How to Take a Day Trip to Lake Como From Milan
One of the highlights of our recent visit to Milan was our day trip to stunning Lake Como and its collection of lakeside communities. Located just thirty miles north of Milan at the base of the Italian and Swiss Alps, Lake Como is an area with such gorgeous scenery that it has to be seen to be believed. We knew from photos and research that this area was beautiful, but nothing prepared us for the absolute paradise that awaited us. This trip is easy to do on your own, so if you are visiting Milan, there are no excuses for not heading north to what is arguably one of the most scenic regions of Italy.
There are numerous options available for visiting the Lakes Region of Italy. You can certainly take an organized tour from Milan, and a little research will yield various choices. This is fine, as long as you don’t mind being on a strict schedule and not having total control over what you see and do. A much better option, which will also be much cheaper, is to set out on your own so that you can see what you want to see and spend your day without someone else’s schedule hanging over your head. I think you will find this an easy trip to make, and it will result in a much better experience.
Most day trip itineraries for visiting Lake Como from Milan will have you take the train to Como, see the town, and then take the ferry up to Bellagio before ferrying back to Como for the train ride back to Milan. In an effort to maximize our visit, and see as much as possible, we decided to take the train to Varenna, followed by the short ferry ride to Bellagio, followed by the longer ferry ride to Como, and then the train back to Milan.
One of the reasons we decided on this itinerary was that taking the ferry from Como to Bellagio, and then back to Como, means you’re spending an awful lot of time on the water. Not that this is a bad thing, but each leg of this journey can take an hour or two, depending on which ferry you take. Doing this round-trip means missing out on the opportunity to see one of the beautiful lakeside communities. Also, we decided on a route that went from Varenna to Bellagio to Como; you can certainly do this in reverse. We wanted to get the longer train ride out of the way early as opposed to late at night, but either way works just fine.
Well, Varenna is one of those sleepy, lakeside communities with an abundance of charm and stunning views. You will find that it is also not nearly as crowded as some of its more visited neighbors. Varenna is located about midway up on the eastern shore of the lake. The train ride from Milan Central Station to Varenna will take approximately an hour and the cost is only about 7 euro. Trains leave pretty much every hour.
Varenna is special for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that it offers a less touristy experience than some of the other lakeside communities. It has a wonderful path called the Passeggiate Degli Innamorati, or Lover’s walk, that hugs the coast and allows for great views of the lake. Its cobblestone streets and narrow alleys will eventually lead you to the historic center of Varenna, and the Church of San Giorgio with its clock tower rising above the town. Within eyesight of Bellagio and Menaggio, it’s the perfect location for exploring the mid-section of Lake Como. If I were to spend some extended time on Lake Como I would seriously consider using Varenna as my home base.
After a morning exploring Varenna, you can take the very short ferry ride to its more famous neighbor, Bellagio, often referred to as the “pearl of the lake. I envisioned Bellagio as a ritzy, glamorous, home for the rich and famous. What it is, in reality, is a beautiful and very interesting community loaded with charm and character. I personally found Bellagio to be a joy to explore. We walked the shoreline, climbed up the hill to the heart of town, explored ancient churches, shopped in narrow alleys, and had an absolutely fantastic lunch. And, you can do all of this with a stunning view of the lake always there to enjoy. It’s easy to see why so many tourists flock to Bellagio.
The ferry from Varenna to Bellagio takes just 15 minutes and the cost is a mere 4.60 euro. You will thoroughly enjoy all that Bellagio has to offer.
Plan on spending at least a couple of hours in Bellagio before hopping on the ferry for the ride to Como, which is located at the southern end of the lake on the western leg. You have a number of ferry options available to you for this leg of the journey; the slow ferry, the fast ferry, or the hydrofoil. This is one of the most scenic sections of the lake with soaring mountains, beautiful lakeside villages, and charming villas dotting the shore. The scenery is simply amazing! This is also the area where George Clooney has a villa, but unfortunately, he was nowhere to be seen.
The ferry from Bellagio to Como will cost you 10.40 euro and the length of the trip will depend on which ferry you take. The fast ferry takes about an hour with the slow ferry taking approximately two hours while making at least ten stops. The hydrofoil can make the journey in about 45 minutes, but the cost increases to about 15 euro.
Finishing up in Como
Arriving in Como, you have some options available to you. Como is larger than both Varenna and Bellagio, so it will take a little longer to explore. It has an extensive shoreline and a wonderful cathedral to take in. There is also a funicular here that will take you up the mountain to a community called Brunate. We opted to do this as it affords exceptional views of Como, the lake, and the Alps. The only problem we encountered with this was that we were running out of daylight. But, we anxiously jumped aboard the funicular and up the mountain, we went. It’s a little confusing once you get to the top as to where the best views are but we explored Brunate, found a beautiful church, and eventually worked our way to an overlook with views of the lake and the mountains. Watching the sunset atop a mountain overlooking Lake Como was a special moment and worth the effort.
Funicular to Brunate:
- Single Ticket: 2.60 euro
- Roundtrip: 4.60 euro
- Leaves every 15 minutes from 6 am to 10:30 pm (midnight during summer season)
The train from Como back to Milan takes about 37 minutes and the cost is just 4.80 euro. Adding up all of the transportation charges for the day doing this on your own is extremely reasonable, just about 12 euro for the two train trips, and only 15 euro for the two ferry rides. The real advantage to doing this self-guided tour is that you can set your own schedule and explore as you see fit.
- So, let’s summarize a very active and full day trip from Milan, keeping in mind that this can also be done in reverse.
- Take the early train from Milan to Varenna, this should take about an hour.
- Explore Varenna during the morning. Walk the shoreline path; explore the interior, churches, and villas if time permits. If you are staying in Varenna there is the Castello di Vezio, which is an 11th-century castle, located at the top of the mountain overlooking Varenna.
- Take the short, fifteen-minute ferry from Varenna to Bellagio.
- Have a relaxing lunch in Bellagio, and explore its churches, shops, cafes, and narrow cobblestone alleys. If you are extending your stay in Bellagio there are more villa’s to explore including the Villa Serbelloni and the Villa Melzi.
- Take the fast ferry from Bellagio to Como. This takes about an hour, which gives you plenty of time to enjoy the views and also stops at about half a dozen or so communities along the lake
- If you timed your day well you should have time to explore Como, be sure to check out the cathedral, and if scenic views are your thing take the funicular up the mountain to Brunate.
- Take the train from Como back to Milan; this should take about 37 minutes.
When taking a day trip to Lake Como from Milan you will certainly have to do a little planning and decide for yourself what you want to see, and how much time to spend in each community. Anticipate it being a long day and my advice would be to start early. If time affords, you may want to consider an extended stay in the lakes region, this is certainly something that we will consider if we return to northern Italy. It goes without saying that this is a very scenic and beautiful area, but you won’t really appreciate its grandeur until you actually get there and experience it for yourself. Whether you are staying in one of the lakeside communities, or just visiting from Milan for a day, be sure to include Lake Como in your itinerary, you will surely regret it if you don’t.
Ciao for now.