Lake Garda itinerary

Lake Garda Trip Itinerary Ideas

In Europe, Italy, Trip itineraries by JurgaTHIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS

In my previous post I talked about the most beautiful places of Lake Garda. Today I’ll share some ideas for a Lake Garda trip itinerary, from 1 to 3 days to a week and more, so that you can get the best of your visit, no matter how much time you have in the area.

You can drive around Lake Garda and get a quick impression in just a day or you can spend a week in the area and you’ll find plenty to see and do…

Good news for families traveling with children and for people who don’t like packing suitcases every day is that you can easily explore Lake Garda from one single location. You will spend a bit more time in a car or on a boat, but it’s perfectly doable.

The proposed itineraries are made assuming that you are staying at the Southern part of the lake, but can be adjusted as needed. It should give you a good idea of what places are most worthwhile to visit and how much time you need to see them. Use it as a guide, but don’t forget that no two trips are ever the same and you might end up having more time for sightseeing some days or you may not be able to see and do all that is suggested. It might depend on the weather, the traffic, but also on how much time you spend at each landmark, how many gift shops you visit, or how much time you take to enjoy the Italian food.

All these itineraries and suggestions are based on what we actually did when we visited Lake Garda with our kids. We took our time and had long lunches and even longer dinners, stopped at the playgrounds, climbed every single tower we could, etc. and still had plenty of time left to do quite some sightseeing.

Northern part of Lake Garda

Garda Lake coast at Limone sul Garda

 

See the best of Lake Garda in Italy with our suggested itinerary for one, two, or three days

 

Lake Garda itinerary for 1 day

Here are two suggestions on how you can spend one day at Lake Garda.

  • If you only have a day in the area and you have a car, I suggest you drive around Lake Garda and visit at least two towns along the way. Lake Garda round trip is not that long (approx. 150km – 95 miles), but the roads are narrow and depending on the traffic you may not have much time left to do a lot of sightseeing. Try to visit Malcesine and count at least an hour for the visit. You will need 1,5-2 hours if you are there for lunch and even longer if you want to take a cable car to the top of Monte Baldo. If you have the time for just one more town, pick either Limone sul Garda or Sirmione. While you don’t need much time to visit Limone, in Sirmione you can easily spend a few hours or more. If you only have an hour to spare, pick Limone as Sirmione is much busier and you will probably lose a lot of time driving and looking for a parking spot.
  • If you don’t have a car or don’t feel like driving, you should visit Sirmione. You can easily spend a day exploring this picturesque old town and/or you can combine a visit with a boat ride on the lake.

Lake Garda 2 days itinerary

Day 1 :

Visit Sirmione. Stroll the picturesque streets of the old town, visit the castle, go all the way to the end of the peninsula and visit Grotte di Catulo. Have lunch at one of the many local restaurants, take a short boat ride around the old town and the peninsula.

If you feel like exploring a bit more, you can go for dinner in Desenzano del Garda. It’s just a short drive from Sirmione and the old town is very picturesque, especially the area around Via Porto Vecchio.

Desenzano del Garda

Via Porto Vecchio in Desenzano del Garda

 

Day 2 :

Visit a local market in the morning. Here you can find more information regarding Lake Garda market days.

Continue your journey along the Eastern side of the lake all the way up to Malcesine. In Malcesine you should visit the old town and the castle and/or take a cable car to the top of Monte Baldo.

Continue your trip around Lake Garda making a few stops to absorb the scenery. You can stop at Torbole, Riva del Garda, or Limone sul Garda. I recommend Limone. Explore the town and go for dinner at one of the many waterfront restaurants. If it’s too early for dinner and you feel like you are still fit to do some more sightseeing, continue to one of the other beautiful towns along the lake. The nicest ones are probably Gardone Riviera, Salò, or Desenzano.

Malcesine café and old town

One of Malcesine old town squares with charming old buildings and many restaurants

 

Lake Garda 3 days itinerary

Day 1 :

Visit Sirmione (see above).

Day 2 :

Same as above, except that you can spend more time exploring the Eastern side of Lake Garda and leave the other side for the next day. Take more time at the market, stop at the Punta di San Vigilio viewpoint just outside Garda village, explore the beautiful old town of Malcesine to the fullest. You can drive around the whole lake, but focus on visiting the towns on the Eastern – North-Eastern side only since you can see the rest on Day 3.

Day 3 :

If you haven’t done it yet, visit Desenzano. Afterwards drive along the Western side of Lake Garda all the way to Limone sul Garda. Leave your car at the parking in Limone, explore the town, have lunch at one of the many restaurants and hop on the boat towards Riva sul Garda. This is a really spectacular boat trip and it’s worth doing even if you don’t have the time to visit any of the towns along the way. If you do have an hour or two to spare, make sure to visit the old town of Riva. If you have even more time, you can hop off at Torbole before heading to Riva and visit them both. Just make sure you don’t miss the (last) boat to Limone where you had left your car.

Torbole at Lake Garda

Torbole

 

Where to stay for exploring Lake Garda

The charming town of Sirmione is a great place to stay for exploring Lake Garda. Its location is ideal for day trips around the lake, but also for exploring other towns in the area; Verona is just 45 minutes and Venice – 1h45min driving time from Sirmione. Cjheck here for the best accommodation deals in Sirmione

What to see and do in Lake Garda area if you have more time

If you have more than three days, you can visit other villages and towns at Lake Garda. The nicer places are Garda, Torbole, Salò, Desenzano del Garda, Gardone Riviera, and Bardolino famous for its wines. Lake Garda is also a good place for water sports enthusiasts. You can also play golf, visit Gardaland theme park or Caneva Aquapark, spend a couple of dolce far niente days by the pool, or visit other beautiful towns in the area. It’s just a short ride to Verona or Trento or even Venice, which is less than 2 hours driving time from Lake Garda. Whatever you choose, Lake Garda has plenty to offer for everyone.

TIP: If you like nature and outdoors and want to experience Italy in a more authentic way, you could consider visiting Trentino region North of Lake Garda. It is especially great for families with kids and teens as there are so many great activities for families in Trentino.

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Best Lake Garda itinerary suggestions for one to three days

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Comments

  1. Hello Jurga,
    We have 7 nights in Lake Garda, based in Desenzano del Garda from Oct. 20-27. Your 3 day itinerary is very useful and we will follow it. We are allotting 2 days for day trips to Verona and Venice. Which other city would you recommend to visit on a day trip? We have a car rental. For the Verona and Venice trips we will take our car. Any thoughts on what to see and do in Venice for the day?
    Thank you so much!
    Marian

    1. Author

      Hi Marian, there is so much choice on what to see and do anywhere in Italy that it’s really hard for me to advise. I think indeed Verona and Venice are both great choices from Lake Garda – we also took day trips there when we were in that area. In Venice, park the car at the big carpark near the railway station. From there you can walk through all the narrow streets all the way to San Marco square. Don’t miss Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal. Also the waterfront area close to San Marco is beautiful (and soo busy)… If you have some extra time, it’s nice to take a boat to Murano and Burano Islands as well.
      If you like big cities, then Milan or Bologna are both worth a visit as well. If you rather take it easy and enjoy the beautiful nature, you could drive to Lake Iseo and maybe stop in Brescia on the way back.
      Hope this helps. Enjoy your trip!

  2. Dear Jurga;
    Thank you for your blog on Lake Garda.
    We will be staying in Verona and will take the train to Peschiera. We had planned to take a boat to Sirmione.

    Our question is, would you recommend taking a boat ride to the North end of the lake and back to see the entire lake, and then visiting Sirmione? Is this too ambitious for one day?

    Do yo have any suggestions for Verona?
    Thank you,
    Marta

    1. Author

      Hi Marta, yes, I think it’s quite a lot for one day, especially if you first have to take a train to get to Lake Garda (and then back in the evening). But if I understand it right, you only have a day? I’d say take a boat if you want to get an overview of Lake Garda and maybe visit Malcesine if you can – that’s my favourite town.
      Otherwise, just stay in Sirmione, visit the town, take a short boat tour around the town there, and you’ll have a wonderful day as well. It’s really a tough choice, why not just wait and see how you feel on the day itself and just decide once you get there.

      In Verona, don’t miss the Arena (maybe even catch a convert in the evening), Juliet’s house, for the rest just explore the old town. If I remember well, there was a tower you can climb that had stunning views of the surroundings. There are also city tours (walking or biking), food tours, gelato making class, or skip the line tickets, etc. – you can find some ideas here.

      Whatever you choose, it’s such a beautiful area to visit, you can’t really go wrong either way.

      1. Jurga;
        Thank you!
        I like your idea. We have two great options and will wait til the morning of to make a decision. We will have a beautiful day in Garda.

        I love your blog, and your travel ideas. The tours in Verona look amazing. Who wouldn’t want to learn how to make gelato while in Italy?

        Thank you.
        Happy Travels.
        Marta

  3. Hello, Jurga — We intend to visit Lake Garda for 3 days/2 nights, arriving in Peschiera del Garda by train from our rental apartment in Verona. My research to date suggests staying in Peschiera and taking boats/ferries to various towns. However, your suggestion to stay in Sirmione interests us. We know we can take the LN026 bus to Sirmione from Peschiera station. Because we will not have a car, which of the two towns would you recommend for our visit, given its duration? By the way, I have read dozens of travel advice sites the past few years for our travels to Europe and yours is the most helpful, informative I have accessed. Thank you. Jim L.

    1. Author

      Hi James, I think it doesn’t matter that much where you’ll stay as the boats seem to be stopping in both these towns, so you can easily make day trips to the other places either way. I suggest Sirmione mainly because due to its location, but also because it’s such a nice town with lots to see. If Peschiera is easier for you, just stay there. It might be a bit cheaper as well, Sirmione is really popular with tourists and very busy. I just checked, and there are about 25% more accommodation options in Sirmione, but Peschiera has plenty hotels as well, so you’ll definitely find something that fits you best. Which I think will be the case in all the towns this time of the year…
      And thank you very much for your kind words. Glad you fond our blog useful in helping you plan your trip. If you are looking for more ideas for other destinations in Italy, we have a few more blog posts from Italy. We are actually ourselves just back from Lake Garda area, just this time we stayed in the mountains in South Tyrol and also in Trentino region, to the North of the lake. Very beautiful areas as well. I could go back to Italy again and again – there is so much to see there and you really cannot go wrong with any town. Have a wonderful trip!

  4. Hello,
    Your post was spectacularly helpful. We are spending a week at lake Garda with day trips out to surrounding places like Verona and Modena. We were considering renting a car to get around but have never driven in Italy before. What is it like trying to find affordable parking and fuel in the lake Garda area? Are there designated parking areas? Do most hotels and side roads offer parking availability? What should we budget as a daily parking/fuel cost?

    1. Author

      Hi Jackie, driving in Italy highly depends on the area. The roads in Lake Garda area are generally very narrow and busy. There are some parking areas, but in high season parking can be an issue, so if you drive somewhere, try to get there early in the day. Taking a boat from one village to another might be a more enjoyable and relaxing option. But yes, if you also want to visit towns like Verona, having a car will make it all so much easier.
      Most hotels have parking available, but some require reservation and charge for it, especially in towns. You can usually see this when you book your hotels via Booking.com, or ask at the hotel directly.
      Parking costs are generally not very high, but then again it depends on the place. Sometimes it will cost you 2 euros per hour, sometimes 25-30 euros a day (no matter how long you stay), sometimes just a few euros in total.
      Fuel is very expensive in Italy, we just spent two weeks there and it’s not unusual to pay 1.7 euro for a litre of petrol. It’s one of the most expensive countries in Europe for fuel at the moment.
      All this being said, having a car is still the most flexible way to travel around and see a lot.
      Enjoy your trip!

  5. Dear Jurga,

    i really enjoyed reading your posts on tuscany and lake garda.
    my husband and i along with our 6 yr old daughter are going to be in italy this july for 15 days. i am wondering if we should spend 2 or 3 nights in tuscany. probably want to do san gimignano and pisa from one cenytral location-not sure yet about florence ( not big fans of history and architecture-prefer scenic places and activities). we are heading to venice from tuscany for 2 nights. and then, 2-3 (have 5 nights between tuscany and lakes-either 3+2 or 2+3 ) nights at the lakes. wondering weather to do lake garda (gardaland and areas around lakes) or lake como. we are flying out from milan,
    would really appreciate your help. should we do 2 nights in tuscany and 3 on the lakes or vice versa? and which lake shoud we do? gards or como?
    thanks so much

    1. Author

      Hi Aarti, it’s really up to you to choose as there is simply so much to see and do in every area. Tuscany is big and there are so many beautiful towns there; you can easily spend a week or two there. Lake Garda is a bit more compact, but even then there’s plenty to do for at least 3-4 days. I think you have to decide based on the places that you really want to see. We only been to Como lake very shortly and it’s beautiful as well, but at least from what I saw I’d say Lake Garda is more impressive. In any case, in just 15 days you really can’t see it all, so try to make an itinerary that gives you a nice mix of places without too much driving and wasted time in between.
      In San Gimignano you don’t need the whole day, main highlights of Pisa can also be visited in half a day. Whereas bigger towns like Siena or Florence definitely require a day.
      In Lake Garda you can really see a lot in 2-3 days, so at least maybe you won’t go home with a feeling that you missed something, whereas in 2 days in Tuscany you’ll hardly scratch the surface. Also, Verona is very close from Lake Garda and is definitely worth a visit as well. You could visit Venice as a day trip from Lake Garda area too – just a matter of changing hotels less often and also accommodation in Venice is crazy expensive, so maybe something to consider…
      Sorry if this isn’t helping much, but it’s really up to you to decide which places you want to see the most and create your itinerary based on that.

      1. Dear Jurga,
        Thank you so much for your quick response. i think your response makes complete sense.
        we should spend 3 nights in tuscany. we will be arriving from naples. where should we come in order to rent a car? i saw that you chose montaione as a central location to stay and take day trips. we will look for something around there.
        i also like your idea about doing venice as a day trip from lake garda. we are scheduled to spend 2 nights in venice after tuscany, followed by 2 nights at the lakes before our final night in milan from where we fly out to india. however, do you think our daughter will rather enjoy 3 nights in garda from where we take a day trip into venice, and also do gardaland and northern parts of the lake, or is it worth spending 2 days in venice?
        also, if we spend 3 nights in garda, where should we base ourselves to do venice, gardaland and lake garda-we will be relying on public transportation.
        what is the best way to reach lake gards from tuscany. we need to return our rental car there.
        i would really appreciate your advice.
        thank you

        1. Author

          Hi Aarti, I think you should consider renting a car for the whole trip – it’s so much easier, definitely when you travel with a child. Check here for the best rates. You can rent it from one location and return to another. You could take a train from Naples to Florence and rent a car there and then return it in Milan when you leave. On the other hand, driving in Italian towns can be quite stressful. 😉 I know that railways are pretty good in Italy, but have no personal experience, so I’m afraid I can’t advise about public transportation further.
          One of the best places to stay for exploring Garda, Verona, and potentially take a day trip to Venice is probably Sirmione. Also, because it’s well connected to the other places on the lake by boat. If you don’t have a car, you can also take a guided day trip to Venice.
          Other nice thing to do with your daughter is visit Gardaland (I guess you can get there by bus from Sirmione as well, it’s not that far, but I’m not sure). There is also a possibility to combine Gardaland with SeaLife aquarium.
          I found one more interesting tour from Lake Garda – it brings you to Verona opera and back. Not sure if it’s something you like, but experiencing Italian opera in the Arena of Verona must be magical!
          So yes, you can see a lot even without a car, so it’s really up to you to decide what works best for you.
          As for Venice, I think one day will be more than enough with a child. It’s really tiring as you have to walk a lot and there are so many people everywhere. On top of that, it’s really hot in July as well. If I were you I’d spend minimum time in big towns and more time in the countryside and by the lake.

          1. thank you Jurga! we will plan accordingly.

  6. OK, Thanks, so I am now basing in Sirmione and have to choose from Degli Oleander Hotel and Hotel Catullo hotels. Anyway have a nice trip Monday……..where are you going?

    1. Author

      I will be attending a conference for travel industry professionals in Tyrol Austria. With some hiking and other nice activities on the agenda, so it’s a nice working trip ;). You can follow us on Facebook or Instagram for some pictures from there if interested.

      P.S. Both the hotels (Hotel Catullo and Hotel Degli Oleandri) you chose look really nice and the location is amazing too. Have a nice trip!

  7. Wow, thanks for the prompt reply, I’m impressed. I am now trying to decide to base in Sirmione or Desenzano on the bottom of the lake. I like old narrow streets and greenery and not too much
    commerce besides restaurants and shops. The ferries are really
    great as to all the ports they stop at. Thanks again.

    P.S. I’ll contact you again if I have a question.

    1. Author

      You’re welcome, William. I am not always as prompt, just tonight I am going through all the recent comments and trying to answer as many as I can before I leave on a trip on Monday. 🙂
      I am of course not the one to tell you which place is better to stay. But as much as we loved Desenzano, Sirmione is much livelier and there is more to see and do there. It’s also greener, and you can escape the tourists quite easily. Also, I think it’s a bit better located for exploring the area. But I don’t have any experience with busses and such, for the boats it seems to be somewhat better (saves one stop). I found this ferry map for you, might be useful. In any case, try not to spend all your time in one town, there’s so much to see! Not sure if you saw my other post with my favourite places at Lake Garda – if not, check it out.
      In terms of accommodation, both Desenzano and Sirmione seem to have accommodation in all price ranges, so it’s really about your preference.
      Have a wonderful trip!

  8. Nice but I am staying at sermon and traveling the lake only by bus or ferry and no car, so can you provide itinerary for same?

    1. Author

      Hi William, unfortunately I have no time to work out an itinerary for you. I think that the best way for you to explore Lake Garda from Sirmione is by taking a boat. Try to figure out which places you want to see and then make your own itinerary based on the boat schedule, time of the year, etc. Take a look at this website for boat timetable, prices, and other practical information. Hope this helps!

  9. HI Jurga…thank you ! This is a very helpful site. We will be visiting Lake Garda the first week in October. My husband and I are looking forward to visiting the towns. We are not sure where we should stay for 3 nights. Any recommendations? Our previous stop will be in Verona where we will rent a car. We love being in a town in the midst of activity. Thanks….Angie

    1. Author

      Hi Angie, if you like to stay 3 nights at just one place and you like to be in the middle of the action, then I would suggest Sirmione. Riva del Garda on the Northern side of the lake is really nice too, but it’s a lot quieter and maybe a bit more difficult to make day trips from there. It’s more a vacation town for the summer (just as most of the other towns around the lake), whereas in Sirmione you will probably have plenty of action even in October. Also, there are more accommodation options in Sirmione. Have a nice trip!

  10. Hi Hannah, we took a car. There is a big car park at the railway station in Venice. It’s not cheap though. I think about 30eur/day, no matter if you stay an hour or 23,5 hrs :).

  11. This post is really helpful, thank you. I was just wondering about driving to Venice for the day. Is it possible to park in /near Venice? Would it be better to drive to a train station then get the train to Venice? We want to spend a full day there so the quicker the journey, the better!

  12. Beautiful photos and wonderful blog. Thanks for sharing your suggestions for itinerary. Unfortunately, we will NOT have a car and will rely upon bus and ferry. We are staying at Desenzano and I would love your opinion of which villages and sites to visit in two days there in early May. Thanks.

    1. Author

      Hi Patricia, I’d try to do Sirmione and Malcesine. I’m not sure, but I think you should be able to take a boat from Desenzano to both of these places. You’ll need a full day for Sirmione. On the day you go to Malcesine, consider taking the boat all the way to Riva (even if you don’t have the time to explore) – the views on that side of the lake are amazing. Hope this helps.

  13. I will probably go there next summer on my Italy road trip! Pinning this to keep the good tips 🙂

  14. Looks very nice!! next year we are going to italy , beautiful!!

    1. Author

      Thanks for reading and for your comments, Vanessa. Always great to hear from readers. 😉 You’ll love Italy!

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