Its proximity to Lake Como and to the Alps has made Como a tourist destination and the city contains numerous works of art, churches, gardens, museums, theatres, parks and palaces: the Duomo (seat of Diocese of Como), the Basilica of Sant'Abbondio, the Villa Olmo, the public gardens with the Tempio Voltiano, the Teatro Sociale, the Broletto (the city's medieval town hall) and the 20th century Casa del Fascio.
With 215,320 overnight guests, in 2013 Como was the fourth most visited city in Lombardy after Milan, Bergamo and Brescia.
Como was the birthplace of many historical figures, including the poet Caecilius mentioned by Catullus in the 1st century BCE, writers Pliny the Elder and the Younger, Pope Innocent XI, scientist Alessandro Volta, and Cosima Liszt, second wife of Richard Wagner and long-term director of the Bayreuth Festival.
The hills surrounding the current location of Como have been inhabited, since at least the Bronze Age, by a Celtic tribe known as the Orobii. Remains of settlements are still present on the wood covered hills to the South West of town.
Around the 1st century BC, the territory became subject to the Romans. The town center was situated on the nearby hills, but it was then moved to its current location by order of Julius Caesar, who had the swamp near the southern tip of the lake drained and laid the plan of the walled city in the typical Roman grid of perpendicular streets. The newly founded town was named Novum Comum and had the status of municipium.
In 774, the town surrendered to invading Franks led by Charlemagne, and became a center of commercial exchange.
In 1127, Como lost a decade-long war with the nearby town of Milan. A few decades later, with the help of Frederick Barbarossa, the Comaschi were able to avenge their defeat when Milan was destroyed in 1162. Frederick promoted the construction of several defensive towers around the city limits, of which only one, the Baradello, remains.
Subsequently, the history of Como followed that of the Ducato di Milano, through the French invasion and the Spanish domination, until 1714, when the territory was taken by the Austrians. Napoleon descended into Lombardy in 1796 and ruled it until 1815, when the Austrian rule was resumed after the Congress of Vienna. Finally in 1859, with the arrival of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the town was freed from the Austrians and it became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy.
At the end of World War II, after passing through Como on his escape towards Switzerland, Benito Mussolini was taken prisoner and then shot by partisans in Giulino di Mezzegra, a small town on the north shores of Lake Como.
In 2010, a motion by members of the nationalist Swiss People's Party (SVP) has been submitted to the Swiss parliament requesting the admission of adjacent territories to the Swiss Confederation; Como (and its province) is one of these.
The Rockefeller fountain that today stands in the Bronx Zoo in New York City was once in the main square (Piazza Cavour) by the lakeside. It was bought by William Rockefeller in 1902 for 3,500 lire (the estimated equivalent then of $637).