Lake Como is one of the most beautiful spots in Italy… but it’s renowned for being expensive. So is it possible to visit Lake Como on a budget?
So you’re reading this because you want to visit Lake Como, but don’t have George Clooney’s millions. Don’t worry – it turns out you don’t need them!
I visited Lake Como in late September, as the busy tourist season was coming to close. I was keen to sample some of the finer things in life… but also wondered whether this was a place that could be done on a backpacker budget.
Firstly, Lake Como is a slightly awkward place to get to. While the train from the centre of Milan only takes under an hour, you won’t be in the prettiest area, so you’ll still need to catch a bus or ferry to the central towns on the lake. The C10 bus is regular, cheap and goes to most of the main towns. Many people have recommended BlaBlaCar (ride share service) as a great way of getting around Europe – in fact my friend used it to travel from Munich to Lugano, and then caught the bus to the lake.
The easiest route is to take the train to Varenna for around 10 EUR. While I travelled from the airport, I’ve read that before you board a train in Italy you need to validate your train tickets by putting your ticket in a green box.
I’d recommend reading this post which offers a detailed guide to travelling from Milan to Lake Como.
Once in Varenna, walk to the water and catch the ferry for 4.60 EUR across the lake to Menaggio. Once there, check into the only youth hostel in the area – Menaggio Youth Hostel. A shared dorm will set you back around 20 EUR a night. The rooms are basic but nearly all the rooms have incredible lake views. Breakfast is included and there are plenty of social activities to choose from. There is wifi, but don’t expect a speedy connection! The bar is cheap, pizza is good and there’s also a private beach across the street. It’s pebbly and not somewhere you’d spend hours, but it’s a nice perk for the price of the hostel. Busabout groups also visit the hostel, so it’s guaranteed to be busy.
The best way to see the area is either by bike or boat. If you’re based in Menaggio, you can pretend you’re James Bond and hop on board a boat. The hop-on-hop-off ferry tickets cost 4.60 EUR for a single, or 15 EUR for a full day. If you have time, stop off at Tremezzo, Villa Carlotta, Bellagio and Varenna. Each town has its own distinct style, beautiful architecture, quirky shops and gelato to die for!
If you’re keen to relax (and pretend you’re living an extravagant life) visit Lido de Menaggio for the day. With two pools, plenty of sun loungers, and direct access to the lake, it rivals some of the most expensive hotels around the lake. When I visited in September, there were long afternoons of sunshine and temperatures around 26 degrees. There were price lists suggesting it would cost around 3 EUR to enter the lido area, but no one asked for money and it was virtually empty!
In terms of eating, there are a handful of restaurants in each town, and often if you order a drink, you’ll also receive a plate of snacks (crisps, olives, focaccia). You can find pizzas for 6-7 EUR and gelatos and coffees for 1-2 EUR. I found drinks very reasonable, with a small carafe of wine for 4 EUR.
So all in all – yes it is possible to do Lake Como on a budget… and it’s definitely worth it. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, and a perfect place to recharge your batteries.
Have you visited Lake Como? Where was your favourite place? Let me know in the comments below.
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