This is a guide to the four beautiful towns around the centre of Lake Como: Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio & Lenno. These are generally the most popular to visit as they are all beautiful with incredible views and plenty to see. They are also all easily accessible to each other via the frequent ferry and water taxi services that travel across the centre of Lake Como, see the (slightly grainy so sorry!) map below for locations of them around the centre of the lake.
So for anyone with limited time deciding on which towns to visit around Lake Como or how to spend a day there, this will hopefully steer you in the right direction.
I thought I’d start with Bellagio, as it’s the most well known and most popular town on the lake. Unfortunately however, it was actually my least favourite. Luckily the competition is very stiff! Bellagio is still very pretty with beautiful views over the lake. The reason I didn’t like it as much was because it was the busiest and felt the most touristy and unnatural. What I mean by ‘unnatural’ is that there were a lot of restaurants and shops seemingly just placed there for tourists.
Bellagio is mainly just one Main Street with markets, shops and restaurants, and it has frequent ferry links to Varenna and Cadenabia (a short bus from Lenno). One of my favourite parts however was making my way down the street and following the road to the edge point of the town that looks north towards the mountains. There is a lovely small park next to a restaurant serving drinks you can take away where you can sit in the sun or shade and look out North across the lake to possibly the most beautiful views you’ll get (see my attempt to pose properly with my beer and fail above). So in summary, it is worth visiting as there are plenty of shops and restaurants to explore as well as the beautiful park view, but other than that it is the most touristy of the towns in central Lake Como.
Varenna is probably up there as one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. You come off the ferry and turn right walking along a beautiful lakeside walkway aptly named the ‘walk of lovers’ before getting to the main part of Varenna. You’ll see cobbled alleys rising up off to your left and get a real feeling of a historical town. It’s probably the prettiest town out of the four mentioned here, because it’s so quaint and has so much character. Not to mention it isn’t as busy as Bellagio. I’m well informed that it’s the locals favourite town also, and it’s easy to see why. You also have great train links north to north of Lake Como and the Swiss border, and south to Milan. This is all from Varenna’s train station located a short walk up the hill away from the picturesque waterfront.
In Varenna, we strolled along the lovely ‘walk of lovers’ pathway, taking in the views and looking for somewhere to get some lunch. There are plenty of waterfront tables where you can sit down for a meal but unfortunately these were taken, so we decided to keep exploring and head on further. A short walk later we discovered the ‘hotel du lac’, quietly nestled in a courtyard past where most people walk to. They had a waterfront table (see above) and we had probably the best meal of our entire time at Lake Como, my girlfriend said that her pumpkin ravioli was the best ravioli she’d ever had, and having tried some it was pretty incredible. It wasn’t too pricey either and the food was top notch and views some of the best I’ve had at any restaurant. Varenna is just a very quaint and cute picturesque town that feels local, which is why I loved it so much.
Menaggio will always have a place in my heart as it’s where we stayed for the duration of our trip to Lake Como. It’s bigger than Varenna, and feels like more of a functioning town with local children going to school or locals going about their day to day lives, and has tourism as less of a focus. Luckily for us, there was plenty to see. The town itself has a square with cafes, restaurants, and a gelato stall, and there are lots of cobbled streets and alleys to explore. There were many times we’d sit out in the square in the sun, enjoying Italian life with a couple of drinks or a cappucino, looking out to the water and watching the world go by.
Not to mention transport links from Menaggio to elsewhere are very good. You can take a 1 hour bus to Lugano in Switzerland, and a 1 hour bus to either the top of the lake or Como at the bottom of the lake. Menaggio is also home to the highly rated ‘Lake Como Hostel’ where we stayed, the only hostel around central Lake Como and probably one of the cheapest ways to stay in this beautiful area.
Menaggio has a lovely promenade where you can walk alongside the water, and a shuttle service (a vehicle that is designed like a train but on wheels see picture above) that runs to Lenno and the two most popular Villas around the Lake (mentioned below). It’s also a short walk from lots of hikes, and has plenty of options for other activities such as renting scooters, bicycles, kayaks, and boats etc. There are a couple of churches so you’ll often be walking around with the lovely sound of church bells ringing around. And of course, they have a mini golf course.
Now you may call me a tourist, but firstly, mini golf is awesome so I don’t mind, and secondly, because of this course we found a lovely restaurant with stunning waterfront tables that we had all to ourselves (see above). The food was also delicious and seafood based, so by doing something cheesy and touristy we discovered a little gem.
Lenno itself is actually a short bus (or shuttle service mentioned above) from the ferry stop at Cadenabia, but transport is frequent or the walk isn’t too far. Lenno has a market on Tuesdays with all sorts, from fresh produce, to clothing, even budgies! The town itself is quite small, but still very pretty and you’re able to take other boats to and from Lenno itself too.
The main reason we visited, apart from the market on that day, was to see the Villa del Balbianello. This is maybe a 20-30 minute walk from the town itself, and is the reason I first heard of Lake Como. Pictured above, it is the villa they have used in films such as Casino Royale and Star Wars. It’s absolutely beautiful and the garden and grounds are so pristine and well kept. It’s the main reason to visit Lenno and is one of the buildings the lake is most famous for so definitely well worth it! There is also the Villa Carlotta by Cadenabbia, which is also available to visit for the public. We didn’t go ourselves but it’s also highly regarded as one of the best around the Lake.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed my brief guide to the towns around central Lake Como and it’s been useful in deciding which you might like to visit if you have some time in the area. In summary, Lake Como is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and visiting any of these will be a great experience for you. If you’ve got any questions about any of them, pop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!
Thanks for taking an interest in my blog, it’s a pleasure to have you! Here is where can sign up for my monthly newsletter which will keep you updated on all things gilesmeetsworld!