Do you want to visit Lake Garda like a local? Then check out 7 things to get the best out of the lake.
Crowned by mountains and wooded hills, Lake Garda is a small sea between the mountains.
Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, touching three regions (Lombardy, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto) and it's a true paradise for visitors looking for culture, sport, adventure and wellness.
Ancient villages, beaches and theme parks follow one another along the shores of the lake, dotted with enchanting hidden corners where nature still reigns supreme.
Part of the history of Italy has been made around this lake, in a key spot where Mediterranean culture embraces Central European culture.
The following is therefore the list with our suggestions to let you have an authentic experience of the lake, to discover those little gems that make a visit special.
Here are the 7 things to do at Lake Garda to experience it like a local: let's discover together the best aperitivo spots, where to better admire
7. Shop at the local markets
Around Lake Garda, every day is market day!
If you are in the area we recommend wandering around the markets of small towns to enjoy the cheerful and authentic atmosphere.
Monday is the perfect time to visit Moniga and its morning market in Piazza San Martino, great for clothes and to buy Chiaretto di Moniga rosé wine (impossible to be more local!). The villages of Peschiera and Torri del Benaco also offer a market on Mondays. The latter is especially interesting, as you can buy wooden objects and typical local products, apart from food.
Tuesday is the day of the large Desenzano market on the city's lakefront, while Wednesday morning is all for Lazise, where you can go shopping between the port and the city centre and enjoy the exquisite food stands.
Thursday, on the other hand, is hunting territory for those visiting the streets of Bardolino: at the local market you can literally buy everything, from clothes to household and food products, especially cheese, fruit and vegetables. Prices are affordable and the market is often crowded with tourists in the summer.
On Friday we recommend the market in Gardone Riviera and Manerba del Garda, while Saturday is market day for Salo', Malcesine and Valeggio sul Mincio: the latter is worth a visit above all for the beauty of the village and for the possibility of buying delicious Tortelli of Valeggio, called "agnolin", a handmade fresh pasta.
Finally, for antiques lovers, every first Sunday of the month (except January and August) there is a beautiful market with antique dealers' stalls in Desenzano, on the delightful lakefront of Via Anelli.
6. Do outdoor sports
Lake Garda is going to be your favourite holiday spot if you love outdoor sports, whether in the water, trails or… in the air.
If you are interested in water sports, you are in the right place.
The villages around the lake are well equipped for kitesurfing and windsurfing, taking advantage of the wind blowing on the lake. You can also practise canoeing, stand-up paddling and snorkelling. Lake Garda is also the location chosen for several regattas every year, attracting sailing passionate from all over the world.
You can rent your SUP, kayak or canoe and explore the lake at your own pace, or join one of the many tours offered by local tourist agencies. The larger towns bordering the lake shores offer various options for tours and rentals by the hour (for SUP in Malcesine, Bardolino and Peschiera, for kayaking try Riva del Garda).
If, on the other hand, you prefer mountain sports, don't miss the opportunity to climb the local peaks (in Arco, north of the lake, there are many cliffs to test your skills and also many climbing schools) or exciting treks going around the lake, offering superb views.
Lake Garda also offers many cycleways for mountain biking: there are almost 2000 kilometres divided into 44 treks of varying difficulty suitable for all riders. Try trail 760 on Monte Creino with excellent views from the top of the mountain and the spectacular 5km downhill path in Val di Diaol.
Finally, if you prefer to enjoy the lake from the sky and you don't have vertigo, try parasailing. Tied to a motorboat, you will rise in the air and you will be able to enjoy the view and crispy air. Some interesting places to go parasailing are Bardolino, Lazise and San Felice del Benaco.
5. Discover the best panoramic spots
After touching the beauty of Lake Garda at water level, we recommend you to enjoy the lake view from above.
To get an overview of the Garda universe, with the rugged mountains surrounding the blue of the water, we are listing here for you our favourite panoramic points that will make your experience on the lake unforgettable.
One of the best is the (quite original) cable car boasting incredible 360 degree views with its rotating cabins. We are talking about the Malcesine-Monte Baldo cableway, taking visitors up to 1800 metres on Monte Baldo (excellent for those who love trekking in the mountains) but which is often taken by tourists just to appreciate the panorama of Lake Garda from the top. The cost of the cable car ticket is around 6 euros for the round trip.
Another well-known panoramic point is the Terrazza del Brivido (literally "thrill terrace") in Tremosine, in the hamlet of Pieve.
The terrace is nothing more than the culmination of an artificial promontory overlooking the lake, almost 350 metres high. Your legs might tremble, but it's a unique opportunity to enjoy an unforgettable view. To reach the village of Tremosine by car you will have to take the spectacular Strada della Forra, with overhangs over the lake and mighty rock walls, when it is said that the journey is almost better than the destination…
Other panoramic points not to be missed are certainly the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Montecastello near Tignale, built on a rock spur overhanging the lake and over 700 metres high, and the Rocca di Garda, between Bardolino and Punta San Vigilio.
4. Find the best bar for an aperitivo
Lake Garda offers many spots where you can chill and have a stylish aperitivo after a day spent outdoors.
The lake guarantees a splendid view, while the music and alcohol are always excellent in the area.
The lakefront of Desenzano, between the beach and the port, boasts a stretch of clubs and bars offering excellent aperitifs, often with local wines. We recommend the "Goldenbeach - Spiaggia d'Oro", right on the shore, with lots of space for parties and free parking. Just outside the town, between Desenzano and Sirmione, don't miss the “Chiosco Zattera”, with great spritzes and straw huts to protect yourself from the sun.
At the lido of Lonato del Garda there is the “MaDai” bar, excellent if you are looking for a bit of nightlife and loud music, especially on weekends.
In Punta San Virgilio, on the other hand, there is a selection of places with a more relaxed and romantic atmosphere, a stone's throw from the pier.
Near San Virgilio, towards Garda, you can find the local favourite “La Motta” bar, right on the beach.
For wine lovers there are several wine bars: we recommend the “Enoteca del Porto” in Desenzano and the “Osteria Lo Strambino” in Bardolino: the wine list of both spots will surely not disappoint you.
If you want to dance, the most popular discos in the area are the “Hollywood” in Bardolino and the “Coco Beach Club” in Desenzano, open until late at night.
3. Discover a wonderful garden
On the shores of Lake Garda, there is a place where you can discover plants from all over the world and take a moment to relax.
The André Heller Botanical Garden offers visitors 2 acres of plants, flowers and trees from all corners of the world, alternating them with curious sculptures, bridges and representations of the Buddha.
An eclectic mix that makes this garden perfect for strolling for a couple of hours and maybe walking the dog.
The garden offers lots of shade and is therefore an ideal place to escape to during the hot summer days: there is also a kiosk to buy drinks and snacks to enjoy in the green.
Founded in 1903, thanks to the efforts of the Austrian botanist Arthur Hruska, the garden has seen the addition of many plants over the years: from the flora of the Himalayas to the tropical ones, nothing escaped Hruska's passion for nature. The botanist was very skilled in recreating different environments to allow plants to survive.
The garden is located in Gardone Riviera and became the property of the artist André Heller in the 1980s, who further improved it with new plants and sculptures (among others those of Roy Lichtenstein and Erwin Novak).
The ticket for the André Heller botanical garden is 12 euros and the park is open every day from June to October.
2. Visit the village and spa in Lazise
A nocturnal view of the romantic Lazise.
Lazise stands on the Veronese side of the lake and is one of the most popular villages in the area.
This village surrounded by the beautiful landscapes of the lake offers visitors an interesting medieval old town centre, excellent restaurants, bars and sandy beaches.
Start from Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and stroll through the narrow streets of the town, discover its romantic views between the ancient buildings and the Castello Scaligero, the true symbol of the place. Finally, ends your stroll with some shopping along the Corso Ospedale.
Furthermore, in Lazise you will find many different activities, if you are into pure fun (such as Gardaland or the Parco Natura Viva) and into well-being (the Garda Thermal Park of Villa dei Cedri).
The latter are located in the hamlet of Colà and are an enchanting natural spa immersed in over 10 hectares of nature: among secular trees and swimming pools with thermal water at 39C° you can recharge your batteries, ready to explore the rest of Lake Garda.
Lazise guarantees you a full day of entertainment, split between well-being, culture and good food; not surprisingly, it is one of the most visited towns on the lake, so it is often crowded on weekends in spring and summer.
1. Explore the Varone Waterfalls
So beautiful that they may have inspired Thomas Mann to write "The Magic Mountain".
We are talking about the Cascate del Varone ("Varone waterfalls") , a scenic natural spot 3 km on the north side of Lake Garda.
Easily accessible by car, the waterfalls are perfect for a half day in nature, in a unique natural setting, where the erosion of the waters has dug deep fissures in the limestone of the mountain.
The falls are 100 meters high and are fed by the Magnone stream, whose waters rush down the rocky gorge fully explorable by visitors.
An elaborate system of bridges, balustrades and stairs will take you into the caves, taking you a short distance from the waterfalls. Here you can appreciate the wonderful smoothed rocks incessantly hit by the water.
The route winds through various observation points: the most interesting are the Lower Grotto where you have a view from below and the Upper one which allows you to observe the fall of the water.
The cost of the ticket is only 5 euros and you don't need to book: it takes about 20-30 minutes to complete the route but you can stay inside the park at will, perhaps to take a spectacular photo at the right moment.
Comfortable shoes and a raincoat are recommended to prevent unexpected showers.