Lake Como, or Lago di Como in Italian, has been a popular retreat for the wealthy since Roman times. Several cities, towns, and villages line the upside-down-Y-shaped lake. They each offer different combinations of unreal views, swoon-worthy villas, and picturesque streets. But luckily, the most “must-see” sights are conveniently clustered in the middle area of the lake. This makes a day trip from near-by Milan very doable. Sure, it’d be ideal to spend as much time on Lake Como as possible. But whether you’re pressed for time, or pressed for cash, a day trip to Lake Como from Milan is still a worthwhile way to experience this magical place. Keep reading for a step-by-step itinerary on how to visit Lake Como on a Day Trip from Milan.
Villa del Balbianello
Here’s a quick preview of the day trip: Milan > train to Varenna > ferry to Bellagio > ferry to Villa > ferry to Varenna > train to Milan. Suggestion: This is a super-detailed and somewhat lengthy post, with entry prices, direct links to ferry schedules, etc. I’ve provided a condensed summary at the bottom, but you’ll definitely want to bookmark or Pin this page to return to later if you’re planning a visit to Lake Como.
TAKE THE TRAIN FROM MILAN TO VARENNA
Start the day bright and early in Milan. Make your way to Milano Centrale (pronounced chen-tral-eh) train station, and purchase a round-trip ticket to Varenna-Esino for €13.40 (€6.70 one way). Do this from a TrenItalia ticket machine. You’ll select a departure time, but you can actually use the tickets for any same train journey that day. The train station at Varenna has NO ticket machines, (seriously? Yes seriously! I was very peeved…) so everyone wanting to buy a ticket needs to line up and buy it from a person with a computer and paper printer behind a desk inside the station. You definitely want to already have your ticket purchased beforehand. AND ALWAYS MAKE SURE TO VALIDATE YOUR TICKET BEFORE ENTERING YOUR TRAIN.
Recommended reading: Top Five (Super-Easy) Day Trips from Milan (by Train)
Pro tip 1: Milano Centrale is a large station, so give yourself at least 20 minutes before your train leaves to buy your ticket, get upstairs, and find a seat. There’s nothing more stressful than getting to the station with just enough time, only to find long queues or a confusing train platform!
Pro tip 2: Check the train schedule the night before on the TrenItalia website. Pay attention not only to the time of the train you want, but also the time of the next train incase you miss it! Trains from Milan to Varenna leave once an hour, but every now and then, it’s a two hour gap. I missed my train by 5 minutes and was stuck sitting two hours at Milano Centrale for the next one. *face palm*
Pro tip 3: Buy your ferry ticket once you arrive at the ferry station. Example: When you ferry over from Varenna to Bellagio, get a ferry ticket from Bellagio to the next spot before leaving and heading off to explore Bellagio. This way, you keep on schedule for the day.
TAKE THE FERRY FROM VARENNA TO BELLAGIO
An hour after your train leaves Milan, you’ll be in beautiful Varenna. But you’ll actually save Varenna for last and head straight to Bellagio first instead. Why? Three-fold.
Firstly, Bellagio is arguably the most touristy destination in the area, so the earlier you get there, the better. Secondly, if you explore Varenna first, you won’t have time to complete the rest of the itinerary before the last ferry back to Varenna. By already being in Varenna before your train ride back to Milan, things will be a lot less stressful! Thirdly, at this time in the morning, Varenna will be entirely covered in the shadow of the mountains behind it for a few hours still, while the other side of the lake will be receiving the direct sunlight. By the time you get back to Varenna, the opposite will be true. This way, you get great lighting all day. Perfect, right?
Anyways, once you get off the train, follow the crowd down from the train station down to the shore. Stop at the ferry station and catch the next one to Bellagio for €4.60. You can double-check with the ferry staff that you’re on the right ferry as you get on. The journey takes 15-20 minutes, and ferries depart two or three times an hour.
As previously mentioned, Bellagio is very touristy. Many call it the crown jewel of Lake Como. But personally, it was my least favorite. *gasp* It felt like a very pretty, very crowded, outdoor shopping mall to me. American pop songs were seriously blasting from some restaurants. Yes, seriously.
Though if I try to picture what it would be like without the tourists and souvenir shops, I must agree that Bellagio is the most beautiful town on Lake Como. From the Disney-like lanterns dotting the cobblestone alleyways, to the cute benches lining the park near the ferry station, Bellagio truly is a beautiful little place. Try to focus on little details like these, and it might just increase your tolerance level for the tourist crowds, souvenir shopping, and pricey food.
Things to Do in Bellagio
Spend two to three hours in Bellagio, making sure to see Punta di Spartivento (a scenic viewpoint at the far northern tip of the peninsula) and where Via Guiseppe Garibaldi and Salita Serbelloni streets meet (for the famous, cliche Bellagio street view in the right-most photo above).
If you’re like me and welcome a chance to escape the crowds, also consider a walk to Pescallo. It’s a small, quiet village on the other side of the same peninsula as Bellagio, but with no shops or crowds. One kind local lady even popped her head out over her balcony and struck up a conversation with me in Italian! She noticed me snapping pics of her grapes hanging underneath the balcony, and cut off some grapes for me to catch. No exaggeration: they were the single tastiest grapes I’ve ever had in my life!
TAKE THE FERRY FROM BELLAGIO TO LENNO OR TREMEZZO
Don’t dwindle too long though, as there’s still more to see! Catch a ferry heading to either Lenno for Villa del Balbianello or Tremezzo for Villa Carlotta. Both villas are equally popular, equally must-sees, and everyone has different opinions on which to see if you can only choose one. I recommend simply searching some images online beforehand and choosing what appeals to you more. Villa Carlotta is the more convenient one to visit on a day trip from Milan, but I provide details on how to see either.
Depending on which you choose, I have two different itineraries for this part of the day trip:
Visit Villa Carlotta
Option 1: Villa Carlotta – Take the ferry from Bellagio to Tremezzo for €4.60. This takes 15 – 20 minutes. Once at Tremezzo, head left/south towards the center of town and explore for a bit. This is one of the less-“must-see” towns on the lake, so appreciate the calmer vibe. If you haven’t eaten lunch yet, find a place to eat. Doing so here will be cheaper than in Bellagio. After you’re finished eating, head back north, towards the ferry, and continue walking along the promenade past the ferry stop. Five-minute’s walk north from the ferry stop will be the luxurious Grand Hotel Tremezzo, and five-minute’s walk north of that is Villa Carlotta. Entry costs €10 for both the villa and gardens. View seasonal hours at the villa website. After between one and two hours of exploring the villa and gardens, walk back ten minutes to the ferry stop at Tremezzo (or Cadenabbia further up north). Take the roughly-forty-minute ferry to Varenna for €4.60.
Visit Villa del Balbianello
Option 2: Villa del Balbianello – Take the ferry from Bellagio to Lenno for €4.60. This takes 25 – 30 minutes. Once at Lenno, head left/south towards the center of town and explore for a bit. Like Tremezzo, this is another one of the less-“must-see” towns on the lake, so appreciate the calmer vibe. If you haven’t eaten lunch yet, find a place to eat. Like Tremezzo, doing so here will be cheaper than in Bellagio. After you’re finished eating, it’s time to see the villa. Continue walking along the rim of the water, until you reach Lido di Lenno (ten minute walk from the Lenno ferry stop). From here, you can take a taxi boat right up to Villa del Balbianello. I did not do this, but others say it is something like €5 one way and around €7 roundtrip, and takes under ten minutes one way. If you’re on a budget, a free walking path to villa begins from the street behind the Lido (called Via degli Artigiani). This walk takes thirty minutes and mostly slightly uphill. Entry is €10 for the garden, and €20 for the villa plus gardens. You may only view the villa via hour-long guided tour, which cannot be booked in advance. (If you opt for the tour, make sure you have enough time to still get back before the last ferry from Lenno to Varenna!) Visit the villa website to view seasonal hours. After between one and two hours of exploring the villa and/or gardens, get back to the Lenno ferry stop. Take the roughly-hour-long ferry to Varenna for €4.60.
Personally, I’m a gardens person and not a palace/villa person, so I only explored the gardens of Villa del Balbianello. They did not disappoint. Though smaller than the gardens at Villa Carlotta, Villa del Balbianello’s gardens have been featured in Star Wars and Casino Royal. So come prepared with a bit of patience if you’re keen on perfect photos without other people in them.
TAKE THE FERRY FROM LENNO OR TREMEZZO BACK TO VARENNA
Regardless which villa you decide to explore, be sure to get back for the last ferry to Varenna in time! This changes depending on the season (but tends to be between 4:00 – 4:30pm), so definitely purchase on arrival in town. If you can’t, carefully look up the schedule ahead and arrive with buffer time in case of a line to purchase.
Pro tip: You can look up ferry schedules online! There are a few ways to do this:
- You can download PDFs of ferry timetables. Visit this website, change language to English, click “Timetables and Lines,” and click Bellagio-Menaggio-Varenna-Cadenabbia under the season you need.
- You can search by day and route on this wesbite.
- You can use Google Maps straight from your cell phone in real time if you have internet while traveling Lake Como.
Once you’re back to Varenna, it will be around 5pm, and you’ll be done with ferries for the day (yay!). Spend a few hours exploring as you please. Later on, grab some dinner with a sunset view over the lake.
Things to Do in Varenna
While you explore town, be sure to stop by the square outside San Giorgio Church. Also be sure to see Villa Monastero. If you are visiting in April or October, Villa Monastero closes at 6:30pm and 6:00pm, respectively, so I recommend heading straight here from the ferry!
Adult entry into the garden is €6, while a combined villa and garden ticket is €11. Personally, having seen both, I recommend entering the garden and forgoing the villa. But if you are short on cash, time, or interest, you can just take a peak at the garden (and snap some pics!) from the beautiful entry area for free.
TAKE THE TRAIN FROM VARENNA BACK TO MILAN
I know it will be hard to leave lovely Varenna, and Lake Como in general, but soon it will be time to head back to Milan. Don’t forget to validate your ticket before getting on the train from the Varenna-Esino station. Wouldn’t want a hefty fine to ruin an otherwise lovely day trip!
LAKE COMO ITINERARY SUMMARY
Phew! That was a lot of information – I know! It might be hard to visualize it all, so I’ve created this nifty overview schedule below. If you still have questions, definitely comment below. I spent four nights boating, busing, and walking around Lake Como, so I’ll respond with any itinerary help I can provide.
- 8:00ish – arrive Milano Centrale Station
- 8:20ish – train leaves Milano Centrale Station
- 9:25ish – arrive Varenna
- 9:40ish – ferry to Bellagio
- 10:00ish – arrive Bellagio, cafe/snack Bellagio
- 12:30ish – depart Bellagio
- 12:50ish – arrive Lenno/Tremezzo, lunch Lenno/Tremezzo
- 2:00ish – leave for villa
- 2:30ish – arrive villa
- 3:30ish – leave villa
- 4:00ish – depart Lenno
- 5:00ish – arrive Varenna, dinner Varenna
- 8:00ish – train back to Milan
This is NOT an exact schedule, but rather a rough schedule to provide an idea of what your day trip to Lake Como from Milan will be like. This rough schedule is only valid from the last days of March to first days of October.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you done a Lake Como day trip from Milan before? Did you hit up the same places I recommend? I love talking travel, so let me know in the comments below!