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  • Writer's pictureSusanna Ask

Lake Como for Kids

The Adventurous Parent's Guide



You’ve heard George Clooney has a home here. You’ve seen movies set in graceful gardens and stately lakeside villas. You’ve imagined sipping local wine, savoring handmade pasta, and strolling cobblestone streets with gelato in hand. You are ready to go to Glamorous Lake Como.


There’s just one thing: can you do it with kids?


Yes! I’m here to tell you how to live out this dream vacation with your little one(s).


Step 1. Schedule Your Trip The best time of year for Lake Como is anytime you can get there– seriously, it’s gorgeous year-round.


What if I go in July/August? Will it be too crowded?

We visited Lake Como in peak summer season with a baby and a toddler. During this time, restaurants were pretty much at capacity, so we had one parent wait for a table to be ready (about 10 mins) while the other walked around with the kids. It was totally manageable, especially because you are greeted with free bread and warm welcomes from the staff when you get seated at most places. Being with kids means eating lunch and dinner on the early side, which worked out great because it enabled us to beat the crowds.


Lake Como’s main attractions are villas, which can accommodate huge numbers of visitors. So you’re not signing up for a theme-park-lines experience here. Generally there will be crowds of gorgeously-dressed tourists in Bellagio, Menaggio, and Varenna between 12pm-6pm. Everywhere else on the lake will feel more relaxed.


What if I go in July/August? Will it be too hot?

If the weather gets warm, take a dip in the lake!*(see section on Swimming). We scheduled our day to include some free time in the afternoon to cool off and take a siesta.


How long should I go and where should I stay?

Spend 2-5 days on Lake Como to bask in its beauty and see all the major attractions.


When you’re traveling with kids, it’s easier to have a single home base rather than move locations every other night. This is especially true in Italy, where hauling around luggage is more difficult: elevators are uncommon and the street you’re staying on might not even allow cars!


We stayed in Varenna for 5 nights, and while it is certainly the most charming village on the lake, it is not stroller-friendly at all. The town is set on a sloping hillside and many streets have stairs. Bellagio is similar, with the additional downside of being more expensive.


Therefore, I would recommend staying in or near Menaggio. For a 5-star experience, stay at the quintessential Lake Como gem: the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. It is completely stunning and has its own private lido for easy and comfortable lake access (note: this is a huge plus).


Step 2. Plan for Fun


Swimming


When you’re near a lake with kids, swimming is a must-do activity. But in the hotspot tourist cities in middle Lake Como, swimming requires some planning ahead. Since you’re at a lake carved by glaciers, there are not many naturally-occuring sandy beaches. (See the section on Kiteboarding to get my hot tip for visting the perfect family beach, away from the crowds!) Also, glacial origins means the lake gets extremely deep incredibly fast - be careful with your little ones! And finally, the lake water comes from mountain runoff, so swimming is a summer-only activity – unless you’ve got a little polar bear along with you!


In Varenna and in some other towns, there are steps from town right down into the water. This is an easy way to access the water, but doesn’t leave room for setting up a blanket and picnic. For this, locals and tourists use rocky riverbeds. Kids have a blast playing in the water and moving around the small stones, but you might find it less comfortable for sun-bathing. You can also find a lido or beach club but some are actually pools with no lake access. Finally, you can swim off the boat during a private tour. This was our favorite way to enjoy Lake Como!


My advice is to view swimming as an event instead of an activity. Instead of planning to lounge lakeside while your kids run around for hours, I would envision spending an hour a day on taking a dip, cooling off, and getting back to villas and gelato.


Boat Rides


You’ll no doubt be taking a ferry ride or two during your visit to Lake Como. Ferries are an inexpensive and scenic way to get from one town to the other. Plus they’re fun for kids to run around and feel the wind on their face.


I do recommend booking a private boat tour if you’re staying for more than 2 days. We were surprised at how fun it was to pack some sandwiches, Aperol spritz in a bottle (yes, it’s a thing), and load up into a motorboat, captained by a lovely and knowledgeable local. The best part was being able to relax and not make any decisions about where to go, or where the kids had toddled off to. We were all right there, on the boat, being driven to iconic villas, and stopping at breathtaking spots to jump in the lake.


Villa Visits

Villas are kind of the main attraction in Lake Como, and the big ones have impressive gardens with a wide variety of plants. However, they also have a wide variety of terrain and for this reason, I recommend taking a baby carrier rather than a stroller if your baby is small enough. Otherwise, plan for 1+ hours of walking and taking breaks to enjoy the gardens– exactly as the original owners had intended, good job!


Kiteboarding, Windsurfing, SUP

***Hot Tip coming your way!***

For the adventurous family, Lake Como offers a variety of wind and water sports options. Due to the lack of beaches, you must go to a designated area for these activities, and I recommend Spiaggia Ontano and the shop called Jordan’Surf in Colico. They have an excellent setup for buying and renting gear, and can organize lessons if needed. For kiting, you may be required to take a boat to the middle of the lake before launching.


Spiaggia Ontano is a wonderful grassy beach area and it’s perfect for kids. Stay right on the lake at the Seven Park Hotel and eat next door at wonderful L’Ontano.


Biking and Hiking

To be honest, I don’t recommend more traditional modes of sport around Lake Como. These mountains are steep and trails were carved by foot a thousand years ago.

We tried to rent electric mountain bikes from a shop in Varenna and had an awful time. The store owner didn’t meet us as promised, failing to assist us in finding the right trail for our ability level. Instead, his assistant gave us a laminated copy of a map. The recommended route was predominantly biking on the 2-lane road which doesn’t have a shoulder. It included going down 8 hairpin turns alongside cars and oncoming traffic. This is not my definition of mountain biking. Still determined to ride, we mounted the bikes and headed up a steep rocky trail. We narrowly passed 7 groups of walkers and then decided to cut our losses and go for gelato.

As for family biking, we did not find any nice, flat waterside paths on Lake Como. We did find some amazing kid-friendly and very scenic biking on Lake Garda and in the Dolomites, but I’ll save that for another post :)


As for hiking, there are a few hikes to military towers which might be do-able with a child small enough to be carried. However I would recommend prioritizing other activities on Lake Como unless you're itching to burn off those Italian food calories.


Eat Gelato

On a happy note, the best gelato in all of Lake Como can be found at Il Gelato Matto - gelateria artiginale on the waterfront in the town of Bellano. Their creative flavors made from real ingredients were surprising and satisfying (hello, liquorice) and I saw tears of pride in the eyes of the store owner when we complimented his delectable flavors.

Second place gelato to La Fabrica del Gelato in the center of Menaggio. No standout gelaterias in Bellagio or Varenna. Yes, we ate a lot of gelato.


Step 3. Enjoy


It goes without saying that travel with children adds another variable to the equation. Nap times will be missed, jet lag is more pronounced, and the occasional meltdown will not be your gelato. But fear not. Lake Como is in Italy and that means two things:

(1) Life surrounded by natural beauty happens at a slower pace. You don’t need to rush from one event to the next or cram in a ton of sight-seeing. Lake Como is a place to just *be*.

(2) Italians love babies. I can’t tell you how many kind waiters, ferry captains, bell hops, and random people in the street stopped to say “Bella” and smile at my little girl. Even when she was covered in dirt. Even when she was sticky with gelato. Even when she dropped half a bowl of pasta on the floor. You are welcome there and it feels good to be in a place where it seems the whole environment is on your team, conspiring to indulge in beauty, good food, and the beaming, heart-melting smile of a young child.



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