Getting to Lake Como, Italy’s Corner of Paradise

September 2, 2015

Spending time at Lake Como is a dream for many. A chance to see the lake, the cities of Como and the beautiful Bellagio might seem out of reach. And if you don’t like organized tours, and don’t want to drive in Italy, is the dream possible? Thankfully it is not only possible to take a day trip from Milan and get a taste of the delights of Lake Como, it is easy.

This tale has two parts – the beauty to inspire and the practical to make it happen. For many, trying to navigate Italy’s public transport has stymied the dream. These tips should help make your dream come true, inside your budget. Here’s everything you need to know about getting to Lake Como.

Getting to Lake Como, Italy’s Corner of Paradise

First decision

Planning your day should be half the fun and like most planning, there are choices to be made. From Milan, you could organize a private car transfer – for most that is outside the budget.

For the rest of us, there are great options by train from three of Milan’s major railway stations – Milano Centrale, Milano Porta Garibaldi, and Milano Nord Cadorna. Between these three stations you can catch a train:

  • to one of the two stations in Como at the southern end of the west arm of the lake, Como San Giovanni or Como Nord Borghi, or
  • to Lecco at the southern end of the east arm of the lake, or continue part way up the eastern arm of the lake to Varenna, opposite Bellagio.

Most of the trains take a little more than an hour. As with all trains in Italy, look for the final destination of the train to make sure you are heading to the right platform before you board. For the train to Lecco and Varenna, look for Sondiro or Tirano. Trains run about every two hours, so it is important to check the Trenitalia timetable before you go to the station.

There are buses as well, from Milan, Como and Lecco to get you further up the lake, but buses weren’t part of our plan.

Our day in paradise

With Australian friends visiting Italy for the first time, we met in Milan for some city sightseeing and to take a day trip to Lake Como. Our plan was to see as much of the lake as possible and enjoy lunch in Bellagio, all on a budget.

We chose the fast train – the Eurocity – between Milano Centrale and Zurich, going through Monza, taking 37 minutes to reach Como San Giovanni. We bought our tickets at Centrale station, and with assigned seats on this train we didn’t need to validate our tickets before we boarded. On most other trains for this trip you will need to validate your ticket – just look for the yellow machines at the end of the platform before you board. Failure to do this will most likely result in a fine on the spot, usually 50 euros.

Passing through the outskirts of Milan, we started to see glimpses of mountains as we travelled north – they took our breath away. Once in Como San Giovanni, it was easy to see the lake in front of us, to our left, and we headed down the nearby stairs and into the city streets.

After a gentle 15-minute stroll to the lakeside dock and waiting ferry, we bought our next set of tickets and boarded the ferry for the journey north to Bellagio.

With light snacks and a choice of drinks available for purchase, our journey time was a little more than two hours, as the ferry zigzagged its way between towns and hamlets.

Getting to Lake Como, Italy's Corner of Paradise

Getting to Lake Como, Italy’s Corner of Paradise

The ferry website has a page in English with seasonal timetables that you can download to help you prepare for your adventure.

An alternative is to catch the hydrofoil between Como and Bellagio. It is a faster trip but doesn’t allow for photos of the lakeside villas and gardens – an important part of our day.

Our quest was to enjoy the lake as it unfolded, to see the beauty of the impressive villas wrapped in their garden ‘skirts’ all the way to the water, and tiny hamlets along the shore. Views of stone steps rising up from the lake and ancient tall trees offering shade to those who would walk or pause there, greeted us along the way.

Lunch in Bellagio

The final leg of this first ferry trip was between Menaggio and Bellagio. It seemed a little disconcerting at first to cruise past our destination heading further north, but we were richly rewarded with the view as we came into dock at Bellagio just a few minutes later.

Once ashore, we were spoiled for choice but knew we wanted to lunch by the lake, as close as possible. This was our extravagance for the day, and worth every cent.

Situated at the northern point of the lake mid-point of land, you are surrounded by lake and mountains – beauty in all directions, natural and man-made. The ancient home to silk cultivation and manufacturing in Italy, many shops display the local products. caffes and ristorantes rub shoulders with windows of exquisite silk, cashmere and leather.

While the windows beckoned our interest, lunch was first. There is no lack of choice – you are only limited by how hungry you are, the type of experience you’d like and your budget. We chose to eat on a large balcony suspended over the edge of the lake, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the view and the food.

Later we wandered up the hill and to savor the displays, before heading back down through Parco Communale – the city park to the waterfront.

The two-part trip home

Our plan to spend as much of the day on the water meant a second ferry ride south. We opted for the Bellagio to Lecco ferry, for a chance to see the less-populated eastern arm of the lake.

After our relaxing morning ride and long lunch beside the water, this additional two-hour trip meant we relaxed even more. A fact that might have been helped by the bottle of prosecco shared over lunch, the mid-30 Celsius (95F) temperature, and the steady ride of the ferry.

Getting to Lake Como, Italy’s Corner of Paradise

Once in Lecco, it was 15-20 minute stroll to the station. Not as obvious as finding the lake in the morning from Como San Giovanni, we enjoyed seeing a little of the city. Catching a regional train for the return journey was certainly a longer trip than the morning’s Eurocity train. However, there was different scenery to take in, albeit through a less-clear window.

Options for your Bellagio to Milan trip

If you want to try a different way back to Milan, take the ferry from Bellagio to Varenna and catch the train to Cardonna Nord, or take a ferry to Menaggio, Cadenabbia or Griante on the western shore and take the C10 bus back to Como San Giovanni – that will take about an hour. Look for the ‘extraurban timetables’ on the Autolinee site. In all cases, coordinating the ferry with the next bus or train might mean a wait on the other side, but there are wonderful places to get a coffee or gelato, or just enjoy the lake – it is hardly lost time.

Of course, there are more ways to get around the lake than ferries and the hydrofoil. Private water taxis, pleasure yachts and small cruisers ply the lake’s arms and navigate from village to villa with ease. You can also catch a seaplane from Como to various points around the lake, and on a clear day this offers an exquisite view of the surrounding beauty.

And, if you fall in love with the lake, as I have done, you might find that once you’ve worked out how to do this easily, you’ll be back again, and this time to stay a night or two.

A tip with the trains

If you buy a ticket, in either direction, for a Regional train and choose to get onto a Eurocity train, you are likely to get a fine. The faster service doesn’t cost a lot more and saves about 30 minutes.

Getting to Lake Como, Italy’s Corner of Paradise

Have you traveled to Lake Como? How was your trip? Email us at for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

About Sandy Swanton

An international traveler from the age of 6, Sandy Swanton found embracing the familial expat life hard to resist. Life for Sandy has always included travel to see family, friends, and wonderful places. Australian born and raised, with English grandparents and Canadian cousins, it is easy to understand why. Taking her first solo international trip at 19, and moving to Canada at 27, Sandy’s adult life had been shared between Australia’s east coast and Canada’s west coast, until late 2013. Through pursuing a portfolio career in written and visual communications, Sandy developed her professional experience and skills, enjoying times with great friends and fun adventures in new places along the way. Now combining a love of travel with a career of working with words and images, Sandy lives in central Italy, stepping out of the corporate life for the next chapters of her life.

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