Varenna is a picturesque and traditional village, located on the eastern shore of Lake Como, Italy. It is an essential stop for anyone wishing to visit one of the most typical and peaceful towns of the lake.
This small village, where you can still breathe in the traditions of yesteryear (above all, fishing), is home to elegant villas with botanical gardens (such as Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi) and beautiful walks between history and nature (Castello di Vezio and Sentiero del Viandante).
A visit to Varenna is a must if you are in Milan (from where you can reach Varenna after a one-hour train ride) or in one of the central towns on the lake such as Bellagio, Menaggio or Tremezzina, which are just 15-20 minutes away by ferry.
Here’s my guide to the best things to do in Varenna, where everything is located within walking distance.
Discover what awaits you in Varenna, on Lake Como!
If you arrive in Varenna from another town on the lake, most likely via ferry, you will land near the Passeggiata degli Innamorati (Walk of lovers), one of the most inspiring and romantic walks along Lake Como.
You will enjoy a beautiful view of the lake and begin to notice, after a few minutes’ walk, the charming little streets going up into the interior of the village.
The small alleys are full of steps, so it is best to wear a comfortable pair of shoes. If you have difficulty or cannot take the stairs, don’t worry: you can safely move along the streets surrounding the town and visit its most characteristic corners.
The Passeggiata degli Innamorati leads to a beautiful and much-photographed bay, the famous Riva Grande. Here you will find several cafes, restaurants, local artisan shops and ice cream parlors: everything you need for a rejuvenating break before resuming the tour.
Another place not to be missed in Varenna is Piazza San Giorgio, the town’s central square that houses the Church of San Giorgio.
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A visit to Villa Monastero is definitely one of the best things to do in Varenna. The villa, located a stone’s throw from the central Piazza San Giorgio, was once an old monastery that later became a patrician residence.
Besides being an international conference center, Villa Monastero attracts tourists from all over the world because of its beautiful botanical garden which contains many species of rare plants and stretches for 2km (more than a mile) along the lake shore.
When visiting this famous villa, you will also have the opportunity to see Casa Museo, a museum that collects four centuries of history in an elegant setting with fine decorations and furnishings.
Adjacent to Villa Monastero is Villa Cipressi, a 4-star hotel near the town center of Varenna.
The complex is surrounded by centuries-old terraced gardens that reach the shores of Lake Como, a perfect location for unforgettable weddings and holidays.
Villa Cipressi’s name comes from the beautiful and ancient cypress trees that are still found in its gardens.
Unlike Villa Monastero, this villa is currently a luxury hotel that you can book for your vacations on Lake Como. For this reason, unless you are a guest of the hotel, you will only have the opportunity to visit the extensive gardens, full of Mediterranean and exotic plants.
The cost of a regular ticket is €8 (€15 for the combined ticket that includes admission to Villa Monastero).
Castello di Vezio is a medieval fortress that has stood for more than a thousand years on the promontory overlooking Varenna.
The terrace adjacent to the castle offers a breathtaking view of Lake Como and is home to the “ghosts,” which are white plaster sculptures made each year in the summer with the help of people who pose for an hour.
Also noteworthy is the permanent exhibit dedicated to the Lariosaurus, an extinct marine reptile from the Middle Triassic, which gave rise to a legend similar to that of the Loch Ness monster.
In addition, on Friday and Saturday evenings in summer (usually from early June to early September) the castle organizes aperitifs on the panoramic terrace at a cost of €35 per person.
The castle, open from March to November, can be reached by two roads:
- the shorter but rather steep road starts next to the hotel Montecodeno and the walk takes about 20-30 minutes, also offering shelter from the sun
- the more scenic alternative is the Scabium trail, the beginning of which is almost in front of Villa Monastero; it takes 40 minutes and is also rather steep, but offers splendid views of Lake Como (although it is mostly under the sun).
The hamlet of Fiumelatte and its river
At a 10-15 minute walk from the south of Varenna is the hamlet of Fiumelatte, crossed by the river of the same name.
Fiumelatte is a very special river: besides having a white appearance that makes you think of milk, this short watercourse flows only between March and September (except in cases of drought), while in the other months it is perfectly dry.
A walk of about 15 minutes from the hamlet of Fiumelatte leads to the source of the river, allowing splendid views of Lake Como and Bellagio.
Sentiero del Viandante
The Sentiero del Viandante is a stage trek that runs along the entire eastern shore of Lake Como. It has a length of 45 km (30 miles) and is suitable for everyone, but due to its length it is recommended to divide the route into at least 4 stages.
If you want to get a taste of this beautiful nature trail, I recommend visiting the Varenna tourist website, which describes some possible routes to take starting from the town center.
at a location of your choice
Public boat tours
❗Looking for information about public boat service? Read my guide to boats and ferries on Lake Como!
Varenna’s pier is located in Via Imbarcadero. Here you can catch boats to any town on the lake (as anticipated, central lake towns such as Bellagio, Menaggio, and Tremezzo are only 15-20 minutes away by boat).
Plan your trips on the Navigazione Laghi website and, when possible, purchase tickets online or go to the ticket office in advance of the boat departure time.
Beaches in Varenna
Varenna’s main beach is called Olivedo Lido – Lido di Varenna and is equipped with sunbeds, deck chairs and a boat dock.
As throughout Lake Como, there are several small public beaches in various areas (e.g., here), but being free beaches, they are often occupied by tourists and locals especially in summer.
Discover the best beaches in Lake Como!
the enchanted valley
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
about Varenna, Italy
Varenna overlooks Lake Como. Below is the time needed to reach Varenna from the city of Como:
- by boat: 1 hour and 30 minutes by slow boat, 50 minutes by fast boat
- by car: 1 hour
Yes. The water of Lake Como off Varenna is quite clean, and you can choose between the public beach of Fiumelatte or the Lido di Varenna-Perledo.
The main attractions include:
- Church of San Giorgio
- Villa Monastero
- Villa Cipressi
- Castello di Vezio
- Sentiero del Viandante