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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Tours of Lake Como are a popular option, where you are guided 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.
Snazzy Tip: To find out about current events happening in Varenna check out their tourism website.
Are you thinking of spending a day in Varenna at Lake Como? Share your comments or any questions below.