Planning to visit Lake Como from Milan? Check out this perfect 1 day Lake Como itinerary – this is where we take our friends when they come to visit! If you wish to explore more, check out our Ultimate Lake Como Guide!
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As you know, we are Milan locals, having called the city home (on and off) for 13 years. We’ve had countless friends come to visit, and there’s always one item at the top of their wishlist – together with the Last Supper and Milan Duomo.
I am talking about Lake Como, the shimmering Alpine lake where the Milanese have escaped to for centuries, made famous in recent years by Star Wars and George Clooney (among others).
Trouble is, Lake Como is almost 50 km long, and measures a whopping 160 km coastline. Choosing what to see in Lake Como in 1 day, and planning how to get there and get around, can be daunting. That’s where we come in, sharing our tried-and-tested 1 day Lake Como itinerary.
We recommend doing this Lake Como itinerary by train from Milan – driving is not ideal, especially in summer, as parking is really scarce. Let’s dive into Lake Como now!
How to Get from Milan to Lake Como (and back)
This itinerary is ideal for those travelling to Lake Como from Milan by train, since it starts and ends in two different locations, both connected to Milan by railway.
The first stop on this 1-day Lake Como itinerary is Varenna, one of the best towns around the lake. The Esino-Varenna station along the Milan-Tirano train line is only a few hundred meters from the centre of Varenna, and it’s easy to reach with hourly trains from Milan Centrale.
From Varenna, you’ll travel to Bellagio and Como by ferry. Como will be the final stop on your Lake Como itinerary – from there, you can easily take a train back to Milan from Como Lago station (just a few steps from the lake) or from the larger Como San Giovanni.
Trains from Como Lago head to Milano Cadorna station, convenient if you’re staying in the city center, while trains from Como San Giovanni are faster and end at Milan Centrale.
We’ve got a much more detailed post about how to get to Lake Como from Milan, so check it out if you are planning to travel further around Lake Como.
1 Day Lake Como Itinerary – Morning
Varenna – Lovers Walk
Start your morning with a good breakfast before exploring Varenna. A good place to begin your adventure is by walking the Passeggiata Degli Innamorati, also known as the Lovers Walk.
This picturesque lakeside promenade takes you along the cliffs lining Lake Como and is a great way to get to the town when arriving by train or boat. The views of the lake and town are wonderful and it is easy to see where the name comes from.
Next, head to one of the most impressive villas in Lake Como, Villa Monastero. The structure was originally a 12th-century monastery but was transformed into an opulent villa in the early 17th century when the Valsassinese Mornico family purchased the house. Since then, it has been improved several times, and today, you can walk through 14 opulent rooms showcasing the lavish lifestyle of its former residents.
Set on the waterfront, it also has a lovely botanical garden well worth a stroll. It stretches for 2 kilometers along the shore and is home to a plethora of different plant species. Note that Villa Monastero is closed during the winter months from December through February.
Another impressive villa in Varenna is Villa Cipressi. The villa and gardens were built between the 15th and 19th centuries and are an elegant fusion of old and new architecture keeping the soul of the place alive. Now it houses a hotel and wedding venue, but its spectacular gardens are open to the public (except during private events).
Located right on the lakefront, you can walk through a maze of flowers and plants, some of which are extremely rare in northern Italy but manage to grow due to the local climate. Colourful roses, gardenias, oleanders, palm trees, and cypresses are some of the plants you will see.
Ferry to Bellagio
After exploring the impressive gardens and villas of Varenna, head to the ferry stop to take the ferry to Bellagio. Ferries leave once an hour and the journey takes about 15 minutes. Note that the ferry might make a stop in Menaggio before arriving in Bellagio.
To avoid wasting your precious time in long ticket queues, we recommend purchasing the ferry tickets online. Especially in high season, ticket queues can easily take up to half an hour.
1 Day Lake Como Itinerary – Lunch
When you arrive in Bellagio, it will be time for lunch. There are plenty of places to eat, below are some of our top picks. It usually gets crowded, especially in the high season, so we do recommend booking a table in advance unless you do not mind walking around looking for a place with free tables.
Please note that except for Ittiturismo Mella, most Bellagio restaurants cater to tourists and offer a kind of ‘pan-Italian’ cuisine – think pesto, carbonara, and lasagne on the same menu. Quality is usually good, but don’t expect a memorable meal.
La Punta – arguably the best place to have lunch in Bellagio for the lake views. The restaurant is located on Punta Spartivento and from the terrace, you can see all three Lake Como branches leading to Como, Lecco, and Sondrio. They serve fresh seafood and pasta dishes.
La Fontana Bellagio – a hidden gem a bit off the main tourist route with great value for money. You find anything from salads to meats and pizzas, and besides, the portions are generous. They have tables both inside and on the outdoor terrace.
Ittiturismo Mella – the best place in Bellagio for traditional Lake Como cuisine, with a focus on locally caught freshwater fish. It’s about a 20-minutes walk from the centre but worth getting to for the smoky seafood risotto, or to try traditional dishes like missoltino (sun-dried fish) which are hard to find in tourist-oriented restaurants.
1 Day Lake Como Itinerary – Afternoon
Walk around Bellagio
Bellagio town is easy to walk around and does not require much time. It is divided into the lower part by the lakefront and the steeped cobbled streets leading up to the higher levels.
The most famous street in Bellagio is Salita Serbelloni. Steep steps past restaurants and small boutique shops take you up to the most iconic view of the town where you see Lake Como with a backdrop of green hills beyond the pastel-colored houses of Bellagio.
There is time to do some shopping too if you are looking for unique items to bring home like local cheeses, regional silk items like scarves or ties, or paintings by local artists. Go for a stroll along Punta Spartivento where you in summer can dip your toes in the water. This is also the point where Lake Como’s three forks meet, so it is quite an iconic site worth seeing.
The marina is also a nice place to walk around and you get beautiful views of Bellagio when walking a bit further down the waterfront. The promenade has plenty of benches where you can sit down and enjoy a moment of quiet looking out on the lake and taking in the colorful flowerbeds that adorn the pathway. We suggest stopping for a coffee along the waterfront before leaving the town.
For more inspiration, head to our 15 things to do in Bellagio guide.
Take the Ferry to Como
After exploring Bellagio, take the ferry to Como. There are frequent ferries and the journey with the fast ferry takes anything from 45 minutes to one hour. However, the views are spectacular so kick back and enjoy the scenery.
Again, we highly recommend purchasing online tickets upfront to avoid long queues and possibly waiting for a later ferry.
Funicular to Brunate
When arriving in Como, head to Piazza Alcide de Gasperi where you find the Como-Brunate funicular. It was built in 1894 and takes you up the hill to Brunate in only 7 minutes where the views will sweep you off your feet.
Brunate is also known as “the balcony over the Alps” due to the picturesque views of the mountains towering over Lake Como. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Milan, the Apennines, and Monte Rosa giving even more meaning to the town’s nickname.
Noble families from Milan and Como have used Brunate as a vacation destination for centuries which you can see in all the sumptuous Art Nouveau-style villas when walking around. Brunate was an important Roman city, but archaeological finds date the settlement all the way back to the Celts with some Etruscan influence.
If you manage to time your visit to Brunate with sunset, you are up for a magical moment before taking the funicular back down to Como.
1 Day Lake Como Itinerary – Evening
Aperitivo in Como
Back down in Como round off your day trip with “Aperitivo” in Como. “Aperitivo” is a tradition going way back in Italy and is basically a drink with light snacks before dinner. It derives from the Latin word “aperire” which means “to open.”
Traditionally, it is said that by having a drink, you open your stomach getting it ready for dinner. And Como has some excellent places to grab a pre-dinner drink and some snacks! Here are a couple of our favorites.
Vintage Jazz Food & Wine: An upscale speakeasy-style restaurant and bar that serves excellent “aperitivo.” They have an extensive list of cocktails and a wide variety of nibbles. Besides, the ambiance is great with Jazz music to enhance the experience.
Est Est Est Art & Music Club: An intimate bar with groovy music and a young atmosphere. They make epic cocktails and the food is amazing. If you are looking for a local bar without the touristy crowds, this is a great choice.
And with aperitivo, our 1-day itinerary around Lake Como comes to an end. You’ll have time to head back to Milan for dinner – I’m sure you’ll agree with us that a single day is not enough to fully appreciate the magical lake atmosphere. Until next time!
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