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Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda, is a popular holiday destination and the ideal place for families and travellers of all types to spend a few days soaking in the Mediterranean sun.
Whilst not as famous as Lake Como, there are plenty of things to do at Lake Garda for any type of traveller.
From boat trips to wine tastings to marvelling at incredible renaissance architecture, you can be sure there are plenty of attractions in Lake Garda to keep you busy.
Not to mention it was the inspiration behind William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, so couples looking for a place to fall in love, with find what inspired the English poet here.
Don’t believe me? Check out the best attractions below!
Where is Lake Garda?
Its shoreline stretches almost 160 kilometers 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 in the Lombardy province, Lake Garda has long been a popular destination for families in Italy. Visit Lake Garda with your family and you’ll see why.
Most tourists visiting Lake Garda stay in the large town of Desenzano del Garda, which sits on the southern end of the lake. It’s 32 kilometres from Brescia, 45 kilometres from Verona and 117 kilometres from Milan.
The nearest international airport is Milan Malpensa, and you can find train services from Milan to some of the larger towns on the lake.
From Venice, you can reach Desenzano del Garda by train in just 90 minutes. Many people take day trips from Veneto, the province of Venice, to Lake Garda. We like to book train tickets in Italy using Trainline or Omio.
Things to Do in Lake Garda
Whether you’re looking for family-friendly attractions in Lake Garda or things to do as a couple, these are the best places to visit…
1. Visit The Theme Parks in Lake Garda
Most Lake Garda holidays feature a visit to one of the theme parks.
There are a number of amusement 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.
Afterall, visiting the theme parks is the number one thing to do in Lake Garda with kids.
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 the 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.
Our family has 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.
Hot Tip: Free shuttle buses operate between Peschiera del Garda railway station and the park.
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 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.
Hot Tip: 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.
2. Catch the Cable Car to Monte Baldo
From Malcesine on the northeastern shore of Lake Garda, a cable car whisks you up to Monte Baldo at 1,800 meters 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 (Scaliger Castle)
At the very bottom of Lake Garda, on a thin promontory jutting into the lake, sits one of the most beautiful old towns on Lake Garda, Sirmione.
It’s without a doubt one of the prettiest towns on the lake and the imposing 13th-century Scaliger Castle, which is a fortress that guards the entrance to the town, looks like it is straight from a fairytale.
To enter Sirmione you must cross the footbridge of the Sirmione 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 to the inside of 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, a Roman Villa that sits on the far end of the peninsula and has decayed to ruin, but still showcases some intricate Roman decorations.
The villa belonged to the poet Catullus, who lived between 84 and 54 BC.
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 shore of Lake Garda, 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, which you will mostly find at Torbole sur Garda.
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 at Lake Garda
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, but they are also cheap and readily available.
You’ll find many quaint cafes and restaurants lining the shores of Lake Garda offering these special dishes – in fact, they are everywhere!
10. Hike to Rocca di Garda
If you’re looking for amazing viewpoints, you won’t find much more beautiful than the views at the top of the Rocca di Garda hill, which overlooks Bardolino to the left and Garda Town to the right.
The hike is only about an hour long, and that’s with taking photos and breaks along the way. Since the ascent is 283 metres high, you can easily do this hike with kids.
11. Visit the Wineries
Looking for romantic things to do in Lake Garda? Then how about a wine tour? On a local wine tour of Lake Garda, you get to sample some of the most important and famous wines made in the area, whilst learning about the tasting process and techniques from a professional Sommelier.
You’ll be taken on a guided tour of a winery where you will learn about the wine-making methods and techniques, from the harvest to the final stage of bottling.
Then sample a collection of wines from the cellar, paired with some delicious local products.
12. Marvel at the Vittoriale degli Italiani
The Vittoriale degli Italiana estate is a stunning piece of architecture that overlooks the Gardone Riviera. It is said to have belonged to the Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio from 1922 – 1938.
But the villa is more than a villa, it also has an amphitheater, a mausoleum, a boathouse, and some stunning landscapes around it, which can be best seen from the gardens.
13. Visit Limone sul Garda
Limone sul Garda is a small, picturesque town on the western shores of Lake Garda. It’s a lot quieter than other towns, but is well known for its citrusy fruit product.
The Italian word for ‘lemon’ is ‘limone’ which is no coincidence, as the town is known for growing lemons since the 1700s.
Be sure to pick up a bottle of limoncello from one of the town’s boutique souvenir stores.
The town itself is simply gorgeous, with quiet cobbled streets and romanesque buildings, surrounded by the lush Mediterranean landscape. Don’t skip this town when visiting Lake Garda!
14. Look For the Church of San Pietro in Mavino
This is the oldest church on Lake Garda and is nestled in a small olive garden outside the old centre of Sirmione in a sort of isolated location.
The old bell tower is particularly beautiful and is said to have been built in 1070. Inside the bell tower is the monumental bell, which still strikes for the fallen heroes of the two World Wars.
The church has been restored many times but it still maintains elements of the traditional Lombard Romanesque style.
The interior is just as beautiful as the outside, with 12th – 16th-century frescoes adorning the walls and ceiling.
Be sure to check out the lateral chapel which was built in 1630 and dedicated to St. Nicola of Tolentino.
15. Bike Around the Lake
What better way to see Lake Garda than to cycle around its perimeter? There is 140km cycle path around the lake, known as Garda by bike, which is one of the most scenic cycling routes in all of Europe.
And since it’s flat and well-maintained, it’s possible for young children to cycle it too (though you might just want to do a section of it).
You can rent bikes from Garda Bikeland, who will even deliver your rental bikes to your accommodation if you’re staying in Sirmione, Peschiera, Lazise, or Bardolino.
Where to Stay in Lake Garda
There is a huge range of family-friendly Lake Garda accommodations 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 cabinin 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.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Lake Garda
So there you have it, those are the best attractions on Lake Garda.
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! But we hope this guide helped you pick out some attractions to add to your itinerary and helped you plan your visit.
More Italy Travel Tips
Are you looking to visit other parts of Italy? Then you may enjoy these other guides…
You may be interested in these guides:
- TUSCANY: Don’t miss these stunning places to visit in Tuscany and a guide to Chianti towns and how to spend a day in Siena.
- VENICE: Is it a trip to Italy without exploring these best things to do in Venice? Here’s a one day itinerary guide for Venice.
- FLORENCE: For one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, here are 16 amazing things to do in Florence and enjoy this food and wine tour of Florence.
- CINQUE TERRE: Here’s our top things to do in Cinque Terre including our favorite Cinque Terre boat tour, and here’s a little insight into the personalities of the Five Towns of Cinque Terre and a one day in Cinque Terre itinerary.