Lake Garda guide

Lake Garda trip planner

A vacation guide to Lago di Garda, Italy—Sirmione, Riva, Limone, and more

Lago di Garda (Gardasee)

If Lake Maggiore has the primo sights and Lake Como is the postcard prettiest, Lake Garda, largest of the Italian lakes at 143 square miles, is the one with a bit of everything for everybody, from ancient ruins to lakeside promenades, historic villas to tiny villages, and medieval castles to adrenaline sports.

In fact, Garda is the most sporting of the Italian lakes—with some of Europe's best windsurfing up at the lake's north end around Riva del Garda and Torbole—which goes a long way to making it a bit more family friendly than the others (I can tell you that, when I was 12, I dug the peacocks Lake Maggiore's Borromean Islands, but otherwise the lakes were a giant snore)—to say nothing of Gardaland, Italy's greatest theme park. It isn't quite Eurodisney, but can be great fun for the younger kiddies.

Lake Garda also has more refined pleasures as well: villas and gardens, Roman ruins and medieval castles. Lake Garda has long been a haven for intellectuals, and counts among its earliest Grand Tour aficionados the likes of DH Lawrence (who lived in Limone for spell), Lord Byron (who loved Desenzano), and Goethe (who spent time in Malcesine)—not to mention the larger-than-life 20th century Italian writer Gabriele d'Annunzio, who built an incredible villa, Il Vittoriale, at Gardone Riviera that ranks among the lake district's most popular destinations.

The castle in Sirmione
The castle in Sirmione. (Photo by yilmaz ovunc.)
Starting in the 13th century, much of the lake's eastern shores fell under the dominion of Verona's Scaglieri family, who fortified Sirmione (a postcard resort town with Roman ruins as well), Torri del Benaco, and Malcesine (where Goethe was once arrested) with terribly atmospheric medieval castles.

Lake Garda also covers the history of Italy in a nutshell, from Roman villas at Desenzano and Sirmione to medieval castles at Arco, Sirmione, and Malcesine; and from Renaissance art to the fall of Fascism and rise of the Republic. All of which just goes to show: the Italian Lakes are about more than just fun in the sun and pretty vistas.

What to see on Lake Garda

Garda has an interesting geo-political situation. It actually borders on three very different Italian regions:

  • Grote di Catullo, SirmioneLombardy rules the lake's western and southern shores, including the postcard peninsular town of Sirmione, guarded by a medieval castle and the ruins of a Roman villa (pictured at left); more Roman remains in the gateway town of Desenzano; the old resort of Limone; the villas and gardens of Gardone Riviera; and the site of Mussolini's last stand at Salò.
  • Castello di ArcoTrentino Alto-Adige at the northern tip includes the solidly Teutonic town of Riva del Garda, where beer and sausage replace wine and pasta; the water sports Mecca capital of Torbole; and the Romantically ruined castle of Arco (on the left) with scraps of medieval fresco remaining.
  • Castello Scagliero, MalcesineThe Veneto to the east covers the stony town of Malcesine, with a fine castle (pictured to the left) but perhaps more famous as the village that once arrested the writer Goethe as a spy; and the tiny but famous wine town of Bardolino.

Tips & links


For more info:
South & west shore: and
North shore:
East shore: and

Tours of Lake Garda

The one-day tour (from
Lake Garda & Verona Day Trip from Milan

Tourist information

For western and southern shores in Lombardy ( and, there are offices at:

  • Sirmione (in the parking area just before the bridge into the old center, Viale Marconi 2, tel. +39-030-916-114 or +39-030-916-245)
  • Desenzano (Via Porto Vecchio 34, tel. +39-030-914-1510)
  • Gardone Riviera (Corso Repubblica 8, tel. +39-0365-20-347)
  • Limone sul Garda (Via IV Novembre, tel. +39-0365-954-720)
  • Gargnano (Piazzale Boldini 2, tel. +39-0365-791-243)
  • Tignale (Via Europa 5, tel. +39-0365-73-354)
  • Toscolano Maderno (Piazza San Marco 1, tel. +39-0365-641-330)
  • Tremosine (Piazza Marconi 1, tel. +39-0365-953-185)
  • Valtenesi (Via Gassaman 80, tel. +39-0365-552-786)

For the northern tip in the Trentino ( and, there are offices at:

  • Riva del Garda (Largo Medaglie d'Oro al V.M 5, tel. +39-0464-554-444)
  • Torbole sul Garda (Lungolago Conca d’Oro, tel. +39-0464-505-177)
  • Arco (Viale delle Palme, tel. +39-0464-532-255)

For the eastern shore in the Veneto (, there are offices at:
  • Malcesine (Via Gardesana 238, tel. +39-045-740-0044)
  • Brenzone (Frazione Porto, tel. +39-045-742-0076
  • San Zeno di Montagna (Via Ca' Montagna, tel. +39-045-62809296)
  • Torri del Benaco (Viale Fratelli Lavanda, tel. +39-045-722-5120)
  • Garda (Piazza Donatori di Sangue 1, tel. +39-045-627-0384)
  • Bardolino (Piazzale Aldo Moro 5, tel. +39-045-721-0078)
  • Lazise (Via Francesco Fontana 14, tel. +39-045-758-0114)
  • Pescheria del Garda (Piazzale Betteloni 15, tel. +39-045-755-1673)

How to get to Lake Garda

Verona is the closest major city, and luckily Desenzano del Garda, at the southwestern corner of the lake, is a stop on the main VeniceMilan train line.

How to get around Lake Garda

If you don't take a tour or have a rental car (recommended), the easiest way is by bus ( covers the western and southern shores from Desenzano to Riva; covers the eastern shore from Verona to Riva) or—less frequently but far, far more scenically—by boat (

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