Lake Garda, Italy

Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy (52 km long by 17 km wide): it’s so big that it alters the local climate, which is milder and – thanks to a complex pattern of lake breezes – sunnier than might be expected. It’s also the most popular of the lakes, attracting around seven percent of all tourists to Italy and acting as a bridge between the Alps and the rest of the country.

The best travel tips for visiting Lake Garda

Lake Garda, where nature's splendour meets charming towns and endless possibilities for adventure. Nestled between the majestic Alps and the fertile Po Valley, Lake Garda is Italy's largest lake and a destination that embodies the country's diverse allure. The narrow north of the lake is tightly enclosed by mountains that drop sheer into the water with villages wedged into gaps in the cliffs.

With its crystalline waters reflecting the surrounding landscapes, ancient villages nestled along its shores, and a myriad of activities for every traveler, Lake Garda is a paradise waiting to be explored. Whether you seek outdoor escapades like windsurfing, hiking, and sailing, or dream of indulging in local wines and delectable cuisine in picturesque piazzas, this enchanting destination offers the best of both worlds.

Prepare to be captivated by the blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and relaxed elegance that makes Lake Garda an irresistible and unforgettable escape.

Planning a trip to Lake Garda: check our Italy itineraries

Lake Garda

The views around the lake are amazing! ©Shutterstock

What to do in Lake Garda

From exploring historical lakeside villages to engaging in water sports and savouring local cuisine, here are the best things to do in Lake Garda.

#1 Seek out striking Sirmione

At the bottom of the lake, the long narrow promontory of Sirmione is lined with hotels leading up to the very pretty village accessed through ancient castle walls. It is one of northern Italy’s top spa destinations and many come to take the waters or enjoy a day in the health and beauty centre.

It’s in a striking location, although the narrow cobbled lanes creak under the weight of ice cream parlours and the strain of a million overnight visitors a year. Your best bet is to press on through the crowded lanes of the village, past the ferry dock on Piazza Carducci and out to the grassy park and cypress-clad hills at the head of the peninsula.

 Sirmione, popular travel destination on Lake Garda in Italy © Shutterstock

Sirmione, popular travel destination on Lake Garda in Italy © Shutterstock

#2 Roam the boxy towers of Rocca Scaligera

Sirmione’s picture-postcard looks owe much to the fairy-tale castle at its entrance. Built when the Della Scala/Scaligeri family of Verona expanded and fortified their territory in the thirteenth century, the Rocca Scaligera, with boxy towers, is almost entirely surrounded by water.

It dates from the thirteenth century. You’re free to roam around the walls – the enclosed harbour is especially photogenic – and climb the towers: 77 steps lead up to the keep, followed by another 92 to the top of the highest tower, from where views over the rooftops of Sirmione are gorgeous.

#3 See the remains of Grotte di Catullo, a first-century BC/AD Roman villa

At the far end of the promontory, a pleasant fifteen-minute stroll from the castle, stand the remains of a first-century BC/AD Roman villa, the Grotte di Catullo, purportedly belonging to Roman poet Catullus, though the evidence is scant.

The ruins, scattered among ancient olive trees, are lovely, and offer superb views across the lake. On the site, an archeological museum houses fragments of frescoes and artefacts that were unearthed in the area.

#4 Visit the best villages

Embark on a journey of discovery as you explore the captivating villages that adorn the shores of Lake Garda. Each village offers its own unique charm and a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the region. Some of the best villages to visit include:

  • Sirmione: Explore the medieval castle, relax in thermal baths, and wander through cobblestone streets with vibrant markets.
  • Malcesine: Ride the cable car to Monte Baldo for panoramic views, and meander through its quaint streets adorned with colorful buildings.
  • Riva del Garda: Discover its medieval fortress, waterfront promenade, and the stunning Varone Waterfall nearby.
  • Bardolino: Taste renowned Bardolino wine in local vineyards, stroll along the lakeside promenade, and explore the charming town center.
  • Lazise: Admire the medieval walls, visit the 14th-century church, and unwind in lakeside cafes.
  • Limone sul Garda: Experience the beauty of narrow streets, lemon groves, and the vibrant colors of houses cascading down the mountainside.

Each village offers its own allure, allowing you to immerse yourself in the picturesque landscapes, sample local delicacies, and experience the warmth of Lake Garda's hospitality in its most charming settings.

View over the famous Village of Limone sul Garda, Italy © Shutterstock

View over the famous Village of Limone sul Garda, Italy © Shutterstock

#5 Swim at Lido delle Bionde

Part Way along the route to the Roman ruins, a path heads down to water level to a shingle beach, the Lido delle Bionde, where you can eat, drink, swim in the lake or sunbathe on the pontoon or nearby rocks.

Alternatively, turn right when you reach the water and follow the walkway along to the public beach by the village, where there is also room to paddle.

#6 Make a road trip around the lake

A road trip around the lake promises a captivating blend of natural beauty, charming towns, and breathtaking vistas. As you wind your way along the lake's shoreline, you'll be treated to ever-changing panoramas of crystal-clear waters, rolling hills, and majestic mountains that frame the scene.

Explore charming lakeside villages like Sirmione, with its medieval castle and thermal baths, or wander through the narrow streets of Limone sul Garda, where colorful houses seem to cascade down the mountainside.

Stop at hidden coves, historic sites, and local trattorias that offer a taste of authentic Italian cuisine. The road trip offers not just a scenic drive, but an immersive experience into the heart and soul of Lake Garda's captivating landscapes and charming culture.

Clear waters on Lake Garda, Italy

Clear waters on Lake Garda, Italy © Shutterstock

#7 Lose your lunch at the Gardaland and Canevaworld theme parks

The theme parks around the southeast corner of the lake are a good day out for all ages. Gardaland is the biggest theme park in the area, and includes the small but well-planned SeaLife aquarium nearby.

It’s pricey but well thought out with lots of shade, water games and rides for all ages from around 3 upwards. Parking costs extra, or take the free shuttle bus which runs from Peschiera train station, 2km away.

Rough Guides tip: Planning a trip to Italy? Check our itineraries and perhaps our local experts in Italy can help you!

Best places to stay in Lake Garda

During the summer months, occupancy rates in nearly all of Lake Garda's communities reach almost 90%, so advance bookings are essential. From campsites and farmstays to ritzy hotels, there are plenty of good options but few cheap rooms. Deals can be found during the shoulder seasons. Here are the best places to stay in Lake Garda.


A picturesque peninsula jutting into the lake, known for its historic castle and thermal baths, Sirmione offers a romantic and enchanting setting with some lovely luxury hotels.


At the foot of the Monte Baldo mountains, Malcesine features cobbled streets, medieval architecture, a stunning castle, and a choice of family-run hotels and B&Bs.

Riva del Garda

Situated at the northern tip of the lake, this town offers modern hotels, a youth hostel and budget backpacker accommodation.


Sharing its name with the lake, Garda offers boutique hotels and family-run guesthouses. It also has plenty of apartments and holiday rentals lining its lovely promenade.

Desenzano del Garda

The largest town on the lake's southern shore has upscale hotels with lake views and several spas.

Limone sul Garda

Nestled between the lake and steep cliffs, this charming town is famous for its lemon groves and has cheap hotels, family-run inns and a campsite.

Explore the variety of options to stay near Lake Garda.

Aerial view of Grotte di Catullo in Sirmione in Italy © Shutterstock

Aerial view of Grotte di Catullo in Sirmione in Italy © Shutterstock

How to get around

Accessing Lake Garda is hassle-free with various transportation options, including well-connected buses, amazing boat services, and scenic drives. Here’s how to get around Lake Garda.

By bus

Regular buses ply the main roads along all three shores.

By boat

The water offers the most relaxing form of transport, with at least hourly boat services between the main resorts plus several sightseeing and evening cruise services in summer.

By car

Two car ferries cross the lake (Maderno–Torri del Benaco, and Limone–Malcesine). Services are significantly reduced in winter; has all the details.

On summer weekends don’t be surprised to find heavy traffic on the scenic lakeshore road, which has one lane in each direction (often squeezing round villages and through tunnels). There is pay and display parking outside all the villages but there can be queues in summer.

How many days do you need in Lake Garda?

It is possible to catch a brief glimpse of the beauty of Lake Garda in 1-2 days. During this short stay, focus on visiting one or two picturesque towns, such as Sirmione and Desenzano del Garda, savouring the lakeside atmosphere, and taking a boat tour.

Extending your stay to 3-4 days will give you a complete idea of Lake Garda and its surroundings. Not only can you discover more towns and villages scattered around the lake's shores, but also try some water activities like windsurfing or paddleboarding. It's also enough time to head up to Mount Baldo on the Funivie di Malcesine cable car.

For a truly immersive experience, spending 5 to 7 days in and around Lake Garda not only gets you all of the above, but some time relaxing at the shore as well.

Rough Guides tip: Planning a trip to Italy? Check our Italy itineraries and perhaps our local experts in Italy can help you!

Malcesine © Shutterstock

Malcesine © Shutterstock


What is the best time to visit Lake Garda?

The best time to visit Lake Garda is during the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. From April to June and September to October, the weather is pleasantly mild, and the tourist crowds are generally thinner compared to the peak summer months. During these seasons, you can enjoy the beauty of the lake and its surroundings without feeling overwhelmed by large crowds.

In spring, the landscape comes alive with blooming flowers and lush greenery, creating a picturesque backdrop for exploring the charming lakeside towns. The weather is generally comfortable for outdoor activities, such as hiking, cycling, and boat tours.

In autumn, the region's colours transform into stunning hues of red and gold, making it an ideal time for leisurely walks and scenic drives around the lake. The weather remains pleasant, allowing you to still enjoy water activities and soak in the serene ambiance.

If you prefer a more lively atmosphere and don't mind larger crowds, the summer months (July and August) offer warm temperatures perfect for swimming and sunbathing. However, keep in mind that the popular tourist spots can get quite crowded, and accommodations may be more expensive during this peak season.

Find out more about the best time to visit Italy.

How to get here

The Verona-Villafranca airport is located just 20 km from the lake. You can take regular buses from the airport to Mantua and Verona. Peschiera del Garda is only 15 minutes away by train from Verona.

Desenzano del Garda and Peschiera del Garda are both connected to the Milan-Venice train line with hourly trains in both directions. Verona also has excellent train connections, making it easy to plan a day trip to the city.

Ties Lagraauw

written by
Ties Lagraauw

updated 05.09.2023

Ties is a true world explorer - whether it be for work or leisure! As Content Manager at RoughGuides, and the owner of Dutch travel platform, Ties is constantly on the move, always looking for new destinations to discover.

Ready to travel and discover

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍