After spending a few day exploring the effortlessly elegant city of Milan we were keen to get out of the crowded streets and into the surrounding countryside and searches for the best day trips from Milan. One of the places we had always dreamt of visiting was Lake Como and the pastel colours towns that sit around its edges. Set against the foothills of the Italian and Swiss Alps, this idyllic turquoise lake is dotted with ancient towns and has been home to aristocrats, the wealthy and the famous since Roman times. It makes for a one of the most wonderful day trips from Milan being only 85km (53 Miles) from the city with travel times between 1 hour and 1.5 hrs! We headed from Milan to Bellagio for an amazing Lake Como day trip from Milan where we enjoyed gelato by the water, took a ferry across the lake and cycled through some stunning landscapes!
Lake Como day trip from Milan: Arriving in the picturesque town of Varenna before completing our Milan to Bellagio adventure
We chose to depart the train at the town of Varenna on the banks of Lake Como as it seemed like the best place to explore using public transport. There are villages and towns dotted all around the inverted Y shaped lake and all offer some incredible views and picturesque views of the water through the arches of the villas and centuries old dwellings. However some are a little more accessible than others and as a day trip we wanted to visit somewhere close to the train lines given our time scale we felt it would make an incredible Lake Como day trip possible!
There are a few other towns served by the train line including the small city of Como and Lecco further south on the East side of the lake as well as several towns north of Varenna such as Bellano. But Varenna seemed like the best base for us to explore further given its central location on the lake, great ferry connections to places like Bellagio as well as being within an hour of Milan. Varenna’s location gave us some great opportunities to explore a few areas of the lake in a short amount of time making is an ideal option for us out of the many day trips from Milan.
Arriving in Varenna we were instantly blown away, the town and lake was everything we had expected of a place with such a reputation as Lake Como. Even after our adventures in the Swiss Alps the views here made it one of the most picturesque places we had ever experienced and to make it even better the sun was shimmering off the surface of the lake and the temperature perfect for an adventure.
Milan to Bellagio: Continuing on the Ferry Across Lake Como
We decided upon our arrival in Varenna, as it’s pretty small, to continue on almost immediately over the lake to the larger town of Bellagio and explore Varenna before we took the train back to Milan. Our Lake Como day trip from Milan would be mostly centred around Bellagio.
Bellagio is special for many reasons but its location at the fork in the inverted Y makes it feel like an island floating perfectly in the middle of the mountain encased lake. It seemed like the perfect location to head to to get a taster of what Lake Como is all about in the day we had here given its beautiful architecture, stunning position, perfect size and of course the ferry ride across the lake to reach it!
Taking the public ferry across Lake Como is one of those incredible experiences you come across that hits all the right notes. It’s cheap, offers jaw dropping scenery and transports you to a place that is beautiful beyond words. The ride over is nothing short of spectacular, to get out onto the lake itself and take in the panoramic views of the towering Mountains and azure water lapping up at the sides of the shore with its colourful villages dotted amongst the hues of green and blue is incredible.
The ferry runs frequently and can also accommodate cars and bikes too which makes it ideal for exploring further if you have your own transport and costs €9 (£8.00 / £10.26) each for a return.
From Varenna and Bellagio there are also other ferry lines running the other side of the lake to Menaggio and Cadenabbia which again makes this section of the lake a perfect place to explore several areas in a short amount of time or as an idea spot to cut out a lot of extra driving. One reason Varenna is the most ideal of the day trips from Milan is how connected it is to many other areas of the lake.
The best day trips from Milan: Renting Bikes and Exploring Beautiful Bellagio
Bellagio is just somewhere that oozes class with the grand old hotels lining the cliff sides, the chic restaurants on the water’s edge and a maze of steep passages full of boutique shops. The romance of the place continues with the narrow cobbled streets lined with beautiful wisteria draped pastel houses all leading down to the gently lapping waters. If you do a Lake Como day trip from Milan then Bellagio is a must visit.
It feels a million miles away from the revving cars and beeping horns of Milan, the busy streets and sticky subway trains are a long forgotten memory as you stroll idly though the sleepy alleyways of this beautiful town. Getting lost here is all part of the magic, wandering aimlessly around the warren like layout, stopping occasionally to window shop or grab a gigantic gelato, it’s the best way to fully indulge in this beautiful little towns dreamlike vibe. Escaping the city for the gentile paradise of Lake Como makes this one of the most incredible day trips from Milan.
After a while exploring the charms of the most famous town on Como we decided to rent bikes and head along the banks of the lake to get a feel for some of the smaller villages. We rented the bikes from a small shop up a narrow passageway just across from the ferry terminal, the woman was really nice and friendly and even allowed us to pay on our return as we had no cash on us which was lovely.
Riding around the lake turned out to be more involved than we first imagined, we pictured a gentle track along the water’s edge where we would trundle along. Instead however there are a series of steep roads set back from the lake itself which makes the riding not as laid back as we expected. However from the vantage point of the hilly roads the view is nothing short of spectacular with many offshoots to ride down (and back up!) to take in some really hidden gems.
One thing to bear in mind if you do ride around the lake is the traffic along the tight winding roads and also to remember than the front brake on bikes here and in many countries in Europe is reversed compared to what it is in the UK (A friend had a pretty rude awakening to this fact whilst we were in Switzerland mountain biking a few years back!)
As well as managing to give ourselves a decent workout we had a wonderful time escaping the groups of tourists around Bellagio and seeing a bit more of the local life of Lake Como. We spotted many old tiny stone churches with locals gathered in their small squares next to the lake, chatting with incredibly enthusiasm in a way only the Italians can! Near by would by small docks with boats bobbing up and down next to traditional wooden houses by the crystal clear rivers feeding the lake.
Once you start riding from here you really get an idea of how big the lake is and just how many little towns and villages there are to explore. I first became aware of this majestic lake when a couple we know came here to spend two weeks riding around it on motorbikes. At the time I wondered how you could spend an entire fortnight at one lake, but now with the many little villages, towns, lagoons and secret spots to explore along its edges I can see why! Renting a bike is a great way to see more around the lake and really makes it one of the best day trips from Milan.
Bike hire cost:
€25 for two (£22.30 / $28.50) OR €20 for one (£17.90 /$22.80)
Lake Como Day Trip from Milan:
Transport Options from Milan to Bellagio, Varenna and Lake Como
Taking the Train from Milan to Lake Como:
From the City Centre:
There are two railway lines connecting Milan to Como and both offer different options for your Lake Como day trip from Milan.
They leave from the stations: Milano Centrale, Milano Porta Garibaldi, and Milano Nord Cadorna
Trains from both Centrale and Porta Garibaldi travel along the same line, however the trains from Centrale make fewer stops but leave less frequently. The trains from Porta Garibaldi stop at all the local stations and take twice the amount of time, however they do leave more frequently.
From Milano Nord Cadorna you can also take a slow but scenic train to Como Nord Lago. This train does however terminate at the city of Como and doesn’t go up as far as Varenna.
If you are headed to Varenna you will need to travel from Milano Centrale or Milano Porta Garibaldi as it is the only line that continues up.
You can book your tickets online or buy them on the day from one of the many ticket booths or machines. If you use a machine below the station in Centrale be aware there are often a few “dodgy” guys hanging around offering “help”, don’t let them help you are they are out to scam or pickpocket you! If you’re not sure then go to a booth upstairs or at the very least don’t let them help and keep your an eye on your valuables!
One thing to remember whenever you travel on the train in Italy is to validate your ticket at the little stations on the platform before you get on the train or your ticket isn’t valid and you could get a fine. We’ve written a post here explaining how to navigate the trains in Italy and how to find cheaper tickets: A guide to using the Train in Italy: How to travel for cheap and like a local!
Tickets cost between €5 – €19 (£4.50 -£17.00 / $5.70 -$21.65) depending on which train you catch. We paid €13 (£11.60 /$14.80) for a us both for a return and the train took around 1 hour. Regional trains are usually the cheaper option.
The quick and regular services are on reason this is one of the best and easiest day trips from Milan.
Check train times here: www.trenitalia.com
From the Airports:
From Bergamo Airport there is no direct route to Lake Como. The best option is to take a bus to Milano Centrale and from there take the train as above. Depending on what time you arrive you might have to travel up to Lake Como the day after.
From Malpensa airport it is possible to reach Lake Como on one of the TILO trains. However these don’t go up as far as Varenna so you would need to change in Como town. They are also at the more expensive scale and take an hour and a half. The best option would be to go from Milan Centre.
Renting a Car and Driving from Milan to Lake Como:
Renting a car is an ideal way to get to Lake Como especially if you plan on exploring the lake and Northern Italy in more depth. Having your own transport means you can take the scenic route towards the lake as well as seeing many more of the towns and villages along its banks especially those that aren’t easily reachable on the train and see much more in a day than by using public transport. If you are renting you might also want to consider renting for a few days and spending that time navigating much of the lake or carrying on up into the Dolomites.
The ferries from Varenna and Ballagio allow cars onboard too for an extra charge.
The drive from Milan to Varenna is 79 km (49 Miles) and takes around 1hr 20 mins. Use Google Maps or the free app “Maps.me” which can be used offline to get directions.
There are many rental companies in Italy to choose from, so we recommend checking out EasyTerra, who compare all the available options for you, allow free cancellations and amendments which is really helpful with the inclement Italian weather in the winter months and also has many insurance options and fair fuel policies.
Getting from Varenna to Bellagio on the Ferry:
From Varenna follow the signs for the ferry port and buy a ticket for Bellagio from the large kiosk.
The ferry runs around every half an hour or so from just outside of the ticket office. Be sure to check the train times and ferry times so you can time your journey.
Ferry price: €9 (£8.00 / £10.26) each for a return
When is the best time to visit Lake Como and do the Milan to Bellagio trip?
Undoubtedly Spring and Summer are the best times of the year to visit as the weather is great, the atmosphere is incredible and the towns are in bloom with wonderful flowers. Also when doing a single day trip you want to maximise your chances of good weather!
Sure the more popular towns can get a little crowded but in winter the place is almost deserted and can get extremely cold as well as many services being closed and less ferries running. It can also be a beautiful place in the snow and it’s nice to have the place to yourself but it can be harder to get around too.
The shoulder season of Autumn is a good compromise as the weather is still good and most of the crowds have dissipated.
Also bear in mind that weekends can be busy with local visitors from Milan and the surrounding cities as it is a popular get away from the city.
Take a Milan to Bellagio tour instead?
If you’re not comfortable visiting Lake Como from Milan yourself or you just want to be sure you can return in one day and make the most of your time by hitting all the highlights then why not consider a tour? If you’re not confident driving abroad or taking public transport then these tours include transport, sometimes food too and activities and you can be sure to get a lot more information from your guides too as well as knowing exactly where to visit when you do arrive!
Check them out here:
Spending Longer Around Lake Como: Milan to Bellagio and beyond.
There is just so much to take in and so many angles to view the beauty of this place that a day really isn’t enough time at all.If we had more time here and weren’t on a long tour around Europe with a lot of ground to cover we would have definitely spent more time here, in fact we plan on coming back in the future with our own transport to explore it in much more depth. Though it is undoubtedly one of the best day trips from Milan we would still love to spend more time here.
With more time we would love to visit the towns of Menaggio, Lenno, Cernobbio, Tremezzo and Como itself next time as well as driving or riding around the lake and stopping at many of the tiny villages. We would also love to do more of the ferries and some water sports here too!
Have you ever done the Lake Como day trip from Milan or gone from Milan to Bellagio?
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