July 25, 2023 0 Comments What to see

The 4 best ferry boat trips on Lake Como

lake como boat tours

Lake Como public boat tours: travel tips, routes, what to see

Visiting the lake without literally ‘sailing on it’ is like visiting it halfway. You have to sail on its waters to fully enjoy the beautiful sensations and atmospheres that the lake landscape can offer!

To do so, you can decide to move around with the boats of the Navigation Service or give yourself an unforgettable experience and choose a private boat tour (as I explain at the bottom of the article).

Hi, I’m Marta! Welcome to my blog! Are you planning a trip to the lake, but deciphering boat and ferry schedules seems more complicated than you thought? Check out my Travel Designer service!

The Lake Como Navigation Service, especially from spring to autumn, makes it possible to reach all the main places of interest on the lake and to move from one shore to the other with ease.

As for the low season, the situation “gets a little more complicated,” and the active runs from early November to mid-March are only those of the ferries connecting Varenna, Menaggio, Bellagio and Cadenabbia and the hydrofoils (fast service).

But this should by no means be a reason to give up visiting my beautiful lake, quite the contrary!

The winter months, which are definitely quieter, are the perfect time to still enjoy beautiful lakeside or mountain walks and villages in their most calm and collected version. And in this regard I recommend you also check out my article Two Days on Lake Como in December.

But let’s come to today’s topic, definitely one of the most popular for those who decide to spend one or more days on Lake Como: how best to organize a pleasant boat trip on the lake!

Below is a list of the main topics you will find in the article. If you are in a hurry, click on the title that interests you most to find the information you are looking for right away.

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How to organize your public boat tour on Lake Como

It may seem strange to you if you’ve never been to Lake Como and especially if you haven’t yet tried your hand at deciphering the navigation timetables, but believe me, one of the main inquiries I get is precisely about the boat system!

And I have no trouble understanding why: despite the navigation’s continuous efforts to improve both the official website and the timetables, the reality is that for those unfamiliar with the lake it can be really complicated to find the information you are looking for.

I will try below to provide some clarity, regarding possible rides, fares, and purchasing tickets. Of course you can write to me in the comments if anything is unclear.

Routes, tickets and costs

There are 4 main and most popular routes:

  • Como Basin
  • Como – Bellagio/Bellagio – Como
  • Central Lake
  • Upper Lake

To better organize your day:

  • choose the area of the lake you wish to visit
  • decide the village from which to leave
  • consult the timetables of the Lake Como Navigation Service
  • buy the ticket at one of the ticket office near the dock

Recently also the online purchase service has been activated, but ONLY for One-way or Return tickets, NOT for Circular Tickets (valid 1 day). So if you want to visit one of the 4 areas I mentioned above, making several stops within an area, you have to buy the ticket physically at one of the ticket offices.

Regarding prices, you can consult the official PDF on the Navigazione Laghi website (it is from 2012, but it is the one still active today).

There, by cross-referencing the departure pier with the destination pier, you can locate the corresponding travel route and then check the cost of the individual ticket.

There are also free circulation tickets, valid for 1 day or 6 days and with different prices depending on the travel route for which they are purchased. The central lake area corresponds to route 3 and the cost for this type of ticket is 15€. Basically it is convenient in case you make at least 4 stops along the way.

Finally, for easier consultation of the timetables (which is not as easy as it sounds!), bear in mind that there are three different types of “boat” on the lake:

  • boats
  • ferries (those on which you can also take your car)
  • hydrofoils (fast service)

When reading timetables, knowing this distinction can make things easier ;-).

But now let’s finally see which are, in my opinion, the 4 unmissable public boat trips on Lake Como!

4 must-do public boat trips on Lake Como

1# Como basin tour

This is the boat tour around Como.

It is possible to decide whether to do it with stops or without stops.

The villages from which you can get on are Como, Tavernola, Cernobbio, Moltrasio and Torno.

You can stay on the boat till you have returned to the starting point or decide, if you have time, to get off at the various stops, visit the villages, then take the next boat and continue the tour.

Every town you land in is worth a visit, not to mention Como.

The best thing to do is to take one of the first boats of the day, so that you have plenty of time to visit and move from one village to another.

There is no shortage of boats in this part of the lake, and one leaves basically every half hour (or even less at certain times of the day).

2# Como – Bellagio / Bellagio – Como

imbarcadero per escursioni in battello lago di como

It takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes to go by boat from Como to Bellagio (or vice versa).

Choosing this route means enjoying a sort of mini-cruise in one of the most beautiful branches of the lake!

In this case, for obvious reasons of time, it is not advisable to get off and visit the villages in between. But the journey itself will be a real pleasure and will offer wonderful views.

Often, when this route is chosen, the return journey is by hydrofoil (rapid service with supplement and compulsory booking) or by bus, thus halving the time.

Please note that it is possible to embark from any town along the Como – Bellagio / Bellagio – Como route, thus reducing the duration of the journey.

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3# Tour in the central part of the lake

Again, you can decide to do the tour without stops or buy a 1-day ticket and visit the different villages.

In the first case the time needed to do the complete tour is about 2 hours and the places where you can embark are: Menaggio, Varenna, Bellagio, San Giovanni (hamlet of Bellagio), Villa Carlotta, Tremezzo, Lenno.

Considering, however, that we are talking about one of the most famous areas of the lake, never as in this case the advice is to get off the boat and visit at least a couple of the places mentioned.

I say “at least a couple” because the choice is really embarrassing and each of the villages you come to would be worth a visit of AT LEAST an hour.

Villages, villas, lakeside promenades, castles and gardens… a real concentration of beauty to be enjoyed.

Keep in mind that if you opt for the excursion with stops, the best way to get the most out of your ticket, and to be able to see 2-3 places, is to take a boat in one of the places I have mentioned, between 9 am and 10 am, at the latest.

With the 1-day ticket you can take both boats and ferries.

4# Boat trip on the upper part of the lake with bar on board

For this part of the lake there is no point in talking about with stops/without stops, because there are much less boats.

However, there is one excursion in this area that is definitely worth doing.

The destination is the Abbey of Piona, an enchanting place at the top of the lake, secluded and far from the crowds of other places.

In this case the advice is as follows: departure at 12:39 from Menaggio, on a daily boat with restaurant on board, arrival in Piona at 14:25, visit to the Abbey and return either at 15:13 by boat or, if you wish to take more time, at 16:11 by hydrofoil (fast service, with supplement), reaching Menaggio in only 50 minutes.

THE TIMETABLES LISTED ARE ALWAYS TO BE CHECKED on the official website of Navigazione Lago di Como, as they are subject to change from one year to the next.

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Private boat tours

Unfortunately, juggling timetables and connections of the public navigation service, especially when arriving from Milan, can be complicated and time-consuming.

So, if you’ve never been on Lake Como before, I highly recommend taking a private boat guided tour.

You can find a wide range of tours for every type of traveler. When I travel I use Get Your Guide when I want to discover my destinations without having to worry about timetables, queues for tickets and various inconveniences.

Now all you have to do is choose, enjoy the trip, but most importantly start booking your stay on the lake!

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