If you are planning to visit Varenna, Lake Como in Italy, this guide provides useful information about the best things to do in Varenna, where to visit and how to get there. And a one day itinerary at the end!

Varenna is a picturesque town situated on the Eastern shore of Lake Como and is known for its stunning lakeside location, beautiful villas with gardens, and a medieval castle. This guide recommends the best things to do in Varenna to make most of your time here, whether you have a day or a couple of days to spend there.

Table of Contents:

  1. How to get to Varenna (From Milan)
  2. Best Things to do in Varenna
  3. Is it better to stay in Varenna or Bellagio?
  4. How much time would you need?
  5. One day Itinerary

How to get to Varenna (From Milan)

Getting to Varenna couldn’t be easier, it is one of the easiest town to get to by train or a short ferry ride from Bellagio. You can also hire a taxi to go there as well from Milan (which a friend of mine did). The taxi will be more expensive. You can also hire a rental car that is also a possibility but please do check for parking before driving to Varenna as it is quite a small town.

To get to Varenna from Milan Centrale, you can take a train that goes straight to Varenna-Esino station It takes approximately just over an hour, and you will arrive at the Varenna station and it is only a few minutes to the town centre on foot. You can purchase tickets from the ticket machine at Milan Centrale with cash or card, alternatively if you have wifi, you can also purchase online using trainline.

Best things to do in Varenna

Once you are at Varenna, everything is literally within walking distance, and you are able to see the best of Varenna on foot. Below is an overview of the best things to do in Varenna.

1. Visit Villa Monastero and its botanical gardens in Varenna

Villa Monastero is one of the most beautiful villa located in Varenna, by Lake Como. If you have time for only one Villa then this should be the one. It is a popular tourist spot and known for its stunning beauty. The villa houses a museum, and visitors can enjoy the beautiful botanical garden around the house. It is open for visitation from March to November.

Villa Monastero is open to the public and for a few Euros more, you can visit inside the Villa. This villa is literally situated on the Lake side and the views and architecture are incredible.

Opening times: The Villa and Gardens are open all year around between 9.30am to 8pm during the summer months but please keep in mind that opening times may differ between the seasons. For example between April to May, the House Museum is closed in 2023 but the gardens are open. Please visit the official Villa website for the up to date opening times (Click on Plan your visit on their website).

Villa Monastero is one of the top best things to do in Varenna Lake Como, Italy
Villa Monastero at Varenna

2. Visit Villa Cipressi

Villa Cipressi houses a 4* hotel (check availability here) and . Outside Villa Cipressi, you can find a terraced garden which is a very popular location for weddings and the gardens do cost quite a bit. This Villa is different to Villa Monastero which is located nearby. This is probably worth it if you are staying at the hotel or you would like to get a drink and admire the view.

Don’t forget to visit Como City – Read Here

3. Wandering around Old Town is one of the best things to do in Varenna

If you are here visiting for a few hours or a day, one of the best things to do in Varenna is to walk around and soak in the beauty. The streets and alleyways are simply beautiful. Please be aware that some of them are residential so mind when you are taking pictures.

There is also a small chapel nearby called the Church of St John the Baptist. It has some interesting Byzantine features.

Wandering around Varenna Old Town is one of the best things to do in Varenna

4. Visit the Church of San Giorgio

Located at the centre of Varenna in a square Piazza San Giorgio, this parish of St George has many paintings and art inside. One of them is Polyptych of St. George by Jo Pietro de’ Brentanis (1467), a local artist. It is a lovely spot to visit.

5. Walk the Passeggiata Degli Innamorati (Lover’s Walk)

If you arrive by Ferry, you can easily walk along the Passeggiata Degli Innamorati also known as the Lover’s Walk. It’s a great stretch of walkway/promenade. You can admire the beautiful views of the lake. It will lead you to a part of the Varenna town centre and the Riva Grande.

During the high season, it does get quite busy. However, you will still be able to admire the views and grab some great pictures. You can grab a gelato and sit by the lake with the mountains in the background at the end of the walk.

At the end of the Lovers Walk promenade at Varenna in Lake Como Italy
Lovers Walk is a long trail with great views of the lakes and mountains from here

6. Visit Castello di Vezio (Vezio Castle) in Varenna

Varenna also has its very own medieval castle. While it does require you to walk up the hill. Visiting Castello di Vezio gives you some of the most beautiful views of Varenna. This castle is one of the top best things to visit here in Varenna.

You get to visit a medieval castle, explore underground tunnels and if you are lucky, birds of prey – Falconary!

Opening times: The castle is open daily from March till the end of October. And Falconry shows do run daily during the high season. Always check their offficial website before your visit.

How to get here: There are 2 ways to get to the castle. One is by foot walking from the Varenna Habour to Vezio. Pass through Sant Antonio Church through a few narrow streets and some forest area. It could take between 20 to 30 minutes depending on your walking speed. Also keep in mind there are cobblestones so do wear comfy shoes. And GPS is a blessing.

Alternatively, you can drive up there if you have a car.

7. Go on a boat tour on Lake Como

One of the best things to do in Varenna and in Lake Como in general is to take a boat tour of the lake. A private one. You can see some of the villas, gardens and the different towns along the way. You might be able to find a boat and hire on the spot. However, if it is high season and really busy period, you might want to book in advance. A lovely experience to do if this is within your budget.

Hire a private boat and visit the other communes at Lake Como

8. Sentiero Del Viandante & Fiumelatte

If you like hiking and trail, then consider hiking the Sentiero Del Viandante (Path of the Wayfarer). This is the same trail that takes you the Vezio Castle and continue on to a small village south of Varenna called Fiumelatte.

This is best during the summer months as the main attraction is a waterfall and river and it is especially scenic when the river is flowing.

Definitely one of the best things to do in Varenna if you are someone who loves walking and trail hiking. It will take few hours and the views are amazing.

8. Take a Trip to Bellagio or Menaggio

In Varenna, visitors can easily access Lake Como’s “Golden Triangle” (Varenna, Bellagio, and Menaggio) by ferry, with a 15-minute trip to Bellagio costing around €5 for a one-way ticket (prices subject to change).

Bellagio is especially popular with tourists – it’s filled with little boutiques, great restaurants and charming alleyways. It has some beautiful views of Lake Como too. And if you are up for it or pressed for time, you can do both Varenna and Bellagio in one day.

Is it better to stay in Varenna or Bellagio? 

This is the question most frequently asked when planning a trip to Lake Como. Both Varenna and Bellagio are popular places to visit in Lake Como. They are both easily accessible to get to using a ferry and it is less than 20 minutes away from one another by ferry. Therefore it is easy to visit both places and the surrounding areas regardless where you choose to stay at.

Choosing a hotel will depend on your preferences and budget as well. Both are touristy towns. Bellagio is the bigger of the two and is more lively with more places to eat and shops. Varenna is much quieter and smaller.

Both Varenna and Bellagio are popular towns near Lake Como to visit, but which one is better?

It’s very easy to get from Varenna to Bellagio (and vice versa). By using the ferry, you can visit both towns when staying near Lake Como regardless where your hotel or Airbnb is located.

How much time would you need to visit?

You can easily explore Varenna and its main areas in around one or two hours.

For a day visit, you can visit the old town, walk along the lovers walk. Enjoy the views from the lakeside promenade and enjoy a gelato or a meal, Villa Monastero and it’s garden.

If you are spending few days in Varenna, definitely visit the Villa Monastero, the castle, and hiking on a good day and the rest of list above.

One Day Itinerary

You have only one day to do Varenna or an afternoon, here is what I suggest you can do.

If you arrive by ferry or train in the morning, start your day with a scenic walk along the promenade. Walk along the lover’s walk, which offers breathtaking views of Lake Como.

1. Take in the picturesque setting and don’t forget to snap a few photos before heading to your first stop, Villa Monastero.

2. After your visit to Villa Monastero, head to Piazza San Giorgio. This charming square is lined with restaurants and cafes, making it the perfect spot for lunch. You can try their risotto al pesce persico (risotto with perch fish). I was told is Lake Como speciality or the polenta uncia, which is a hearty dish made with polenta, butter, cheese, and local sausage.

3. Take a stroll through the narrow cobblestone streets of Varenna’s old town. Explore the quaint shops and admire the colorful buildings that line the streets and grab a gelato or two.

Bonus: If you have time, you can make your way to the 14th-century Castello di Vezio.

Also don’t forget to check the ferry times before you head out to explore Varenna if you are staying elsewhere.

Enjoy your visit!

Courtney xx