Things to do on Lake Garda? You really are spoiled for choice!
Lake Garda is the big brother of all the Brescian lakes. This splendid expanse of fresh water disputed between as many as 3 provinces and as many regions attracts many Italian tourists every year, but especially Germans and Dutch who love this Italian excellence.
Lake Garda is the lake at the far eastern end of the province of Brescia and, to remain on the “family” theme, its younger siblings are the small Lake Idro and Lake Iseo with the fascinating Monte Isola.
As a Brescian, on sunny summer days, I am lucky enough to be able to choose between no less than 3 lakes and, I have to be honest, sometimes you really are spoiled for choice. So I suggest you read these two other articles that might be helpful to give you a complete overview:
Origins, Location and Size of Lake Garda
Lake Garda is of glacial origin. To call it a lake is almost reductive as it is more like a “sea between mountains.” Its views are truly incredible and very varied. From the expansive, rolling hills of lower garda to the fascinating sheer rocks of upper garda.
Lake Garda is thus a lake for everyone. Those who prefer relaxation, special hamlets like Valeggio sul Mincio or interesting towns like Desenzano, Peschiera, and Sirmione can opt for the lower Lake Garda. Those, on the other hand, who love sports and unspoiled nature will surely be charmed by the northern part of the lake.
Lake Benaco, as Lake Garda is also called, territorially belongs to the provinces of Brescia, Verona, and Trento. The towns on its shores are numerous, those of greatest interest are…
Brescia Side: Sirmione, Desenzano, Manerba, Moniga, San Felice del Benaco, Salò, Gardone Riviera, Toscolano Maderno, Gargnano, Campione del Garda, Tremosine, Limone del Garda.
Verona Side: Malcesine, Brenzone, Torri del Benaco, Garda, Lazise, Bardolino, Castelnuovo.
Trento side: Riva del Garda, Nago-Torbole.
Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy with its 370 square kilometers, 51.6 km in length, 17.2 km in width and 346 meters in maximum depth.
Where to stay on Lake Garda
It is very complicated to recommend the best place to sleep on Lake Garda. It depends on how many days you will stay near the lake, how much and by what means you want to travel.
If you want to appreciate the lake and enjoy the lake view when you wake up in the morning, there is no better way than to sleep on its shores. Certainly-but where? Well, the only thing I can do is to make recommendations based on the area you would like to explore.
Lower Lake near Desenzano -> CLICK HERE
Brescia Side near Salò -> HERE
Verona Side near Bardolino -> HERE
Limone/Riva del Garda -> HERE
Otherwise, try using the map below.
What to see on Lake Garda?
With this article I want to list a number of things to see around Lake Garda. I will describe all the activities you can do around Lake Garda that will first take you to discover the Brescia shore and then the Trentino and Verona shores. Lake Garda and the Chiese River form precisely the natural border between the two provinces of Brescia and Verona.
Lake Garda, as I wrote to you earlier, is much visited by Germans, Dutch and northern Europeans in general, tourists who like the lake and lake vacations, but not only. The Upper Garda area is famous for its ideal conditions for all wind-related sports. So kiting, windsurfing, sailing. This is active tourism that is widely practiced on Lake Garda.
Tips for discovering Lake Garda at its best
Especially in the upper part of the lake, there are not many roads. In fact, between Salò and Riva del Garda there is only one for example. I will let you imagine what traffic there is during summer days, especially on weekends. If you want to visit the upper part of Lake Garda, I recommend that you leave early in the morning in order to avoid the classic and endless queue.
The afternoon return trip is a bit of a “jackpot” because you either head back to the lower lake in the early afternoon, or you might want to have dinner there and then get back on the road after eating, when traffic is plausible again.
Lake Garda: the Brescia side
The Brescia side of Lake Garda lies between the territories of Sirmione and Limone del Garda. It is the western part of the lake.
1 – Sirmione and the Caves of Catullus
Let’s start this tour of Lake Garda from one of its iconic towns, not surprisingly among the most famous: Sirmione.
If you look at the map of Lake Garda, you will see how a small, narrow peninsula 4 km long juts out into the center of the lake. This is the beautiful historic center of Sirmione. Narrow alleys, full of charm, splendor and breathtaking views.
Sirmione is one of Lake Garda’s most popular attractions. As soon as summer arrives, people flock to enjoy its views of the lake. It also features no less than 3 notable points of interest:
- The world-famous Grottoes of Catullus: don’t think of actual caves. The Catullus Caves are the remains of a giant villa 167 meters long and 105 meters wide. The Catullus Caves are one of the most visited attractions around Lake Garda, I recommend you learn more about them in this article of mine -> Visiting the Grottoes of Catullus in Sirmione.
- The SPA: the thermal baths of Sirmione enjoy an enviable location on the lake. Taking a sauna or relaxing in the heated waters of the pool overlooking the lake is something I suggest you try.
- Jamaica Beach: crystal clear water, not surprisingly the name evokes Caribbean beaches. Here you will also see numerous boats and dinghies docking offshore and people jumping off the boat to swim in one of the best spots on Lake Garda.
2 – A half-day visit to Desenzano del Garda
Desenzano is one of the major towns overlooking Lake Garda. Regardless of whether you want to focus on the cultural aspects or not, about which you can find ample insights online, I want to recommend Desenzano for a half day spent at a slow pace, the classic holiday pace. A few laps among the little stores in the historic center, a stroll, an aperitif overlooking the lake, and to finish, a fish dinner. Desenzano del Garda is a bit of a VIP resort on Lake Garda, the capital of local nightlife.
3 – The tour of Lake Garda by boat
Do you want to spend a different day? Well, the tour of Lake Garda by boat is a good alternative to the car. No traffic, no problems with parking, just a great day where you can enjoy beautiful views directly from the lake and discover the various villages/towns by arriving directly in the city center.
There are daily fares that allow you to make an unlimited number of trips and stops between stops. The daily fare varies depending on several factors, including the areas you would like to visit. The entire network, of course, has a higher cost but allows you to visit both Riva del Garda and Desenzano in the same day. Alternatively, you can choose either just the lower lake, or the upper lake. All fares, including connections between the various towns, can be found at THIS LINK.
4 – The island of the Rabbits, known as the island of San Biagio
Also called the island of San Biagio, this tiny island is just a few meters from Punta Belvedere and the beaches of Manerba. Famous for its beautiful waters, it is characterized by lush green meadows, cypress trees and…of course, small rabbits in the wild.
To get to the island there are two ways:
- By ferry: from Porto Torchio you can use this connection service
- On foot: when the water level is low, you can leave from the beach near the San Biagio camping site and reach the small island with your own legs.
Access on Rabbit Island is free for those who are guests of the campground, while a fee is charged for everyone else, even if you use a private boat.
5 – Looking at the view from the Rocca di Manerba
If you are a lover of panoramic views, you cannot miss the view from the Rocca di Manerba, absolutely one of the must-sees on Lake Garda. In my article I called it the “Mirador” of Lake Garda, actually it is one of the many viewpoints that sweep from the lower to the upper lake. If the skies are clear, you can also see sharply the Sirmione peninsula.
On the Rocca, now reduced to ruins, you can identify three circuits of defensive walls of medieval origin.Access to the site is free, and you can find many people relaxing in the surrounding greenery.
If you are a walker and love to do some trekking in the green, you should know that in the Archaeological Nature Park of the Rocca di Manerba there are numerous routes you can take, some challenging, others less so.
I have described the Rocca di Manerba in a separate article -> Discover the Rocca di Manerba
6 – A guided tour of Garda Island
Garda Island is an elongated island “in front” of the territory of San Felice del Benaco. It measures about 1 km in length and can only be reached by boat. The island is private and it is possible to visit it only with a guided tour.
HERE find all the information about prices and departure ports, as there is no public service but only private and contextual with the purchase of the ticket.
7 – Motor charter boat tour
This is undoubtedly one of the must-do experiences on Lake Garda. Rent a dinghy or a small boat with a few horsepower engine. You will not need a boat license and with extreme caution you can explore the lake.
Admiring its shores from the water, visiting Jamaica beach by diving from your boat and the silence of the open lake will make your day unforgettable.
Be careful: I recommend that you jump into the lake only with life jacket on and navigate its waters with extreme caution and awareness!
8 – Visit Salò
Another town on the shores of Lake Garda to which I like to return often and gladly. I appreciate it more than Desenzano del Garda. Perhaps because it is more collected and has an enviable panorama behind it.
When you arrive in Salò, even before you get down to the town, you will be able to catch a glimpse of the whole gulf from above. Salò is considered the first municipality of the Riviera dei Limoni. The road from Salò onward becomes incredibly scenic, and on your left, especially near Limone del Garda, you will be able to glimpse (and visit) lemon houses.
Brief but important historical anecdote
Salò also calls to mind the Republic of Salò. In fact, in September 1943 this delightful town on Lake Garda became world famous. Mussolini chose it as the headquarters of some offices and ministry of the new state he had created: the Italian Social Republic (RSI).
9 – The Vittoriale degli Italiani
Many call it D’Annunzio’s Vittoriale since they associate it with this important guest the house had. In reality, it is the Vittoriale degli Italiani. In fact, if a licensed tour guide heard you say “Vittoriale di D’annunzio” he would slap your hands in a second.
This grandiose monument is a memorial to Italy’s Victory in the Great War. In the words of another article of mine, “a place where sacred and profane hold hands, a shrine preserving the memory of the fallen, a private graveyard where beloved greyhounds rest not far from their master.”
By the way, read about it in my article on the Vittoriale degli Italiani.
10 – Hiking to Mount Pizzoccolo
Lovers of trekking and “killer views”? Lake Garda, both on the Brescia and Verona sides, amazes with routes and hikes that lead to places with spectacular views. There are plenty of them, but the hike to Mount Pizzoccolo will allow you to sweep with views from the upper lake to the lower lake. If you can find a nice clear day, it will be a priceless experience.
11 – Campione del Garda
If I asked you before if you were a fan of trekking, I now ask if you are a fan of wind-related sports. If yes, Campione del Garda is absolutely one of the must-see places on Lake Garda. In a setting dominated by towering mountains behind it, from a beautiful green meadow overlooking Mount Baldo, kitesurfers and windsurfers enjoy one of the best spots on Lake Garda. Even if you’re not an athlete, a ride on the lawn or beach at Campione del Garda is not so bad.
12 – Tremosine, the terrace of the Shiver and the Forra road
Shortly after Campione del Garda you can go up through the Borgo di Tremosine via what is considered the most beautiful road in the World: the “Strada della Forra”. Even, Winston Churchill called it the eighth wonder of the world.
It is a very picturesque road that I recommend you take by motorcycle, at least you will have a chance to fully enjoy the view. By car you have to be very careful, so only those who do not drive will enjoy it.
The road reaches the village of Pieve di Tremosine. Here you will be able to impress and relax at the same time at one of the must-see attractions on Lake Garda: the “Terrazza del Brivido”. It is so called because it is a terrace suspended in the void at a height of 350 meters. You can imagine the superlative panorama that will present itself to your eyes!
13 – Limone del Garda
Limone is a small town on the north/west shore of Lake Garda. It is the last village before entering Trentino territory. This little village has some really picturesque views and still retains the typical atmosphere of a fishing village. Unmissable are the lemon houses that characterize this part of Lake Garda.
14 – Visiting a lemon grove
Speaking of lemon houses, did you know that it is possible to visit one? You will be on the Riviera of Lemons, you can’t help but visit a lemon grove. It is one of the things I definitely recommend you to see during a tour of Lake Garda. You might also be interested in how to visit a Lemon House on Lake Garda
15 – The bike/pedestrian path from Limone
Finally, we come to the last point of what to see on Lake Garda on the Brescia side. This is a fairly recent attraction: a 2.5 kilometer bike path overlooking Lake Garda that starts near Limone. It is the first section of what will become the Garda Cycleway, the longest bike path in Europe that will connect as many as 19 locations on the lake.
Lake Garda: the Trentino side
The Trentino side of Lake Garda lies between the territory of Riva del Garda and Nago-Torbole. It is the northern part of the lake.
16 – Visiting Riva del Garda
I always like Riva del Garda a lot. I always like to go back there. It is part of the Trentino territory and is a well-known and popular location among all those who practice windsurfing or sailing sports.
Riva del Garda is best known by those who practice arrival tourism, but also by those who want to spend time in a pretty town surrounded by mountains with the possibility of a thousand excursions into nature or, more simply, into history such as with the Castle of Arco.
Another positive aspect of the Trentino part of Lake Garda is that motor boating is not allowed. So no big noisy boats, but many quiet sailing boats that will only make Lake Garda even more fascinating.
Although extremely crowded, one of the best times to visit Riva del Garda is during the Fairy Tale Nights. 4 days of festivities that take shape on the last of August weekends and sublimate with an impressive fireworks display. Don’t miss it.
17 – Lake Tenno and the Tenno Canal
Lake Tenno has waters of such incredible color that when you stand on its shores you will not be able to believe it. This small turquoise-colored lake was formed as a result of a landslide around 1100 that blocked the course of two streams: the Ri Sec and the Laurel.
I recommend that you spend at least half a day on the shores of Lake Tenno, perhaps even trying to swim in its waters. Before heading back toward your base, stop to explore the quaint Canale di Tenno, one of the four villages that make up Ville del Monte, the largest hamlet in the municipality of Tenno.
18 – Lake Ledro
The northern area of Lake Garda is very interesting for a whole series of neighboring lakes that you can visit (I did not mention Lake Valvestino but that is also a short distance away).
Lake Ledro is one of the most beautiful and cleanest in all of Trentino, which, despite being beaten by tourism, has not lost its main vocation: the love of nature, treks; an active but conscious tourism.
19 – The Varone Waterfalls
Another exceptional place to see on Lake Garda, or rather, around Lake Garda. Almost 100 meters high, the Varone waterfalls are just 3 km north of Riva del Garda.
20 – Visit the Arco Castle
Beautiful, incredibly beautiful and with an exceptional view: this is the Castle of Arco, a town just a stone’s throw from Riva del Garda. We are in the province of Trento; on top of the rock, dominating the area of Arco was erected the fortress of the same name.
If you will be in upper Lake Garda, a “hop” to visit this castle and enjoy the fantastic view will be a must-do excursion. Reaching it is particularly easy. All it takes is a short 20-minute walk from the town of Arco. I recommend parking in the “carmellini parking (parcheggio ex Carmellini)“, look it up on Google Maps.
21 – A sailboat ride on Lake Garda
If there is one thing that is not lacking at Lake Garda and specifically in the upper Lake Garda, it is the wind. Also, as mentioned earlier, the Trentino part of the lake is forbidden to motor boats, making it ideal for experiencing the thrill of sailing.
I tell you this from firsthand experience as, a few years ago, my girlfriend gave me five hours of sailing on a boat of about ten meters. Being in the middle of the lake and hearing only the sound of the wind is priceless. Absolutely recommended.
22 – Ponale road on foot and by MTB
Garda Trentino is paradise for those who want to practice healthy sports on vacation, and the Ponale road is one of its best expressions. It is both a walking and cycling path. It is ideal for hiking in the warm season, including the fall season.
The trail connects Riva del Garda (it starts right from the town) to the Ledro Valley and is considered one of the most beautiful European trails. My advice is to hike it by mountain bike.
Lake Garda: the Verona side
So we have arrived at the shore of the province of Verona included between the territory of Malcesine and Peschiera del Garda. Basically, the eastern part of the lake, to which I will add some experiences to do in the neighboring territories of the lower Lake Garda.
23 – Visit the Castle of Malcesine
Malcesine is a beautiful town on the shores of Lake Garda. As I told you, in this article on things to see on Lake Garda, I am ideally following a “clockwise” itinerary. We are therefore in the upper Veronese part of the lake.
Here we find the Scaliger castle of Malcesine, a medieval castle in which the Lombards, Franks, Scaligeri, Venetians, as well as the French and Austrians succeeded each other.
24 – Discovering the medieval village of Campo di Brenzone
Descending from Malcesine and following the coast of Lake Garda, we find Brenzone and a short distance away “Brenzone field“, an ancient medieval village (200 mslm) that can only be reached on foot or by bicycle.
A village that is definitely worth a visit.
25 – Torri del Benaco and the Scaliger castle
About ten kilometers south of Brenzone del Garda we find Torri del Benaco, exactly opposite Gardone Riviera and Toscolano Maderno (of the Brescia Side).
It is one of the most characteristic towns on Lake Garda, made even more interesting by the imposing Scaliger Castle, a fortress of Roman origin.
If you are choosing things to see on Lake Garda, I suggest planning a half-day of relaxation and culture in Torri del Benaco.
26 – Trekking on Mount Baldo
Mount Baldo is the most important panoramic peak to see on the Veronese shore of Lake Garda. It is full of trails where you can hike at any time of the year: on foot, mountain bike, ski or snowshoe.
You may also want to read -> The best hikes and trails on Mount Baldo.
If you love mountains and breathtaking views, this is a must-do hike on Lake Garda. On its slopes you can find numerous huts and refuges, with many refreshment places. During summer they are all operational, while in winter only the Fiori del Baldo Refuge remains open.
How and why to go to Mount Baldo?
Because it has countless trekking trails to reach it. Among the many treks, I want to point out one that is basically among the most traveled ones and can also be done by e-bike.
How to reach the summit of Mount Baldo?
To reach this well-known mountain overlooking Lake Garda you can start from the locality “due pozze – prada”. There you will find a large dirt parking lot. To avoid parking problems, especially in the high season, I recommend that you arrive early in the morning. From this point starts a road also dirt road that initially runs inside a beautiful beech forest (in autumn with exceptional colors). After about 40 minutes of walking you will be able to catch a glimpse of Lake Garda from a very scenic spot.
Another 20 minutes and you will reach the Rifugio Forte Naole, named after the fort of the same name built by the Italians in 1913 in anticipation of a possible Austrian attack near the border. Privately owned, unfortunately this fort is now in a serious state of neglect and decay.
Returning to the main trail, in an hour’s walk you can reach the Fiori del Baldo mountain huts and then the Rifugio Chierego with a magnificent terrace overlooking Lake Garda. For those who are more trained, there is the possibility of further lengthening the trek by reaching in one hour and twenty minutes the Rifugio Telegrafo, the only still owned by CAI.
27 – Punta San Vigilio, overlooking Lake Garda
Punta San Vigilio is that part of the Veronese territory that leans toward the waters of Lake Garda. The place is particularly fascinating, just leave your car at the free parking park “baia delle sirene” and proceed on foot for 150/200 meters. On your tour around Lake Garda, stopping at Punta San Vigilio is absolutely worth it…consider that it is considered the “Portofino of Lake Garda.” There is also a paid beach called “Baia delle Sirene beach.”
28 – Gardaland, the famous amusement park on Lake Garda
Who doesn’t know Gardaland, the largest amusement park in Italy!? I don’t think it needs any further introduction. As children, but also as teenagers, I think everyone has gone to Gardaland at least once; at least those who live in northern Italy.
If you will be in the area and have some time to devote to it, both you and your children will surely have a good time. Beware that in summer the queues reach unspeakable waiting levels.
29 – Sigurtà Park
As I announced in the rest of the article, I want to give you two more suggestions of things to see around Lake Garda. Sigurtà Park is located in Valeggio sul Mincio just 10 km from the shores of the lake.
This place is a nature park of no less than 60 hectares that in 2013 won the award of most beautiful park in Italy and in 2015 even came second among the most beautiful parks in Europe.
You will find countless flowers, lush green meadows, bodies of water and lots and lots of peace. A day of relaxation and nature. Needless to say, in an itinerary around Lake Garda, Sigurtà Park cannot be missed.
30 – Borghetto di Valeggio sul Mincio
Finally, I close this article on things to see on Lake Garda with a special place: Borghetto di Valeggio sul Mincio. (I also told you about it in the article of the 5 experiences to do in the lower Lake Garda). It is a very characteristic hamlet of Valeggio as a small and charming village on the waters of the Mincio River.
In addition to the classic and famous Valeggio tortellini (I recommend that you make an ample supply) you will find a lot of romance and more here. It is also a great location for photographer readers.
If you love photography, you will find plenty of views to photograph in this village. A word of advice: go there at sunset when the street lamps will begin to create the typical romantic atmosphere.