Slow down as you explore charming Lake Garda and its picturesque towns from north to south with this 7-day trip. Compare and contrast Sirmione and Peschiera del Garda with a guided tour, discovering medieval fortress walls, castles, and old town centers. Head north by boat and climb to the top of the Torre Apponale tower in Riva del Garda. Look out across the lake, then take the trail to the beautiful Cascate del Varone waterfall. The beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains will surely leave you with amazing memories for years to come.

Highlights

  • Soak in the scenery of Lake Garda by boat
  • Enjoy a day trip to Verona
  • Explore medieval architecture and waterways in Peschiera del Garda
  • Ride a cable car and admire mountaintop views from Monte Baldo

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 Riva del Garda to Desenzano del Garda Desenzano del Garda
Day 6 Day Trip to Verona, Walking Tour Desenzano del Garda
Day 7 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.

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.

Plan your trip to Italy
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.

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: Riva del Garda to Desenzano del Garda

Lake Garda, Italy
Lake Garda, Italy

Today you'll leave the north of Lake Garda behind and make the 2.5-hour journey back south by boat to Desenzano del Garda. The town has a lot of history to offer as well as vibrant bars and restaurants. Take the early morning ferry from Riva del Garda, then make your way to your hotel to check-in.

Once you've settled in, head out to explore the lakefront, old port, and winding streets of Desenzano. Learn about ancient Roman history with visits to the hilltop castle and Roman villa. When walking between these two sites, you will also come across the Duomo, which is worth a quick visit. If you're interested in delving even further back in time, there is also the Bronze and Stone Age museum in Desenzano (the G Rambotti Museo Archeologico).

Wander through the center and check out the variety of shops ranging from high-end designers to smaller boutiques, and if you are there on a Tuesday don't miss out on the market. As you're exploring today, don't be afraid to get lost in the maze of old streets, find a nice cafe in a square to enjoy a coffee, and grab an Italian gelato for a walk along the promenade.  

In the evening, join the locals in sitting outside and indulging in an aperitivo while overlooking the lake. We'd recommend finding a great spot for dinner in Piazza Cappalletti to end your day.

Day 6: Day Trip to Verona, Walking Tour

Arena di Verona
Arena di Verona

Today you will travel by train to Verona. The journey takes less than half an hour to get you to the center. After you arrive, you'll take a 2-hour guided tour of the romantic city with a local guide. You'll see for yourself why this city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and get to know firsthand the culture and history behind Verona. Apart from being the setting for the most famous Shakespearean love drama, Verona is rich in history and archaeological importance. 

Your walking tour will start with one of Verona's most notable landmarks, the Arena in Bra Square. Still used today, this ancient Roman amphitheater is one of the best-preserved of its kind. From there, wander through the cobblestone streets and arrive at the central Piazza Bra, the largest square in the city and the perfect spot to delve into the importance of the ancient economic and political life in the quaint market Piazza delle Erbe.

Nearby, you'll visit the house of Verona's famed lovers and see Juliet's balcony at the Casa di Giulietta, said to have inspired Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. However, Verona isn't only known for its romance. Continue your tour and learn more about why Verona holds such an important place in Northern Italy's medieval history and visit the former political center Piazza dei Signori.

Crisscross your way through side streets and back alleys as your guide points out the best local cuisine and traditional food to add to your list of places to try. Make your way to the River Adige, where you'll be able to admire a beautiful view of the Ponte Pietra, The Roman Theatre, and the Archeological Museum.

After your tour, take the rest of the day to explore on your own. Spend some time exploring inside the Roman Theater and Archaeological Museum. Admire the impressive archaeological feats before heading over to the Castle Vecchio. First, cross the Castelvecchio Bridge, constructed centuries ago in the 1350s. You'll travel back in time as you walk over its red brick and take in the incredible scenery of the Adige from this ideal vantage point. As you reach the other side, you can visit the Castelvecchio Museum. This small castle built for military purposes is a lovely example of the Gothic architecture of the time. 

You can stay for dinner in Verona, or head back to Lake Garda to find a waterfront restaurant. If you opt to eat in Verona, we recommend that you return to Piazza Bra in the evening where restaurants and bars are buzzing with locals and visitors alike.

Day 7: 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 - 7 Days
Map of Explore Scenic Lake Garda - 7 Days