The Lake Garda Experience: Discover Italy's Finest Towns
Some of the best towns to visit in Lake Garda
· 10 min read
There's nothing quite like the stunning beauty of Lake Gard, the largest lake in Italy. Nestled between the majestic Alps and the fertile Po Valley, Lake Garda is not just a natural spectacle. It's a treasure trove of charming towns, historical sites, gastronomical delights, and outdoor activities. Each town has its own charm and unique attractions to offer visitors.
Choosing a Base to Explore Lake Garda
If you are planning to explore the towns of Lake Garda, one of the first things to decide on will be to select a base for exploring the regions. There are a few towns that are frequently chosen as a base to explore the region, and what ultimately is a good base for your stay in Lake Garda largely depends on the activities you wish to do and what you want to see. Here are some suggestions:
There are more things to see and do in the Southern part of Lake Garda, and there are a number of resorts in this area, so most people would choose to visit this end of the lake for a vacation.
The northern part of the lake offers a different landscape and has more mountains and cliffs, forming a very scenic view. It is also much less crowded in this part of Lake Garda, making it a good choice for those who are looking for something more tranquil.
Exploring the town around Lake Garda
To help you decide on a base and plan your visit to Lake Garda, let's take a look at some of the finest towns to visit.
Possibly the town most favored by tourists, Sirmione is a picturesque town at the south end of Lake Garda, known for its enchanting charm. Its strategic location on a narrow peninsula makes it an intriguing destination. As you stroll down its quaint cobblestone streets, you will discover a rich history dating back to Roman times. Do not miss the impressive Scaligero Castle, a medieval fortress surrounded by water, and the Grotte di Catullo, an ancient Roman villa offering panoramic views of the lake. And if you are a fan of archaeology, don't miss the opportunity to visit the Archaeological site of Grotte di Catullo.
But the history of Sirmione goes beyond these two attractions. The town is also home to the Church of San Pietro in Mavino, a Romanesque church that dates back to the 12th century. The church's bell tower offers panoramic views of the town and the lake.
Sirmione is also famous for its thermal baths and for a good reason. The town's thermal waters are said to have healing properties and are perfect for relaxation. There are a number of thermal spa facilities in the town, with Aquaria Thermal Spa being one of the most popular ones.
Peschiera del Garda
Although smaller in size compared to other towns, Peschiera del Garda is one of the most picturesque towns to visit. Nestled within fortified walls and surrounded by sparkling canals, the town is a labyrinth of charming streets filled with colorful houses, piazzas, boutiques, and eateries. The Porta Verona, one of the main gates into the town, is a testament to the area's rich history. Don't forget to visit the Parish Church of San Martino Vescovo, a beautiful church dating back to the 8th century, rebuilt in the Neoclassical style in the 19th century.
While there aren't many tourist attractions at Peschiera del Garda, the town has many campsites and would be a great choice if you wanted to experience camping by the beautiful lake. Or if your idea of a perfect holiday is to just chill and have a lazy day out at a cafe or bar in a beautiful old town, Peschiera del Garda fits the bill perfectly.
If you are visiting Peschiera del Garda, you should also plan to visit Italy's largest amusement park, Gardaland, which promises a fun day out for families.
Desenzano del Garda
Desenzano is a lively town that offers plenty of attractions for visitors and is the town that has the most vibrant nightlife. The town has plenty of bars and clubs that stay open late, making it a great place to let your hair down and dance the night away. The bars and clubs in Desenzano offer a variety of music genres, from electronic to live bands, ensuring that there is something for everyone.
Another highlight of Desenzano is its weekly market. The market takes place every Tuesday morning and is a great place to pick up traditional Italian goods, such as cheese, olive oil, and wine. The market is also a great place to stock up on souvenirs to take home with you. You can find everything from handmade pottery to leather goods and jewelry. The market is a bustling and colorful affair, with vendors calling out their wares and locals haggling for the best prices.
For some of the must-see sites, visit the Roman Villa in Desenzano, one of the town's most important historical sites, or the Castle of Desenzano del Garda, a stone castle built on the hilltop which promises sweeping views of the town and lake.
Gardone Riviera is a small town situated on the western shore of Lake Garda, known for its historic elegance and sophisticated charm. One of the most popular attractions in Gardone Riviera is the historic Vittoriale degli Italiani. This sprawling estate was once the home of the Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio. Today, the public is free to explore the sprawling gardens and take in the beautiful architecture of the buildings.
In addition to the Vittoriale degli Italiani, Gardone Riviera is also home to the Heller Garden, a beautiful botanical garden that boasts a wide variety of plants and flowers. The gardens are a great place to relax and take in the natural beauty of the Italian countryside. Visitors can wander through the winding paths and admire the colorful blooms and lush greenery.
Gardone Riviera is known for its elegant lakeside promenade, lined with cafes and restaurants. The town is home to many excellent dining establishments that offer traditional Italian cuisine and stunning lake views. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the promenade while taking in the beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Limone sul Garda
Limone sul Garda is a tranquil town towards the north-western end of the lake that offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the more lively towns. The town's serene atmosphere is perfect for those looking to unwind and relax in a beautiful setting.
Limone is famous for its lemon groves and gardens. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll through the picturesque gardens and orchards, taking in the sweet scent of the lemons. The town's lemon production dates back to the 13th century, and the lemon trees are an integral part of the town's history and culture. Aside from lemons, the gardens are also home to other citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits. These fruits are used to make delicious marmalades and jams that are sold in the town's markets and shops.
For outdoor enthusiasts, there are also a number of excellent hiking trails around the town for visitors to explore. The trails offer stunning views of the lake and the surrounding landscape, and there are trails for all levels of hikers.
Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda, nestled at the northernmost tip of Lake Garda, is a captivating blend of stunning natural landscapes, historical architecture, and outdoor adventures. It's a place where Italian charm meets Austrian flair, reflecting its historical ties to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The majestic Dolomites and the lake provide a unique backdrop that captivates visitors from all over the world.
The town center is a delightful maze of narrow cobbled streets, Medieval towers, pastel-colored houses, and inviting piazzas. The key highlight is the Rocca, a 12th-century fortress surrounded by a moat, housing the town's civic museum. It is here that you can delve into the history of the area and enjoy stunning views from its battlements. Don't miss the Apponale Tower next to the harbor; the climb to the top rewards you with panoramic views of the town, the lake, and the mountains.
However, what truly sets Riva del Garda apart is its plethora of outdoor activities. Thanks to its unique wind conditions, especially the morning "Peler" and the afternoon "Ora", Riva del Garda is a mecca for windsurfers and sailors. It's also a haven for cyclists, with countless mountain bike trails on the surrounding hills and a scenic bike path along the lake. The Monte Brione hill offers a relatively easy and family-friendly hiking route with splendid vistas over northern Lake Garda.
Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Garda, Malcesine is a quaint town that offers a glimpse into traditional Italian life. But Malcesine is more than just a pretty face. It has a rich history that is waiting to be explored. The town's winding streets and alleys are home to ancient buildings and monuments that tell the story of its past.
The Scaliger Castle in Malcesine is a must-visit attraction. The castle dates back to the 13th century and offers unique historical insight into the town's past. Visitors can climb to the top of the castle tower for spectacular panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. But the castle is more than just a historical monument. It is also a venue for cultural events and exhibitions. From classical music concerts to contemporary art shows, the castle hosts a variety of events throughout the year.
Be sure to also take the cable car up to the summit of Monte Baldo, where you can take in breathtaking views of Lake Garda and the surrounding mountains. At the summit, you can explore the hiking trails that wind through the mountain's forests and meadows. You can also try your hand at paragliding or hang gliding, for a truly exhilarating experience.
Located on the eastern shores of Lake Garda, Bardolino is a charming town that’s famous for the ruby-red wine that carries its name. The town is surrounded by lush rolling vineyards and olive groves, providing an idyllic backdrop for a relaxing holiday.
Wine lovers will be in their element in Bardolino. The town is at the heart of the Bardolino wine region and several vineyards offer guided tours and tastings. Don’t miss the Wine Museum (Museo del Vino), located in the Zeni winery, where you can learn about the local winemaking tradition and enjoy wine tastings. If you happen to visit in the fall, you might be lucky enough to experience the annual Bardolino Wine Festival that takes place from the end of September to early October.
Bardolino’s historic center is a picturesque tapestry of narrow lanes, old Venetian-style buildings, and bustling piazzas filled with shops, cafes, and restaurants. A stroll along the lakefront promenade is a must-do, offering beautiful views of the lake and nearby towns. The 9th-century Church of San Severo is another highlight, boasting remarkable frescoes and an ancient baptismal font.
Garda Town is a beautiful resort town nestled on the southeastern shore of the lake, just a 5-minute drive away from Bardolino. This charming locale combines a rich history, stunning natural beauty, and a lively ambiance.
The heart of Garda Town is its historic center, where narrow, winding streets open out onto beautiful squares filled with cafes, shops, and restaurants. The promenade along the lake is one of the most picturesque on Lake Garda, lined with elegant buildings, old villas, and flourishing oleanders. It's a bustling, lively area where locals and tourists alike enjoy evening passeggiata or strolls. If you fancy a bit of a hike, the Rocca di Garda is a hill just outside the town center that provides panoramic views of the town and the lake.
Garda Town is also well-known for its markets. Every Friday, the town hosts one of the biggest weekly markets around the lake, where you can find local produce, clothes, accessories, and more. Additionally, during the summer, Garda Town holds a series of music and theatre events, adding to its vibrant atmosphere.
Transportation Options Around the Lake
Getting around Lake Garda is easy, with plenty of transportation options available for you to explore the different towns. It will be most convenient to drive, but even if you didn't, there are many other options that you can take to explore the lakes.
There are buses that can help you get from town to town, or if you are physically up for the challenge, rent a bicycle to explore the towns! The ferry is also a great way to help you move from point to point, and it offers you the opportunity to view the towns and lake from a different vantage point.