After several trips to Italy where we’ve explored popular cities like Florence and Verona and had some fun in the sun on the Italian island of Sardinia, we have to say that Lake Garda in the north is quickly becoming our favourite Italian escape.
It’s officially the largest lake in Italy, and especially on a clear day, the views you’ll see across the lake (and when on it!) are simply stunning. Like a sparkling liquid sapphire right at your feet.
Lake Garda is also full of pretty market towns in rainbow colours, as well as towns built on ancient Roman ruins and cradled by dramatic mountains.
So if you’re wondering which Lake Garda towns are the prettiest and absolute must-sees during your trip, then you’ve come to the right place!
The Prettiest Lake Garda Towns You Must Visit
Sirmione sits on the tip of the peninsula that juts out from the bottom of the lake and is one of the most popular Lake Garda towns (especially for first time visitors).
Thanks to its sandy beaches (Jamaica Beach and Spiaggia Lido Delle Bionde are particular favourites), as well as easy access for swimming in the lake, Sirmione is a popular favourite with sunseekers.
But what makes this town even more special is its ties with history and royalty.
Queen Ansa of Desiderio chose this area of Lake Garda to build a monastery for the Benedictines in the 8th Century and there are ancient Roman ruins abound here too.
There’s the Scaligero Castle (built by the Scaligeri of Verona in the 13th century), which you can climb to the top of for stunning views across Sirmione and the glistening lake.
And at the end of the peninsula, you’ll come across Grotte di Catullo, which is an ancient Roman villa dating back as far as the end of the 1st century B.C. and the beginning of the 1st century A.D.
Despite the villa being in ruins, some walls and windows remain, so you can easily get a feel for how luxurious this villa must once have been, complete with unparalleled views of the lake from its many windows.
Before leaving Sirmione, we’d recommend taking a relaxing dip in the thermal pools found at the Aquaria Thermal Spa (Terme di Sirmione), some of which are infinity pools overlooking the lake.
Finally, the harbour at Sirmione also offers various boat trips to other towns around Lake Garda including Malcesine, Garda and Bardolino, which you can visit as day trips or for longer if you prefer.
– Recommended by Ivan from Mind The Travel
Torbole is a postcard-worthy fishing town nestled on the northern shores of Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake.
With a long paved promenade, the colourful houses, dramatic scenery of craggy outcrops and high mountains coupled with the deep blue waters of the lake, Torbole has lots to offer visitors and is truly a hidden gem.
Located between Monte Baldo on the eastern side and the Sarche plain on the northern side, Torbole is a popular destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing fans.
Furthermore, you can have a wonderful canyoning experience and launch yourself from the top of rock formations formed over thousands of years into the crystal clear waters of Lake Garda.
There are plenty of land-based activities in Torbole too. You’ll find numerous comfortable and challenging hiking trails at different altitudes stretching through the beautiful natural landscape that can be walked in a few hours, including the popular panoramic route from Tempesta to Busatte Park.
This trail features two sections with stairs and railings bolted onto the rocks and offers fabulous views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Naturally, Torbole also offers a smattering of medieval architecture and historical sites.
A lovely walk from Nago to Torbole will lead you past the Marmitte dei Giganti formations that were sanded smooth by the unimaginably powerful glacial movements and offer an impressive natural phenomenon.
If you find yourself here in late spring, make sure to see the harbour and hike at Mount Altissimo di Nago, which dominates Lake Garda.
Don’t miss Vecchia Dogana (a Customs House that dates back to the 15th century), Casa Breust, the main square and the tollhouse (Casetta del Dazio) on this little exploration.
Also set some time aside to visit the Church of Saint Andrea that overlooks the older part of Torbole. Its history is tightly woven with the fortunes of this charming old town.
3. Riva del Garda
– Recommended by Carolyn from Holidays to Europe
Sitting at the northern end of Lake Garda, Riva del Garda is a beautiful medieval city built around a picturesque harbour. This popular holiday resort boasts some fine architecture and has plenty of charm.
Right beside the harbour you’ll find Piazza Tre Novembre, a large square which dominates the centre of the town. Shops and cafes housed in brightly coloured buildings line the square, all watched over by the Torre Apponale, a 13th-century clocktower.
If you’re feeling energetic, why not climb the tower’s 165 narrow steps for magnificent views over the lake and surrounding mountains?
Piazza Tre Novembre is the place to grab a bite to eat from one of the many cafes, trattorias or tavernas. In summer, umbrellas shade the tables and there’s no better place to sit and watch the world go by.
Just a few steps away you can visit a moated castle, originally built to protect the town from pirates. Today it’s home to a small museum and art gallery and can be reached by crossing a double-arched bridge and the former drawbridge.
Riva del Garda appeals to all ages with its array of sports, too. Swimming, sailing and windsurfing are extremely popular, and there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy hiking and mountain biking in the nearby mountains.
Lake cruises are a popular pastime, and the nearby Bastione, which can be reached by funicular, provides some of the best views of the lake from up high.
The ‘pearl of Lake Garda’, as it is commonly known, enjoys a Mediterranean climate and is busiest during the months of July and August. If you visit in May or September you can take advantage of warm temperatures without the crowds.
4. Desenzano del Garda
Desenzano isn’t usually included in roundups of the prettiest towns on Lake Garda – but it should be.
While the buildings throughout the town are painted in bright summer colours like reds, oranges, yellows and blues, the bustling harbour of Porte Vecchio is a charming place for a stroll to see moored sailboats, lakeside views and picturesque arches.
Desenzano is also one of the best places to stay in Lake Garda without a car because the railway station is just a twenty minute walk from the centre of town and has good connections to other Italian cities like Milan, Verona, Venice, Brescia, Padua and more.
This not only makes it easy to get to Lake Garda without a car but also allows you to visit other cities nearby as day trips.
5. Peschiera del Garda
– Recommended by Noel from Travel Photo Discovery
Lake Garda has so many lovely little towns and communities to explore around this colourful and scenic landscape.
One of my favourite towns to visit is Peschiera, a lovely lakeside town with a beautiful historic centre with its ancient walled city, ramparts and fortress that are fun to explore.
One of the best ways to explore nature and the outdoors around Peschiera is by boat and cruising the lovely canals around the walled city and lake region. You can also get to the old town with beautiful views of the city centre from the water.
Or if you prefer to just stay on land, go and walk through the old streets through pretty and pastel coloured buildings filled with cafes, boutique stores, galleries and other tourist shops that are fun to walk through and window shop.
Peschiera just oozes with Italian charm, lovely flowers everywhere and an Instagram spot everywhere you turn around the town.
If you are looking for a pretty and relaxed place to enjoy with historic interest and charming flair, check out Peschiera and even cruise through the ramparts and canals surrounding this lovely Italian town right on the banks of Lake Garda.
6. Limone sul Garda
– Recommended by Arzo from Arzo Travels
Visiting Limone in Lake Garda is a must. It is probably the cutest place out there. Though it is very small it is full of charm and there are many reasons why it is the best town in the area.
The village centre is gorgeous – with flowers all round and cute narrow streets that want to be explored. So, while Limone is small, take your time to explore the side streets that are so colourful and pretty with colourful houses and flowers everywhere.
Walk along the promenade in Limone and enjoy the great views of the lake on one side and the houses sitting on the hills and mountains on the other side; explore the side streets with cute shops, restaurants and cafes. Or you can take a drink to go and sit down at the harbour and enjoy the happening and pretty surrounding.
Then head to the cycle path that opened in Limone in 2018 – this “street” is car-free and offers beautiful views of the lake. Tip: Get there early when everyone is still sleeping to have it all to yourself.
There are also a few museums and Limone even has (a small) beach – all this makes Limone the best town around Lake Garda to visit.
Tip: Limone is very small – and yet very busy. So while summer is the most popular time to visit, shoulder season (April, May or September and October) might be the best time to visit to avoid the crowds in Limone.
7. Gardone Riviera
– Recommended by Teresa from Brogan Abroad
Located on the western shore of Lake Garda, Gardone Riviera is a charming little town that is ideal as a base to explore Lake Garda and the region of Lombardy.
Known as the ‘garden city’ of Lake Garda, Gardone Riviera is one of the most prestigious spots in Lake Garda. It is part of the famous ‘Borghi Piu Belli D’Italia’ club, which translates as the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in Italy’ club – and for good reason.
With opulent waterfront villas and belle époque hotels, Gardone Riviera is ideal to spend a day strolling and enjoying the lake views, gelato in hand. The charming historic centre of the village, a short walk uphill from the lake shore, is another great place to walk around and enjoy the cute courtyards, stairs and flowers all around.
Aside from the beauty of this village, one of the reasons that people visit Gardone Riviera is Il Vittoriale degli Italiani. Il Vittoriale is a grand Italian villa with spectacular gardens and views over the lake, which used to be the home of eccentric writer and poet Gabriele D’Annunzio.
Visiting Il Vittoriale is one of the best things to do in Lombardy, and the house itself gives you a unique insight into the writer’s obsessive life. But the highlight is the grounds, which has a number of gorgeous viewpoints, garden areas and even a battleship turned garden!
Last but certainly not least on this list of pretty Lake Garda towns is Malcesine – and the highlight of our trip to Lake Garda.
It’s a small harbour town on the north-eastern side of the lake, and thanks to its resident mountain, Malcesine offers views across Lake Garda like no other.
At over 2000 metres, Monte Baldo might be considered a small mountain by some, but a short cable car ride to the top will have you in awe of your surroundings.
Plus, there are various mountain hikes you can embark on from up here, which have incredible views the whole way across both the lake and mountain range.
And for the adrenaline junkies among you, Monte Baldo is also a popular spot for paragliders!
Once you’re back down on the ground, be sure to take a wander around Malcesine harbour, which has a charming mix of sailboats, gelato shops and Italian locals basking in the sunshine.
Still not convinced Malcesine is one of the prettiest Lake Garda towns of the whole lot? Can you be persuaded if we tell you the bay of Malcesine is aptly nicknamed ‘Dream Valley’?
More Lake Garda Towns For Your Wishlist
If you have longer to spend in Italy and want to see even more Lake Garda towns, then here are some more to consider (which are on our own wishlist for our next trip to Lake Garda):
- Torri del Benaco
Where To Stay In Lake Garda
While we think Desenzano is one of the best places to stay in Lake Garda without a car, you may also want to consider staying in one of the towns that has a bit more going on such as Sirmione.
Each of these towns are also well connected for day trips around the lake, so there’s no reason why your itinerary can’t include trips to other pretty Lake Garda towns.
During our visit, we chose to stay in Sirmione and booked a luxurious one bedroom suite with a balcony overlooking the lake at Casa Dei Pescatori. While our room was stunning and luxurious, the views were great and it was easy enough to walk into the old part of Sirmione from where we were staying.
The only downsides were the lack of kitchen facilities to do our own cooking and the fact that a popular restaurant backed onto the apartment, so our balcony wasn’t very private in the evenings. But these are minor points and are unlikely to bother many of you.
Other places to stay in Desenzano or Sirmione that come highly rated by other travellers are:
- Hotel Pace: Beautiful 3-star beach hotel near Scaligero Castle in Sirmione | Check Prices | Read Reviews
- Hotel Mon Repos: Relaxing 3-star hotel with pool bar also near Scaligero Castle in Sirmione | Check Prices | Read Reviews
- Hotel Désirée: 3-star lakefront hotel near Scaligero Castle in Sirmione | Check Prices | Read Reviews
- Hotel Vittorio: Charming 3-star lakefront hotel near the centre of Desenzano | Check Prices | Read Reviews
- Villa Rosa Hotel: Delightful 4-star beachfront hotel near Spiaggia “Desenzanino” | Check Prices | Read Reviews
- Wellness Boutique Hotel Mayer & Splendid: Charming 3-star hot springs hotel in the centre of Desenzano | Check Prices | Read Reviews
Getting To & Around Lake Garda
Lake Garda Road Trip
One of the most popular ways to get to and around Lake Garda for both locals and tourists is with a road trip, so you can take in the views from multiple towns around Lake Garda during just one trip.
While it’s possible to visit Lake Garda as a day trip from somewhere like Verona, most Lake Garda itineraries suggest spending 5-7 days road-tripping around the lake so you can spend time in a couple of different towns without rushing.
We wouldn’t recommend doing this during July or August though as Lake Garda is a popular holiday destination and the roads surrounding it are narrow in a lot of places, so traffic builds up quickly during the summer months.
Without A Car: Buses, Trains & Boats
If you’re like us and hate driving on the other side of the road(!), then it’s more than possible to visit Lake Garda without a car thanks to various bus, train and boat routes.
The best city to fly into is Verona. And from there, you could choose one of these routes for an easy trip:
- Hop on a train to Desenzano, which takes less than 30 minutes
- Hop on a bus to Sirmione, which takes roughly 45 minutes (sometimes longer in heavy traffic)
- Hop on a train to Peschiera, which takes just 15 minutes. (You can then also get an easy connection from here to Bardolino, Garda or Lazise.)
Whether you head for Desenzano, Sirmione or Peschiera from Verona, it’ll be easy enough to get a train and/or ferry to other Lake Garda towns during your stay – even as day trips.
Without A Car: Lake Garda Day Trips
But if you don’t want to drive or rely on public transport and just want to visit Lake Garda for the day, then tours are a great option (and a relaxing one!)
We like to use Get Your Guide for all our tours as they have fair prices, a good selection of options to choose from and a fantastic cancellation policy for most tours.
Here are some Lake Garda day trips we’ve found that you might like:
- From Verona: Sirmione and Lake Garda Small Group Tour
- From Verona: Lake Garda Full-Day Tour by Bus and Boat
Day Trips From Lake Garda
It’s also possible to visit other places in Italy as day trips from Lake Garda. Here are a few ideas from Get Your Guide that you might like:
- Verona Full-Day Tour
- Half-Day Wine & Tasting Tour
- Dolomites Full-Day Tour
- Venice and Lagoon Full-Day Tour
- Milan Full-Day Tour
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading all about these beautiful Lake Garda towns! Which one(s) have you added to your wishlist? Do you have any other questions about your trip to Lake Garda? We’d love to hear from you so leave a comment below…
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