Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something. Please check out my disclosure policy for more details.
This may come as a surprise to other Germans but I had never been to Lake Garda until this June. Shocking, right? Lake Garda holidays seem to be a rite of passage for the Germans of my generation due to its Mediterranean climate, good accessibility from Germany, and of course the amazing food. But as it is, I spent my childhood in the Netherlands and once I grew up the rest of the world was calling me.
So I was excited to go on a trip with Garda Trentino tourism after my Traverse conference to visit Lake Garda and see for myself why Germans (and other travelers of course) love the Italian gem so much. Whether you are a mountain fan, a foodie or prefer water-based activities – Lake Garda is the place to be and makes for an ideal holiday destination for the whole family.
Mind you, we only had two short days to visit and as you can imagine this wasn’t nearly enough. So to bring you some ideas for what to do in Lake Garda I asked some of my travel blogger friends to pitch in and share their experiences. Keen to combine alpine hiking and Mediterranean climate on your next holiday? Read on and for recommendations on where to eat and stay at Lake Garda jump ahead here!
Things to do around Lake Garda
GardaTrek Low & Medium Loop
The Trentino part of Lake Garda is one of my favorite places in the world, because of the incredible amount of adventure activities you can enjoy near its shores. Climbing, sailing, windsurfing, cycling, water sports… you name it, the choices are really endless. However, if you ask me, the best way to discover the unique blend of Alpine and Mediterranean vibes that makes Lake Garda special is trekking. For this reason, the local tourism board created GardaTrek, three loop-shaped trails at various heights, to discover the lake in all four seasons.
The lowest of the three GardaTrek loops is the aptly-named Low Loop, a 30 km hike following the lakefront between Riva and Nago/Torbole, before heading inland to Arco. This can be covered year-round. Then there’s the Medium Loop, about 70 km long and divided into four stages. This trail reaches 1000 meters above sea level, and can also be hiked the entire year. Probably the best adventure in Lake Garda if you ask me!
Hike the GardaTrek Top Loop
Lake Garda is the perfect destination to combine culture and relaxing with outdoor adventures! Surrounded by tall mountains, the area is perfect for avid hikers and no trail is more suitable for mountain lovers than the GardaTrek Top Loop!
This seven-day hike leads from Riva del Garda high up into the mountains north of the lake and to charming towns such as Tenno, Ceniga, and Nago until it descends to Malcesine at the shore of the lake. The hike is challenging and physically demanding – you better prepare well! It covers a huge amount of elevation – nearly 8,000m up and over 6,000m down. However, it does not require any technical skills or special equipment.
You will need to carry everything you need with you – see my trekking packing list for tips – and accommodation ranges from basic mountain huts in the most beautiful surroundings to local farm stays and boutique hotels with lush green gardens and natural pools like the Vin e Amor.
My personal highlight on the trail was the ascent of Monte Altissimo, one of the highest mountains by Lake Garda and the night we spent at Rifugio Damiano Chiesa at over 2,000m. The GardaTrek Top Loop is an adventure to remember!
Strada del Ponale
The Strada del Ponale, or Ponale Road, is a dramatic road carved into the cliffside at the northern end of Lake Garda. This road was the original link between Lake Garda and the Ledro Valley. In the late 90s, a new road was built turning the old Ponale Road into a beautiful trail for both hikers and mountain bikers.
The gravel trail winds along the edge of the lake, tunneling through the cliffs at several points and has a gentle gradient making it a relatively easy hike. As you ascend further up the Ponale Road, the views from above Lake Garda are simply breathtaking. The glittering blue water of the lake combined with the aerial view of Riva del Garda is a sight well worth the effort of the hike.
The most common route takes you to the village of Biacesa. This picturesque little village nestled in the hills offers weary hikers the chance to refuel with an ice-cold beer. The views of the surrounding hills from Biacesa are beautiful and can be enjoyed from the patio of several restaurants in town. The round trip to Biacesa will take around four hours and is an easy to moderate hike.
If you don’t fancy making the hike, then a great alternative is to rent an electric mountain bike. These pedal-assist bikes offer a much quicker route up the trail and a more thrilling way back down. This is a beautiful part of the world and I can’t think of a much better way to see it in all its glory than hiking the Strada del Ponale.
Ski resort Monte Baldo
As a kid, a long time ago, I learned to ski at Monte Baldo ski resort. It is an ideal location for families close to Lake Garda. The resort is small and easy to get to. There are six lifts, one green piste, several blue and red ones and for the advanced skiers, there is also a black piste where you have great views over Lake Garda. The resort is on a height between 1,446 and 1,837 m, which means the season is relatively short and snow is not guaranteed. However, if you are lucky with snow and avoid weekends and holidays, it is great for a day or two.
Take the cable car, or funivia as it is called in Italian, from Via Navene Vecchia, 12 in Malcesine. The cable car has rotating cabins which make you fully appreciate the unique panorama of Monte Baldo and Lake Garda.
Strolling Limone is the best activity as it is one of the prettiest places at Lake Garda. The streets are narrow and extremely beautiful – getting lost here is fun. However, the town is very small and there is no chance to get really lost but strolling the pretty streets with flowers all around is a must.
Whether you walk along the promenade, with great views of the lake on the one side and the houses sitting on the hills and mountains on the other side, or if you explore the side streets with cute shops and colorful restaurants and cafes – you cannot not fall in love with Limone. Even if you do not enjoy walks, in Limone it is different.
If you need a break, sit down at the harbor to enjoy a drink and then continue exploring the streets of Limone. And if you are into more strolling, head to the cyclopath that opened in Limone in 2018 and walk this stunning “street” (which is only reserved to cyclists and pedestrians) and offers beautiful views of Lake Garda.
Not too far from Riva del Garda, you’ll find the most beautiful little gem of northern Italy – Lake Tenno. This stunning turquoise lake is a tranquil piece of heaven where you can take a walk, go for a swim in summer or just sit and enjoy the natural scenery. While it shouldn’t get crowded even during high-season, be sure to get there in the morning to have this magical spot all to yourself.
If you love medieval villages, you can also pay a quick visit to the small village of Canale di Tenno, which is only a few minutes away from the lake. Strolling around it, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and there’s a very good chance you’ll never want to leave.
Santuario Della Madonna Corona Monastery
This beautiful monastery sits on the side of a vertical cliff overlooking the Italian landscape and is a wonder to behold. Though not particularly ornate inside, the beauty of its location makes the monastery a must-see Lake Garda attraction.
A walkable path leads along the mountainside with various stops at each of the stations of the cross, depicted by statues. The monastery itself attracts pilgrims from around the world that come to see the replica of the steps that Jesus made up to Pontius Pilate before his crucifixion. The monastery is accessible by bus as well, though visitors must be able to walk part of the pathway and up the stairs to visit the monastery.
Let the magic begin at Gardaland, Italy’s version of Disneyland! If you are traveling through Italy with kids, this magical amusement park is a must-see. However, it isn’t just for little ones, there is plenty to do for all ages with shows, adrenaline rides, and special events. Meet Prezzemolo and wander through this magical kingdom of fun, fantasy, and adventure.
Gardaland is open all year round even when it snows in winter! You can stay in the hotel, or in one of the nearby towns by the lake. It is a nice day trip and something different from your usual sightseeing.
Hydroelectric Plant, Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda, the pretty town on the northern shores of Lake Garda, in a region known as Garda Trentino, was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1815 to 1918. The region, on the borders of Italy, suffered particularly badly during the First World War – and once peace was declared the Trentino territory was given to Italy. The town started an intensive period of rebuilding. The hydroelectric plant, built between 1925 and 1929 by architect Giancarlo Maroni was a remarkable construction when first built and is still operational today. Known as a ‘reservoir’ plant its force of falling water from Lake Ledro in the mountains down to Lake Garda is transformed into electricity – enough to power the region. The plant also has a special multi-stage pump which can push the water back up from Lake Garda to Lake Ledro.
A guided tour of the plant gives you a glimpse of the amazing engineering, with tunnels up into the mountain and a view of the original control room. And from the roof of the striking Palazzo, there are fantastic views across Lake Garda itself.
Highspeed Catamaran Trip
When I hear the word catamaran I think of sundowners on the water. I can’t be the only one, right? So I was a little surprised when I joined a trip with Supersailacademy on one of their highspeed catamarans and there was no bar! Instead, we were outfitted with heavy-duty lifejackets and a helmet before being transferred to our catamaran to speed off into the sunset.
Speed being the operative word as highspeed catamarans basically fly over the water!
Lake Garda is one of the few places in the world where you can go on such a speedy adventure and I dare say it is not for the fainthearted and definitely not a good idea if you are prone to seasickness. Not only do you have to literally hold on tight but in regular intervals, you have to scramble over the net of the catamaran to balance the sides – not as easily said and done as it may look. Make sure you wear closed shoes and long pants which you don’t mind getting wet.
That said, it is so much fun and the views on Riva del Garda and the surrounding villages from the water are stunning.
Rockclimbing at Rock Master
Trentino is rockclimbing central and there is no shortage in the area of cracks and routes for all levels. If you want to practice, the Rock Master in Arco close to Lake Garda is a great place to start. Even Olympic champion Adam Ondra practices here!
There are various routes where you can test your speed, endurance and technique. For some you will need a belay buddy while others are perfect for a solo climber and of course, there is also a bouldering area.
If you don’t have your own equipment you can rent shoes and harness there, and the great staff is always there to lend you a helping hand if you need it. Best of all? Entry for the whole day is only €10!
Lake Garda Markets
A long-standing tradition of the many small towns and villages surrounding Lake Garda is the weekly market, with a group of street vendors packing up and re-assembling their stalls at a different location on the lake each day of the week.
The bustling open-air markets are larger than you’d expect for such small historic towns and sell a huge variety of goods from local food produce to clothes, accessories, children’s toys, and household items.
Having a browse around the colorful stalls and picking up a few touristy knick-knacks, a stylish Italian leather bag for a bargain price, or some delicious freshly cooked tortellini is a great way to spend a couple of hours in any of the towns around Lake Garda. And don’t be afraid to haggle with the vendors the way the locals do – it’s tradition after all!
Culinary Experiences in Lake Garda
It is Italy so of course, eating EVERYTHING is one of the things to do in Lake Garda you shouldn’t miss! I only got a couple of meals in but man, they were quite memorable ones. If you are looking for a great place to eat in and around Lake Garda, I recommend the following:
Panem, Riva del Garda
Panem is right in the center of Riva del Garda and fairly new. Their main business is sandwiches from around the country. Each Italian state gets represented on bread with typical charcuterie, cheese, and condiments.
We had an absolute feast of local olives (never ate olives that good!), cheeses, salami, prosciutto with fruit and apple chili jam which they luckily sell in the shop. In addition, they make some great Canederli, typical Trentino dumplings which you may or may not be able to finish after eating an entire cheese platter. Still, you should try – Italy is not for dieting!
And of course, they have a beautiful selection of prosecco and wines – do not leave here without drinking a glass or two of their dessert wine on offer. They also sell a lot of their products used in the dishes so this is a great place to stock up for a picnic when going on one of your Lake Garda hikes!
Osteria Le Servite, Arco
If you are looking for a first date kind of place, Le Servite is it. Surrounded by their own veggie garden with view over the vineyards and mountains the setting is absolutely magical. Make sure you sit on their shaded terrace to enjoy it!
The food is another stunner: parmesan souffle, homemade pasta, and local fish prepared whole. All ingredients are regional as are the recipes themselves so dinner here will give you a good insight into the Lake Garda cuisine.
Omkafè, Riva del Garda
Not a restaurant per se but definitely a culinary must-do is an espresso tasting at Omkafè. The beloved Italian brand which you can find in many restaurants and shops in the area has its head office in Riva del Garda.
You will find a coffee museum upstairs that tells you all about coffee variations from around the world, different kinds of beans. In addition, old grinders and coffee machines are on display here. You can also have a look around in their factory and learn all about the company’s history.
Once you got the theory down you can try their various espressos and learn the difference between Arabica and Robusta in person. They also offer various coffee courses and naturally, they have a big shop where you can buy your newfound favorite.
Where to stay at Lake Garda
Hotel Luise in Riva del Garda
If you’re a travel lover or have a love of themed hotels, then Lake Luise is most definitely the Lake Garda accommodation for you. This bright, travel-themed hotel will keep you smiling and excited for the duration of your stay. From rooms with maps and travel-themed artwork on the wall to mugs, t-shirts and interior decor branded with the hotel’s “Travel Is My Real Job” slogan, this is one of the most unique hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
It’s also home to possibly the best hotel breakfast in the world – with up to six types of freshly baked croissants, an array of sweet and savory delicacies, a hot food counter and a table full of freshly baked bread by Chef Roberto.
There are bike rentals, picnic baskets, a large swimming pool, a panorama elevator and most of all its just a short stroll to Riva Del Garda and the pristine shores of Lake Garda.