The Ultimate 2 to 3 Days in Lake Como Itinerary

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by Maggie Turansky


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Planning a 2 to 3 days in Lake Como itinerary is often one of the highlights of visiting Italy. This idyllic lake situated to the north of Milan in Italy’s Lombardy region is known to be a playground for the rich and famous, however, that doesn’t mean it isn’t accessible for your average traveller to visit, as well.

Known for its beautiful setting, absolutely charming lakeside towns and grand villas with sprawling gardens, a visit to Lake Como is never a bad idea. While many plan to head to this area simply as a day trip, there is so much to see and do that planning a 2 or 3-day itinerary is ideal if you can spare the time.

So if you’re interested in heading to this iconic Italian lake, then you’ve come to the right place.

How Many Days in Lake Como?

The first question that generally springs to mind when planning a trip is how many days in Lake Como is enough to see all of the highlights without getting too overwhelmed.

Because of its proximity to the city, many potential visitors tend to head on a day trip to Lake Como from Milan rather than taking the time to spend a few days exploring the lake. While this is certainly an option and very much doable, you will get a lot more out of Lake Como if you can set aside a bit more time.

Ideally, spending at least 2 days in Lake Como will give you enough time to visit some of the most iconic towns, explore Como city and spend a bit of time wandering around a villa. It’s also relaxed enough that you can take your time to just chill out and enjoy the vibes without feeling like you’re missing out on all of the things to do.

If you can spare the time, however, spending 3 days along the shores of Lake Como is the perfect amount of time to go at a leisurely pace, see the tourist-pleasing highlights and to even get a bit off the beaten path and explore some areas around the lake that are less visited.

Varenna on Lake Como
Varenna on Lake Como

Getting To & Around Lake Como

Now that you’ve determined how long to spend in Lake Como, it’s time to discuss how you’re planning on getting to and around this lovely place.

Getting to Lake Como is easy whether you plan to take public transport or opt to drive yourself. Located only about 80 kilometres north of Milan, you can reach the lake in around an hour from the city regardless of the mode you take.

If you want to take the train, there are plenty of trains that depart from Milan and head to the town of Varenna daily. These trains take about an hour to get there. You can check schedules here.

Once in Lake Como, if you want to rely on public transit, you’ll also need to get comfortable with using the ample ferry system. If you have a few days in the Como region, you will be able to cover a lot of ground just using the ferries, but do know that you will have less flexibility than if you were driving.

Boarding the ferry in Lake Como
Boarding the ferry on Lake Como

That brings me to the ideal way to get around Lake Como – by car. You can reach Lake Como from Milan in about an hour by driving and it is about the same from the nearby city of Bergamo.

Once in Lake Como, you’ll find it easy to get between towns both by driving and by utilising the car ferries – which run between the cities of Varenna, Bellagio, Menaggio and Cadenabbia and are frequent and very easy to navigate.

Having your own car will also give you the most flexibility in your itinerary and will also allow you to get a bit more off the beaten path should you desire it.

If you want to hire a car while visiting Lake Como, then we suggest looking at RentalCars.com which includes options across a number of different car hire companies.

Arriving in Bellagio via ferry
Arriving in Bellagio via ferry

2 to 3 Days in Lake Como Itinerary

If you only have time for a 2-day Lake Como itinerary, then you simply need to follow the first two days of this route. This route is easiest if you have your own car, however, it is certainly doable via public transport and ferries – you may just need to make some adjustments depending on timetables, walking distances etc.

Day 1 – Varenna, Bellagio & Menaggio

Varenna

Begin your first day in one of its most charming towns in Lake Como, Varenna. Of the big three towns to visit on the lake, Varenna is my favourite. It’s a bit smaller than Bellagio and Menaggio but it packs a significant amount of charm. There are plenty of steep, narrow cobbled streets to wander along and lots of lovely lake views to take in.

Take the time to visit the lovely Church of San Giorgio, a 14th-century church that makes an iconic focal point in the Varenna skyline. And, if you’re feeling like working up a bit of a sweat, consider walking up to visit the Castello di Vezio and take in the beautiful views of Lake Como and Varenna.

Of course, no visit to Varenna is complete without walking along the Riva Grande, the lakeside promenade. It is absolutely lovely in Varenna and is lined with some benches, gelaterias and a few restaurants and bars.

Varenna is small but there is a bit to explore. Depending on what you’re interested in and end up doing, you could easily spend a couple of hours here if you take your sightseeing at a leisurely pace – and give yourself time for a coffee or a gelato!

Varenna's charming houses
Varenna’s charming houses

Bellagio

From Varenna, it’s easy to reach the town of Bellagio (arguably the most famous town on Lake Como) via ferry. If you have your own car, it’s worth it to take the car ferry, however, you can simply grab a passenger ticket and get around on foot while in the town.

The ferry from Varenna to Bellagio takes about fifteen minutes and it’s easy to find and ride. If you’re taking a car, you will find yellow lanes with the destination written on them next to the ferry entrance. Park in the Bellagio lane, purchase your ticket and then drive onto the ferry when instructed. It’s all very easy.

Once in Bellagio, you’ll find that it offers much of the same highlights as Varenna – including a nice lakeside promenade, beautiful side streets, ample shops and plenty of inviting cafes, restaurants and bars.

Bellagio has a very upmarket and high-end feel to it and, if this is something you’re interested in, there are lots of swanky shops to browse. Take the time to enjoy the lovely, winding lanes and beautiful views in Bellagio before continuing on to your next destination.

Exploring Bellagio
Exploring Bellagio

Menaggio

Your final stop on the first day of this itinerary is the town of Menaggio. Another of the most famous towns on the entire lake, you can reach this via ferry from Bellagio. Situated almost directly across the lake from Varenna, it’s also very easy to get back to your starting point once you’re through exploring here.

Menaggio is one of the larger towns along the lake, but that doesn’t mean it lacks any sort of charm. In fact, it has quite a long and wide lakeside promenade that is perfect for a leisurely stroll. If the weather is fine (which it is for much of the year in Italy), you’ll find the plethora of open-air cafes, bars and restaurants particularly inviting.

Like Bellagio and Varenna before it, Menaggio boasts a plethora of lovely shops to browse and charming cobbled streets to wander. Unlike the former two towns, however, Menaggio does boast a lovely central piazza that is worth taking in, as well.

Arriving in Menaggio
Arriving in Menaggio

Day 2 – Villa Tour, Como & Lecco

Visit a Villa

Begin your second day on Lake Como with one of the most popular things to do on the lake – a villa visit. There are countless villas that line this lake and a good portion of them are open as museums and botanical gardens to tour.

The Lake Como villas were once (and some still are) private residences of the rich and famous. Generally set on the lakeside with opulent interiors and immaculately landscaped gardens, many of these villas have nowadays been converted into luxury hotels or, also commonly, into museums open for tourists to visit.

As plenty of the interiors of the homes have extensive art collections and historic pieces of furniture, etc, they can be quite interesting to visit.

Along with the luxe interiors of these homes, the villas also often have absolutely beautiful gardens – some so lavish that they are considered to be entire botanical gardens that take an hour or more to enjoy completely. So plan to spend a couple of hours on the morning of your second day touring one of the incredible villas in Lake Como.

As mentioned, there are really countless villas to choose from. If you don’t want to venture from the towns you visited yesterday, consider heading to Villa Monastero in Varenna, Villa Melzi in Bellagio or Villa Vigoni in Menaggio. However, there are more, even grander villas to see if you’re able to venture a bit further from these towns.

Villa Carlotta is a popular option, located south of Menaggio, as it’s well-known for its massive botanical gardens. Another very popular option is Villa Balbianello, which actually served as a filming location for 2006’s Casino Royale. A convenient stop would also be the 18th Century Villa Olmo, which is located just outside the city of Como (which is the next stop on this itinerary).

It is worth noting that a majority of these villas are only open seasonally, with many of the seasons only beginning in March or April. If you happen to be visiting in the winter months and are keen to include a villa visit on your trip, make sure to look in advance to avoid any disappointment should your villa of choice be closed to visitors.

Villa Balbianello
Villa Balbianello

Como

After spending your morning hours exploring a villa, it’s time to head to one of the proper cities on the lake, the eponymous Como.

Located at the southwest fork of the lake, Como is a bustling city that has a very different vibe to the towns of Varenna, Bellagio and Menaggio that you visited yesterday. Como is much larger and has a fair bit more “stuff,” however, it is still very possible to see the highlights in only a few hours.

The main draw of Como City is, without a doubt, the Como Cathedral – a beautiful Gothic building that is very much worth visiting. It is also well worth writing the funicular up to the Volta Lighthouse to take in the incredible views of the city and of the entirety of Lake Como below.

If you’re interested in simply exploring Como town for the rest of your day instead of heading to another destination, this is also a good place to take off on a lake cruise or some other activity that gets you out on the lake itself.

Even if you opt to ride the passenger ferry around, you’re sure to enjoy the feeling of being on the water and enjoying the views of the towns and hills surrounding the lake from a different perspective.

Como Cathedral
Como Cathedral

Lecco

As the final destination if you’re spending 2 days, Lecco is the other major city on the lake. Situated at the southeastern fork of Lake Como, Lecco isn’t as visited (nor as large) as Como, however, it is still quite charming a very much worth exploring if you’re interested.

In fact, this is probably going to be the least touristy of the places that you visit in the first two days of this itinerary as it’s not traditionally included on the major Lake Como routes. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit, however.

Lecco boasts a lovely, long lakeside promenade that is studded with benches – perfect for taking a break and enjoying the beautiful views of the lake. There are also a number of cafe-lined grand piazzas to see and plenty of charming, cobbled streets to explore.

The city has a quiet, laid-back feel to it while also being big enough to get a bit lost and find some hidden gems. In fact, it makes for a wonderful place to end your 2-day itinerary and, if you’re spending 3 days here, it makes for the perfect place to get a taste for getting a bit of the typical tourist trail.

The town of Lecco
The town of Lecco

Day 3 – Northern Lake Como

Explore Lake Como’s Smaller Towns

If you’re seeing Lake Como in 3 days, the final day of this itinerary is far easier to execute if you have a car, however, you can actually coordinate something similar using the smaller passenger ferries.

Plan to spend your third day in Lake Como exploring the towns on the northern part of the lake, north of the towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna. Here, you won’t find the hordes of day-trippers and you will get a much more relaxed and quiet side of Lake Como. It is also less developed up here and significantly less upmarket.

We recommend heading up to the town of Dongo before visiting the lovely village of Gravedona ed Uniti, which is situated on the northwestern side of the lake.

Here, you can find a delightful promenade lined with inviting cafes and restaurants. If you want to indulge, make sure to grab an ice cream at Gelateria La Carpiña which has some of the best gelato I’ve ever tasted!

There are plenty of other lovely towns and villages to visit on this end and also a number of great views to take in and even some wonderful restaurants to eat at. If you’re looking for a great local recommendation for lunch, consider heading to Taverna Il Castello in Dervio, which has a great set lunch deal.

Finally, make sure to include a stop in the delightful town of Bellano, which is located only a bit north of Varenna on the eastern side of the lake. This town is a bit quieter and sleepy but has a nice promenade and plenty of great bars and cafes to sit at and enjoy the good vibes.

Peaceful Dongo
Peaceful Dongo

Have More Time?

If you have more time on Lake Como, there are a few options available to you. You could, for instance, head west to Lake Lugano, which is sprawled across the border of Switzerland. In fact, the town of Lugano itself is located in Switzerland, so it’s a great option if you want to easily visit another country!

You also could use another day to plan some activities on the lake itself. Consider booking a sailing cruise or some other activity that gets you out onto the water and enjoying the lake. If you’re interested, you could also opt to visit more villas if you have the time.

All in all, there is quite a lot to do in Lake Como you can certainly find plenty of things to fill your days!

Where to Stay in Lake Como

There are countless places to stay in Lake Como so you will spoilt for choice when it comes to finding a suitable accommodation option. Whether you’re on the hunt for a luxury hotel or a comfortably furnished holiday home, there is something for everything. If you’re wondering where to stay on Lake Como, have a look at these suggestions:

Villa Lario Resort Mandello – If you’re after luxury, then this plush hotel is a good choice. Located about fifteen minutes south of Varenna in the town of Mandello del Lario, they have a number of lovely rooms on offer and plenty of amenities to ensure your stay is a perfect one.

B&B Villa Rosalinda – If you’re looking for a quaint bed and breakfast, then this place in the quiet town of Dongo is an excellent option. They have a range of rooms available, a wonderful breakfast each morning and plenty of great amenities to make sure your stay is fantastic.

Miralago B&B and Apartments – If you’re after a self-catering place to stay on Lake Como, then this is an excellent option for you. Located just outside of Bellagio, they have fully-furnished one and two-bedroom apartments available along with individual ensuite rooms, should that suit your fancy. Breakfast is also available on request.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Lake Como hotels!

The town of Bellano
The town of Bellano

Planning an itinerary for Lake Como can seem a bit overwhelming at first glance, especially when you consider all there is to see and do in this beautiful area. However, whether you have one, two or three days, you’re sure to have a wonderful time exploring this gorgeous Italian lake.

Are you planning a trip to Lake Como? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie

Comments

  1. Great article and advice! One question I have is if we plan on staying 3 days and have a car, should we just satay in one location for our time there?

    Reply
    • I would highly recommend just staying in one place. Lake Como isn’t all that big and with the ferries and such, you won’t have long driving times to contend with no matter where you choose to base yourself 🙂

      Reply
  2. Hello
    Would like a wedding pic with lake Como in the background. Any suggestions for a budget friendly stay for a couple of days in the lake/ villa area? It’s just 2 people having a private moment taking wedding pics in lake Como. Thanks for your time .

    Reply
  3. Great Article. I am planning to do your 2 day Itinerary. My daughter and I will be taking the train from Florence to Milan then transferring up to the lake. We will have our backpacks, so I was wondering if you know of a place not far from the ferry dock so we can drop our bags and go?

    Reply
    • I don’t know of any luggage storage, however, I would recommend seeing if your accommodation will allow you to store your bags even if you’re there before the stated check-in time.

      Reply
    • In high season, it can be tough to find parking, however, we didn’t struggle when we visited in early May. You may need to park slightly outside of the city centre and, if you’re concerned, getting there as early as possible is never a bad idea 🙂

      Reply

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