In this post, we're going to show you how you can put together your own 7 day Lake Como itinerary, based on our own 7 day trip in the region.
In this 7 day trip, we're going to visit Milan, Como, Argegno, Menaggio, Varenna and Bergamo, and we're even going to squeeze in a quick visit to Lugano, just across the Swiss border.
Throughout the post, we've included plenty of links to tools and resources to make your trip a reality. We've also included links to our other separate posts on our trip to Italy which go into much more detail about each element of this Lombardy itinerary.
Without further delay, let's embark on our Italian adventure.
Day 1: Arrival in Milan
We arrived at Orio al Serio International Airport (sometimes referred to as 'Bergamo Airport') in the afternoon. If you've not booked your flights, go to Skyscanner* to find the best fares.
If you're already in Italy you're in a neighbouring country, you might find travelling my train is the best option in terms of price, journey time and sustainability. Go to Trainline* to see all of the options and fares.
Onward travel from Bergamo Airport to Milan city centre is best by bus and is very easy and inexpensive.
How to get to Milan city centre by bus
Three bus companies run frequent, direct non-stop services to Milan Central railway station. They are Terravision, Orioshuttle & Autostradale.
Each company is highly rated, run modern air-conditioned coaches and cost just €5 per person each way. You can buy tickets from the ticket office windows in the arrivals area of the airport or you can buy your tickets in advance online*.
If you can’t decide which company to travel with, we have a great tip for you. Above the ticket windows is a screen displaying all of the forthcoming departures for each of the three bus companies. If you’re ready to leave, simply travel with the company running the next departure. We were planning to travel with Terravision since we’re more familiar with their brand, but ended up travelling with Autostradale at the last minute since they were departing from the airport first.
Once you've made it into the city centre, head to your accommodation. We chose a spacious, fully-equipped apartment in Milan's Simonetta neighbourhood, but there are an endless number of options to suit any budget throughout the city. Go to Tripadvisor* to see the options and to find the best prices.
Keen to get into the spirit of our new surroundings, we had dinner at a nearby restaurant and enjoyed freshly-made stone-baked pizza followed by homemade tiramisu. We recommend using TripAdvisor* to find a local, independent restaurant in the neighbourhood you're staying in.
If you've arrived into Milan earlier in the day and have some extra time to spend, wander the city centre and simply soak in the atmosphere. Stop now and again for a coffee at cafes you like the look of.
Day 2: Duomo di Milano
Start the day as early as you can so that you can enjoy as much of Milan as possible. Catch a tram or bus to the city centre. We alighted at Via Orefici P.za Cordusio tram stop (lines 2, 12, 14, 16, 19).
How to buy tickets for Milan's Buses, Trams and Metro
During our visit, buying bus and tram tickets in Milan was a nuisance. Our only option was to buy paper tickets at a bar, tobacconist or newspaper stand. While this is still an option, you can now avoid the hassle and buy your tickets using the official ATM Milano mobile app.
Breakfast or brunch like an Italian with a coffee and an accompanying pastry. You'll find little cafes all over the place, so find one that takes your fancy.
Visit the Cathedral
Make your way to the cathedral (Duomo di Milano). You'll want to get there as early as you can, as the cathedral is very popular and very long queues can form.
Accessing the Cathedral can be rather confusing at first. You'll probably see two queues, one by the entrance of the cathedral and another by a ticket office. Those without a ticket or those with a voucher for a ticket need to queue at the ticket office first. Then, you join the second queue, where you'll go through security checks before going inside.
Skip the queue at Duomo di Milano
You can significantly reduce the length of time you'll be spending in a queue by pre-purchasing your tickets in advance online. This option on GetYourGuide* appears to be flexible, certified, good value and offers free cancellation. Reviewers seem very happy and some state they turned up later than their entry time and were still able to get into both the Duomo and the rooftop terraces without any problems.
There are a variety of options on GetYourGuide* with most offering some form of guided tour. Unless you're really keen to learn about the history of the cathedral, we'd recommend skipping the tours and exploring the cathedral on your own using the ticket option previously mentioned*.
Once you're inside, be sure to explore as much of the site as your ticket allows. If you're pushed for time, head for the rooftop first as you may need to queue again for the lift or the stairs (the wait is much longer for the lift). For us, the rooftop terraces were the most enjoyable part of the visit. Being able to scramble across the roof tiles was a really unique experience and the views of Milan from the rooftop were marvellous.
At lunchtime, you should head away from the Cathedral area as prices will be considerably higher. Head down smaller side streets where you'll be a large selection of cafes and bistros serving ordinary Italians on their lunch breaks.
After lunch, you can explore central Milan as you wish. Here are some suggestions based on what we did:
- Santa Maria presso San Satiro (Save on Google Maps) is a small neighbourhood church a short walk away from the cathedral. Like much of Italy, Milan is full of small churches, but this one in particular stood out for us. Firstly, the ceiling frescoes are very impressive, particular those that depict fake arches that give the impression the church is larger than it actually is. Secondly, some sections of the church are ingeniously lit by coin-operated switches - we love this idea and gave us a great opportunity to donate to the church which is otherwise free to visit.
- Across from the cathedral, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (Save to Google Maps) is a recognisable high-end shopping mall with impressive architecture. In the centre of the mall is a mosaic of a bull which allegedly casts good luck upon anyone who cares to spin in a circle on their heel at the point where its testicles should be. So many have done this now that the area where the bull's balls should be is now a sizeable divot. It's one of those weird things that tourists do without really knowing why they're doing it.
- It barely needs to be said, but get some gelato. It's the best in the world.
- Pop on a tram and head for Sempione Park (Save on Google Maps). Here you'll see the Arco della Pace, an impressive triumphal arch dedicated to peace and the 15th century Castello Sforzesco (Save on Google Maps) which houses various art galleries and museums. We visited this area at around 5pm, so we got to see locals heading home from work and enjoying the park with friends and family. It felt really authentic and not touristy at all. If you're lucky, you can join in with one of the free public meditation sessions that occasionally take place in front of the arch. While you're here, have dinner at one of the many restaurants that are in the area (see Tripadvisor for suggestions*).
Day 3: Heading from Milan to Lake Como
It's time to leave Milan and head for Lake Como. The easiest way of making the journey is by taking the train.
Get the train to Como
Milan is served by 23 railway stations and Como is served by 3 stations. There are therefore multiple services and routes you could take to get between the two. Which train you choose will depend entirely on where you're starting from in Milan and where you want to end up.
As a guide, we started our journey at Milano Domodossola station and 1 hour later, we arrived at Como Lago station. We bought our tickets (which were really cheap) just before travel at the station, but if you prefer to buy your tickets in advance, you can do so on Trainline*.
Even if you don't intend on booking your train tickets in advance, Trainline is a useful tool for sifting through the various options and fares before you set out.
Upon arrival in Como, spend some time exploring the town and ensure you avail yourself of the various lakeside dining options before the next part of the journey.
Catch the bus to Argegno
We elected to stay in the small village of Argegno which is located around a third of the way up Lake Como's western shoreline. We heartily encourage you to consider Argegno as a base for your further explorations around Lake Como.
To get to Argegno, you'll need to catch a bus (operated by ASF Autolinee) from Como's main bus station adjacent to Como Lago railway station.
Brace yourself! The bus station can be incredibly busy and somewhat chaotic. Staff at the ticket office are abrupt but will answer any questions you have and will of course sell you tickets and tell you where to go to catch the bus. When the bus arrives, don't expect anyone to queue for it and expect the bus itself to be full to bursting, especially at peak times.
The ASF Autolinee website has some useful information, though it's a bit clunky. We found it was better to let the browser automatically translate the website into English rather than relying on the English option that the company provides. The website encourages the use of an app to buy e-tickets, but it doesn't look like it'll work for non-Italians. Do let us know though if you manage to get it working.
Please note: If you arrive by train into Como via Como S. Giovanni station, we would recommend walking along the shore to the main bus station to catch the bus to Argegno. This is for multiple reasons:
- You can't buy bus tickets at Como S. Giovanni station
- There's nobody to ask any questions you might have
- The bus is likely to be already full by the time it reaches you, particularly in peak time. If the bus is full, you may not even see it pull into the station.
Enjoy the Italian Authenticity
Thankfully, the stress of taking the bus from Como to Argegno will all be worth it. Argegno is a beautiful and authentically Italian village that enjoys relative obscurity and a much less touristy vibe compared to nearby resort towns. You'll love spending time here.
Argegno has a small number of high quality hotels (see on Tripadvisor*) and other accommodation options. We were lucky enough to find some availability at Villa Emma*, easily the best (and most museum-like) Airbnb we've ever stayed in.
Argegno sports a small number of restaurants (explore the options on Tripadvisor*), mostly catering to the high-end market. We decided to eat out on our first evening at La Posteria (Save on Google Maps) whose food and setting were perfect.
After your meal, we recommend following the narrow cobbled lanes uphill where you'll find impressive views of Lake Como at dusk.
Day 4: Exploring Pigra & Villa Carlotta
Pigra is a small village that lies 881 metres (2,890 ft) above sea level and is located above Argegno. Visitors can access Pigra by one of the few cable cars that surround Lake Como.
The journey up to Pigra takes just five minutes and costs €3.90 return.
There are two main reasons for visiting Pigra. The first is the view of Lake Como. There are splendid views to enjoy from various places in the village, but arguably the best view is from the designated viewpoint. Follow the signs to the viewpoint ('belvedere') from the upper cable car station. The walk itself goes through woodland and is very pleasant.
Afterwards, you can enjoy the second reason to visit Pigra - the village itself. The local 'Friends of the Council Association' have helpfully made exploring Pigra very easy. Head into the historic village centre and look out for signs with 'Pigra da Scoprire' written on them. This is a guided walk that takes in all of the village's main points of interest. You can find a map and more details on the association's website.
Once you've enjoyed Pigra, take the cable car back down the hill to Argegno and from there, head 15-20 minutes down the road to nearby Villa Carlotta, which is one of Lake's Como's main tourist attractions. We hitched a ride with our accommodation host, but you can always get there by bus or boat.
It's very easy to see why so many visitors head to Villa Carlotta - everything about it is beautiful. The villa itself, which was completed in 1745, today houses a museum and various exhibitions. Surrounding the villa are finely manicured botanical gardens with surprisingly varied zones. Every now and then, through the leafy trees and foliage, you'll be able to catch stunning views of the lake. Seriously, you'll never tire of these views!
Once you're done exploring the villa and gardens, walk northbound along the lakeside towards nearby Cadenabbia. Here, you can have a spot of dinner at one of the restaurants on the shore.
Getting back to Argegno
It's worthwhile thinking ahead about how you might be getting back to Argegno. Busses stop operating fairly early in the evening and boats to Argegno aren't as regular as they could be. We'd recommend checking timetables before you chose where to eat. We managed to fit in some dinner before catching the last boat back.
If you are taking the boat, bear in mind that the ticket office is only staffed shortly before a departure, so don't panic if you arrive early and find there's nobody there to sell you a ticket. Just wait by the window and someone will come over to help you eventually.
Day 5: Catching the Ferry to Menaggio & Varenna
It's day 5 of your trip to Lombardy and it's finally time to hop on some boats and explore Lake Como's headline tourist towns. The big three towns of Menaggio, Varenna and Bellagio are all across the water from one another at a point in the lake where it splits into two separate channels. It's common to visit all three towns during a visit to Lake Como, as each offers something slightly different from the other.
In particular, Menaggio is the best connected of the three towns and mixes pretty lakeside Italy with modern Italy. Varenna is the smallest of the three and offers beautiful lakeside architecture and quaint cobbled lanes. Finally, Bellagio is the glitziest of the three with a focus on high-end leisure and draws the largest number of tourists.
It's up to you how you visit the three towns and if indeed you choose to visit all three in one day. A combination of boat timetable difficulties, a natural avoidance of busy tourist towns and a reluctance to squeeze too much into one day meant that we decided to only visit Menaggio and Varenna.
Since Argegno doesn't get as many boats stopping to drop off and pick up passengers as other towns on the lake, today's touring will require some advanced planning. Study those timetables carefully and plan out your whole day, paying particularly close attention to the boat that'll take you back to Argegno in the late afternoon-evening.
We'll leave it up to you to decide how you tour the big three (or, if you're following our lead, the big two). We largely winged it and simply wandered about aimlessly, popping into cafes, bars and ice cream places whenever we fancied something to eat or drink.
Day 6: Crossing the Border to Lugano, Switzerland
Argegno is really close to Lugano in Switzerland. Since you're so close to the border and it's so easy to get across, it would be a shame not to pop over and check it out.
Getting to Lugano from Argegno
To get to Lugano from Argegno, you'll first need to get to Como. You can do this by boat or you can catch the bus. We caught the bus as it's quicker than the boat and there are more frequent services.
Once you're in Como, head for the Como S.Giovanni railway station to the west of the city centre. Here, you'll find frequent cross-border train services that'll get you to Como in around 40 minutes.
Tickets can be purchased right before travel from the station, but you might find it more convenient to buy in advance, particularly as the busses around Lake Como can sometimes be unreliable and/or late. Head to Trainline* to search for train services and to find the best fare.
Another option is to take a bus across the border. Some local busses from Menaggio head to Switzerland, though services are infrequent. You can also take a coach from Como to Lugano*, though we'd only encourage this option if you're travelling on a budget.
Please note: You probably won't need your passport, but it's a good idea to take it with you, just in case there are random or heightened immigration checks.
Lugano is a beautiful city with wonderful parks and gorgeous architecture. Its setting, on the shores of Lake Lugano and surrounded by mountain peaks is awe-inspiring. You could happily spend a day just wandering about and enjoying the views, but there's also plenty to see and do.
We have another post that details our day in Lugano. Click below to find out what we got up to.
Depending on your budget, you can enjoy an evening meal in Lugano or you can head back to Italy sooner. We were rather taken aback by how expensive food was in Switzerland (considerably so), so we decided to go back and eat in Argegno.
For our meal, we ate al fresco at Ristorante la Piazzetta* on Piazza Roma. The food was outstanding and the atmosphere was calm and peaceful. After your main course, head across the square to Gelato Di Zoe* for a huge scoop of gelato nestled inside a freshly-baked brioche bun.
You'll want to burn off some calories after your ice cream, so spend the rest of the evening exploring Argegno's lanes and hills for one last time.
Day 7: Flying Visit to Bergamo
It's our final day in Italy and it's time to say a fond farewell to Argegno.
If you have time, be sure to have one final walk around Argegno. We enjoyed a quick visit to the village church, Parrocchia Santissima Trinità, before having a light breakfast at Il Porto*, a bar and cafe right on the water's edge.
Time for one last excursion
When you're ready, take the bus back to Como. From here, you can take the train or bus to Milan or one of Milan's airports to get your flight home. If though, like us, you have an evening flight, you have time to squeeze one last excursion in. In this case, take a train from Como direct to the city of Bergamo.
Bergamo is perfectly set up for quick visits. The train station is in the centre of the city, and the tourism office and luggage lockers are just across the square from the station. Staff at the tourism office are accustomed to helping tourists who are quickly passing through and they'll help you catch a bus to the Old Town where most of the Bergamo's charm hides.
We've written a whole other article about our flying visit to Bergamo which we'd encourage you to read.
Timing is key as you'll want to allow plenty to ensure you catch your flight home. Our return flight was from Orio al Serio International Airport (Bergamo Airport) and getting there from Bergamo itself is as simple as heading back towards the railway station and catching a direct airport bus from there.
We really hope you found our Lombardy 7 Day Itinerary useful and that you are able utilise our advice to build your own trip to the region. If you have any further questions that weren't covered in this post, do let us know and we'll do our best to hep you out.