Riva del Garda is a picturesque town located on the north end of Lake Garda. With colorful buildings, medieval towers, and narrow alleyways, this is a wonderful place to go for leisurely stroll. From Riva del Garda, you can also take your pick from short hiking trails that lead up into the mountains, visit medieval towns and archaeological sites, and see a waterfall tucked away in a hidden grotto.
In this guide, we cover the best things to do in Riva del Garda with tips to have the best experience.
Overview of Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda is a small town that sits on the northern tip of Lake Garda.
The ancient walls, gates, and fortress remains from medieval times. Rocca is a medieval fortress with a moat and drawbridge that sits on the shore of the lake. Inside of this fortress is the MAG – Museo Alto Garda and visiting this museum is one of the best things to do in Riva del Garda.
Riva del Garda was one of our favorite towns on Lake Garda, even beating the uber popular Sirmione. On the north end of Lake Garda, the crowds were lower and the views from the towers and nearby mountains were beautiful, making this our favorite area of Lake Garda.
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Best Things to Do in Riva del Garda
Below we list the best things to do in and around Riva del Garda. This town is a great home base for exploring the sights located on the north end of Lake Garda, so a few things on this list are located outside of town.
Stroll through the Historic City Center
The city center of Riva del Garda is small and easily walkable. It takes less than 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other and along the way, you will wander through narrow, colorful streets, past piazzas and promenades, and the medieval towers and gates.
Two medieval city gates still stand in Riva del Garda, Porta San Marco and Porta di San Michele.
Porta di San Michele | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
Piazza 3 Novembre is a small piazza that sits on one of several harbors in Riva del Garda. Here, brightly painted buildings line the square and Torre Apponale towers over the square.
Piazza 3 Novembre and Torre Apponale | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
This was once the economic heart of Riva del Garda, with banks and merchants operating their businesses from the buildings that still line this square. Now, fairs and outdoor festivals are held here.
Catena Square sits just across the harbor from Piazza 3 Novembre. From here, you have more great views of Lake Garda and you can go shopping or dine at one of the restaurants that line this square. And Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi is another lovely spot in Riva del Garda.
Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
Parrocchia di Santa Maria Assunta | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
Piazza 3 Novembre | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
Looking across Piazza 3 Novembre to Piazza Catena. You can also see the funicular tracks to Bastione di Riva.
Viewpoint of Lake Garda. This photo was taken next to the MAG Museum.
Torre Apponale | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
Climb Torre Apponale
Climb the 165 wooden stairs to the top of Torre Apponale for one of the best views of Riva del Garda. From this medieval watchtower, you can see the entire city and look out over Lake Garda.
Despite huge crowds in and around Lake Garda, we had this all to ourselves. It is a beautiful view and one of our favorite things to do in Riva del Garda.
Cost: €2 which can be purchased at the base of the tower.
View from Torre Apponale | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
Lake Garda from Torre Apponale | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
Looking down on Catena Square and the Lake Garda ferry.
Torre Apponale Steps
Visit the MAG – Museo Alto Garda
This museum contains art by 19th century painters, artifacts dating back to the Copper age, and exhibits portraying the history of Riva del Garda. There are also temporary exhibits throughout the year.
MAG – Museo Alto Garda | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
This museum is located inside of Rocca of Riva, the medieval fortress. One of the best things to do while visiting the museum is to climb to the top of the Mastio, the large tower that is part of the fortress.
For more information, hours of operation, and pricing, visit the official website.
Ride the Funicular to Bastione di Riva
On the west side of town, you can ride the glass funicular to Bastione. The Bastione is the remains of a Venetian tower. From here, you have panoramic views of Riva del Garda and the north end of Lake Garda. There is also a restaurant and bar here (the Bastione Lounge and Restaurant), where you can have lunch or dinner with a view.
The funicular is a glass box. This makes for great views on the ride up and down, but in the summer, it is terribly hot! It’s only a 3-minute ride but it feels like torture in the summer months. However, it is still better than hiking up to the Bastione.
Visiting the Bastione is free but there is a fee to ride the funicular (€7).
Bastione di Riva | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
Bastione di Riva | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
View from the Bastione | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
Hike to Chapel Santa Barbara
This short, tough hike takes you from town to a small chapel that sits on the hillside, overlooking Riva del Garda. To get here, it is a 3.3 km (2 mile) hike that takes two and a half hours. It’s a steep uphill hike to get to the chapel and then a downhill walk, on the same path, to get back to Riva del Garda.
Chapel Santa Barbara | shutterstock.com/Danny Iacob
Your reward is more panoramic views of Riva del Garda and the opportunity to visit a small chapel built on a mountain cliff.
For more information on the hike, click here.
For Panoramic Views of Lake Garda, Hike to Punta Larici
Distance: 4.4 km (2.75 miles) out-and-back
Total Ascent: 420 m (1,380 feet)
Total Descent: 420 m (1,380 feet)
Lowest Elevation (Trailhead): 530 m (1,740 feet)
Highest Elevation (Punta Larici): 900 m (2,950 feet)
Time: 1.5 to 3 hours
Punta Larici Elevation Profile
Punta Larici Map
This challenging, somewhat dangerous hike takes you to an incredible viewpoint of Lake Garda. We did this and recommend it for those who are fit, have hiking experience, and want to visit one of the best viewpoints of Lake Garda.
To get to the Punta Larici viewpoint, it is a constant uphill walk and at times it is very steep. There are sections of this hike where you are walking along a cliff edge and one misstep could be disastrous. It’s not a hike to bring young kids or to do if you have a fear of heights.
Punta Larici | Best Things to do in Riva del Garda
Parking for the Punta Larici Hike
The parking lot is located in Pregasina, a tiny town located on the northwest end of Lake Garda.
The final drive through town is on a narrow, twisting, one lane road through town.
There are just a handful of parking spots, so get here early, to make sure you get a space. There are a few spots at the church and in a small lots below the church. The best place to park is in the main lot below the church but if that is full, if you drive another 50 meters, there is one more smaller lot (GPS Coordinates: 45°51’00.5″N 10°49’26.7″E). We arrived at 7:20 am and got the second to last spot in the second smaller lot, as the first lot was already filled.
IMPORTANT!! You must have good driving skills for this drive and be able to drive in reverse on a very narrow road, in case you encounter oncoming traffic.
The Hike to Punta Larici
From Pregasina, the hike starts off with a relatively uphill easy walk along a road. Once it enters the woods, the trail changes to a narrow dirt path and the difficulty skyrockets. Not only is the trail steep but you are also occasionally hiking along drop-offs, so you must really watch your step.
Once you make it to Punta Larici, also called Cima Larici, you have 360° views of Lake Garda.
View from the trail
Another view of the trail
Route to Punta Larici
Over the course of the 2.2 km hike to get to Punta Larici, there are numerous junctions and the trail changes numbers and names several times. Tim took notes along the way and here is our trail guide:
- The trailhead is at the church (Chiesa Parrochiale di San Giorgio).
- At about 0.3 km (0.2 miles) there is a trail junction where you want to turn left and follow Trail 422B (Bocca Larici).
- At about 0.8 km (0.5 miles) there is another trail junction. Here you can go straight to stay on 422B, which goes through the trees. Or you can turn left and follow a road that runs parallel to 422B but stays closer to the side of the cliff. Don’t turn right at this junction as doing so will take you onto private property. We turned left and it offered one view out over the lake almost immediately.
- At about 1.1 km (0.7 miles) there is another trail junction (Calcherole). This is where the two trails from the previous split rejoin. You can go left for the more strenuous and adventurous path along the side of the cliff (Trail 422A to Cima Larici/Bocca Larici) or follow the signs for Trail 422B which is an easier route. We turned left and followed Trail 422A.
- When following Trail 422A, you will reach another trail junction at about 2.1 km (1.3 miles) from the trailhead. Turn left at this junction to go to Punta Larici.
- From here it only takes another 0.15 km (0.1 miles) until you arrive at Punta Larici.
Walk or Bike the Old Ponale Road
The Old Ponale Road was the original road that connected Riva del Garda to the west side of Lake Garda. This old road has been converted into a walking and biking path along the river and a newer road for vehicles, with a series of tunnels, now runs along the northwestern end of Lake Garda.
The Old Ponale Road runs along the lakeshore of Lake Garda. Along the way, it passes through a series of tunnels from WWI. It ends at the Ponale waterfall, 3 km from Riva del Garda.
Old Ponale Road | shutterstock.com/SusaZoom
You can walk or bike the Old Ponale Road. Starting at Piazza Catena, follow signs for the Giacomo Cis trail. The wide road will twist and turn along the shoreline and you will pass through tunnels and be treated to great views of Lake Garda.
We did not do this (we had limited time and chose to do the Punta Larici hike instead) but it looks like a great experience. It’s not too challenging, the views are magnificent, and it’s a great for all ages.
Visit Villa Canale (Borgo Medioevale di Canale)
Take a step back in time and explore the medieval town of Villa Canale.
This was one of our favorite experiences, not only in Riva del Garda, but all of Lake Garda.
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.
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.
View from Villa Canale
While here, you also have the option to walk down to Lago di Tenno, and small, emerald green lake that makes a beautiful swimming spot in the summer.
PARKING: We parked in a parking lot on Via Villa Sant’Antonio. The lot can hold about 10 cars and there is a small fee for parking. Here are the GPS coordinates of the lot: 45°55’48.5″N 10°49’29.6″E.
From the lot, follow the sign to Borgo Medioevale di Canale, which will take you up some steps for a quick walk through the woods before arriving at the medieval town.
Visit Parco Grotta Cascate Varone
This was one of our least favorite experiences but I am mentioning it because it is a very popular thing to do in Lake Garda.
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 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.
But it is also extremely crowded during the summer months.
We could not find parking here, so Tim dropped me and Kara off and we visited the park as he circled, unsuccessfully, to find a parking space.
There was a line, a very slow-moving line, to get into the grotto. It took us 20 minutes to make it to the viewpoint of the grotto. It’s not a bad place to wait in line, since it is cool and protected from the sun, but I don’t think the view of the waterfall is good enough to justify a long wait in line.
While in the park, you can also visit the upper terraces and take photos of the other waterfalls next to the gardens.
One of the waterfalls you can see in the park.
Waiting in line on the boardwalk platform.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: For the best experience, go at opening time or the last few hours of the day, for the lowest crowds. Avoid middays during the summer months, which is when we visited the park.
For pricing and hours of operation, visit the official website.
Hike to the Top of Monte Brione
Monte Brione is a mountain that sits between Riva del Garda and Torbole. For more panoramic views of Lake Garda, you can hike up to the top of Monte Brione.
This hike is done as a loop and is 5.8 km (3.6 miles) round trip with 300 meters (1,000 feet) of elevation gain, making it moderately strenuous.
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.
How Much Time do You Need in Riva del Garda?
If you want to do everything we listed above, which includes several day hikes, you will need two to three full days in Riva del Garda.
If you Only Have A Few Hours in Riva del Garda
If you are passing through Riva del Garda on a visit Lake Garda, what should you do?
Our favorite experiences were exploring the town (which takes about 2 hours) and visiting the medieval town of Villa Canale (you will need a car to get here). Even though we didn’t do it, the walk/bike along the Old Ponale Road looks spectacular and it’s much easier to do than the Punta Larici hike.
What We Did
On day 1, we drove from Selva di Val Gardena, in the Dolomites, to Riva del Garda. On the drive, we visited Villa Canale and Parco Grotta Cascate Varone before entering Riva del Garda. We spent the afternoon exploring the city center of Riva del Garda.
On day 2, we hiked to Punta Larici early in the morning. Mid-morning, we left Riva del Garda and drove along the east side of Lake Garda, ending in Sirmione, spending two nights here. For more information about Sirmione, read our article Best Things to Do in Sirmione.
View from the entrance to the MAG Museum
Where to Stay in Riva del Garda
LUXURY: Lido Palace. This 5-star hotel is located right on Lake Garda. Some rooms have views of the lake and the hotel has a spa, two swimming pools, several restaurants, and a Turkish bath.
UPSCALE: Du Lac Et Du Parc Grand Resort. This is where we stayed. This large resort has several restaurants, several pools, and a great location right on the lake. It is also within walking distance of the city center. It’s a good pick if you are traveling as a family and want a resort experience. Rooms were outdated and in many ways, this looked and felt more like a 3-star hotel. I still think it’s worth recommending, because of its amenities and great location.
UPSCALE: Parc Hotel Flora. This hotel is located next to Du Lac Et Parc Grand Resort, so it also has a great location, and it gets better reviews. Rooms are beautifully decorated and some rooms can accommodate up to four people.
MID-RANGE: Garda Life. This modern hotel is located in town. It does not have beach or waterfront access, but it still has a great location in that you can walk right to the city center. This hotel gets outstanding reviews on Booking.com.
BUDGET: Garni Hotello Sport and Relax. Located within walking distance of the city center, this small hotel has single rooms, double rooms, and a one-bedroom apartment. The hotel offers free parking.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you are visiting during the summer months, make sure your hotel has air conditioning.
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Riva del Garda, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Italy
DOLOMITES: In our article Best Hikes in the Dolomites, we cover 15 epic trails in the Dolomites. Which ones do you want to do?
FLORENCE & TUSCANY: If this is your first visit to Florence, read our guide to the Best Things to Do in Florence. If you plan to visit Tuscany, learn how to spend one day in Siena and the best things to do in San Gimignano.
ITALY ITINERARY: If you have two weeks in Italy, check out our 14 day Italy itinerary, which covers the highlights (Rome, Florence, Venice, the Amalfi Coast, and the Cinque Terre).
EUROPE TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more great ideas on where to go in Europe, check out our article 30 Beautiful Places to Visit in Europe. You can also get more travel ideas in our One Week in Europe itinerary guide, which has lots of sample itineraries for your next trip to Europe.
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