A Day In Varenna

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A day in Varenna, Lake Como, Italy

AMAZING THINGS TO DO

On my visit to the stunning Lake Como I spent a day in Varenna, one of the gorgeous little towns surrounding this picturesque part of Northern Italy, in the province of Lecco. It is beautiful here, an absolute gem and one of the most popular towns to visit around the lake. Want to know what to do in Varenna? You’ve come to the right place. There are plenty of amazing things to see and do here.

Varenna is a very pretty medieval town with cobblestoned streets, little alleyways, hilly landscape and bright coloured houses overlooking the vast Lake Como, the third largest in Italy and one of the deepest lakes in Europe. The old fishing village of Varenna is centrally located on the ‘Y’ shaped lake, and in close proximity to some of the other popular towns. Bigger towns like Bellagio and Tremezzo are busier and a little more expensive, but Varenna is calmer and equally as lovely, if not more so.

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Aerial view of Varenna

How to get to Varenna

Varenna is on the east side of the lake, and is quite easy to get to with several options available.

By car, it’s about 1.5 hours drive from Milan, which makes it perfect for a day trip from the city. My family and I drove our hire car from Milan, and through the town of Monza.

Once you arrive at Lake Como you will find that many of the roads around the villages are very narrow, built in medieval times! Locals here are experts and mostly have small cars, making it easier to get around. A large station wagon, as we had, is not ideal. Once you arrive for the day, I recommend you leave your car parked and don’t drive around the lake. You can either walk or take one of the options below.

Read my post on Driving In Italy for all the tips.

You can also get to Varenna by direct train from Milano Centrale station to Varenna station. Trenitalia train website is here.

Also, a wonderful ferry service is available on the lake to and from Varenna and some of the other towns around Lake Como. Check ferry website here.

Buses travel all around Lake Como to each of the towns also. You can find the bus website here.

Or, take a fun tour from Milan to Lake Como.

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Villas in Varenna

What to do in Varenna

Varenna immediately wins your heart with the romantic setting of Lake Como and the Alps, the historic buildings, charming villas and delightful gardens. There are plenty of sightseeing tours available. 

Here are some of my recommendations for what to do in Varenna which you can manage in a day, but preferably two days if possible. 

1. Visit Castello di Vezio

I love castles and if you do too you should visit Castello di Vezio, the remaining ruins of a medieval castle. Located on top of the hill overlooking Varenna and Lake Como, it is over 1000 years old with exhibitions open to the public a few months of the year. There are some ghostly statues at the castle too. 

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Interestingly, it also houses a museum of prehistoric marine reptiles of the area. And, there is even a falconry of birds of prey, which holds demonstrations with the falcons and their trainer. 

You can walk up to Vezio, a steep hike of about 30 minutes to the castle. Or you can take a car.

Check the website for details.

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Varenna with Castello di Vezio above
A day in Varenna

Ruins of Vezio Castle – photo credit

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Falcon at the castle

2. Check out Villa Monastero

Villa Monastero is another popular attraction here. This villa is a museum with 14 furnished rooms, botanic gardens and is also a convention centre. It was originally a convent built in the 12th century. It has statues and sculptures in the gardens, and a cafe. There is a fee to enter the gardens.

If you like you can take a virtual tour here now. It is narrated in Italian but you can appreciate the gardens and the interior of the gorgeous old villa.

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Villa Monastero, Varenna
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Views from Botanic Gardens of Villa Monastero, Varenna – photo credit

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Villa Monastero garden structure – photo credit

3. Wander Around Hotel Villa Cipressi

Villa Cipressi is a 16th century villa and hotel. The Giardino Botanico (botanic gardens) of the Hotel Villa Cipressi are beautiful gardens worth visiting, with stunning views of the lake. It was named after the Cypress trees. Anyone can go and wander around the gardens, as you don’t have to be a hotel guest, but there is an entry fee.

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Villa Cipressi, Varenna

4. See Church of San Giorgio & Piazza

Stroll around the town and head towards the tower you see sticking out in the centre. A quaint little Church, Chiesa di San Giorgio sits in the central plaza of Varenna. The church is 14th century Lombard style architecture. Inside you can check out the art frescoes.

Interesting fact: Varenna is known for its black marble, which you can see on the floor of the San Giorgio Church.

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Chiesa di San Giorgio, Varenna
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Piazza San Giorgio
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Piazza San Giorgio

5. Beach

If the water beckons you and you want to get in the lake for a swim or relax in the sun, Varenna has a sandy beach called Lido di Varenna in Perledo, just a short walk away. You will find beach chairs and umbrellas for rent there.

6. Walking trails

Varenna’s popular Walk of Lovers, is a red fenced, short pedestrian path along the waterfront, perfect for a stroll to admire the view. 
 
The Sentiero del Viandante (Wayfarer’s Path) is a popular hiking route that was originally an old mule trail. From Varenna you can take it to Bellano (north), or to Abbadia Lariano (south), with different options, upper and lower paths. You will enjoy breathtaking views of the lake, and pass by hamlets, chapels and streams. Total length is approximately 45km.
 
 
A Day in Varenna

Wayfarer’s Path of Lake Como – photo credit

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Varenna's 'Walk of Lovers' & harbour

7. Orrido di Bellano

If you want to take a short 10 minute drive by car from Varenna to Orrido di Bellano (Bellano Ravine) you will discover a little gem that not many tourists know about. It’s a naturally formed gorge with running waterfalls amidst caves. You can walk inside the ravine along the footbridges anchored to the rock walls, overlooking the deep gorge. The sun filters in creating spectacular effects. Well worth the visit.

Tickets are required to access the Bellano Ravine. 

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Bellano Ravine – photo credit

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Bellano Ravine – photo credit

8. Ferry ride

Lastly, one of my favourite things to do at Lake Como and an absolute must during a day in Varenna is a ferry ride. You can take the ferry to one or more of the other towns, the easiest way to cross the lake. It’s a wonderful opportunity for photos of the lake and surrounding scenery. I recommend you visit the towns of Bellagio and Menaggio too.

Check timetable here. 

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View from ferry on Lake Como

Tours

Tours of Lake Como are a popular option, where you are taken around by a local expert. Check out some fabulous tours of Varenna and Lake Como here. You can choose from boating, walking tours, food and cooking tours and more.

Where to stay

If a day in Varenna is not enough and you wish to stay longer, here are a few accommodation options I recommend:

  • Castello di Vezio Agriturismo (farmhouse), part of the ancient castle above Varenna, an estate which offers different types of accommodation to choose from – apartments, cottages and houses.
  • Hotel Olivedo, a charming hotel overlooking the waterfront, near the ferry dock.
  • Hotel Villa Cipressi, a mid-range hotel on a stunning cliff location, which offers rooms as well as small houses.
  • Hotel Milano, offers rooms or apartments.

I stayed in another small town on the lake called Dervio, not far from Varenna.

You can read about my stay at Lake Como here.

A day in varenna
View from Villa Cipressi, Varenna, Lake Como
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Varenna
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Varenna ferry dock
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Varenna – photo credit


Snazzy Tip: To find out about current events happening in Varenna check out their tourism website.

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Are you thinking of spending a day in  Varenna at Lake Como? Share your comments or any questions below.

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A Day in Varenna, Lake Como, Italy
A day in varenna
A day in Varenna, Italy
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12 thoughts on “A Day In Varenna

  1. Candy says:

    I love that the location is only 1.5 hrs away from Milan, which makes it a great day-trip destination. I absolutely love medieval looking towns with cobblestone streets (although they kill my feet). It’s so picturesque and the Alps are such a beautiful backdrop.

  2. Travel with Mei and Kerstin says:

    Varenna looks like a dream, and it’s the perfect destination for us for this summer! Our trip to Central America has just been canceled, so we’re now looking forward to exploring more of Europe by car. We were thinking about roadtripping through Tuscany, but Lake Como sounds good too! We both love castles, so we might want to visit Castello di Vezio when we go to Varenna.

  3. Farrah says:

    I’ve never been to Varenna but you’re definitely making me want to go! Your photos are gorgeous + I’d love to check out the beach + walking trails!!

  4. Umiko says:

    This little village is gorgeous. I love everything you wrote about Varenna. And like you said, the Bellano Ravine is spectacular. It’s really a place I like to visit during my travels.

  5. Emma Riggs says:

    You definitely had me at ‘Medieval cobblestone streets.’ Varenna looks like such a beautiful day trip or even weekend getaway. I’m definitely intrigued with the ancient reptile museum and birds of prey centre – they would be cool. Plus, the spectacular Bellano Ravine! Thanks for sharing all of your info.

  6. Linda (LD Holland) says:

    We loved our visit to Lake Garda. But did not make it as far as Lake Como or Varenna. But Varenna looks very charming and worth a visit on our next trip to Italy. We would probably want to rent a small car so we could explore the area. Especially to visit something like the Bellano Ravine. It would be great to visit when the Botanical Gardens of Villa Monastero are in bloom.

  7. lpnieman says:

    Great post! I stayed in Bellagio about 12 years ago and did a short day trip to Varenna. I walked up to the castle. The views are fabulous! I would love to go back and perhaps stay in Varenna and explore of Lago di Como. It’s stunning!

  8. Taylor says:

    I LOVED the town of Varenna when I visited Como. It’s so beautiful there and I loved how peaceful it was compared to touristy Bellagio. I cannot wait to get back to Lake Como one day. 🙂

  9. Ruth says:

    I do not know if a place can be more perfect. This is my kind of place and even though I have not been to the area, I have heard Italy’s lake region is a must visit. I really enjoy your photos and comments about Varenna.

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