10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN VARENNA ITALY + INFO & TIPS FOR YOUR VARENNA ITINERARY
Visiting Varenna Italy and wondering what to see and do, how to get there and how to plan your trip?
In this guide, you can read about the best things to do in Varenna as well as best tips and useful information for your trip planning to this charming little town on the shores of Lake Como.
Varenna Italy is a beautiful mid-size lakeside town on the eastern shores of Lake Como. This pretty town was once a fishing village and is amazingly picturesque with its network of winding medieval lanes, art-filled churches and spectacular villas. A quaint town, Varenna exudes a traditional feel while capturing the romance and beauty of the Italian Lakes region. Varenna is a perfect place to escape the crowds of tourists who tend to prefer the largest city on the lake, Como, or its famous neighbour , Bellagio. While it is a quieter town, there are still plenty of things to do in Varenna and it is an essential stop for visitors to this region of Lombardy, in northern Italy.
An overview of what is covered in this article:
- A little about Varenna Italy.
- Bellagio or Varenna?
- Getting to Varenna Italy.
- Places to stay in Varenna Italy.
- What to do in Varenna Italy?
- Best things to do in Varenna Italy.
- Add to your best things to do in Varenna itinerary.
- Where to eat in Varenna Italy.
- How much time do you need to visit Varenna Italy.
- Stay Connected | Share to Social Media.
- What’s new
A LITTLE ABOUT VARENNA ITALY
The fishing village of Varenna was founded in 769 AD by a fisherman with a small commune. Today, the town is still relatively small, with just 1000 residents, and borders several municipalities. Varenna is one of the central towns in Lake Como along with Bellagio, Menaggio and Tremezzo. Varenna sits across the much larger town of Bellagio, which can be reached with a 20-minute ferry ride.
For most, including me, Varenna is one of the most picturesque of Lake Como towns. Varenna is characterised by old fisherman houses, colourful buildings and a typical Italian atmosphere. The town itself is full of charming medieval winding cobbled lane-ways looping throughout the village. The lakefront is flanked by kayaks and is dotted with restaurants, boutique shops and gelaterias. There is a beautiful walk along the lake under a pretty botanical archway, famously known as the “Walk of Lovers”. Varenna is so picturesque and so wonderfully charming that you’ll fall in love with it at first sight.
While the entire Lake Como region is absolutely stunning, Varenna should definitely top your list of places to visit no matter how much time you have to explore the region.
BELLAGIO OR VARENNA?
If you are considering which one of the two Lake Como towns, Bellagio or Varenna to choose from, I’d suggest Varenna. Varenna is quieter and less touristy. The picturesque lanes and the old colourful fishermen houses are unpretentiously appealing as are the pretty waterfront and tiny stone beach. There is an air of authenticity and peacefulness in Varenna than the hotel packed resorts of Bellagio. Besides, Bellagio along with the other smaller towns of Tremezzo and Menaggio can be easily reached in 15 to 20 minutes by a ferry ride which runs a regular service.
In addition, Varenna makes a useful gateway to Lake Como. It lies on a railway line, and has a direct train service to Milan.
GETTING TO VARENNA
Varenna is conveniently located on the eastern shores of Lake Como and is easy to get to. You can reach Varenna by car, by direct train from Milan or by a short ferry ride from Como, Bellagio or many other Lake Como towns. Many of the day tours from Milan include Varenna in their Lake Como itinerary. Once you reach Varenna, everything is within walking distance. The town itself is best explored on foot and there is no need for any kind of transportation.
1 | By car
When driving to Varenna, you need to consider public parking. There are not many public parking spaces in Varenna. There is a big multi-storey car park close to Villa Monastero and this is the best place to park. If you are staying in Varenna, ensure that your accommodation has parking available.
2 | By train
Getting to Varenna by train is the most convenient way to reach the village. There is a direct train from Milan to Varenna and the journey time is a little over an hour.
3 | By boat
Varenna is ideally situated on Lake Como for excellent ferry connections. There are regular fast ferry services during the summer months that connect Varenna to all the main towns such as Bellagio, Menaggio, Tremezzo, Lecco, and Como. During the non peak season, there are fast ferries that operate from the larger towns of Como and Lecco. You can also take a car passenger ferry from Varenna to Bellagio during the low season.
4 | With a tour
Most of the popular day tours from Milan to Lake Como include a stop in Varenna. These tours usually also include visiting Como town, Brunate, and Bellagio. Organised tours make use of private boats, avoid slow ferry journeys and long waits. Therefore, if you want to make the most of your time, visiting Varenna with a tour might be best for you. By doing so, you could experience several of the best places in the most efficient way. On the other hand, if you only just want to experience Varenna, you can easily do so with a train ride to Varenna from Milan or a boat ride from Como to Varenna.
For a timeless experience
Would you like to experience the best of Lake Como as well as the best off-beat places including taking a dip in the clear waters of this famous lake?
If you do, you may want to take a private boat trip to explore Argegno. This is one of the best things to do in Lake Como if you want to use the most of your time when visiting this region. A private boat hire might be best for you so you could experience several places in a short time.
With some boat trips, you can curate your own itinerary and select the towns you want to visit in Lake Como. In some others, the itinerary is already planned and includes seeing the best of Lake Como sights from the waters. Some private boat trips take you to a special island renowned for the clear waters where you could have a swim. This is the most efficient way of exploring the best of Lake Como for timeless memories. If this is the kind of thing you’d like to do, take a look at this private boat trip I found:
This particular private boat trip is flexible where you can curate your own itinerary of places to visit and admire from the waters. You could also hire these guys for a special celebration like a birthday, anniversary or a special couples outing with champagne. They will even do drone photography , if you want them to. However, if you do not want to curate your own itinerary, this private boat trip takes you to see the popular villas from the waters. It includes a trip to the beautiful Comacina Island where you can swim in the clear waters of Lake Como.
You can learn in more detail about this exceptional private boat trip from Viator.
PLACES TO STAY IN VARENNA
Varenna is usually visited for a day as most visitors choose the busier towns of Como or Bellagio to stay. I stayed in Como when I visited the region and Varenna was perfect for a day-time visit. However, Varenna can also be a great base for exploring the rest of Lake Como towns as well as for some hiking activities.
Varenna offers several accommodation options ranging from top five-star hotels to lower budget accommodations. One thing to bear in mind though, that while some of these hotels are either four or five star rated, they may look dated, and some are located on hillsides. This is expected given the long history of the buildings and the village itself. Many hotels are only open in the high season and closed from late November to March.
Choose an accommodation that best suits your itinerary. Choose a hotel with parking facilities if you are driving. If you are arriving in Varenna by train or by boat and you have luggage, then consider staying close to the station or harbour. On the other hand, if you choose to stay on the hills, ensure the accommodation has a transport service to pick you up and drop you off when leaving your accommodation.
Some of the best rated hotels in Varenna for various budgets:
€ € € € : Hotel Villa Cipressi This beautiful hotel is surrounded by lush botanical gardens and situated just 500 metres from the beach. The rooms are spacious and offer a gourmet restaurant.
€ € € : Hotel Royal Victoria. The Royal Victoria is one of the best 4-star rated hotels in Varenna. It is located in the centre of town in Piazza San Giorgio. The hotel is named after Queen Victoria who once visited the village in 1839).
€ € : Hotel Olivedo. This accommodation is situated within 2 minutes of the pier in Varenna and 5 minutes from the train station. It has a good quality/convenience ration)
WHAT TO DO IN VARENNA ITALY
Varenna is a town where you can breathe-in the traditions of fishing from centuries ago, marvel at the elegant villas and stroll through the botanical gardens and take beautiful walks between nature and history.
Varenna offers lots of things to do and has something for everyone. Whether you are visiting this quaint town with your family, a romantic trip with a loved one, in a group or for business, Varenna is a destination that will make it easy for an unforgettable holiday that ticks-off all the boxes.
10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN VARENNA ITALY
Here are some of the very best things to do in Varenna Italy that are worth your time the most:
1 | Take an inspiring walk along the Passeggiata degli Innamorati
The Passeggiata degli Innamorati or “Walk of Lovers” is an inspiring, beautiful and romantic walk along the lakeside promenade. It is one of the must-see and must-do activities in Varenna. It is right there, a few metres from the harbour. You will inevitably pass through here when you arrive in Varenna by ferry. You are also likely to pass here if you take the train as the train station is close-by the harbour.
This charming and delighful lakeside walkway connects the ferry harbour in Varenna to the much photographed bay of Riva Grande, and the town centre further along. Along the way, there are several cafes, restaurants, artisan shops and gelaterias.
The Walk of Lovers is really nicely done. The walkway follows the lake-shore with lovely views of Lake Como. After a few minutes, you will begin to notice the charming little streets going up the hillsides and some leading further into the town. The cobbled alleys are full of steps with flowering pots placed along the sides. It was utterly inviting and gorgeous. The sight is so picturesque that you will stop many times in your stride to marvel at the quaint and colourful houses and for photo opportunities.
When we visited, there was hardly anyone else around and we totally appreciated its beauty. However, I can imagine that the place will be swamped with people during the peak season which would make it difficult to catch quiet moments to yourself.
In either season, the Walk of Lovers is a nice, short and easy walk which you will definitely want to do in Varenna.
2 | Explore the Impressive Villa Monastero and Wander the Gardens
The impressive Villa Monastero was built in a combination of Baroque, Classic and Moresque styles. It was founded sometime in the 11th or 12th century and was once used as a Cistercian convent. Eventually, the villa became a private home of a noble family in the 17th century. The villa remained as a private residence, underwent many renovations and changed ownership over the course of 200 years. Finally, in 1939, the last owners donated the villa to the state.
Today, Villa Monastero is a place where you can actually go inside and explore. The Villa houses a museum, an international conference centre and lush botanical gardens.
With its privileged lakeside location, Villa Monastero has one of the most beautiful views of Lake Como. The botanical gardens are one of the prettiest you can visit and offer countless photo opportunities.
Therefore, if you are looking for something nice to do in Varenna, then a visit to Villa Monastero will not disappoint. Even if you have an hour or two, Villa Monastero really is a place you should not miss.
Villa Monastero is open to the public and there are two ticket options. You could visit either just the gardens or visit both the villa and the gardens. For a few extra Euros, you get to visit both and it is absolutely worth it.
Opening times vary according to seasons. For practical information on current opening hours and ticket options, see the Villa Monastero official website.
Web: Villa Monastero
Add: Viale Giovanni Polvani, 4, 23829 Varenna LC, Italy
3 | Walk around Varenna Old Town
One of the best things to do in Varenna is to walk and explore the Old Town centre. Take time to explore some narrow alleys and walkways.
Varenna has one main square called Piazza San Giorgio. Here, you will find a 14th century church, the Church of San Giorgio. This church is an example of the Lombard architecture style and one of the most recognisable landmarks in Varenna.
There is another church close-by that you could visit: Church of St John the Baptist. This church dates from the 11th century and houses some interesting Byzantine murals.
Varenna is a hilly town and has lots of cobbled old streets. There are also quite some stone steps to climb. In some places, these are steep alleys. Therefore, be sure to wear comfortable shoes when visiting Varenna.
4 | Hike to Vezio Castle
Vezio Castle (Castello di Vezio) is another landmark worth visiting while in this charming town. Castello di Vezio sits perched on a hill high above the town of Varenna. It was built between the late 11th and early 12th century and was once connected by walls to the village of Varenna. The castle has an interesting legend associated with it.
You walk across a drawbridge to reach the castle and climb some stairs to the top. The views from the above are absolutely incredible and the medieval castle itself is pretty cool to explore. There are some cool underground tunnels, a ruined courtyard to wander and a nice garden along with some fun things to do for kids.
An adjacent terrace to the castle offers magnificent views of Lake Como. Dotted around the terrace are some interesting plaster casts of ‘ghosts’. There is a permanent exhibit dedicated to Lariosaurus, an extinct marine reptile from the Middle Triassic period. Lariosaurus carries a legend similar to that of Loch Ness Monster of Scotland. You might even see some birds of prey or a falconry demonstration.
The mysterious plaster casts of ‘ghosts’ and the legend of Queen Theodelinda
Dotted around the grounds of Vezio Castle are the mysterious plaster casts of ghosts. These ‘ghosts of Vezio’ are made by the managers of the castle at the beginning of the season in March and are left to the elements throughout the season. The managers make these ghosts sculptures anew the following season in March. So, you may or may not see these ghosts of Vezio as it depends on the time of year you visit.
According to the legend, the ‘ghosts of Vezio’ is linked to the reason why Vezio Castle was built. In a book entitled ‘Larius’, written by Anton Gioseffo della Torre di Rezzonico was published in 1779. Here, he mentions Queen Theodelinda who was the queen of the Lombards and ruled this region for several hundred years. She spent the last years of her life in the castle. She wanted to leave a church and an oratory along with a prominent bell tower as her legacy. This did not happen.
The legend has it that her heart and soul are buried within the walls of Vezio Castle and that she wanders the castle on moonless nights. The plaster sculptures represent this legend and add to the beauty and mystery of Vezio Castle.
How to reach Castello di Vezio
The walk to the castle is an interesting one because it takes you through a path you would not see otherwise. It is pretty much a one way path but the path is not cleared, so you may have to ramble a little getting to Castello di Vezio. You could take one path up and the other on your return.
There are two routes:
1 | The shorter route starts next to the Hotel Montecodeno. The walk takes about 20 to 30 minutes and the path is steep.
2 | The Scabium trail begins from the front of Villa Monastero. This route is more scenic, offering splendid views of Lake Como. The trek is narrow, rather steep and muddy. It takes about 40 minutes.
You can take one trek up and take the other on your return. Both are adventurous and offer much to see. For either of the routes, closed walking shoes or hiking boots are highly recommended.
Castle Vezio is one of the quieter spots in Varenna because it takes a little effort to get here. Fewer tourists make this hike but if you do, it offers an opportunity to appreciate the jaw-dropping views of Lake Como.
Castle Vezio is open daily from March to October/November. It is closed during bad weather and in the winter months. For practical information on seasonal opening hours and activities, check their official website of Castello di Vezio.
5 | Take a boat trip on Lake Como
One of the very best things to do in Varenna or any town in Lake Como is to take a scenic boat tour of the lake. While you can see quite a bit with a ferry ride, it is not quite the same as with the scenic boat tour. With the scenic boat tour, you get close to the shores, and the nicest villas, see nicer landscapes and the best views of Lake Como. For this timeless experience, you should consider a private boat tour.
Varenna is in a unique location in Lake Como — it is centrally located. Hence, it is a very good place for boat excursions. In addition, Varenna itself is really picturesque from the waters. With a boat trip, you see the nicest villas including Villa del Balbianello, gardens and towns including Bellagio, Menaggio and Tremezzina from a unique perspective. A boat trip is by far the best way to appreciate how scenic this region of Lake Como is.
Practical information about boat tours to consider:
There are many boat tours, both private and groups available in Varenna. This is especially so during the high season. You might be able to join a tour or hire one for private use on the spot. To do so, you need to be flexible with your itinerary and have lots of time. However, this is something you may not really count on or you may not have the flexibility and time to do so. Therefore, if you really want to and are sure of doing a boat tour, you may want to do some research and book a boat tour in advance.
This particular private tour is one of the best options for a scenic boat tour of Lake Como. With this boat tour, you can start from Varenna or any other town such as Bellagio or Menaggio which are located nearby.
I also found a really good and highly rated sightseeing walking and boat tour in Varenna by Viator. This tour takes you to the famous Villa del Balbianello, Villa Melzi and a number of other places. It is a full day tour and the itinerary is really good. This is an ideal option if you have one day to spend in this region.
6 | Visit the Gardens of Villa Cipressi
Next to Villa Monastero is the grand Hotel Villa Cipressi. The hotel takes its name from the ancient cypress trees that are found in the garden. This is a pretty lakeside hotel which you often find mentioned as one of the best places to visit in Varenna.
You can’t actually visit the villa/hotel unless you are a guest here but the gardens are accessible to the public.
The beautiful terraced gardens at Villa Cipressi reach the shores of Lake Como. The terraces offer amazing views of Lake Como.
If you are planning to visit Villa Monastero as well as the gardens of Villa Cipressi, you can purchase a combined ticket for both.
7 | Beaches and kayaking in Varenna
Varenna’s main beach is Lido di Varenna in Perledo. As with most beaches in Lake Como, the beach here is small and rocky which adds to the experience of visiting this region.
In the summer months, you may want to spend some time at the beach. Sun lounges and umbrellas can be rented while you can also take a swim in the lake. You can spend a relaxing few hours here after exploring the village and/or before catching your ferry.
You may also rent a kayak in Varenna and explore the lake shores on your own. This is not quite the same as the boat tour because you will only cover a short distance from the town. I can imagine that this activity is something really nice to do in the summer
As our visit was in November, kayaking activity was not available and we did not jump into the waters! However, we enjoyed our walk along the lakefront and sat at the beach, taking in the peacefulness of the lake. There were less crowds, and at times we were the only ones at the beach, which made the experience pleasant.
ADD TO YOUR BEST THINGS TO DO IN VARENNA ITINERARY
If you have time, and you want to see and experience all that Varenna has to offer, then add the following three popular activities in Varenna to your itinerary:
8 | Sentiero del Viandante
The Sentiero del Viandante or Path of the Wayfarer is a trek that runs along the entire eastern shore of Lake Como. The trek is 45 km (30 miles) and is rated as an easy to moderate hiking difficulty. It is suitable for everyone.
Due to the length of the trail, you may want to divide the route to different stages to suit your itinerary. Visit the official website of Varenna Tourism for some possible routes to take from the town centre.
9 | Fiumelatte and its river
The small village of Fiumelatte and its river are located to the south of Varenna. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to reach this special place. The main attraction here is the river/waterfall between the houses. The water that flows through here is white in appearance. However, the river only flows in the summer when the snow is melting in the mountains. Otherwise it is completely dry.
For those who love walking and want to get a bit off the beaten path, this would be one of the fun things to do in Varenna.
10 | Experience Varenna’s culture and cuisine at a local’s home
Get an insider’s view of local culture and cuisine by joining a market tour along with a cooking class at a local’s home. This unique activity introduces you to the vibrant local market in Varenna. The host will guide you and offer tips on how to recognise fresh produce, and select ingredients for an Italian dish. You shall then return to the host’s home for an immersive cooking session.
The cooking session covers three of the most authentic Italian dishes. Afterwards, you will have the opportunity to enjoy your meal with a selection of local wines.
I’d suggest that this is one of the best experiences to take away from Varenna and it’s worth giving it a go if you have the time. Find out more about Varenna’s culture and cuisine here.
WHERE TO EAT IN VARENNA
There are plenty of options in Varenna to try their local cuisines. We had our lunch at Bar II Molo, overlooking the lake. The views were absolutely stunning. Food was good as was the service.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED TO VISIT VARENNA ITALY?
Varenna is pretty small and you can see the main areas of Varenna’s old town and the lakeside promenade in about an hour.
In one to two hours, you can walk along the promenade, visit the old town, Villa Monastero and the gardens.
In two to three and a half hours, you could do the above and visit Vezio Castle. On the other hand, if you do not wish to make the trek up to Vezio Castle, you could opt for a private boat ride and see the villas and the other smaller towns from the waters.
For a full experience of Varenna — castle, villas, old town, boat trip and a meal or two, you are looking at spending a good part of a day in Varenna. You can very easily spend a whole day here as well.
Is Varenna Italy worth visiting?
Varenna Italy is absolutely worth visiting! This picturesque town along a stunning lakeside location, with its colourful houses, medieval alleys and castle, along with jaw-dropping panoramic views is definitely worth a visit and adding it to your Lake Como itinerary.
What is Varenna Italy known for?
Varenna Italy is known as one of the most picturesque towns in the Lake Como region. Varenna is known for its quaintness as a traditional fishing village. The old colourful fishermen’s houses, the enchanting Walk of Lovers along the promenade, and the cobbled medieval alleys along with its castle and legend — all these make Varenna, a popular destination to visit.
What is there to do in Varenna Italy?
There are a number of things to do in Varenna that offer the ultimate experience in Lake Como. You could see beautiful lakeside villas, hike a hill and visit a castle with a mysterious legend, get lost amidst the tranquility of the botanical gardens, explore the historic old town, churches, colourful old houses and medieval alleys. In addition, Varenna offers one of the most stunning views of the shimmering turquoise waters of Lake Como with the Alps as the backdrop. For the ultimate experience, you can book a boat trip on the lake, and when in season, go kayaking or swimming.
Can you swim in Varenna?
Yes, you can but only when in season. There are several small beaches where you can go for a swim in Varenna and this includes the Lido di Varenna in Perledo.
How much time do you need in Varenna?
It depends very much on what you want to do in Varenna. Varenna can easily be experienced in under 3+ hours but you could also spend an entire day here.
How to get to Varenna from Milan Central Station?
Varenna Esino sits on the Milan—Tirano railway route.
My sincere wish is that this guide to Varenna has given you a better idea of what to expect when you visit, things to do in Varenna, and how to plan your time. I hope this guide has answered some, if not all of your questions about Varenna.
Before you leave, take a look at other travel stories and practical info about Italy if you are planning a trip to this country. You may like my recommendations and enjoy reading the following articles also:
- People and Culture of Italy
- Best time to visit Italy
- Complete Guide to Milan
- Getting around Milan like a local
- Best places to stay in Milan
- Best of Milan Cathedral
- Verona City Guide
- Food in Verona
- Guide to Verona Wine
For more inspiration and travel information for your trip to Italy, take a look at my Italy travel page that has detailed destination guides and experience based tips to support your travels.
Have a wonderful time in Varenna xoxo
Stay Connected with Timeless Travel Steps for the latest in our Travel News
I would love it if you could share this article on your social media, or bookmark the page for later reading and follow me on Pinterest. Thank you so much for your support.
Timeless Travel Steps is supported by our readers. This article and related articles are sprinkled with affiliate links. This means that we may earn a commission from qualified purchases and bookings at no additional cost to you. These links have no influence on the editorial content TTS produce. We only recommend products and services that we use personally and believe these will add value to our readers’ choices.