Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda, is a popular holiday destination and the ideal place for families to spend a few days.
Whilst not as famous as Lake Como, there are a huge number of things to do at Lake Garda for kids of all ages, making it a perfect family holiday destination.
Where is Lake Garda?
Lake Garda is situated in northern Italy between Venice and Milan.
Its shoreline stretches almost 160 kilometres and is dotted with gelato-coloured buildings and tightly packed villages hemmed in by the surrounding mountains.
With its mild climate, stunning scenery and location close to the beautiful city of Milan, Lake Garda has long been a favourite holiday destination for families.
Visit Lake Garda with your family and you’ll see why.
Things to Do at Lake Garda
1. Theme Parks
Most Lake Garda holidays feature a visit to one of the theme parks.
There are a number of theme parks at Lake Garda so if you are short on time, my tip is to choose just one to visit and spend the rest of your time enjoying the lake’s other delights.
Gardaland (at Peschiera del Garda)
Lake Garda’s version of Disneyland, Gardaland is every child’s idea of heaven and is one of the top things to do at Lake Garda, Italy with kids.
With rides for all ages, live shows, a sea life aquarium and much more, you should allow a full day to explore the park.
There are over 40 rides at Gardaland including rollercoasters and water rides in different themed areas, with something to suit the whole family.
Live shows are also staged throughout the day in various theatres and arenas and there are interactive areas where kids (and adults) can participate.
The park is very family oriented with stroller hire available as well as plenty of family bathroom facilities.
Throughout the park there are lots of picnic areas so whilst there are plenty of food outlets selling the usual theme park fare, the picnic areas mean that families can bring their own food and save money.
Our family has visited Gardaland twice, both times in high season (June and July) and whilst the crowds have been big, the waiting time for rides wasn’t excessively long.
On our second visit to Gardaland, on a day when the temperature was hitting the mid to high 30s, we opted not to visit until late afternoon.
The park remains open until 11pm in summer, so we still had plenty of time to enjoy the rides.
Free shuttle buses operate between Peschiera del Garda railway station and the park.
Our family have not visited the theme parks listed below as on each of our visits to Lake Garda, our kids chose Gardaland as the theme park they wanted to visit.
I’ve provided some info on the other theme parks as these might appeal more to your kids.
CanevaWorld (at Lazise)
Not far from Gardaland is the CanevaWorld park which features a huge water park, medieval shows and Movieland Studios.
Movieland, which was inspired by Universal Studios parks in the US, has more than 20 attractions including rides and shows that are set among the movie sets of famous Hollywood films like Zorro, Tomb Raider, Terminator, Police Academy and Rambo.
Caneva Aquapark (think Wet ‘n’ Wild) has four themed areas with rides and activities for all ages including babies.
There are five thrill rides including rapids, slides and volcanoes at Adventure World, large swimming pools at Fun River, and Relax Beach where the whole family can chill out under a palm tree, walk on hot sand and dip their toes in the soothing waters of the ‘sea’ just as you would in the Caribbean.
Free shuttle buses operate between Peschiera del Garda station and the park.
Parco Natura Viva (at Busselengo)
If your kids are animal lovers, they’ll love a visit to the Parco Natura Viva. This animal themed park is a breeding centre for animals at risk with more than 1500 animals belonging to 280 species, housed here.
In the Fauna Park, walking paths lead visitors to various enclosures where you can see animals from the different Continents. There’s also a tropical greenhouse and a playground.
A big hit with most kids is the Safari Park.
Here you can drive your car amongst African animals as if you’re on your very own African Safari. See zebras, giraffes, cheetahs and lions up close with just your car windows separating you from them!
Jungle Adventure Park (at San Zeno di Montagna)
Adrenaline-seeking kids – and adults – will love the Jungle Adventure Park. Watch the kids live out the adventures of Indiana Jones and Tarzan as they tackle the trails at Jungle Park Adventure in the forest at San Zeno di Montagna.
Test your courage on the zip lines and high rope courses that are suited to varying levels of difficulty.
The less adventurous family members can enjoy a stroll along the park’s botanical trail.
Most of Lake Garda’s theme parks are only open from April to October. Check each park’s website to confirm opening times to plan your visit.
Other Fun Things to Do in Lake Garda with Kids
2. Catch the Cable Car to Monte Baldo
From Malcesine on the north eastern shore of Lake Garda, a cable car whisks you up to Monte Baldo at 1,800 metres above sea level in just a few minutes.
As you sail upwards, the cabins rotate, giving you the most amazing views over the lake. I have an aversion to heights but it’s worth putting your fears on hold to enjoy the spectacular views.
At the summit, there is plenty of open space and fresh air for the kids to run around and expend some energy.
3. Visit the Private Island of Isola Del Garda
On the western shore of Lake Garda, Salo is a pretty town with a long lakeside promenade.
Just back from the lake, cobblestone alleyways are lined with brightly coloured houses and shops selling everything from designer labels to gelato.
From Salo, you can take a boat ride to the privately owned Isola del Garda (Garda Island) where you’ll be shown around by one of the aristocratic owners.
The island houses a stunning Venetian villa and impressive gardens and is still lived in today by Contessa Cavazza, her seven adult children and their families.
Guided tours only depart once or twice a week from Salo in high season and last around two hours, so make sure you book ahead. English-speaking guides are available.
4. Cross a Moat to Sirmione Castle
At the very bottom of Lake Garda, on a thin promontory jutting into the lake, sits Sirmione.
It’s without doubt one of the prettiest towns on the lake and the imposing 13th century Scaligeri Castle, which guards the entrance to the town, looks like it is straight from a fairytale.
To enter Sirmione you must cross the footbridge of the Castle, before finding yourself in a jumble of cobblestone streets and alleys.
Nowadays the town is mostly car-free so wandering the streets, browsing the shops and sampling the gelato makes for a pleasant hour or two.
Be warned, though – it does get very crowded in summer.
A visit inside the Castle is something the whole family will enjoy.
For a couple of euros each you can wander around inside, walk along the ramparts and climb the 146 steps to the top of the tower where you get great views over the lake and the town.
After visiting Sirmione Castle, you can keep the kids entertained with a walk along the panoramic lakeside pathway.
Stretching for 4 kilometres around Sirmione’s promontory, the path passes by the 1st century AD Roman ruins of Villa Romano.
Here it’s possible to wander amongst the ruined walls and see the archaeological relics that are on display.
5. Climb a Clock Tower
In Riva del Garda, at the northern end of the lake, stands one of the town’s most striking buildings.
The Torre Apponale is a 34 metre high clock tower dating back to the 13th century which overlooks Piazza III November, the main square.
The tower is open to the public (small admission fee) and the climb to the top via the 165 narrow steps will reward you with fantastic views over the lake and surrounding mountains.
6. Splash Out in the Lake
Most lakeside towns and villages have small beaches or swimming areas suitable for children.
Larger beaches often have water activities like pedalo boats and windsurfers, as well as playgrounds. (Lake Garda is a world-renowned windsurfing destination.)
Many of the beaches are rocky so it’s a good idea to buy a pair of rubber shoes for the kids to wear when they are paddling.
7. Jump Aboard a Ferry
A great way to see Lake Garda is from the water and ferries make it easy to cross from one side of the lake to the other.
Various services are available including fast hydrofoils and catamarans, and the more leisurely pleasure boats.
This website shows current timetables.
8. Shop at a Market
There’s nothing quite like visiting an Italian market to stock up on the freshest local produce.
Most towns around the lake have a weekly market where you can purchase freshly caught fish, meats, cheeses, fruit and vegetables and other tasty treats.
The colour and atmosphere of the markets will appeal to children as well as adults. They are a great place to buy the makings for a picnic by the lake.
9. Eat Gelato, Pizza and Pasta
If there’s one thing you must do when you visit Lake Garda with kids it is eat gelato, pizza or pasta – or all three!
Not only do most kids love these three Italian specialties, they are also cheap and readily available.
Where to Stay in Lake Garda
There is a huge range of family-friendly Lake Garda accommodation available.
Camping grounds and apartments are especially popular with families and many have their own swimming pools.
Each time I have visited Lake Garda I have stayed in a self-catering cabin in a holiday park. These are perfect for families as they have all the facilities to prepare your own meals and have lots of activities on site to keep the kids amused.
Getting to Lake Garda
Lake Garda is located in northern Italy.
Desenzano del Garda, a large town at the southern end of the lake is 32 kilometres from Brescia, 45 kilometres from Verona and 117 kilometres from Milan.
The nearest international airport is Milan Malpensa, whilst trains service some of the larger towns on the lake.
From Venice, you can reach Desenzano del Garda by train in just 90 minutes.
As you can see, there are plenty of things to do at Lake Garda to suit the whole family. Your hardest decision will be deciding which ones to choose.
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