Lake Garda (Italy) is a popular tourist destination in northern Italy — and once you visit, you’ll understand why. The country’s biggest Lake, it’s a picturesque spot that’s sure to enchant you with its serene setting and fabulous food.
Read on for more information about Lake Garda and the ultimate guide on what to see, do and eat while you’re there.
Where to Stay in Lake Garda
The Basic Facts About Lake Garda
Set north of Verona, Lake Garda occupies a surface area of about 370 square kilometers (143 square miles). The Lake is home to five small islands. On the southern shore, you’ll find beaches and low rolling hills. Sheer cliffs and majestic mountains line the northern coast.
This is a family-oriented destination, with plenty of activities to entertain people of all ages. Possibilities include sailing, windsurfing, mountain biking, climbing, rappelling, and so much more. Best of all, you get to enjoy all of that action with prime lake views.
Beware that tourism decreases substantially in winter, and many hotels and restaurants close in the colder months. As a plus, however, you may find that you can save money — and you’ll beat the crowds of sightseers.
Top 10 Things to Do in Lake Garda, Italy
1. Sirmione and Castello Scaligeri
The peninsula of Sirmione stretches out into the water from Lake Garda’s southern shore. It houses the Castello Scaligeri. The fortress was constructed in the 12th century by Verona’s ruling family, the Scaligeri, and served as part of the clan’s defensive network against Milan.
Now, you can tour the interior and climb the tower to enjoy panoramic views of the Lake. Once you’re done viewing the fortress, head to Sirmione’s surrounding boutiques for shopping or grab an Italian lunch or coffee in the quirky cafes and restaurants in town.
2. Grotte di Catullo
If you’re a history buff, this is a must-see spot. The Roman poet Catullus had a villa in Sirmione. Today, you can visit the Roman ruins that were once his home and take in views of Lake Garda from three directions. There is also a small museum worth checking out.
3. Limone Sul Garda
This lakeside town is notorious for its lemon groves. Go here and have a bite on the Hotel Splendid Palace’s restaurant’s terrace, which offers stunning views of Lake Garda and the surrounding woodlands. Don’t forget to get some Limoncello as a souvenir.
This small town along the southeast part of Lake Garda is worth a stop if you’re a foodie. Check out the Museo dell’Olio d’Oliva (olive oil museum) and watch the olives being pressed to make the oil. Fun fact: Olive oil was known as “liquid gold” in the ancient world.
Admire the frescoes inside the San Severo church, a romanesque building featuring beautiful frescoes (some of which date as far back as the eighth century). Finally, stop for traditional Italian gelato at the ice cream shop Cristallo.
5. Desenzano del Garda
Set west of Sirmione, this lively small town is centered around a marina. Stroll along the piers and watch the hydrofoils and lake steamers take off for towns dotted around Lake Garda. This is an excellent base for exploring the Lake’s many sights, as you can travel easily by boat.
Once you’ve had your fill of boat-watching, check out the remains of Villa Romana, an ancient Roman villa. The excavation site is near the old town center, where you’ll also find eye-catching mosaics. Finally, check out the parish church for a painting by Italian artist Tiepolo.
6. Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda is set on the Lake’s northern part, nestled between the water and surrounding mountains. Walk to the old Venetian watchtower perched on the precipitous Rocchetta above the old town’s center.
Head further east, and you’ll find another Scaligeri castle, the Rocca del Riva, thought to have been built between the 12th and 15th centuries. Here you’ll find a small museum featuring prehistoric artifacts. If you want a bit of action, go to the nearby beach at Torbole for windsurfing.
7. Don’t Miss Arco
If you’re a fan of hiking, you have to pay a visit to the area around Arco. There’s also a great camping site here (Camping Zoo Arco) if you want to rough it in terms of accommodation. Arco is a great starting point for hikes to Monte Cadria and Monte Baldo.
This area is also famous for free climbing and even hosts an international climbing competition, Rock Master, every year. You can further enjoy water sports like kitesurfing and sailing here. Follow up a day of adventure with a visit to the spa: Arco is notorious for great relaxation spots.
8. Gardone Riviera
This beautiful town is set on Lake Garda’s western shore, in what’s known as the Riviera Bresciana. This stretch of coast starts where the steep mountains on the northwest of the Lake recede, leaving just enough space for a few small seaside towns.
In Gardone, you’ll find the Hruska Botanic Garden. It offers an enchanting natural atmosphere with pools, waterfalls, foliage, and sculptures. Walk the winding paths and enjoy the almost tropical environment.
9. Vittoriale d’Italia
If you make it to Gardone, include a pitstop at Vittoriale d’Italia in your plan. Poet Gabriele D’Annunzio lived here, and you can get a sense of eccentric personality by visiting his old art deco-style villa here. The house features oddities like a coffin-shaped bed.
10. Gardaland and Nearby Theme Parks
Finally, if you’re planning a family holiday and want some adventure, head to Gardaland. This is the biggest amusement park in Italy. It’s set between Lazise and Peschiera del Garda and includes multiple complexes and a sea-life area.
The fun park caters to all ages, with small kids’ rides (check out Peppa Pig Land) and big roller coasters (adrenaline junkies should try the Blue Tornado). Nearby Gardaland, you can find Aqua Paradise Park, complete with white-sand beaches, waterslides, splash rides, and palm trees.
The Final World on Visiting Lake Garda (Italy)
If you’re going to northern Italy, you can head to Lake Garda after seeing Verona. Make the most of the experience with the above list of sights and activities. You’ll come away with beautiful memories — and many gorgeous photos of this stunning Lake and its surroundings.