With a landscape speckled by charming little towns, lush green gardens, and clear waters stretching off into the distance, Lake Como provides the quintessential Italian weekend getaway. Here, the Mediterranean warmth of the cypress, chestnut, and palm trees mix with the alpine grandeur of the snowcapped peaks, creating a picture-perfect scenery that is famous all over the world. We’re just an hour away from Milan, and yet the bustling metropolis couldn’t feel farther away.
To help you explore all the above charms on your weekend getaway, we’ve assembled a first-timer’s guide to Lake Como, complete with the best things to do and all the basic travel info you’ll need.
TRANSPORTATION: HOW TO GET TO LAKE COMO
The best way to travel from Milan to Lake Como is by train. You basically have two options:
- Milano Centrale or Garibaldi station → Varenna-Essino station
- Milano Central or Cadorna station → Como Lago (‘lake’) station
You can purchase your train tickets from the official Trenitalia website. The trip will take roughly 1½ hour for both options. Como is located at the southern tip of the lake, while Varenna is right in the middle. Both towns are well-served by ferries and hydrofoils to connect you with all the other towns and tourist spots.
HOW TO GET AROUND
There is no better way to appreciate the breathtaking scenery and explore the charming towns overlooking the lake than by water. You have plenty of choices here: motor ships, ferries, and hydrofoils all connect the major interest areas at reasonable prices.
You can check all the routes, timetables on the official Lake Como navigation website, where is also possible to purchase your tickets in advance. One-day passes are usually the best option for first-timers visiting Lake Como, as it allows you to visit numerous locations without the hassle of purchasing one-way tickets.
LAKE COMO: BEST THINGS TO SEE
Often referred to as the ‘pearl of the lake’, Bellagio is a picturesque town with a great deal of Italian charm and character. Start your visit from the harbor, walking along the promenade to admire the gorgeous view. Leaving the shore behind, immerse yourself into the little streets and alleys, check out the shops selling local handicrafts, maybe indulging in a much-needed gelato.
A sight not to be missed in Bellagio is Villa Melzi: on a hot summer day, the beautiful garden of this villa is the perfect place to escape the heat, right under the shade of the Insta-worthy cypress trees.
Varenna’s sunny position facing South offers an amazing panorama over one of the most beautiful sections of Lake Como. With its charming, steep cobblestone streets, porticos, and churches, Varenna is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Northern Italy.
The waterfront is very picturesque, and the colorful houses mixed with the cute little stony beach are a clear reminder of the town’s fishing-village origins.
3) Tremezzo: Villa Carlotta
Tremezzo is about halfway down the western side of Lake Como and is mostly visited for Villa Carlotta. Here, you’ll find the most stunning gardens to be seen on Lake Como, with masterpieces of nature and art living together in perfect harmony in over 70.000 square meters of pure beauty. The villa is basically a temple of XIX century art and hosts works of Canova, Thorvaldsen, and Hayez.
4) Lenno: Villa Balbianello
Villa Balbianello is located in Lenno on the slopes of the Lavedo peninsula. The villa is incredibly beautiful and matches perfectly with the landscape, mostly thanks to the lush garden built on five levels.
Originally a private, secluded retreat of a Cardinal, eventually Villa Balbianello made its way into the hands of Italy’s James Bond: Guido Monzino. A son of a wealthy Milanese businessman and passionate traveler, Guido bought the villa in the mid-70s, but then he willed it to the FAI (Italian national trust) which is why mere mortals like us can now visit. You can reach this lovely villa by boat or from a path going through the woods separating the villa and the village of Lenno. Fay Ce Que Voudras (“do as you please”) is what you’ll see engraved on the entrance gate when you arrive by boat.
Menaggio is one of the most visited towns on the shores of Lake Como, and is particularly popular because of its chic promenade filled with restaurants and cafès. Menaggio is also a good base for visitors that are looking for a more active vacation, as the surrounding hills offer many hiking and cycling opportunities.
Argegno is a bit far from the glamorous sisters Varenna and Bellagio, and for this reason, has managed to retain its original character, an unspoiled village where locals far outnumber visitors. And yet, if you’re looking for the best panoramic view of Lake Como, this is the place. Look for the cableway station and rise up to the town of Pigra, at an 800m altitude. This is what you’ll see:
Now you’re all set for relaxing days in the sunshine. Happy Travels!