Lake Garda, Italy: places to visit around the shores of Lake Garda

Photo of Lake Garda (Lombardy region)

Visit Lake Garda

Lake Garda - Italian name Lago di Garda - is one of the popular Lombardy lakes of northern Italy. The lake is surrounded by attractive scenery, especially to the northern end, and is the most popular of the Italian lakes with visitors. It is also the biggest lake in Italy.

The lake is situated to the north-west of Verona and falls within three different Italian region: the Veneto region is to the east, the Lombardy region to the south and Trentino-Alto Adige to the north

Visiting Lake Garda

Lake Garda is visited for many different reason: the scenery, with the mountains providing a scenic backdrop to the lake; the picturesque towns and villages along the shores of the lake; and for the numerous water based activities found both on the lake such as beaches, boating and surfing as well as the opportunity to hike and explore the surrounding countryside.

Pretty bay with lake beach on Lake Garda

The best way to explore Lake Garda is on one of the many steamers and passenger ferries that regularly criss-cross the water between the towns. There is also a car ferry that crosses the centre of the lake between Torri del Benaco and Maderno.

The lake is usually reached from its southern end, via Desenzano and the motorway that crosses northern Italy just south of Garda. To help with your travel planning, we first introduce the highlights in the southern part of the lake then the attractions in the quiter northern area.

South Lake Garda

The south and west coast is the most popular part of Lake Garda, with interesting resorts and places to visit as well as various gardens and tourist attractions. Start perhaps at the town of Salo, a medieval cathedral city on the south-western shore of the lake and a popular base with visitors. From here you can easily continue along the lakeside to reach Gardone and the well known Il Vittoriale and botanical gardens.

Waterfront view of Maderno

A little further north at Maderno you should admire the 12th century romanesque style Church of Saint Andrea Apostle and also visit Toscolano, with a cathedral that contains exceptional works of art by the painter Andrea Celesti (1637-1712).

It is the landscape around this part of Lake Garda that is the main highlight, and the route along the lake between Gardone and the north is spectacular with precipitous rocks and a luxuriant natural environment.

If you now head south along the coast from Salo you reach Desenzano, a busy town that is popular with Italian day-trippers and also the principal entrance point for visitors to Lake Garda (it is close to the motorway and has a busy railway station and ferry terminal). The harbour area, the beaches and the views from the castle are the main highlights in Desenzano.

Small harbour in resort of Desenzano

An interesting alternative route south from Salo (the SP25) heads inland and passes through scenic surroundings and through notable villages such as Puegnago del Garda, Polpenazze del Garda and Soiano del Garda to reach Padenghe sul Garda, with some nice viewpoints along the route.

Perhaps the busiest tourist destination on the whole lake is near here at Sirmione where the old town, a romantic castle and the extensive Roman villa of Grotto di Catallus are squeezed onto a narrow lake peninsula.

A little further, and the town of Peschiera del Garda is at the southern end of the lake. As well as Peschiera itself the Gardaland and Movieland theme parks are a big attraction for visitors just outside the town, as are the gardens at Park Sigurta just south of the town.

Continuing north along the south-eastern shore of Lake Garda places of interest include Lazise, Bardolino and the town of Garda itself.

North Lake Garda

The northern part of Lake Garda is generally less visited than the southern regions, and has a more dramatic mountainous setting. It is also slower to get here than the southern resorts, although of course the ferries that cross the lake also come to the north and road access is possible via Trento and the Dolomites

Riva del Garda and surrounding mountains

The principal resort is found at Riva del Garda right at the northern end of the lake. Riva del Garda is also one of the oldest resorts on the island, dating from the 19th century, and has an attractive old-town to explore.

Heading down the eastern shores of Garda the places that you will want to visit include Torbole and Malcesine, as well as the village of Brenzone and then Torri del Benaco.

Malcesine in particular is interesting: as well as its harbour and old town it is also the windsurfing centre of the lake and is at the bottom of a cablecar that zooms you up to the top of Monte Baldo for some of the best lake views.

South of here the charming resort of Garda is very pleasant to explore.


On the north-western shores the principal town and resort is at Limone sul Garda, with Gargnano and Tignale among the other villages of interest.

Food and drink around Lake Garda

As well as the scenic highlights be sure to include the chance to taste some of the abundant lake fish specialities in your tour of Lake Garda. A fishery based in Desenzano supplies many of the local fish specialities based on locally caught carp, trout, pike, eels, molluscs and crustaceans

To go with that, sir? Of course; the local food goes best with the wines produced in the local vineyards. Try, for example, the white wine from Lugana. For a brief history of the Lake Garda region, which has been occupied since prehistoric times, see Lake Garda history.

Further afield

There are several towns of interest that are within easy reach of the lake, depending where you are based, and which make for pleasant day trips. The most interesting of these include Trento to the north, Brescia to the south-west and Verona to the south-east of Garda.

See also:

Map of Lake Garda and places to visit

Lake Garda places to visit

See more places nearby in the Lombardy guide