Planning a trip to Lake Garda? Here’s what to do beyond lake fun like swimming and boating!
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Lake Garda is the largest of Italy’s major lakes, along with Como and Maggiore. While each is beautiful, Lake Garda sets itself apart with castles and Roman ruins. It’s also easily reachable from Venice.
Keep in mind that it’s north enough that can still be cool through early May, so having options for what to do that doesn’t mean swimming is clutch. So here are a few of my favorite activities at Lake Garda beyond the lake classics of swimming and boating!
Where to Base Your Time at Lake Garda
Lake Garda is pretty big, so choosing the right town or area to base your trip in is important. I really liked staying near Gargnano: it’s on the eastern side of the lake, about halfway down. It’s near a few bigger towns but still feels small and not too crowded.
We stayed at Agriturismo Cervano and absolutely loved it! An old family home converted into vacation rentals, there are various sized rooms for whatever size your group is. As a group of six plus 3 dogs and 2 kiddos, we stayed in their three-bedroom apartment and it was perfect! It had plenty of space including a dining room and kitchen with plenty of room to cook and hang out and a working fireplace. Each bedroom also had a sitting area, so we could get privacy where we needed it.
Best of all, the views from this place are incredible! Cervano sits on the hillside above the lake, meaning you have stunning views of the lake and the surrounding countryside. They gave us a tour when we arrived, showing us their vineyards, olive groves, farmland, and all the gorgeous nooks waiting to be explored. We had the run of the grounds during our stay.
You could have an amazing, relaxing weekend with friends or family without ever leaving the property! It truly feels like you’re staying at a local’s home. If you stay at Agriturismo Cervan, make sure to build in time to enjoy the property – that’s part of why you’re here.
Fun at Lake Garda Beyond the Lake
Skipping over the obvious swimming and boating, these are a few activities perfect for cloudy days or when you need a break from the water!
Hiking the Mill
Lake Garda is surrounded by beautiful hills and forests, so hiking is an easy afternoon win!
The Valle delle Cartiere Mill is a great jumping-off point. There’s a short walk to the mill itself, and then trails throughout the area! You can also visit the mill – it’s a small museum with a cafe.
There are a ton of gorgeous historic villas surrounding Lake Garda. Many are still private residences, but you can tour several of them. Villa Bettoni sits nearby in Gargnano and you can visit, but you need schedule tours in advance.
Rent Bikes or Scooter
Feeling more sporty? You can rent bikes, e-bikes, or scooters from Cisco Sport for a day or exploring! Their rates are really reasonable and Andrea can give you solid suggestions for routes or destinations.
WalkAlong the Lake
If you want to enjoy the lake without actually getting in, take the gorgeous boardwalk along Gargnano. The views are lovely and it’s flat terrain, so it’s perfect for a leisurely passagiata! You can bounce between the boardwalk and the small streets for an hour or two.
Day Trips from Gargnano
Another reason I like staying in the Gargnano area is that afternoon or day trips are really simple. Driving an hour can take you to nearly anywhere else on the lake, and 90 minutes to Verona, Bergamo, or Trento.
There are tons of great wineries in the area too! The area specializes in whites like lugana and custoza, reds like bardolino, or a rose like Chiaretto. They tend to be in the southern half of the lake, so start there for a tasting day! A few I’ve got my eye on are Azienda Agricola Monte de Frá, Tenuta Roveglia and Ottella.
A bonus is that the region is also know for olive oil, so an olive oil tasting is also a really fun way to get to know the local products. Frantoio Montecroce is currently on my “to try” list!
Sirmione is a peninsula sitting at the southern tip of Lake Garda, and it’s particularly gorgeous. Go explore Castello Scaligero, the sunken castle, which is very cool and has amazing views. While you’re there, get lunch on the gorgeous terrazza at Trattoria al Porticciolo!
Logistics: Planning Your Time at Lake Garda
This may go without saying, but a car is a must here. Unless you stay in one of the major cities and at a resort-style hotel, there’s not a lot within walking distance. To really get a feel for the area, you need a car.
In the summer, especially weekends, plan to make reservations for your group! Staying in the Gargnano area meant that there were plenty of restaurants but they tended to fill up, so you couldn’t just wander in and hope for a table. Most people are super patient and speak some English, so as long as you’re kind and have patience for everyone, it’ll work out fine.
I loved Lake Garda and am already scheming to head back this summer. If you want more Italy suggestions, check me out on Pinterest – I’m always saving new ideas there!