Lake Garda is the largest Italian lake with an area of 370 square km: in any direction, your gaze is turned, you cannot grasp its boundaries. Indeed, Lake Garda bathes three Italian regions: Lombardy, Veneto, and Trentino-Alto-Adige, offering an extraordinary variety of landscapes. Here there are places rich in history and culture, beautifully equipped beaches, great food and wine tradition, walks to be done on foot or by bike, clubs for the evening, wellness centers, and sports facilities.
One of the things to do absolutely if you are on vacation on Lake Garda is certainly a boat ride. The navigation service allows you to take a mini-cruise to discover the beauty of the lake.
Things to Do in Lake Garda
Sirmione is probably among the very first towns to see on Lake Garda. From the Grottoes of Catullus, to the Scaliger Castle, passing through the alleys of the historic center to the churches of Santa Maria della Neve and San Pietro in Mavino, this town of about 8000 inhabitants alone deserves a trip in these parts. Besides, it is also a renowned spa.
Among its most important monuments is certainly the Scaliger castle: it dates back to around 1250 and is one of the best preserved castles in Italy, entirely open to visitors. The castle is a suggestive fortress directly overlooking the lake, which is accessed via a drawbridge. From the top of the walls it is possible to admire the whole surrounding area. The entrance to the castle is also the only way to enter the historic centre of Sirmione.
The Grottoes of Catullus are the well-preserved remains of a Roman villa built in the 1st century AD. in Sirmione, and today considered the most important example of Roman Villa in northern Italy. The complex, today as more than a thousand years ago, dominates a peninsula in Lake Garda and extends for about 2 hectares: the original structure had three floors and a long panoramic terraces overlooking the lake. Today the villa is open to the public and houses a large olive grove and a museum. The museum houses a series of archaeological finds found here and in the other Roman villas of Garda, as well as detailed documentation of the history of the lake and its peoples from prehistory to the Middle Ages.
The Vittoriale degli Italiani in Gardone Riviera
The Vittoriale degli Italiani, which is located in Gardone Riviera, in Lombardy, is the burial place of the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio: it is a real citadel built between 1921 and 1938. The Vittoriale includes a large house museum full of objects, decorations, a large park with statues, ponds, and gardens, an auditorium for 200 people that hosts exhibitions, conferences, and events, an amphitheater. Among the many memorabilia to be admired there is also the Mausoleum on top of the hill that houses its remains and the Puglia Ship, which stands out above all. This ship is now immersed in the park with the bow facing the Adriatic Sea. It was donated to D’Annunzio by the Royal Navy in 1923. The Vittoriale is a place full of charm and history, but also an ideal observation point on Lake Garda and the surrounding landscape.
The Island of Garda
Isola del Garda, also known as Isola Borghese, is the largest of the islands on Lake Garda and is located about 200 m from the coast. It can be reached by boat and is privately owned, but despite this, guided tours are organized in the suggestive park and in the Ferrari villa, an admirable example of a villa built in the early 1900s which is the only example of Venetian neo-Gothic style on the lake.
In addition to the villa and its gardens, Isola del Garda is worth a visit for its history full of charm. In fact, this place was already inhabited in Roman times, and then became an important ecclesiastical center thanks to the intervention of Saint Francis of Assisi who had a small hermitage built here. Over the centuries, the island has seen many famous people: in addition to St. Francis of Assisi, Dante Alighieri and St. Anthony of Padua stayed here.
Limone Sul Garda
Limone sul Garda is one of the oldest and best-preserved towns overlooking Lake Garda. Here are the lemons that dominate this little pearl of Garda. Limone has always been known for the cultivation of citrus fruits, which have always been cultivated here thanks to the lake breeze and its microclimate. In addition to the famous lemons, you will find cedars, mandarins, chinotti. The historic centre of Limone sul Garda is instead a pleasant walk through alleys, squares and ancient fishermen’s houses directly on the lake. Today the houses are renovated and open to tourists for the holidays. Do not miss the church of San Pietro in Oliveto: built in the 9th century, it is one of the oldest Romanesque churches in the area. Piazza XX Settembre, the ancient Market Square with the Viscontea Tower (16th century), the Basilica of San Nicolò, the 19th-century Town Hall (Palazzo Bovara) and the Azzone Visconti Bridge with its arches are also worth a visit: built in the period Renaissance, the bridge was used to connect Lecco to the Duchy of Milan and still represents access to the town for those arriving from Milan or Garda.
Another essential stop of a holiday on Lake Garda is Desenzano, considered the “capital of the lake”. The historic center, the lakefront and above all the Castle overlooking the city are all points of interest that deserve to be visited. The same goes for the Archaeological Museum which houses many prehistoric finds found in the area. Desenzano del Garda is also a popular seaside resort and its beaches (Desenzano, Rivoltella, and Spiaggia d’Oro) during the summer season attract many tourists who want a swim in the lake.
The historic center of Malcesine has preserved a medieval atmosphere that blends well with the shops, bars, restaurants, and other commercial activities in the city. The medieval streets of the historic center are full of suggestive corners and beautiful views of the lake. Here ancient and modern coexist very well; from this point of view, the most successful example is certainly the Scaliger Castle which dominates the town. The castle was built in the 6th century. The building is about thirty meters high and with walls two meters thick. Inside this fortress, there is the Natural History Museum of Garda and Monte Baldo: nine rooms that tell the nature of the lake and the mountain which, with its 2,200 meters high, extends between the provinces of Verona and Trento. Monte Baldo is connected to Malcesine by a convenient cableway which from the end of March to the beginning of November allows thousands of tourists to enjoy a beautiful panorama and to devote themselves to outdoor activities: from trekking to mountain biking, to the most comfortable nature walks.
Riva del Garda
One of the northernmost places on the lake is Riva del Garda, in Trentino. The city has a very special charm: here, in fact, the panorama is affected by the nearby Dolomites. Riva is an equipped tourist resort, well-kept and rich in history, inhabited since Roman times and with numerous testimonies of its medieval past. In the historic center we find the square Piazza 3 Novembre: here is the Apponale Tower, its most important monument (dating back to 1220), the Palazzo del Comune built in the 15th century, the Palazzo Pretorio built in 1375 and the fortress built-in 1124. It deserves an also visit to the Church of the Inviolata, a fine example of Baroque style built in 1603 and the beautiful lakefront.
Nearby we also have wonderful places such as the Varone waterfall, the town of Canale di Tenno (with the adjacent and beautiful lake), and Lake Ledro.
The houses in the historic centre of Bardolino, built and inhabited by fishermen, were built one after the other starting from the first one that rises on the beach and today they make the centre even more characteristic. The streets were built perpendicular to the coast to facilitate the transport of boats in front of the house.
Do not miss a visit to the castle, built towards the end of the ninth century and to the two beautiful churches of Bardolino: the Church of San Zeno which presents evident analogies with the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna and the Church of San Severo, built in Romanesque style 12th century. Inside you can admire a cycle of 12th-14th century frescoes.
Peschiera del Garda
Another town of considerable beauty and interest is Peschiera del Garda, which holds two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Fortress of Peschiera, which still surrounds the historic center, and the stilt site of Lake Frassino, about 2 kilometers from the town, ideal place for bird watchers too. The town also boasts about three kilometers of coastline for seaside and sports activities. Also worth visiting is the Palazzo del Comandante (or Palazzina Storica), the palace where the Italian king Vittorio Emanuele III announced on November 8, 1917 resistance on the Piave which then led to the victory of the First World War. The Palazzina Storica, together with the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Frassino, are two other sites of interest that are absolutely worth visiting.
Gardaland and Other Amusement Parks
In addition to unforgettable panoramas, luxuriant nature, and towns rich in art and history, Lake Garda offers a few kilometers away, also a series of modern themed amusement parks, perfect for the whole family. Gardaland is certainly the most famous and largest one, with more than 35 themed attractions for adults and children: the park is located in Castelnuovo del Garda, in the province of Verona. Obviously, inside the park there are also several hotels, but nothing prevents you from staying outside and organizing your holiday in a different way. From the train station, there is a convenient shuttle service to and from the park.
Adventure lovers cannot miss the Caneva Aquapark theme park, a true paradise of swimming pools for adults and children with slides, attractions, and water games. And also Movieland, dedicated to the world of cinema with shows, animation, and reconstructions of film sets. Both parks are located in Lazise sul Garda, in the province of Verona.
The Natura Viva Park, on the other hand, is located in Pastrengo, always in the province of Verona, and is a zoological garden with more than 1,500 animals of 200 different species from all continents. But don’t think of visiting a simple zoo: the park is a center for the protection, research, and conservation of animals, and includes the Safari Park with African mammals and birds, a terrarium, and an area completely dedicated to dinosaurs.