Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy. With brightly colored towns, castles and Roman ruins, beaches and vineyards, amusement parks and historical sites, there is plenty here to keep you busy for days. The list of things to do in Lake Garda is long and we cover the top sights in this guide.
Table of Contents
An Overview of Lake Garda
This long, narrow lake is located in northern Italy. It spans three Italian provinces: Verona in the southeast, Brescia in the southwest, and Trentino in the north.
During the Quaternary Ice Age 1.5 million years ago, glaciers carved out Lake Garda. In the north, the lake is surrounded by mountains, as this part of the lake sits at the foot of the Alps. The southern area around Lake Garda is flatter and less dramatic and can be several degrees warmer than the northern end of the lake.
Small towns dot the shorelines of Lake Garda. It is possible to drive around the entire lake, so you can tour it by car and by boat. There are ferry services and private boats that can get you from point to point without ever needing a car.
The view of the northern end of Lake Garda from Riva del Garda.
Map of Things to Do on Lake Garda
How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
The list of things to do in Lake Garda is very long. We split the list up based on the province (Trentino, Verona, and Brescia).
Splitting things up this way works very well, particularly if you plan to spend several days in Lake Garda. You need about one day to explore each of these different regions. Later in this guide, I’ll provide a 3-day itinerary that covers the highlights of Lake Garda.
From Lake Garda, you can also take several day trips and we cover these later in this guide.
Best Things to Do in Lake Garda: Trentino
The northern end of Lake Garda sits in the Trentino province of Italy. On this end of Lake Garda, the mountains that surround the lake are the highest. This area is stunning, with its mountain cliffs that plunge into the lake and roads that cling to these cliffs.
Here are the best things to do in Lake Garda in the north.
Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda is a beautiful town that is located on the northern tip of Lake Garda. This is also one of our favorite places in all of Lake Garda.
Riva del Garda | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Riva del Garda | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
The historic city center is flat, small, easy to explore, and very picturesque. Colorful buildings line narrow alleyways and wide piazzas. Climb the medieval bell tower and walk through ancient city gates.
As for where to stay, you can take your pick from resorts with a pool, boutique hotels, or small hotels in the center of town.
Riva del Garda makes a great home base for exploring northern Lake Garda. You can also stay here for the duration of your visit, if you plan to spend several days at the lake.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: In our experience, Riva del Garda was much less crowded than Sirmione, which is on the southern end of Lake Garda. If you like the idea of avoiding the crowds, we recommend staying in Riva del Garda rather than Sirmione.
We have a guide to the best things to do in Riva del Garda, but here is a list of things not to miss while you are here:
- Climb Torre Apponale
- Visit the MAG – Museo Alto Garda
- Ride the funicular to Bastione de Riva
- Hike to Chapel Santa Barbara
- Walk or bike the Old Ponale Road
- Hike to the Top of Monte Brione
Visit Torbole and Go Windsurfing
During the summer months, an afternoon breeze blows from Lake Garda to Riva del Garda and Torbole, making this an excellent spot to go windsurfing.
If this sounds like something you would like to do, learn more on the Garda Trentino website.
Torbole | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Windsurfers on Lake Garda | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Arco and Torre di Arco
Arco is a small town that sits on the north end of Lake Garda. It is tucked away in the mountains, so it is not located right on the lake. This town is famous for its medieval tower, Torre di Arco, and the Arboretum, a botanical garden.
Parco Grotta Cascate Varone is a very small botanical garden with a series of waterfalls. The main thing to do here is to walk the short boardwalk trail into the grotto for a view of the Varone waterfall.
It’s a great summertime activity, because the grotto is cool and damp, and you will get a little wet from the spray of the waterfall.
However, it can also be extremely crowded during the summer months. We could not get a parking space. Tim dropped me off and circled the area while I visited the park. Once inside the park, I waited 20 minutes to see the waterfall. It’s an OK view, but not worth a 20-minute wait, in my opinion.
For the best experience, go early or late in the day, or be prepared for BIG crowds. If you can only go midday, I recommend skipping the waterfall and putting your time into something else. It is not worth the long wait in line in my opinion.
For pricing and hours of operation, visit the official website.
Villa Canale (Borgo Medioevale di Canale)
This was one of our favorite experiences in Lake Garda. This tiny medieval village is a hidden gem.
Located in the hills above Riva del Garda is a tiny medieval village called Villa Canale. Cobblestoned streets weave their way between the old stone buildings that are hundreds of years old.
Borgo Medioevale di Canale | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
It takes about 30 minutes to walk through town. It is a delight to stroll and fun to photograph. There are even some great viewpoints over Riva del Garda and Lake Garda. Learn more in our Guide to Riva del Garda.
For one of the best views of Lake Garda, hike to Punta Larici.
Punta Larici | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Punta Larici hike | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
This is a strenuous, somewhat dangerous hike. Trails run along cliff edges and it is a steep climb to final viewpoint. We only recommend it for those who are fit, have hiking experience, and do not have a fear of heights.
Get the full details on how to do this hike in our Guide to Riva del Garda.
Best Things to Do in Lake Garda: Verona
The eastern side of Lake Garda, with the exception of the small northern portion, sits in the Verona province. Here are the best things to do along the eastern side of Lake Garda.
Malcesine is another must-visit town on Lake Garda. This compact, colorful town is a delight to walk through, with its narrow lanes, excellent shopping, and cafes and restaurants.
Malcesine is most famous for its medieval castle. Castello Scaligero di Malcesine (Castle of Malcesine) is a 13th century castle that is perched on the shoreline of Lake Garda. Touring this castle is one of the best things to do in Lake Garda, and while here, get a history lesson at the museum and climb the tower for a great view over Malcesine.
In Malcesine, you can also visit the beach, or take a photo of the castle from the beach, like we did.
Malcesine | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Castello Scaligero di Malcesine | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Inside Castello Scaligero di Malcesine
Malcesine Beach | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Shop in Malcesine
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Parking can be a challenge everywhere in Lake Garda, particularly in the summer. In Malcesine, there is a relatively large parking lot where we were able to get a space (there is a small fee to park here). On Google Maps, it is called Parcheggio Paina. From here, you can also walk to the cable car for Monte Baldo.
Ride the Cable Car to Monte Baldo
Soar to one of the highest peaks on Lake Garda by riding the rotating cable car from Malcesine to Monte Baldo. Once on Monte Baldo, you can simply enjoy the view or you can go hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter, or even paragliding.
The view from Monte Baldo | Mattia Riccadonna/shutterstock.com
For cable car pricing and hours of operation, visit the official website.
Cassone di Malcesine
Cassone di Malcesine gets its claim to fame for being home to the shortest river in the world. This small village is located just a few kilometers south of Malcesine and is worth a quick stroll if you will be in the area.
River in Cassone di Malcesine
Cassone di Malcesine | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Cassone di Malcesine
Torri del Benaco
This small town does not show up on many lists but we really enjoyed our visit here.
This town also has a castle and tower. But what we really loved were the restaurants located along the lake. Several restaurants have terraces that sit over the water and from here, you can dine with a view.
We ate at Ristorante Torri. The food was decent, but it came out fast and we loved the view.
Torri del Benaco | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Torri del Benaco harbor
Punta San Vigilio
I am mentioning this because this does show up on other lists, but we think this should be skipped.
Punta San Vigilio is a small peninsula that juts out into Lake Garda. With gardens and a restaurant, we read that it was a nice place to get a view of the lake.
After paying to park, it was a hot, downhill walk on an uneven cobblestone road to get out to the point. There isn’t much of a viewpoint here, but there is a restaurant with a unique setting on the lake and a small beach. The restaurant gets very mediocre reviews.
I recommend skipping Punta San Vigilio and putting your time into something else.
Punta San Vigilio
Bardolino is another small town that sits on Lake Garda. In town, you can visit the Museo dell’Olio d’Oliva (an olive oil museum) and Saint Severo, a church that contains frescoes dating back to the 8th century.
Bardolino is more famous for producing the signature wine of the region. Between the towns of Bardolino and Lazise, you can go wine tasting at vineyards that produce Bardolino wine.
Rocca di Garda hike
This hike starts near Garda and takes you to a hill overlooking Lake Garda. It is a relatively easy hike and the views are wonderful, not only of the nearby towns but also the nearby vineyards.
We did not do this, since it was getting late in the day, but it looks like a great hike that’s easy to do and doesn’t take a ton of time. It is a 5 km (3 mile) loop that takes about 2 hours. Learn more here.
Gardaland Theme Park
Gardaland Theme Park sits on the southeastern shore of Lake Garda. And just across the street is Gardaland SEA LIFE Aquarium. If you are traveling with kids, this is a great place to spend the day and take a break from sightseeing. Get more information on the official website.
Best Things to Do in Lake Garda: Brescia
The western side of Lake Garda, with the exception of the small northern portion, sits in the Brescia province. Here are the best things to do along the western side of Lake Garda.
Sirmione is the most popular sight on Lake Garda.
This small town, with its medieval city center and stunning castle, is perched on the tip of a long, narrow peninsula.
Exploring the town, visiting the castle, going to the spa, and cruising around the peninsula by boat top the must-do list for Sirmione.
Sirmione | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
If you have plans to visit Lake Garda, plan on spending at least half of a day here, to fully immerse yourself in the sights of this delightful town.
Due to its popularity, Sirmione is also one of the most crowded towns we visited in Lake Garda (Malcesine was #2). For the best experience, get here early or stay here overnight, to tour the town before it gets swamped with other visitors.
We have a guide to the Best Things to Do in Sirmione, but here is a list of the top experiences:
- Scaligero Castle
- Explore the city center
- Visit the Church of Santa Maria della Neve
- Cruise around the peninsula
- Visit the Grotte de Cattulo
- Visit the Church of San Pietro in Mavino
- Relax in a thermal spa
Tour Castello Scaligero
Touring Castello Scaligero (the Scaligero Castle) is not only one of the best things to do in Sirmione, it is also one of the best things to do in Lake Garda.
This fortress dates back to the 14th century. It is one of Italy’s best-preserved castles.
On a visit to Scaligero Castle, you will walk the fort walls and climb the towers for great views over Sirmione. From these towers, you can an awesome bird’s eye view of the town.
Get more information on the official website.
Desenzano del Garda
Desenzano del Garda is a transportation hub on Lake Garda. It is located on the southern end of the lake, not far from Sirmione and the Sirmio peninsula.
If you are traveling through Italy on public transportation and do not have a car, you can take the train to Desenzano and then use the ferries to travel around Lake Garda.
This town is also a pretty place to visit, with its harbor, Ponte alla Veneziana, and Porto Vecchio di Desenzano.
Rocca di Manerba
Located on a hillside with dramatic views of Lake Garda is Rocca di Manerba, the remains of an ancient fortress and Roman villa.
This site was named for a Roman temple that was built for the goddess Minerva. The entire archaeological park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Rocca di Manerba | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Rocca di Manerba view
To get here, you will drive up narrow, residential streets to the parking area. The park is always open and there is a small fee to park in the lot. From the parking lot, it is a 10-minute uphill walk to get to the fortress and viewpoint.
For those who want to explore more, there are numerous other trails that lead through forests and to the shore of Lake Garda.
Isola San Biagio (Rabbit Island)
One of the most unique things to do in Lake Garda is to walk out to Isola San Biagio. Once here, there is a small snack stand and bar as well as a beach.
From the shoreline, it is a 200-meter walk across a shallow strip of water to get to the island. The bottom of the lake is rocky and it’s best to wear flip-flops or water shoes. We did this barefoot and it really gets to be painful, especially on the walk back.
The snack bar is nothing special and we didn’t stay here long. We were expecting more of beach bar scene but really, it’s a picnic area for those who spend more time here, usually relaxing on the beach.
Getting here is also tricky. The closest parking is in Porto Torchio and from here it is a 15-minute walk to get to the point where you will walk across the lake to the island.
I only recommend this for those who have a lot of time on their hands (and have water shoes).
But if you want to learn more, this site explains how to get here, with information about the boat shuttles, if you don’t want to walk across the lake.
Salo is another lovely town that sits on Lake Garda. It has a small city center, an abundance of restaurants, and a lovely promenade along the lake.
We hired a private boat taxi in Salo to take us on a tour of the lake (Taxi Boat Salo).
Salo | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
Cruise to Isola del Garda
Isola del Garda is the largest island on Lake Garda. Dante Alighieri and St. Francis of Assisi have both visited this island. It is now owned by the Cavazza family who live here throughout the year.
The island is open to visitors for guided tours. It can also be rented for special events, such as weddings.
Isola del Garda | Best Things to Do in Lake Garda
We saw Isola del Garda, and its centerpiece, the villa, on a one-hour private boat tour with Taxi Boat Salo. This was one of our favorite things to do in Lake Garda and it’s well worth it, particularly if you plan to drive around the lake. It is a great experience to see Lake Garda both from land and from the water.
Tour Vittoriale degli Italiani
Vittoriale degli Italiana is an estate that sits on the hills overlooking Gardone Riviera. This is where Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio lived from 1922 through 1938. On the property is a villa, an amphitheater, a mausoleum, a boathouse, and gardens.
A visit here takes about one hour. For pricing and hours of operation, visit the official website.
Visit Limone sul Garda
Limone sul Garda sits on the western bank of Lake Garda and it is one of the most popular towns to visit on Lake Garda. It has a long list of great restaurants, another scenic old town to explore, and wonderful views of the lake. As you walk through town, keep an eye out for the street signs, which are decorated with images of lemons, for which this town is named.
GETTING HERE BY CAR: If you are using Sirmione as your home base, just be aware that it is a long drive to get here (roughly 2 hours one-way) and traffic jams are common in the summer. Limone sul Garda is a nice place to visit but if you are short on time, I don’t think it is worth the long drive from Sirmione to get here. But from Riva del Garda, it is just a 15-minute drive.
More Things to Do in Lake Garda
Take a Boat Trip
Exploring Lake Garda by boat is one of the best ways to see the lake. You can either do this by ferry, which connects the towns that dot the edges of the lake, you can take a tour, or you can hire a private boat. Private boats can be hired for one hour or for the full day.
We hired Taxi Boat Salo for a one-hour tour from Salo, past Gardone Riviera, and around Isola del Garda. It was short and sweet and during the hot summer weather, a nice cool way to do some sightseeing. Taxi Boat Salo also does longer trips and you can hire them for a full day. Their website has lots of maps to help explain your options.
Visit the Towns on Market Days
Every day of the week, at least one town is hosting a market. Go shopping for produce, local delicacies, clothing, and leather bags. For the full weekly schedule, click here.
Best Day Trips from Lake Garda
While staying at Lake Garda, you have the option to go on day trips to nearby destinations.
Santuario Madonna della Corona
The Santuario Madonna della Corona is a beautiful church that clings to the side of a mountain.
Santuario Madonna della Corona
From Sirmione and Riva del Garda, it is a one-hour drive to get here. Once here, you can either walk to the church (a steep, downhill walk that takes about 20 minutes, followed by a steep uphill walk back to your car) or ride one of the shuttle buses that runs from Spiazzi to the church.
The entire visit will take 3 to 4 hours, including driving time.
Verona is one of our favorite Italian cities. From Sirmione, it takes 45 minutes to drive here and from Riva del Garda it takes 1 hour to drive here (without traffic delays). Verona can easily be explored in one day.
From Riva del Garda, it takes about 2 hours to drive to Val Gardena, one of the main areas to explore in the Dolomites. Once here, top things to do include hiking the Puez-Odle Altopiano, riding the cable car to Seceda, visiting Alpe di Siusi, or visiting Val di Funes.
If you head farther east towards Cortina d’Ampezzo, it will be a longer drive, but once here, you can hike the Cinque Torri, ride the cable car to Tofana di Mezzo, and hike to Rifugios Averau and Nuvolau.
By car, it takes 2 hours to drive from Sirmione to Venice, so it is possible to visit Venice on a day trip. You can also take the train from Desenzano to Venice (about 2.5 hours). Here are the best things to do in Venice or take a look at our one day Venice itinerary for ideas on how to plan your time.
Here is a highly rated full day tour of Venice from Lake Garda.
Top 10 Experiences in Lake Garda
Here are our 10 favorite experiences in Lake Garda.
- Riva del Garda
- Villa Canale (Borgo Medioevale di Canale)
- Scaligero Castle (Sirmione)
- Boat trip from Salo to Isola del Garda
- Rocca di Manerba
- Torri del Benaco
- Limone sul Garda
- Day trip to Santuario Madonna delle Corona
How Much Time Do You Need at Lake Garda?
If you want to visit everything we listed in this guide, you will need a bare minimum of three days. And even then, you may not get to everything, unless you start early and don’t mind days packed with sightseeing.
For more information on how to plan your time, take a look at our Lake Garda Itinerary, which has suggestions for the best way to spend 1, 2, 3, and 4 days here.
Three Days in Lake Garda
We spent three and a half days in Lake Garda. Here is how we planned our time.
Day 1: In the morning we drove from Selva di Val Gardena in the Dolomites to Riva del Garda. We visited most of the sights on the north end of Lake Garda, with the exception of Punta Larici.
Day 2: Punta Larici hike at 7 am. Then we drove down the east side of Lake Garda, including the day trip to Santuario Madonna della Corona, ending in Sirmione, where we spent the night.
Day 3: West side of Lake Garda; sleep in Sirmione. We did not have time to tour Sirmione so we saved it for the following day.
Day 4: Sirmione in the morning. In the afternoon, we drove to Chamonix, France.
View of Lake Garda from the castle in Malcesine
How to Get Around Lake Garda
You can get around Lake Garda by boat and by car.
The only train stations are on the south end of the lake, in Desenzano del Garda and Peschiera, so it is not feasible to travel by train at Lake Garda.
Roads circle all of Lake Garda, so if you have a car, you can drive everywhere around Lake Garda, except, of course, for the islands.
In many places, parking fills up fast. There is also a fee to park in each town. It’s usually just a few euros but it does add up over the day. Our visit was in July and in some places, we couldn’t get a parking space. We either skipped the town or Tim would drop me off, while I would visit the sights and take photos. It was not fun and became a giant hassle.
I imagine that it’s easier to drive around Lake Garda in the spring and fall, when crowds are lower. In the summer, consider traveling by ferry or taking a private tour. Just note that the ferry won’t get you to all of the sights on Lake Garda.
Desenzano and Peschiero are the main ferry hubs on Lake Garda. From here, the ferry travels to other towns on the lake. Here is a map of ferry routes.
For timetables and prices, visit the official website. Just be aware that the website is difficult to use and also covers Lake Como, so make sure you select Lake Garda.
Ferry in Riva del Garda
By Private Boat
If you prefer to hire a private boat, we recommend Taxi Boat Salo, since we had a great experience with them.
Tours of Lake Garda
Take a luxury boat trip on Lake Garda and go wine tasting at Lugana winery.
In Lazise, which is a town on the east side of Lake Garda, this tour includes a wine and cheese tasting.
Take a sunset cruise around Sirmione.
Best Time to Visit Lake Garda
WINTER: The weather is cold, rainfall is at its lowest for the year, and crowds are low. Average daytime highs are a chilly 7°C/45°F. It’s not the most pleasant time to visit Lake Garda but you won’t have to contend with crowds.
SPRING: The weather warms up nicely, with average highs in May getting to 22°C/73°F. However, the water is still very cold (the water in Lake Garda is from snowmelt) so if you plan to go swimming, you might want to go later in the year. May into June can be rainy so be prepared for some wet days.
SUMMER: The average high in summer is 29°C/84°F but it can be much warmer than this. During our visit, the high temperature was around 34°C/93°F but it can get even hotter than this (and it did…a few days later high temperatures hit 36°C/97°F). Crowds are also at their highest, as are prices for hotels. The heat and high crowds really took away from the experience and if we did it again, we’d visit Lake Garda in late spring or early fall.
FALL: Temperatures cool off, crowds begin to diminish, but rainfall increases, peaking in October.
VERDICT: The best month to visit Lake Garda is September. It can still be warm but hot temperatures are unusual. Rainfall is low and crowds won’t be at peak levels. May and June are also great months to visit Lake Garda.
Where to Stay in Lake Garda
Is Lake Garda worth it?
We visited Riva del Garda in July 2022. The high temperature was 34°C (93°F), but it can get hotter than that.
We experienced very high crowds throughout Lake Garda during our three-day visit.
In many places, parking lots were filled, so Tim dropped me off, I would visit the waterfall/castle/etc. while he would circle for parking, sometimes never finding a spot.
There were also frequent traffic jams, all around Lake Garda. On the morning we left Riva del Garda, it took us 30 minutes to drive to neighboring Torbole, a town that is just 4 km away and a 6-minute drive from Riva del Garda.
The hot temperatures and the high crowds really took away from our visit. In fact, we couldn’t wait to move on to the next part of our trip. Lake Garda is a lovely place to visit, but it is challenging, hot, and crowded in the summer.
I think there are much better places to visit in Italy in the summer months. Just a few hours away are the Dolomites, a world-class hiking destination and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Europe. On a different trip to Europe, we visited Lake Como and Bellagio at the end of June and had a much better experience here.
I think Lake Garda would be a nicer place to visit in the spring or fall, since crowds will be lower. This is a beautiful place to visit but the summer crowds and traffic really takes away from the experience, in my opinion.
Riva del Garda
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better, Lake Garda or Lake Como?
Between Lake Garda and Lake Como, Lake Como is by far our favorite lake. It’s smaller size and trio of towns that are easily accessible by ferry makes Lake Como very easy to explore. Plus, Bellagio and Varenna are much prettier towns than any on Lake Garda, in my opinion.
How long does it take to drive around Lake Garda?
If you were to drive the roads that circle Lake Garda, it would take just under 4 hours, without time for stops. It’s possible to see Lake Garda in one day by car, but you will have to limit your sightseeing to just a few places.
Is one day enough for Lake Garda?
Since the list of things to do in Lake Garda is so long, it would be impossible to see them all in one day. If you only have one day in Lake Garda, I recommend limiting your visit to one area of the lake. The southern end of the lake is the most popular area to visit but the northern end is our favorite, with more dramatic mountain scenery and several lovely towns to visit. Or, take a one day cruise of the lake or tour Lake Garda by ferry, so you don’t have the hassle of parking in each town.
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Lake Garda, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Italy
ITALY ITINERARIES: If you are just beginning to plan your Italy itinerary, take a look at our 10 Days in Italy Itinerary for five different ways to spend 10 days in Italy. Our Northern Italy Itinerary includes Venice, the Dolomites, Verona, Milan and Lake Como with the option to add on Lake Garda.
VENICE: Learn more about Venice in our article Best Things to Do in Venice. We also have guides about How to Visit St. Mark’s Basilica, where to get the Best Views of Venice, and how to spend Two Days in Venice.
BEST OF ITALY: In our guide to the Best Places to Visit in Italy, we list 25 beautiful destinations to consider for your next trip to Italy.
FLORENCE & TUSCANY: If this is your first visit to Florence, read our guide to the Best Things to Do in Florence and the best rooftop bars in Florence. If you plan to visit Tuscany, learn how to spend one day in Siena, things to do in Montepulciano, and the best things to do in San Gimignano.
We have TONS more information about Italy in our Italy Travel Guide, including Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, the Dolomites, the Amalfi Coast, Puglia, and the Cinque Terre.
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