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Getting around Lake Garda – 8 Best Ways to Travel around Italy’s Largest Lake

Getting around Lake Garda - 8 Best Ways to Travel around Italy's Largest Lake -
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How to get around Lake Garda?

This is the million-dollar question that crosses the minds of many people planning to spend their holidays at Italy’s largest lake.

Lake Garda has a circumference of around 160 km and dozens of picturesque towns and exciting sights on its shores. Yet, there are only two train stations there and only one lakeside road that runs around the whole lake. It’s only natural then that at a first glance reaching and travelling around Lake Garda may seem like a daunting task.

Colourful houses and boats in the small harbour next to Lake Garda - Castelletto sul Garda, Veneto, Italy -

Especially, if you may not have a car at your disposal. Or if you have a car but you are unsure where and how you will be able to park it seeing how popular the lake is.

Yes, Lake Garda is one of Italy’s most unmissable destinations. 22 million people head there each year to enjoy its beauty and its unique mix of history, nature, and local traditions. 

Still, if you are planning to head there yourself, fear not!

The view from the start of the hike to the Tibetan Bridge - Crero, Lake Garda, Veneto, Italy -

Lake Garda is easy to get to and to get around. In this blog post today, I will share with you the eight best ways to do it.

I have also included many first-hand tried and tested tips for each type of transport you may decide to use. From cars and ferries to bikes and your own two feet, everything’s covered in detail.

It’s all designed to make your visit to Lake Garda smooth and easy and I hope that you will find the information shared herewith of use.

Now, let’s start without further ado!



Getting Around Lake Garda – 8 Best Ways to Travel Around Italy’s Largest Lake



1. Travel around Lake Garda by Car

The lake views from the hiking path - Crero, Lake Garda, Veneto, Italy -

Having a car at your disposal is the most convenient way to explore everything that Lake Garda has to offer. 

Being able to quickly zip up and down the lake gives you the immense freedom to visit a myriad of picturesque towns, medieval villages, curious sights, pebbly beaches, captivating museums, large attraction parks, and so many other wonderful places on the shores of Italy’s largest lake.

If you have a chance to either drive to Lake Garda in your own car or to hire a car for the duration of your stay there, then give it a serious thought.

Before making a decision, consider the following cons of travelling by car around Lake Garda:

  • Parking around Lake Garda can be an issue. You may need to park on the outskirts of a town and then walk from there or even take a bus to reach the town’s centre. During the high season, it may be difficult to find a parking space near the most popular spots. Ask in advance if the accommodation you are planning to book provides a parking space and how close or far this is to the actual hotel, B&B or apartment where you will be staying.
  • The driving style in Italy is, let’s say, more single-minded or, in other words, more on the offensive than on the defensive.   
  • The two branches of the lakeside road – Strada Gardesana Orientale and Strada Gardesana Occidentale – are two-lane for most of their length and traffic in the shape of all sorts and sizes of vehicles thunders up and down them all throughout the day. 
  • Traffic jams during the high season, as well as at the start and the end of the weekends can add hours to your journey. Using a GPS is paramount to get up to date information about traffic conditions and escape the traffic jams via alternative routes as soon as they present themselves.
  • Roads going up the steep hills and mountains surrounding Lake Garda can be rather narrow and open vertiginous views. 
  • Some of the tunnels at the northernmost tip of the lake (especially the ones between Malcesine and Riva del Garda) are not illuminated and driving through them on a bright day or during the colder months can be a test for how quickly your eyes adapt to changes in the light.
  • The historic centres of the lakeside towns are traditionally a zone with limited traffic (ZTLZona di Traffico Limitato). Do not drive through them nor enter them for no matter how short with your vehicle as this incurs heavy fines. The only way around this is if your accommodation is in the historic centre and you have been given a parking pass to allow you access to the ZTL.

Having said all that, driving around Lake Garda remains the most convenient way of exploring as much of the lake as possible. So, do weigh the cons and pros carefully in order to make the right decision for yourself and your travelling companions.



2. Crisscross Lake Garda by Ferry

Ferry boat - Peschiera del Garda, Lake Garda, Italy -

Crisscrossing Lake Garda on the board of a ferry is a pleasure like no other. 

The full beauty of the many lakeside towns is only truly revealed from the water. Sitting on the outside deck, feeling the fresh air on your face, and taking the sprawling panoramas in is like being transported to this perfect world where peace and calm reign and where history and nature have created the perfect mix.

Medieval castles, pastel houses, sprawling beaches, little coves, towering mountains glide past you framed by the blue waters of the lake and the blue skies above.

Plus, taking a ferry is an easy way to reach lakeside towns that are on the opposite sides of the lake thus avoiding circumnavigating the lake by road and any potential traffic jams along the way.

By all means, take the ferry at least once during your time at Lake Garda. Some easy and very pleasant routes are:

  • Desenzano del Garda to Sirmione;
  • Peschiera del Garda to Lazise (and then to Bardolino and Garda Town); and
  • Malcesine to Limone sul Garda.

The cons of taking the ferry at Lake Garda are:

  • Well, ferries follow a schedule. So, if, let’s say, you miss the last ferry for the day, then you will need to find an alternative way back to your accommodation.
  • Also, during the low season, the ferries run less frequently between the different lakeside towns, meaning that you will need to wait longer to get to where you need to go.
  • In principle, the ferries are great for towns that are across the lake from one another or are relatively close to one another and on the same shore of the lake. For example, the journey by ferry from Limone sul Garda to Malcesine only lasts about 20 mins. However, if you try to reach Riva del Garda at the northernmost tip of Lake Garda from Peschiera del Garda on the southern shores of the lake, the journey may last several hours, especially during the low season.
  • Lastly, not all ferries on Lake Garda take cars, too. So, you may need to either leave your car at a car park waiting for your return or drive up to Torri del Benaco where you can catch a car ferry to Toscolano-Maderno on the western shore of Lake Garda. This car ferry operates all throughout the year. In summer, you can also catch a car ferry from Malcesine to Limone sul Garda. Just be aware that the passenger ferry and the car ferry stop at two different places in Malcesine, so make sure that you head to the right one if you want your car to travel with you, too.

Still, seeing Lake Garda from the board of one of the ferries that crisscross it is a must for your travel wish list for Italy’s largest lake.

For ferry times, prices, and tickets, please, refer to the official website of Gestione Navigazione Laghi Italia here. The website is in English and Italian. 



3. Travel around Lake Garda by Bus

A view of Lake Garda with the marina of Garda Town - Rocca di Garda, Lake Garda, Italy -

Taking the bus is a great way to travel around Lake Garda. Bus lines connect the different lakeside towns and can also take you all the way to many nearby large Italian cities like Verona, Brescia, and Rovereto.

Click here to consult the current timetables of some of the bus lines that you can use in your explorations of Lake Garda.

The cons of taking a bus here are:

  • obviously any plans you may have will need to be adjusted to the bus schedule;
  • lots of people use the buses around Lake Garda during the high season so prepare to stand up for your place in the queue; and
  • finally, there is the time factor in so that traffic jams can slow the advance of the bus and on the other hand, with stopping at many different places along the way, the bus can take much longer than a car to reach one lakeside town from another.

Still, taking the bus to reach Lake Garda or to travel around the lake is a very convenient and affordable option. Especially, if you combine it with the ferries that crisscross the lake and/or the trains that connect Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, and Milan to two of the most important towns on the lake’s southern shores – Desenzano del Garda and Peschiera del Garda.



4. Travel to Lake Garda by Train

Picturesque curved street - Desenzano del Garda, Lombardy, Italy -

Two of the towns on the shores of Lake Garda have a train station. One is the town of Desenzano del Garda and the other – the town of Peschiera del Garda. Both are near each other and are located on the southern end of Italy’s largest lake.

The train stations in Desenzano del Garda and Peschiera del Garda enjoy excellent connections by high-speed and regional trains to a number of large cities in Northern Italy – Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, Milan, and Turin. From there, you can easily get a connecting train to anywhere in Italy – from Bologna and Rome all the way down to Puglia.

It takes as little as 14 minutes to reach Verona from Peschiera del Garda on the high-speed train and as little as 16 mins to cover the same distance on the regional train. So, for example, if you fly into Verona Airport, theoretically, you can be at Lake Garda in about an hour (and most of this time will be spent waiting for the train after the airport shuttle bus drops you at the Verona Porta Nuova train station).

Arriving at Desenzano del Garda or Peschiera del Garda by train, you can then quickly and easily travel by bus and/or ferry to many of the towns on the southern, western, and eastern shores of Lake Garda. Click here to consult the respective bus lines and here for the respective ferry lines.

Reaching the northernmost tip of the lake from here is a bit more problematic and it will take quite some time.

So, instead, you can take the train from the Verona Porta Nuova train station to the city of Rovereto. Once there, you can get a bus to Riva del Garda and other northern lakeside towns. Click here and consult the timetable of bus line 332 to find out how easy it is to reach Lake Garda from Rovereto – a charming city in the Autonomous Italian province of Trentino.

The only con of travelling by train to Lake Garda is that there aren’t more train stations directly serving the lake. Yet, with the two in Desenzano del Garda and Peschiera del Garda and the one in Rovereto, the lake can be quickly and easily reached from all over Italy by train. This is especially handy if you are arriving by plane and you need to travel to Lake Garda by public transport. Click here to find out the eight best airports for Lake Garda so as to plan your travels accordingly. 

To check train times and book train tickets in advance, please, use the official websites of Italy’s train operators Trenitalia and Italo Treno. Please, refer to the tips and tricks for quick and cheap train and coach travel in Italy at the end of this blog post for an extensive overview of how to navigate Italy’s train and coach systems.



5. Travel around Lake Garda by Bike

The promenade connecting the beaches that start from Castelleto sul Garda - Lake Garda, Veneto, Italy -

Bicycles are held in high regard in Italy with people of all ages riding their bikes all over towns and villages and using them to both keep fit and get in an efficient and environmentally friendly way to where they need to be.

If you like to cycle, grab the opportunity with both hands during your stay at Lake Garda. If bringing your own bike is not really possible, then ask in advance if your accommodation provides bikes to its guests either for free or for a fee.

You can then use the bike to explore lakeside towns and to cycle quickly from one to another on the shores of the lake.

Two particularly beautiful places to cycle alongside Lake Garda are:

  • Sentiero di Ponale – a gorgeous cycling path which at points seems to hang over Lake Garda.
  • the promenade connecting the municipality of Brenzone sul Garda and the town of Malcesine. 

Just bear in mind the following cons of riding a bike at Italy’s largest lake:

  • Some towns on the shores of Lake Garda have rather steep streets that are not suitable for bikes. Malcesine is a point in case. However, towns like Lazise, Garda Town, Bardolino, and Riva del Garda (to mention but a few) are delightfully (and mostly) flat. Still, bear in mind that the streets in the historic centres are often narrow, curving, covered with cobbles and, in addition, can get very busy during the high season.
  • Exercise utmost caution if you need to cycle on the lakeside road which circumnavigates the lake. Expect heavy traffic (especially during the high season), vehicles of all sizes and shapes, as well as driving styles reflecting the best and the worst practices of driving schools around Europe and beyond. 
  • Some of the tunnels at the northernmost tip of Lake Garda are very dark. Make sure that drivers can see you at all times by using reflectors and lights.



6. Explore Lake Garda on Foot 

The lake seen from the village - Crero, Lake Garda, Veneto, Italy -

Often, your own two feet are all you need to explore Lake Garda from the most advantageous viewpoints.

There is a large number of hiking paths all around Italy’s largest lake in addition to the gorgeous promenades that connect some of the lakeside towns and open beautiful views towards the lake and the clusters of pastel houses on its shores.

Just make sure that you wear your most comfortable shoes! Or your hiking boots with a good grip, if you decide to explore the trails around the lake.

In the following articles, I have described in detail some of my most favourite hikes around Lake Garda. They take you to wonderful places and unveil to you the local way of life, the hidden charms of the lake, as well as some of the most stunning panoramic views to enjoy in Italy:

If nature hiking is not really your thing but you are not averse to a bit of walking, then get going on the promenades that stretch between several of the lakeside towns and make it possible to simply stroll from one to the next. The most famous ones are:

  • the promenade that connects the towns of Lazise, Bardolino, and Garda;
  • the promenade that runs from the municipality of Brenzone sul Garda all the way to the town of Malcesine; and
  • the promenade of the town of Salo’.

During the low season, make your way by car to Punta di San Vigilio and then explore on foot this probably most beautiful corner of Lake Garda. While during the high season, well-heeled visitors come here by flashy yachts and cars to enjoy the culinary delights of the onsite trattoria, in late autumn and winter, the place is a peaceful oasis and one of Italy’s most cinematographic settings. 



7. Cross Lake Garda on Motorboat

A view of Peschiera del Garda - Lake Garda, Italy -

Hiring a motorboat (or a sailing yacht for that matter) to crisscross Lake Garda is one of the coolest ways to travel here.

There are dozens of companies all around the lake that charter boats to visitors. You can have a boat at your disposal for a few hours or a whole week if you like. Prices are not prohibitive and getting around Lake Garda by boat is a lot of fun, too.

If you don’t have any experience with motorboats, you can hire a skipper, too to take you places. Otherwise, it’s completely up to you where you will be heading to around the lake. Arriving in a cute lakeside town by boat is like the ultimate Italian experience. Plus, often people moor their rented boats near the shores and have a lovely swim in the crystal clear waters.

You will need to return the boat with a tank full of fuel. You will be given instructions where the nearest boat fuel pump is so you will need to factor the time that will take you to go there so as not to be late for the boat return.

The portion of Lake Garda right in front of Riva del Garda and Torbole is off-limits for motorboats as lots of people practice windsurfing and kitesurfing there. You should be given full instructions by the boat chartering company as to how further north you can venture and where is the cut-off line.

On a sunny day, there is nothing more pleasant than travelling on a boat up and down or across Lake Garda. Prices depend on how long you will charter the boat for (we paid about 120 euros for three hours the last time we did it), so consider adding this experience to your own personal list of must-do’s at Italy’s largest lake. 



8. Take a Taxi around Lake Garda

Castelleto sul Garda seen from the water - Lake Garda, Veneto, Italy -

Taxis in Italy are white by law and while they may cost a pretty penny, they offer a convenient way to reach Lake Garda and to explore the many exciting sights on its shores. Especially, if you don’t want to bother with a rental car or with public transport. And, especially, if you don’t have much time to spend at the lake but you want to see as much as possible.

You can book a taxi even before your arrival as many taxi companies that serve Lake Garda have websites in several languages. You just need to search for ‘taxi Lake Garda’ or ‘taxi the name of the lakeside town you will be based at‘ and your favourite search engine will return dozens of results.

Otherwise, you can get a taxi from the train and bus stations in the lakeside towns. You can also ask your hotel to call you one or to recommend a local taxi company for you to use.

Ask the taxi driver in advance how much it will cost you to reach your destination and be prepared that on Sundays and public holidays a surcharge may be applied.

The main con of travelling by taxi is the cost of the service. At the same time, getting a taxi can be very convenient, especially if you need to reach a corner of Lake Garda that is off the beaten track or if you need to return to your accommodation late at night when public transport is not running.

Taxi companies may also offer customised tours of Lake Garda, thus giving you a chance to circumnavigate the whole of the lake in a matter of hours and to stop exactly where you want on its shores.



In Conclusion

The road leading from the car park to the village - Crero, Lake Garda, Veneto, Italy -

For its beauty, history, and local traditions, Lake Garda is an unmissable destination in Northern Italy. Millions of people head there every year to experience for themselves the best that Italy’s largest lake has to offer.

In case Lake Garda is at the top of your travel wish list but you are unsure how to get around it once you arrive, fear not. Travelling around and across the lake is made possible by a large number of transport options. From catching a ferry and hiring a motorboat to renting a car and/or getting on a local bus, getting around Lake Garda is easy even if this is your first visit to Italy.

In the above blog post, I give you full details about how to travel to and around Lake Garda using eight different types of transportation. Many practical and first-hand tried and tested tips are provided to make your travel planning as smooth as possible.

I hope that you will find the information given herewith useful and that it will help you organise your days at Italy’s largest lake in the most logical and easy way.

Have a great time at Lake Garda! 



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