Lake Garda is easily one of the most beautiful places in Northern Italy; it’s a total gem to explore. Not only that, it’s within easy reach of airports in Verona, Bergamo and Milan (with a little drive) and well worth a visit. That begins said, there are heaps of the best things to do in Lake Garda, and it’s totally vast, so it’s vital you plan your time well.
Over the years, we’ve driven and explored around Lake Garda many times. It’s such a beautiful area of Italy, even though it sometimes gets overlooked for other iconic lakes like Lake Como, to the west.
To tempt you over, and make your planning that bit easier, I’m sharing our very favourite things to do in Lake Garda once you arrive. This way, you’ll be all focused on that glorious nature, towns and, of course, Italy food.
Have the best time visiting Italy.
Malcesine is a totally iconic town that’s nestled right on the edges of Lake Garda. Thus, making a visit to Malcesine is one of the best things to do in Lake Garda as you meander the eastern shoreline.
Although small, it’s absolutely beautiful and easily reach by car as you drive up (or down) the eastern shoreline. Just make sure to give yourself a few hours to enjoy the town itself.
Now, once you’re here, be sure to hop on the cable car right up to the Castle of Malcesine. It’s an absolutely beautiful castle in Italy and totally quaint.
You can ramble up to the top of the castle itself, though, we didn’t attempt this as the summer heat can be intense when you’re walking… even if it is relatively short.
Afterwards, be sure to take some time to wander the old part of town where you can pop into the casual, Al Gondoliere for a bite to eat at lunch. The gnocchi is so delicious.
Finally, don’t forget about visiting Palazzo dei Capitani. You see, it’s a 14th-century palace that housed the governors that overlooked the town itself. These were Venetians and would spend exorbitant amounts on their palaces to help show power and their role in society.
2.) Lago Di Tenno
Created due to a landslide many centuries ago, Lago di Tenno is a totally lovely lake to see that’s just off the fringes of northern Lake Garda.
Like, the colours of the lake are just beautiful and it’s well worth heading here for a ramble around the shores when exploring the wider area.
Now, although a visit might be short (say an hour or so). It is lovely to partner up with a day trip to places like Arco Castle, Toblino Castle and Cascate del Varone.
Oh, and don’t forget to visit this gorgeous little village (in Ville del Monte) and grab an alpine lunch (or stayover) at Agritur Calvola.
The town is tiny but so quaint and well worth a visit for lunch as you head back to the shores of Lake Garda itself.
Probably one of Lake Garda’s most iconic spots, Sirmione is totally beautiful to visit. Now, Sirmione itself is relatively large (at least in terms of town size around Lake Garda); that being said, you’re main focus will likely be the historic spit of land that’s considered old Sirmione.
With a history dating back thousands of years, visiting Sirmione is one of the best things to do in Lake Garda if you love pretty historic Italian towns. With Scaliger Castle, the Roman ruins of Grotte di Catullo and the tiny little cobbled streets make it a perfect stop for a day trip.
Now, it can be a struggle to park, so make sure you organise this with your hotel before arriving. This is especially true when Sirmione gets busier in the summer months.
To get a great view of Sirmione, book this 25-minute boat ride around the peninsular itself. It’s short and sweet and will give you a whole new perspective and really show the uniqueness of Sirmione. It’s beautiful.
That being said, if you want a longer (half-day) and more chilled boat tour, book this Sirmione boat cruise that comes with local wines from the Veneto and Trentino regions. It’s lovely.
Just be sure to wear some comfy walking shoes, Sirmione might be small but I promise you’ll be walking all day.
On the southeast shores of Lake Garda, Bardolino is a charming place to visit for a little exploration before heading further north. In fact, I’d say that visiting is one of the best things to do in Lake Garda if you want a mix of culture, history and something for the young ones in the family.
You see, not too far away is Gardaland Park, an amusement park that’s perfect for all the family. Just be sure to book these Gardaland Park entry tickets in advance. You don’t want to get here and not be allowed in if it reaches capacity.
Afterwards, be sure to book this incredible wine tasting and tour in Bardolino itself. It’s a great way to try out some authentic wines of the region and see what makes them so well known.
Oh, and for some of the best pizza around Lake Garda, grab a table at Pizzeria Due Torri. All freshly made, their pizza is out-of-this-world! We loved it.
5.) Climb a Via Ferrata
Fancy a challenge? Book yourself to complete via Ferrata around Lake Garda. You can find a few different providers that will organise tours, just like these, and it’s well worth doing if you want to see more of the natural beauty of Lake Garda.
We spent about 5-7 hours on our Via Ferrata and absolutely loved it. Trust me, it’s one of the best things to do in Lake Garda if you want a more active trip to the region.
We chose an ‘easy’ one as we’d never really completed one before. This gave us ample time to rest, relax and really enjoy the Via Ferrata. Plus, the views were spectacular.
Now, like most climbs, it can be a bit of a challenge, so be prepared to work out.
Oh, and you might want to give this a miss if you’re scared of heights. There can be some huge drops that can look daunting as you climb the mountain.
6.) Cascate Del Varone
Around three kilometres from the shores of Lake Garda is Cascate Del Varone, which is epic to see.
Compromising of a vertical cave, where two waterfalls go down, it’s the kind of place that’s absolutely beautiful to see if you’re interested in the natural history of Lake Garda.
Best explored when you’re on the northern shores of Lake Garda and their open every single day. Well, except on Christmas Day. You will have to pay a small entry fee, but it’s well worth it to wander around the trails and head into the caves themselves. We loved it.
Afterwards, book a table at Ristorante la Berlera for one of their fine-dining dinners. Their seasonal menu is so good. Plus, the restaurant rooms are carved within the rocks and it’s all so unique.
Oh, and be sure to book into La Casina on another night, too. We totally loved this spot and the food was delicious. The attention to detail with their dishes is just amazing – we could have eaten here many more times.
7.) Arco, Riva Del Garda, Torbole
Okay, so Arco, Riva Del Garda and Toroble are all (roughly) around the same area of Lake Garda. This makes them one of the best things to do in Lake Garda in one go.
Plus, they’re all really easy to visit as you drive around the northern region, so there are no excuses!
First off, take some time to explore the picturesque town of Arco. It only has a few ‘main streets’ but is well worth a visit for an afternoon. Plus, you can take a walk up to Arco Castle which has heaps of history and some lovely views from the top.
As you drive further south, to the shores of Lake Garda, be sure to stop in Riva Del Garda. We actually based ourselves here for around four days and it was perfect to explore the wider northern regions of the Garda Trentino region.
Once here, be sure to also pop over to the viewpoints in Torbole and join the trails that head up the hills overlooking Lake Garda. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and hike the mountain routes.
This is especially true around the ‘Sentiero panoramico Busatte Tempesta’ area, which you can see at this point on Google Maps.
It’s a little more sleepy compared to Riva Del Garda, but still lovely nonetheless.
Plus, you can stop off at Pizzeria Al Porto for some of their delicious pasta and pizza. Just be prepared, you might need to queue for this spot.
If you’re enjoying your hiking, make sure to ramble the west coast shoreline trails. We loved the route around Tagliata del Ponale. Though, it can take a few hours if you’re strolling. Oh, and pack water! You will get thirsty.
8.) Peschiera del Garda
Peschiera del Garda is a totally historic town that’s right on the south shoreline of Lake Garda. Visiting is one of the best things to do in Lake Garda as you travel between Sirmione and Verona.
After parking, take a wander around the historic harbour area and see Porta Brescia which once protected the town on Lake Garda.
Similar to Bardolino, you can actually book these tickets for Gardaland, which is one of Northern Italy’s most popular theme parks. It’s a great day out with the kids and well worth it if you want to give them a treat, too.
Oh, and don’t forget lunch at Osteria Rivelin, their pasta and wine selection is just incredible.
9.) Castel Toblino
When you’re in the north of Lake Garda, don’t forget to take a little pitstop around Castle Tomblino that’s surrounded by Tomblino Lake itself.
It’s totally picturesque and you can walk the shores of the lake and book a table at Castel Toblino’s restaurant, too. A perfect spot for an evening on the lake.
Though you won’t spend too long here (less than an hour if you’re not eating), it’s well worth a gander and it’s right off the main road as you head further north.
Parking can be tough around Tomblino Lake, but there are many gravel laybys where you can park and join the paths to stroll the lake itself.
10.) Limone sul Garda
Perched on the Lombardy shoreline, visiting Limone sul Garda is one of the best things to do in Lake Garda as you travel around the west shores.
Well-known for its lemon groves, the region has been nurturing and cultivating the groves for centuries. Their so lovely to see, especially if you’re driving through in the right season.
Once here, take a stroll down the quaint little streets, visit the museum of Limonaia del Castèl or go for a dip at Cola Beach. It’s such a lovely way to spend a lazy day around Lake Garda – we love it.
For a yummy lunch, head to Osteria Da Livio; they make some of the best bruschettas in all of Northern Italy.
11.) Desenzano del Garda
Just shy of Sirmione, Desenzano del Garda is a bustling little town that’s well worth stopping for a few hours, or basing yourself as you explore the southern regions of Lake Garda.
Once here, pop inside the Giovanni Rambotti Museum or rent a boat from the harbour area itself. It’s a great way to explore Lake Garda and is perfect on a relaxing and sunny day.
Plus, from here, you can easily explore the nearby area around Padenghe sul Garda. Take a gander at the stone towers of Padenghe Castle. It’s well worth it and one of the best things to do in Lake Garda when you head up the west shore.