Lake Garda is a beautiful destination for all types of traveller. Adventurers, explorers, foodies and families will all find plenty to see and do. This guide pulls together the most unmissable places to visit in Lake Garda, ensuring you can make the most of your time here.
The largest of the Italian lakes and the third largest in the whole Alps region, Lake Garda provides a huge range of activities and experiences. It is one of those places you could keep returning to and always find somewhere new to explore. Therefore choosing exactly which places to visit in Lake Garda can be difficult. North of the lake enjoys stunning scenery and water sports, with plenty of outdoor pursuits. South of lake offers more mediterranean weather with warmer days and great beach areas.
I’d recommend visiting no more than one or two towns each day. If you have the gift of time, spending a few days in each place is ideal. This can be done as a round trip or you could base yourself from one place and discover the lake (and perhaps beyond) from there.
There’s plenty of accommodation choices available around the lake. Most towns offer a range of B&B’s, hotels and self catering accommodation options to suit all budgets. This means you can easily tailor your itinerary and experience more than one of the great places to visit in Lake Garda.
So where should you go during your visit? Here’s our guide on the best places to visit in Lake Garda…
Great places to visit in Lake Garda
1. RIVA DEL GARDA
Riva Del Garda (known locally as Riva) is one of our favourite places to visit in Lake Garda.
This picturesque old town at the very northern tip of the lake offers stunning mountainous scenery. On a clear day, if you stand at the harbour you can see down to the bottom of the lake – bellisimo!
If you love adventure, Riva is the place for you. Aside from the plethora of cycling and hiking activities on offer, water sports are not to be missed. Due to its windy climate, Riva is one of the best places in Italy for wind and surf sports.
When visiting Riva, make sure you don’t miss…
- Sabionni Beach – great for a few hours down time and the perfect spot to take a dip and cool off in summer.
- Valle di Ledro – located just a few kms from Riva, this is an extraordinary area of natural beauty. Great for hiking and cycling of all abilities, it’s a wonderful spot for getting close to nature.
- The Bastione – it’s a bit of a hike up but the views from this 16th century tower are amazing!
- (World Class!) Watersports – Even if you’ve not done it before – you can easily book lessons to learn how to sail, surf or paddle in one of the in one of the best surfing spots in Italy. Surf Segnana is very highly regarded.
2. MALCESINE (AND MOUNT BALDO)
Mount Baldo and Malcesine are unmissable places to visit in Lake Garda. Malcesine (pronounced MAL-CHES-INAY) is the jewel in Lake Garda’s crown. It is a beautiful picturesque medieval town in the north of the lake. Its maze of cobbled streets sit on the the edge of the blue waters of the lake, in the shadow of Monte Baldo – the largest mountain in the Lake Garda region.
The towns most striking feature is its historical castle, Castello Scaligero. Dating back to 568AD, the fortress sits proudly on the edge of the lake. The town also has a pretty old port lined with cafes, restaurants, boutique stores and gelato eateries.
A short walk from the town centre is the cable car station to travel up to Monte Baldo. The 360° rotation cable cars transport visitors to an altitude of 1800 meters in just a few minutes. Monte Baldo offers a huge range of outdoor pursuits – including hiking, cycling and paragliding. In the winter, Mount Baldo offers a range of winters sports including skiing, snowboarding and mountaineering.
When visiting Malcesine, make sure you don’t miss…
- Castello Scaligero – Visit the onsite museum, climb the bell tower and maybe, if you’re lucky, watch a Malcesine castle wedding ceremony taking place.
- Captain’s Palace – Historical building with beautiful courtyard garden overlooking the lake.
- Monte Baldo – board the cable car and enjoy the picteresque panoramic lake and mountain views. Check out the timetables, rates and what’s on here.
- Lake cruise – take the short ferry over to Limone or book onto a lake cruise to see the lake and Monte Baldo from the water.
3. LIMONE SUL GARDA
Limone is home of Lemoncello on the lake!
The quaint historic fishing town is famous for its olive oil production and lemon groves, which grow up the mountainous hillside. It can get super busy here in the summer months so be prepared if using public transport.
Limone is also famous as the driving scene in the tunnels at the beginning of James Bond Casino Royale was filmed here on Gardesana Road. If you have access to a car, definitely drive the route. It’s beautiful.
When visiting Limone, make sure you don’t miss…
- Porto Vecchio – Visit the historic old port and follow the narrow lines around the town.
- Limonaia de Castè – This hilltop museum exhibits the towns famous lemon growing history and has lots of different citrus fruit growing here. Great views across the lake from here.
- Weekly Market – shop for lovely artisan produce and goods, every Tuesday 8am-1pm in the town.
Famous for its castle built into the water, Sirmione is one of the most picturesque places to visit in Lake Garda. It is situated at the top of a long peninsula on the southern shore of the lake.
The main attraction of the town is its beautiful 13th century castle fortress, Rocca Scaligera, and its ancient roman ruins, Grotte di Catullo.
Rocca Scaligera guards the only entrance to the old town and the castle is only accessible over a draw bridge. Around the old town, there is a signposted panoramic walk which enjoys amazing lake views throughout.
Grotte di Catullo is a grand, picturesque Roman villa archaeological site dating back to the first century AD. It is the largest domestic roman villa in northern Italy. Despite the name, there’s no evidence that the roman poet Catullus lived here although it is known that he had a home nearby.
Sirmione also has thermal baths which have been used for their healing properties as far back as Roman times. Today, you can enjoy a range of wellness and thermal experiences at the luxury spa resorts on the peninsula. The Aquaria Thermal Spa was awarded the “Best Thermal Resort” at the European Health and Spa awards 2018.
When visiting Sirmione, make sure you don’t miss…
- Gelato – Sirmione is famous for its plethora of gelato bars and unique flavours.
- Grotte di Catullo & Rocca Scaligera – For reasons stated above.
- Jamaica Beach – Enjoy the shallow warm waters on the huge, smooth limestone rocks. A lovely place to relax in the water. There is even a small ‘natural hot tub’. Note: Rocks can be slippy and there’s a ‘drop off’ into deep lake water at the very end so be careful, especially if with children.
Bardolino is one of the best-known towns in Lake Garda. The century old hillside vineyards surrounding the town make Bardolino famous world wide for its fine ‘Rosso’ (red) wine production.
Bardolino is a wine lovers paradise
Bardolino’s signature wine is the result of an expert blend of four different grapes. The Covina variety provides the body – and colour – of the wine. Molinara grapes create the fruity fragrance and Negrara grapes add freshness to the wine. Finally, the Rondinella grape produces the clean and crisp flavour.
As you’d expect, there are plenty of wine cellars to visit in Bardolino. Cantina Caorsa is the ultimate vineyard tour as the grapes grown here account for two thirds of the wine made in Bardolino.
If visiting early October, the Festa dell’Uva must be on your list of places to visit in Lake Garda. This wine festival is the biggest of the year and includes outdoor concerts, food and wine stalls, guided taste tours, entertainment and a fireworks show. Whilst Festa dell’Uva is certainly the biggest, don’t worry if you’re not visiting Bardolino in October. There is also the Chiaretto Wine Festival in May and the Novello Wine Festival in November.
There’s plenty to enjoy in Bardolino beyond the wine!
Even if you aren’t a wine lover, there is still plenty to love about Bardolino.
The old town is a great place for shopping and eating and is widely used by Italians. Every Thursday morning, you can buy fresh artisan produce at the weekly farmer’s market. Its a great place to get your hands on some inexpensive fresh produce like olive oil.
Bardolino has some fantastic beach areas. A few minutes’ from the centre of Bardolino is Lido Cisano. This unconventional ‘beach’ area is made from grass and rocks but is a great place to relax and even has a playground for children. Lido Mirabella is another gorgeous spot. Even though it’s a private beach, anyone can use it for a small fee. Included in the cost is the hire of sun beds and umbrellas. Finally, there is Punta Lido Cornicello. Whilst it is the smallest, this pebble beach has its own bar, restaurant, and boat rental centre – enough to keep you entertained for a good few hours.
When visiting Bardolino, make sure you don’t miss…
- Pieve di San Zeno – 9th century miniature church with original painting in places provides an interesting insight into early Christian worship in the region
- Museo del Vino – explore how wine is made in Bardolino. A full grape to bottle experience!
- Museo dell’Olio d’Oliva – learn all about olive oil production around Lake Garda. The on-site shop sells some beautiful olive tree products.
If you’re looking for somewhere lively with great nightlife, head to Desenzano.
This little spot is popular with locals and holidaying Italians. It has a lively nightlife scene and is the party town of the lake – people come from all over Italy to hit the clubs here. Just a short distance from Sirmione, it also enjoys the hottest climate on the lake during summer months.
Desenazo is the only town in Lake Garda which has a train station. From here, you can be in Venice in 90 minutes or Milan in 52 minutes! This makes day trips to these cities more that achievable.
When visiting Desenzano, make sure you don’t miss…
- Villa Romana – The remains of an ancient roman villa, which dates back as far as the end of the 1st century BC. The floor mosaics are pretty amazing!
- Eating Piadina – Desenzano is famous for Piadineria – thin, delicious Italian flatbreads filled with savoury or sweet fillings. This northern Italian ‘street food’ is not to be missed.
- Explore Beyond the Lake – excellent train links to other nearby cities make discovering beyond the lake easy
More places to visit in Lake Garda if you have time
Like I said, there’s a lot of places to visit in Lake Garda! The town listed below haven’t quite made our top six list but are still lovely to visit. If you plan on visiting Gardaland, Peschiera del Garda and Lazise are very closeby.
North of the lake:
South of the lake:
- Gardone Riviera
- Peschiera del Garda
Getting around Lake Garda
Getting around the lake is best by car, bus or ferry. Whilst the lake is only a 158km round circuit, the roads are narrow and in summer months can be really congested. The ferry routes typically ‘zig-zag’ across the lake. Therefore, is sometimes a quicker mode of transport. That said, driving around the lake is definitely worth it if you have the time. Public transport is usually frequent and reliable. A visit to the towns local tourist information centre will give you the latest ferry and bus timetables.
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