The Italian lakes district lies roughly 175 miles (281 km) north of Florence, with Milan serving as the main gateway to the region’s famed natural beauty. High-speed rail connections and direct driving routes mean the area is straightforward to reach, with the three main lakes of Como, Maggiore, and Garda within three hours by train.
With no direct flights between Florence and Milan, the train is the simplest and fastest way to make the journey. High-speed trains connect Florence and Milan in under two hours, and from there, regional lines head toward Como (35 minutes), Lecco (40 minutes), Varese (65 minutes), and Stresa (55 minutes).
Another option is to combine the train with private transport; while the duration is similar, reaching Como in just over half an hour, it allows for door-to-door service from Milan’s Centrale station to your destination, as well as a knowledgeable guide to the area.
The journey by car from Florence is fairly simple, taking four to five hours to reach most of the popular bases around the main lakes. The usual caveats of avoiding city traffic and restricted ZTL zones apply, but the routes are well-marked and mainly consist of highway driving. While a rental car is unnecessary to enjoy much of Como and Maggiore, it does afford the freedom to visit further locations around the larger Lake Garda, or the smaller, more remote lakes of Iseo and Orta.
After arriving at your base in the lakes district, ferries are the best way of exploring the area and connecting to further destinations like Lake Como’s picturesque Bellagio and Lake Maggiore’s Borromeo Islands. Read more about the regions' charms with our Ultimate Guide to the Italian Lakes, or start planning your trip with an eight or fifteen-day recommended itinerary.
The fastest way to reach the Italian lakes is by train. Trenitalia and ItaloTreno offer multiple daily, high-speed direct lines that leave from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station and arrive at Milan Centrale in under 2 hours. From there, a mix of Italian and Swiss regional trains leave for towns along the shores of Como and Maggiore.
On the eastern branch of Lake Como, Lecco and Varenna are reached in under an hour. To the west, trains run towards Como San Giovanni (40 minutes) or further west towards Lake Maggiore, reaching Varese and Stresa in about an hour.
If the far eastern Lake Garda is your main destination, Verona is a quicker connection than Milan. Frecce trains reach the city’s Porto Nuova station from Florence’s Campo Marte in under 1.5 hours, and from there it’s a 30-minute taxi or bus ride to Sirmione at the lake’s southern shore.
Most stations along the lakes are a 10 to 15-minute walk from the center and the waterfront, where ferries connect with the towns and sights along the shore.
By Train and Private Transfer
Duration: 3 hours
If budget isn’t an issue, consider combining the train journey to Milan with a private transfer to the lakes. After the 2-hour train ride from Florence, travelers can arrange for pick up at Milan Centrale, being driven in comfort for the rest of the trip. The popular bases of Como, Lecco, and Varese are all around an hour's drive. Services range from direct door-to-door drop-off, or a wider itinerary or tour of the area.
By Rental Car
Duration: 4 to 5 hours
Renting a car in Florence and driving north is an option for those who want to have more flexibility and freedom in their itinerary. While the drive is a relatively simple one, taking about 4 hours to reach the southern shores of Como, the hassles of driving in Florence and parking and navigating in the small lake towns means the train is a better choice for most travelers.
There are multiple routes north depending on the destination, but the majority of the journey is on the A1/E35 which skirts Bologna before heading north towards Milan. On the outskirts of Milan, follow the A9/E35 to head northwest towards Como, or the A51/SS36 to travel northeast to Lecco and Varenna.
The fastest route to Lake Garda is to head north on the A1/E35 then take the E45/A22 towards Verona.
Parking in the lakeside town is easiest in paid public lots and garages. Be aware of ZTL restrictions in the downtown and historic centers of towns and cities, which restrict driving at certain dates and times. When leaving Florence, it’s easiest to rent a car from the airport (Florence Peretola), which allows drivers to avoid the inner city, and connect quickly with the autostrada.