George Clooney knew what he was doing when he purchased a villa on Lake Como. As a vacation destination for the elite since Roman times, Lake Como and the villages around it are nothing short of magnificent.
Fortunately, you don’t need Clooney’s celebrity status or income to pay a visit to the wonderful Lake Como. I hope you’ll be happy to know that it’s perfectly possible to visit the area on a budget.
Here’s what you need to know:
Where to Stay
Travelling on a budget for me often means sleeping in hostels. Fortunately, you can find a few of them around Lake Como. Menaggio, Domaso, and Como are home to most of the affordable hostels. Menaggio has the lake’s only youth hostel.
When I visited Lake Como, I stayed at the Lake Como Hostel in Menaggio, and I highly recommend it to others!
Well, when you search for images of Lake Como, photos of colourful, closely-built homes on the water’s edge surrounded by mountains will fill up your screen. The quaint picturesque towns usually featured in these photos are Varenna, Bellagio and…(you guessed it!) Menaggio. All three are also only a short ferry ride apart. By staying at Menaggio’s Lake Como Hostel, you will already be in and remain in close proximity to some of the Lake’s most beautiful destinations.
Downtown Menaggio – A Five Minute Walk from the Hostel
As an added bonus, the hostel offers fantastic dinners and drinks at great prices, and if sleeping in a 6-bed dorm isn’t your cup of tea, you can always book one of their apartments (which are still very affordable…unlike a room at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo which costs a minimum of 650 Euros per night). On top of all of these sweet deals, you can also rent kayaks and bikes from the hostel or sign up for a cooking class!
Have you ever stayed at a hostel with a view like this?
Check out Menaggio’s Lake Como hostel on booking.com by clicking here.
(It may be helpful to know that my visit to Lake Como was part of my summer 2016 Interrail Adventure. As always, I recommend checking out current prices, ratings, and reviews to make sure that a hostel is the right fit for you. As a side note, on countless occasions during my Interrail trip, the hostel rates on booking.com were cheaper than those found on Hostelworld. *gasp*)
P.S. If any of you lovely readers choose to stay at the Lake Como hostel, I’d be eternally grateful if you could claim my hot pink bathing suit and travel towel for me! I forgot them there during my stay (…kidding. I bet they’re long gone).
How to Get Around
You don’t have to splurge on renting a private motorboat or water taxi to cruise across the lake. Ferries run everyday which enable even us (budget travellers) to feel a little more glamorous by experiencing the region on water.
Gestione Navigazione Laghi’s website will provide you with all the ferry schedules and fare information you need. You shouldn’t be charged more than 15 Euros for a south-to-north journey across the lake. Click here to check out their site.
View of Varenna from the Ferry
- Since the city of Como has a direct train connection to Milan and a handful of nearby Swiss towns, many visitors choose to begin their Lake Como experience in Como. If you plan on starting your adventure there too, I suggest arriving at the ferry ticket counter at least 30-45 minutes before the ferry’s scheduled departure.
- Be aware that certain towns across the lake, such as Menaggio, have a fast and slow ferry service. The fast ferry is more expensive and does not have an outdoor deck for its passengers.
- It is slightly pricier to take the ferry than the bus (which you can read about below), but taking the ferry will give you the chance to experience panoramic and unobstructed views of the lake and its idyllic villages.
It’s useful to know that several public buses run around the lake, and travelling with them is usually cheaper than taking the ferry (I paid around 6 Euros for a ticket from Menaggio to Lugano – I’m talking about crossing borders here). Buses usually stop in both larger and smaller towns. Several bus companies drive around the lake, and Lake Como’s official website can provide you with up-to-date information about routes, timetables, and fares. Click here to check the bus system out.
Massively Important Money-Saving Piece of Advice:
If you end up staying in one of the lake’s charming little towns, do not…and I REPEAT: DO NOT book train tickets to Como that make you arrive in the city too late in the evening or require you to leave too early in the morning. The journey to and from towns such as Menaggio and Bellagio takes time (over an hour), and unfortunately, buses and ferries generally operate during daytime hours (only some buses may run during late evening hours). The last thing you want to end up doing is splurging over 100 Euros on a 6 a.m. or 12:00 am cab ride.
What to See and Do
Explore the Towns Along the Lake
In my opinion, a trip to Lake Como is not complete without a visit to the three magical towns located in the heart of the region: Bellagio, Menaggio, and Varenna. You’re guaranteed to by mesmerized by the colour, architecture, landscape and luxury. When I imagine Lake Como, it’s the winding streets and glamorous views from these three towns that come into mind.
The best part is that hours can be spent walking through these towns and walking of course, is absolutely FREE. Nevertheless, spending 2 Euros on granita (…or gelato) from a small cafe is not excessive, and the ferry fares to travel between these three towns are fairly affordable (I paid under 10 Euros for a roundtrip from Menaggio to Bellagio).
Walk along the waterfront in Menaggio…
Swim, Lounge, and Relax
If you’re visiting during the summer, a dip in the lake may be necessary and it can be accomplished in any of the bathing areas found along the lake (most towns have one or two). If you end up staying at Menaggio’s Lake Como hostel, you will receive a voucher for the Lido di Menaggio Beach Club. For a discounted price, you will get access to the pool, beach area, and sun beds where you can unwind and lounge around to your heart’s content. Lake Como is meant to be a destination for relaxation.
If you’re an adventurer at heart, many hiking trails exist around the lake such as the one up to the Rifugio Menaggio or the church of St. Amate. (I would have loved to have done these hikes, but not in 35+ summer weather). This means that I’ll definitely have to go back for a second visit!
The spectacular view from Rifugio Menaggio. Photo credit: Luca Casartelli DSC_2004.jpg via photopin (license) Please note that the hike up to Rifugio Menaggio starts in Breglia which is a short bus ride north of Menaggio.
All in all, Lake Como is undeniably one spectacular place. Fortunately, a trip to the area doesn’t require a spectacular budget. By following the tips in this post, you can experience the magic of Lake Como for less. Feel free to pin and save the summary below!
Found this budget guide useful and want to learn how you can visit other European destinations for less?
Have time to explore more of Italy? Check out Meghan the Traveling Teacher’s Perfect 10-Day Italy Itinerary!
Considering visiting Lake Como without a tight budget? You can take a look at other accommodations in the area here:
Do you have any tips for visiting Lake Como for less? Feel free to share them below!
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase/book any of the linked products or services, I will earn a small commission. There’s no extra-cost for you. Any earnings will simply be used to keep snowtoseas.com going. Thank you for your support!