Varenna is like the middle bear of the Goldilocks story. It’s just right. The romantic, mid sized town has a pretty walkway looping throughout town, a pretty harbor flanked by kayaks and restaurants and charming medieval lanes
If you’re wondering where to visit Bellagio or Varenna, I’d say… both! Varenna is a quieter, smaller and more romantic. It comes alive in the spring as tourists start to arrive, and closes by early fall. Here’s a quick guide to what to see and do in Varenna!
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Getting from Milan to Varenna
Most likely, you’re visiting Varenna from Milan. Buy a round trip ticket from Milan Central station and exit at Varenna-Esino-Perledo. Varenna’s small station doesn’t have ticket booths so it’s worth buying your return ticket ahead of time.
Or, if you want to be flexible about your departure, you can buy tickets from the local travel agency inside the station called I Viaggi del Tivano which is what we did. Varenna’s town center is about a 10 minute walk from the train station while the ferry docks right at the pretty harbor.Read more: How to Experience the Best of Bellagio in 24 Hours
Where to Stay in Varenna
Personally, I thought Varenna was the most romantic town in Lake Como. If you choose to stay here, these are some of Varenna’s most popular hotels:
1 | Villa Cipressi – Villa Cipressi is an elegant, sprawling villa popular for couples, weddings and those who enjoy a view. The lakeside mansion is located on its own private garden that terraces into the town’s steep cliffs. Rooms here are comfortable and modern – some have air conditioning and direct garden access. Villa Cipressi is well-known for its food!
2 | Hotel Olivedo – This cheery, yellow hotel is right opposite Varenna’s ferry terminal and was originally built in the 19th century. It’s named after the olive groves high up in Varenna’s hills. Rooms are comfy and affordable, with a quieter location about 5-10 minutes from the main harbor front.
Read more: 5 Reasons You Need to Visit Lake Como At Least Once in Your Lifetime
The Best Things to Do in Varenna, Italy
1. Have an Apertivo by the Waterfront
Varenna was once a fishing community so the local specialty is naturally, pescetarian dishes! Try missoltino, a salted dried sardine. There’s also a couple locally owned farms which produce prosciutto and parmesan. You can take a day trip to tour the family owned businesses, learn how their award-winning cheeses and hams are made, and then have a beautiful lunch after! Check availability here.
2. Explore the Town
Varenna has one main square, called Piazza San Giorgio. It’s flanked by a couple old hotels, including the Royal Victoria, named after Queen Victoria who once visited the town in 1839, as well as the local church, Chiesa di San Giorgio, a quaint stone structure.
We followed the self-guided walking route that Rick Steves outlines in his Italy guidebook. His book was invaluable for our trip! From the main square, you can either: head right to explore the gardens, climb up to see the castle, or back down to swim.
3. Hike to Vezio Castle
If you’re up for it, climb the steep trail to the castle ruins which crown Varenna’s hill. Up in this tiny hamlet, called Vezio, cars aren’t allowed and you can roam the ruined courtyard and drawbridge at your own pace. It’s quite a rocky climb up but you’ll be rewarded with an amazing panorama of the entire Lake Como region below.
4. Stroll through Villa Monastero
Varenna has two majestic old villas to its name. There’s the private gardens of Villa Cipressi and the publicly open Villa Monastero, which has a beautiful mansion filled with late 18th century antiques, that once belonged to the De Marchi family. The villa lines the lake shore and costs just 4 euros to enter.
If you want to see the most impressive villa in Lake Como, you’ll need to take a ferry to Villa Balbianello. This incredibly opulent villa was once home to Italian aristocrats and has been used as a set for countless movies, including Star Wars and James Bond. Book a tour here to handle transportation and a guide here.
5. Swim in Lake Como
If you want to go for a dip, I recommend the beach area north of the boat dock. It’s a safe area to swim (well out-of-the-way of the ferry boats) and fully equipped with showers, bathrooms and restaurants. You can also rent umbrellas and chairs to sunbathe!
Afterwards, watch the sunset and have a gourmet dinner on a cruise around the lake. This tour takes you on a 3 hour lazy circle of Lake Como, includes a 4 course meal, and wine. Check availability here.
Read more: THIS Is The Best Place to Stay in Lake Como
What do you like most about Lake Como?