Holidays to Lake Garda are all about eating good food, drinking good wine and living la dolce vita by the water.

When it comes to Italy’s largest lake, bigger is definitely better. Lake Garda proves that you can have quantity AND quality, with every slice of its 90-mile shoreline covered in colourful towns, cute fishing villages, and pretty beaches. As if the lakefront scenery wasn’t enough, the water’s got a very ‘grammable backdrop of mountains in the north and rolling hills to the south. The two ends are so far apart that you can’t see one from the other, so the vibe changes from town to town – though you get that same laidback, Italian attitude wherever you go. Whether you road trip or boat hop your way round the lake, Garda’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Why pick Lake Garda

Big on history

The lake’s been popular for a hot minute, with the Romans pitching up back in the BC days. Some of their buildings are still standing today, like the grottoes on the Sirmione Peninsula and the ruins in Riva and Maderno – which is also home to Italy’s first paper mill. Skip forward a few thousand years to the 13th century and Scaliger Castle pops up in Malcesine, plus a Medieval cathedral and a Baroque palace in Salò.


A feast for foodies

Lake Garda’s got all the goods in the produce department. From extra virgin olive oil to fresh lemons from Limone’s groves, the area serves up a solid supply of those staple Italian ingredients. You’ll see lots of seafood on menus – sardines are big here, and there’s whole festival dedicated to them each July. The south side of the lake brings the bottle, with juicy red, white and rosé wine grown locally in Bardolino’s vineyards. And ofc, no meal’s complete without a little limoncello. Saluté.


Lake beach living

They might not be tropical, but lake beaches have their perks. There are no waves, and there’s no tide or salt water to worry about, and the lake’s size means you’ve got plenty of options to pick from. In Garda town, Baia delle Sirene’s pebbles back onto olive groves, or if you’ve got a soft spot for sand, for a manmade sweep, head to Lazise and Desenzano. The most Insta-friendly find, though, is Jamaica Beach at the tip of the Sirmione Peninsula. The shallow water’s the colour you’d expect from the Caribbean, and the background of crumbling ruins are ready to star on your story.


Pick your pace

Spend your holiday horizontal or get a sweat on – Lake Garda can do both. Go for a low-key stroll along one of the waterfront proms, hire a bike to see the sights on two wheels or head into the mountains for a hike. And out on the water, you can try everything from paddle-boarding and windsurfing to jet-skiing. The north part of the lake is the windiest, so sail over that way if you really want to dial it up.


The non-touristy pick

Gargnano

Just down the road from Limone, this little port is often overshadowed by its citrussy neighbour, so it has a real under-the-radar vibe. It’s got a lovely lakeside prom, a handful of traditional trattorias and cafés, and one of Garda’s oldest lemon houses – Limonaia la Malora. And it’s also home to some of the lake’s quietest pebble beaches, Spiaggia del Corno and Fontanella Beach.

Best places to stay

Sirmione

Sat on the southern shore in its very own peninsula, Sirmione’s got an exclusive feel. Not only does it stand out – literally – from the other towns, but it’s also the only part of the lake to have hot springs. The Romans absolutely loved a thermal soak, so its no surprise to find loads of ruins round here. For a modern-day spa sesh, live your best life in Aquaria Thermal Spa’s lakeside hot tubs, infinity pool and saunas. Or if your vibe is more budget than boujie, there are a few warmer spots in the lake itself where you can see the spring bubbling to the surface.


Riva

Garda’s northernmost town has a cool, surfer vibe thanks to its solid watersports scene. This part of the lake gets quite breezy, making it a perfect pick for sailing and windsurfing – and the surrounding mountains draw in the hikers, rock climbers and mountain bikers. Set off on a walk to Cascata del Varone, a massive waterfall that flows through the tunnels in the limestone rock.

But it’s not all about getting stuck in with sports – the town itself’s super aesthetic with sunset-coloured buildings, manicured parks and a pretty harbour lined with bars and restaurants.


Bardolino

Life doesn’t get much sweeter than in Bardolino, where everyone’s got one thing on their mind – wine. Sip on a juicy vintage next to the lake, join a tasting course in the vineyards or come in June for the Palio del Chiaretto rosé festival. For a break between glasses, the town’s three-kilometre prom is the longest on the shoreline, so there’s no better place to join the locals in their evening walk ritual, the passeggiata.


Malcesine

Medieval Malcesine gives fairytale-meets-Game of Thrones energy, from its higgledy-piggledy stone houses and cobbled lanes filled to the hilltop Scaliger Castle. The whole thing looks good from every angle, especially with the slopes of Monte Baldo providing you with the perfect backdrop. For unreal views over the lake, take the cable car to the top – there are no bad pics from up here. Down in the town, you’ve got cute shops, traditional restaurants and a lively harbour to explore.


Garda Town

You’ll find Garda sitting pretty at the top end of Bardolino’s prom, tucked in a moon-shaped bay. It goes hard on the classic Italian looks, with every shuttered window and painted fresco giving pure old-world romance. Cypress trees and pavement cafés line the waterfront, and there’s a real buzz in the evening as street performers and musicians really tie the holiday vibes together. To soak it all up, grab a seat in the piazza outside Palazzo dei Capitani, the grand digs of the Capitan of Lake Garda in the 14th century.


Limone

When life gives you lemons, call the town Limone. The citrus theme is strong here, from the sweet-smelling lemon trees dotted along the lake to Limonaia del Castèl – the lemon museum – which sits up above the town where the grove used to be. And if you can’t get enough of the old stuff, the Borgo Antico part of town has got centuries’ worth of charm and the cutest little cafés, bars and squares, plus shops where you can buy all your lemon-flavoured goods.

Picks that don’t cost a penny

Museo Dell'olio D'oliva

The best things in life are free, like this olive oil museum near Bardolino. No Italian dish is done until it’s had a healthy drizzle of this delicacy, so it just makes sense that there’s a museum to teach us about all things olive oil. Find out how it was made then and now, and get a good look at some of the tools and machinery used in the process. And of course, there’s a gift shop at the end where you can buy your own bottle and olive-related merch.


Getting around

Garda might be Italy’s largest lake, but there are plenty of ways to get across the water or round its shoreline.

Ferries and boats

Take the scenic route by sailing round the lake with a hop-on, hop-off ticket. There are regular services throughout the day, so you don’t have to rush, plus you’ll have loads of time between harbours to get those main-character boat pics.

Buses

Each little waterside town is worth visiting, and the buses are a cheap, quick and reliable way to get from A to B. Just remember – you’re in Italy, so there might be a break between services while the drivers do their long lunching.

Cycling

Nothing beats feeling that warm breeze with some sightseeing in the saddle, so skip the public transport and peddle your way round the lake. It’s geared up for cyclists with rental shops and plenty of cycle paths.

Car hire

Getting your own set of wheels gives you the most freedom. You can easily whip your way from town to town on the lakeside road, and you’ll even be able to get out to those harder-to-reach places away from the lake.

Trains

Stylish cities Verona, Milan and Venice are all within daytripping distance from Lake Garda, and you can get trains to all three from Desenzano or Peschiera train stations.

At a Glance

  • Sip on a spritz at a lakeside bar
  • Boat hop to different villages along the shore
  • Pick a beach for a vitamin-D dose

Get picky in the best places

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What's on in Lake Garda

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