The town of Como is on the banks of Lake Como and at the southern end of the south-west 'branch' of the lake. Although sometimes thought of as simply an access point to the lake, Como itself is pleasant to visit and has an impressive cathedral and historic centre.
Italy This Way comment: as well as the historic centre, Como also has a large area that is rather overdeveloped and the town is quite a distance from the famous picturesque villages on the shores of central Lake Come, so we would stay at one of the more scenic resorts and take a trip to visit Como, rather than stay here as a base for a visit - but don't let that put you off visiting, the town centre is very charming.
The main tourist information centre is in Piazza Cavour, the large open square next to the lake at the north of the town, so this is a good place to start visit. The square is partly surrounded by tall, colourful houses with plenty of shops and cafes. You can also look out across the harbour, and walk out onto the Diga Foranea in the middle of the harbour for a nice view across the town.
If you follow the path towards the west along the shores of Lake Como you cross a park to reach the Voltiano Temple, a neo-classical style building with a large dome that was built in 1927. The temple is a museum dedicated to Alessandro Volta, inventor of the battery, and the inside of the building with its columns and dome is also part of the attraction.
The path continues for a long distance beyond the temple, through an area of park, gardens and neo-classical villas including the imposing Villa Olmo, a luxurious estate built in 1780. Although the villa itself is not open to the public, you can explore the park around Villa Olmo which has nice views across the harbour towards Como, .
From here you can return to the town centre: the centre of Como is quite compact and largely pedestrianised, with numerous attractive streets and houses, several piazzas and interesting religious monuments and other buildings. The most important historic monuments in the centre are around Piazza Duomo, which is dominated by the cathedral.
The impressive domed cathedral dates from the 14th century but further additions and modifications were made until 1740 so the building incorporates both gothic and renaissance styles.
There are numerous statues, windows and other decorative elements in the walls and the ornate facade of the cathedral, as well as arches and patterns in the stonework so you need to walk all the way around the outside. The dome was added to the cathedral in the 18th century.
Inside Como cathedral there are also numerous works of art, sculptures and tapestries, typically dating from the 16th - 17th centuries as well as altars, the dome and stained glass windows. The painted wooden statue of Jesus being placed in the tomb was among our favourite artefacts. There are numerous information panels that provide a great deal of information - almost too much information, unless you plan to spend the whole day in the cathedral!
See our guide to Como cathedral for more information.
Other monuments in Como
If you follow the streets south of Pizza Duomo you reach the Piazza San Fidele. This is a small and pretty square where the town markets were once held, with medieval houses, colourful houses, and a charming church that was the heart of the medieval city. The church is the Church of San Fidele, and although the belltower has been rebuilt a significant amount of the church is original, dating from the early 12th century (older than most churches you visit).
The church is well known for its romanesque style carving around the main entrance. As is often the case with churches in Italy, the simple exterior conceals an impressive interior: inside the Church San Fidele there are many points of interest before you reach the high dome, surrounded by arched chapels with colourful paintings.
Other monuments in the centre of Como include the 13th century town hall (a broletto) and the Porta Torre, a 12th century tower on the Piazza Vittoria, at the southern end of the historic centre. To the west of here, outside the medieval centre, the Basilica of Sant'Abbodio is an 11th century monument with two belltowers. The romanesque style facade is the highlight of the basilica.
One monument that will be of interest to architecture enthusiasts is the Casa del Fascio. This is an important example of 1930s architecture on Piazza del Popolo to the east of the cathedral that was built as a centre for the local fascists under Mussolini, and originally covered in abstract paintings and an impressive lighting design (both now lost). I must admit we walked passed without noticing it, and only later realised we had missed an iconic building...so sorry, no photos!
The tower that you can see on the hill high above the town and the harbour is the Castello Baradello, the remaining part of a 12th century fortress.
If you would like to learn more about the history of the town you can visit the Como Museum of Archaeology on Piazza Medaglie d'Oro 1.
Attractions near Como
One excursion that is very popular from the centre of Como is to take the funicular railway up the hillside to Brunate and see some lovely views and get glimpses of some of the beautiful villas on the hill en route.
Of course, Como is the entry point to the whole of Lake Como and its many attractions and scenic highlights - see the Lake Como guide for information.