lake Garda is much more of a typical tourist destination, with a lot of different activities and attractions, especially along the south shore. There, you can find Gardaland theme park, with rides and attractions for all ages.
Various other amusement and adventure parks line the shores of Lake Garda, making this an idyllic location for families.
There’s even a safari park where you can get up close and personal with the animals, as well as an aquarium. Plus, for history fans, Lake Garda has multiple castles to explore and ancient Roman ruins, too.
Like Como, Garda has many charming towns along its shores, and each one can offer something a little different.
Head to Villa Canale for cobbled streets and medieval stone buildings, Arco for botanical gardens, Torbole for windsurfing, and Malcesine for walks along the old castle walls.
The list of activities at Lake Garda simply goes on and on, with the southern section having great family attractions and the northern part being ideal for adrenaline addicts and adventurers, thanks to its more mountainous terrain and powerful winds.
Climbing, sailing, kayaking, and scenic boat rides are all available here.
Overall, the difference between Lake Como and Lake Garda in terms of activities is night and day. Como is generally aimed at people who want to wander around delightful towns or see how celebrities live, while Garda has ruins, grottoes, museums, rollercoasters, and so on.
Which Is Better For Day Trips?
Even though there’s plenty to do in both Lake Como and Lake Garda, you might like to take a day or two away from these lakes in order to explore some of the nearby towns and cities of northern Italy.
Lake Como has the benefit of better public transport links and is conveniently located less than an hour from Milan by train.
Indeed, Milan is the main day trip destination here, and it’s a great city for shopping and sightseeing, with its iconic cathedral and Sforzesco Castle being some of the main landmarks.
It’s also possible to hop over the border into Switzerland from Lake Como, with the city of Lugano and the surrounding Ticino region being a very scenic and splendid place to spend a day or two.
From Lake Garda, the city of Verona is only a short ride away.
This city, the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is very romantic, with well-preserved Roman monuments and charming piazzas. Brescia isn’t far either, home to a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a big medieval castle.
It’s also possible to get to Milan from Lake Garda, although the journey will take a little longer, or you can head east to visit Venice for gondola rides and sightseeing in one of the world’s most romantic locations.
Overall, neither lake is necessarily better than the other in terms of day trips, as they’re both close to some very pretty places.
However, in terms of exploring Italian cities, Lake Garda is the better option, giving visitors quite a wide selection of urban locations to visit.
Which Is Better For Beaches?
With dozens of miles of shoreline along both Lake Como and Lake Garda, it’s possible to find plenty of sandy and pebble-strewn beaches to relax, soak up the sun on warm, summer days, and admire the majestic scenery that surrounds you.
One of the top spots on Lake Como’s shore is Pianello Beach, which is made up of pebbles and offers very relaxing, romantic vibes, with mountains in every direction and a lot of friendly bars and cozy restaurants just a short walk away.
San Giovanni Beach in Bellagio is another hotspot. It’s totally free and perfect for relaxing. Plus, the town of Bellagio, famed for its beauty, is right next door.
The grassy Lido di Ossuccio is another good spot for swimming and picnics, while the Lido di Cernobbio has a big public pool and lots of loungers for sunbathing.
At Lake Garda, one of the best beaches to visit is Spiaggia Tifu, which has great swimming conditions and a handy location near lots of amenities.
You could also stop off at the Parco Baia delle Sirene (Bay of Sirens) for seclusion and romance, or head to Malcesine, which sits beneath a centuries-old castle.
Punta Geo and the Lido di Lugana are great places for families to chill out and have fun, while beaches like the grassy and gravel spots of Riva del Garda are amazing for watersports, thanks to the strong winds of the lake’s northern section.
Overall, both of these lakes have a nice selection of beaches, but Lake Garda is probably the better of the two, as it can offer a little more diversity, with everything from windsurfing havens to kid-friendly shores.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
As we can see, there are lots of ways to fill up your days at Lake Como or Lake Garda, but how about if you’re looking for things to do once the sun has set? Which of these two lakes has the best nightlife scene?
Well, it’s fair to say that Lake Como isn’t exactly known for its nightlife. The main thing to do in the evenings at this lake is to find a fancy restaurant and sip some wine as you gaze out over the water. It’s quiet and romantic, and many eateries stay open late.
There are also a couple of clubs to discover around Lake Como, as well as some casinos, if you’re looking for something a little different, but don’t expect to find much of a party or clubbing scene.
Like Lake Como, Lake Garda has many restaurants that stay open late into the night, giving diners the chance to relax and savor the moment with good food, fine wine, and beautiful views.
You’ll also find a wider array of clubs and bars at Lake Garda, with various late-night bars and even beach parties and fireworks shows in the summer nights. So, in terms of evening excitement and entertainment, Garda is a clear winner, once more.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
If you’re eager to do some shopping and grab a few fun souvenirs from your time at Lake Como or Lake Garda, you’ll want to know which of these two destinations offers more appeal for shopaholics and boutique browsers.
Well, as Lake Como is such an elegant and sophisticated destination, catering to the rich and famous, it has no shortage of fabulous boutiques.
There are many designer brands here, along with small artisanal shops selling exquisite hand-made goods, from jewelry and accessories to artwork.
Places like Bellagio are super for shopping enthusiasts, while Como itself has plenty of big brand stores along its main shopping street, the Via Vittorio Emanuele II. You can also find a few outlet stores if you’re looking to save some money on high-end fashion.
Lake Garda also has outlet stores, like the Franciacorta Outlet Village over in Rodengo Saiano, and some other good shopping centers and malls in places like Affi and Trentino.
Shopping there is fine, but nothing too special, which is why Lake Como wins in this category.
Which Is Best For Hiking?
For outdoor adventurers, Lake Como and Lake Garda are heaven on Earth. Not only can you enjoy epic watersports, like kayaking and windsurfing on both of these lakes, but the surrounding mountains and hills provide exceptional hiking opportunities.
Those looking for a tough trek at Lake Como can follow the Via Normale up Monte Legnone. It’s a long climb, but once you make it to the top, you’ll be treated with some unbeatable views.
The Via Dei Monti Lariani is another amazing trekking trail, with various sections spanning valleys, woods, and even a few little villages.
Como’s Dorsale Trail is another scenic trail to follow – it takes a couple of days to walk this path in its entirety, with red and white way markers to help you stay on track as you ascend the high peaks of Monte Bolletone, Monte Palanzone, and Monte San Primo.
Over at Lake Garda, there are also multiple scenic walking paths and trekking trails to check out. The Sentiero del Ponale is a particularly charming route passing between Riva del Garda and the Ledro Valley, with wonderful waterfront views.
Monte Stivo has a great and simple hike, too, with some amazing viewpoints where you can look down onto the lake and snap some photos to send to friends back home.
While the Sentiero della Pace, or Path of Peace, runs for several hundred miles and links various landmarks of key significance from the First World War, with trenches and forts to spot along the way.
Those looking for a serious challenge can tackle the famous Garda Trek, which loops around the mountains around the lake’s northern section.
Or for something simpler, make your way to the Rocca di Manerba Natural Reserve, which has a series of themed footpaths, suitable for the whole family
Overall, when it comes to the best hiking destination, it’s Lake Garda that has the edge.
Lake Como is incredible for experienced hikers looking for multi-day mountain treks, but the more diverse surroundings of Lake Garda provide a wider range of trails to suit every hiker, from casual families and beginners to seasoned mountaineers.
Which Has The Best Food?
Italy is famous for its fabulous food, and you’ll eat well no matter whether you choose Lake Como or Lake Garda.
There are many charming restaurants with views over the water, along with local village bakeries and delis, serving up tasty treats for lakeside picnics.
The culinary scenes across these two lakes aren’t hugely different to one another, and both of them can boast of Michelin-starred establishments for fine dining. However, there are a couple of key differences.
Lake Como’s restaurants are a little more expensive, on average, which is something to keep in mind if you’re traveling on a budget. But the food here may also be described as being a little richer, with flavorful cheeses and dried meats.
Food is a little cheaper, in general, over at Lake Garda, with more traditional Italian fare you can find in many other parts of the country.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
For families, the choice between Lake Como and Lake Garda is usually quite an easy one to make.
As previously mentioned, Lake Garda has a significant array of family attractions, from the Movieland Studios and Gardaland amusement parks to castles and caves.
Indeed, Lake Garda is regarded by many as one of the top family destinations in all of North Italy, and even though it can be a little trickier to access without your own car, there’s simply so much to do here to keep kids of any age entertained.
With that said, if your kids are a little older or in their teens, Lake Como is also a wonderful place to visit as a family. The scenery is beautiful, the luxury villas are thrilling to walk around, the setting is just right for a relaxing and indulgent family adventure.
Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
Planning a honeymoon or lovers’ break in North Italy? If so, both Lake Como and Lake Garda should be on your list of potential destinations, and it can be pretty tricky to choose between them.
If you’re looking for romantic vibes and mind-blowing scenery, Como is the lake for you. It’s more of an adult destination, without the crowded family attractions of Lake Garda, and it’s easier to find quiet and charming places to spend quality time with your partner.
The little villages and small towns, like Bellagio, Bellano, and Colico, provide the fairy tale settings that countless couples dream of, and you’re sure to make many magical memories here, either on a honeymoon or a simple vacation.
At the same time, couples shouldn’t simply rule out Lake Garda. It’s equally beautiful in its own way, and it also happens to be a little cheaper, if you’re on a budget.
Plus, there’s so much to do here, and the amusement parks and historic sites may appeal to more active couples looking for an action-packed travel itinerary.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
If you’re planning a backpacking trip to one of the big Italian lakes, we’d recommend choosing Lake Garda over Lake Como, for a couple of key reasons.
Firstly, Lake Garda is slightly less expensive than Lake Como, and you should find it a little easier to get food and a place to stay that fits your budget here.
In addition, there are lots more free activities at Lake Garda, from water sports to local museums, and you can easily hop from here to Verona or travel onward to other cities on your backpacking tour, like Milan or Venice.
What about Lake Como? Well, it’s still a viable option for backpackers, and it’s easier to get here and to get around between the many lakeside towns, which can be a lot of fun for solo explorers. However, the higher prices could make it hard to plan a fulfilling trip.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Finding a room with a lake view on a budget is difficult, but at Gli Oleandri you’ll get just that. The furnishings are simple, but you’ll be staying at the lakefront for a fraction of the cost of other accommodation choices. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Situated right on the banks of Lake Como, and complete with rooms with private terraces that look out directly on the water, a stay at AlMolo5 will be remembered for years to come. The staff, service, and breakfast are pretty exceptional too. See photos and rates!
Budget: Just 300m from Lake Garda and with private balconies that have great panoramic views, a stay at the four-star GoTì Hotel is surprisingly cheap considering the location and facilities. See photos and rates!
Which Is Cheaper?
When it comes to cost, let’s be clear: Lake Como and Lake Garda are both quite expensive and fancy locations in North Italy that demand a certain budget.
Neither one can be classed as ‘cheap’ and budget-conscious travelers should book ahead to save some money.
However, there is a slight difference in average costs between the two lakes, with Garda usually being a little cheaper. If you plan in advance, it’s possible to find accommodation options to suit varying budgets here.
In contrast, with its celebrity lifestyles and jet-set vibes, Lake Como is pretty expensive, even when booking in advance.
The hotels and guesthouses are highly luxurious and pricey, and you may have to avoid the popular touristic towns if you want to stretch your budget when looking for places to eat or souvenirs to buy.
Lake Como vs Lake Garda: Which Is The Better Choice?
No matter which option you choose between Lake Como and Lake Garda, you’re guaranteed to have a magical experience, with storybook scenery, charming towns, amazing food, and plenty of things to fill up your days. And, in that sense, there’s really no wrong choice.
However, when it comes to the best option for most travelers, we have to lean in favor of Lake Garda. It can be a little trickier to get to, but it’s worth the trip, with so many activities and attractions to suit almost every kind of traveler, from hiking backpackers to families with young kids.
With its amusement parks, laid-back vibes, and lower prices, Lake Garda is simply a more complete vacation destination, and it’s arguably better for longer trips, as you’ll need a week or more to do all of the things you want to do.
Lake Como is also utterly gorgeous, and it’s easy to see why so many celebrities and famous figures from history have fallen in love with this place. It’s home to some of the most charming and picturesque towns in all of Italy, but, for the average traveler, it can feel a little too exclusive and expensive.
If you’ve got the budget to burn and like to enjoy the highest standards of luxury while traveling, Lake Como is absolutely worth visiting, but most people will probably have even more fun for less money over at Lake Garda.