Wandering our World is reader supported! If you purchase anything through a link on our site, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you.

Last updated on April 24, 2023 by Wandering our World

The large lakes of North Italy are wonderful places to spend a few days and nights, or even longer. Boasting stunning mountain scenery, charming waterfront towns, and an array of interesting activities, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore are two of the top spots to visit.

Lake Como is by far the most famous, with many celebrities having bought or rented properties here, from George Clooney to Madonna, and the lake has even been used as a filming location for famous franchises like James Bond and Star Wars.

Lake Maggiore may be less-known, but it’s just as beautiful. Like Como, Maggiore is famed for the gorgeous villas that line its shores and the charming towns that look out over its shimmering blue waters.

Clearly, these two lovely lakes have a lot in common, from their opulent villas to their scenic surroundings, which can make it hard to pick which one you want to visit.

Fortunately, there are a few key differences which may help you make up your mind.

That’s why right here we’ll be highlighting those differences, focusing on how Lake Como and Lake Maggiore compare to one another in key areas like accessibility, affordability, beaches and lidos, activities and attractions, food and drink, and more.


  1. A Quick Overview
  2. Which Is Best For Activities?
  3. Which Is Best For Day Trips?
  4. Which Is Best For Beaches?
  5. Which Is Better For Nightlife? 
  6. Which Has The Best Shopping? 
  7. Which Is Better For Hiking? 
  8. Which Is Better For Food? 
  9. Which Is Better For Families? 
  10. Which Is Best For Couples & Honeymoons? 
  11. Which Is Best For Backpackers? 
  12. Which Is Cheaper? 
  13. Where To Stay According To Your Budget
  14. Which Is Easier To Get To? 
  15. Which Is Easier To Get Around?
  16. Which Is The Better Choice?  
An infographic pitting Lake Como vs Lake Maggiore and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

A Quick Overview: Lake Como vs Lake Maggiore

Lake Como: A Quick Overview

Lake Como is one of Italy’s largest and most famous lakes. It’s located in the northern part of the country, around 40 miles north of Milan, and it covers 56 square miles (146 square km), making it the third-biggest lake in the entire country.

This lake is known for its distinctive Y-shape formation, which gives it a really long shoreline of around 99 miles.

It’s surrounded by mountains, and it’s also not too far from the border between Italy and Switzerland, which is located to the west of the lake.

Lake Como is well-known as a popular touristic destination in modern times, but it’s been a beloved resort throughout the ages. Even back in the days of Ancient Rome, wealthy and noble members of society would often spend some of their summer months here, 

These days, of course, the trend continues, with some of the world’s most famous movie stars and singers having homes around the lake.

Some of Lake Como’s elegant villas are even open for tours, and the lake is lined with glamorous, picturesque towns and villages to visit.

Varenna, lake Como, panoramic view

Lake Maggiore: A Quick Overview

Lake Maggiore is another large lake which is mostly located in North Italy, but extends over the border into Switzerland.

At 82 square miles (212 square km) in size, it’s the second-biggest lake in Italy and the fourth-largest in Switzerland.

This lake is known for its very long and narrow form, giving it a totally different shape to Lake Como, and also meaning it has a slightly shorter shore, which runs for approximately 93 miles in total.

Despite not being as famous or as commonly-visited throughout history as Lake Como, Lake Maggiore is still a popular tourist destination, beloved by many for its botanical gardens and the charming little islands that can be found among its waters.

When it comes to atmosphere, Lake Maggiore is more laid-back and quieter than Lake Como. It doesn’t have the same jet-set, celebrity vibe, and many people argue that it’s a more authentic and traditional location, without as much development as lakes like Como and Garda. 

Hermitage or Eremo of Santa Caterina del Sasso medieval roman catholic monastery. Leggiuno Maggiore lake, Lombardy Italy, Europe. Long Exposure.

Which Is Best For Activities?

Arguably the most important factor to think about when trying to decide between Lake Como and Lake Maggiore is what these locations have to offer in terms of activities and attractions to keep you entertained and fill up your travel itinerary.

Let’s take a look at some of the main things to do while visiting both of these lakes. By doing so, you can see which one may suit you best!

Lake Como: The Activities

Lake Como is well-known for its luxurious and elegant villas.

Some of those villas are inhabited by rich and famous people, but others have been converted into public museums and attractions, allowing you to wander around, admire the architecture, and learn all about the history of each location.

Visiting the villas of Lake Como is a wonderful and enchanting way to spend some time, and each one has its own stories to tell.

Movie buffs will definitely want to check out Villa Balbianello, which has been a film set location for several major motion pictures, while Villa Carlotta has a gorgeous garden and Villa Bernasconi has a fascinating museum.

It’s also a lot of fun to get out on the water at Lake Como. You can opt for relaxing water activities, like private boat tours that will take you around the various villages and give you glimpses of celebrity homes, or something more thrilling, like kayaking with your family, windsurfing, or wakeboarding.

This luxurious lake is also famed for its charming waterfront towns. Colorful Como City is a great place to start, boasting a mixture of Swiss and Italian vibes.

Meanwhile Bellagio is one of the most picturesque Como villages, Menaggio has hundreds of years of history behind it, and Cernobbio is one of the quieter and more romantic locations to stay at.

Famous luxury villa Monastero, stunning botanical garden decorated with mediterranean oleander flowers, lake Como, Varenna, Lombardy region, Italy, Europe

Lake Maggiore: The Activities

Just like at Lake Como, one of the best things to do at Lake Maggiore is visit and explore the various towns along the shore.

There are plenty to choose from, like Stresa, with its cobbled streets and Belle Epoque villas, Luino, with its quaint and curious historic center, or the large town of Verbania, which is generally regarded as one of the top spots to seek accommodation.

One of the distinctive features of Lake Maggiore is the presence of several small islands and islets nestled among its waters.

Many visitors to this lake like to sail out to the Borromean Islands, like Isola Bella, which has a huge palace and garden, and Isola Madre, which also has gorgeous gardens and interesting historic monuments.

Gardens are a big focal point throughout Lake Maggiore. In fact, the Botanic Gardens of Villa Taranto have been ranked among the most beautiful in the world, and it’s possible to spend many happy, relaxing hours roaming among the greenery and admiring the colorful flowerbeds and impressive water features of these impeccable outdoor spaces.

Another fun and unique thing to do at Lake Maggiore is riding the bucket lift in Laveno to enjoy amazing views across the Alps.

Or, you can make your way out onto the water – kayaking and boat tours are available here, and there are plenty of great places to swim. Maggiore also has fabulous hiking trails and mountain treks to try, which is also true for Lake Como.

Overall, when it comes to activities, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore offer pretty similar experiences, with a few notable differences.

While Como is king when it comes to fancy villas and flawless towns, Maggiore has some of the prettiest gardens in all of Italy, and its more relaxing, less-crowded villages may appeal to certain types of travelers.

Villa Taranto, Verbania, Lake Maggiore, Italy

Which Is Better For Day Trips? 

There’s more than enough to do at both Lake Como and Lake Maggiore to take up several days or even a full week-long trip. However, you might like to take a day away from the lakes and see some other nearby locations.

Given that Lake Como and Lake Maggiore are quite close to one another, there isn’t a huge difference in terms of day trip destinations and opportunities.

Lake Como is probably best for exploring nearby Milan, as you can get back into the city on a high-speed train in under an hour, if you leave from the city of Como.

Once there, you can visit Milan’s iconic cathedral or spend a day shopping along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.

From Lake Maggiore, you can visit local cities, like Varese, which is famed for its ornate villas, or head over the border, into Switzerland.

You can stop off at Lugano, one of the prettiest cities in South Switzerland, or head north to Lucerne, with its medieval walls and wonderfully-preserved old buildings.

Of course, it’s also possible to do day trips from Lake Como to Lake Maggiore, and vice versa, and it’s possible to make it from one lake to the other in around two and a half hours, on average.

Overall, we can’t really say that one lake is clearly better than the other for day trips. They’re both located in very picturesque parts of Europe, with several charming towns and cities within easy reach of either one.

With that said, Como’s superior public transit links may make it easier to use as a day trip starting point.

Duomo at sunrise, Milan, Europe.

Which Is Better For Beaches? 

As both Lake Como and Lake Maggiore have many miles of shoreline, there are plenty of little beaches along the way where you can rest, sunbathe, swim, or enjoy a range of other activities.

Travelers shouldn’t come to either of these lakes expecting long, sandy expanses or Caribbean-style scenes though. But there are a surprising number of rocky, grassy, and pebbled stretches of shore for some fun in the sun or a romantic, relaxing afternoon.

But which one is best for beaches? Well, Lake Como has some very pretty beaches. San Giovanni Beach in Bellagio is one of the best, and it’s right beside one of the lake’s loveliest villages, giving you all you need for a great day out.

Pianello Beach is another pleasant spot, made up of pebbles and enjoying magical mountain views, while the Lido di Ossuccio is a pleasant place for picnics and Colonno Beach is a very natural, quaint spot to enjoy the silence and admire the lake’s deep blue waters.

Lake Maggiore has arguably even more diverse and enjoyable beaches along its shore than Lake Como. The beach at Arona, for example, is a really family-friendly spot with volleyball courts and local bars, while the artificial beach at Baveno is perfect for lazing around.

Calde has some nice secluded, secret beaches to find, perfect for couples, while the Blue Flag beach at Cannero is a prime sunbathing spot. Travelers might also like to check out the Vallemaggia beach, which has both sand and stones, with shallow waters for wadding and splashing around.

Overall, both of these locations have charming beaches and little patches of rock and grass where you can sit and take in the scenery that surrounds you.

Lake Como’s beaches might be able to offer the most amazing views, but those at Maggiore are generally bigger, more numerous, and more diverse.

Aerial view of Lierna, a village on Lake Como
iStock.com/Nicola Colombo

Which Is Better For Nightlife? 

If you like staying out late and mingling with locals at bars and clubs, you’ll surely be interested in the nightlife scenes of Lake Como and Lake Maggiore.

However, let’s be clear: neither of these lakes can be classed among Italy’s party places, and there isn’t a whole lot of nightlife at either one of them.

You can find a small sample of bars and clubs dotted around some of the bigger towns, like Como at Lake Como and Verbania at Lake Maggiore, but most people tend to spend the evenings simply wandering the streets, sitting on a bench to look at the lake, or taking in a romantic evening meal at one of the many waterfront restaurants.

So, when it comes to evening entertainment, travelers shouldn’t expect too much from either of these destinations. Although, with Como being busier and livelier, it just about wins this category.

Bellagio, Como, Italy town view on Lake Como at twilight.

Which Is Best For Shopping? 

Shopping is one of the best things to do all over Italy, especially in the big cities, like Rome and Milan. But what about shopping in the towns and villages of Lake Como and Lake Maggiore? 

Well, Lake Como is a pretty good place to shop, especially if you’re looking for high-end fashion and designer goods. You’ll find plenty of big-brand boutiques in Como itself, as well as towns like Bellagio,

Lake Como also has plenty of independent artisans making all sorts of cute and interesting crafts, perfect to take home as souvenirs or give as gifts to people you care about, and there are even some great outlet stores to get fabulous fashion at a fraction of the usual price.

Over at Lake Maggiore, the shopping scene isn’t quite as well-developed. However, there are still some fun shopping experiences to be had, especially at the weekly Luino Market – more than 350 stalls feature at this market, and its history goes back to the 16th century.

Markets also take place in other towns around the lake, with fresh produce and handmade crafts up for grabs.

You can also find some outlet malls in the surrounding area, or take a small day trip over to Varese, nicknamed ‘Little Milan’ with its fashionable boutiques and store-lined streets.

Overall, Lake Como is the better place to shop, especially for luxury goods and unique products, but the Luino Market of Lake Maggiore is a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Picturesque and colorful old town street in Bellagio city, Italy
iStock.com/Michal Ludwiczak

Which Is Best For Hiking? 

Given that Lake Como and Lake Maggiore are surrounded by spectacular mountains, hiking is one of the best ways to experience the area, and you can enjoy awe-inspiring views from some of the many local trails.

Lake Como excels in terms of mountain treks. Places like Monte Palanzone, Monte Legnone, and Monte Bolletone all have climbing trails that will take you hundreds of feet above sea level, letting you see the lake from a whole new angle and marvel at the majesty of nature.

The Via Dei Monti Lariani is another great trail near Lake Como – famed for its diversity, this trail passes through forests, villages, valleys, and ridges, once again providing some of the most fabulous views in all of Italy.

Over at Lake Maggiore, there are also some fabulous mountain paths at places like Mount Mottarone in Stresa. It can be a challenge to reach the peaks, but the mind-blowing views are absolutely worth the effort.

Trails like the Via delle Genti and Sentiero del Mulino offer more outdoor experiences, with varying difficulty levels to suit the whole family. The scenery here is very similar to Lake Como, and the list of trails goes on and on.

There are many great places to hike around both lakes, and they all provide fabulous views and rewarding experiences.

It’s very tough to pick a winner, but Lake Como might just have the edge, thanks to its sublime villages and great local transport services to take you to the trails.

Panoramic view of Lake Maggiore, Verbania, Piedmont.

Which Has The Best Food? 

It’s impossible to talk about Italy without mentioning the country’s fabulous food. From the classics, like pizza and pasta, to rich regional specialties and decadent desserts, Italy has some of the best cuisine on Earth.

You can sample some of Italy’s greatest culinary creations in the gourmet restaurants of Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. Both lakes have excellent eateries, but there are a few key differences between them.

Since Lake Como tends to cater for jet-setters and the Hollywood elite, it tends to have higher prices and more of a classy, high-end vibe among its eateries.

Over at Lake Maggiore, you can find cozier, family-friendly eateries with cheaper prices.

So, for absolute luxury and exquisite dining, head to Lake Como. For simpler and more affordable fare, opt for Maggiore.

Lago di Como (northern Italy) scenic view with red chairs and tables for dining beside the lake

Which Is Better For A Family Trip? 

If you’re heading to one of these two big lakes with the family, it’s a tough call between Lake Como and Lake Maggiore.

Both lakes have beautiful scenery, fun hiking trails, and pleasant things to do for the whole family, from the villa tours of Lake Como to the gardens of Lake Maggiore.

However overall, Lake Maggiore might be the better option for many families, thanks to the fact it’s a little cheaper, and it has more beaches, providing plenty of pleasant spaces where your kids can run around, paddle in the water, or even build sandcastles as you sit back and enjoy some quality time.

With that said, Lake Como is still a fun place to visit with kids, especially older kids, who are more likely to appreciate the beautiful villas and charming waterfront towns.

Teens may also prefer the shopping around Lake Como, but little ones may be happier at Maggiore.

Sunset in the evening in Ascona luxury tourist resort promenade on Lake Maggiore in Ticino canton in Switzerland in summer. People outdoor street travel. Romantic Swiss typical expensive town.

Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons? 

If you’re trying to decide between Lake Como and Lake Maggiore for a luxury honeymoon or romantic getaway with someone special, there are pros and cons on both sides, and the right choice will depend on the personal tastes and preferences of yourself and your partner.

For absolute luxury and indulgence, Lake Como is the place to go.

It’s one of the most glamorous and elegant locations in the whole of Europe, where you and your partner can live like VIPs and enjoy the finest levels of food, accommodation, and experiences, for a price.

If you need something a little more budget-friendly, Lake Maggiore is quite similar to Lake Como in many ways and can provide the same kinds of experiences, for less.

It’s not as fancy, nor as flawless, but it’s still a fantastic place to spend some time.

Como lake, Varenna town sunsrt view, Italy, Lombardy
iStock.com/Travel Faery

Which Is Better For Backpackers? 

For backpackers, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore aren’t the best destinations to visit, due to their relatively high prices.

However, if you really want to visit one of these lakes for hiking and adventures, Lake Como might be the better choice.

Even though it has quite an elite and exclusive feel, Lake Como does cater to backpackers, with a few budget-friendly hostels to choose from, as long as you book in advance. The local transport is helpful for getting around, too, and there are some super hikes to try.

Lake Maggiore also has a small selection of hostels in places like Locarno and Verbania, and it’s usually cheaper to visit, on the whole. But there’s a little less for backpackers to do there, making it less of an appealing destination for the average adventurer. 

Landscape with Isola Bella, Island on Maggiore lake, Stresa, Italy

Which Is Cheaper? 

In terms of affordability, it’s Lake Maggiore that takes the win.

When we look at average accommodation and food costs, Maggiore is typically cheaper than Lake Como, and you can have a great time on a budget at this lake.

At Lake Como, there’s a big focus on luxury and elegance, which leads to higher prices across the board for most hotels and restaurants.

Budget-conscious travelers may therefore find it difficult to plan a full trip here without running out of cash.

Borromean islands and small towns of Lago Maggiore. Piedmont, Italy

Where To Stay According To Your Budget

Lake Como

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!

Lake Maggiore

Budget: La Dama del Porto is a wonderful accommodation right on the water with unobstructed views, yet despite that – and the excellent service – it comes in a budget price point for the areas. See photos and rates!

Luxury: You’re in Lake Maggiore, so why not stay at a villa! The 18th-century Relais Villa Porta is one of the most beautiful, it’s sat right by the lake, has a private promenade and two terraces that look directly out onto the water. The gardens are huge and the views spectacular. See photos and rates!

Historical tourist resort town Cannero Riviera on Lago Maggiore lake, Alps mountains, Italy

Which Is Easier To Get To?

Since neither of these lakes are right beside any major cities or international airports, getting to them can take a little time.

Fortunately, accessing both Lake Como and Lake Maggiore isn’t too difficult, and the easiest option is to fly into Milan.

If you’re going to Lake Como, you can hop on a train either from Milan Malpensa Airport or from one of Milan’s main train stations straight to the lake. The route takes about an hour, on average, and passes by some beautiful scenery along the way.

For Lake Maggiore, you can also take trains out of Milan to various locations along Maggiore’s shore, like Stresa, Arona, and Laveno.

It’ll take slightly longer compared to Lake Como, but the ride is pleasant, and you can be at one of the main lake towns in less than two hours.

It’s also possible to drive from Milan to either of these two large lakes. The drive will be a little faster for Lake Como, and Lake Como is generally the easier place to get to, but there’s not a huge difference between the two.

old town and port of Mandello del Lario in italy - Lago di Como

Which Is Easier To Get Around? 

Getting to Lake Como or Lake Maggiore is relatively easy, but you’ll also need to consider how you’re going to make your way around and across these gigantic lakes in order to see the sights and visit the villages and villas along the shore.

Lake Como has quite impressive public transit, with various ferries and trains to take you around, as well as a decent local bus service that allows tourists to hop from town to town. Thanks to this, there’s no real need for a rental car.

The same can be said of Lake Maggiore. Here, you’ll also find trains, buses, and ferries to help you get around and visit the most popular places.

Having a car can be helpful for reaching some of the more remote spots or heading over the border into Switzerland, but it’s not usually necessary.

The famous old Isola Bella in the Lake Maggiore, one of the most famous small italian island (Italy)
iStock.com/Francesco Scatena

Lake Como vs Lake Maggiore: Which Is The Better Choice?

Overall, you can’t really go wrong no matter which lake you decide on. Both Lake Como and Lake Maggiore are stunning locations, with only small differences in terms of their vibes and activities, and the best option for you will depend on your own tastes and desires.

For the majority of people, even though it’s a little more expensive, Lake Como is probably the better choice.

It has a little more to do, and it’s fair to say that the beauty of the natural scenery and villages here simply can’t be matched. It’s no surprise that so many people throughout history have fallen in love with this special place.

At the same time, Lake Maggiore is a very competitive alternative, with a lot of things going for it. It can offer a lot of the same things that Lake Como does, without the same expensive price tags, and if you’re looking for a place that’s a little more laid-back, Maggiore definitely has the edge.


  • Wandering our World

    Hi and welcome to Wandering our World! This article was written by one of the Wandering our World team - a team of travel enthusiasts who live around the globe.