Varenna (Lake Como) Tourist Information

Charming fishing (and tourist) village with attractive gardens

About Varenna

Varenna is an attractive village on the eastern shore of Lake Como, looking over the central part of the lake towards Bellagio. Varenna’s picturesque lanes and old fishermen’s houses are unpretentiously appealing, and some visitors prefer the town to its grander neighbours. Although Varenna is a tourist destination, and its pretty waterfront and tiny stone beach fill up with holidaymakers, it has somehow a more authentic air than the other hotel-packed resorts. The main tourist activities in Varenna are relaxing by the lake, and visiting the gardens of two villas, Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi.

Varenna is a useful gateway to Lake Como, as it lies on a railway line with direct trains to Milan, and is connected to the other lake resorts by regular car and passenger ferries.

Varenna tourist information

Varenna’s tourist information office is alongside the jetty for passenger ferries. A map isn’t really necessary for exploring the village, but you can pick one up here along with any advice you may need.
> Places to stay in Varenna


Varenna sights and tourist attractions

From the ferry jetty in Varenna there is a footway leading around the shore to the right. This brings you to the village’s pretty waterfront, with its characteristic lake harbour, an arcaded walkway and a little stone beach sloping into the water. Although this short stretch of lakeside is a tourist magnet, it is also very charming and a good place to while away half an hour with a cold drink or ice cream sundae.

Villa Monastero, VarennaClose to the water, you’ll find a couple of gelaterie where you can buy ice creams to take away, several cafes with outside terraces and a few shops and boutiques aimed at tourists. Day trippers hopping around the lake resorts by boat may not go any further. But it is worth spending a bit more time in Varenna, to tour the picturesque pedestrian lanes which conceal more restaurants and bars, and visit at least one of the villa gardens which are open to the public. If you wish to sunbathe or swim, there is another small beach below the lanes of the headland, and a lido on the far side of the ferry stops.

Heading up the sloping alleys from the lake you’ll come to the town’s main piazza and the lake-shore road. The square is dominated by Varenna’s principal church, the fourteenth-century Chiesa di San Giorgio, which features frescoes both inside and out – a large image of St. Christopher is painted on the facade. Opposite you’ll find the smaller and more ancient Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista. If this is open, you can peer inside the church to admire more frescoes, some thought to date from the fourteenth century. The two gardens which you can visit are down the main road to the right. Villa Cipressi, the first, is now a hotel with its gardens open to the public (there is an admission fee). The entrance to Villa Monastero is just a little further on – read on for more about the villa’s garden.

If the day is not too hot and you are feeling energetic, there are two more distant sights which can be linked up in a walk from the centre of Varenna. Along the lake, past Villa Monastero, is a hamlet called Fiumelatte which is notable for a stream of the same name, meaning ‘Milk-river’, which gushes white and is said to be the ‘shortest river in Italy’ (although since another river, near Malcesine on Lake Garda, claims to be the shortest in the world there may be some argument). The stream dries up in winter months.


An inland route leads back to the castle which has watched over Varenna for centuries, the Castello di Vezio. This medieval fortress now hosts falconry displays and other events. It’s a quick but steep descent back down into Varenna.

Varenna is an old settlement, and legend says that it was founded (or expanded) by twelfth-century evacuees from Lake Como’s island, the Isola Comacina, fleeing from the destruction of their homes. In the summer the village puts on a special commemorative event with local foods, a historical re-enactment and a firework display.

Villa Monastero

Villa Monastero, Varenna

Villa Monastero is a fairly small villa, now used for conferences, with a long thin garden along the lake shore. If possible during your visit, it is worth paying extra to see around the villa on the days when the building is open. The décor includes some grand and some rather eccentric touches, including an impressive sunken bath, stylish nineteenth-century wallpaper and majolica portraits of notable Germans, commissioned by a German owner of the house. The garden is the main attraction of Villa Monastero, though, and it is a memorable sight. The position between the lake and the road means that the garden is extremely long and thin, stretching along as far as an ornate little summer pavilion which must have been created as a remote refuge from the villa. The garden has several different sections, including the grand landing stage, a formal terrace, sculpture-ornamented promenades and a collection of citrus trees. There are benches to sit on to admire the view, while hard-working gardeners are busy with hoses keeping flowers alive even in the hottest months. Details of opening times, along with descriptions of the villa’s rooms and furnishings, can be found on the Villa Monastero website (see links panel).

Around Varenna

Varenna is located on the shore of the central part of Lake Como, and it is easily combined with visits to some of the other principal resorts and sights: urbane Bellagio, cheerful Menaggio and the gardens of Villa Carlotta at Tremezzo and Villa Balbianello at Lenno. Lecco, at the end of the eastern branch of the lake, is reachable by train.

Varenna travel and transport

Varenna, seen from the waters of Lake ComoRegional trains run from Varenna to Milan’s Stazione Centrale approximately every two hours, taking an hour and costing just over €5. The railway station in Varenna is a short uphill walk from the ferry stops, following the signpost to the left as you leave the boat.

The town is connected to the other lake resorts by passenger ferries, and there is also a car ferry crossing to Bellagio, on the central promontory and Menaggio on the far shore of Lake Como.

Varenna accommodation

There are some good places to stay in Varenna, including Hotel Royal Victoria and Hotel Villa Cipressi which have their own lakeside gardens (the Royal Victoria also has a little swimming pool), and the conveniently-located Hotel Olivedo, close to the ferry jetty. Some of the best views are from the Albergo Eremo Gaudio, uphill overlooking the lake and town. There are a number of self-catering options too, if you fancy a more independent stay – which may especially suit families with children or couples seeking a quiet romantic break.
> Varenna hotels, B&Bs and apartments

Useful external links

Varenna hotels

Ferries on Lake Como

Italy car hire

Castello di Vezio

Villa Monastero