Your essential guide to Lake Garda

Your essential guide to Lake Garda

There’s much more to Italy than just pizza and prosecco – the stunning Italian lakes have Insta-worthy scenery, rural hikes and relaxing boat trips. Lake Garda is the country’s biggest lake and is surrounded with cute and colourful towns, plus vineyards and mountains to explore. Or, simply relax by the water’s edge with a gelato in hand. Ready to learn more about this iconic Italian lake? Read on…. 

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Where is Lake Garda 

Lake Garda is right in the middle of northern Italy, between Venice and Milan. If you’re catching a flight, one of those two airports is where you’ll likely land. Then, it’s roughly between a one and a threehour drive to the lake, depending on where you’re staying. You can also get a train from Milan Central station to Lake Garda’s main stations – Peschiera del Garda station and Desenzano del Garda-Sirmione station 

Where to go in Lake Garda 

At 52km long, there are plenty of spots to stop off at on your tour of Lake Garda, each with their own cultural characteristics. The town of Garda itself sits on the east of the lake and is full of cafés for al fresco coffee and snacks. Plus, there’s the central promenade here, which is often filled with live musicians playing to the crowds. La Rocca di Garda is a 300m-high rock with a 6km walk to the top. It’s worth the schlep to the Rocca Vecchia viewpoint, overlooking the lake.  

At the northern end of the lake, below the Monte Baldo mountain range, is the old town of Malcesine. With pastel-coloured shops, medieval churches and outdoor dining on every corner, it’s an Instagram backdrop waiting to happen. The Scaliger castle, built at the top of the Malcesine clifftop, is thought to be the most romantic and picturesque in Lake Garda. You can forgo the steps, though, and take the Monte Baldo cable car up to 1,760 metres for a view over the lake instead.  

Surrounded by the Italian alps, Riva is a lively town harbour also at the north. Its spot on the lake makes it ideal for watersports, including windsurfing or paddle-boarding. You can walk to the Cascata del Varone waterfalls through caves and over bridges to take in the natural sights of the town, or climb the 165 steps of the Torre Apponale clock town to admire the falls from above.  

What to do in Lake Garda 

The best part about visiting Italy’s biggest lake is there’s plenty of opportunity to get out there and enjoy the water for yourself. Ferries take you between nearby towns, if you fancy hopping around the shoreline, or you can take a longer trip from the north to south to explore further afield. Or, rent a boat of your own and head out on the open water. If you prefer more solid ground, there are plenty of beaches that’re prime for sunbathing and swimming.  

Further inland, swap the lakes for canals and take a day trip to Venice. Verona and Milan are just as reachable, so you can check out the culture and history of the city in just a few hours. If the city isn’t your vibe, book a tour to the Dolomite mountains, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Get your camera ready – you’ll need it for the incredible views that get better the higher you go.  

For some family-friendly excitement, head to Gardaland, the biggest theme park in Italy. There are rides suitable for all ages, plus an aquarium and three hotels if you want to make more than just a day of it. 

What to eat in Lake Garda  

Freshwater fish is the name of the game here – putting the lake to good use again. Rainbow trout, carp, sardines and even the rare salmo carpio – a salmon-like fish only found in Lake Garda – are all on the menu, most likely served with pasta. ‘Bioli con le sarde’ is a traditional dish made with freshwater sardines and bucatini pasta.  

Away from the fish, the soils of Lake Garda mean olive oil is another speciality – you’ll want to dribble it over your pasta with gusto. Citrus fruits including lemons and oranges also grow generously, thanks to the Italian soil – prime for a shot of limoncello and tasty desserts.  


Ready to explore? Shop our latest Lake Garda holidays or check out our other Lakes & Mountains getaways. 

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Author: Becky Wells  

Last updated: 14/7/23