Explore the best of Lake Garda with this quick 5-day itinerary. Experience the relaxed pace of life at the southern end of the lake and visit Roman villas and medieval castles on a guided tour of Sirmione and Peschiera del Garda. To the north is Riva del Garda, a town influenced by Austrian and Italian culture. Enjoy outdoor activities and take a self-guided day trip to the picturesque village of Malcesine.

Highlights

  • Admire magnificent castles and villas on Lake Garda
  • Relax along lakeside promenades
  • Ride a cable car and admire mountaintop views from Monte Baldo
  • Soak in the scenery of Lake Garda by boat

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Milan, Transfer to Lake Garda Sirmione
Day 2 Guided Tour of Sirmione & Peschiera Del Garda Sirmione
Day 3 Sirmione to Riva Del Garda Riva del Garda
Day 4 Self-Guided Day Trip to Malcesine and Monte Baldo Riva del Garda
Day 5 Goodbye Italy  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Milan, Transfer to Lake Garda

Colorful Houses, Lake Garda

Welcome to Italy! From Milan's international airport you will transfer to Lake Garda, where spectacular natural beauty meets charming Italian villages. From Milan, it takes two hours to reach Sirmione by train to neighboring Desenzano del Garda, followed by a short taxi ride or a direct bus from the station. Lake Garda is the biggest lake in the region, and you'll have time to discover what makes it so special. The northern villages of Bardolino, Riva, Malcesine, Gardone, and Limone are smaller and have a more romantic mountain village feeling. The southern towns of Sirmione and Desenzano are somewhat bigger, with vibrant nightlife, trendy bars and restaurants, and plentiful accommodation options.

You will stay in the town of Sirmione, which sits on a narrow peninsula on the south end of the lake. The town is known for its famous healing waters and its many historical sites, including the striking 13th-century Rocca Scaligera. This fortress is one of Italy's best-preserved medieval castles and features a restored stone harbor. 

Sirmione is also famous for its ancient Roman villa, the Catullo Grottoes, which dates back to the 1st century BCE. The villa is situated on the northernmost tip of Sirmione's peninsula and commands unparalleled views of the lake. Today, visitors can tour the grounds and ruins of the grand villa to see how ancient Rome's rich and powerful citizens lived and built their homes. 

After checking in to your hotel, head out to explore Sirmione on foot. Have a peaceful walk around Sirmione Park for great views from the peninsula. Then grab a gelato and go for a leisurely stroll along Sirmione's beautiful promenade. Relax on a bench and watch boats go by as the evening draws near. Head to one of the town's many excellent restaurants for a dinner featuring fresh-caught fish from the lake. A great spot to find authentic food is Sirmione's main square, Piazza Carducci.

Day 2: Guided Tour of Sirmione & Peschiera Del Garda

Boats in Sirmione

After breakfast, you'll meet your guide in the center of Sirmione for a half-day tour of Lake Garda on land and water. Sirmione and nearby Peschiera del Garda are steeped in history, as your guide will help you discover as you hop between these two villages using Lake Garda's ferry service. If you'd like to visit other villages with your guide, that can also be arranged in advance. During your tour, admire how the landscape changes around the lake, noting that the south is much flatter and less mountainous than the north, but also beautiful.

Your guide will first take you to Sirmione's two main attractions: the Grotto of Catullus and Scaliger Castle. The grotto was actually a large Roman mansion built for the poet Catullus. It was very common for patrician families to construct their villas around the lakes, inspired by the tranquility of the water and views of the mountains. The 14th century Scaliger Castle overlooks Sirmione and Lake Garda.  For an unrivaled view across the lake, you can climb to the top of the castle up narrow stairs.

After exploring the highlights of Sirmione, you'll take a short and scenic ferry ride with your guide to Peschiera del Garda. As you approach, you'll notice that it looks different from other towns on Lake Garda due to its fortress walls and interesting architecture dating back to the Roman period. Your guide will show you around the center and lead you through historical points of interest. Visit Roman archeological sites, the Palazzina Storica Museo, and the Sanctuary of Madonna del Frassino. The islands of Peschiera Del Garda are connected by bridges constructed in the 16th century.  The iconic Ponte Voltoni connects the waterways to the river Mincio. There are two decorative gates to enter the town, the most famous being Porta Verona, and the fortress is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is possible to climb parts of the fortress to see what it would be like to guard the town.

While wandering the streets, you will notice many local food and wine shops. Producers sell sweet and savory treats, including tortellini, formaggella di tremosine (a soft cheese), honey, and sbrisolona (a delicious crumble cake). You are also lucky enough to find yourself in a renowned wine region. Vineyards surround Lake Garda, many producing the local specialty of Bardolino. It is sold in a straw basket that acts as a holder and can be a nice souvenir to take home. Grappa and limoncello liqueurs are also not to be missed and are wonderfully enjoyed with a cake or as a digestif after dinner.

After your tour, enjoy some leisurely free time to explore at your own pace. We suggest picking from the following activities:

  • Hike to see the Waterfall of Varone, and after enjoy wine at Cantina Zeni and the Museum of Wine, set inside the Zeni Winery overlooking Lake Garda
  • Enjoy nature in Peschiera at the Hruska Botanical Garden where you can find species from every part of the world, from the Himalayas to Africa.

We'd recommend finding a great spot for dinner in Peschiera. Fish is a specialty here- try delicious fresh trout, fish risotto, or alborelle pasta. Head back to Sirmione by ferry at the end of your day.

Plan your trip to Italy
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 3: Sirmione to Riva Del Garda

Tourist boat on Lake Maggiore
Mountains around the north of Lake Garda

This morning, you'll travel north on Lake Garda to the town of Riva del Garda. Using the ferry service is easy and offers fantastic views of all the villages and mountains surrounding the lake. Take the early ferry, and arrive 2.5 hours later in Riva del Garda. Check into your accommodation and spend the afternoon getting familiar with the town and its surrounding dramatic landscape.

Riva del Garda belonged to Austria until 1918, so you will notice an Austrian influence on the language and cuisine. Locals say danke as well as grazie as a sign of thanks, and many restaurants serve schnitzel and sausages, and apple strudel rather than tiramisu. The main attractions to visit in the town are the Rocca fortress and the 13th-century Torre Apponale tower. The Rocca is located on the shore overlooking Lake Garda and is now used as the City Museum, housing interesting art and historic exhibits. Take a walk around the waterfront park as well. Back in the center of town in Piazza III Novembre, you'll find the 112-foot (34 m) tall Torre Apponale, where you can climb 165 steps to the top and enjoy a spectacular view across Riva Del Garda, the lake, and the surrounding mountains. From this square, spend some time wandering around the Old Town and include a stop at the medieval Porta San Marco gate, one of the town's original entrances. 

Located at the northern tip of Lake Garda, Riva is known for catching the wind and is a popular place with windsurfers and hikers alike. We recommend the following activities if you're feeling adventurous today:

  • Walk 1.5 miles (one-way) along the waterfront and beaches from the town center to Forte Garda, an Austro-Hungarian fortress at the bottom of Mount Brione. You can enter the fort or just sit and enjoy the tranquil scenery.
  • Rent a boat and head out to explore the lake, or go windsurfing from Torbole.
  • The Ponale Trail is a popular walk beginning close to the hydroelectric power station in Riva del Garda. It's a fairly easy trail, but increases in elevation. Belvedere is a great halfway stop for refreshments. You can choose to head back from here, or otherwise carry on to Pregasina, where incredible views and the Ponale waterfall await you. The trail is around 4 miles each direction, so be sure to pack water and snacks for the journey.
  • Enjoy a 40 minute, 1.9-mile walk or hop on a local bus from Riva del Garda to reach the Cascate del Varone park. Enter the cave that contains the waterfall to see the results of thousands of years of erosion. Discover the many scenic vantage points both from the top and bottom of the waterfall, as well as a beautiful botanical garden to explore.

In the evening, head to an osteria around Piazza San Marco for dinner and try some regional Austro-Italian dishes.

Day 4: Self-Guided Day Trip to Malcesine and Monte Baldo

Restaurant at the top of Mount Baldo
Restaurant at the top of Mount Baldo

Today, you'll take a day trip to the picturesque village of Malcesine. The best way to arrive is by boat, as you will see more of the spectacular beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains. After breakfast, hop on the ferry and enjoy the 30-minute trip. The charming, colorful houses and cobblestone streets heading uphill from the fishing harbor of Malcesine lead up to Monte Baldo, the highest mountain around Lake Garda. Malcesine is small but filled with great local artisan and craft shops. When you're ready for a bite to eat, the local olives and lemons are particularly delicious.

Spend some time wandering the winding streets and enjoy a coffee or gelato before visiting the majestic Scaligero Castle. Locals know it as the sister of the castle in Sirmione. Soak in the romantic atmosphere of both Malcesine and its castle, emanating from the beauty of the village itself and the spectacular views you'll encounter here, as well as from the top of Monte Baldo. You can take a cable car to reach the peak. The station is located on Via Navene Vecchia, up from the harbor, and from there you'll enjoy a peaceful ascent up the mountain. The cable car stops once at San Michele (approximately 1,800 feet, or 560 m, up), where you can take a quick photo and change to a larger cabin for the final part of the journey. This cable car has a rotating floor to give all inside equally stunning 360-degree views.

Monte Baldo is great for trekking, paragliding, and biking. The area is known as the Garden of Europe with its excellent variety of botanical species and alpine flora. Surprisingly to many, there are 62 types of orchids growing on Monte Baldo. If you are interested in a more relaxing day, there are some short trails to walk as well as several mountain hut cafes and restaurants where you can sit and enjoy views of the lake. The food is slightly different from typical Italian cuisine, so it's interesting to try some local dishes. 

When you're ready to descend, take the cable car back down the mountain and enjoy the panoramic view over Lake Garda and the Alps once again. Malcesine makes great limoncello- give it a try before returning to Riva del Garda by ferry. Raise a delicious toast to a beautiful day and find a great restaurant for dinner in the center on a walk up from the lake along the street Via Florida.

Day 5: Goodbye Italy

Cozy street in Trastevere, Rome
Depart Italy

Your journey in Italy will end after breakfast, with a transfer to the airport to catch your flight home or to your next destination. Arrivederci!

Map

Map of Explore Scenic Lake Garda - 5 Days
Map of Explore Scenic Lake Garda - 5 Days