9 Amazing Lake Como Villas – How to Visit

More over, George! In this article you can read all about how to visit the 9 best Lake Como villas – all the ones that are open to the public.

Would you like to visit the best villas in Lake Como? Check out these amazing tours and don’t forget to get your entry tickets ahead of time!

Lake Como is not too far from Milan, and for this reason it has been a top holiday destination for wealthy Milanese families for several centuries, explaining the abundance of stunning lakeside villas with manicured Italian-style gardens.

Some of these Lake Como villas are now on Airbnb and can be yours for the night (if you have deep pockets, that is). Some others are wedding venues, and others again house 5-star hotels, or can be rented as event locations.

There are 9 villas around the lake you can visit. 5 of these Lake Como villas allow visitors to tour the interiors and gardens, whereas others are privately owned and only allow access to the garden.

Not all villas are open year-round – many only open during the spring/summer season or only on certain days of the week. We’ve included all this info on the relevant paragraphs, including how to get there.

We’ve divided the best Lake Como villas in two groups – villas you can visit from Como, and villas in the central part of the lake, easy to visit from Bellagio or Varenna. Let’s discover them together!

Best Lake Como Villas near Como

1) Villa Olmo

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Villa Olmo seen from the gardens

Villa Olmo in Como is a great example of neoclassical architecture from the early 1800s. It’s located right on the lakeside on the way to Cernobbio, and it’s easy to walk there from the center of Como.

Marquis Innocenzo Odescalchi originally commissioned the villa as a lakeside summer retreat. The villa is named after a monumental elm tree (olmo in Italian) located in the gardens, which unfortunately did not survive to the present day.

Villa Olmo had several important visitors over the centuries, including Napoleon and Garibaldi. It also changed hands many times, until it was acquired by the Municipality of Como. Since 1925, it has primarily been used for cultural events, conferences, and art exhibitions.

The villa consists of separate buildings spread across the large English gardens. The interiors are in exquisite Neoclassical style, decorated with frescoes by local artists Andrea Appiani and Domenico Pozzi. Another interesting feature is the tiny Italian-style theatre with perfect acoustics. The façade of the villa is also very elegant, with a colonnade surrounding the busts of five ancient philosophers set in round niches.

The extensive English-style garden is actually a public park, and it houses elaborate statues, fountains, colorful flowerbeds, and elegant greenery, making it one of the most beautiful places to walk around on the shores of Lake Como.

The legendary ‘olmo’ lending its name to the villa may be long gone, but the gardens have over 700 trees, including some monumental ones – including a Lebanon cedar, horse chestnut, and even a sequoia.

How to get there – Walk along Passeggiata Lino Gelpi from the Como Yacht Club, going past some of the most beautiful (privately owned) lakeside villas. It’s a really scenic walk and it takes less then half an hour to reach Villa Olmo.

Opening times – Villa Olmo is currently under restoration, but the gardens are open every day (except Monday) from 10 AM to 6 PM. Entry is free.

2) Villa d’Este

The Renaissance Villa d’Este is located in Cernobbio and was built in the mid-1500s as a patrician residence. It was built on the site of a former nunnery and originally named Villa del Garovo, after a stream located in the vicinity.

The villa was bought and sold several times – the most notable owners were the Calderari family, who restored the villa in the 18th century adding an Italian-style garden complete with a small temple fronted by a statue of Hercules, and Princess Carolina of Brunswick, who turned the garden into English-style.

Princess Carolina belonged to the noble Este family – to honour the new owner, the villa name became ‘Nuova Villa d’Este’, to distinguish it from the well-known Villa d’Este in Tivoli, near Rome.

In the late 19th century the villa became a hotel, a favourite haunt of the rich and famous from half of Europe. It was used by Alfred Hitchcock ad a filming location for his 1925 silent movie Pleasure Garden, and 20 years later the villa became the location of a real-life murder, when a countess killed her lover and hid the smoking gun in her ermine scarf (yes, I’m not joking!)

Villa d’Este is definitely one of the most impressive villas on Lake Como, and it still functions as an exclusive 5-star hotel that is only open to guests. So if you want to visit Villa d’Este, you must book a room at the hotel – but then you have opened a gate to ultimate luxury.

You’ll be able to walk in the footsteps of sultans, tsars, and princesses as you traverse the opulent hallways of the hotel. The gardens are unmatched as are the lake views, making a stay there a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If your budget can’t quite stretch to spending €1000 or more per night, you can book dinner in one of 4 restaurants located in the hotel, or visit in occasion of Concorso d’Eleganza, a vintage car show taking place every year in the hotel grounds.

How to get there – Villa d’Este is about 10 minutes walk from the center of Cernobbio, but if you’re staying there you probably have enough money for a taxi or private boat transfer from Como.

3) Villa Erba

Villa Erba is located in Cernobbio and dates back to the 19th century. It was built in Mannerist style on the site of a former monastery, that was decommissioned during Napoleon’s rule.

The villa is only open during special events like art exhibitions and fairs, but you can also rent it for weddings, conferences, and other events. Inside the palace, you will be met by lavish stairs covered in a red carpet to match the intricate details in the ceiling and massive paintings on the walls.

You can also visit during Concorso d’Eleganza, the vintage car show held at nearby Villa d’Este. Part of the exhibition can be found at Villa Erba.

The gardens and main villa are taken straight out of a fairytale with greenery draped down the walls, an elegant portico, and statues by Mazzucchelli guarding the property. The elaborate gardens are nothing short of spectacular with exotic trees and a myriad of different plant species.

You might recognize Villa Erba from Gwen Stefani’s music video of her single “Cool” or scenes from the movie Ocean’s Twelve.

How to get there – Villa d’Este is walking distance from the center of Cernobbio, about 10 minutes drive from the Como lakeside.

4) Villa Bernasconi

Art Nouveau elegance – Credits Dario Crespi – CC BY-SA 4.0

Villa Bernasconi in Cernobbio was commissioned by Davide Bernasconi, a wealthy textile manufacturer who was important for the city’s development in the early 1900s. It is one of the most remarkable Art Nouveau-style structures in Italy, and the only Art Nouveau villa in Lake Como.

On the facade, you can admire different artistic features depicting the silk production process, like butterflies, silkworms, and mulberry leaves. Inside, you can walk through the house museum while learning about the people who lived there.

Silk was a huge industry in Lake Como at the turn of the 20th century, and there are still about 100 silk manufacturers in the Como area.

The Cernobbio municipality took over Villa Bernasconi in 1989, restored it, and now it hosts different exhibitions and conferences. It is mandatory to book visits in advance – if you’re curious, there’s also a free virtual tour online.

How to get there – The villa is in the center of Cernobbio on the way to Como, about 10 minutes drive from the Como lakeside.

Opening times – Villa Bernasconi is open from Friday to Monday, from 10 AM to 6 PM. Entry is €8, or €7 if you are leaving your car in a paid parking lot in Cernobbio.

Best Lake Como Villas near Bellagio/Varenna

5) Villa Monastero

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The gardens of Villa Monastero

If you only have time to visit one villa in Lake Como, this should be the one! It’s one of the few that is open for most of the year (March-Nov), it can be visited both inside and outside, and it’s in Varenna, one of the most beautiful Lake Como towns, also easy to reach from Milan by train.

Villa Monastero was formerly a 12th-century monastery for Cistercian nuns in Varenna, thus the name meaning “Monastery Villa”. The villa was acquired by the Mornico family in the 17th century who renovated the main villa, and further works were undertaken two centuries later by the German owner, Walter Eich Jakob Kees, who extended the gardens and decorated the building in an eclectic style.

Nowadays, the villa itself has been turned into a house museum, where you can witness 8 centuries of history through decorated rooms and halls. 14 rooms are open for visits, including the Sala Fermi, where renowned physicist Enrico Fermi held classes in 1954, and Sala Polvani, with a small exhibition of scientific instruments.

But most of all, Villa Monastero is renowned for its bewildering terraced botanical gardens. Set on the lakefront, they offer walks through labyrinthine paths to imposing statues, porticos, and fountains, and serene walkways along the shore.

To top it all, the botanical garden is an explosion of colors where unique plant species from all across the world coexist with local plants from the Lombardy region.

How to get there – The villa is 10 minutes walk from the center of Varenna, and 15 minutes from Esino-Varenna station.

Opening times – to enter Villa Monastero you can opt for two different tickets, for the botanical gardens only (€10) and for the gardens and villa (€13).

The villa and gardens are open from March to November and opening times vary throughout the year – for example, in March it’s open from 10 AM to 5 PM, and in June, July and August from 9 AM to 8 PM. Check the Villa Monastero website for more exact information.

6) Gardens of Villa Serbelloni 

The 15th-century Villa Serbelloni is located on the lakefront in the enchanting town of Bellagio. It should not be mixed up with Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, a 5-star hotel located nearby in another stunning Lake Como Villa, which is only open for visitors.

Villa Serbelloni changed owners numerous times before it eventually came into the hands of the Serbelloni Dukes in the late 18th century.

They developed the property drastically and built sumptuous gardens with sweeping lake views that were eventually donated to the Rockefeller Foundation. Throughout its history, the villa welcomed several famous guests, including Leonardo Da Vinci, Queen Victoria, writer Alessandro Manzoni and many more.

The gardens extend for over 50 acres on a promontory with scenic views over Bellagio and the lake. Due to the lake’s microclimate, the garden houses rare and exotic plants, and there are 18 km of pathways to explore.

Today, the villa hosts artists and scholars from all over the world visiting for residencies. It cannot be visited inside. However, the gardens are open to the public, and visiting them is definitely one of the best things to do in Bellagio!

How to get there – The villa is only a short walk from the center of Bellagio, which can be reached by ferry from Como, Varenna and other Lake Como towns.

Opening times – The Gardens of Villa Serbelloni are only open from March to November and can be accessed with a guided tour, held every day (except Monday) at 11 AM and 3.30 PM. Make sure you book your tickets in advance, especially in summer.

7) Gardens of Villa Melzi

Villa Melzi was built in the early 19th century as a summer house for Francesco Melzi d’Eril in Bellagio. The villa was built by Swiss architect Giacomo Albertolli – like many other Lake Como villas, it welcomed famous people including Stendhal and composer Franz Liszt.

The Villa Melzi complex includes the villa, a chapel, the gardens, an Orangerie (housing a small museum with relics from Napoleon times), a Moorish pavilion, and a pineta (pine tree grove).

Since it is a private residence even today, the Neoclassical noble villa is not open to the public, but its magnificent botanical garden is. Boasting a euphoria of perfectly groomed exotic plants and colorful flowers, it is a joy to the eye and one of Lake Como’s must-visit gardens.

Walk along the lakefront promenade, take in the beautiful ponds, Egyptian sculptures, and Roman statues, and explore the Japanese garden. Included in the visit is a small chapel and a museum where you can explore old artifacts and learn more about the villa’s history.

How to get there – The villa is 15 minutes walk from the center of Bellagio.

Opening times – Villa Melzi is open to the public from March 25th to October 15th, from 10 AM to 7 PM. Tickets cost €10 and include access to the garden, chapel, and Orangerie.

8) Villa Carlotta

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Villa Carlotta and its terraced gardens

Villa Carlotta is situated in Tremezzo and dates back to the 17th century. It was originally known as Villa Clerici after its first owner, Marquis Giorgio Clerici. In the 18th century, it was sold to Giovanni Battista Sommariva, an art enthusiast who decorated the villa and gardens with exquisite art pieces.

Sommariva was an avid art collector, and it’s thanks to him that Villa Carlotta is now filled with countless artworks. Some of the best examples include sculptures by Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen, and the manifesto of Romantic painting – The Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet, by Francesco Hayez.

However, the name of Villa Carlotta came later when Princess Marianne of Nassau bought the palace and gifted it to her daughter Carlotta.

Carlotta’s husband, George II of Saxe-Meiningen, was passionate about plants – together with his son Bernard, he extended the gardens and planted many of the azaleas and rhododendrons the villa is known for nowadays.

Villa Carlotta is worth visiting both inside and outside. The extensive gardens are terraced and a variety of warm-climate plants can be found – besides over 150 species of azaleas and rhododendrons, Southern ferns, palms, citrus trees, camellia bushes and even a bamboo grove.

How to get there – The villa is located in Tremezzo, about 45 mins/1 hour’s drive from Como (depending on traffic). You can also get there by ferry from both Bellagio and Como.

Opening times – Villa Carlotta is open from late March to early November, every day from 10 AM to 7 PM. In winter you can also visit with prior booking, email segreteria@villacarlotta.it for info. Entrance tickets are €15 and allow access to the villa and gardens. Book your tickets here!

9) Villa Balbianello

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Scenic Villa Balbianello in Lenno

Last but not least, Villa Balbianello! My favourite Lake Como villa and definitely a destination you shouldn’t miss, even though it’s very very touristy!

Villa Balbianello is an 18th-century villa located a 20-minute walk up the hill from Lenno. The villa offers unmatched views of Lake Como, set on a promontory and surrounded by water on three sides. However, the villa is mostly famous for being the filming location of several Hollywood movies. And the picturesque setting might be just the reason why directors of big-name films like James Bond and Star Wars chose this exact villa.

The splendid gardens were where the scenes of James Bond healing after his injury in Casino Royale took place. And if you remember the scene where Anakin kisses Padme in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, you are looking at the balcony of Villa Balbianello.

Besides the gardens and porticos, make sure you book a guided tour of the palace’s interior. Villa Balbianello holds a great collection of artwork like paintings and sculptures, as well as English and French furniture dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

The last owner of the villa was Guido Monzino, a count and adventurer who travelled India and the Himalaya region extensively, and was also part of Italy’s expeditions to reach the summit of Everest and the North Pole.

The upper levels of the villa are filled with memorabilia from Monzino’s life, including the sleighs he used to reach the Pole, mountaineering equipment, prayer flags and other objects. Monzino died without heirs and donated the villa to FAI – Fondo dell’Ambiente Italiano, an association dedicated to preserving Italy’s cultural heritage.

How to get there – The villa is located in Lenno, about 30 km drive from Como, but car access to the villa is not possible. You can park your car and either walk there from the centre of Lenno (about 25 minutes) or use the boat shuttle service. You’ll find several boats on the Lenno lakeside.

Opening times – The villa is open from March to January, every day except Monday and Wednesday. You can book two kinds of tickets – to the villa and gardens, including a guided tour of the villa interiors (€24) and just the gardens (self-guided, €13). Whatever you decide, make sure you book your tickets way in advance!

Lake Como Villas – Practical Info

What is the best time to visit Lake Como villas?

The best time is definitely spring, especially if you’re planning to visit any of the gardens. In spring you’ll see all the flowers in bloom, otherwise you can opt for early autumn (up to mid-October) when most villas are still open and the autumn colours start to show.

I would personally avoid summer, when the entire Lake Como area is just too busy.

What are the best villas in Lake Como to visit?

My two favourites are Villa Monastero in Varenna and Villa Balbianello in Tremezzo. They are both equally beautiful and interesting, so I would recommend visiting both if you can.

Which ones have the most beautiful gardens?

Pretty much all the Lake Como villas mentioned in this article have spectacular gardens! The best are probably the gardens of Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, but Villa Carlotta, Villa Balbianello, Villa Monastero and Villa Melzi are also worth visiting.

Are any villas open in winter?

Villa Bernasconi and the gardens of Villa Olmo are open year-round, and Villa Balbianello only closes in February.

What are the easiest villas to access with public transport?

All these villas can be accessed with public transport, but especially during the off-season waiting times for ferries may be long.

You can easily get to Villa Olmo from Como-Lago station, Villa Monastero from Esino-Varenna station, and all the villas in Cernobbio can be reached on foot from Como in about half an hour.

Are there any Lake Como villas where you can stay?

Yes! Suppose you want the once-in-a-lifetime experience of v In that case, there are two wonderful 5-star hotels housed in spectacular villas – Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio and Villa d’Este in Cernobbio.

There are also several smaller villas for rent on Airbnb, ideal if you are travelling with your family or a group of friends.

Looking for more posts about Lake Como? There you are!

2 thoughts on “9 Amazing Lake Como Villas – How to Visit”

  1. Can you tell me if the Villa Olmo Villa is still under renovations? We are planning a visit late April 2024

    • Hi Judi! I think it will still be closed, but the park is accessible and there are many other villas to explore.

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