Looking for a weekend getaway? Lake Como in North Italy is the perfect place to go, just a 40 minute drive from Milan Malpensa airport.
The fjord-like lake is the deepest in Italy, framed by mountains rising from the water. The highest mountains like Monte Legnone, 2600 m, are snow-capped most of the time.
Lake Como lets you combine alpine walks with pleasant Italian lakeside living. Just choose any of the pretty pastel villages and make it your Lake Como weekend base.
Lake Como weekend: walking in villa gardens
We bought flights to Milan Malpensa, hired a car and hit the road. This post shows what you can do in Lake Como in a weekend.
Lake Como, Italy
Lago di Como only has one island, Isola Comacina
Lake Como, Lago di Como in Italian, is one of the big North Italian lakes. It’s the third largest of them second only to Lago di Garda and Lago Maggiore, and the easiest to reach.
Yet Lago di Como is less visited than the other lakes, maybe since it has an exclusive label, at least Lake Como hotel prices are higher than elsewhere in Italy.
Lake Como does have an aristocratic background. Noble families from all over Europe discovered the beautiful Alpine lake and one after another built their villas on its shores. More aristocrats and other famous people followed: Giuseppe Verdi, Franz Liszt, Napoleon, Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock, just to name a few.
Alpine beauty: Lago di Como, Italy
Still today Lake Como is a land of dream villas and lush gardens. The climate is mild and humid, perfect for exotic plants that fill all gardens.
Our Lake Como Weekend Itinerary
Map of Lake Como weekend trip from Milan Malpensa
This is a map of our Lake Como driving itinerary. I marked the itinerary on the map as a one-way trip since we mostly used the same roads back to the airport.
Zoom in the map to get a better view of Lake Como destinations. We went half way up the lake, to an area called Centro Lago, the center of the lake. For most people this is Lake Como’s most interesting area. Centro Lago has the famous villages Bellaggio, Menaggio and Tremezzo.
We spent the weekend on the west shore of the lake and only made a short boat trip to Bellaggio on the middle peninsula.
Via Regina Vecchia, Lake Como
The road we used was the old Via Regina Vecchia built by the Romans. Via Regina Vecchia is the lower lakeside road that goes through all lakeside villages. It’s a very narrow road, in places too narrow for modern traffic. The Romans didn’t build the road for cars.
Driving along the narrow lakeside road takes time but you will see a lot. If you are in a hurry choose the upper road Via Panoramica where driving is smoother.
Driving through Lake Como villages
So we were exploring Lake Como by car, but what if you don’t have a car?
How to Get to Lake Como by Public Transport
If you don’t want to hire a car you can travel by train and lake ferry. First take the train from Milan.
Milan to Lake Como
Navigazione Lago di Como boat pier, Lake Como
Trains are frequent between Milano Centrale and the city of Como which is located at the south end of the lake. The train journey takes 40 min and costs around EUR 5.
From Como then take a regular ferry up the lake. Navigazione Lago di Como ferries zig-zag across the lake calling at all bigger villages. That makes ferries a good way to travel Lake Como. And it there’s no ferry there are the buses. They drive up the lake along both shores.
You can also take the train from Milan to Varenna. Varenna is a pretty village on Lake Como’s east shore and from there it’s easy to continue by boat. Varenna is an hour from Milano Centrale.
Lake Como weekend: taking a ferry across the lake
Milan Malpensa to Lake Como
As Milan Malpensa doesn’t have any direct trains to Lake Como you will first have to take a train or bus to Milano Centrale and then one more train to Como or Varenna. Since all this takes two hours one way or even more, I recommend hiring a car if you only have a weekend.
Lake Como Transport Links
- Trains to Lake Como: Trenitalia
- Lake Como ferries: Navigazione Laghi
- Lake Como buses: Bus service around Lake Como
Whichever mode of travel you choose Como is where to start:
Como lakeside promenade
Approaching the city of Como the landscape suddenly changes as you leave the northern plains behind. Como is in a mountain scenery and has a lakeside location. This is the place where Lake Como boat cruises start.
If you want right away to the mountains, take the funicular that goes over gardens and villas to Brunate, 700 m above sea level.
Cernobbio is the first resort on Via Regina Vecchia. It’s a busy and touristic place and almost a suburb of Como. The lakeside is pretty and so are Cernobbio villas. After Cernobbio comes Moltrasio followed by Laglio which already looks more original. Then comes Brienno.
Lake Como weekend: the lakeside village of Brienno
At Brienno there’s an upper road and a lower. Take the lower road and you will find a pretty village clinging to the rocks, with two pretty churches one of which is in the village and the other bigger one soon after it.
Brienno, Lago di Como
Argegno, Lake Como
Shortly after Brienno comes Argegno which is a bigger community. Argegno is located at a river mouth. It’s river Telo that comes from the green valley of Val d’Intelvi that connects Lake Como and Lake Lugano. So you can get to Lake Lugano from here, or to Menaggio over the mountains.
Lake Como weekend: views of Argegno
Argegno is located in a lake bend and therefore has splendid views both south and north. If you want more views take a cable car ride to a little village of Pigra above Argegno, Pigra is at 800 m. The cable car runs every 30 min and the journey takes 15 min.
You can also drive up to Pigra by car along a winding road from Intelvi Valley. It’s a 15 km drive.
The pretty church of Argegno, Lake Como
The next village to follow is Ossuccio, a village that has a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sacro Monte di Ossuccio
Lake Como from Sacro Monte di Ossuccio
Sacro Monte di Ossuccio is one in a series of sacred mountains in North Italy. High up on the mountainside is the old monastery Santuario della Madonna del Soccorso and there’s an old pilgrim route to the monastery with 14 chapels along the way.
You can walk along the old pilgrim route and see the 14 chapels, it’s a nice 20 minute uphill walk on an ancient cobbled path. The higher you get the better the views are and from the Santuario 200 m above the lake you will get the best views:
Sacro Monte di Ossuccio pilgrim walk
All chapels contain painted terracotta statues that show scenes from the Bible. This all is a UNESCO site, one of the 40 that Italy has. As Italy has an exceptional heritage there are more UNESCO sites than anywhere else in the world.
One of the 14 chapels along Sacro Monte di Ossuccio walk
To start the walk you will first need to drive uphill from the village of Ossuccio and then leave your car on a small square, Piazza Giovanni where the path begins. Then just start your climb along the centuries old stone path:
Sacro Monte di Ossuccio walking map
Sacro Monte di Ossuccio is a beautiful short walk. Maybe you want to walk longer distances in the lake landscape? Then try this:
Greenway del Lago di Como
Hiking in Lake Como: Greenway del Lago di Como
Lake Como has a 10 km hiking route called Greenway. The Greenway hike follows the lake’s west shore beginning from Colonno from where the route goes north to the following villages: Sala Comacina, Ossuccio, Lenno, Mezzegra, Tremezzo and Griante.
The marked route partly follows the lake shore and partly climbs a bit higher up the mountainside.
Sometimes you need to cross the Via Regina Vecchia but otherwise it’s all peaceful, quiet village roads with very little traffic – or narrow pedestrian walkways that the locals have been using for centuries:
Map of Greenway del Lago di Como waking route
More information on the Greenway walk on the Greenway del Lago di Como website.
As we were staying at Tremezzo we started walking from there, first south to Mezzegra and then down to Lenno and on along the lake shore.
These photos are from Mezzegra which for me was the most beautiful section of the 10 km itinerary. I really loved walking on these green slopes past villages, farmhouses, pastry land and olive groves. Beautiful Lake Como!
Greenway del Lago di Como: from Tremezzo to Lenno
And then, before we noticed we were down by the lake where a lovely little beach opened up in front of us. We were in Lenno.
Lake Como beaches: Lenno
As Lake Como is a mountain lake there are not many sandy beaches. If there are any they may be on private grounds.
Lenno however has two beaches, the one on the photos and another one, Lido di Lenno.
Greenway del Lago di Como: Lenno beach
The Greenway del Lago di Como follows Lenno beach and then there is a lakeside promenade. Lenno is attractive with its wooded shoreline, harbor restaurants and small lakeside hotels.
Views of Lenno, Lake Como
Like many other Lake como resorts Lenno, too, has a row of pretty villas along its lakeshore. The villas are privately owned so you can’t go in, but you can at least see their gardens.
And then, Lenno has a world class sight right behind the corner, the fairy-tale Villa Balbianello, and that one is open to the public. I will show you Villa Balbianello below.
Lake Como weekend: one of the many Lenno villas
Villa Balbianello, Lake Como
In the 18th century a cardinal came to Lake Como and found this wooded peninsula south of Lenno. As he liked the place he bought it and built his quiet summer retreat at its furthest end.
Today the summer retreat still stands in the same place but it’s not quiet as it used to be. The villa is one of the most popular tourist attractions around Lake Como. No wonder, Villa Balbianello is really amazing and was even used in Hollywood movies.
Lake Como weekend: Villa del Balbianello
When you enter the villa you can choose only to visit the garden or also go inside on a guided tour. The villa consists of many great buildings all of which are yellow and face the lake, and the well-manicured garden has a lot of terraces with stone statues all of which look towards the lake.
You can read more about Villa Balbianello on their own website: Villa del Balbianello
Villa Balbianello garden, Lake Como
To visit Villa Balbianello walk 1 km across the peninsula, there is a shady forest path. A special feature is that the path is only open certain days (Tue, Sat, Sun). The other option to get there is a shuttle boat round the peninsula and that option is available at all times.
The next village is Tremezzo, the home of another much visited villa, Villa Carlotta.
Tremezzo in Centro Lago, Lago di Como
The municipality of Tremezzo has a very central position in the place where the lake divides in two narrow arms. This means all three lake arms are easy to reach from here by boat. Bellaggio on the opposite side is just a few minutes away and so are Menaggio and Varenna that are served by rapid boats.
Tremezzo consists of four separate villages all of which have their own character. There are luxury resorts with huge villas and castles, behind them ancient villages with medieval lanes and there also is a lot of fantastic green countryside. No wonder Tremezzo is on the list of Italy’s prettiest villages, I Borghi piu belli d’Italia.
The four villages of Tremezzo, Lake Como
Aerial view of Tremezzo overlooking the central lake basin:
Lake ferry arriving at Tremezzo pier
Next to Tremezzo pier is Villa Carlotta’s own jetty, making it easy for visitors to arrive. Arriving by car is easy as well as there are a lot of parking spaces along the road.
Lake Como weekend: Villa Carlotta
Villa Carlotta is a wedding present. Princess Charlotte of Prussia got the villa from her mother when she married. She of course needed many rooms for her future family, she needed fountains, massive staircases, and of course a garden that’s big enough to stroll through.
Villa Carlotta interior and garden, Tremezzo, Lake Como
Villa Carlotta’s garden is huge, and it’s green and wild, very different from the Villa Balbianello garden. Plants from different countries have their own sections and there’s a large bamboo grove, English and Italian gardens and so on.
If you only have time for two villas when in Lake Como, try to visit these two villas, Carlotta and Balbianello.
Villa Carlotta and its garden
We left the villa and went on to Menaggio. Menaggio is the northernmost destination of the Centro Lago area, and a sporty tourist town.
Lake Como in a weekend: Menaggio
Menaggio has long traditions as a tourist resort. The first visitors were British and then came the others. The resort offers a lot of sports activities and a big yacht harbor.
You can go hiking and rock climbing, the mountains are just behind and there are many well marked paths. Or why not just walk on the lakeshore boulevard and spend time in the many street cafes?
Menaggio in photos
As the roads are narrow and driving along Lake Como takes a lot of time we didn’t go any further north. Neither did we go west from Menaggio, to the mountains and Lake Lugano. You would simply need more time for that…
Menaggio, the center of Lake Como
What did we do instead? We jumped on a lake ferry and went to the other bigger resort Bellaggio.
Lake Como ferry to Bellaggio
In the center of the lake: Bellaggio, Italy
Bellaggio is the most famous Lake Como resort and certainly one of the most beautiful. It sits at the tip of the narrow peninsula that divides Lake Como in two arms.
As everybody wants to visit Bellaggio and climb its steep lanes there are always a lot of crowds. The town is small enough to explore on foot and you can also walk to the tip of the peninsula. And you can visit villas, there are many of them around Bellaggio. But to see more of the peninsula you would need to bring your car which is easy. Just take a car ferry.
Bellaggio is a very typical Italian town, so charming!
Views of Bellaggio, Italy
Since most tourists are day visitors the town gets quiet towards evening after the crowds have left. At that time you can find peaceful corners like this:
A Bellaggio side street
Now we have seen Bellaggio, Menaggio, Tremezzo and a whole row of pretty villages south of them. Our Lake Como weekend is about to finish. It’s Sunday night, time to say goodbye and head back to the airport.
Arrivederci Lago di Como
Bellissimo Bellaggio, bellissimo Lago di Como!
More on Italy Travel
- You can find all my Italy posts listed on the Italy category page.
- If you like cities, read about Rome, Florence and Bologna.
- If you like castles and hilltop villages, check out this: Emilia Romagna: Looking for Italy’s Prettiest Villages
- To plan your trip to the Italian countryside, check out my posts on Tuscany and Cinque Terre.