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