Lake Como is an undeniably gorgeous destination in Northern Italy, and Varenna is truly one of the most beautiful towns on the lake (Bellagio and Varenna were for sure my favorite towns we visited on our 3 day Lake Como itinerary).
Varenna is full of colorful buildings and built up onto a hill, so the streets are tall, narrow passageways. While just wandering around town is truly delightful, there are also quite a few engaging things to do in Varenna.
14 Unforgettable Things to Do in Varenna
1. Stroll the Lover’s Promenade
Any visit to Varenna starts with a stroll along the Lover’s Promenade, as this pathway takes you from the ferry terminal to the town center. The charming path is right between the water and stone walls on the side of the hill and takes you under picturesque red archways.
You’ll enjoy views of the lake, mountains, and colorful houses nestled against the rocks as you enter the town, truly one of the most scenic entrances to any town on Lake Como.
2. The Town and Ancient Port of Varenna
Exploring Varenna is an absolute delight, and like many towns in Europe, simply wandering the streets is one of the best things to do in Varenna. Because Varenna is situated on a hillside, many of these streets actually transform into steep, stone staircases.
Don’t miss the ancient port in the center of town. This port, once abuzz with local fishermen and traders, is now mostly just a scenic curve down to the water’s edge, but is a beautiful spot to stop and take in the view.
3. Piazza San Giorgio
The Piazza San Giorgio is the Main Square in Varenna, and both churches (discussed in the following two sections) are located off the square. In the picture, above, you can see the San Giorgio Church standing proudly on the far edge of the Piazza.
The square is lovely – lined with trees, cafes, and shops. We wandered into a few of the shops here, which were selling beautiful handmade items.
4. The Church of San Giorgio
The Church of San Giorgio is the main church in town, was built in the 1300’s, and is certainly worth a quick stop inside to admire the architecture.
One notable feature of the Lake Como churches, which is also present in the San Giorgio Parish, are the bricked columns at the base of the arches lining the interior of the church. I also really liked the frescos on the columns and church walls.
Hours: 8:30am-7pm (free to visit)
5. Church of San Giovanni Battista
The Church of San Giovanni Battista is known as the “mother church of Varenna,” as it is one of the oldest churches on the entire Lake. Built in the 1100’s, this church is much smaller than San Giovanni, but it is very beautiful and notable for the murals around the altar.
Hours: The church is always open and free to visit
6. Villa Monastero
Of all the villas we visited in Lake Como, Villa Monastero might have been my favorite! This gorgeous villa is right on the water and is full of beautifully designed stone stairways, pillars, railings, and statues.
The grounds are full of tall, skinny cypress trees (which feel so incredibly Italian), flowers, citrus plants, and lush greenery. Cute stone structures like a temple, pergola, terrace, and fountains dot the landscape.
The grounds extend for quite a ways along the coast, and you can meander and explore to your heart’s content. In the middle of the grounds is the actual villa that you can enter and explore, which is, of course, also beautiful.
7. Hotel Villa Cipressi
Just a few minutes down from Villa Monastero is the Hotel Villa Cipressi, a luxurious 4-star villa turned hotel that also has incredible, terraced gardens. Although not nearly as popular as Villa Monastero, this is still a very beautiful spot to visit in Varenna (and is much less busy).
It costs €10 to enter the gardens, but if you are a hotel guest, you can stroll through the gardens for no cost at your leisure.
8. Varenna Cemetery
If you continue walking down the same road as Villa Monastero for about 10 minutes, you’ll come to the Varenna Cemetery, a scenic resting place for the inhabitants of the village on a cliffside overlooking the lake. From the cemetery, you can see the colorful village of Fiumelatte just a little bit farther down the coast.
9. Baluardo di Varenna
The Baluardo di Varenna is a delightful hidden gem on Lake Como, offering a scenic viewpoint of the lake, Varenna, and Fiumelatte in the middle of a nature trail.
Right before you enter the Varenna Cemetery, you’ll see some stairs leading up and above the cemetery. Go up the stairs and follow the path through the forest, which will take you to this lovely, high viewpoint situated in a little clearing of trees. It only takes about 10-15 minutes to walk to this spot.
10. Vezio Castle
Vezio Castle stands nestled high on the hills of Varenna and offers visitors panoramic views of the lake and the town below.
Built in the 11th century by the Lombard Queen Theodelinda, the fortress was originally a military outpost intended to defend Lake Como and its surrounding villages. The castle complex, including the gardens, dungeons, ancient walls, tower, and falconry (that does daily falconry demonstrations), has stood tall as a symbol of Varenna for over a thousand years.
Although the fortress is beautiful year-round, it’s especially breathtaking if you visit Lake Como in the fall and can take in the changing colors (as well as enjoy more moderate temperatures, better prices, and fewer crowds).
- Getting There: From the ferry terminal, there’s a somewhat steep hike up the path to the castle – but it’s well worth the effort!
- Entrance Fee: €5
12. Boat Tour of Lake Como
While you can enjoy some fantastic lake views while taking the ferry between villages on the lake, doing a private boat tour from Varenna on Lake Como is a special experience.
You’ll be picked up in Varenna in a traditional Venetian water taxi boat, and then cruise around the lake, admiring the towns, villas, and coastline from the water. What makes this different and unique from the ferry is that you’ll stay closer to the coastline instead of just cutting across the lake, and you’ll see a lot of the top spots and hidden gems up close and personal.
13. Enjoy Varenna’s Delicious Cuisine
Albergo del Sole Ristorante Pizzeria
While enjoying the Lake Como destination of Varenna, you will find many hidden restaurants, cafes and bars throughout the side streets of the village. For some delicious Italian cuisine, we can suggest dining at Albergo del Sole Ristorante Pizzeria.
Located near the historical Chiesa San Giorgio church, the Albergo del Sole Ristorante Pizzeria restaurant has both outdoor seating on the cobblestones and then indoor seating with also an indoor terrace area.
This restaurant offers delicious food and generous portion sizes (the pizza in particular is big enough to share!), and a great Aperol Spritz, the obligatory summer drink of Italy.
Osteria Quatro Pass
Osteria Quatro Pass is a cute restaurant that was converted from an ancient warehouse, and is perfect for a romantic dinner.
The restaurant is known for its excellent seasonal menu, fresh homemade pasta, delicious lake fish, and local meats. Additionally, Osteria Quattro Pass is known for its excellent wine selection of over 120 wine labels, which includes both local Lombardy wines and fine Italian vintages.
I highly recommend the risotto with perch fillets, or grilled lake fish which includes fresh local catch. We had the appetizer with cured lake fish, an antipasti platter and a lake fish risotto and they were all delicious. This restaurant is a must on your visit to Varenna and itinerary of Lake Como.
14. Stay in a Gorgeous Varenna Hotel
Hotel Royal Victoria is a 5-star, luxury hotel situated on the lake shore of Varenna, offering stunning views of Lake Como. It is set in a beautiful, historic building, dating back to the 19th century, and it is literally next door to the stunning Villa Cipressi and Villa Monterroso, two of the best villas in all of Lake Como.
We stayed in a room with a balcony and an incredible view of the lake, and it was definitely worth the splurge, and we could not have been happier with our choice of hotel. We were also very pleased with the service at the hotel. The concierge helped us secure reservations at some of the top restaurants in Varenna and Bellagio for each night of our stay.
Good to know: Many hotels in Lake Como (including this one) close during off-season, so be sure to make sure the hotel is open during your travel dates before finalizing your plans!
Map of the Best Places to Visit in Varenna
How Much Time Do You Need in Varenna?
I’d plan for at least a half-day to one full day to really enjoy Varenna and everything it has to offer. You can also use Varenna as a home base as you explore more of the towns along Lake Como.
How to Get to Varenna?
You can easily take the train directly from Milan to Varenna (it’s about a one hour ride). While on the lake, the ferry is definitely the easiest way to get around.
Top Things to Do in Varenna – The Wrap Up
Lake Como has a reputation for unbelievable beauty that is richly deserved, and Varenna is a key part of that beauty. From winding stairways and bright buildings to stunning architecture and sweeping vistas, Varenna will engage and delight your eyes. So don’t miss this charming town as you explore Northern Italy!