At over 50 miles long, Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake. Often overlooked in favour of its smaller (but arguably, prettier) neighbour, Lake Como, Lake Garda is a diverse destination with much to offer visitors. Picturesque in its own right, the north of the lake is bordered by the rugged Dolomite Mountains, and as the lake widens, pretty harbours and olive and lemon groves line its shores. Read on for our top tips of things to see and do in Lake Garda.
The north of the lake is well known for its watersports, with the town of Torbole considered the windsurfing capital, playing host to many major championships. Travel further east to Malcesine and Brenzone, two popular kite-surfing destinations. Want to learn how to dive? Lake Garda can help there, too. There are several dive schools located on the shores of Garda and its clear waters also make it an ideal destination to go snorkelling. Stick within 500 metres of the coast to avoid the lake’s hire boats, and you’ll be able to study the lake floor and the life in the shallow waters.
2. Rock climbing
The town of Arco, situated to the north of the lake, is a mecca for rock climbers. Surrounded by 2000 metre high mountains, its sheer rock faces lure adrenalin junkies from all over the world. The mild climate and sheltered aspect allow year round climbing opportunities and the area is even host to an annual rock climbing competition.
3. Outdoor pursuits
For those with a touch of vertigo, there are plenty of activities on offer closer to the ground. The slopes of the eastern, western and northern lake shores are perfect for keen mountain bikers, whilst the northern peaks also offer great hiking routes with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Remember to take your camera with you!
Thrill seekers can get their fix at Gardaland, Europe’s third largest theme park. Boasting seven rollercoasters, including Raptor, Italy’s first winged rollercoaster, Gardaland’s thrills and spills attract millions of visitors each year. Book your tickets in advance to save money on the gate price, as well as avoiding the queue!
5. Rocca Scaligera
Sirmione is a quaint town situated on a peninsula that juts out into the southern end of Lake Garda. The town is guarded by the Rocca Scaligera, a 12th–century Scaliger fort. A moat runs around the keep, surrounded by huge walls and harbour fortifications. Climb the steps for breathtaking views over the town, of the lake itself and the surrounding countryside. Take a boat trip from the town’s pretty harbour for the best views of the castle exterior.
6. Bardolino Wine Festival
Bardolino is one of Lake Garda’s most well-known resorts thanks to the grapes grown on the surrounding hillsides. This bustling town is also rich in history, boasting the impressive 9th century church of San Severo and several traces of Roman settlement. Bardolino is also great for shopping, with a fantastic mix of bars, restaurants, gelaterias and boutiques on offer. Thursday’s market is the perfect opportunity to pick up local olive oil and wine.
And it is the wine that takes centre stage in early autumn, when thousands flock to the town’s annual wine festival, known as the Festa dell’Uva. There are outdoor concerts, fireworks, wine tastings and plenty to eat, with over 4000 people attending every year.
7. Malcesine to Monte Baldo cable car
For the ultimate view of Lake Garda, take this cable car on a journey 1700 metres above sea level. Rotating cabins ensure you get an uninterrupted, 360-degree view of the entire lake and the stunning scenery. In just 10 minutes you’ll reach the top of Monte Baldo, which is just as spectacular in the winter when it is covered by snow.
You have the option to disembark the cable car at San Michele, the start of the second leg of the cable car’s journey (Malcesine to San Michele one way/return €6/€10). It is about an hour’s walk back to Malcesine and worth the effort as you’ll discover the beautiful rural idylls and working farms of the area. Pick up a map at the tourist office and get a taste of authentic Lake Garda life.
8. Caneva Aqua Park
When the temperatures rise, families can head to Caneva Aqua Park for a great day out.
At 300,000 metre squaer, Caneva Aqua Park is Italy’s largest water park. Set out like an enchanted island, complete with sand beaches, palm trees, lagoons, rapids and even waterfalls, the highlight is the sea bed, complete with a coral reef!
Thrills range from a 30 metre high and 100 metre long waterslide, a wave pool, and waterfall rides on inflatables. Younger children are also catered for thanks to a galleon set in a fantasy lagoon – perfect for playing pirates!
9. Eating out
There are plenty of places to eat out in the many resorts surrounding Lake Garda. With fabulous Mediterranean cuisine and local dishes on offer, there is something to suit even the most discerning palette. Here are three of our favourite restaurants in the area:
Limone: Ristorante Bar Gelateria Gemma, Piazza Garibaldi 11
Right in the heart of Limone with a fantastic view over the lake. Open for lunch from 11:30 – 14:30 and dinner from 19:30 – 22:30.
Malcesine: Lido Paina, Loc Paina
200 metres from the centre with a terrace offering views of the lake and the Scaligeri Castle. Great for meat or fish and serves pizza from the wood burning oven.
Riva del Garda: Leon d’Oro, Via Fiume 28
Right in the centre, family run with friendly staff, serving lovely Mediterranean dishes.
10. Take the ferry
The best way to explore Lake Garda is to take the ferry. Navigazione Lago di Garda offers numerous ferries, which cross the lake within its seasonal timetables.
The general rule is that the ferries operate either from bottom to top (South to North) or from top to bottom (North to South). Where there is a time located in the timetable against the town, you know the ferry makes a stop there. The timetable highlights two sets of ferries, the regular ones, which show their routes in black, and the ‘rapid service’, which show their routes in red (these have a supplemented charge).
To find out more about the ferry service, find timetables and for ticket prices, visit the website.
Find out more about our holidays to Lake Garda here.