Planning a Lake Como day trip from Milan is one of the best ways to see this iconic Italian lake if you’re short on time. Located only about 80 kilometres north of the Lombardy capital, Lake Como is known for being the playground of the rich and famous.
Boasting beautiful scenery, plush villas and charming lakeside villages, Lake Como is a fantastic place to visit and you can see quite a bit of the lake and its towns in a short period of time. However, there is a lot to see and do in the area (so much that you could easily spend 2 or 3 days in Lake Como!) and it can be hard to properly prioritise and plan your time there.
So if you’re want to take a day trip to Lake Como and are wondering how to spend your day there, how to get to Lake Como and how to get from one village to another while you’re there, you’ve come to the right place.
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How to Get From Milan to Lake Como
There are several options to get to Lake Como from Milan, both if you wish to go independently or if you’d rather have a guide.
If you want to take the guesswork out of planning your day in Lake Como and have the whole thing taken care of for you, then an organised tour is going to be your best option. There are plenty of tours from Milan to choose from to suit all travel budgets and tastes.
For instance, this full-day tour includes pick-up and drop-off in Milan. It will take you on a guided tour of Como City and Villa Omo before shuttling you (via boat!) to the towns of Bellagio and Varenna.
Alternatively, this group tour or this group tour includes a tour of Como City with a tour guide before taking you on a 2-hour cruise to Bellagio in the summer. If you book in the cooler months, you will be able to ride the funicular up to Brunate along with a 1-hour lake cruise.
And if you’re after something a little bit different, this small-group tour includes a trip to Como from Milan along with a tour of the surrounding wine region! You will get to explore Varenna before heading for lunch and a tour of the Valtellina Valley. You can also book a similar private tour.
Another great option is this full-day tour, which will pick you up in Milan before busing you to Como city, up to Bellagio and also take you on a lovely boat ride! You will have free time to be able to explore both Como and Bellagio on your own, as well.
Finally, if you want to add another country to your day tour, this full-day tour or this full-day tour will take you on a boat tour of Lake Como, make a stop in beautiful Bellagio before taking you across the border to explore Lake Lugano in Switzerland!
If you would like to go to Lake Como independently but don’t want to deal with the bother (or expense) of hiring a car, then your best bet is to take the train from Milan.
Utilising a combination of the train and, while you’re at the lake, passenger ferries is an excellent way to see quite a bit of Lake Como relatively easily.
From Milan, the easiest town to get the train to on Lake Como is the village of Varenna on the east coast. Varenna makes for an excellent jumping-off point for your day in Como as plenty of ferries to various towns leave from the port.
There are plenty of frequent direct trains connecting Milan and Varenna daily so you shouldn’t have any problem catching one. Depending on the train, the journey will take roughly one hour. You can check schedules and book train tickets here.
Once in Varenna, the easiest way to do this Lake Como day trip route is on foot and via ferry (you can view schedules here).
Alternatively, there are also plenty of trains to Como San Giovanni which is the main train station in the town of Como. You can then connect to ferries to get to other towns around Lake Como.
If you’re looking to save a bit of cash by going to Lake Como by bus, you are a bit out of luck.
There are no regular buses connecting the towns along Lake Como to Milan so this is not a viable option if only spending a day in Como. Fortunately, the regional trains are quite affordable and incredibly frequent, so you aren’t going to be missing out on much.
If you want the utmost flexibility on your day out to this beautiful lake, then hiring a car is your best bet. If you have your own vehicle, you will be able to visit more places and see more things without being beholden to train timetables and connections. You also can utilise the car ferries and easily and quickly get yourself between towns and a few further-flung places.
If you’re travelling in the high season, you may struggle to find parking in some Lake Como towns so if you do rent a car, be prepared that this is a risk.
There are normally parking spots located a bit outside of the town that don’t fill up quite as quickly, so you may need to walk a bit to reach the city centre. If you’re travelling in the low or shoulder seasons or plan to get an early start, then you shouldn’t have much of an issue finding parking.
Keep in mind that parking spots are colour coded. A yellow spot is reserved for residents of the town (so don’t park there!), a blue spot is paid parking (there are generally meters that are easy to find) and a white spot is free. Make sure to check out the signage to see if there are time constraints or other restrictions for wherever it is you’re parking.
Renting a car for the day will also allow you to venture beyond the Varenna-Bellagio-Menaggio route that is outlined below and allow you to add on a city like Como or Lecco should you decide. You also could opt to drive to some more northern areas of the lake that are far less developed, less touristy and a bit more peaceful.
The drive from Milan to Varenna takes roughly 1.5 hours depending on the traffic and the drive back to Milan from Como will take about an hour, again, depending on the traffic and road conditions.
If you’ve determined that hiring a car is the best option for you when visiting Lake Como, then we suggest browsing Rentalcars.com to compare prices across major car hire companies.
The Perfect Lake Como Day Trip
Beginning in Varenna is the easiest and there are frequent train connections to the town from Milan and you can also catch ferries (that accommodate both passengers and cars) to Menaggio, Bellagio and Cadenabbia.
Though Varenna is the smallest of the towns on this route, it could be argued that it’s the most charming. Filled with steep, winding side streets and a lovely (albeit small) lakeside promenade, Varenna makes for the perfect introduction and first stop on Lake Como.
There are a few things to see and do in Varenna, including visiting the 14th Century Church of San Giorgio, wandering along the Riva Grande (the lakefront pathway), indulging in a delicious gelato from one of the many parlours, or even taking a bit of a hike up to the Castello di Vezio.
You also could opt to visit the Villa Monastero which is located in the centre of Varenna. There are countless villas located on the banks of Lake Como that generally boast beautifully landscaped gardens and opulent interiors full of art and other historic pieces. If you’re interested in visiting a villa but don’t want to go too far out of your way, the Villa Monastero can be a good option.
In general, plan to spend an hour or two wandering around Varenna depending on what you want to get up to before heading to your next destination, Bellagio!
The next stop on your trip to Lake Como is the lovely town of Bellagio, which is a top destination for most heading to this iconic Italian lake.
Bellagio is very easy to reach from Varenna via ferry, which you can board either as a passenger or in a car. You can purchase the tickets from the office at the ferry terminal and simply walk (or drive) on when the ferry arrives.
If you’re driving onto the ferry, you will notice some yellow lanes next to the dock that have the destinations printed on them. Simply drive and park in one of the Bellagio lanes, purchase your ticket, and then drive onto the ferry once you’re permitted to do so.
Once in Belaggio, make sure you take your time to explore. This town is a little bit bigger than Varenna and definitely a bit busier, but still absolutely beautiful.
Take the time to wander around the town centre and maybe pop into a few of the many shops that line the quaint cobbled streets. Like Varenna, there is also a delightful lakefront promenade to wander along.
Of course, Bellagio is also home to a lovely villa boasting interesting museums and beautiful gardens. If you opt to visit one here, Villa Melzi is a bit smaller than others but the gardens are noteworthy. Keep in mind that it is only open from March through October – like many villas in the region.
If you’re travelling to Lake Como via public transit, the town of Menaggio will be your final stop on this itinerary. This is another of the most famous towns to visit on Lake Como and boasts many of the same sites and views as the other two.
You can easily reach Menaggio via ferry from Bellagio – the journey takes about fifteen minutes and it is open to both passengers and cars. The process of purchasing tickets and boarding is the same as the other ferries, so it is very straightforward.
Menaggio boasts a lovely town centre with a larger piazza than the other two towns. It also has a wonderful lakeside promenade that is longer a maybe a bit grander than either Bellagio or Varenna.
The lakefront is lined with inviting cafes and gelaterias – in fact, if you feel like getting a caffeine fix, consider getting an espresso from Caffe del Pes, which has plenty of outdoor seating.
This particular town is also a great jumping-off point to exploring some of Como’s most famous and grand villas.
These are going to be easiest to reach if you have a car, however, you can walk if you don’t mind a long one. Villa Carlotta is a popular option, located a bit south of Menaggio itself. This villa boasts a massive botanical garden along with an opulent museum.
If you’re a fan of Hollywood history, then consider heading to Villa Balbianello, which was used as a filming location in the James Bond film Casino Royale. And if you’re looking to visit a villa in Menaggio itself, then there is always Villa Vigoni which, of course, boasts a museum and beautifully landscaped gardens.
If you’re travelling by public transport, to get back to Milan you will need to board another ferry to Varenna and then catch the train back to the city.
If you’ve decided to hire a car, then you have the option of adding Como City to your route.
Located at the southwest point of Lake Como, this is a proper city and is much larger than any of the three towns you will have visited before. However, you can get a good feel for the city in just a couple of hours and enjoy yourself before heading back to Milan.
Como does boat a lovely lakeside promenade and also plenty of grand piazzas. However, the main attraction of this beautiful city is the grand Duomo di Como, or Como Cathedral. This cathedral is truly impressive and worth visiting.
If you want spectacular views over the lake and the city and surrounding area, then make sure to ride the funicular to Brunate, where you can visit the Volta Lighthouse and truly take in the beauty of Lake Como.
And, of course, you could also tap on a villa visit in Como with a stop at Villa Olmo, which is a beautiful neoclassical building late dates back to the late 18th century.
Where to Stay in Milan
Lancaster Hotel – Located in Milan’s city centre, this beautiful hotel is a perfect base for exploring the city. They have a range of comfortable rooms available suitable for all types of travellers and there is even an excellent buffet breakfast included in the nightly rate.
Castello Guest House Milano – If you’re after a luxury option in the Lombardy capital, this hotel is a fantastic place located in the centre of the city and within walking distance of many attractions.
Queen Hostel – This centrally-located hostel is one of the highest-rated in Milan. Perfect for budget or solo travellers who want to meet fellow travellers and keep their Milan trip cost down, they offer both private and dorm rooms with social common areas.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Milan!
Planning the perfect day trip to Lake Como can seem a bit overwhelming, but with enough advance planning and knowing how to get from point A to B, you’re sure to have a wonderful time exploring this beautiful place!
Are you planning to visit Como? Have any questions about how to spend the day? Let us know in the comments!