Travel Tips and Hacks for Lake Como and Italy

This blog post includes our personal travel tips and hacks for Lake Como, which might be useful for your trip as well.

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For general travel information, have a look at our ULTIMATE LAKE COMO AND COMO CITY TRAVEL GUIDE.

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Driving from Switzerland to Italy

Coming from Switzerland, the route through the Alps is a spectacular entry to Italy. Note that in Switzerland you must buy a vignette for highways. But there are also secondary roads which are free of charge and unveil the beautiful landscape even more.

Lake Como: The least Crowded Lake in Lombardy

The interest in developing tourism grew at Lake Como very delayed, confident of the wealth generated by the silk business. In comparison to Lake Maggiore and Lake Garda, Lake Como is far less visited. Therefore the area still has a wild feel, is full of surprises, and offers the traveler the chance to enjoy a real sense of discovery.

view-of-the-church-at-faggeto-lario-and-lake-como
Lake Como in autumn

When to go to Lake Como and Milan

The high season around the lake is from June to September. Public places are usually open from Easter to the end of October.

Lake Como is best visted from April to Oktober for those who chase the heat, want to get tanned and refresh in the cold lakes. Nevertheless, these are the most crowded months and traveling around may be more stressful than in the off-season.

Boats in the harbour of Como with organe trees during autumn
We visited Lake Como in autumn

Tip: try to avoid the weeks of GermanAustrianSwiss, and Italian school holidays!

In the winter, many of the lake villages and their hotels shut down.

Milan is great to visit all year round, especially in the warm spring months with cool breezes. In the winter it might get colder than you expect of a city in the south of the Alps. Most likely, in July and August, it can get brutally hot in the city. Hence many shops and restaurants are closed during those days.

Where we stayed at Lake Como

We stayed in a little town called “Faggeto Lario“, which is halfway between the two famous cities Como City and Bellagio.

We decided to drive by car from our hometown Munich, which takes about 7h, but we extended our trip and stopped at some beautiful places in the Alps.

Our apartment in which we stayed in Faggeto Lario is called “Fagetto Fantastico”. It is owned by an amiable British man.
Read our full blog post about the apartment.

Anyway, have a look at the rates and availabilities at Lake Como on booking:



Booking.com

Fagetto Lario at Lake Como

Fagetto Lario is a super small commune in the Province of Como. It’s located around 9 km north of Como and 45 km north of Milan. It is a gateway for excellent hiking experience to Bollettone and has a nice spot for swimming in the lake.

The Church of Fagetto Lario at Lake Como
The church of Fagetto Lario

6 Things to avoid at Lake Como

  1. Monday Sightseeing: museums, galleries, and private-owned sights are normally closed
  2. Driving a car in the lake’s region during high season
  3. August (due to hot weather and overcrowded places)
  4. Winter (too lazy)
  5. Inappropriate Clothing (especially for visiting churches etc.)
  6. Touristy restaurants

9 Budget tips for Lake Como and Italy:

  1. Drink standing up: a drink at the bar is cheaper than served at the table, especially a table outside has a significant surcharge
  2. Self-Cater: feel like a local as well as save cash
  3. Public transport: hiring a car is more expensive than the good-value public transport
  4. Simple restaurants: local and small family-run restaurants can offer the best simple Italian food
  5. Pay in cash: foreign transactions often have extra fees
  6. Avoid high season: peak season is most pricey (July, August, September)
  7. Take away or picnic: local street markets and bakeries make up a good but cheap meal (bring reusable bags)
  8. Get your discounts: old or young – there are many discount rates in Italy
  9. Free sights: lakes, mountains, walking trails, and view spots are fascinating and free

Is tap water safe to drink in Italy?

In Italy, tap water is generally safe to drink. Water from sorgenti (fountains) in towns and taps is safe to drink unless there is a sign stating “Acqua non potabile!” (Not for drinking!). Water from streams and rivers will almost certainly be polluted.

Personally, we drink the water from some small streams in the mountains, but you can’t be sure whether it is safe to drink or not.

If you are not sure about the water quality, you can also boil the water in advance for purification.

Tipping and bargaining in Italy

You are not expected to tip on top of the restaurant service charge, but it is common practice to leave a small amount. Italians often leave any small change as a tip.

Bargaining is not acceptable, though you might negotiate a discount on a bigger purchase.

Italian holidays

Most sights, restaurants, and shops will close on holidays and partly in August when most Italians take their holidays. Particularly during the week around 15 August (Ferragosto). Public transport will be significantly reduced, and the lakes are likely to be inundated with daytrippers from surrounding towns.

List of holidays in Italy

  • Epiphany (6 January)
  • Easter Monday (March/April)
  • Liberation Day (25 April)
  • Labour Day (1 May)
  • Feast of the Assumption (15 August)
  • All Saint’s Day (1 November)
  • Feast of the Immaculate Conception (8 December)
  • Christmas Day (25 December)
  • Feast of Santo Stefano (26 December)

Dress code

Italian dress smartly, therefore in towns like Milan you may feel out of place if dressing too informally.

Couple in front of the Bosco Verticale in Milan
Casual clothing is good but don’t dress too informally 😉

You will need to cover your shoulders and wear long pants/skirts over the knees for visits to churches and other religious sites. Appropriate shoes are required, as well.

Electrical appliances

The electrical supply in Italy is 220V, although appliances requiring 240V will also work. The standard plugs are two-pin, but some older establishments may differ, so a multi-plug adapter is very useful.

Public transportation in Italy

Especially in northern Italy, there are plenty of rail and bus connections which is very pleasant for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Moreover, in the peak season, much of the lake’s region is best explored by public transportation as the lakeside roads, and larger towns see heavy traffic and insufficient parking options.

Yellow tram in Milan
The famous tram of Milan are a great way to get around in the city

Trains in Italy

Compared with other European countries, it is relatively cheap to travel by train in Italy. Trenitalia is the most common train company which runs most services.

All tickets (except those purchased outside Italy) must be validated before boarding by punching them in the yellow machines at the entrance to all train platforms. Tickets usually are sold from the bilighetteria (station ticket office) or at an adjacent bar/tabacchiThere are many discount passes offered by Trenitalia as well.

To plan your route, either go online on trenitalia.it or download the app or have a look at the displays at your train station.

If you don’t, you risk an expensive fine.

Different types of trains in Italy:

  1. Regionale and interregionale: stop at all or most stations (for example Milan-Como)
  2. Intercity (IC): trains which operate between major cities
  3. Eurocity (EC): international
  4. Eurostar Italia (ES): other services including the pendolini
  5. Alta Velocita (AV and ESA): Turin-Milan-Bologna-Florence-Rome-Naples-Salerno
  6. CIS trains: jointly operated by Italian and Swiss rail companies (with own ticket system)
  7. Non-stop train between Milan and Rome (3h)

Buses in Italy

Bus travel is even less expensive than train travel. The range of bus services is from local routes linking small cities to intercity connections. Local buses link the lakeside villages with regular service.

Local bus tickets are generally purchased at tabacchi or newspaper sellers. In more isolated regions and on the lakeside, the bus driver sells tickets on board. The tickets are validated on the bus, and route information is usually displayed at the bus stops.

Milan, Bergamo and southern Lake Garda even have open-topped tourist buses that offer a hop-on-hop-off service around the sights (www.zaniviaggi.it)

Taking a taxi in Italy

Super expensive, better take the bus 😉

Driving and vehicle rentals in Italy

You have to be aged 25 or older to hire a car in Italy. In general, it is cheaper to hire a car in advance. Motorcycles and scooters are available for people aged over 18 with a deposit.

Most companies will accept your national license, but NON-EU travelers are supposed to obtain an International Driving Permit to accompany their national license.

Italian highways are toll roads. You usually pay on exit with cash or a credit card. Most petrol stations close at 7 pm and all day on Sunday.

Outdoor pursuits at Lake Como

Cycling

Whether you are interested in asphalt or off-road biking, you can hire all types of bikes in most Italian cities and towns. There are no special rules for cyclists in Italy. Due to our best knowledge, helmet and lights are not obligatory – but advisable. Bikes can be taken on trains with a bike logo, but you need an extra ticket.

Water sports

Lake Como has, like all major lakes in Lombardy, windsurfing and sailing dinghies for rent. Kiteboarding and canyoning are available too.

Hiking

The combination of mountains and lakes is almost limitless. Hence you will be spoiled for choice.

Church at Molina with colorful leaves during autumn
Hiking at Lake Como in autumn: the church of Molina

Safety outdoors: basic information for hikers, bikers, and swimmers

You can significantly reduce the chance of getting into difficulties by taking a few simple precautions like:

  • allow plenty of time to accomplish a walk before dark
  • don’t overestimate your skills
  • better go outdoors in a group
  • make sure to have a map or GPS
  • get the weather forecast for your adventure

Nevertheless, visitors to the lakes of Lombardy are unlikely to experience anything more alarming than the odd mosquito.

Those keen to practice watersports should follow specific guidelines. At Lago Maggiore and Lago di Como, cold water and strong currents challenge even experienced swimmers.

When hiking, be aware of rockfall and late-lying snow in higher mountain regions (even in midsummer). Sudden rains are frequent in the Alps, and rivers can be turned from a gentle stream into a raging torrent very fast.

Sustainable traveling in Italy

Leading environmental organizations in Italy:

More eco-thoughts about (north) Italy to promote sustainable tourism:

  • Simply SMA is an eco supermarket, and Natura Si is a chain selling organic and natural products.
  • Cities in the north have introduced bike-sharing schemes.
  • Rubbish and waste disposal are two unsightly problems in Italy, and at the moment, it doesn’t seem like change is happening.

The invasion by tourists is continually increasing. Therefore low-impact traveling and recreational use of resources should be aimed at every journey.
We can all help to fulfill the responsibilities that go with the rights of tourism and traveling:

  • produce the least waste possible
  • use the least resource possible
  • separate your trash in the anticipated components: typically glass, plastic, paper and residual waste (please inform yourself, there may be regional differences)
  • carry out waste from natural areas and make an effort to pick up rubbish left by others
  • leave all wild creatures and plants as you find them
  • don’t use detergents or toothpaste in or near lakes or any stream. Even if they are biodegradable, they can harm flora and fauna.
  • for washing outside, use biodegradable soap
  • use a scourer instead of detergent

Visa and health in Italy

Visa in Italy

Italy is part of the Schengen Agreement, whereby travelers moving from one Schengen country to another are not subject to border controls, although there are spot checks. Since the refugee issue, some states may re-introduce border controls then and now.

Citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand do NOT need visas for stays up to three months, but passports are required

Health in Italy

EU citizens who travel with the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) are entitled to free emergency treatment and reciprocal health care in Italy. It is wise, however, to bring additional health insurance if existing.

Always take out adequate travel insurance before leaving for Italy.

The private hospitals are excellent but expensive without insurance, and some treatments in public hospitals have to be paid extra.

There may be a nominal charge (around 30€) if your condition is not considered urgent.

Pharmacies are qualified to give medical advice and medication for minor health issues.

Especially in the regions of the lakes in Lombardy, the cool breezes blowing off the mountains can disguise the strength of the sun, and mosquitoes are a common problem in the summer in Milan and the southern parts of the big lakes.

Emergency numbers of Italy

  • Ambulance: 118
  • Fire Brigade: 115
  • Highway rescue: 116
  • Police and general emergency anywhere in Italy: 112 or 113

Most emergency services will be able to communicate in English if necessary.

Emergency numbers in Lombardy

Despite the 113, also the number 118 is for a general emergency in Lombardy. When close the border of Switzerland you may also consider the numbers of the Swiss Police (117), the ambulance (118) or the roadside assistance (140)

Dangers and crime in Italy

Italy is generally a safe country. Cities can sometimes be riskier then rural areas. Traffic rules are more volatile and don’t expect drivers to yield for pedestrians politely. Italy has no dangerous fauna.

Milan has its share of petty crime. In addition to that, it is advisable to take some general tourist precautions like everywhere you travel. Especially on markets on public transport and on tourist hotspots, where pickpockets may be operating.
Be aware of people begging with cardboard signs or newspapers: they are often used to distract you while your pockets are being emptied.

Outside the city and at Lake Como, crime rates are lower. Still, you should stay alert to enjoy your stay to the full.

Remember to report any loss or theft at a local police station.

Want to know more about Lake Como? Click here!

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