Lake Como from Milan – Everything you need to know

Visiting Lake Como from Milan

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  • The Travel Mum

Getting to Lake Como from Milan Centre is really easy to plan and a fantastic addition to your city break. The lake is huge with an area of 146 square km making it is the third largest lake in Italy. You are probably wondering which part you should visit?! How do you get there? How much will it cost?! I will cover everything you need to know in this post.

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The Golden Triangle

The middle section of Lake Como is known as the “Golden Triangle” – made up of three lake side towns; Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio. This is definitely the most picturesque part of the lake and a good starting point to your day trip. Trains run regularly between Milan and Varenna, so this is a great option for the start of your trip. Alternatively get the train to Como, the largest town on the lake. Located on the southern tip of the most westerly fork, there is a lot to explore here. Arguably not as picturesque as the towns in the Golden triangle but it has many more restaurants, bars and things to do. Also note that in winter months there will be a lot more going on in Como compared to the smaller towns of the Golden Triangle.

Getting to Lake Como from Milan

You can read more about getting to Milan and finding accommodation on a budget on our Weekend in Milan blog post. Try out our search feature entering Milan as the specific destination for a great value trip! Accessing the lake once in Milan is very easy as the trains run regularly and are inexpensive.

 

Two great options for a day trip to Lake Como:

 

Option 1) Explore the Golden Triangle. Buy a return train ticket to Varenna from Milan. Spend the whole day exploring the Golden Triangle by boat and then return back to Milan from Varenna at the end of the day. You can buy a boat ticket for €15 that allows you to explore the golden triangle all day. Check out Trainline to find times and prices for the train ride.

Option 2) Alternatively you could see a little more of the lake and visit Como after you have seen the Golden triangle. A busier day but you do get to see more. Buy a one way train ticket to Varenna. Explore Varenna and then take a boat to Bellagio. Explore Bellagio for a couple of hours and then take a ferry on to Como. You can then buy a train ticket back to Milan from Como. This is the option we did.

 

Trains to Varenna leave Milan Central station every hour and tickets can be bought on the day. Look for the Trenitalia ticket machines in the station to purchase your tickets or buy them in advance on Trainline. Trainline is great for checking train times and understanding the time and pricing of each journey. Tickets between Milan and Varenna are around £7 each way, or £10 first class! During busy months you may wish to reserve a ticket ahead of time to ensure you get the train you want. The train takes around an hour, with some fantastic views towards the end of the trip.

Arriving in Varenna

You are going to want to arrive in Varenna as early as possible. Your Lake Como tour from Milan is going to be a long and busy day, so the earlier you start the better. The first direct train from Milan leaves at 06:20 and gets you into Varenna at 07:24. If you are looking to enjoy the town with no crowds, this will be your best option. There wasn’t a chance in the world of us getting up and ready that early. We had planned to get the 08:20 train but even that proved too difficult, and we ended up on the 09:20 train arriving in Varenna at 10:24. We visited in October so were able to easily buy tickets on the day.

Varenna is beautifully pictureque from the moment you step off the train. The station has a beautiful mountainous backdrop with lots of brightly coloured flowers and perfectly pruned trees. It was even more beautiful than I imagined. There are signs indicating where to go for the “Ferry Boat” and the swarm of people leaving the train will all be heading in that direction.

 

What to do in Varenna

First buy your boat tickets to your next stop.

If you are doing option 1 you will want to buy the day ticket for exploring the middle lake and this currently costs 15 for the day. If you are doing option 2, you will want a ticket to Bellagio. The queue for boat tickets will likely be long all day, so it is better to get the ticket early and then go off and explore Varenna. The boat ticket to Bellagio is currently 4.60 and they run regularly. It is only a short 20-30 minute journey on a large ferry that also carries cars.


Take some pictures

Once you have your ticket, take the lake side walk way to the Centre of Varenna. A great place to take some photos as you pass ornate walls, colourful blooms of flowers and fantastic lake views.

 

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Get a lakeside coffee

We stopped by the lake to have a coffee, some croissants and just take in where we were. In order to save money, we didn’t want to eat any meals in restaurants whilst here. By enjoying a coffee and pastry, we got to experience sitting at a table, next to the lake, and feeling a little bougie for half an hour.

 

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Piazza San Giorgio

Walk towards Piazza San Giorgio, the centre of Varenna. The Piazza is overlooked by the church of San Giorgio, a 14th century church. Explore the cobblestone alleyways leading too and from this Piazza. There is a little beach by the Hotel Royal Victoria, a great place to go for a swim in the warmer months.

Villa Monastero

Lake Como is famous for its villas, and this is the one to see in Varenna. Explore its ornate botanical gardens and enjoy the beautiful views over the lake, be aware it is only open between March and November.

 

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Varenna to Bellagio

The boat to Bellagio departs from the area you purchased your tickets. So head back there in good time before the ferry departs. If you are visiting at a busy time, try and get there slightly early so you can get a good spot on the boat with a nice view facing Varenna. The boats can get really busy and even during October, people were trying to nudge me out of my prime spot to take pictures! Check out my instagram highlight on Lake Como to see the great views.

If you are planning on travelling on to Como after Bellagio, head to the ticket office on arrival in Bellagio. You will see a ticket office as you get off the boat, don’t do what we did and wait in this queue, it is the wrong counter. You want to follow the lake round into the busier area of town where you will find another ticket counter opposite the Hotel du Lac. There are both fast and slow boats between Bellagio and Como. The fast boat takes around 45 minutes and currently costs €14.80 during the week. The slow boat takes 2 hours and costs €10.40 in the week. We got the fast boat as we were limited on time. The boats leave every hour, with a 2 hour gap between some services. The most ideal time was sold out, so we ended up leaving Bellagio a little earlier than we’d have liked. I have attached the current fast boat timetable from our visit below. It may have changed since then but it gives you an idea of what to expect.

 

What to do in Bellagio

Walk around the town – get some Gelato at Salita Serbelloni.

The main centre of town is relatively small and you can easily walk around in an hour. Head towards Salita Serbelloni, a famous picturesque alleyway taking you from the lake side to the upper street level. We got some Gelato from a shop at the bottom and enjoyed mooching around for a while.

 

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Visit the Basilica of San Giacomo

Once you get to the top of the stairs, turn left and head towards this 12th century Romanesque church. You will see its tower as you approach before entering the cobbled square in front of it.

 

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Visit the botanical gardens of Villa Melzi

One of the most popular attractions in Bellagio, villa Melzi was built in the early 19th century as the summer residence of Francesco Melzi d’Eril, vice president of the Italian Republic. Although the villa is closed to the public, you can still enjoy its impressive gardens. Tickets to enter the gardens are €8 and children aged 11 and under enter for free. The ticket allows entrance to the gardens, chapel and museum. The gardens are open between March – November and close during the winter months.

 

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Take the tourist train

Probably best for those with children, but a great way to see more of Bellagio with a short amount of time. Our son Leo was getting a little bit bored but the “choo choo train” definitely cheered him up! It is €5 for adults and €2.50 for children age 3-12 and takes 30 minutes to do the full circuit. You can get on and off (it stops by the Melzi Gardens which I mentioned above) or just enjoy the whole route. You can pay with card or cash and it departs close to where you got off the boat from Varenna.

 

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Get a street food lunch by the lake!

As I mentioned earlier, we were on a tight budget and so decided we weren’t going to eat lunch at a restaurant. There is a street food stall close to where you will get the tourist train which is a fantastic cheap alternative. Panini’s were €5 and a margarita pizza was €3.50. A bottle of Peroni was €3.50 or €4 for an Aperol Spritz. There are a few benches around there looking out onto the lake, I would argue a much better (and budget friendly) experience than sitting in a fancy overpriced restaurant!



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Bellagio to Como

We headed to the pier fifteen minutes before the boat was due to depart Bellagio and already a big queue had formed. The fast boat requires everyone to be seated so you will get a seat whether you are the first or last on. The service was very fast and actually only took around 40 minutes. Our son was able to stay sleeping in his pram and I simply parked it up next to where I was sat. We stopped at a few other towns en route to drop off passengers and enjoyed some lovely views of the lake.

A few things to do in Como

Take the Funicular to Brunate

The entrance to this is pretty close to where you will get off of the ferry, so a good first activity. The Como-Brunate Funicular has operated since 1894 and connects Como to the town of Brunate. It is used by both locals and tourists. It runs every 30 minutes and the journey only takes around 7 minutes. It is just under €6 for the return trip so is a great budget friendly activity. Once in Brunate you will get to enjoy panoramic views of the lake.

 

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Visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (Como Cathedral)

The cathedral is located in the spectacular Piazza Duomo within Como town. This is a lovely place to walk around and maybe stop for a bite to eat. The cathedral is magnificent and said to be one of the most important religious buildings in northern Italy. Further into town you have ‘The Basilica of San Fedel’ which is also worth checking out.

 

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Explore Villa Olmo

Set this as your destination on google maps but walk along the lake front passing Tempio Voltiano, a museum and impressive building and a World War 1 memorial. There are some little beaches to stop by and admire the views. It is a lovely walk allowing you to enjoy the cities best side.

Villa Olmo is an impressive lake front neoclassical villa with beautiful gardens. It was designed to be a summer retreat for the aristocracy. Admission to the villa is free and it is open Tuesday – Sundays 10am – 6pm.

 

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After visiting Villa Olmo it was getting late so we started walking back towards the San Giovanni train station to get our train back to Milan. En route we passed a kebab shop and spent €12 on dinner for us all. Not very Italian, but we are on a tight budget and just needed our bellies filling!

Heading back to Milan

The train back to Milan from Como takes one hour and cost €5 per adult. We got the 19:36 train but the last one isn’t until 22:49 (You can check train times on Trainline)
Overall visiting Lake Como from Milan was a fantastic day out and our overall spend was very low. Check out our instagram highlight for a more visual representation of our day!
Want to know more, just ask! We love hearing from you all.

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