Julie Italy 21 Comments

Lake Como is a wishbone-shaped lake nestled in the foothills of the Alps. This is where the rich and famous vacation in luxurious villas and visitors flock to the colorful lakeside towns. It is one of Italy’s most scenic destinations and easily visited from Milan and Lugano, Switzerland. If you are planning a day trip to Lake Como, we have a lot of travel tips to share with you.

Orientation to Lake Como

Lake Como is shaped like an inverted letter Y.

Clustered in the middle of Lake Como are Bellagio, Varenna, and Menaggio, not to mention a handful of stunning villas. Spend the day wandering picturesque streets, cruising past opulent villas, strolling through botanical gardens, shopping, and dining at cafes with beautiful views of the lake. If you plan to day trip to Lake Como, this is the most scenic part of the lake to visit.

The town of Como is located at the southwestern arm of the lake. This is a small city that is growing in popularity with visitors to Italy. It serves as a great transportation hub if you are traveling to Lake Como from Milan.

How to Get to Lake Como

Lake Como is located in northern Italy, not far from the border with Switzerland. From Milan, Italy and Lugano, Switzerland it’s very easy to take a day trip to Lake Como.

When planning your day trip to Lake Como, you first have to decide where you want to go. Lake Como is big and with only one day you will not have enough time to see all of it.

The “golden triangle” of Bellagio, Varenna, and Menaggio, along with the villas that dot the shore here, are the best part of Lake Como to visit on a day trip, in our opinion. It’s the perfect combination of beautiful villas, picturesque towns, and mountain scenery.

The town of Como is growing in popularity. This is a much larger town than Bellagio and Varenna, and it will lack some of the charm, but it’s very easy to get to from Milan and makes a nice option if you don’t have a full day to spend on Lake Como.

Bellagio Buildings

Bellagio

How to Get to Lake Como from Milan

By Train to Bellagio

Bellagio does not have a train station. To get to Bellagio by train, you will have to take a train to Varenna or Como and transfer to Bellagio by ferry.

By Train to Varenna

Trains leave from Milano Centrale and arrive at Varenna-Esino in 1 hour and 3 minutes. This is a direct train with no transfers. Tickets start at €6.70.

By Train to Como

Trains leave Milano Centrale and arrive at Como San Giovanni in 38 minutes. Some trains have a transfer and a longer travel time. The direct train starts at €4.80.

To check train schedules and book your tickets, you can use italiarail.com (easy to use but there is a small booking fee, €5) or Trenitalia.com (the main website for booking train tickets; the website is in English but you will have to input Italian names of the towns, which in this case, are the same as English spellings; no extra booking fee).

If you know your exact dates of travel, you can book your train tickets in advance. For more flexibility, purchase your ticket at the train station before you board the train.

Como to Varenna and Bellagio by Boat

From Como, you can take a slow boat (batallo) or a fast boat (hydrofoil) to get to Varenna and Bellagio.

The hydrofoil takes 45 minutes to one hour to travel from Como to Bellagio and/or Varenna. 

The slow boat takes up to two to three hours to travel from Como to Bellagio and/or Varenna. 

Click here for the official Lake Como ferry website and for updated prices.

Como to Bellagio by Bus

You can also take a bus from Como to Bellagio (1 hour and 10 minutes).

By Car to Lake Como

Milan to Bellagio: 75 km, 1.5 hours. Parking is very limited and traffic congestion is common. If you have a car, get here early or park in Varenna or Como and use the ferry to get around. Click here for information on where to park in Bellagio.

Milan to Varenna: 80 km, 1.5 hours. Park in the parking garage near Villa Monastero (called Parcheggio Multipiano on Google Maps).

Milan to Como: 50 km, 1 hour.

How to Get to Lake Como from Lugano

From Lugano, you will first travel to Menaggio. Once in Menaggio you will take the ferry to Bellagio and Varenna.

By Bus

It takes one hour by bus to travel from Lugano to Menaggio. From Menaggio you will take a ferry to Bellagio.

Click here for the bus schedule.

By Car

If you have a car, it takes 40 minutes to drive between Lugano and Menaggio. In Menaggio, we parked at Parcheggio gratuito via IV Novembre 102, a small, free parking lot located just south of the ferry terminal. Here are the GPS coordinates: 46.014950, 9.237051. There are only a handful of spots so get here early.

There is no parking at the ferry terminal.

Menaggio

Menaggio 

How to Get Around Lake Como

The ferry is the best way to get between Menaggio, Bellagio, and Varenna. Ferries are very frequent, arriving in each town at least once an hour, with more ferries at peak times. To get between each town, it is a 15-minute ride.

A ferry ticket costs €4.60 per person per journey. You can also buy a pass that is good for unlimited trips for one day (we paid €15 per pass). Click here for pricing (I know that this PDF says that fares are valid from 2012 but it is the most updated information on the official website for the ferry service…as of March 2022).

You do not need to purchase your ferry tickets in advance. You can buy your ticket the morning of your day trip at the ferry terminal.

Click here for the ferry timetables.

Lake Como Ferry day trip to Lake Como

Lake Como ferry at the Bellagio dock | How to day trip to Lake Como

Our Recommendation

From Milan

If you are planning a day trip to Lake Como from Milan, I recommend taking the train to Varenna. From Varenna, use the ferry to travel to Bellagio. To get back to Milan, either take a return train from Varenna or cruise to Como on the hydrofoil and take the train to Milan.

From Lugano

If you do not have a car, take the bus to Menaggio and use the ferry to get to Bellagio and Varenna.

If you have a car, get to Menaggio early (by 8 am) to get a parking space near the ferry terminal. Then, use the ferry to get to Bellagio and Varenna.

Day Trip to Lake Como

The view of Bellagio from the ferry.

One Day on Lake Como

If you only have one day on Lake Como, I recommend spending your time in Varenna and Bellagio. You also have the option to take a scenic boat cruise past the villas or tour one of the villas on the Lake.

I have seen other Lake Como itineraries that include Bellagio, Varenna, and Lake Como, but this makes for an extremely long and busy day. You can do it, but in my opinion, it will be a much better experience to spend your time in Varenna and Bellagio, without also adding on Como to your day.

Here is our recommended Lake Como one day itinerary. You will visit Bellagio, Varenna, and cruise past numerous villas. This is how we spent our time on Lake Como and it was a wonderful day.

Bellagio

Start your day in Bellagio. If you can get here early, before 9 am, you will be able to wander the streets without crowds of people. Go shopping, visit the Basilica of San Giacomo, stroll through Melzi Gardens, and spend some time in the lovely fishing village, Pescallo. Have lunch at an outdoor café.

For more information on Bellagio, don’t miss our article 8 Amazing Things to do in Bellagio.

Bellagio Italy

Melzi Gardens day trip to Lake Como

Melzi Gardens

 

Pescallo Italy

Pescallo (drone photo)

Cruise Lake Como

One of our favorite experiences of the day was cruising past the villas that line the lakeside. We booked a 1-hour lake tour through Lido de Bellagio. It cost us €140, but it was a private tour and we could customize where we went.

You can also book a private taxi to take you around the lake, but from my research, a one-hour tour started at €200.

Villa del Balbianello

Villa del Balbianello

 

Lake Como Villa day trip to Lake Como

Villa la Cassinella

Varenna

From Bellagio, take the ferry to Varenna. Spend the afternoon exploring Varenna.

Varenna is small town, even smaller than Bellagio, so you can walk through it in an hour, if you move fast.

The harbor is very pretty and is lined with outdoor cafes and gelato shops. There are several small but crowded beaches located along Varenna’s waterfront. Walk uphill to Piazza San Giorgio to see Chiesa di San Giorgio, and as you walk back towards the ferry station, you will have very nice views down the narrow hilly streets to the harbor.

Varenna Italy

Varenna | How to day trip to Lake Como

 

Best things to do in Lake Como

Varenna Lake Como

Varenna Beach day trip to Lake Como

Varenna Piazza day trip to Lake Como

Sitting atop a prominence high over Varenna is Castello de Vezio, an ancient, ruined castle. To get here, it’s a long, uphill walk. There is a small entrance fee and the castle is open from 10 am to 6 pm. We passed on this but I imagine that the views from the castle are stunning.

Our visit to Bellagio, Varenna, and the lake cruise took one full day. If you want to add on Como, you will either have to move very fast through these towns or consider taking out either the boat tour or Varenna.

When to Visit Lake Como

The peak tourist season starts in June and ends in early September. Expect large crowds, full ferries, and busy restaurants. The weather is warm and generally sunny, so it is a very nice time to visit Lake Como. You just need to be prepared to share the experience with many other travelers.

Spring and fall are the shoulder seasons. Temperatures will be cooler and rain is more likely to make an appearance, but crowds will be a lot lower.

From late fall to early spring, Lake Como is chilly and ferries run less frequently, which can make getting around more difficult.

Guided Tours of Lake Como

If you prefer to day trip to Lake Como on a guided tour, here are several highly rated options to consider.

 


If you have any questions about planning a day trip to Lake Como, comment below!

More Information about Italy

Read all of our articles about Italy in our Italy Travel Guide.

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Lake Como Bellagio Day Trip from Milan

 

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Comments 21

  1. Avatar for robert schembri
    robert schembri

    Hello Julie,
    first and foremost thank you for the information.
    we are planning to visit Lake Como end of August for 2.5 days. Our plan is that Como will be the hub to visit the Lake.
    Is it feasible that first day we visit Bellagio Varenna and Mennagio, what advice would you give for the second day?
    Thank you
    robert

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      That’s a great question. We based ourselves out of Lugano, rather than Como, for our visit to Bellagio etc., so I am more familiar with the Lugano area. If Milan isn’t on your itinerary yet, Milan is a great day trip from Como and easy to do since it is just a short train ride away. You could spend the day sightseeing in Como. Or you could day trip to Lugano, Switzerland. Lugano is nice but I’d pick Milan over Lugano. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Rita
    Rita

    Hi. I’d like to do a full day trip do lake Como from Milan by train. I really want to visit Villa Balbianello and some of the towns. What do you recommend? I’m planning an early start and it will most likely be a Saturday in June

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Rita. From Milan, take the train to Varenna. Visit Varenna and then take the ferry to Bellagio. If you want to visit Villa Balbianello, here is some information I found on how to get here. You can hire a boat taxi but we looked into this and it was very expensive (something like $500 USD for one day). In Bellagio, we hired a boat for an hour so that could be an option as well. To return to Milan, you will have to ride the ferry back to Varenna and take the train from here. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Bhawna
    Bhawna

    Is visiting Bellagio, varenna in October first week a good idea ? How frequent the ferries are in October? What about weather?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      For information about the weather, I found this article that should be helpful. I think going at that time is great. It should be less crowded and ferries should still be running, but maybe on a reduced schedule compared to the summer season (you can confirm this on the ferry website). Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Susan
    Susan

    This article is so helpful, thank you! I have a question about cars vs trains and timing. We will have a Saturday and Sunday total to explore the area coming from Gallarate (Milan suburb I believe). Should we rent a car and drive to Bellagio (1.25 hrs), explore Bellagio and Varenna, spend the night in Bellagio and then drive back to Gallarate? Or should we take a train to Como (1.5 hrs) and then ferry to Bellagio (1-1.5 hrs more) and the same journey back on Sunday? Diving looks to be much quicker as the train/ferry journey can take up to 2 hours with connections but I’m not sure if hotels in Bellagio have parking. Also not sure if weekend traffic is a big problem. Thank you so much for your thoughts!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      If you prefer to drive, you could look into hotels in Bellagio and see if they offer parking. If they don’t, or if parking is an additional, expensive fee, that will make your decision easier. If you prefer to spend all of your time around Bellagio and Varenna, going by car will give you more time here. By car, it is an hour and fifteen minute drive to Bellagio from Gallarate, so that’s a lot faster than the train + ferry combo. Plus, due to your starting location in Gallarate, I don’t know how convenient the train to Como will be (there could be a transfer). Driving sounds like the way to go in your situation, as long as the parking works out. I don’t think weekend traffic should be a big issue. If there is some traffic, it will still probably be faster than the train and ferry. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Carla Zimmermann
    Carla Zimmermann

    We are looking to stay near the lake Como for 2-3 nights. Can you recommend a hotel or a village ?
    For your recommendation we thank you,

    Best,
    Carla

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Good towns to stay in are Como (bigger town with lots of hotels/restaurants/easy access to public transportation) or Bellagio (prettier, small town and it would be a nice experience staying here). Varenna also makes a good option. Cheers, Julie

  6. Avatar for Jay
    Jay

    So glad I came across this page – thanks so much! Quick question – I’m looking to do a day trip on a Thursday (starting early) and stay the night somewhere close by, to then explore most of the Friday (maybe till 4/5 PM), so I’ll have a good 1.5 days or so. What would you recommend in this case? It looks like Bellagio/Varenna can be done in a day, so would it be possible worth adding Como perhaps?

    Thanks!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      It takes about a full day to do Bellagio and Varenna, so yes with that extra time, visit Como. Stay in Como or Bellagio. Of the two towns, I think Bellagio would be the better of the two. It’s a popular day trip destination and I bet it’s really nice to stroll the streets in the evening after the day trippers leave. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Jay
        1. Avatar for Julie Post
          Author
          Julie

          That depends on where you will be before and after visiting Lake Como. In general, I would say spend the first day in Varenna and Bellagio, sleeping in Bellagio. That gives you plenty of time for these two very pretty towns. The next morning, travel to Como and spend the day here. That puts you closer to Milan, etc, if you happen to be going to Milan or somewhere nearby, on Friday. But if you will be going to Switzerland next, do Como on Thursday and Bellagio/Varenna on Friday (still sleeping in Bellagio). Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Joana
    Joana

    Hello! I’m thinking about taking a trip there mid june. I am just having a hard time deciding wether I should rent a car or just use public transportation. I’m planning on staying there for three days and explore all of that area including Varenna and Menaggio and maybe on the last day go to Como. I just don’t know if it’s worth spending the money on a car. What do you think it’s best? All the best, Joana

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      For that area, I don’t think you need to rent a car. The public transportation network is great for Lake Como and in some ways, having a car would be a hassle. You would have to park it and then you most likely won’t use it for a day or two, since it’s much easier and more scenic to get around by boat. Cheers, Julie

  8. Avatar for Alex
    Alex

    Hi Julie!

    I am a long time reader and my husband and I have been able to go on so many amazing trips thanks to your blog (Bavarian alps + Salzburg, Paris/Brussels/Amsterdam, Croatia/Montenegro, and Utah Might Five!).

    We are planning a trip for May to Central/Northern Italy including a day trip to Lake Como from Milan. I am trying to decide on our day trip if we should do a 1 hour boat tour or if we should go with one of the longer tours. Did you feel that the hour was a good amount of time to see what you wanted to on the lake, or would you recommend a longer boat trip? We are taking the train to Varenna, and are planning on seeing Varenna and Bellagio as your suggested.

    Thank you for your help!
    Alex

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Alex. I’m happy to help. 😊 We felt like one hour was enough. You don’t make it very far from Bellagio but you still get to see some beautiful villas and scenery. Plus, you will ride the ferry between Bellagio and Varenna, so you will get to spend more time on the water this way (from the ferry you get awesome views of both of these towns). Finally, there is a lot to do and a longer boat tour would have made our day even longer. Have fun planning your trip and if you have any questions, feel free to write in again. We are currently planning a trip through northern Italy as we speak so even if you don’t see it on our website just yet, we still might be able to answer your questions. Cheers, Julie

  9. Avatar for Lory
    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      The amount of time you spend for this day trip (8 vs 12 hours) depends on several factors: your starting and ending point, the mode of transportation you choose, and how much time you spend at each town. If you move fast, it could take as little as 8 hours. But if you are traveling by bus, or spend a long time in Bellagio, it could be longer. We did this from Lugano and our day trip lasted about 9 hours, round trip from Lugano. We didn’t have much travel time to and from Lake Como (it was about an hour drive from Lugano to Menaggio), but we spent a lot of time exploring Bellagio and cruising on Lake Como. On average, it will take around 10 hours to do this Lake Como day trip. Cheers, Julie

  10. Avatar for tugce

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