Despite its fame, we had just one day in Lake Como, which is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. Of course, you could spend days in this region alone, but we decided to make a short day trip of it as part of our longer European road trip. A three-hour drive took us from Lake Garda to Varenna, on the eastern shore of Lake Como.
Varenna is a must if you only have one day in Lake Como!
Photos from our day in Lake Como by David M Gallo Photography. This page contains affiliate links, meaning that The Five Foot Traveler may receive a small commission when you purchase any flights or accommodations using the links in this article at no extra cost to you. I appreciate your continued support!
Milan to Lake Como: How To Get To Lake Como
If you’re wondering how to get to Lake Como, the easiest way is via Milan. If you’re traveling from outside of Italy, fly into Milan Malpensa Airport. There are many daily flights to Milan, so you shouldn’t have any problem getting there! Grab your flights here.
From there, you have two options to go from Milan to Lake Como: by car, by train, or by a train and taxi boat combo (depending on where you want to visit in Lake Como). Driving is certainly the quickest and most scenic route. We drove around in a rental car (as it was part of a larger European road trip), but I’m thrilled that we did. Secure the cheapest Italian rental car here. It only takes about an hour and a half to drive from Milan to Lake Como.
Once you go from Milan to Lake Como, you need to decide which towns along the lake you actually want to visit. You may want to take the train to the town of Como to check out the Cattedrale di S.Maria Assunta di Como and Basilica di Sant’Abbondio for a more cultural experience. You may choose to hop on the Lake Como Ferry from Como to Bellagio, considered the “Pearl of Lake Como.” Bellagio is particularly well known for its spectacular villas. If you’re like us though, we would suggest driving directly from Milan to Varenna (or from Lake Garda to Varenna, if you're coming from the Dolomites and making your way down to the lakes), and my first time to Varenna did not disappoint!
Luxury Hotels in Lake Como
No matter where you choose to go, there are many luxury hotels in Lake Como. Known as a paradise for A-List celebrities (and George Glooney’s outstanding villa), Lake Como understandably has upscale vibe to it. While you can – without a doubt – find affordable places to stay, the luxury hotels in Lake Como just might be worth the splurge….
Varenna, Lake Como
As I mentioned, we chose to spend our time in Varenna. Heavily visited and very touristy, Varenna is still a wonderful little town. Its ancient, narrow alleyway-type streets twist and turn uphill from the lake into the mountains, and it is chock full of cute photo ops.
While there isn’t much to “do” per se, it’s a great area to walk around and take in the views. We started our one day in Lake Como by checking out the Castello di Vezio, an ancient fortress looking out over Varenna. It’s a steep climb up, but certainly worth it for the views!
We then chose to stop by the Villa Monastero, an old monastery turned botanical garden. We didn’t spend long there before making our way to Piazza San Giorgio, the heart of Varenna! Once you’re in Piazza San Giorgio, everything is very easily walkable — watch your footing though, as you’ll find plenty of uneven cobblestone and steep alleyways!
Adorable streets of Varenna – One day in Lake Como
Eventually, you’re bound to find yourself at Riva Grande, the promenade in Varenna along the Lake Como. You will find many colorful buildings, and just about every type of restaurant you could ask for. We even found vegan gelato, which I’m totally guilty of having before lunch! We chose to eat at Bar II Molo, which I couldn’t recommend enough! The restaurant has a beautiful outside terrace right on Lake Como and just about every Italian dish you could ask for. It’s a casual setting with quality food. I will certainly eat there again next time I visit, and my parents chose to eat there when they visited (without me!) as well.
Varenna, Lake Como
After wandering a few more adorable alleyways, it was time for us to make our way down to the promenade, find the ferry station, and cross Lake Como to continue our road trip into Switzerland.
Lake Como to Switzerland
We used Lake Como as our gateway to Switzerland. To complete the day, we took the car ferry from Varenna across the lake to Menaggio, which afforded us more beautiful views of the lakeside towns. From the hills of Menaggio, at the right time of year, you can get an exquisite view of a church steeple through tropical vegetation, the lake, Varenna on the other side of the lake, and the snow-capped mountains beyond Varenna.
Lake Como to Switzerland
The ferry was just 24 euros (for our car plus three adults), and saved us a ton of time as we didn’t have to drive around the lake. 5FT Tip: Stock up on gas and groceries on the cheaper Italian side of the border. It look us less than an hour and a half to drive from Lake Como to Switzerland (to Locarno, our first destination in Switzerland, to be exact).
Take in the views during your one day in Lake Como!
We had a great time in Lake Como, and an easy drive from Lake Como to Switzerland. While I do believe that one day in Lake Como is enough, it’s a great spot to relax, eat well, and live la dolce vita. Personally, I preferred Lake Garda to Lake Como, but I suggest checking out both of them yourself and letting me know in the future!
Map of Lake Como
The areas around Lake Como aren't as spread out as they appear. It is important to note though that the roads are windy and busy, and – should you be using a ferry or taxi boat – you will have to adhere to the regular schedules. Nonetheless, getting around Lake Como is quite easy! This map of Lake Como should help you better visualize your trip from Milan to Lake Como (or Lake Garda to Lake Como), Lake Como to Switzerland, and throughout the cute little towns on the banks of Lake Como too!
Milan Malpensa Airport
Sirmione, Lake Garda
Purchase Travel Insurance
I hope you don’t embark without travel insurance! If you do, you better think again. Travel insurance is arguably the most important thing to have on hand (after your passports and visas) for a trip like this. I’ve had to use my travel insurance multiple times on the road, even though I’m healthy. You never know when something might happen; take comfort in knowing that whether your flight gets cancelled or you wind up sick and in the hospital, you will be covered. I recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance for each and every one of you travelers. You can get a free quote here.
Pack For Your Lake Como Vacation
What you pack will depend on what time of year you visit Lake Como. While your clothing may vary, there are 137 travel essentials that I recommend bringing on your trip. From packing essentials to outdoors essentials, hiking essentials, camping essentials, and more… I’ve got you covered! Click here to discover the 137 travel essentials you need to check out before your Lake Como Vacation!