The so-called Lake Garda is a true world in itself, being firstly the largest lake in Italy, and then a cosmos of villages, territories, spanning three regions: Lombardy, Veneto, and Trentino!
That’s why it’s not easy to compile a list of things to do or see on Lake Garda. However, I can try to provide an itinerary that spans from one shore to the other, with some stops I consider truly important – perhaps the “must-visit places.”
Of course, your curiosity might take you further, and I also suggest where to start…
The Trentino Shore, Garda towards the Alps
Among the places to go and the most enjoyable things to do on Lake Garda, there are certainly the villages and landscapes of this area that resemble a fjord surrounded by mountains.
Riva del Garda
If you have to choose where to start from on this itinerary, we definitely recommend the town of Riva del Garda on the northern shores of the lake. It is famous for its beautiful and wild landscapes compared to the southern Garda region, as well as for its liveliness and history. Here, you will find the MAG – Alto Garda Museum, along with the famous Apponale Tower and the Bastion. Holidays on Lake Garda also allow you to “visit” and get to know the historical part of this area.
In Riva del Garda, you’ll find a bustling scene of sailing and windsurfing, scuba diving, cycling along the lakeside paths, hiking enthusiasts, and those seeking adventures beyond the lake with walks into the hinterland.
Arco and Tenno
Here, you’ll find Arco, with its castle and probably the best climbing site in Italy. Further on, you’ll reach the Lake Tenno area, perfect for mountain biking routes of varying lengths and difficulty levels. You’ll also find the medieval village of Canale di Tenno here, an ideal place to step back in time, especially during Christmas!
Following the mountain trails from the shore, you’ll also reach the center of Torbole-Nago, a municipality from where you can easily access the peaks or the surrounding valleys, perhaps through a spectacular trail like the Busatte-Tempesta: 5 kilometers suspended between mountains and the lake. One of the things to do on Lake Garda is to traverse it!
The Veneto Shore, Garda between the shoreline and good food
Among the natural beauties and those of the inhabited centers, this Benaco area offers many attractions.
Not to be missed are the delights of good cuisine! Among the things to see on Garda, there are villages like Malcesine, with its Scaliger Castle and the nearby village of Cassone – home to the world’s shortest river, the Aril, measuring 175 meters!
From Malcesine, you can take the cable car to the top of Monte Altissimo, the highest peak overlooking Lake Garda. In your excursions, you can even reach the Altissimo Refuge (Damiano Chiesa) to admire the breathtaking panorama.
If you prefer beaches, you can explore Val di Sogno, a clear and secluded bay where you’ll find an island and a perfect spot for scuba diving.
Punta San Vigilio
Another spectacular place to relax and plunge into Garda is Punta San Vigilio, where the climate is milder than the northern area. This is one of the most charming and scenic places where a famous inn has hosted princes and eminent personalities. Here, you can relax in the Bay of the Sirens.
Heading towards the central part of Garda
In this area of the lake, you can also visit the medieval center of the town of Garda and indulge in gastronomy based on olive oil, wine, lemons, and lake fish.
Lazise and Bardolino
Speaking of cultivation, as you head south, you’ll come to Bardolino, a historic center famous for its wine – a symbol of the Garda region. The best area for wine tasting is between the towns of Lazise and Bardolino, where you can visit the cellars of delightful Bardolino and Chiaretto wines, a local variety of rosé. There’s also a Wine Museum, and a famous harvest festival is held here.
The area is also known for its thermal springs, especially in Lazise, which, like Malcesine, offers a visit to Scaliger Castle. The thermal springs are one of the great resources of this area in terms of health and well-being.
Indeed, when thinking about what to do during your holidays on Garda, booking a visit to the thermal baths is certainly one of the best ideas!
Peschiera del Garda
Heading south, you’ll reach the famous Peschiera del Garda, the largest municipality on the Veneto shore of the lake, with a historic center surrounded by the walls of the Rocca di Peschiera, one of the four fortresses of the Habsburg Empire, connected to the rest of the city by a pedestrian bridge.
Near these villages is one of the greatest attractions on Lake Garda, the famous Gardaland: the amusement park, with its size and variety of games and themed areas, is a perfect choice for those who want to have holidays on Lake Garda with children.
The Lombard shore of Garda Lake with extraordinary villages
The western area, when approached from Peschiera, features one gem among the things to see: the town of Sirmione.
If you choose a relaxing holiday on Garda, this is one of the most beautiful and engaging destinations. Sirmione is located on a peninsula extending into the lake, beloved since ancient times by writers and poets like Catullus and Joyce.
Its atmosphere is unique, and history enthusiasts must absolutely visit the Roman villa, which tradition claims to be the family villa of Catullus.
Around the ruins, known as the Grotte di Catullo (Catullus’ Grottoes), you’ll find untamed nature and a beautiful beach for sunbathing. Another spectacular place not to be missed is the Scaliger Castle of Sirmione, seemingly suspended over the waters on the lake’s shore, resembling a fairy tale castle.
Among the things to do here are days at the famous Terme di Sirmione, offering relaxation and treatments.
Salò e Gardone Riviera
Moving up the eastern shore, you’ll find the picturesque Salò, famous for its historical significance during World War II and renowned today for its lakeside promenade, the longest on the entire Garda.
Nearby, in Gardone Riviera, you’ll find a unique place in the world, the Vittoriale degli Italiani. Known to literati, the Vittoriale is the extravagant villa of the poet D’Annunzio on the shores of Lake Garda.
It’s worth a visit for its original furnishings and to see the Puglia military ship, now located on a hill in the Vittoriale gardens, facing the Adriatic Sea. It was donated to D’Annunzio, who had it disassembled and transported to his residence, facing the Adriatic Sea.
Following the list of things to do on Garda, you can reach Gargnano to visit the Limonaia La Malora, one of the oldest lemon cultivations on Lake Garda.
Limone del Garda e Tremosine
In this area, lemons abound, and the famous lemon groves in the nearby village of Limone del Garda testify to that. Here, you can also travel along the new panoramic bike path, built along the cliff overlooking the lake.
A final village of beauty and breathtaking views is Tremosine, a collection of dozens of hamlets perched on a small plateau. The largest of these hamlets is Pieve di Tremosine, where you’ll find various points from which to enjoy the Garda scenery, such as the spectacular Terrazza del Brivido, perched over the lake at over 300 meters in altitude!
Another sight near Tremosine is the Strada della Forra (Forra Road), a scenic road carved into the rock, crossing a canyon and connecting Pieve to the lakeshore – this road is also famous for appearing in several action movies, including a James Bond film and many car commercials.
Final Tips for Holidays on Lake Garda? Visit the many weekly markets held in all the cities around Lake Garda, take boat trips or sailing excursions on the lake, and go hiking in the surrounding valleys if you have time, such as the Valle delle Cartiere, which houses the ancient paper mills in Toscolano Maderno.