Here are the 20 best towns to visit around Lago di Garda – Italy’s largest lake.
Lake Garda is a beautiful destination in Italy. It offers both lakeside relaxation and numerous exciting activities. Plus, it’s just a stone’s throw away from several large Italian cities like Verona, Milan, and even Venice and Bologna.
With eight airports within easy reach and served by a well-developed public transport network, you can travel to Lake Garda by car, train or local bus and then circumnavigate it on the lake’s ring road or crisscross it onboard one of the many lake ferries.
Lake Garda has a lot to offer to the traveller seeking to experience the beauty, history, and good food of Italy. Take it from me! For six years I lived just an hour away from Italy’s largest lake and soon it became one of my most favourite destinations in Northern Italy for day trips and longer stays. In fact, from the very first moment that my eyes glimpsed Lago di Garda (as it is called in Italian), I was captivated by its blue beauty and dramatic surroundings.
Imagine a long narrow basin of water being held in a tight embrace by tall, powerful mountains to the north. To the south, the landscape flattens and the lake spreads out with wild Italian abandon. Vineyards and olive, citrus, and palm trees dot the steep rugged slopes and the verdant plains. The blue waters of the lake glint under the hot Italian sun. Cuddled on the shores are picturesque towns, each one with its own character and appeal.
It is no wonder that Lake Garda attracts millions of visitors each year!
The lake has a perimeter of almost 160 km and it can be easily circumnavigated from dawn ’til dusk. Why rush it, though?! Time needs to be spent here slowly savouring the beauty of the place, visiting the several castles perched above the lake, renting a boat to glide on its waters, and visiting as many of the lakefront towns as possible.
The shores and waters of Lake Garda are divided between three Italian regions – Veneto, Lombardy, and Trentino-Alto Adige. In addition, the region of Emilia-Romagna is a very manageable distance away. Circumnavigating the lake, you can experience a vast array of Italian regional differences and traditional local food with only the minimum of travel entailed. Plus, Italy’s largest lake is easy to get to from a large number of Italian cities and towns in these four different Italian regions. From the above-mentioned Verona, Milan, Venice, and Bologna to Mantua, Vicenza, Padua, Rovereto, and Trento, day trips or longer excursions to Lake Garda are easy to take.
So, to help you with your travel plans, here are my personally tried and tested recommendations for 20 gems on the shores of Lake Garda, Italy. These are 20 charming towns spread all around the lake. Most are right on its shores with pebbly beaches next to their beautiful historic centres. A couple of them are a short drive away from the lake.
We will start from Sirmione at the southern edge of Lake Garda, go up the eastern shore to Riva del Garda on the northern tip, and then drive down the western shore to Desenzano del Garda on the southern end of Lake Garda again. Visiting all 20 towns will give you a chance to:
- see Roman ruins and medieval castles;
- take a cable car 1760 meters up a steep slope to the top of Mount Baldo (known as the Garden of Europe);
- relax in a thermal park fed by underground mineral springs;
- go for hikes, explore a cave, see stunning waterfalls;
- (depending on the season) sun yourself on the beach or visit a cute Christmas market; and so much more.
At the end of this blog post, I have also included a map of the 20 best towns on Lake Garda and a section with practical information about visiting them and the surrounding area. From how to travel around Italy’s largest lake to where to stay on its shores, everything is covered to make your trip to Lake Garda as easy and enjoyable as possible.
Have a look!
20 Best Towns to Visit Around Lago di Garda – Italy’s Largest Lake (With Map and Insider Tips)
1. Sirmione, Lombardy – The Most Striking Town on Lake Garda, Italy
For its location, history, and sights Sirmione is one of the most striking lakefront towns in Italy. It stands on the tip of the narrow promontory Sirmio that juts deep into the waters of Lake Garda. The promontory is so long that it seems to bisect the lower part of the lake in two. Some experts think that it was exactly the effect produced by Sirmio that inspired Lake Garda’s original name – Lacus Benacus (from the Latin word for lake and the Celtic word for horned).
Surrounded by water, Sirmione is a delight to explore. Its historic centre stretches out between a proud medieval castle on one end and imposing Roman ruins on the other. The narrow streets are lined up with picturesque houses draped with bougainvillaea and wisteria. The effect is stunning, especially during the shrubs’ blooming season.
There is lots to do and see in Sirmione on Lake Garda. You can easily fill a whole day (if not more) here with sightseeing, sampling the local cuisine, and relaxing on the town’s famous beaches. Plus, don’t forget the local spas fed by mineral waters sprouting from the bottom of the lake.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the very best things you can see and do in Sirmione on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Scaliger Castle – a splendid medieval castle with crenellated walls and a fortified port. Click here for more details about it and other beautiful castles around Lake Garda.
- Grotte di Catullo and Archaeological Museum – a vast archaeological park with the excavated ruins of a majestic Roman villa that was originally erected between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD.
- Church of San Pietro in Mavino – built over a pre-existing pagan temple, this is Sirmione’s oldest church. Come here for its frescoes that span the period from the 12th to the 16th centuries.
- Beaches – Giamaica Beach and Lido delle Bionde are particularly famous.
- Spa resorts – the area of Sirmione has been known for its thermal waters since ancient times. Nowadays, large spa centres and facilities operate in town.
Round up your visit to Sirmione with a boat trip around the promontory on which this gorgeous town stands. Boats traditionally leave from the small marina next to the Scaliger Castle. You can either join a short tour showing you Sirmione’s highlights or a longer one with added experiences and points of interest. You can also hire a private boat for a romantic tour of Sirmio at sunset. Advance booking is a good idea in summer when the town gets very busy. Have a look here for a wide range of boat tours organised by different companies.
My favourite thing about the boat tour in Sirmione is when they take you to see one of the places where hot sulphuric waters come to the surface. Lake Garda is famous for its underwater thermal springs. You can actually see bubbles of air making their way up and you can imagine the thermal waters gushing at the bottom of the lake.
2. Peschiera del Garda, Veneto – The Fortified Town on Lake Garda, Italy
Peschiera del Garda is the perfect example of a fortified town in Italy. Positioned right on the spot where the River Mincio flows out of Lake Garda, Peschiera is built on a series of small islands and it’s surrounded by massive defensive walls. The walls – thick and sturdy – seem to grow from the bottom of the lake. Such is the impression they produce and their historical value, too that in 2017 Peschiera del Garda became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With pre-historic roots and Roman heritage, Peschiera del Garda was mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History as a place abundant in eels. It is thought that the town must have been originally fortified during the Roman era for it served as the base of the Roman military float for Lacus Benacus (the old name of Lake Garda). At the beginning of the 13th century, Peschiera was fortified again. The Scaligers – the medieval rulers of Verona – played an important part by completing the walls and erecting a fortress here.
In 1440, Peschiera del Garda became part of the Republic of Venice. The Venetians renovated the medieval fortifications, added five massive bastions to them, opened large monumental gates at strategic points in the walls, and remodelled the original buildings. Nowadays, Peschiera del Garda has one of the most complete defensive wall systems in Italy. In summer, you can take a boat tour of the fortifications. A walking tour taking you to Peschiera del Garda’s most important historic corners is available all throughout the year.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the most interesting things you can see and do in Peschiera del Garda on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Venetian Defensive Systems – dating back to the times when Peschiera del Garda was part of the Republic of Venice. The fortifications were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List on 9th July 2017.
- Historic Centre – the cute as a button old town of Peschiera del Garda has plenty of houses in pastel colours and historic churches. It also bears testament to the town’s military past.
- Voltoni Bridge – the thick brick arches of this impressive 16th-century bridge stand near the point where the River Mincio flows out of Lake Garda.
- Lake Frassino – a small lake nearby where archaeological excavations have discovered remains of prehistoric pile-dwelling villages. The lake is also haven for migratory birds.
- Sanctuary of Madonna del Frassino – an early 16th-century sanctuary and pilgrimage site that grew around an ash tree in the branches of which a small statuette of the Madonna with the Child appeared miraculously on 11th May 1510.
Peschiera del Garda is one of the two towns on Lake Garda with its own train station. (The other is Desenzano del Garda – point 20 below.) This makes it very easy to reach from such famous Italian cities as Verona, Milan, Venice, and even Bologna.
Even better, a stone’s throw away from Peschiera del Garda you can visit some of Italy’s largest and best amusement parks – Gardaland, Caneva Waterpark, and Movieland Park, as well as the safari park and zoo Parco Natura Viva and the thermal spa Aquardens.
Gardaland & Parco Natura Viva
Have fun at Italy’s Number 1 amusement resort followed by a wild and wonderful journey into the animal kingdom…
3. Valeggio sul Mincio, Veneto – The Town of Tortellini Near Lake Garda, Italy
Valeggio sul Mincio is a small town standing next to the fast rushing River Mincio. It’s just a stone’s throw away from Italy’s largest lake – Lago di Garda. It’s famous for its tortellini. Handmade to an ancient recipe, they are delicious and come with different seasonal fillings.
Valeggio sul Mincio is home to a medieval castle, a 14th-century bridge, and a medieval hamlet with ancient watermills. These nowadays have been turned into boutique hotels with river views and wisteria-draped restaurants serving the local delicacy. One of Italy’s most beautiful parks is right next to the town. As a whole, Valeggio sul Mincio is well worth the drive from the nearby lakefront towns of Peschiera del Garda, Lazise, and Desenzano del Garda.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the most exciting things to do (and eat) in Valeggio sul Mincio near Lake Garda in Italy:
- Tortellini – locally known as love knots (in Italian, nodo d’amore), these are small parcels made of fresh pasta and stuffed with different fillings. Their evocative name is based on a legend about a nymph who once lived in the River Mincio. She fell in love with a human and gave him a knotted handkerchief as a symbol of her undying love.
- Scaliger Castle – a ruined castle crowning the top of a small hill. Originally built in the 10th century, it was then rebuilt by the powerful Scaliger dynasty from nearby Verona between the 13th and the 14th centuries. Click here for more details about it and other beautiful castles around Lake Garda.
- Visconti Bridge – this is a 14th-century bridge that spans the River Mincio. It’s 650 m long, 21 m wide, and it stands eight metres above the fast rushing waters.
- Borghetto sul Mincio – a small medieval hamlet with ancient mills built over the waters of the River Mincio. It’s one of the most picturesque places to visit and enjoy in the Northern Italian region of Veneto.
- Parco Giardino Sigurta’ – this enormous landscaped park is officially recognised as one of the most beautiful parks in Italy and Europe. Its lush lawns, millions of tulips and roses, small ponds, and long alleys are a delight to see and photograph.
- Parco Cavour – this large tropical lagoon waterpark offers oodles of fun come summer.
Every year, Valeggio sul Mincio celebrates its famous tortellini with a large-scale food festival known as Festa del Nodo d’Amore. This is when 13 tonnes of handmade tortellini are served for dinner held on the historic bridge in town. The table is more than a kilometre long and seats over 3,300 people!
It’s a great event where you can feel the authentic spirit of Italy and have a truly outstanding meal.
Parco Cavour & Parco Giardino Sigurta’
Enjoy a day of fun at a large tropical lagoon waterpark followed by a day exploring one of Italy’s and Europe’s most beautiful parks…
4. Lazise, Veneto – The Lake Garda Town That Is the Most Popular Lake Destination in Italy
Lazise is a very pretty town on the shores of Lake Garda. It’s also one of the most popular destinations in Italy. The 3,5 million people who visit it every year make Lazise the country’s most popular lake destination! And while most of them flock here during the hot summer months, Lazise is a delight to explore in any season.
Centuries-old and with an impressive medieval defensive wall and castle, the town stands right on the lakefront. In fact, its harbour juts deep into the historic centre and borders Lazise’s main square. Go for a walk along the long promenade (called lungolago in Italian). It’s flanked by beautiful facades and it’s dotted with citrus trees which bear fruit in winter. Then the sparkling blue waters of the lake at the front and the greens and browns of the hills at the back create a beautiful natural frame for this gem of a small Italian town.
A step away from the historic centre, you will come across a small pebbly beach. Bring some fashionable swimwear to sunbathe. Don’t be surprised if the resident swans walk past you. In winter, have fun at the lively Christmas market selling local crafts and delicious local foods. The almond nougat (called mandorlato) from the towns of Cologna Veneta and Lonigo comes highly recommended. Then give a twirl on the ice rink in the shadow of the 13th-century defensive wall.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the best things you can see and do in Lazise on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Historic Harbour – a beautiful little port with colourful boats. It’s right in Lazise’s heart and it’s wonderful to see and walk around.
- Church of San Nicolo’ – with its belltower reflected in the waters of the small historic harbour, this church dates back to the 12th century. It’s dedicated to the Patron Saint of waters and navigators. Inside it, you can admire precious frescoes inspired by the School of Giotto.
- Dogana Veneta – a 14th-century building which was used by the Republic of Venice as a Customs House to control the trade on Lake Garda. Nowadays it functions as a venue for elegant events.
- Scaliger Castle and Defensive Walls – the castle is a private residence and it’s not open for visits. It’s still wonderful to see from the outside though. Click here to learn more about it. Plus, right next to the castle there is a great playground where kids will love to run around and let out some steam.
- Piazza Vittorio Emanuele – this is one of the most beautiful squares in Veneto, Italy. With its checkerboard pattern it provides the perfect backdrop for the start of a nice walk around Lazise before heading into the maze of a cobbled streets of the historic centre.
Near Lazise you can spend a blissful day at Garda Thermal Park. This is an expansive park with thermal lakes and whirlpools set at different temperatures. If you love spa, hot thermal waters, and pure relaxation, this place is heaven.
If you happen to visit Lake Garda during the Christmas season, then make the short drive from Lazise to Flover. This is an enormous garden centre which in winter stages a legendary Christmas Village. Visiting Flover in the run-up to Christmas quickly became our family tradition in the years that we spent living in Italy.
Tour a Family Winery
Discover century-old winemaking traditions and sample wines produced on the shores of Italy’s largest lake – Lago di Garda…
5. Bardolino, Veneto – The Town of Wine on Lake Garda, Veneto
Bardolino is a lovely lakefront town that is famous for the locally produced pink claret wine and red Bardolino wine. Standing next to vineyards planted on a chain of sun-kissed morainic hills, this small town offers the best in terms of Italian lake life and enogastronomic tourism.
Yet that’s not all! Bardolino also has a very interesting past. There have been human settlements in the area of Bardolino since prehistoric times. The town has had a tumultuous history changing hands several times. It was an independent city-state until 1193. Then it was ruled by the Scaliger dynasty from Verona, then by the Republic of Venice, and then by the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it joined Italy in 1866.
Nowadays, Bardolino has a cute historic centre, several churches dating back to the 11th/12th centuries, and 12th-century defensive walls. Going for a walk along Bardolino’s promenade is a very pleasant and relaxing activity. Beautiful yachts and boats are moored in the large marina and the lake’s limpid waters glisten under the sun. The town is charming with its cafes and restaurants with open-air seating areas.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the most interesting things you can see and do in Bardolino on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Historic Churches – there are several centuries-old churches here. A special mention deserve the large parish Church of San Nicolo’ and San Severo with its lovely stained glass windows. Don’t miss the Church of San Severo dating back to the 11th/12th centuries and the Carolingian Church of San Zeno from the 9th century.
- Museo Sisan – an interesting museum exploring the fishing, hunting, and craft heritage of Lake Garda alongside the ornithological knowledge about the area.
- Museum of the Olive Oil – a pleasant walk down the promenade of Bardolino, you can visit this interesting museum exploring the history and the production process behind Lake Garda’s green liquid gold.
- Zeni Wine Museum – this is a very good museum nestled in a family winery on the shores of Lake Garda.
- Wine Experiences – Bardolino is just the right place for wine tours and wine tastings. With family wineries dotting the adjacent area, you will be spoilt for choice. Click here, here, and here to compare some of the best wine (and food) experiences on offer.
- Boat Trip – Bardolino is a great starting point for a boat trip on Lake Garda. Some of the best itineraries will take you to such charmed places as Punta di San Vigilio and Isola del Garda. Or you can enjoy a sunset cruise on a sailing boat of Lake Garda. Alternatively, you can travel to Bardolino by boat from Sirmione taking in castle views and sampling the Bardolino wine along the way.
- Bike Rides – Bardolino is perfect for cyclists, too. Great cycling paths crisscross the area. From lakefront promenades to vineyards on sunny hills, you can enjoy stunning views of Lake Garda from the saddle of your bike. Here are some of the most exciting bike tours in the area: Bike Tour with Wine Tasting, Bike Tour to Mount Baldo, and E-Bike Tour with a Wine Tasting.
Bardolino’s calendar is peppered with lively events all throughout the year. From a Carnival celebration at the end of winter to a grape and wine festival in autumn, there is always something to see and enjoy here. Plus, during the festive season, a lovely Christmas market with a small ice rink takes place on the lakefront.
A long promenade connects Bardolino to Lazise to the southwest and Garda Town to the east. It is a pleasure to go for a leisurely walk from one lakefront town to the other.
6. Garda, Veneto – The Town That Gave Lake Garda Its Name
The town of Garda shares its name with Italy’s largest lake. Garda comes from the Germanic word warda meaning ‘place of guard’ or ‘place of observation’. The name was originally used for a small fort built in the early Middle Ages on top of a tall rocky hill allowing far-reaching views of the lake.
Soon, a town emerged at the base of the hill where a picturesque bay provided safe harbour. Throughout the centuries, the fort was destroyed. Nowadays, only a few ruined defensive walls still survive on top of the hill known as La Rocca. The town, however, thrives to this day and it’s one of the most beautiful destinations on Lake Garda.
Garda Town has a picturesque historic centre and a long promenade which connects it to the nearby town of Bardolino. It is an incredibly pleasant place to visit and explore with frequent stops for coffee, gelato, and excellent local food and wine.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the very best things you can see and do in Garda Town on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Palazzo dei Capitani – this is a centuries-old building in the Venetian Gothic style. In the past it hosted the Captain of the Lake – the appointed by the Republic of Venice local ruler. Originally, the harbour extended all the way to the porch of the palace. At a later stage, however, it was filled in and turned into the square you see today.
- Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta – an ancient church that has been restructured several times throughout the centuries.
- Museum of the Territory of Garda – a very nicely curated museum which will introduce you to the traditions and customs of the people living in this corner of Italy.
- Villa Albertini – a whimsical and colourful place which is a mix of the architectural styles of the 16th and the 19th centuries.
- Rocca di Garda – a flat-top hill that – as a sentinel – watches over Garda Town. You can hike to its top to see the ruins of the medieval fortress Garda and to enjoy incredible panoramic views over Lake Garda. Click here for details how to do the hike.
Just up the road from Garda Town you can visit Punta di San Vigilio. Considered to be the most charming corner of Lake Garda, this small, cypress-lined peninsula juts deeply in the water at the spot where the wide southern base of the lake – known as Lower Garda – begins to narrow into the elongated northern part – Upper Garda.
Punta di San Vigilio has a lovely beach, a renowned trattoria, a centuries-old church, and the elegant Villa Guarienti which operates as an exclusive hotel. Many famous people have stayed in it – from Winston Churchill to Prince Charles. To arrive in style, consider booking a boat tour to Punta di San Vigilio.
Alternatively, head for a hike to Mount Luppia – this is the hill towering next to Punta di San Vigilio. Mont Luppia is higher than La Rocca and it is where you can see thousands of petroglyphs – carvings etched in the rocks by the tribes that used to live in these lands thousands of years ago.
- Rocca di Garda – Hiking to the Best Panoramic Spot on Lake Garda, Italy
- Punta di San Vigilio – A Walk Through the Most Charming Corner of Lake Garda, Italy
7. Torri del Benaco, Veneto – The Town with the Castle with a Limonaia on Lake Garda, Italy
Torri del Benaco is an elegant and pocket-size lakefront town. Its name makes a reference to the old name of Italy’s largest lake – Lacus Benacus. This is what Lake Garda was known as up until the 8th-9th centuries. The town has a cute as a button historic centre, a picturesque harbour, and an imposing medieval castle with a centuries-old limonaia – a covered citrus garden. In addition, Torri del Benaco offers some of the best lake views this side of Italy, cute pebbly beaches right next to its promenades, and countless hiking trails in the hills that keep guard over the town.
All in all, it is a great place to head to learn more about Lake Garda’s history, to sample delicious dishes inspired by the lake and the mountains, and to take in the beauty of Italy. Lovers of water sports will be in their element here, too. From swimming and sailing to diving, fishing, and even kitesurfing, Torri del Benaco is a great place to take a dip in the water.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the most exciting things you can see and do in Torri del Benaco on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Scaliger Castle with Limonaia – this is a sturdy medieval castle built on top of Roman ruins. It has an 18th-century limonaia – covered citrus garden – and nowadays houses a very interesting ethnographic museum. Click here to learn more about this must-see castle on Lake Garda.
- Historic Harbour – easily the prettiest small harbour around Lake Garda. Shell-shaped, in the past it also hosted the local boatyard.
- Chiesa Oratorio della Santissima Trinita’ – for centuries the oratory served as the private chapel of the Council of the Gardesana dell’Acqua – the federation of ten lakefront communities to which the Republic of Venice had granted significant independence. Inside the oratory, you can see precious frescoes from the 15th and the 16th centuries as well as a War Memorial.
- Ferry across Lake Garda – travel across Lake Garda by ferry from Torri del Benaco. The ferries here take both cars and pedestrians. The crossing to Toscolano-Maderno on the western shores is only half an hour. The views are stunning!
Go for a lovely hike in the surroundings of Torri del Benaco. The hills above this small lakefront town are dotted with small villages. Many of them have been there since the Middle Ages. Their location affords wonderful views over Lake Garda.
Near the village of Crero, you can also walk on a Tibetan Bridge over a deep canyon. Click here for details on how to do the hike to the bridge. Also near Crero you can see millennia-old petroglyphs chiselled on slickensides – rocks smoothly polished by ancient glaciers.
Alternatively, book a visit to the Grotta Tanela – a beautiful cave that stretches for 400 m inside Mount Baldo.
- 15 Best Things to Do in Torri del Benaco on Italy’s Lake Garda
- Lake Garda’s Tibetan Bridge – A High-Adrenaline Hiking Experience in Veneto, Italy
8. San Zeno di Montagna, Veneto – The Town Known as Lake Garda’s Balcony
At 680 m above sea level and near Mount Baldo, you will find San Zeno di Montagna – a pretty town enjoying splendid lake views. Its sprawling panoramas have earned it the nickname The Balcony of Lake Garda.
San Zeno di Montagna is a favourite destination for hikers, nordic walkers, and cyclists. 200 km of trails crisscross the area around the town. Many different itineraries take you high above Lake Garda and allow you to discover little-known corners of this beautiful land.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise, here are some of the most exciting things to do around San Zeno di Montagna above Lake Garda in Italy:
- Walking and Cycling – San Zeno di Montagna is a great starting point for beautiful hikes, walks, and bike rides.
- Paragliding – with launches from a height of 1,200 m to 1,700 m, you can see and feel what birds see and feel when looking at Lake Garda from above.
- Jungle Adventure Park – this is a large adventure park which offers you a chance to test your physical endurance and to have fun along the way.
- Local Dairy Farms – small dairy farms (called malga in Italian) are dotted all over the slopes around San Zeno di Montagna. Some of them are open for visits and you can buy their handmade cheeses and dairy products. If you can, give Monte Veronese a try. This Italian cheese was one of the first to obtain a Protected Designation of Origin status.
- Fort Naole – built at an altitude of 1,675 m above sea level, this is an old military fort to which many hiking trails in the area lead to.
Near San Zeno di Montagna stand large chestnut forests where many of the trees are hundreds of years old. The chestnuts grown here enjoy a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. They are oval and large in size with sweet tasty pulp. Every year, a large chestnut festival takes place in town celebrating the local heritage.
A short drive away from San Zeno di Montagna you can visit the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona. This is the famous Italian church that is half-hewn into the rocks and it seems suspended between heaven and earth. It is a wonderful place to see for yourself, even if you are not religious. Click here for detailed information about visiting the sanctuary and exploring the adjacent area.
9. Castelletto sul Garda, Veneto – The Most Colourful Town on Lake Garda, Italy
Castelletto sul Garda (also known as Castelletto di Brenzone) is a small beautiful town on the eastern shores of Lake Garda. With its pebbly beaches, seafood restaurants, and a pretty harbour full of fishing boats, Castelletto is a very attractive place to visit. The buildings and houses here are painted in different intense colours. This makes the town look like a gem set between the blue waters of Lake Garda and the green slopes of Mount Baldo. Come here to leave the stress of everyday life behind and to enjoy the rich palette of Castelletto sul Garda and the lush nature that surrounds it.
This town is my happy place on Lake Garda. It’s both so beautiful and relaxing. Plus, it’s in the bosom of gorgeous nature. It’s not surprising that the ancient Romans chose to build a villa here.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the most curious and exciting things to do and places to see in and around Castelletto sul Garda on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Historic Centre – like plucked from an Italian movie, this is a maze of narrow steep streets flanked by tall houses. In its heart stands a handkierchief-sized cobbled piazza. It’s really lovely having a delicious meal in one of the restaurants here under blooming shrubs and the blue Italian sky.
- Museum of Madre Maria Mantovani – a very interesting etnographic museum introducing you to the rural traditions of the territory. Madre Maria Mantovani was one of the founders of the local convent of the Piccole Suore della Sacra Famiglia. You will see the imposing and yet so happily colourful convent buildings on the lakefront in Castelletto sul Garda.
- Roman Villa – the excavated ruins of a once lavish Roman villa are in what nowadays is the town’s cemetery.
- Lake Promenade and Cycling Path – stretching for kilometres and offering quick access by foot and by bike to nearby towns and villages, the promenade opens beautiful lakeside views and it’s a very pleasant place to go for a long walk.
- Hire a Boat – you can easily hire a boat for a few hours, a full day or several days from the rental offices in town. It’s an exciting way to explore Lake Garda and head right to the lakefront town or hidden corner on its shores that you want to see.
Castelletto sul Garda is part of the municipality of Brenzone sul Garda. This is a community of several small towns, villages, and hamlets along the eastern shores of Lake Garda. Some of them are Magugnago, Marniga, Porto, and Sommavilla. As you drive up the lakefront ring road coming from Torri del Benaco or down the road coming from Malcesine, you will pass through these little towns one by one. See if any of them catch your eye and then stop for a coffee or a bite to eat and explore around.
It really pays to be spontaneous when exploring Lake Garda. Most of the gems of lakefront towns and hidden corners covered in this blog post, my family and I discovered by simply stopping at each place near the lake that caught our eyes and made our hearts aflutter.
10. Campo di Brenzone, Veneto – The Medieval Village in the Hills above Lake Garda, Italy
Campo di Brenzone is an unforgettable destination in the hills above Lake Garda. While it is not a town but a village that nowadays is almost entirely abandoned, ten or so centuries ago it was a thriving lakeside community. Hence visiting it is a chance to experience first-hand the history and traditions of Italy’s largest lake and its people.
To reach Campo di Brenzone you follow stone-paved mule tracks which meander uphill through terraced groves of lush olive trees. When you eventually reach the village after the bracing walk, you will immediately notice that most houses here miss a rooftop or a wall. There is no running water and central heating. I guess you can say that the amenities are not quite up to speed with our modern times. Yet, the peaceful surroundings and the sprawling lake views render Campo di Brenzone rather magical. It’s like a capsule preserving the good bygone times. Or a door that opens to a world that is no more.
There is no long list of things to do here. Instead, the village is wonderful to simply walk through, stopping by its houses and courtyards, visiting the small old church and admiring its 14th-century frescoes. Then, you can continue hiking in the hills dotted with olive groves or you can head back to the lakefront and all amenities of our modern life. You will see how this place – ancient, fallen into disrepair, and almost completely abandoned – will leave a deep imprint inside you. Click here for extensive details on how to visit Campo di Brenzone.
December and January are particularly good months to hike to Campo di Brenzone in the hills above Lake Garda, Italy. This is when a large exhibition of artisanal Nativity Scenes takes place in the village.
Made by hand in different sizes and styles, hundreds of these little presepi as they are known in Italian, are carefully placed and staged all around Campo di Brenzone. You will find them in darkened rooms, stone passages, underneath large olive trees. Walking around the village then becomes a truly magical experience.
11. Malcesine, Veneto – The Town with the Rotating Cable Car on Lake Garda, Italy
Malcesine is easily the most beautiful town on the shores of Lake Garda. At least, for me! Built on a rocky outcrop above the limpid waters of Italy’s largest lake, this small town is a visual delight. Steep cobbled streets lead up to Malcesine Castle and down to a tiny, secret beach in the historic centre of the town. Pomegranate and citrus trees grow next to medieval defensive walls. Fishing boats sway in the historic harbour. And then, the Captain’s Palace has a stunning lakefront garden where you can lose yourself in contemplation of the lake.
For many centuries, Malcesine could be reached only by boat. Nowadays, it’s not a problem to arrive here by car. The best way to see the town for the first time though is from the water. Ferries and boats crisscross Lake Garda giving you plenty of opportunities for panoramic waterside views. Alternatively, take the rotating cable car up to the top of Mount Baldo – the mountain that provides Malcesine’s stunning backdrop. The views from up there are soul-inspiring! Plus in summer Mount Baldo is a hikers’ and paragliders’ paradise and in winter it entices lovers of winter sports with its freshly fallen snow.
- Scaliger Castle – this is a medieval hilltop castle offering stunning panoramic views and housing a small museum. Click here for more details about it and other beautiful castles around Lake Garda.
- Captain’s Palace – a large historic building in the Venetian Gothic style. It has a lovely garden.
- Historic Harbour – a very picturesque little port with colourful boats. You will find it in the heart of Malcesine’s historic centre.
- Mount Baldo – this is the impressive mountain that stands guard over Malcesine. It is known as the Garden of Europe for the unparalleled number and variety of botanical species that grow on its slopes. Among them are 62 types of orchids!
- Cable Car to Mount Baldo – a state-of-art cabin will take you first to the station of San Michele at 560 meters above sea level. From there, a much larger cabin ascends to a height of 1760 meters. As you go up, its floor will slowly swivel at 360 degrees giving everyone inside an equal chance to enjoy the panorama without shoving and pushing.
- Watersports – you can sail and windsurf here. The Upper Garda is recognised as European capital of windsurfing. The triangle between Limone sul Garda, Torbole, and Malcesine offers the ideal waves and winds. You can also dive down to the bottom of the lake at 346 m.
Five minutes away by car from Malcesine you can visit the beautiful village of Cassone. Standing right on the lakefront it’s famous mainly for two things. One is that it was once painted by the famous symbolist artist Gustav Klimt (of ‘The Kiss’ fame). His painting of Cassone was sold a few years ago for almost 27 million British pounds. The other is that in Cassone you can see Italy’s shortest river. Its name is Aril and it’s only 175 long.
If you don’t have a car at your disposal, then you can walk from Malcesine to Cassone in about an hour. The lakefront promenade will take you through the beautiful Val di Sogno (in English, Dream Valley).
- 19 Things to Do in Malcesine on Italy’s Lake Garda
- The Shorterst River in Italy – Visiting the River Aril in Cassone at Lake Garda
12. Nago-Torbole, Trentino-Alto Adige – The Towns of Hiking and Winsurfing on Lake Garda, Italy
Nago and Torbole are two small towns in the Northern Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige. As they are right next to one another, nowadays, they are hyphenated and referred to as one. Nago is in the hills just above the northern extremity of Lake Garda. Torbole is right on the lakefront. Both are really cute and a great place to visit if you want to relax surrounded by beautiful nature, sunbathe on the lake’s beaches, engage in some world-class windsurfing and sailing, or hike to structures of natural and historic interest.
Torbole, especially, is very picturesque. With Venetian and Austrian heritage, this small town has attracted many writers and artists throughout the centuries. It has a long paved promenade that follows the curve of the lake. Go for a leisurely walk down the promenade to admire the stunning views of the colourful houses of Torbole and the craggy outcrops. It’s all offset by Lake Garda’s blue waters and the green of the surrounding mountains. You will feel like you are in a splendid amphitheatre where people and nature have conspired to put a spectacle of pure harmony for your personal delight.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the most interesting things you can see and do in Nago-Torbole on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Lakefront Historic Centre of Torbole – expect a wonderful mix of pastel- and brightly-coloured houses and historic buildings. A special mention here deserves the Old Customs House which was built in the 18th century on the edge of the small harbour. It is very cute!
- Penede Castle – this is a ruined castle with centuries-old history. It offers fantastic panoramic views over Lake Garda.
- Busatte-Tempesta Panoramic Path – a truly unique hiking path above Lake Garda. Part of it includes metal staircases with 400 steps in total. It feels like you are hanging above the lake and the views are simply stunning.
- Navene Beach – there are many beaches in and around Torbole on Lake Garda. I particularly love the one at Navene, which is a short driving distance away from the town. Curved around a small bay, the pebbly beach of Navene has it all. Picnic tables in the shade of an olive grove, a small playground to keep the kids happy, a floating platform to challenge you to swim across to it, a pair of resident swans and a gaggle of ducks, large fish that you can see swimming in the water, plus a couple of benches on the beach to comfortably sit and admire the gorgeous views.
Head to Marmitte dei Giganti! These are enormous potholes that were formed many thousands of years ago when a massive glacier slid down from the mountains. When the glacier melted, the waters rushed through its crevasses as powerful waterfalls. They hit the rocks underneath causing a strong swirling of pebbles and stones. This eroded the soft limestone rocks and created the steep cavities of the potholes.
You will find Marmitte dei Giganti right next to the panoramic road which leads from Torbole up to Nago. The small car park next to the potholes has fantastic views over Lake Garda, the valley of the River Sarca, and the surrounding mountains. Just bear in mind that to reach the Marmitte dei Giganti from the car park, you’ll need to walk a short distance along the busy road and there is no pavement here. So, exercise utmost caution!
Alternatively, head to the Busatte Adventure Park in the forests above Torbole.
13. Arco, Trentino-Alto Adige – The Town with Austrian Heritage on Lake Garda, Italy
Arco is an elegant town just a few kilometres inland from the northern tip of Lake Garda. Surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs, Arco has a ruined hilltop castle, several beautiful churches and palazzi, as well as a small botanical garden. The town has a very Tyrolean feel to it. It is interesting to note that the Habsburg Court used to spend the summers here when this part of Italy was under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Empress Sisi herself would come to Arco, too. The town became part of Italy only after the end of the First World War.
Nowadays, Arco is a renowned centre for lovers of sports and nature. The international rock climbing competition Rock Master is held here each year. Countless hiking paths crisscross the nearby hills and mountains. A short drive from the town, you can also visit a couple of beautiful small lakes.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the most interesting places you can see in and around Arco near Lake Garda in Italy:
- Arco Castle – this is the ruined castle overlooking Arco from the top of a steep spur. Hiking up to the top is more than worth it as the views over the valley of the River Sarca and the northern extremity of Lake Garda are soul-inspiring.
- Galleria Civica Giovanni Segantini – you will find it in the 17th-century Palazzo dei Panni – one of the most beautiful buildings in the historic centre of Arco.
- Piazza III Novembre – a beautiful square in the historic heart of Arco. Here you can admire the impressive Fountain of Moses and the imposing 17th-century Church of Santa Maria Assunta.
- Arboretum of Arco – a small arboretum and botanical garden with over 150 varieties of plants from all around the world. It’s free to visit.
- Lake Tenno – this is a small lake a short drive away from Arco. It’s famous for its turquoise colour. A hike around it takes about an hour. In summer, people sunbathe on its shores and take refreshing dips in its crystal-clear waters.
- Lake Ledro – this is another stunning lake near Arco. It’s very peaceful and quiet here. Plus, there is a small but very interesting museum telling the story of the stilt houses that once stood on the lakeshore. They were built by a pre-historic community.
- Maso Eden – a bio farm in Trentino. It has a herd of fluffy llamas and alpacas and it organises forest hikes in the company of these cute and good-natured animals.
If you head to Lake Tenno from Arco, then make sure that you stop at Canale’ di Tenno. Poised at 600 m above sea level, this small hamlet dates back to at least the early 13th century. Recognised as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, Canale’ di Tenno preserves its original architecture. Tall houses made of stone and cobbled streets converge together to create a dreamy vision of times past.
Canale’ di Tenno attracts artists from all over Italy and Europe and the village has a decidedly artistic feel to it. The local Casa degli Artists (House of the Artists) is where painters, sculptors, and other creators take residences throughout the year. Several festivals and a lively Christmas market take place each year here, too.
If you love medieval villages, then Rango a little bit further away is another destination to explore in the area.
14. Riva del Garda, Trentino-Alto Adige – The Pearl of Lake Garda, Italy
With a beautiful historic centre where Austrian and Italian influences meet and mix, several sprawling beaches, and a year-round programme of events, Riva del Garda is a must-see destination that offers the best of Italian lake life. The town is surrounded by dramatic mountains and stands right on Lake Garda’s northern edge. The climate here is mild and hiking, sailing, and windsurfing are the order of the day.
At the same time, Riva del Garda has several landmarks to keep you busy sightseeing over a couple of days. Its streets are dotted with eateries serving both Italian and Tyrolean dishes and desserts. Town-wide festivals and markets add to the lively spirit of the place.
- Rocca di Riva – this is a medieval fortress that stands on a small artificial island in the historic centre of the town. It’s surrounded by water on all sides and a small bridge leads to its entrance. Nowadays the fortress is one of the two structures housing the exhibits of the Museum of Upper Garda. Spend time exploring the archaeological, historical, and art sections here for a deeper understanding of the history and traditions of this corner of Italy.
- Torre Apponale – this is a 13th-century clocktower that dominates the skyline of Riva del Garda. Scale its 165 steps to admire panoramic views of the town and the lake from a height of 34 m.
- Bastione and Funicular – the Bastione is an early-16th century fort that stands above Riva del Garda on the slopes of Mount Rocchetta. A brand new panoramic lift transports you from the town’s historic centre up to the fort. The views are striking and you can continue to enjoy them from the bar and restaurant which nowadays operate inside the Bastione.
- Quartiere del Marocco – this is the oldest part of Riva del Garda. It dates back to the Middle Ages. The large houses here stand against the slopes of Mount Rocchetta.
- Mount Brione – this is the rocky hill that separates Riva del Garda from the neighbouring town of Torbole. We always joked that Mount Brione looked like someone had dropped a whole cake or a massive Oreo biscuit there and it half sunk into the lake while the other half got stuck almost upright in the air. A hiking path leads from Riva del Garda to the summit of Mount Brione. Up there you can enjoy fantastic panoramic views of Lake Garda and also see the forts that were built between 1860 and the First World War.
Don’t miss the Cascata Varone just outside Riva del Garda. This is a stunning waterfall tumbling down inside a steep gorge. There are two viewing platforms – in the Lower Cave and in the Upper Cave – allowing you to admire the sheet of water crashing down the rocks. A beautiful natural park surrounds the caves and opens panoramic views over the northern extremity of Lake Garda.
Vespa Tour Four Lakes
Take a Vespa tour to enjoy the prettiest views and the most authentic experiences at Lake Garda and three nearby small lakes…
15. Limone sul Garda, Lombardy – The Town of Citrus Groves on Lake Garda, Italy
Limone sul Garda is an elegant lakefront town surrounded by citrus groves. Planted on terraces dug into the steep rocky slopes and fortified with stone walls, hundreds of citrus trees grow in and around this small Lombardian town giving it a decidedly Mediterranean feel.
The local lemons are especially famous. From handmade scented soaps to beautiful ceramics, lemons are stamped, carved, and moulded into dozens of beautiful products. Plus, the restaurants and eateries in Limone sul Garda serve delicious lemonade made with locally-grown lemons. It’s incredibly refreshing on a hot summer day!
Curiously enough, the name of Limone sul Garda doesn’t come from ‘lemon’! Linguists have established that its etymology is rooted either in the Celtic word limo or lemos meaning elm or in the Latin term lima (file) in reference to a river, the current of which erodes the ground.
Up to 1932, Limone sul Garda was only reachable by boat or on foot walking up a steep mountainous path. Due to this relative isolation throughout the centuries, the locals are famous for their longevity. Many people here reach 100 years of age!
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the most interesting things you can see and do in Limone sul Garda on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Limonaia del Castel – a restored terraced citrus grove where you can learn more about the centuries-old tradition of growing citrus fruit on the shores of Lake Garda.
- Porto Vecchio – Limone’s old harbour is a picturesque place to explore. It offers stunning views across the lake and it’s flanked by local restaurants and gelaterias.
- Old churches – walking around the historic centre of Limone sul Garda, you will come across several old churches. Visit them for their lovely frescoes and to learn about the local stories and traditions.
- Strada del Ponale – go for a walk or a bike ride along this brand new path. It follows the old track that centuries ago connected Limone sul Garda to the nearby town of Riva del Garda. It opens stunning panoramic views over Lake Garda and the surrounding mountains.
- Ferry across Upper Garda – take a ferry to the towns on the shores of the upper portion of Lake Garda. Riva del Garda, Torbole, Malcesine, and Castelletto are wonderful lakefront destinations with many sights to explore. Plus, seeing them from the water is guarantee for unforgettable panoramic views.
When visiting Limone sul Garda, put a bit of time aside to go for a drive on the nearby Strada della Forra. It is known as one of the most scenic roads in the world! It was also featured in the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.
Strada della Forra leads up to Tremosine sul Garda – officially, one of Italy’s most beautiful villages. Up there and surrounded by old stone houses, you can enjoy majestic bird’s-eye views of Lake Garda.
Alternatively, drive up to Riva del Garda. The road passes through a series of tunnels cut directly into the rocks. Each tunnel has a name inspired by Ancient Greek mythology. From the Tunnel of the Furies to the Tunnel of Gorgona, the drive is very exciting, especially coupled with the narrow lanes, the skills of the Italian drivers, and the breathtaking views of Lake Garda.
16. Gargnano, Lombardy – The Hidden Gem on Lake Garda, Italy
Gargnano is very beautiful. It seems to be plucked from a wonderful Italian film. Its history is tightly connected to that of a rich family of industrialists – the Feltrinelli. It was under their patronage on the cusp of the 20th century that many of Gargnano’s landmarks were built. Many historic figures have visited this small lakefront town to enjoy its beauty and the relative seclusion it offers. Among them are the English writer and poet D. H. Lawrence (author of the scandalous at the time of its publishing book ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’) and the British statesmen and former Prime Minister Winston Churchill (who, apparently, painted Gargnano). Most infamously, among them is also Benito Mussolini – Italy’s fascist dictator.
Less than a century ago, Gargnano – this small town on Italy’s largest lake – played a role in the politics of Italy. Between 1943 and 1945, the western shores of Lake Garda were part of the Italian Social Republic. Also known as the Republic of Salo’, this was a fascist state led by Mussolini under the protection of Nazi Germany. Mussolini and his family lived in a lavish villa in Gargnano which nowadays operates as a luxury hotel. Other important buildings in town were converted into offices and headquarters.
To be honest, the first time that I glimpsed this small town with its pastel houses and pretty beaches, I had no idea about its recent history. All my eyes could see was its beauty which was only emphasised by the absolute peace and quiet of the hot summer afternoon. The streets were deserted, everyone was inside enjoying the traditional Italian lunch break – riposo. Just being there at that moment in time, felt very special.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the best things you can see and do in Gargnano on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Old Town Hall – this 16th-century building stands next to Gargnano’s marina. Nowadays it is where exhibitions and meetings are held. In the past, the town council used to meet in it.
- Palazzo Feltrinelli – a late 19th-century building in the neo-Renaissance style. Formerly known as Villa delle Orsoline, nowadays it’s used by the University of Milan.
- Church and Cloister of St. Francis – a 13th-century Franciscan convent. It’s believed that it was founded by St. Francis himself. Different citrus fruit can be seen chiseled in the capitals of the columns of the cloister. Hence, the historians think that the cultivation of citrus fruit around Lake Garda – in the past, one of the main occupations here – was introduced by the Franciscan friars in the 14th century.
- Villa Bettoni – this absolutely enormous yet stunningly beautiful villa stands a short driving distance away from Gargnano. The monumental gardens, especially, are fabulous. Visits are by prior reservation. Otherwise, you can glimpse the gardens and the villa’s facade as you drive through the village of Bogliaco.
- Michelin Star Restaurants – These are the restaurants with exceptional food in Gargnano: La Tortuga, Villa Giulia, and Villa Feltrinelli.
Just beyond the hills that provide Gargnano’s dramatic backdrop, you can visit the small yet very beautiful Valvestino Lake. Artificially created in 1962, the dam has turquoise waters and its steep shores look a bit like a Norwegian fjord. Plus, here you can see the roofless ruins of a building offering a spectacular focus for all photographers.
17. Toscolano-Maderno, Lombardy – The Towns of Roman Ruins and Paper on Lake Garda, Italy
Toscolano and Maderno are two adjacent towns on the western shores of Lake Garda. They are well-known for their beaches, beautiful nature, and also for the local manufacture of paper. Two tall peaks stand guard over the two towns. They provide a stunning backdrop for photos of the area and add to the drama of the lake’s landscape.
During the Middle Ages, Maderno was the administrative centre of the western shores of Lake Garda. The town was large and powerful. At the end of the 14th century, the population of Toscolano started making use of the local resources by building papers mills along the valley of the River Toscolano. In the 15th and the 16th centuries, with over 60 paper mills the town became the leading paper manufacturer of the Republic of Venice.
The prestige of the area was such that the famous Gonzaga dynasty – rulers of nearby Mantua and patrons of the Italian Renaissance – built several palaces in Maderno. Nowadays, the two adjacent towns are a lovely stop during your explorations of Lake Garda.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the most exciting things you can see and do in Toscolano-Maderno on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Paper Museum – a captivating museum nestled in an old paper mill. It tells the centuries-long story of paper manufacture in the valley of the River Toscolano.
- Roman Villa of Nonii Arii – this is one of the most important Roman residential buildings found on the shores of Lake Garda. It dates back to the 2nd century AD and has some well-preserved mosaics.
- Botanical Garden ‘G. E. Ghirardi’ – free to visit, this botanical garden was established in the 20th century and it’s dedicated mainly to medicinal plants. Nowadays, it’s owned by the University of Milan.
- Historic Churches – a special mention here deserve the 12th-century Romanesque Church of San Giovanni and the 14th-century Sanctuary of Madonna del Benaco.
The towns of Toscolano and Maderno have several lovely beaches that offer stunning views across Lake Garda. If you have a pet travelling with you, they will love the opportunity to swim in Italy’s largest lake. The Bau Beach in Toscolano caters specifically to pets and their owners. It comes with the added advantage that it’s right next to the excavated ruins of the Roman villa of Nonii Arii with its beautiful mosaics. Have a look at this blog post for detailed information about Bau Beach in Toscolano on Lake Garda.
The area is also popular for its golf facilities. Golf Bogliaco is a particularly well-known golf club. It was established in 1912 and offers unparalleled views of Lake Garda and the surrounding mountains.
18. Gardone Riviera, Lombardy – The Town of a Unique Landmark on Lake Garda, Italy
Gardone Riviera is absolutely lovely. It offers the best trappings of the Italian lake life and still, it has its quirky corners which deserve a deeper look. As you drive through the town, you cannot help but be impressed by the incredibly long and imposing building of the Grand Hotel. It is truly palatial! Incredibly splendid are also the many historic villas that dot the town and the adjacent area. A special mention here deserve:
- Villa Fiordaliso – with a lakefront garden and stunning architecture, this villa nowadays functions as a luxury hotel and restaurant.
- Villa Alba – with its monumental facade inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, this villa nowadays is used as an elegant venue for luxury events and weddings.
The most important sight in Gardone Riviera, however, is the Vittoriale degli Italiani. With a name that in English means ‘The Shrine of Italian Victories’, this is an eccentric estate created by Gabriele D’Annunzio – a larger than life poet, writer, fighter pilot, and army officer. He lived here for 16 years until his death in 1938. Time spent erecting an amphitheatre in the garden of the estate, encasing a battleship in the side of a hill, and furnishing the spacious on-site villa in a lavish manner recalling and exemplifying all the reasons that should make the Italians proud of their history.
D’Annunzio himself is laid to rest in the Vittoriale degli Italiani and the estate is one of the most important landmarks on the shores of Lake Garda, Italy. A must-see for anyone with an interest in history, a sense for the whimsical or simply seeking to experience something truly unique.
If a few days in the laidback atmosphere of Gardone Riviera is something that appeals to you, click here for accommodation options. In case time is pressing and you still want to see it all, consider this private tour taking both Gardone Riviera and Salo’ and starting from either Sirmione or Desenzano del Garda.
Don’t miss the botanical garden of the Foundation Andre’ Heller during your visit to Gardone Riviera on Lake Garda in Italy. It was created at the start of the 20th century by Arturo Hruska – doctor and dentist to kings and popes. With a strong interest in botany and the natural world, he established a garden where visitors can see and enjoy the botanic richness of the world.
Later on, the botanical garden was acquired by the Austrian multimedia visionary artist Andre Heller. A creative person of many talents, he has created several emblematic works of art and movies and has designed theatrical plays and shows, labyrinths, and even firework displays. Most notably, he is the designer of the experience attraction Swarovski Crystal World in Austria.
In the botanical garden on the shores of Lake Garda, you can see several sculptures and works of art both by Heller and other renowned artists placed among the over 3,000 plant species that grow here. If you love art in its nature- and human-created forms, the garden is a delight to explore, especially on a hot summer day. You will find it just up the hill from the small historic centre of Gardone Riviera.
19. Salo’, Lombardy – The Town that Ruled the Western Shores of Lake Garda, Italy
Salo’, as many of the towns on Lake Garda, has ancient roots stretching as far back as the times of the Roman Empire. In fact, the town’s current name comes from Pagus Salodium – the name of the Roman colony that once existed here. Throughout the centuries, Salo’ was ruled by the dynasties of the nearby city-states – from Verona to Milan. In the 14th century, the town became part of the territories of the Republic of Venice for a short period of time. In 1428, it joined the Serenissima once again.
For several centuries, Salo’ acted as the administrative centre of the Magnifica Patria. Translated in English as the Magnificent Motherland, this was a federation of 52 municipalities on the western shores of the lake. In more recent times and just like Gargnano and Gardone Riviera above, Salo’ was part of the Italian Social Republic – Nazi Germany’s puppet state – which was also known as the Republic of Salo’.
Nowadays, Salo’ is a beautiful town with its pastel-coloured houses flanking a picturesque bay. The town has the longest promenade on Lake Garda. The historic centre is dotted with precious palaces and old churches and it is a pleasure to walk around a cone of gelato in hand. The town is also the perfect starting point for a lake trip to the nearby islands – Isola del Garda and Isola di San Biagio (also known as the Island of the Rabbits). If time is pressing and you want to see it all, consider booking this private tour of Salo’ and the two islands.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the best things you can see and do in Salo’ on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Duomo of Santa Maria Annunciata – an imposing 15th-century cathedral in the Late Gothic style. It stands in the heart of Salo’s historic centre and it has an impressive collection of art.
- Palazzo della Magnifica Patria / Palazzo del Podesta’ – historic buildings dating back to the first-half of the 16th century. The Palazzo del Podesta’ was rebuilt after a devastating earthquake hit Salo’ in 1901.
- MuSa – Museo di Salo – this is the town’s museum where you can learn more about the history of the area – from ancient Roman times to the cult of Mussolini. Particularly interesting is the meteosismic observatory.
- Archaeological Museum A. Mucchi – part of MuSa, it showcases the findings made during the excavations of the Lugone Necropolis – a Roman burial site with 165 graves.
Salo’ is also a great starting point to explore even more pretty towns and places on and near Lake Garda, Italy. Here are some of them for your interest:
- San Felice del Benaco – this is a gem of a small town with a pretty harbour and a handful of historic churches and buildings to explore at leisure. Most importantly, Isola del Garda – Lake Garda’s largest island – is only a boat ride away. Its marvellous palace is surrounded by lavish gardens and makes for a wonderful half-day or full-day trip in the area. You can join an organised tour of Isola del Garda from several lakefront towns – Gargnano, Gardone Riviera, Lazise, Desenzano del Garda, Sirmione, Bardolino and Garda. Click on the respective links to learn more.
- Manerba del Garda – come here to see the impressive Rocca di Manerba. This important medieval fortress was destroyed by the Republic of Venice in the 16th century. Its ruins stand on a high rocky outcrop. It is a magical place to visit not least for the absolutely splendid views of Lake Garda.
- Moniga del Garda – famous for the local production of pink claret wine, this small town also has a beautiful harbour, a 10th-century castle, some lovely beaches, and it is surrounded by hills dotted with vineyards and olive groves.
- Padenghe sul Garda – a small town with an impressive hilltop house opening panoramic views of the lake.
- Lonato del Garda – a very cute town just off the shores of Lake Garda with many sights to explore. Among them are an impressive castle, historic churches, and the spendid Podesta’ House which hosts, among other things, one of the most important private libraries in Italy.
20. Desenzano del Garda, Lombardy – The Largest Town on Lake Garda, Italy
Desenzano del Garda is the largest town on Italy’s largest lake. It is very picturesque and has a lively vibe to it. The town’s long promenade follows the curve of the lake. Its historic centre has an old harbour where colourful boats sway.
Boutiques and trattorias dot the lakefront area and the cobbled curving streets of Desenzano del Garda. Nearby, pebbly beaches attract a fashionable crowd each summer. White yachts are moored in straight lines just off the shore. A lighthouse provides a great focus for photos of the lake. In the distance, you can glimpse the long promontory Sirmio with the medieval castle and the Roman ruins of the town of Sirmione.
Desenzano del Garda is the perfect lakefront town to take it easy. Here, simply walking through the town’s maze-like old streets and eating your weight in Italian food and gelato feels like the most important thing in the world. In the evening, sit at an outside table and sip an aperitivo while engaging in a spot of people watching.
Click for accommodation options, otherwise here are some of the most exciting things you can see and do in Desenzano del Garda on Lake Garda in Italy:
- Medieval Castle – over ten centuries old, it was erected at the same spot where the Romans once had had a fort and a town. Nowadays, Desenzano del Garda’s hilltop castle offers splendid panoramic views over the town and Lake Garda. It also hosts concerts and theatrical performances in the summer. Click here to read more about it.
- Roman Villa – an important archaeological find. Come here to admire many beautiful and well-preserved Roman mosaics. It is thought that Desenzano’s name is a corruption of the name of the owner of the villa – a Roman citizen called Decentius.
- Archaeological Museum – a well-curated museum where you can see the oldest plough in the world.
- Duomo – a late 16th/early 17th-century church with an imposing facade. It stands in Desenzano’s historic centre. Inside it, you can admire a very dramatic Last Supper by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Interestingly, the the artist executed the painting in portrait orientation rather than the traditional for the Last Supper theme landscape orientation.
- Historic Harbour – a very picturesque small port surrounded by centuries-old palaces.
- Tower of San Martino della Battaglia – 74 m tall, the tower was erected in the 19th century to commemmorate a historic battle held at its spot. A nearby ossuary keeps the remains of the fallen soldiers. The tower and the ossuary are about ten minutes away by car from Desenzano del Garda.
Many festivals and events take place in Desenzano del Garda all throughout the year. Make sure that you check the local listings to see what’s on during your visit. I particularly loved visiting Desenzano on day trips around Christmas. Here is a short video from a Christmas event staged in Desenzano del Garda in the last days of 2017. As you can see, there is entertainment, people are out in force, and lovely Christmas lights are projected on the facades in the historic centre of the town.
In summer, there are many nearby beaches to sunbathe on. On a hot summer day, swimming in Lake Garda feels so refreshing!
Desenzano del Garda is also a great starting point for explorations of the western shore of Lake Garda. This guided tour will whisk you to the most important sights and allow you to discover historic towns and incredible landmarks. Alternatively, you can head to the southern shore of the lake where amusement parks and even more historic towns await.
VeronaCard + Gardaland
Explore the sights of the City of Love Verona with skip-the-line access to Arena di Verona. Then have fun at Italy’s Number 1 amusement resort…
Map of the 20 Best Towns to Visit Around Lago di Garda – Italy’s Largest Lake
Here is a map showing you the exact locations of the 20 best towns to visit around Lake Garda, Italy. I hope that it will come in useful when you are planning your day trips or longer explorations of the area.
I made the map in Google Maps, so you can zoom in and out, use Street View, click on the pins of the towns on Lake Garda for directions, and work with it just as with any other map in Google Maps. For ease of reference, right below this map, there is a list of the 20 best towns around Lake Garda, too:
- Peschiera del Garda
- Valeggio sul Mincio
- Garda Town
- Torri del Benaco
- San Zeno di Montagna
- Castelletto sul Garda
- Campo di Brenzone
- Riva del Garda
- Limone sul Garda
- Gardone Riviera
- Desenzano del Garda
Practical Tips about Visiting the 20 Best Towns Around Lago di Garda – Italy’s Largest Lake
Where in Italy is Lake Garda?
Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and you will find it in the northeastern part of the country. It stands within close proximity to some of the largest and most well-known northern Italian cities. For example, Verona, Brescia, Milan, Padua, and Venice.
The lake serves as a natural border between three Italian regions – Veneto, Lombardy, and Trentino-Alto Adige. It thus gives you a chance to experience their traditions, food, and history within a short amount of time and distance.
Lake Garda is a glacial lake surrounded by Alpine mountains. One of the most important of them is Mount Baldo (or Monte Baldo in Italian) which is also known as the Garden of Europe as it is incredibly rich in botanical species. Among them are 62 types of orchids.
Called by the Romans Lacus Benacus the lake took its current name around the 8th-9th centuries AD from the town of Garda on its shores. Garda is a corruption of the original Germanic word warda meaning ‘place of guard’ or ‘place of observation’.
How to Reach the 20 Best Towns around Lake Garda, Italy
If you are planning to arrive in Italy by plane, have a look at these two blog posts for the most convenient airport(s) for Lake Garda in line with your specific travel plans:
- 8 Best Airports for Lake Garda or How to Reach Quickly by Plane Italy’s Largest Lake
- 11 Major Airports in Northern Italy (With Map, Nearest Cities, and Public Transport Options)
Otherwise, this blog post explains in detail how to travel around Lake Garda:
In a nutshell, though, consider this:
- Two of the towns on Lake Garda have train stations. They are Peschiera del Garda in Veneto and Desenzano del Garda in Lombardy.
- The towns around Lake Garda are connected by public buses which run regularly throughout the day.
- Public buses also connect the towns on Lake Garda to the nearest large Italian cities like Verona, Brescia, Rovereto, and Trento.
- A ring road circumnavigates the lake offering access by car to the many towns and villages on its shores.
- Ferries crisscross the lake, stopping at the different towns along the way.
- Promenades and cycling paths connect many of the lakefront towns giving you a chance to explore the area and enjoy the beautiful views on foot or from the saddle of your bike.
Have a look at the following resources for train, bus, and ferry tickets and timetables and/or to check the rates to hire a car:
- Omio – this is my favourite search engine to research and book tickets for trains, buses, and even ferries in Italy. I can check prices and travelling times at a glance. Omio pulls up a page with results from several different railway and coach companies in Italy. This way, I can see immediately who offers the cheapest prices and the shortest times and I can book my tickets on the spot. It saves me a lot of hassle and switching between the sites of the different public transport companies. It really makes travel planning so much quicker and easier.
- Europcar – having a car at your disposal when you travel is such a great way to be able to see more and do more. I love the flexibility of visiting destinations that are off the beaten track and not depending on public transport to get places. This is why before each trip, I check prices for car rentals and Europcar is my favourite company to rent from.
- Gestione Navigazione Laghi Italia – this is a great resource to check travel times and ticket prices for the ferries that navigate Lake Garda in Italy. You can search for ferries connecting the different lakefront towns and find out how much it’s going to cost depending on the number of passengers and the length of the journey.
When to Visit One or Some of the 20 Best Towns on Lake Garda, Italy
Lake Garda has a lovely Mediterranean-style microclimate. Winters are rarely freezing. In summer, a nice refreshing breeze brings a welcome respite even on a scorcher of a day.
When to visit Lake Garda in Italy and one or several of the towns on its shores depends entirely on what you want to do and see here. If it is beautiful views, great hiking, amazing food, and historic sights, feel free to come at any time of the year. The lake is gorgeous in any season. There are many events that take place here all throughout the year. From Christmas festivals in winter to town-wide celebrations in summer, there is always something to do and see around Lake Garda.
Late autumn, winter, and early spring are mostly crowd-free and offer many different types of local entertainment like Christmas and craft markets, food and wine festivals. Plus, skiing and snowboarding on Mount Baldo!
When the weather gets warm, visitors start flocking to Lake Garda. In July and August, the streets are densely packed, restaurants are abuzz with people, and taking a dip in the clear lake waters to cool off is a pleasure like no other.
In August, temperatures around Lake Garda can reach on average 30 degrees Celsius. The shoulder season is especially pleasant here. April and May and then September and October bring temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius. However, there is also a slightly bigger chance of rain.
How Many of the 20 Best Towns around Lake Garda, Italy Can Be Visited in a Day
It really depends on what you want to see and how quickly you want to move from place to place. Lake Garda has a perimeter of almost 160 km and – save for heavy traffic during the high season – you can drive around it in one very hectic day. It’s an option to consider only if time is pressing and you really want to say that you have been all over the lake. If you don’t want to drive, then you can take an organised tour which will take you to several lakefront towns over the course of one long day.
If you can, don’t rush it though! Lake Garda has many beautiful corners and lovely towns. Each one of them is quite unique and offers its own range of things to do and sights to see. If you have just a day at your disposal, it’s best to concentrate on one or two towns and truly enjoy all their delights. As you can see on the map, some of the towns are adjacent to one another and many are linked by a long promenade. You can easily walk from one town to the next. For example, from Lazise to Bardolino is only about an hour at most on foot.
If you are planning a longer break, then you can base yourself in one town on Lake Garda and explore many others nearby and across the lake. Or you can move from town to town, sleeping each night or every two nights at a different place for an even bigger range of experiences.
Where to Stay in the 20 Best Towns on Lake Garda, Italy
You can find all sorts and types of accommodation in and around the 20 best towns on Lake Garda, Italy to suit any budget. From fabulous hotels with spa facilities and swimming pools to cozy B&B’s in historic buildings and campsites surrounded by olive groves, there is something for everyone.
I usually prefer to book all my accommodation through Booking.com. It gives me many different options in terms of budget and location and I can also read and compare reviews left by real people. Click to see all available places to stay around Lake Garda, Italy.
If you need some visual help in terms of precise location and price range, have a look at this map. It gives you a quick idea of the prices and whereabouts of the many hotels and other forms of accommodation you can book for your stay at Lake Garda, Italy. You can zoom in and out in order to search for a place. You can also click on the option that interests you to find out more details or to make a booking directly.
In addition, if you click on ‘Accommodation’ in the top right corner of the map and select ‘Experiences’ from the drop-down menu, then you can see some truly exciting experiences at Lake Garda, Italy that you can book directly:
What Tours and Experiences to Book in the 20 Best Towns on Lake Garda, Italy
There are many tours and experiences that take place around Lake Garda and are organised by the most well-established tour companies and licensed guides in Italy. Booking one or more of their offerings can save you lots of time and enable you to see a side of Italy that may be difficult to discover by yourself. Especially if you are here only for a limited period of time.
Here are my favourite search engines for tours and experiences around Lake Garda, Italy:
- Tourscanner – this is my favourite search engine for tours and travel activities. I just click on the link and type in my destination in the search box on the home page. Next, a page with a long list with results by many different tour operators loads and I just need to make my choice. It’s very easy and it gives me a great visual idea of prices and offerings. This way I can compare tours and activities provided by different operators without having to open many different websites. Plus, the categories in the menu on the left-hand side of the page provide useful ways to narrow my search.
- Tiquets – this is my favourite search engine for tickets and passes. It’s super easy to use and it helps me get tickets in advance for world-class museums, top attractions, sought-after exhibitions, and some truly exciting local experiences.
- Viator – this is one of the most popular and useful aggregator of tours and experiences. You can use the search box and/or the left-hand menu options to narrow your search and find just the type of travel activities that may interest you.
Alternatively, head to some of Italy’s largest and best amusement and water parks. They are either on the shores of or within easy reach of Lake Garda. Click on the links below for further details and to purchase tickets:
- Amusement parks: Gardaland, Gardaland Sea Life Aquarium, Caneva Movieland, Leolandia
- Waterparks: Garda Thermal Park, Aquardens Spa Verona, Caneva Waterpark, Parco Cavour
- Other parks: Parco Natura Viva, Parco Giardino Sigurta’
- Adventure parks: Busatte Adventure, Jungle Adventure Park
For more useful travel resources, have a look at this dedicated page.
Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and also one of the country’s most popular places to visit.
The lake’s shores are dotted with numerous small towns. Many of them have ancient roots stretching back to at least the times of the Roman Empire. Medieval castles and lavish palaces and villas stand proud in and near their historic centres. Surrounded by lush nature, the towns on Lake Garda offer countless opportunities to both keep active and blissfully relax. From exciting sights and landmarks to lakefront promenades, hundreds of hiking trails in the adjacent hills and mountains, and well-developed facilities for water sports, Lake Garda’s towns really have it all.
In this blog post, I introduce you to the 20 best towns on Lake Garda, Italy. To give you lots of ideas and inspiration as to which one(s) of them to head to and what to do in them, I have provided a short overview of each town, a shortlist with the best local sights, and my insider tips for even more exciting things to do off the beaten path in the area.
In addition, I’ve included a map showing the exact location of each of the 20 best towns on Lake Garda. Finally, an extensive section provides answers to your practical questions – from when to travel to Italy’s largest lake to where to stay around it.
I hope that all this first-hand tried and tested information will galvanise you to put Lake Garda on top of your travel wish list.
Have fun exploring Italy’s largest lake!
More Helpful Lake Garda Info for You
Lake Garda Towns and Villages: Best Towns, Riva del Garda, Malcesine, Torri del Benaco, Punta di San Vigilio, Campo di Brenzone
Lake Garda Hiking: Tibetan Bridge, Rocca di Garda, Park of the Waterfalls
Visiting Lake Garda: Lake Garda with Kids, 8 Best Airports, Milan to Lake Garda, Venice to Lake Garda, Verona to Lake Garda, Travel Around Lake Garda
Lake Garda Beaches: 16 Top Tips, 3 Unmissable Beaches
Lake Garda Sights: Shortest River in Italy, Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona, Lake Garda Castles
More Helpful Italy Info for You
Best of Italy: Italian Piazzas, Italian Food, Italian Markets, Italian Coffee Culture, Rules of Italian Breakfast, Italian Breakfast Foods
Northern Italy: 18 Best Cities to Visit, 11 Major Airports
Day Trips in Italy: Bologna to Venice, Venice to Milan, Verona to Milan, Milan to Verona, Venice to Verona, Milan to Venice, Florence to Venice, Verona to Venice, Venice to Padua
Lake Como: Things to See, Nesso
Veneto: Best Cities to Visit, Prettiest Small Towns, Most Beautiful Villages, Top 15 Places, 30 Adventures, 15 Most Colourful Places, Beautiful Lakes
Lombardy: Best Cities and Towns
Friuli Venezia Giulia: Venzone, Most Beautiful Villages
Emilia Romagna: Bologna, Ravenna, Comacchio, Most Beautiful Villages
Marche: 6 Reasons to Visit, Gradara, Frasassi Caves, Temple of Valadier
Trentino: Best Cities and Towns, Beautiful Lakes, Lake Caldonazzo, Violins’ Forest
Venice: Major Landmarks, Essential Tips, Hidden Gems, One Day Itinerary for Art Lovers, Best Airports, Boats in Venice, Haunted Venice, Day Trips from Venice
Verona: Things to Do in One Day, Verona Opera Festival, Day Trips from Verona, Romeo and Juliet Itinerary
Padua: Things to Do in One Day, 101 Facts About Padua, 10 Reasons to Visit Padua, Day Trips from Padua
Vicenza: Things to Do, Day Trips from Vicenza, Best Museums
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