At first glance, the Lake Como or Lake Garda decision is a tough one. There’s little to separate two of Italy’s best bodies of water. Mouthwatering cuisine, regional specialties, wines aged right by the lake and a crop of talented chefs does little to help matters either. To really narrow things down, take a look past the shimmering waters and a deep dive into the attractions, activities, scenery and affordability of each lake to really get the measure of these iconic, Italian holiday destinations.
When it comes to choosing between Lake Como or Lake Garda, lake activities might not be the category to find a clear distinction. Both bodies of water have ample space to hop on a boat and explore. Though, when it comes to watersports, Lake Garda does pip Lake Como to the post – purely by having more opportunities to have fun on the water. The quieter and more aloof shores of Lake Como lend themselves to exclusive beach clubs, where imported sand covers the pebbles and the goal is to see and be seen. On the shoreline? Wine tasting is definitely not in short supply on either lake – where local wines feature at the many eateries. Hiking, cycling and mooching around lakeside villages are a must on either lake.
Winner: Lake Garda offers much more in the ‘things to do’ category, whereas Lake Como leans more towards the sunbathing, relaxing and celeb spotting end of the holiday spectrum.
Food and drink
You’ll eat well on either lake. So no need to worry about missing out on Italian delicacies. Whether you choose Lake Como or Lake Garda on food alone could come down to your gourmet tendencies. Both shores have a liberal dusting of Michelin stars – making fine dining easily accessible. If you’re a foodie looking for local specialties, Lake Como’s tendency to dry cure their fish and meats cranks the flavour meter up to 11 in every meal. Look out for missoltini (lake fish) and bresaolo (beef) to try the best of these ancient recipes. In Lake Garda, sisam is the region’s equivalent for preserving fish. Menus in this region of Italy mingle French, Spanish and Austrian influences into the rainbow of Italian produce grown locally to serve up often hearty dishes that wouldn’t be out of place on a ski slope or riviera.
Winner: A tie, with Lake Garda having an edge on affordability.
Lake Garda instantly romps home with the attractions crown, largely thanks to a clutch of theme parks that have popped up within easy drives of the shoreline. Movieland brings Hollywood to Italy in the form of big studio stunts, interactive rides, shows, sets and themed restaurants. How does Lake Como compete? Well, you’re much more likely to catch a glimpse of a Hollywood star on these lake shores, than hop on a coaster. In this sense, the lakes are worlds apart. Caneva Aquapark provides aquatic thrills and spills near Lake Garda, while Lake Como visitors will have to make their own fun on one of the many beaches. That’s not to say Lake Como lacks attractions, but most draw on the lake’s scenery, villas or castles.
Winner: Lake Garda – the theme parks, castles, botanic gardens and Roman ruins provide a more balanced itinerary, particularly for families.
The opulence of Lake Como’s architecture is undeniably stunning. Flanked on all sides with mountain views, Como’s shimmering lake surface adds another layer of sheen to an already sparkling spot. In contrast, Lake Garda’s shores are only hemmed in by mountains to the north. The south of the lake opens up with views that stretch over the surrounding towns and beyond. In terms of shoreside views? Both lakes have drawn criticism for being a smidge overdeveloped. Lake Como’s buildings are utterly sumptuous, but scant room has been left for trees, nature and wildlife. On Lake Garda, the south’s waterside villages and ports are punctuated with lemon orchards, olive groves and vineyards.
While the wilderness creeps all the way to the lake in places. Castles, forts and palaces line both Como and Garda, though Lake Como’s renaissance buildings always garner the most praise.
Winner: A tie – both lakes are breath-taking.
Although there’s plenty to keep you on and around the water on both lakes, your eyes might start to wander over the map when you see Milan so temptingly close. Geographically, Italy’s fashion-forward metropolis sits just south of Lake Como. But, the journey by car takes just over 2 hours by car from the centre of either lake. So you’ll need to plot more must-sees on the map if this is going to play into your Lake Como or Lake Garda decision. Does it help to know Verona is just an hour away from the centre of Lake Garda – or that Venice is a little over 2 hours away?
Winner: Lake Garda – If you’re looking to tick off a few Italian cities during your stay, Lake Garda’s road connections and proximity to Venice, Verona and Milan edges out Lake Como on this one.
You can definitely live out the luxe life on both lakes. But if you’re travelling as a family – or just want to stick to a set budget, Lake Garda has a wider range of affordable – and often free, activities to keep you on track. Lake Como’s rep for everything opulent doesn’t start and finish with a-list sightings. From the basics – think meals and getting around, to the hotels and experiences, Lake Como’s price tags have its Hollywood residents in mind. And while you could never class Lake Garda as cheap, there are options for every price point across the board.
Winner: Lake Garda. Although both destinations can run riot with your holiday budget, Lake Garda has more options for budget conscious travellers.
Lake Como or Lake Garda: our verdict
Spectacular views, mouth watering food, chic lakeside venues and alp-adjacent adventures are on the menu at both lakes. As are meanderings through architecturally wowing towns, historic musings and la dolce vita. But, Lake Garda edges out Lake Como in both size and options for families and travellers looking for a little more than sunbathing, wine tasting and lake gazing. And it goes further than the theme parks. Choices are abundant in Garda and you can’t quite say the same about Lake Como.