Lake Como (Lago di Como) is Italy’s deepest lake and third largest. With a setting at the base of the Alps, it is considered by many to be Italy’s most beautiful lake. It is shaped like a large upside-down Y, with its meandering shoreline dotted with exquisite 19th-century towns and villas. Because of Lake Como’s fast and efficient ferry system, you can easily see the highlights in just 1 day.
We recently spent a day visiting 3 towns on Lake Como during our summer tour of Northern Italy. It is a fast 1 1/2-hour train ride from Milan (read How to Spend 2 Days in Milan, Italy), which makes it a great day trip from the busyness of the city. If you need a little slow down during your trip to Italy, Lake Como is the perfect place to experience that! To see how we planned a week traveling around Northwestern Italy read 5 Days in Northern Italy.
How to Spend 1 Day at Lake Como, Italy
Lake Como Transportation
The best way to make the most of one day exploring Lake Como is by ferry. There are boat taxis, but they are way more expensive than the public system. All of the major cities are connected, and the ferries run efficiently by Navigazione Lago di Como (See navigazionelaghi.it for updated fares and schedule). If you plan on visiting several cities during your day trip, you should buy a Free Circulation ticket which allows you unlimited trips within a 24-hour period for €23.30 per person (as of this writing).
We knew we were only going to visit 3 cities (Varenna, Bellagio, & Menaggio), so we were able to buy a ticket covering a smaller service area (Mid-Lake) for €15 per person. We probably could have saved a little by just buying single fares for each leg of our trip, but we wanted the ease of just jumping on rides at our convenience. Taking a hydrofoil is a little more expensive, but the trip will be faster. We elected to take the slower ferries because we considered the ride around the lake as part of our vacation experience.
If you are traveling by car, make sure you plan your stops at the larger towns that have the car ferries called Traghetto. Stops on this ferry are the towns of Bellagio, Varenna, Cadennabia, and Menaggio.
The locals use the boat service for city-to-city transportation so almost every town has a boat slip and ticket office. Bigger towns, like Bellagio have several docks, so make sure and ask which dock your boat is departing from. When looking at a boat schedule, pay attention to the key at the bottom of the page which explain the symbols in Italian and English. The main thing you need to know is “Fer.” means weekdays (Mon.-Sat.), “Gior.” means every day and “Fest.” means Sundays and holidays. Not all boats cover the same towns, so if you’re not sure, just ask around!
Lake Como Stop #1- Varenna
The quaint, little town of Varenna is located centrally on Lake Como and is an hour’s train ride from Milan. It is a good place to start and end your day trip to Lake Como. If arriving by train, make your way down the well-marked pedestrian lane, to the main road. There’s some spots where there’s no sidewalk, so watch for traffic.
At the main road, you can go straight ahead to the ferry boat dock and catch a short ferry ride to Bellagio. Since we were taking a break in our Italy trip from the hustle and bustle of Milan, when we got to the main road, we went left and walked the 15-minute distance to the town square. If you have more than a day, then hike up to Castello de Vezio (castle) for an unbelievable view of the lake. Otherwise go to Villa Monastero to see the convent (now a museum) and gardens dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen. The museum was closed on our day at Lake Como, so we spent our time strolling along the tranquil gardens. It was an overcast, rainy day, but that didn’t diminish the garden’s picturesque statues and lush vegetation. Gardens- €5, Museum + Gardens- €8.
Before leaving Varenna, take some time to walk around the town square. There are several churches that face the square, a tourist information office, shops, and restaurants. Then make your way down to the lake walkway. Going right (when you’re facing the lake) along the the lakeside promenade (called the Passerella), you’ll pass beautiful villas, more shops and restaurants, and the public dock. The public dock isn’t where you will check the ferry. Continue on down the Passerella, and you won’t miss it!
Lake Como Stop #2- Bellagio
Bellagio is often referred to as “The Pearl of the Lake.” It’s busier that Varenna, but still has an Old World elegance. From the ferry dock, head right (south) to the shop-lined hillside. All along the landside are stores and restaurants separated by steep, and I mean really steep sidewalks/stairs. On the lakeside is a tree lined promenade. Not far from the ferry dock is the Tourism Information Office which has information on different recommended walking tours.
Continuing south, the major town area ends at the Villa Melzi Gardens (Giardini di Villa Melzi). Built in 1808 for one of Napoleon’s officials, it was the first English-style garden built on Lake Como. Make sure to pick up a map at the park entrance to enable you to identify all of the sculptures and foliage. Gardens- €6.50
Lake Como Stop #3- Menaggio
The third town in our 1-day tour of Lake Como was Menaggio. It is located almost directly across the lake from Varenna. To be honest, it was my least favorite of the three cities. It was the busiest and most “regular town” looking. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.
From the ferry dock, the main town center is to the right. It has a nice lakefront park, with trees lining the walkway. We spent our time in Menaggio eating gelato and walking/hiking the pedestrian areas that go up and around the surrounding hillside. Some of my favorite photographs were taken in Menaggio. If you like the pictures on our blog, check out and follow us on Instagram at instagram.com/packyourbaguios!
Our train back to Milan didn’t depart until 8pm, so we once we headed back to Varenna, we had time to find a nice lakeside cafe to watch the sunset. The view of Varenna as you arrive as you approach the dock is pretty idyllic so make sure to keep your camera handy!
Have you been to Lake Como in Italy before? We’d love for you to add your thoughts and recommendations. Have any questions? Please ask by commenting below! Keep up with all of our travel, camping, and cycling tips by following us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Leave us your email (blue box at the bottom of the post) to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and never miss a post!