How to Take the Perfect Day Trip to Lake Como From Milan (By Train or Tour!)

Hoping to take a day trip to Lake Como from Milan, but find yourself overwhelmed by all the options?

From the dozens of possible towns and villas to visit to deciding whether or not you want to book a day tour to Lake Como, planning the perfect Lake Como day trip can be a bit of a challenge!

It only takes one glance at stunning photos and videos from places like Bellagio and Villa del Balbianello, though, to remember why it’s just so tempting to visit.

Luckily, Lake Como (in Italian, Lago di Como) is a very doable day trip from Milan!

While you won’t be able to see all (or even most) of Lake Como in a day, you’ll walk away with a great taste of what makes this stunning mountainous lake such an enduringly popular destination.

Here’s how to plan the perfect day trip to Lake Como from Milan, based on our personal travel experiences in northern Italy!

kate storm in shorts and a sunhat overlooking lake como from a rocky beach
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Where is Lake Como in Italy?

First things first: where exactly is Lake Como, anyway? And how do you find the most popular towns and villas along this gigantic, confusingly-laid-out lake?

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Here’s the most general answer: Lake Como is located about an hour north of Milan and is part of Italy’s Lombardy region.

Parts of Lake Como are located fairly close to the border with Switzerland, but the lake is contained entirely within Italy.

small boats exploring lake como with pink flowers in the foreground

Lake Como is famously shaped like an upside-down “Y”, with the northern branch generally referred to as Colico, the southwestern branch as Como, and the southeastern branch as Lecco.

The city of Como is located at the far southwestern corner of the lake, and the town of Varenna is located further north along the Lecco (southeastern) side of the lake.

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Bellagio, nicknamed the “Pearl of Lake Como”, is located where the 3 branches of the lake meet, and is realistically the furthest northern point that most day trips to Lake Como will reach.

If that all sounds confusing, don’t worry–we’ve included a downloadable map of Lake Como with the most popular day trip destinations marked at the bottom of this blog post.

town of bellagio italy with lake como to the left and purple flowers in the foreground, a fantastic italy summer vacation destination

How to Travel From Milan to Lake Como By Train + Ferry

In this Lake Como day trip guide, I’m going to focus on the two most common methods of travel between Milan and Lake Como for first-time visitors: train and organized day tour.

Technically, you can take the bus to Lake Como from Milan as well, or even drive yourself, but neither of those options is practical for the majority of travelers planning a day trip.

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And, of course, when I mention train… I do in fact mean train + ferry, as the train can only get you as far as your first stop!

When it comes to your starting point, though, here are the easiest routes:

kate storm and ranger storm on the trenord train platform in como italy
Catching the train back to Milan from Como!

Step 1: Take a train to Lake Como from Milan.

Traveling from Milan to Lake Como via train means taking a regional route, which means there’s no real need to book your train tickets in advance.

Prices are fixed for these routes, and they have an open seating plan.

However, for checking train schedules and planning your route, Omio (our favorite train ticket aggregate) comes in handy!

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Train From Milan to Varenna

Taking the train from Milano Centrale to Varenna-Esino takes about an hour and whisks you right to town!

From the train station, you’re a quick, easy, downhill walk away from the water and the ferry station (just follow the crowds).

When you’re ready to leave Varenna, you can hop a ferry to Bellagio and (if you take the fast ferry–more on that later) you can be in Bellagio in about 15 minutes.

crowded train platform in varenna italy, a common stop on a day trip to lake como from milan italy

Train From Milan to Como

For an even shorter route, take a train from Milan to either Como Nord Lago or Como S. Giovanni–both stations are within walking distance of the historic center of the city!

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Traveling to Como S. Giovanni takes about 40 minutes via train while heading to Como Nord Lago takes closer to an hour.

Keep in mind that not all trains along these routes leave from Milano Centrale, so pay close attention to what train station your ticket leaves from!

Once you’re done exploring Como, a logical next stop is Bellagio, which is 45 minutes away by the fast ferry (hydrofoil) and more than 2 hours away by the slow ferry (battello).

front facade of the volta museum in como italy, a possible stop on a lake como day trip from milan

Step 2: Hop on a ferry to your next destination(s) along Lake Como.

Most travelers visiting Lake Como on a day trip understandably want to visit more than one town–which for independent travelers often means riding the ferry!

The official Navigazione Laghi website is the perfect place to review the ferry schedule and plan your day.

However, it’s important to note that there are 2 kinds of ferries on Lake Como: hydrofoils, or fast ferries, and battellos, or slow ferries.

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Only tickets for the slow ferry can be purchased online in advance–for fast ferry tickets, you’ll need to buy your tickets in person!

Add in the fact that ferries can sell out and that taking the hydrofoil makes for a much easier day trip along some routes, and it’s understandable why it’s important to plan your route and book your ferry tickets early in the day.

This is especially important if you’re visiting Lake Como in the summer!

jeremy storm sitting near the window of a ferry from bellagio to varenna on lake como

Pros + Cons of Booking a Lake Como Tour From Milan

Want to make life simple and avoid worrying about navigating trains, ferries, and attractions during your one day in Lake Como?

If so, organized day trips like this can be an excellent value!

This incredibly popular day trip to Lake Como from Milan includes round-trip transportation, a visit to a few villages (including Bellagio), a boat cruise, and a visit to a villa.

… And all of this is accomplished without you having to worry about any planning or navigation!

If you’re flexible about exactly what sightseeing you do on Lake Como but want to make sure you have a relaxing day on the lake, booking an organized day trip is a wonderful option.

Book your day trip to Lake Como today!

View of Lake Como with a staircase leading to the water in the foreground. Italy's lakes are part of one of the best road trips in Italy

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Hoping to enjoy several of the best things to do on Lake Como in a day?

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While a full outline of the best attractions on the lake includes days (or weeks, if you include hiking) worth of exploration, the options outlined here are among the most popular with daytrippers for very good reason.

Keep in mind that no one day in Lake Como has room for all of these: plan on enjoying around 3, depending on your sightseeing style.

kate storm and ranger storm in bellagio lake como during july in italy

Take a boat tour across Lake Como.

Without a doubt, one of the top ways to enjoy Lake Como is to take a boat tour across it!

If you’re taking a day trip to Lake Como on a budget, the ferries do offer lovely views–but for a chance to get up close and personal with the shore, various villas, and stunning viewpoints, a boat cruise like this is a wonderful option for independent travelers.

(Many organized Lake Como day trips, like this popular one, include a boat cruise as part of their itinerary).

front bow of a wooden sightseeing boat on lake como, one of the best things to do in lake como in a day

Visit a villa.

Lake Como is famous for its opulent villas–some of which you can visit!

During your day trip to Lake Como, consider paying a visit to the gardens of a lakeside villa and basking in the beautiful views.

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Some, though not all, villas allow visitors inside as well, though be sure to plan ahead if you hope to step inside (some interiors require a guided tour).

Villa del Balbianello (the Star Wars/James Bond villa) and Villa Carlotta are two of the most famous villas along Lake Como, and both are stunning.

If you hope to visit a villa within a town you’re already planning to explore, Villa Monastero in Varenna, Villa Melzi d’Eril in Bellagio (gardens only), and Villa Olmo in Como are all wonderful options.

view through the arches at villa monastero, a fun destination on a day trip lake como italy
The view from Villa Monastero in Varenna, Italy.

Explore the picturesque village of Bellagio.

Nicknamed the “Pearl of Lake Como”, Bellagio just may be the most iconic village on Lake Como!

Situated at the point where the 3 legs of the lake converge, Bellagio offers plenty of sightseeing and wonderful views.

Don’t skip wandering along the waterfront or climbing the steep hills into town!

At the top of Salita Serbelloni, along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, you’ll find one of the most famous photo spots in Lake Como.

salita serbelloni bellagio photo spot as seen when exploring the best things to do in bellagio lake como
“The” view of Bellagio.

Check out Varenna.

The colorful, charming small town of Varenna is a perfect Lake Como day trip destination: not only is Varenna one of the best towns on Lake Como to visit, but it’s also one of the easiest to get to!

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Direct trains from Milan deliver you right to town, where you can then start exploring immediately.

Be sure to meander along the waterfront, check out the Old Harbor, visit Villa Monastero, and, if you’re up for a bit of a climb, head up to Castello di Vezio for some incredible views!

lake como with a sailboat on it with the village of varenna visible to the right side of the photo

Pay a quick visit to Menaggio.

The tiny village of Menaggio is the third point that, along with Bellagio and Varenna, makes up the “golden triangle” of villages at the heart of Lake Como.

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Its gorgeous lakefront and peaceful town center don’t take long to explore, but they’re absolutely beautiful!

And, as a bonus, Menaggio’s historic center is flat–a welcome contrast to the steep hills of Varenna and Bellagio.

flat waterfront promenade in menaggio lake como day trip destination

Explore Como, the largest city on Lake Como.

Como, the lake’s namesake city, sits at the southwest corner of the lake and is an easy addition to a Lake Como day trip!

A bit less picturesque than smaller towns like Varenna, but beautiful in its own way, Como offers gorgeous lake views (especially if you ride the funicular up to Brunate), beautiful churches (don’t miss the Duomo!) and lots of attractions to explore (including Villa Olmo).

Como also happens to be extremely well-connected to Milan by train, making it an easy starting or ending point for your day.

como italy cathedral and clock tower

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Hoping to take an independent day trip to Lake Como from Milan?

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With so many towns and activities to choose from, there are endless ways to pull it off–but these are two of the most popular itineraries.

Both are extremely doable in a day, especially if you keep an eye on the ferry times!

view of varenna from lake como ferry with a woman taking a photo of the town

Bellagio + Varenna Lake Como Day Trip Itinerary

For an easy day trip to Lake Como that’s light on transportation worries and heavy on charm, consider focusing entirely on Bellagio and Varenna.

Take the train to Varenna, explore the town, and then hop over to Bellagio via hydrofoil.

There, enjoy the best things to do in Bellagio and potentially take a boat cruise before heading back to Varenna and then to Milan.

Speedy sightseers may also squeeze Menaggio in here!

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Pros + Cons of This Lake Como Day Trip

Benefits of structuring your day trip this way include spending the bulk of your time in the most popular part of the lake and cutting down on transportation time.

Meanwhile, cons include that this day trip only makes room for a small section of Lake Como.

kate storm in a black dress overlooking lake como bellagio waterfront

Varenna + Bellagio + Como Day Trip Itinerary

Want to plan a Lake Como day trip that involves seeing as much of the lake as possible, without an organized group tour?

Start your day the same way as above, with a train ride to Varenna and exploring the town–but quickly.

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From there, head to Bellagio for a quick visit before hopping the hydrofoil to Como.

Keep in mind that the hydrofoil to Como takes 45 minutes, while the slow ferry takes almost 2.5 hours–so it’s important to plan this part well!

Once in Como, explore the attractions and enjoy the sunset over the lake before hopping a train back to Milan.

downtown como italy around sunset
Aperitivo hour in the historic center of Como!

Pros + Cons of This Lake Como Day Trip

The biggest benefit of structuring your day trip to Lake Como as a loop that starts in Varenna and ends in Como is that you get to see a lot of the lake in one day!

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Cons include that you have to be much more careful timing your ferry journeys, and with so much time on the water dedicated to ferry rides, a small boat cruise is hard to fit in.

Of course, the ferries also offer lovely views, so depending on your sightseeing style, this might not be a problem!

view of lake como italy with a ferry in the foreground

Tips For Visiting Lake Como From Milan, Italy

When it comes to sightseeing, less is more.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to visit all the best attractions on Lake Como in one day–not even close!

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Rather than be tempted to add on just one more town or villa, consider slowing down, instead: each of Lake Como’s villages have hours (or more) of sightseeing to offer.

And, at the end of the day, admiring views of the lake–from villas, boats, and even just the shore–is one of the absolute best things to do around Lake Como, and you are spoiled for choice when it comes to places to do so.

villa del balbianello, one of the best places to visit in lake como in a day, as seen from the water

Get oriented with the layout of Lake Como before your day trip.

Since planning a Lake Como day trip generally involves multiple stops around the lake, your day will much less confusing if you have a vague idea of where you are in relation to Milan at any given time.

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Be sure to reference a map, especially when planning your stops, in order to ensure you’re moving in a logical path.

We’ve included a map at the bottom of this blog post with the most popular Lake Como day trip destinations marked to help get you started!

visitors enjoying a small beach in varenna lake como in summer

Buy your ferry tickets early in the day.

When you arrive at Lake Como on the morning of your day trip, regardless of which town you start in, your next stop should be the ferry desk to buy tickets and plot your route!

This is especially important if you’re enjoying a summer trip to Italy when Lake Como is at its most crowded and some ferries do sell out.

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With a limited time frame to work with on a day trip, buying your ferry tickets in the morning and planning your sightseeing stops accordingly can make your day much less stressful (and avoid a potentially lengthy ride back if the hydrofoil you want sells out).

The Navigazione Laghi website is great for planning your day but doesn’t allow you to buy hydrofoil (aka fast ferry) tickets online.

travelers standing in line waiting to board a ferry in bellagio italy
The ferry station in Bellagio, Lake Como.

Know your battello from your hydrofoil.

When it comes to taking the ferry around Lake Como, you’ll want to keep an eye on more than just the timetable!

A battello is a standard slow ferry, and while peaceful, takes much longer than a hydrofoil.

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A hydrofoil is a much faster ferry option.

Technically, you can board either boat to get from place to place, but on a day trip, you’ll need to be aware of which boat you’re boarding!

For example, to travel from Bellagio to Como takes more than 2 hours on the battello, and 35-40 minutes via hydrofoil.

We recommend using the Navigazione Laghi website (the company that operates the ferries) to check timetables and sketch out your day.

view of lake como town as seen from a ferry

If you want to enjoy lunch overlooking the lake, do your research and make reservations!

If your dream Lake Como day trip includes a gorgeous lunch overlooking the lake, then you’ll definitely want to plan in advance!

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First, be sure to research restaurants of your choice: while there are lovely restaurants on the water, there are also plenty of tourist traps.

And second, make reservations as soon as you can commit to dates, especially if you want a table right against the water!

Well-reviewed restaurants in ideal locations like La Terrazza Lake Como do book up in advance.

plates of pasta on a picturesque restaurant terrace in lake como day trip from milan

Consider whether you want to take a small boat tour.

Taking a small boat tour is easily one of the best things to do in Lake Como!

This can take many forms, either by signing up for a group tour, signing up for a private boat tour with a captain, or even (for those who know how to drive boats) renting a boat yourself.

The essential thing all these options have in common, though, is that small speedboats offer phenomenal sightseeing opportunities on Lake Como that allow you to get up close with famous spots (like George Clooney’s villa) from the water, as well as simply enjoy the sunshine and impeccable views.

wooden speedboat cruising across lake como, a fun addition to a day trip from milan to lake como

With only one day in Lake Como to work with, though, there’s also no doubt that boat tours eat into your sightseeing time, and the ferries offer beautiful views as well (though not nearly as decadent of an experience).

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Small boat tours can last as little as an hour or as long as a full day, but 2-3 hours is fairly common.

One of the perks of signing up for a Lake Como day trip like this is that boat cruises are often included as part of your transportation around the lake, rather than relying on ferries–a chance to enjoy the best of both worlds!

view of lake como italy

FAQ For Visiting Lake Como From Milan

Can you take a day trip to Lake Como from Milan?

Yes, absolutely!

Lake Como is one of the best day trips from Milan and is very popular with travelers from around the world.

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Is it worth going to Lake Como for one day?

Yes, it’s definitely worth taking a day trip to Lake Como!

While you can’t see all, or even most, of Lake Como in one day, the beauty of visiting Lake Como is that it’s not really a destination about checking off museums or viewpoints–simply being there is a big part of the experience.

For that reason, even with one day in Lake Como, you’re bound to walk away feeling like you enjoyed a wonderful sample of what the area has to offer.

And, since it only takes about an hour to reach Lake Como from Milan, it’s a very doable day trip!

selfie of kate storm and jeremy storm on the shore of lake como italy

Do you need a tour to visit Lake Como from Milan?

You definitely don’t need a tour to take a day trip to Lake Como from Milan, but you might find that you’d like to take one!

Self-planning a Lake Como day trip is very doable and perfect for independent travelers, but it also involves a lot of time management: checking train schedules and comparing them to ferry schedules, knowing whether you’re boarding a fast or slow ferry, always being aware of your next move, and making sure any tours or attractions you visit fit into your schedule.

Popular organized day tours like this offer a wonderful overview of Lake Como with no stress, and for those hoping to enjoy a boat cruise as part of their day trip, also offer great value for money!

Book your day trip to Lake Como from Milan today!

swams swimming away from the camera near the shore of lake como italy

How long does it take to get from Milan to Lake Como?

Generally speaking, plan to spend about an hour traveling from Milan to Lake Como.

That can vary a bit depending on the method of transportation you choose and what town you choose for your first destination, but it’s a good rule of thumb to plan around.

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Is there a direct train from Milan to Lake Como?

Yes, there are many direct trains from Milan to Lake Como–with the caveat that “Lake Como” isn’t exactly a single place, and you won’t find any train stations named that!

One of the most popular train routes for travelers planning a day trip from Milan to Lake Como includes taking a train from Milano Centrale to Varenna-Esino (located in Varenna and within walking distance of the ferry).

For day trips starting in the city of Como, taking the train from Milano Centrale to Como S. Giovanni or Como Nord Largo (both located in the city of Como and convenient for day trippers) are two other popular options.

downtown como italy with church visible at the end of a small street

Is Lake Como walkable?

Yes and no.

The most popular places to visit in Lake Como on a day trip, such as Bellagio, Como, Menaggio, and Varenna, are all walkable within themselves.

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However, they are definitely not within walking distance of each other!

In other words, you definitely need to plan on additional transportation–ferries, a private boat tour, trains, or some combination thereof, in order to pull off the perfect Lake Como day trip from Milan.

flowering trees along the waterfront promenade in bellagio italy

What’s the prettiest part of Lake Como for a day trip?

Lake Como is an absurdly beautiful place–it is one of those places whose beauty can’t adequately be captured in photos–so choosing just one place is a big ask!

However, the picturesque “Golden Triangle” villages of Varenna, Bellagio, and Menaggio–plus the water views you can experience ferrying between them–can definitely be counted among the prettiest parts of Lake Como.

kate storm and ranger storm standing on the edge of the water in bellagio, a popular stop on a day trip to lake como from milan italy

Map of Lake Como Day Trip Destinations

We’ve marked this map of Lake Como with the most popular places to visit on the lake for day trippers, including the towns of Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio, and the city of Como.

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We’ve also included 3 of the most iconic villas to visit along Lake Como that aren’t in those towns, Villa del Balbianello (aka the Star Wars/James Bond villa) and Villa Carlotta.

No one day trip to Lake Como from Milan could realistically visit all of these places, of course, but choosing 2-3 of them, plus a boat ride or two along the lake, makes for a fantastic day!

Take This Map With You! Click each highlight to pull up the name of the destination. To save this map to “Your Places” on Google Maps, click the star to the right of the title. You’ll then be able to find it under the Maps tab of your Google Maps account! To open the map in a new window, click the button on the top right of the map.

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4 photos of lake como attractions including bellagio and varenna, black and red text reads "how to take a perfect lake como day trip"
About Kate Storm
Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

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