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 most beautiful lakes in northern Italy: the lake is surrounded by attractive scenery and beautiful towns and villages. It is also the biggest lake in Italy. The lake is situated to the north-west of Verona and falls within three different Italian regions: Veneto to the east, Lombardy to the west and Trentino-Alto Adige to the north.

The lake is usually reached from its southern end, via the motorway that crosses northern Italy just south of Garda and Desenzano.

Explore Lake Garda

Lake Garda is visited for many different reasons, including the scenery, with the mountains providing a scenic backdrop to the northern part of 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.

There is a road all the way around the edge of the lake, and you can also explore Lake Garda on one of the many boats and passenger ferries that cross the lake between the towns. There is also a car ferry that crosses the centre of the lake between Torri del Benaco and Maderno.

Pretty bay with lake beach on Lake Garda

Visiting Lake Garda

Because Lake Garda is so large, you will find it easier to explore if you have two separate bases: a few days in the southern part of the lake and then a few days in the northern part of the lake. Alternatively you can select several resorts around the shores and spend a couple of days in each (this is how we prefer to explore).

Our favourite villages on the lake are Lazise, Malcesine, Garda and Sirmione, but we would probably stay in hotels in Riva del Garda, Garda and Desenzano...

Southern Lake Garda

The south and west 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, a lively resort and a popular base with visitors.

From Salo you can continue along the lakeside to reach Gardone Riviera and the well known Il Vittoriale and botanical gardens. A little further north at Maderno you can 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).

South along the lake from Salo you reach Desenzano del Garda, a busy and charming town that is popular with Italian day-trippers and is 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.

Close to Desenzano at Padenghe sul Garda there is an interesting medieval castle that contains a small historic village and has impressive views across Lake Garda.

An 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.

The busiest tourist destination on Lake Garda is near here at Sirmione where an 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 also at the southern end of the lake and a pleasure to explore. 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 not far to the south.

If you continue north along the south-east shore of Lake Garda the places of interest include Lazise, one of our favourite villages on the lake, as well as Bardolino and the town of Garda, which is another lively resort that is very pleasant to explore.

Small harbour in resort of Desenzano

Northern 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 (although a ferry from the south to the north of the lake takes several hours each way), and road access is possible via Trento and the Dolomites

The principal resort here is Riva del Garda 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 as well as a beach and promenade. Close to Riva del Garda, young visitors gather in the town well known for windsurfing at Torbole.

Travelling south along the east coast you reach 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 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 (Malcesine is probably our favourite village on Lake Garda, although less lively than the larger resorts such as Desenzano and Riva).

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.

Riva del Garda and surrounding mountains

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.

The Val di Funes is an exceptionally beautiful valley (and UNESCO world heritage site) in the dolomites to the north of lake Garda and is an excellent place for an overnight excursion from Riva del Garda.

See also:

Map of Lake Garda and places to visit

Lake Garda places to visit

See more places nearby in the Lombardy guide