Top things to do in Lake Garda

Top things to do in Lake Garda

Size matters – at least for Italy’s largest body of water, it does. Lake Garda’s long shoreline is the whole package, with something to see and do on all sides. From major Roman-era throwbacks and dreamy swim spots to big mountain energy and rollercoasters, Garda’s got all the ingredients you need to live your best dolce vita. Here’s the lowdown on the top things to do in Lake Garda.  


Lake beach life 

No salt water, no waves and no surprise tides to worry about – lake beaches get a green flag from us. Lake Garda’s got loads of lovely places for a dip around its shoreline, from grassy bathing lawns to jetties for jumping off. On the northern side of the lake, Sabbioni Beach in Riva is a long stretch of shingle with a front-row view of the Dolomite Mountains. Further round to the right, Garda’s Baia delle Sirene – AKA Mermaid Bay – is a moon-shaped cove of grass, pebble and olive trees. And down in the south on the Sirmione Peninsula, you’ve got Jamaica Beach. Its name gives you a teaser of what to expect – the Caribbean-worthy water is brighter than any other lakeside location, and thermal springs bubble up to the surface which make it a few degrees warmer.   

Days on the water  

The lake’s a big deal in the watersports world, and there’s a thriving scene in Riva, Torbole and Malcesine. The mountains near the top of the lake make it pretty windy, so it’s a prime spot for windsurfing and sailing. Things are much calmer down the other end, so for a more low-key vibe, hire a paddleboard or kayak your way around the canals in Peschiera’s port and around the Sirmione Peninsula.    

And if you’d rather sit back, relax and soak up the scenery, jump on a ferry and let someone else do the steering. You can buy a hop-on, hop-off ticket and get off to explore the cute towns and fishing villages around the lake. Short on time? The ferry between Malcesine and Limone only takes 20 minutes, and it’s one of the must-do trips to tick off. Up until 1932, you could only get to Limone by boat, so you’ll be getting the OG experience like back in the day.  

Proms and peaks  

Going for a laidback stroll is a huge part of Italian life, so it makes total sense that Lake Garda’s got serious prom game. The path between Bardolino, Garda and Lazise is eight kilometres of strong lake scenery, and there are plenty of opportunities for a gelato stop along the way. If you want to speed up the sightseeing, hire a bike and see it all from the saddle, instead.   

To spice up the walking, take the cable car up to Monte Baldo for a mountaintop hike and panoramic views over the whole of Lake Garda. And if you’re in your climbing era, the mountains around Riva have some iconic via ferratas – routes with fixed ladders, cables and bridges. You’ll get a bit of a sweat on, but it’s so worth it for those canyon and waterfall views.  

Picks from the past  

Lake Garda’s history goes waaay back, so there’s a real mix of historical periods on show. The oldest – and maybe the coolest – thing to check out is Grotte di Catullo, the Roman ruins on the Sirmione Peninsula. There’s enough still standing to see how boujie it would’ve been in its glory days, with mosaic tiles, classical archways and top-tier views of the lake.  

Fast forward to the Middle Ages and we get Malcesine’s medieval moment. Built in the 13th century, Scaligero Castle has a whole storybook situation going on – it’s perched up high on a hilltop, and you can climb its tower for that king-of-the-castle POV.  

100 years later, Italy’s first paper mill was built near the Toscolana river. One’s still in action today, and there’s a museum in Maderno where you can try making your own sheets. Over in Salò, the Santa Maria Cathedral was built in the 1400s, and there’s the Baroque Palazzo del Podesta, too.  

Foodie finds  

This is Italy – eating and drinking your way around the lake is a whole activity in itself. Sip on limoncello from Limone’s lemon groves, taste test a glass – or a bottle – of Chiaretto rosé from Bardolino’s vineyards, and eat all of the fresh lake fish – sardines are the local speciality. Olive oil is produced here, too, so make sure you stock up on the good stuff. Baggage allowance who?  

Family fun  

Lake Garda ticks all the holiday boxes – it’s even got its own amusement park. Between Peschiera and Lazise, Castelnuovo Gardaland has over 35 rollercoasters ready for your adrenaline fix. Have your main character moment in Movieland, a Hollywood-themed area, or go wet and wild on Caneva Aquapark’s waterslides and lazy river. Got little ones? Blow their tiny minds and take them to meet their idol in Peppa Pig Land. You’re welcome.  

Ready to live the Lake Garda lifestyle? Have a look at our Lake Garda deals.  

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Author: Daisy Colley
Last updated: 17/05/2024