Lake Garda is one of the most popular places to visit in the whole Italian Lakes region. Its proximity to locations such as Verona, Milan and Venice means that it’s frequently picked as a day trip destination, and the gorgeous natural scenery and peaceful atmosphere see that it’s frequented by tourists and locals alike.
But with so many different towns, cities and villages around the water, how do you choose where to spend your time? We’ve put together this guide to the 13 best places to visit in Lake Garda to help with your decision.
Sirmione is frequently recommended as the best town in Lake Garda to visit, which is why we’ve put it right at the top of our list. Located on the southern edge of the lake on a peninsula, it’s a historical and beautiful location that sees thousands of visitors throughout the year.
The best-known attraction in Sirmione is Scaligero Castle, which is one of the best-preserved examples of 12th-century architecture in Italy, It was built as part of the defensive network that surrounded Verona and was given over to the government at the beginning of the 20th century, becoming a key location for tourism in the town.
As well as the castle, Sirmione is also known for its natural thermal baths where visitors can enjoy taking a dip in the mineral-rich waters. There are several beaches which are ideal spots to relax on days when the weather is warm, the town is full of friendly restaurants and cafes, and if you visit in the evening or the early morning then you’ll escape the midday tourists and get to enjoy the romantic atmosphere all by yourself.
The second most popular place to visit in Lake Garda is definitely Malcesine. Situated on the eastern side of the body of water, it’s a tourist resort that is often busy with daytrippers and holidaymakers but is definitely still worth a visit to admire the charming architecture, historic buildings, artisan shops and colourful harbour.
A highlight of Malcesine is the hilltop Scaliger Castle that overlooks the entire area and adds quite a dramatic aspect to the skyline. Even if you don’t decide to pay the entry fee and take a look inside, the views from the top of the hill are stunning and well worth the steep walk up to the top.
Malcesine’s cobbled streets are almost as famous as its castle, and as you explore the winding centre of the town you’ll stumble across plenty of food, clothes and souvenir shops that are a great way to spend an afternoon. You can also catch a cable car from the town up to the top of Monte Baldo for an unbeatable look at Lake Garda and the towns that line the lake on the east side of the water.
Limone Sul Garda
Limone Sul Garda gets its name from the Italian word for lemon thanks to the groves of citrus trees that used to grow around the area and the Latin word for ‘boundary’ because of its geographical position. Now it’s a northern lakeside town that is backed by dramatic, rocky cliffs and has a picturesque collection of houses and shops along the waterfront.
At the centre of Limone is the Porto Vecchio or ‘Old Port’, from which you can follow narrow streets through the town and up the hills that rise above it. The promenade on the other side of the town is a much more modern development with plenty of hotels and restaurants, which is one of the reasons why this town is such a popular place in Lake Garda for tourists to come and stay.
If you visit in the spring or summer then you’ll get to enjoy the hundreds of flowers that make it into some of the most stunning photos of Limone Sul Garda, and whilst the few beaches around the area are quite pebbly, you can still take a dip in the water or relax on the lakeside. There are quite a few sightseeing opportunities around the town which see quite a lot of foot traffic, including several small churches, the Limonaia del Castèl, the old lemon grove and the old harbour.
Riva del Garda
You’ll find the Riva del Garda at the northern edge of Lake Garda; a classic lakeside town with beautiful colourful houses looking out over the water and a backdrop of hills and mountains behind it.
Riva del Garda is a big location for watersports, with windsurfing in particular being popular out on the lake because of the strong winds that are created by the town’s geographic position near the mountains. As well as being able to rent things like paddle boards or kayaks, you can also explore the water on a pedalo boat or even a speedboat if you know how to drive one.
There aren’t many standout tourist attractions in the Riva del Garda, but it’s still a great place to visit to make the most of the outdoor activities on offer, with plenty of hiking trails beginning or ending in the town as well as the things to do on the water. If you’re looking to experience the authentic side of Lake Garda, you’ll find it here.
Desenzano del Garda
If you’re looking for a beautiful place to visit in Lake Garda, Desenzano del Garda certainly wins the prize for one of the prettiest parts of the area. Situated on the south side of the lake with the Alps rising up in the distance, it’s a town that retains an authentic atmosphere despite being one of the largest settlements around the lake, with beautiful houses and panoramic views across the water.
Historically, Desenzano del Garda was once a holiday resort for wealthy Romans, and still has a charming, old-fashioned port surrounded by colourful lakeside houses. In the centre of the city are the remains of a medieval castle which is popular amongst visitors with an interest in ancient architecture, whilst on the coast are plenty of beaches, a promenade and bars or restaurants that offer excellent value for money.
It’s also worth noting that Desenzano is one of the best places in Lake Garda for nightlife, so if you’re looking to hit the town and party with the locals during your visit, here’s where to do it.
If you’re looking for the best beaches in Lake Garda then you’ll find them around the village of Lazise. With naturally soft sand and shallow shores that are perfect for paddling or swimming, it’s a great place to stay if you’re visiting in the summer or to come for the day when the weather is good.
There’s a long promenade beside the water in Lazise that is usually busy with walkers, runners or cyclists, but the benches alongside it make the perfect spot for a picnic or a romantic moment watching the sun set. If you’re hungry you can enjoy one of the area’s many restaurants, and there are frequent live music performances or sporting events organised throughout the year that have turned Lazise into a favourite spot for locals and travellers alike.
The town named after the lake itself is a great place to visit if you’re travelling between the northern and southern towns, as it’s slap bang in the middle of the eastern shore and has a lot of good transport links to other popular locations. The promenade along Garda’s waterfront is a key attraction, with plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops along here that are always bustling with tourists.
Garda also has a nice beach and a small old town area that is great for fans of more historic architecture. The most exciting sightseeing spot however is the Santuario Madonna della Corona which is a church essentially built into the cliff face, only reachable by a narrow path and one of the most impressive feats of architecture in the entire area.
Peschiera del Garda
One of the best places to visit in Lake Garda if you’ve got a family is Peschiera del Garda, which is found at the southern tip of the lake. It’s a town that has a lot going for it and is a great place to base yourself for a holiday exploring the other locations around this side of the area.
The key attraction for travellers with children coming to Peschiera is nearby Gardaland; the most popular amusement park in the whole of Italy. There is also the Movieland theme park and Sea Life Centre a short distance away, giving you plenty of different options for day trips with your children.
Peschiera is another place in Lake Garda that is popular for watersports, particularly in August when the Palio delle Mura boat race takes place. There are also quite a few brilliant historic sightseeing spots around the town, including the 16th-century Sanctuary of Madonna del Frassino where a miracle was said to take place in 1510.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Lake Garda that has all the charm and amenities of other, popular towns but much more of an authentic atmosphere, Salò is the place to visit. The town is most famous for having the longest waterfront promenade in Italy, which you can walk all the way down and admire lovely views of the water one way and the mountains the other.
Salò also has an old town that has a peaceful and ancient atmosphere, complete with little shops and cafes where you’ll often find more locals than other tourists and some classic examples of old-style Italian architecture. It’s also a top location for outdoor activities, whether you’re looking to go hiking or take to the water on a boat.
Arco is nestled right at the of the Sarca valley on the northern shore of Lake Garda, close to the Dolomite mountains. The area is known as a Nizza del Trentino or ‘natural clinic’ because of the amazingly pure quality of the air and the warm climate caused by the mountains, making it the perfect place to visit for a detox from the frantic pace of modern life.
The town is home to a medieval castle known as the Torre di Arco, which is found on a nearby hill and reachable from Arco via a 20-minute walk. It’s a popular spot with climbing enthusiasts because of the steep rock faces that surround the town, but also attracts horticulturalists with the ‘Arboretum in Arco’ botanic garden and brilliant weekly markets offering lots of different local produce.
Bardolino has been one of the most important tourist destinations in Lake Garda for hundreds of years, found on the eastern shore of the water and home to two little peninsulas that stretch out into the lake; Punta Mirabello and Punta Cornicello. The hills behind the town are dotted with vineyards and olive groves, so it’s a place that is full of natural beauty as well as somewhere that produces plenty of delicious local ingredients for staple Italian dishes.
If you’re a wine enthusiast then Bardolino is an absolute must-visit destination because it is home to the iconic Italian red wine named after the area. There are cultural events organised year-round, weekly markets, plenty of restaurants and a lot of outdoor activities available in the surrounding area; Bardolino is a place that has it all!
A small but very pretty place to visit in Lake Garda is Torbole or Nago-Torbole; a municipality that is actually made up of three different villages all at the edge of the Natural Park of Monte Baldo. It’s another location that has become very popular with windsurfers because of the strong breezes over the water formed by the position of the surrounding mountains, so if you’re looking for a watersports destination that isn’t as touristy as other towns in the area, you’ll find it here.
Torbole is also a great place to visit if you like historic architecture, as many of the buildings date back to the 15th century. There are several small but lovely beaches beside the water and lots of lush greenery in the landscape around the area; it’s a peaceful part of Lake Garda that is ideal for those looking to get away from the crowds.
Toscolando Maderno gets its rather long name from the fact that it used to be two separate towns that were right next to each other; Toscolando and Maderno, which joined to become one municipality in the 1920s. Found on the west coast of Lake Garda, the town is surrounded by hills and mountains that include the impressive Mount Pizzocolo which rises 5,190 feet above sea level.
Attractions in Toscolando Maderno include the botanical gardens and the remains of an ancient castle, as well as lots of beautiful churches that are home to several artworks by notable Italian painters. What really brings people to this area however is simply the stunning natural landscape and opportunities for walking, cycling or sailing on the water or in the nearby mountains.
For more information on holidays in the beautiful Lake Garda area, why not explore the rest of the Italian Breaks website and discover some of our best villas for your next holiday.