Planning out your 3 day Lake Como itinerary? I’ve got a great itinerary for you!
Lake Como, an enchanting lakeside retreat just 45 minutes from Milan, offers a tranquil contrast to the city’s hustle. This lake boasts stunning mountain views, quaint towns, and elegant villas with swoon-worthy gardens that have been escapes for the wealthy for centuries.
And while Lake Como certainly has grown in popularity with tourists over the years, it still retains a pristine, natural, and upscale atmosphere.
I absolutely adored Lake Como – the colorful, absolutely picture-perfect villages and gorgeous villas captured my heart. In fact, in our tour of Northern Italy, I think this was my favorite spot we visited (and our trip included highlights like Venice and Cinque Terre!)
So in this post, we’re sharing how to spend 3 absolutely perfect days on Lake Como. While a longer stay would be ideal, time is often limited, so we’re focusing on the best experiences Lake Como offers, condensed into an unforgettable three-day itinerary.
Where to Stay During Your Time in Lake Como
Where you stay in Lake Como will somewhat affect what your itinerary looks like, as the villages are spread out along the lake and the best way to get around is by ferry (which has a very detailed timetable).
Bellagio is located right in the dead center of the lake, and makes for a convenient home base to visit the many cute villages located nearby. Plus, Bellagio is just absolutely gorgeous – it’s often called the Pearl of Lake Como.
Staying in Bellagio means you have the morning and evening to enjoy the village while it’s relatively calm and quiet, before/after the hordes of tourists come though.
This is where we stayed on our trip to Lake Como and it was absolutely perfect. This itinerary is specifically designed to cater to someone staying in Bellagio – as it takes advantage of the evening hours after the last ferry boat has left (usually around 6:30pm)
Top Hotels in Bellagio:
Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni: This is the most upscale and luxurious hotel in Bellagio – it’s lakefront, with a lakeside pool, private beach, palatial-like design and décor, gardens, and a spa.
Hotel Du Lac & SPA: Not nearly as fancy as the Hotel Serbelloni, yet still offering lakeside views, very lovely rooms, and spa services.
Hotel Bellagio: A good budget option, that still offers comfortable rooms and beautiful some lakeside views, right in the center of town.
Getting Around Lake Como
While there are buses around Lake Como, and you can drive your car between villages, I’d recommend using the ferry to get around the lake. You can look at ferry timetables here – I’d recommend saving the PDF to your phone so you can easily refer to it when you’re at the lake.
It’s cheap, easy, and convenient, much more so than using either the bus or your car. Some ferries will transport cars as well as people.
An Overview of Your 3-Day Lake Como Itinerary:
Detailed Breakdown of the Itinerary
I’d recommend you arrive in the evening the day before, so you are ready to go first thing on your first full day in Lake Como.
– Varenna –
Start your day out in Varenna, one of our favorite towns in Lake Como. You’ll walk from the ferry dock along the charming Lover’s Promenade to the town center, which features a small, historic harbor. The town is built up onto a hill so the streets are tall, narrow staircase passageways.
In Varenna, the #1, must-do attraction is visit the Villa Monastero. This was one of my favorite villas in Lake Como, thanks to the gorgeous stonework and statues found right along the water’s edge. Intricately designed stone stairways and railings complement the gazebos, temples, fountains, pillars, and pergolas.
I loved all the stonework, flower pots, and fruit trees throughout the gardens, which were fairly long and skinny, extending far down the coastline. When we went, it was drizzling for most of our visit, but was still gorgeous even in the less optimal weather.
You can also go inside the actual villa, which is filled with sumptuously decorated rooms and beautiful artwork.
Piazza San Giorgio
This is one of the main squares in town, and is lined with trees, cafes, and shops, and is a beautiful place to relax. The San Giorgio Parish and Church of San Giovanni Battista are both located off of this square.
Varenna Cemetery + Baluardo di Varenna
On the far end of town is the Varenna Cemetery, which overlooks the sea and has lovely views off to the village of Fiumalette. If you go up the staircase right by the gates to the cemetery and walk on the forest path for about 10 minutes, you’ll come to a beautiful overlook of Varenna, the surrounding lake and mountains, and Fiumalette.
This 1000-year-old castle sits high on the hill above Varenna. You can explore the castle gardens and dungeons, walk the walls, or go up in the tower for amazing lake views.
– Menaggio –
Menaggio is located just across the lake from Varenna and forms the final corner of a triangle with Varenna and Bellagio. This charming town has fewer official attractions than either Bellagio or Varenna but is still worth a stop and a stroll through on your Lake Como itinerary.
Piazza Giuseppi Garibaldi
This is the main square in Menaggio, and many of the best restaurants and shops are clustered on or around the square. We particularly liked the vibe of Via Calvi, a pedestrian street located just off the square that had cute boutiques and cafes.
St. Stephen’s Church
This beautiful church is located at the end of Via Calvi, and features gorgeous decoration and ornamentation along the arches and passageways, and the frescoed ceiling is stunning!
Undoubtedly our favorite part of Menaggio was walking the waterfront promenade, which has pots overflowing with flowers, stairs down to the water, and beautiful views back toward the colorful city.
– Bellagio –
End your day back in beautiful Bellagio! This itinerary is scheduled so that you have time in Bellagio after the last ferry boats leave, so you’ll need to adjust the schedule somewhat if you decide to stay elsewhere. (For example, if you’re staying in Varenna, I’d start with Bellagio and end with Varenna).
Bellagio is an incredibly beautiful town, full of picturesque cobblestoned lanes and colorful buildings. Bellagio is situated on a hill, so most of the streets are actually long, staircase passageways heading upward.
The staircases and the streets are lined with cute shops and quaint little restaurants, with windows full of bright wares and small tables set up right on the staircases.
One thing we loved about Bellagio is that, although there were a few typical souvenir shops, most of the shops were full of fascinating handmade, unique items beyond your typical magnets and postcards.
We loved perusing the bright blue and yellow, lemon-painted ceramics, the abundance of silk shops (Bellagio is known for silks), and boutiques selling handcrafted jewelry, original paintings, and toys.
THE most iconic viewpoint in all of Bellagio is from the top of the hill on the corner of Salita Serbelloni and Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, where the street curves charmingly down a set of staircases.
A gorgeous coastal walkway lined with flowering trees, overflowing with flowerpots, and little overlook areas to enjoy the view back to Bellagio. Walk south along the shoreline in town as you head to Villa Melzi
Villa Melzi Gardens
The villa itself isn’t open to the public, but the gardens are absolutely lovely and very peaceful, with walkways through manicured lawns right along the water, interspersed with ponds, gazebos, and terraces.
Make sure you go up the path behind the house for great views of the lake and mountains behind the villa.
~ Day 2 in Lake Como ~
– Lenno –
Lenno is a sleepy town that houses the most well-known villa on the whole lake. While it’s true that there really isn’t much to do specifically in Lenno, the walk through this quaint town is really charming, with a cute, flower-lined pathway that follows a curving coastline.
This is the most famous villa on Lake Como, thanks to its truly stunning architecture, the gorgeous terraced gardens, and its being featured in many films, such as several Star Wars and James Bond movies. And truly, the hype lives up. This property is just special.
I adored all the intricate stone railings on the terraces and loggias overlooking the water. There were lots of little adorable nooks and crannies on the property to discover. The effect was absolutely breathtaking,
Balbianello is pretty popular, so you definitely want to reserve tickets ahead of time, and visiting first thing in the morning is a good way to avoid the worst of the crowds. You’ll have to walk about 30 minutes from town, and part of the trail is pebbly (making strollers very difficult).
You can also take a water shuttle from Lenno to Balbianello – the shuttle is right before you enter the villa grounds, and is 9 euros round trip.
– Tremezzo –
The town of Tremezzo is home to another luxurious villa on Lake Como – Villa Carlotta. Villa Carlotta is actually about a 10-minute walk outside of the center of town, and has its own ferry stop.
Villa Carlotta easily has the most expansive grounds of the villas we visited in Lake Como, and unlike the other properties, much of the grounds were wild and untamed, albeit organized into themed gardens.
Some of the themed areas included olive groves, a bamboo forest, a rhododendron garden, and trellised pathways covered in citrus plants. There were also long stretches of pathways through a thick forest, where you’ll pass by a waterfall.
We really liked that these more natural grounds added some variety to the manicured gardens we had already visited.
After you’re done with the grounds, there are still the 3 levels of the villa to be explored, which include sumptuous halls, breathtaking balconies, and luxuriously decorated rooms (the bathroom in particular was very swoon-worthy).
This garden was also ADA-accessible and had a few different routes of varying lengths marked throughout the estate. If you have a stroller, this is a good place to visit.
Tremezzo itself is quite small and the main thing to do is walk the pathway along the water, and admire the Grand Hotel Tremezzo – a glamorous Belle Epoque-era hotel that is a luxurious retreat on the banks of Lake Como.
This hotel is truly stunning – staying here is like staying in one of the opulent villas you’ve just visited. Even if you don’t have a room reservation, you can still eat in the restaurants in the hotel or in their private beach area (reservations are highly recommended).
As someone who really has no shame, I decided to go in and wander around the hotel and grounds (look, if you just walk in confidently like you belong, you rarely get stopped), and it seems like the hotel doesn’t actually mind visitors.
The architecture and grounds were gorgeous and if you can’t get enough of the Lake Como villas, it’s worth a stroll through.
Overall, outside of Villa Carlotta and the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, there isn’t much to see here, so I’d enjoy the stroll down the path to the ferry and then move on to the next place.
– Bellagio –
There’s enough to do in Bellagio that you’ll probably need two late afternoons/evenings to see/do it all, and today’s itinerary should leave you some time to finish off the different things to see in Bellagio. Besides anything from Day 1 that you didn’t get to, I’d also recommend:
Piazza della Chiesa
A lovely square in town that is surrounded by tall cypress trees and cobblestoned streets, and has a beautiful fountain in the center.
Basilica of San Giacomo and the Church of San Giorgio
The basilica is the main church in town, and you’ll frequently hear the church bells ringing during the day and night. The interior is lovely and covered in bricks – including bricked columns (very interesting for a European basilica). The Church of San Giorgio is another small church in town you can quickly pop into.
This beautiful, expansive villa lies in the hills above the town of Bellagio. It can only be visited, however, with a guided tour. You can make reservations online in advance.
~ Day 3 in Lake Como ~
– Bellano –
Bellano is a delightful little town in the northern section of Lake Como whose main attraction is the Orrido di Bellano, which is a short pathway through a stunning, narrow, and tight gorge with a river and waterfalls running through it.
When you get off the ferry, just follow the signs to the Orrido – it’s just a 5-7 minute walk to the entrance. You can find the entrance, halfway up a flight of stairs, behind the church steeple.
It only took us 25 minutes to go through it, but I think it’s worth it – it’s a unique and really beautiful activity to do. We also particularly enjoyed this activity because it was a very different type of activity compared to all the promenades, villas, and small towns we had visited.
Practical Info: 5 euro entrance fee, open Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat-Sun 9-7pm. Last entrance is 20 minutes before closing time.
There aren’t that many ferries going to Bellano, so you’ll have to plan your schedule out carefully.
Other Things in Town
When you’re done with the Orrido, you can stop in the city cemetery or visit the Chiesa dei Santi Nazaro e Celso, which is near the entrance to the walkway. This church is quite beautiful for a small town, with arches lining the side passageways and a gorgeous painted ceiling.
– Como –
Finally, your last stop in Lake Como is the actual city of Como, the largest town on the lake. Como definitely has more of a bustling city vibe instead of a sleepy village feel, but it’s still charming and beautiful. Plus, there are plenty of things to do in Como – here are a few that you definitely shouldn’t miss:
Lungolago Viale Geno
This is the longest waterside pedestrian pathway in Lake Como, and it is wide, paved, and really lovely. You’ll pass the 30-meter-tall water fountain that sits on a promontory, as well as the WW1 Memorial to the Fallen.
This temple is dedicated to Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the electric battery (Volta… volts – get it?). The monument is constructed in a stately neo-classical design, and houses a small museum inside with exhibits about the life and work of Volta. Outside, around the temple, is a small but lovely park that’s right along the water.
Villa Olmo is one of the largest villas on Lake Como – with the villa itself being quite expansive. Rooms are grand, large, and soaring, with marble floors and pillars, and beautiful murals on the ceilings. The grounds surrounding the villa are a popular spot to come hang out and relax. The villa is only a short walk from town and is free to visit.
Saint Mary Assunta Cathedral (Duomo of Como)
This is the main church in Como, and she is a stunner! The church has gorgeous frescoed ceilings, tall stained glass windows, tapestries, and sculptures throughout the church.
This funicular, with a station right in the center of Como, will take you steeply up the mountain to the small village of Brunate, which sits high above Como. Here, you’ll get the chance to admire the city of Como and the lake views from above!
Other Practical Information for Visiting Lake Como
How to Get to Lake Como
The vast majority of people will travel to Lake Como from Milan – there are trains leaving from the Milan Centrale station that take you to the lake in just 40-60 minutes.
There are two cities on the lake that have train stations: Como (40 minutes from Milan) and Varenna (60 minutes from Milan).
Como is on the far south end of the lake, whereas Varenna sits right in the middle of the lake. Como is a 45-minute rapid ferry, or a 2+ hour slow ferry to reach Bellagio, whereas Varenna is only a 15-minute slow ferry ride from Bellagio.
Honestly, it’s not a huge deal which station you arrive at – just look at the schedule and see what fits in your itinerary better.
Best Time to Visit Lake Como
Summer, of course, has the best weather for lounging at the beach and cruising on the lake, but summer is BUSY, and prices are at their highest.
Late spring and early fall (May, June, September, October) are slightly less hot and slightly less busy, but not by much. While September may have been a great month in the past to visit Italy for lower crowds and still balmy weather, today the crowds are still quite high in the shoulder months.
November – March the crowds really drop off, but winter in Lake Como is quite chilly – regularly getting down close to freezing temperatures overnight.
Opening Hours on Lake Como
It’s very important to know that attractions in Lake Como, particularly the villas, are not open every day of the week. Usually, the villas will be closed Monday and/or Tuesday and/or Wednesday, and additionally can have other closures if there is a wedding or event booked for the location. Double check opening hours ahead of time!
Map of the Places to Visit at Lake Como
Here’s a helpful map to help you visualize where all the towns on this itinerary are, and note where all the attractions are in each town. The towns are marked in blue, and attractions in red stars.
Spending 3 Days in Lake Como – The Wrap Up
Lake Como is an incredible spot, and 3 days gives you plenty of time to explore the lake, see the top sites, enjoy some relaxing spots, and soak in the views! If you’re visiting Milan, Venice, the Dolomites, or even southern Switzerland, this is a great spot to add to your travel plans!