best of Lake Garda places not to miss

Best of Lake Garda – Places You Shouldn’t Miss

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Lake Garda is one of the most beautiful regions of Northern Italy and has plenty to offer for everyone. But where do you go if you only have limited time and want to experience the very best that Lake Garda has to offer?

You can spend a couple of days or a couple of weeks in the area and you will not get bored. Lake Garda has charming old towns, beautiful landscapes, plenty of sightseeing possibilities and accommodation in all price categories. Water sports enthusiasts will find some of the best places for paragliding, windsurfing, and hang-gliding. You can go walking, mountain biking, visit a theme park, a water park, play golf, go sailing, or spend a couple dolce far niente days by the pool or on the beach. All of this in the most spectacular setting you can imagine…

Lake Garda most beautiful places

If you have a couple of days in the area, don’t miss the chance to drive around the whole lake and visit some of the charming old towns along the way. This can be done as a round trip or you can choose to stay at one central location and discover the lake from there.

Round trip around Lake Garda is about 150km (95 miles) and in principle you can do it in one day, but the roads are narrow and traffic is very busy, so you won’t have much time left to discover the villages along the way. That being said, driving around the lake is still worth doing, as long as you don’t expect to see the very best of Lake Garda in one day.

I advise that you choose one or two places to visit each day. You can drive, take a ferry-boat, or, like we did, combine the two. It’s simply not possible to see everything in a day or two, so don’t even try. Better explore fewer places than rush by and only see the lake through the window of your car.

The most beautiful places and charming towns along the Lake Garda in Italy

 

Best of Lake Garda – my TOP 5 places you really shouldn’t miss

1. SIRMIONE

Sirmione is one of the most beautiful towns on Lake Garda

Grotte di Catullo in Sirmione

 

Located on the South shore of Lake Garda, Sirmione is probably the most popular tourist destination on the lake. Sirmione is a beautiful old town located at the end of a small peninsula that towers about 4 km into Lake Garda. If you want to discover this town to the fullest, you should count on spending the whole day here.

Sirmione is easily accessible and is right in the middle of the popular tourist route between Milan, Verona, and Venice. Let’s just say, you will not be alone in town…

Try to get there early in the morning or late in the afternoon as it gets really busy during the day. If you are staying at one of the bigger villages at the lake, you may want to consider taking a boat to Sirmione so that you can avoid the busy traffic altogether. Cars are not allowed in the historical city centre. You have to leave your car at one of the designated parking areas and walk from there.

Main Sirmione attractions include:

  • Not to be missed: Grotte di Catulo – the excavated ruins (scavi) of the massive Roman villa at the headland on the tip of the peninsula
  • 13th century Rocca Scaligera Castle
  • Church of San Pietro in Mavino
  • Church of Santa Maria Maggiore
  • Really worth it: if you have time take a short boat ride around the peninsula.

2. MALCESINE

Malcesine is not to be missed

Lake Garda as seen from Castello Scaligero in Malcesine

 

Malcesine, the pearl of Lake Garda, is located in a very picturesque setting and is a charming old town with narrow medieval streets, a beautiful harbour and lots of small shops, stores and cafes inviting visitors to stroll around and explore.

Just as most other places on Lake Garda, Malcesine is crowded in the summer months with thousands of visitors squeezing through the narrow streets. If you have a choice, try to visit in May-June or in September.

Main Malcesine attractions include:

  • Cable car (weather permitting) to the top of Monte Baldo with amazing views of the area
  • Castello Scaligero – climb the tower for magnificent views

3. LIMONE SUL GARDA

Limone sul Garda

Limone sul Garda

 

Probably one of the most picturesque towns of Lake Garda is Limone. The scenic road from Riva to Limone takes you through many tunnels and you have wonderful views over Limone just before you reach the town.

Limone has a nice waterfront promenade and a very cozy old town with lots of restaurants, cafes, and little shops.

You can easily combine a visit to Limone with that of Malcesine or Riva. You can leave your car at the paid parking area in Limone and take a ferry-boat from here. Since the distance is not very big, it doesn’t take that long and the ferry fees are reasonable as well.

4. RIVA DEL GARDA

Riva del Garda on the North side of Lake Garda

Riva del Garda old town

 

Riva del Garda is a nice little town surrounded by steep cliffs and high mountains on he Northern shore of Lake Garda and it’s particularly impressive if you arrive there by boat. Riva has a nice little old town with picturesque narrow streets and plenty of shopping and dining options. You will have a tough time trying to resist buying at least some of the local specialities and all kinds of traditional Italian gifts.

5. BOAT TRIP ON THE NORTHERN PART OF LAKE GARDA

Northern Side of Lake Garda from the ferry boat

Northern Side of Lake Garda

 

You cannot truly appreciate how spectacular Lake Garda is if you don’t see it from the water. If you don’t have the time, the money, or the desire to spend the whole day touring the lake, I suggest that you take a boat from either Limone or Malcesine to Riva. You will be really glad you did. The dramatic fjord-like Northern end of the lake is surrounded by towering mountains and the views are just spectacular! 

Note that Limone and Melcesine are built on a very steep terrain and while in Limone you can still make a nice walk on the promenade near the lake, Malcesine may be difficult to visit for people with restricted mobility. Our kids were all traveling in strollers when we visited and we could get pretty much everywhere we wanted, but it was quite an exercise with moments and we were glad we had full-size strollers with big rubber wheels.

Lake Garda places to visit if you have more time

The following places on Lake Garda might not be as spectacular as the Top-5, but are really nice to visit if you have more time. You can easily combine a couple of them in one day, or just go there for dinner after a day by the pool or at the theme park.

  • Gardone Riviera
  • Desenzano del Garda
  • Salò
  • Torbole
  • Garda
  • Bardolino

TIP: If you have more time and want to visit a more authentic part of Italy, I strongly suggest to spend a few days in Trentino region, North of Lake Garda. It’s an amazing place for those looking for a big variety of more active outdoorsy things to do. You can find some recommendations here: Best Things To Do in Trentino in Summer.

Lake Garda markets

Local Italian market at Peschiera del Garda Lake Garda

Italian pottery at a local market in Peschiera del Garda

 

Lake Garda is also well-known for the traditional Italian markets. These markets aren’t just food markets, you can buy Italian leather goods, pottery, tapestry, clothing and much more…
If you have the time, try to visit at least one local market during your Lake Garda holiday.

Below you can find a short list of Lake Garda markets per day. There are many more markets than this, but I’d choose from one of these because they are in the most beautiful towns you can visit at the same time. Note that most markets stop early in the afternoon so you have to visit in the morning.

Lake Garda market days

Monday: Peschiera del Garda, Colombare di Sirmione
Tuesday: Desenzano, Limone sul Garda, Torbole (April to October only).
Wednesday: Riva del Garda (2nd and 4th week of the month), Lazise
Thursday: Bardolino, Toscolano
Friday: Garda, Lugana di Sirmione
Saturday: Malcesine, Salò
Sunday is not really a market day in Italy. You can try Rivoltella or better wait a day and go to Peschiera on Monday.

You may also like to read our tips for the best Lake Garda itinerary  to help you plan your trip to the area. If you are thinking to include Milan into your itinerary, don’t hesitate – it’s such a surprisingly diverse city. Here you can find our suggested Milan one day itinerary – complete with highlights as well as hidden gems that most tourists never see.

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Most beautiful towns along Lake Garda in Italy

 

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Comments

  1. Hello!

    I was wondering about any boat tours you recommend? You mentioned how arriving by boat to Riva del Garda is amazing , but how would we do that? From where?

    Thank you so much!

    1. Author

      Hi Katarzyna, it’s not really ‘a tour’ as such – there are regular boat services that connect different towns along the lake. Here you can find more information and also a map of how the boat goes.
      We didn’t take the boat often and we didn’t do the entire lake by boat because we were there by car and made lots of separate day trips to different villages, driving everywhere. The part we did by boat was from Limone to Torbole and to Riva del Garda and then back to Limone. It’s simply stunning!
      PS You just buy the tickets at the harbor as you arrive and there are regular boat connections during the entire day, especially if you are traveling in high season.

      1. thank you so much for the help ! Also, how was it driving around Italy? My friends are I are stuck between renting a car and buying train/bus tickets, was it difficult maneuvering to all the smaller villages?

        1. Author

          We always drive anywhere we can because we prefer all that freedom that comes with having your own car. Italy is ok, in general. I’d only stay away from the biggest cities if you’re not comfortable, but even there it’s usually ok. We have never driven in Rome, but Florence was alright and small villages and smaller towns are usually fine. Parking might be a bit of an issue in some places if you travel in high season, so try to look up some parking garages on Google Maps in advance, so that you know where to go when planning to visit any bigger towns.

  2. Hi Jurga,

    Just read your amazingly helpful blog on Lake Garda! My boyfriend and I are planning our holiday to here this summer (probably around June) and I’m thinking Sirmione is where we’re going to find an air bnb for our time there. Is driving essential to make the most of it or can we see other villages around the lake from the boat tours? Also is there a train from Sirmione or near by to get to Verona?

    Thanks

    1. Author

      Hi Lauren, there is a train station in Desenzano and in Peschiera del Garda. I think there are busses from any of these towns to Sirmione.
      As for Sirmione itself, if you stay there, you can take a boat to most other places along the lake, so no need for a car. PS I think that you can also take the boat from Desenzano, which might be a bit cheaper place to stay and it also has a train station if that’s easier for you. Here you can see the map of where the boats go on Lake Garda.
      I’m not sure about the best way to get to Verona by car, but there are tours that can bring you there for a day trip (this one is the cheapest I found and it leaves from both Sirmione or Desenzano as well).
      Hope this helps.

  3. Hi Jurga

    My wife and I will be at Lake Garda in September this year. We will be arriving by train. Just wondering the best area or town to stay as we will be on foot, a place that is charming and also has resturants/shops etc. and preferably where or near where the train station is. Thank you.

    Regards
    Ian

    1. Author

      Hi Ian, there is a train station in Peschiera Del Garda and also in Desenzano. Both these towns have relatively good boat connections to the other places on the lake. Sirmione might be a bit easier in terms of traveling around Lake Garda and is also even more a tourist town with more restaurants and shops. I think you can take a bus from Peschiera railway station to Sirmione as well. But in principle, any of these three towns are good for exploring Lake Garda.

  4. Hello, Really great website and loads of recommendations and tips with itineraries which really helps the first time visitor.

    Travelling to Italy late March. I have 1 and half days in Lake Garda. I will be reaching late afternoon from Venice and then 1 full day. Thinking to stay in Sirmione or Peschiera to make the most of my time.

    As I am reaching late afternoon, I am not sure what I can do around due to daylight (any suggestions would be helpful?). On next day is it possible to cover 4 towns (Sirmione, Garda, Malcesine and Limone) via boat ride as I have full 1 day? If not then time permitting which ones should I do? I will be only allocating 1 hour in each town if I can do all 4 of them.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Author

      Hi Hemanshu, if you arrive in the afternoon, then try to see Sirmione that same day. That leaves you a full day for a boat trip on the lake. Don’t underestimate it – Lake Garda is quite big and it will take you several hours to get to the North (and several hours to get back). Also, you have to take into account boat schedules and keep in mind that March is still low season. So there might be less boats.
      Also, Sirmione requires more than an hour, half day at least. Malcesine – I think at least 1-2hrs; half a day if you also take a cable car up the mountain.

      As for where to go on day 2. If you can, I’d try to visit Malcesine over all the other places. Arriving to Riva del Garda by boat is also extremely impressive. So ideally you do the complete boat trip on the lake. Limone, Riva, also Torbole are nice, but you can just stay on the boat and see the towns from the water. If you have the time to leave the boat in just one town, make it Malcesine.
      Hope this helps.

  5. Going to Gardone Riviera the end of June for two weeks. Can you suggest how we can best fill the two weeks. Hoping to go to avenue at some point is this difficult?

    1. Author

      Hi Ann, we ourselves spent around 10 days at Lake Garda and never got bored. There are so many nice places along the lake and also so many beautiful places nearby. Please check some suggested Lake Garda itineraries and keep in mind that you can easily just opt to visit one town a day and take it really easy.
      You can visit Venice, Verona, spend some time by the pool… If you like more action, we really enjoyed our activity-filled vacation in Trentino, which is just nearby and you could easily do some of the activities there as a day trip from Gardone Riviera. Lago di Ledro and also Lago d’Idro are also nice, just as Lago d’Iseo.
      If you feel like venturing further, you have places like Bologna, Milan, or Lake Como that are all worth a visit too.
      PS I don’t really understand your question about ‘avenue’, so I’m afraid I can’t help there.

  6. Hi

    Would you recommend seeing all 3 suggested places on the northern end of Lake Garda, spending a night in each? and if so, are they easy to travel between?
    Going in September.

    1. Author

      Hi Ryan, please check my suggested Lake Garda itinerary. You don’t really need a day per town, a few hours is enough, so it really depends on what you expect to see and how much time you have in total.
      As for how to travel around, you can drive or take a boat between most main towns/villages. I recommend the boat. 🙂

  7. Thinking of going to Lake Garda with my husband 14 -20 December whilst our son is off skiing with his school. Flying in to Verona, which we have already been to, so where would you suggest the best place is to stay on the lake. Any suggestions for a hotel? Thanks for a great post too!

    1. Author

      Hi Karen, I think one week is probably a bit too long for just Lake Garda, especially off season. I’m just back from Como/Milan and I think Como Lake would be a great additional place to add to your itinerary. So, let’s say you stay 4 nights at Lake Garda (see some Lake Garda itinerary suggestions) and then 2-3 in Como, which is a really nice town and a great base to explore some of the charming towns nearby (can be done by boat or by car).
      Near Lake Garda, I suggest to stay in Sirmione. It’s so off season now and smaller towns will be really quiet, so staying in a bigger place will make things easier (restaurants, boat connections for sightseeing). I’m not really sure about hotel recommendations, it’s so personal. In any case, here are some nicer ones: Hotel Olivi Thermae & Natural Spa, Hotel Eden, also Hotel Sirmione or Hotel Catullo.
      If you decide to also go to Lake Como, stay in Como town. It has a nice Christmas market and beautiful light show. We stayed at Metropole Suisse – great location. But there are so many others, e.g. the nearby Palace Hotel or VISTA Palazzo Lago di Como.
      Its’ a week before Christmas, so I’m not sure how availability will be, I’d say book your accommodations asap.
      Hope this helps.

  8. Going to Sirmione for three days and very interested in pottery. November 1st-Thursday, but holiday, 2nd and 3rd. Any suggestions?

    1. Author

      Hi Mary, sorry, I don’t think I can help you there. Why not just ask at the hotel or the local tourism information.
      Enjoy your trip.

  9. Very interesting post. We’ve been a few times and can vouch for all your recommendations. We’re going again next week and are looking forward tovisiting your recommendations.

    1. Author

      Good to hear that, Hari. Enjoy your trip to Lake Garda!

  10. A group of us are visiting Lake Garda next week we staying in Simione really interesting read on your page liked your 5 top tips Thank you

    1. Author

      Glad to hear you found this information useful. Enjoy your trip to Lake Garda, Elaine.

  11. I’m going to Italy in August. We will be staying in Verona and I would like to take a day trip to Lake Garda. From what I’ve read, mybest option is take a bus there. I was thinking about going straight to Sirmione. What would be the best place that I could go to in addition to Sirmione. Or should I just stay there the whole day? Just want to get the most of my time as I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to come back!

    1. Author

      Hi Sharon, I don’t really know about public transport options. But indeed Sirmione is probably the easiest to reach by bus. You can easily spend the whole day in Sirmione, but if you want to see the best of Lake Garda, you could consider booking a boat trip on the lake. The entire trip and back will probably take you a big part of the day though. Otherwise just make a short boat ride around Sirmione which is also really worth it. If you just want to take it easy, stay in Sirmione and make the best of it. Here you can read my Lake Garda itinerary suggestions (check the 1 day itinerary).
      Depending on which day of the week you go there is also a possibility to join a guided Lake Garda day tour from various locations including Sirmione.

    2. Hi Sharon. From Verona We did what you are doing last year in August 2017. we took the train from Verona 15 minute train trip to Peschiera del Garda, short walk, or bus or taxi to the port where the ferry leaves from. So beautiful and you you can choose where you want to go to. It was a Thursday and we went to Bardolino for Market day. We went really early on the boat by 7:30 am. Bardolino was about the 4th ferry stop and the town we decided to get off at. We had a fantastic day. It does get very busy late morning when it is market day. We will be going back to visit other towns on the lake over the coming years. Bernadette

  12. Thank you,

    very well written summary of Lake Garda ,especially for those who have little time .
    Stunning pictures,

    We will be visiting for the first time end of April and really looking forward

    V

    1. Author

      Thank you. Enjoy your trip to Italy (we can never get enough of this beautiful country!).

  13. I have been visiting Garda for 7 years and done extensive exploring and struggled to find a helpful review as there so much out there, however this is the very best I have come across, well done this is so helpful in every way.

    Great layout and helpful review well done

    1. Author

      Thank you very much for your feedback, Stefan. You have no idea how much I appreciate it. To know that someone like you who has been to the area so many times finds this post useful – this is why I blog, not just to inspire people to visit one or the other area, but to really help them to get the most out of their trips. So thanks a lot for taking the time to leave this feedback.

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