Malcesine is a town on the north-east shore of Lake Garda, so in the Veneto region of Italy. One of the prettiest and most popular towns on the lake, Malcesine is visited for the town and lakeside activities, the castle and also for the easy access to the mountain behind the town which can be reached via a cable-car.
The main centre of Malcesine is on the shores of the lake and easy to explore. The tourist office is at 6 Via Capitanato near the harbour and is a good place to start your visit - to get here follow Corso Garibaldi west from the roundabout on the main road that passes next to the town and tha main car park, then turn left when you get almost to the lake.
Also on Via Capitanato you can see one of the most important buildings in Malcesine, the Palazzo dei Capitani, built by the Scaliger family in the 13th century and beautifully restored in the 15th century. You can enter the palace and see the small garden on the edge of the lake behind the building.
From here it is a short walk to the harbour, a very charming small port surrounded by colourful buildings and with a few small boats (large boats are not allowed to enter). This is one of the most picturesque ports on Lake Garda, as well as being the embarcation point for boats across the lake.
Most of the old town of Malcesine is to the north of here, so stroll black along Via Capitano and across into the alley that leads to Porto Vecchio. This small port is no longer active with boats but is another very lovely small square with views across the lake.
From here you can continue into the cobbled streets of the old town to explore the oldest part of Malcesine. There are two squares - the Piazza Turazza and the Piazza Cavour - and lots of small streets and alleys in this part of the village. You are likely to want to pause for an ice-cream in a cafe in one of the piazzas - in fact, there are numerous restaurants and cafes in the town and many of them are in places that you will want to sit for a while...
As you continue north through Malcesine old town you will soon reach the castle that dominates the old town centre. Called the Castello Scaligero, the fortress here dates from the 13th century although the tower is even older. After its original role had passed, the fortress was later used as a garrison by the Austrians and then, after Malcesine became part of Italy in 1866, as an Italian prison.
The castello is quite a small castle but very nicely maintained and with exceptional views across the lake and the coast in both directions: you need to climb to the top of the tower for the best of these views.
The castle also contains a Museum of Natural History, which is of course very small but also very interesting with lots of information about the lake and the plants and wildlife that it supports.
There is a second small museum in the castle, dedicated to Goethe, the German writer best known for writing Faust and who visited Malcesine in 1786. Goethe later related that he had sketched the castle while in Malcesine, which had led to him being questioned as being a possible spy by the local authorities.
The other principal sight in Malcesine is looming behind you as you visit the town: Monte Baldo, reaching an altitude of more than 1700 metres. The cable-car ride up the mountain is itself entertaining: before reaching the top you change out from the 'normal' cable car and get into a different one that slowly turns as it rises up Monte Baldo, allowing everyone on board to enjoy the views.
The area around the mountain top is sometimes called the Garden of Europe because of the wide range of plants and flowers that grow wild here.
At the top you have a difficult choice: do nothing except enjoy the views; follow the path to the north to a pretty viewpoint about 15 minutes away; or turn south and walk for about 3/4 hour to another exceptional viewpoint. Why not do both - you won't regret it, the views are very beautiful and it's not usually too hot at the top of the mountain and you will have paid quite a lot to get up here in the cable-car* so no need to rush!
* Full price return 20 euros from Malcesine to Monte Baldo; children 8 euros; children less than 1 metre tall travel free.
There are promenades suitable for walking or cycling in both directions from Malcesine: to the north towards Navene and to the south towards Cassone.
As well as exploring the shores of the lake we suggest you also find time to visit Verona, about 40 kilometres southeast of Malcesine.
Photos of Malcesine
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Map of Malcesine and places to visit
Places to visit near Malcesine
See more places nearby in the Venice-Veneto guide