A trip to discover Italy’s largest lake! Here are the top 10 things to do in Lake Garda and more.
Garda means “place of observation” and with this definition everything becomes clear and obvious. Here it is essential to open your eyes wide and be ready for the countless beauties that this destination has to offer and that I will tell you about between these lines.
Its landscapes have inspired poets of all times, from Virgil to Dante, from Gabriele D’Annunzio to Goethe, who was captivated by the Italian spirit of this centre of gravity. Its immense scenic richness and mild climate are the result of the diversity of the regions that embrace it: Veneto, Lombardy and Trentino Alto Adige. The inhabitants of the charming villages on the various promontories or “horns” call it “Benaco”, which derives from the Celtic word “Bennacus” and means horned.
Cradle of numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the rock engravings in Upper Garda or the Grottoes of Catullus in Sirmione, Lake Garda has been guarded over time by fortresses that today appear to us as romantic castles and create, together with the natural landscape, real postcards!
The area south of the lake, between Verona and Brescia, is characterised by moraine hills dating back to the various glaciations that have occurred over time. They are fundamental for the composition of the soil, which today is the substratum of luxuriant Mediterranean vegetation with olive trees, vineyards and citrus groves.
The countless human activities around the lake make it an extremely lively attraction, suitable for all types of travellers. After an escalation of places to visit, starting from the south shore we will tour the lake together, stopping at the most picturesque villages and then delving into everything there is to do in this magnificent location. Are you ready? 😉
The most beautiful places to visit in Lake Garda
If you want to visit Lake Garda in its entirety, it would take at the very least a week. It is the perfect destination for those who are in the nearby area and want to spend an alternative Sunday, or to spend short weekends combining sport and relaxation. Ideally, one should stay for 3-4 days and enjoy a different part of the lake from time to time.
1. The Veronese shore
PESCHIERA DEL GARDA
Starting from the southernmost part of the lake, the fortress town of Peschiera del Garda, a World Heritage Site, is bathed by the waters of the River Mincio. The historical centre is a pentagon, at the corners of which bastions dating back to the 1500s enclose monuments, parks and sunny squares (the main one being Piazza d’Armi).
There is no shortage of bridges and canals through which you can move from one side of the town to the other, such as the Canale di Mezzo and Ponte dei Voltoni, a belvedere offering a panoramic view over the island of Terrai. The culture of the lake can be discovered at the Museum of Fishing and Lacustrian Traditions, and the past dominion of the Serenissima has its echoes in the gondolas you will see moored in the small port.
Further up, Lazise offers a stupendous panorama thanks to the Scaliger Castle visible from the lake. Here you must take a stroll along the Promenade overlooking the small harbour (Darsena), where the Old Customs House and the War Memorial stand, immediately after the Romanesque Church of San Nicolò. You can continue along the Lungolago Marconi to the statue of the Little Mermaid on the lake.
Continuing northwards, in busy Bardolino, tourists are greeted at the entrance to the town by the Romanesque Church of San Severo. The streets are lined with bars and shops, and in addition to the lakeside promenade, a pit stop at Punta Cornicello beach is a must (there is also a Ferris wheel nearby).
Before arriving in Garda, there are some panoramic viewpoints near La Rocca di Garda, among the remains of medieval fortifications and caves. At the foot of Monte San Giorgio, you can visit the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. In the historical centre of the town that gave its name to the lake, Piazza Calderini is dominated by the Clock Tower, beyond which you enter Corso Vittorio Emanuele, among narrow streets and colourful houses that lead to Palazzo Fregoso. Behind the Porticciolo, the main Piazza Catullo teems with locals and people.
PUNTA SAN VIGILIO
Skirting the lake, from the Pincherle lakeside, you arrive at Punta San Vigilio. On this small peninsula, the beach is free and the waters crystal clear: a corner of paradise where the gaze turns to lemon groves, small churches and historic buildings now used as restaurants, such as Villa San Vigilio and its Belvedere Romano park. At the opposite end from the marina, the Baia delle Sirene beach is a small oasis of relaxation surrounded by olive trees. For a view from above, Monte Luppia and the Punta San Vigilio viewpoint are not to be missed!
TORRI DEL BENACO
In Torri del Benaco, the atmosphere is less chaotic than in the other villages. The boats in the small harbour guard the 10th-century Scaliger Castle, which today houses a lemon grove with trees up to 10 metres high. From Crero or from Pai you can venture to the Tibetan bridge or, for the younger ones, in San Zeno di Montagna, fun in nature is guaranteed at the Jungle Adventure Park.
Continuing upwards, on the slopes of Monte Baldo, the village of Malcesine, a lively town whose Scaliger Castle overlooks the lake, reflects on the lake. Arriving by ferry, the view is wonderful. The small harbour where the “ganzarina”, i.e. the Captain’s boat, used to land is now the crossroads of the Limone-Malcesine line. The Palazzo dei Capitani is located there and can be visited. And for a day out in costume, the Val di Sogno beach, with a view of the islet, is the ideal way to round off a trip to Lake Garda.
2. The Trentino shore
From every vantage point on this shore, posing like Caspar David’s “The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog”, an expanse of blue surrounded by mighty peaks will open up to you. The scenery here is enchanting, and the border with the Veneto region is marked by the Busatte-Tempesta path. But in nearby Nago-Torbole a path leads to the Marmitte dei Giganti, where there are glacial pits and rock formations.
Torbole is a small village, where the Austrian customs house overlooking the lake creates a picturesque landscape. It is an attractive destination for sportsmen and sailing enthusiasts. Between Torbole and Riva del Garda there is a small hamlet called Linfano, connected to Riva del Garda by a path that starts from the beach of Arco and passes by Forte Garda, a vantage point rich in the most recent war history of Italy.
RIVA DEL GARDA
This path leads to the northernmost part of the lake, to Riva del Garda. It is one of the most important destinations on the lake, also rich in small beaches and viewpoints, including Forte San Nicolò. Its colourful old town stretches along the coast: arriving by boat at Piazza Catena, the statue of San Giovanni Nepomuceno looks proudly up at the Apponale Tower (a good 34 metres high). The Alto Garda Museum is also a point of interest, in addition to the small beaches and the lakeside promenade.
3. The Brescian shore
LIMONE SUL GARDA
The first stop is Limone sul Garda, whose name evokes the traditional cultivation of citrus fruits (a visit to the Limonaia del Castèl is a must). Among the ups and downs of the historic centre, one comes across natural streams (the Torrente San Giovanni), ancient churches such as San Benedetto and San Rocco, and of course, the Lungolago Marconi, which offers peaceful walks. Not to be missed is the Limone pedestrian cycle path. From Piazzale De Gasperi, it runs along the overhanging lake, passing through nature reserves.
Descending, the municipality of Tremosine gathers no less than 18 tiny villages: the most visited is certainly Pieve di Tremosine with its Terrazza del Brivido (Thrill Terrace) overlooking the lake. Even more interesting is the route of the Strada della Forra (also known as the “strada dell’orrido” or gorge road), famous for the 100 miglia race. It is spectacular in its bends carved out of rocks and streams – and with a little diversions you can reach the waterfalls!
A little further south, you come across a small village, Gargnano. In the centre, the Limonaia La Malora is now an open-air museum. For a dive into the local past, not far away is Villa Bettoni, a museum with an imposing structure, beautiful both outside and inside.
A 20-minute drive takes you to Gardone Riviera, much loved by Gabriele D’Annunzio, who had the Vittoriale degli Italiani built there in 1921. Near this residence today is the lemon grove, rose garden, and La Prioria Museum, as well as the museum dedicated to the poet. Gardone is a combination of historic buildings and well-kept gardens, such as the splendid Botanical Garden that joins the two localities of Gardone di Sotto and Gardone di Sopra.
Further inland, the coastline arches into a gulf that frames the noble Salò. It is a historic town, once the economic capital of the area. Later this was the seat of some of the ministries of the Italian Social Republic, as evidenced by the Palazzo del Podestà and the Palazzo della Magnifica Patria. Once there, strolling along the lakefront, you can visit the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata.
SAN FELICE DEL BENACO AND ISLANDS
From Salò, the land stretches back towards the lake at Punta San Felice del Benaco. The clean waters take on brilliant colours as seen from the promontory of San Fermo, which overlooks Isola del Garda and the numerous rocks that surround it. The island is a small jewel and can be visited by boat, housing the Emerald Bay and a private garden attached to a majestic villa.
MANERBA DEL GARDA
Not far from there, in the adjacent basin, the Island of San Biagio (also known as “Isola dei Conigli”) and the islet of Santa Caterina are part of Manerba del Garda. Here you can take a circular route that passes Punta Sasso and leads to the cross on the Rocca di Manerba.
DESENZANO DEL GARDA
One of the largest towns on the south coast is Desenzano del Garda, a popular destination both for its nightlife and its many beaches. It is at the same time rich in history, as evidenced by the castle that dominates the town, the cathedral and the first polychrome mosaics found in the archaeological site of the Villa Romana.
To conclude this long escalation of the most beautiful places to visit in Lake Garda, we return to the southern side, along a “horn” that heads the lake. I am talking about Sirmione, a strip of land full of natural and artificial wonders. First and foremost, the fortified fortress of the Scaliger Castle, but also the archaeological site of the Grottoes of Catullus, close to the Jamaica beach – among the most beautiful on the lake. Famous for its salubrious waters, the outdoor and indoor spas make Sirmione the perfect destination for every type of visitor.
What to do on Lake Garda, between nature & entertainment
1. Beaches, Campsites and Spas
Among the most beautiful beaches on Lake Garda, starting from the Brescia area, there is the Spiaggia d’Oro beach in Desenzano and the Porto Portense beach (dedicated to four-legged friends), and then Lido Azzurro in Toscolano Maderno, with pebbles and sand. In Trentino, there is the Torbole beach and the Pini beach in Riva del Garda. There are also super-equipped facilities in Lazise, Peschiera del Grada and, of course, Sirmione, where the best known beach is “La Jamaica”.
Travelling the length and breadth of the lake can be an opportunity to treat yourself to an experience and, why not, do some sport! From romantic cruises to private motorboat hire. In the more windy areas such as Riva del Garda, Malcesine, Gargnano or Torbole, you can go windsurfing or sailing. On the Trentino side, fun is ensured by canyoning and its adrenalin-packed routes through icy waterfalls and winding torrents.
The lake is certainly an ideal place to camp: the surroundings are dotted with agricamping sites, especially in the south. There are some 130 superbly equipped facilities with air-conditioned mobile homes, fitness centres, outdoor pools, barbecue areas, restaurants and Wi-Fi.
For lovers of total relaxation, the lake offers several thermal centres, including the Villa dei Cedri Thermal Park in Lazise or the one in Bardolino. In Sirmione, thermal water springs from Monte Baldo and there are also open-air spas. In Trentino, the natural thermal baths of Comano or Riva del Garda guarantee relaxation at high altitude.
2. Religious Itineraries, Trekking, Panoramas and Amusement Parks
In the peaks surrounding the lake, many itineraries leading to places of worship also make for the most beautiful nature walks. One example is the Way of the Two Sanctuaries, which starts from the Lourdes grotto in Pieve di Chiampo and crosses seven valleys of the Venetian Pre-Alps to the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Corona, amidst the rocky ridges of Monte Baldo.
In Tignale, on a spur of rock stands the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Montecastello. It is said that here a star brought peace to the war between Trento and Brescia in 1200. Certainly, it is a privileged place to observe the firmament, and is one of the most evocative panoramic spots on the lake. You can imagine that it is not the only one…
In order not to miss the best views over Lake Garda, you can climb the surrounding mountains without any effort, thanks to the cable cars and chairlifts available. From Prà Alpesina, only in summer, the chairlift to Monte Baldo is open. You can also reach 1800 metres from Malcesine, aboard rotating cabins on the panoramic Malcesine-Monte Baldo cable car. If you prefer to walk, there are plenty of paths to the peaks that will take you to spectacular views such as Punta Telegrafo or Punta Veleno.
Bikers, on the other hand, cannot miss the Sarca cycle path from Torbole to Sarche along the river that flows into the lake from Trentino, through vineyards and apple orchards (about 30 km). The Ponale Road is also accessible by bicycle from Riva del Garda to Valle di Ledro: passing by the Ponale waterfalls, among paths immersed in greenery and wonderful views, you can make a diversion and reach the Regina Mundi statue. In Limone sul Garda, Europe’s most scenic suspended cycle path is under construction for a route that will in future circle the entire lake!
Those who enjoy trekking can take the 11 km panoramic Busatte-Tempesta trail to Monte Baldo through the Valle Santa Lucia. The more experienced, well-equipped and possibly well-trained hikers can opt for the route from Pregasina to Punta Larici, treading the mule tracks traced by soldiers during World War II and coming to embrace almost the entire lake with their gaze, as far as Sirmione.
An adrenalin rush is provided by paragliding: soaring in tandem over the blue waters of the lake is a memorable experience that you can have either in Malcesine or Toscolano Maderno.
There is no shortage of fun between water and theme parks: Gardaland is the best known and has extended the attractions by creating a Lego world in Legoland. In Lazise, Movieland park is the first amusement park in Italy dedicated to cinema. The naturalistic Pangea, for discovering dinosaurs, and the Caneva Aquapark are also nearby.
On gloomy or rainy days, you can take refuge in Medieval Times, among knights and ladies, or dive into the depths of the oceans at Sea life. Outdoors, there are many parks surrounded by greenery, such as Busatte Adventure in Trentino, or Flying Frogs and Rimbalzello Adventure in Brescia.
📚 If you love excursions, also read the article Things to do in Lake Garda: discover the sea on the plain
3. Food & wine
The lake’s food and wine heritage is immense, and you can best discover it by following the itineraries of the Wine and Food Trail. Thanks to these, you have the opportunity to get to know the area in its true essence that smells of grapes, flowers and citrus fruits.
Different types of regional cuisine meet in the lake bed, a reservoir of eels and carp, lake trout and tench celebrated in delicious risottos. Traditional Garda dishes are flavoured with the precious saffron of Desenzano del Garda, and as far as first courses are concerned, you cannot avoid trying the agnolin stuffed with braised meat, or the tortelli of Vialeggio sul Mincio, delicious both in broth and with butter.
The citrus fruit cultivation is famous, including bergamot, lemons and citrons (in Salò you can taste the original Tassoni citron liqueur), but also orchards, and in particular the cultivation of white and yellow-fleshed peaches typical of the Pescantina area. An obligatory mention goes to the Garda PDO extra virgin olive oil: you can observe the production process on a visit to the olive oil mills.
Fans of the wine glass can juggle real Italian excellences: Amarone della Valpolicella, Lugana, Marzemino, Custoza, Bardolino, Chiaretto! They are all to be tasted, perhaps during a day among the rows of the wineries that produce them, at grape harvest time or during a dinner in the vineyards.
Events not to be missed on Lake Garda
Let’s start with food and wine events: every week you can stock up on typical local foods at the farmers’ market held in Padenghe, San Benedetto di Lugana (Peschiera), Desenzano del Garda and Lonato del Garda.
In Bardolino, it is a long-standing tradition to celebrate the production of new wine with the “Grape and Wine Festival” (“Festa dell’uva e del vino”), an occasion for professionals to meet, participate in conferences, wine tastings and enjoy good music. For the more discerning noses, the historic Truffle Festival is held in Tignale between the last week of September and the first week of October, with tasting sessions led by Experts and specially prepared black truffle menus.
August is definitely the busiest month and, as far as music is concerned, the Trentino side organises the Garda Jazz Festival, with live concerts in the various villages and alternative proposals under the “Jazz Café” contest.
In Peschiera del Garda, the Palio delle Mura, a rowing competition on the waters of the Mincio, on typical Venetian boats, has been held for thirty years. And speaking of races, there is also room for of historic four-wheel enthusiasts. The 1000-mile race starts in Brescia, where you can see magnificent vintage cars parade from the lakefront of Desenzano del Garda to the Sirmione Castle. The Centomiglia is also the most famous freshwater regatta in Europe, which you can attend on the second Sunday in September!
At the end of the summer period, and often to mark the end of a wonderful holiday, every resort organises spectacular fireworks! In Riva del Garda they are crucial in the Notte di Fiaba, a magical themed event incorporating games, concerts, food and shows for all ages!
Finally, the vintage and antique markets in Solferino and Padenghe sul Garda are not to be missed. And at Christmas time, the lights are turned on in the picturesque villages, providing a unique atmosphere among the Christmas markets scented with cinnamon and mulled wine.
Be inspired by the surroundings of Lake Garda!
It is located north of Lake Garda. In Molina di Ledro you can visit the Pile-Dwelling Museum, which preserves historical artefacts found in the lake, as well as practise many sports including weakbord and paragliding. Strolling through the pine forest of Pur, you can be inspired by the eco-friendly works of the Land Art project.
Or blue lake, it is an oasis of peace in the heart of the Trentino mountains. There are no buildings around the lake and it is accessed on foot by a medieval staircase of 120 steps. The lake is open for swimming and from its waters springs the Varone Waterfall, which can be visited from the Parco Grotte del Varone. Continuing on foot from the lake, in about 20 minutes, you find yourself in one of the most beautiful villages in Italy: Canale di Tenno, an enchanted place where time seems to have stopped!
Of glacial origin, it has been awarded the blue flag. It is surrounded by greenery and, in its surroundings, trekking enthusiasts can take a private excursion along the Napoleonic route that leads to the Rocca d’Anfo. It belongs to the municipality of the same name and towers imposingly from above over the waters of this splendid lake.
VALEGGIO SUL MINCIO
It is made up of two parts, Valeggio and Borghetto. On the morainic hill overlooking the Mincio valley stands the Scaligero Castle, whose Rocca can also be visited. Not far from the castle, you can stroll through the flower-filled avenues at Villa Sigurtà Park, one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy. In the hamlet of Borghetto, the water mills and houses leaning towards the river are super characteristic.
PESCANTINA AND BUSSOLENGO
These are two municipalities separated by the Adige River. In Bussolengo the Parco Natura Viva organises summer centres and events for children. Local volunteers look after protected species.
Reaching Lake Garda is really easy
By plane: on the eastern side, the nearest airport is Valerio Catullo in Verona-Villafranca, or alternatively you can opt for Venice-Marco Polo, a little further away. In Lombardy, the Orio al Serio airport in Bergamo and those in Milan (Linate and Malpensa) are all well connected by shuttle services to the main railway stations, or by bus and taxi services.
By car and public transport: the railway network stops at many of the most popular tourist destinations, including Desenzano-Sirmione and Peschiera. Buses, on the other hand, also make stops in smaller towns. If you travel by car, the reference motorways are the Brenner motorway (A22), which runs parallel along the entire length of the lake, the E70, which cuts across the regions, and the state roads that run along the entire perimeter of the lake.
A certainly more pleasant way to get from one side of the lake to the other are ferries, boats and small ships. There are many routes, many boats stop at major lines such as Maderno-Torri or Malcesine-Limone. You can embark your car and cross the entire length of the lake, starting from Riva del Garda and arriving in Desenzano!
Now that you know the top things to do in Lake Garda and its surroundings, all you have to do is pack your rucksack and dive into the many activities in the area! Remember that, with Italia Delight, you can book tailor-made food and wine experiences and trips directly with Italy’s best Food Experts, food and tourism professionals. 🧳😍