The Perfect 2 to 3 Days in Lake Garda Itinerary

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by Maggie Turansky


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Straddling the Lombardy, Trentino and Veneto regions of Northern Italy, planning a Lake Garda itinerary is one of the best things to do in this area of the country.

As Italy’s largest lake, Garda is packed with beautiful towns, incredible views and plenty of wonderful things to see and do. And because of its size, it’s worth spending 2 to 3 days in Lake Garda rather than simply visiting as a day trip.

A bit less upmarket and more laid back when compared to Lake Como, Lake Garda makes for the perfect escape in the hills of northern Italy. If you’re wondering how to structure your days, this itinerary will guide you through the best way to spend up to 3 days in the region!

How Many Days in Lake Garda

Lake Garda is a big lake (it’s the biggest lake in Italy) and there is a lot of ground to cover (and a number of things to see!) that you couldn’t possibly do it all in one day. However, if you have enough time to spend 2 days in Lake Garda, that would be a good starting point for your itinerary.

With 2 full days, you will be able to see a number of the towns in multiple parts of the lake. Your days may be busy, but you will be able to get a very good feel for the lake and its surrounding area.

If you have the time, it’s even better to spend 3 days. You will also have the opportunity to enjoy some more relaxing time out on the lake, you could wine tasting in some vineyards that surround the lake, or you could even opt to go on a day trip to somewhere in Veneto or Trentino!

Lovely Salo on Lake Garda
Lovely Salo on Lake Garda

Getting To & Around Lake Garda

Contrary to a location like Lake Como, Lake Garda isn’t as accessible via public transport and it can be a bit of a challenge to plan a route around the towns of the lake without your own vehicle.

While the town of Sirmione at the south of the lake is home to its own train station, it isn’t easy to get anywhere else on the lake by relying on public transit. Yes, you could just visit Sirmione as a day trip destination, but it is going to be very difficult to get around the lake if you are planning on relying solely on public transport.

By far the best way to plan a Lake Garda itinerary is to hire your own car. This is why planning a road trip is an excellent idea and the below route assumes that you have your own vehicle.

Parking is prevalent in most of the towns and driving in this area is easy. Having your own car will allow you to visit several towns on your own schedule and also have a bit of flexibility.

When relying on buses or ferries, you will have to be beholden to inconsistent timetables and that won’t be an issue with your own vehicle.

If you’re looking to hire a car for your Lake Garda trip, we suggest browsing through Rentalcars.com to compare prices across several different car rental companies.

If you choose not to rent a car, you can base yourself in one town in Lake Garda and take advantage of organised trips such as this full-day tour or this full-day tour that departs from popular towns such as Peschiera del Garda and Malcesine.

Limone sul Garda
Limone Sul Garda

2 to 3 Days in Lake Garda Itinerary

If you only have 2 days in to spend in Lake Garda, then the first two days of this itinerary are for you. If you do have 3 days, that’s where you have the flexibility to choose how to spend your third day on this beautiful Italian lake.

Day 1 – Sirmione, Salo, Maderno & Gargnano

Sirmione

The first stop on this itinerary is in, arguably, the most popular and tourist-centric town on the lake – Sirmione. Upon entering this town, it is immediately evident why it is so popular — it is strikingly beautiful.

Located at the very south of Lake Garda within very easy reach of Verona and ever Venice further afield, Sirmione is best known for its imposing castle that looms over the entrance of the old part of the town.

Set on its own peninsula, the town of Sirmione is a very popular place with tour groups, so it is a good idea to get here early both to ensure you find parking and also to beat the inevitable crowds.

When in Sirmione, you can tour the Scaligero Castle and climb to the top of the town, wander along the lakeside promenade, browse the souvenir shops and even visit the archaeological site of Grotte di Catullo. If the weather is fine, you can even head to the beach and catch some rays – or even swim in the waters of Lake Garda!

If you want to get out on the lake around Sirmione, consider booking this 25-minute mini-cruise so you can see this beautiful town from the water.

And if all of this sightseeing has worked up an appetite, head a bit outside of the town centre and have lunch at ExPort Pizzeria which has excellent pizzas (and other dishes) at quite affordable prices.

Scaligero Castle in Sirmione
Scaligero Castle in Sirmione

Salo

If you’re after lakeside charm and beauty without the hordes of tourist crowds, you’re going to love the next stop on this Lake Garda road trip- the beautiful town of Salo.

As one of the larger towns on the lake, Salo, for some reason, doesn’t get a lot of the attention that it deserves. Driving from Sirimone will take only 45 minutes and you can stop in Desenzano del Garda on the way if you want to explore another town on south end of the lake.

This town is absolutely beautiful and full of lovely streets, inviting cafes and good vibes. While there aren’t a tonne of traditional sites, there is a broad, sprawling promenade that makes lakeside strolls a wonderful activity.

It is also lined with bars and cafes, so it is the perfect place to chill out, have an Aperol Spritz (or any drink of your choice!) and take in the beautiful charms of Lake Garda.

If you’re looking for a peaceful but larger town on Lake Garda that is often overlooked by tourists, the Salo is your place.

Salo's Beautiful Streets
Salo’s Beautiful Streets

Maderno & Gargnano

Moving your way north along the west coast of Lake Garda, you will find the towns of Maderno and Gargnano. Both are a bit smaller and a little more sleepy than Sirmione and Salo, they are nonetheless very much worth visiting and exploring.

However, before you get to either town, consider making a stop at Vittoriale degli Italiani – a sprawling estate that overlooks the lake. You can go for a tour of the house and its grounds and there is a lot of history in its opulent interior.

The first town you will hit on your way from Salo is Maderno. Take in the town’s beautiful Romanesque architecture and wander along the lakeside, it is absolutely lovely. There are also plenty of winding lanes and cobbled streets to stroll through, along with plenty of shops to browse.

Finally, end your day in the lovely town of Gargnano. This town is small but absolutely charming. It boasts many of the same things as lots of the other towns on Garda – a lovely lakeside promenade, a peaceful harbour, plenty of restaurants and cafes and a few shops to browse.

If you’re looking for a sweet treat in Gargnano, then make sure to heat to Alberto Gelateria for a fantastic artisan gelato.

Gargnano
Gargnano

Day 2 – Limone, Riva del Garda & Malcesine

Limone Sul Garda

Begin your second day by visiting the lovely town of Limone Sul Garda. Located on the northwest coast of Lake Garda, this town is, unsurprisingly, devoted to a local product – lemons. Ceramic lemons don the street signs, shops hawk lemon-themed souvenirs and there is even a lemon museum in the Limonaia del Castèl to visit!

Even if you’re not all that drawn in by lemons, Limone does also pack quite a bit of charm. It is made up of a maze of steep, cobbled lanes that are perfect to get lost on.

There is a lovely lakeside to take in the views of northern Garda. Of course, like many towns on Lake Garda, there is also a lovely church to visit (the Church of San Rocco) and even a small beach that you can enjoy should the weather permit.

Limone Sul Garda may be small but it is still very much worth visiting.

Street sign in Limone Sul Garda
Street sign in Limone Sul Garda

Riva del Garda

If you’re on the hunt for the unofficial capital of Lake Garda, then the town of Riva del Garda will very likely take that distinction.

Located at the north of Lake Garda (you will have crossed into the Trentino region to reach here), Riva del Garda is the largest town on the lake and has a lot to offer visitors.

There is a vast promenade to stroll along, beaches to lounge on, museums to visit and plenty of streets to get lost on. There is a lovely cafe-lined Piazza III Novembre, an interesting historic centre and even the Museo dell’Alto Garda, which is a great place to stop if the day happens to be rainy.

Another fantastic thing to do in Riva del Garda is to ride the Ascensore Panoramico, a panoramic funicular up a nearby hill overlooking the city.

Here, you can climb around a ruined fortress and also take in some fantastic views of Riva del Garda and the lake below. There is also a cafe up here if you want to grab a drink to take in your view.

Riva del Garda from above
Riva del Garda from above

Malcesine

The final stop on this 2-day Lake Garda itinerary is the town of Malcesine, a very popular town located on the east coast of the lake – in the Veneto region. Malcesine is absolutely beautiful and is a little bit different from the other towns we’ve visited to date, in fact, it doesn’t even have a lakeside promenade.

Malcesine does boast a labyrinth of winding, pedestrianised cobbled streets to get lost in and they are perfect for strolling. You also can opt to visit the medieval castle Castello Scaligero di Malcesine.

And if it’s amazing views that you’re after, then consider riding the cable car up to Monte Baldo, where you will get spectacular views of the town and lake below.

Malcesine also boasts plenty of great cafes, bars and restaurants. If you’re looking for a great restaurant to have a late lunch or dinner at, then we highly recommend heading to Trattoria Scaligeri. They have a delicious menu of homemade local specialities and a lovely interior garden setting.

From Malcesine, there are car ferries that can take you across the lake or you can simply drive around.

Castello Scaligero di Malcesine.
Castello Scaligero di Malcesine.

Day 3 – Lake Cruise, Wine Tasting & Day Trips

Lake Cruise

If you have 3 days in Garda, there are several ways that you can choose to spend your final day. The first option would be to get out on the water and enjoy a cruise on the lake. There are countless lake cruises to choose from that leave from various towns, so you’re sure to find something to suit your needs.

If you want a bit of help, this half-day cruise is an excellent option. Taking place on a historic sailboat, it leaves from the town of Sirmione and includes wine! You can sit back and relax while enjoying the views of the lake from the peaceful setting of a sailboat.

If you’re travelling with a larger group of prefer some privacy, you can also consider booking a private cruise.

Clear water of Lake Garda
Clear water of Lake Garda

Wine Tasting

Another excellent activity to do on your third day is to go wine tasting. Garda is surrounded by world-class wineries in the renowned Valpolicella region. This is the region where the famed Amarone wine comes from – and it’s all within easy reach of Lake Garda.

You could opt to visit a winery or two independently, or you could go on a guided wine tour. For instance, this half-day wine tour gives you a tasting of six wines and a light lunch as well as a tour of the wine cellar.

Day Trip to the Dolomites or Verona

Finally, if you would like to spend a day outside of Lake Garda on your third day, then you could opt to go on a day trip to a nearby region.

For instance, the city of Verona lies within easy distance of Lake Garda and it makes for an excellent place to visit. There are lots of things to do during a day in Verona so you’re sure to enjoy this destination.

If you’d like to have a guide to do this rather than go independently, then consider jumping on this full-day tour. It will pick you up from your hotel before taking you around all of the top sites in Verona with a qualified and knowledgeable guide.

If it’s the mountains that you’re after, then you could also consider going on this full-day tour to the Dolomites. Located in the Trentino region to the north of Lake Garda, this tour will take you to these stunning alpine peaks and around towns such as Moena and Cavalese.

Verona is a good day trip option from Venice
City of Verona

Where to Stay in Lake Garda

Grand Hotel Fasano – If you’re looking for a luxury stay in Lake Garda, then this hotel is an excellent option. Located in between the towns of Saló and Maderno in the town of Gardone Riviera, they have countless luxe rooms as well as two swimming pools, a bar and a spa and wellness centre on-site. They even allow pets.

Ambienthotel PrimaLuna – Situated in the town of Malcesine on the east coast of Lake Garda, this hotel is a great mid-range option. They have a great location for exploring both the town and the lake itself, several great rooms on offer, a swimming pool and breakfast available each morning.

Blue Sky Garda – If you’re after your own place rather than a hotel, then this apartment is a great option. Located in Malcesine, this two-bedroom apartment is in a convenient location for exploring both Malcesine and the lake as a whole.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Lake Garda hotels!

Exploring Malcesine
Exploring Malcesine

Planning a trip to Lake Garda is one of the best things to do when on a trip to Italy. As the country’s largest lake, Garda has so much to offer visitors regardless of what you’re after.

Are you visiting Lake Garda? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie

Comments

  1. Hi there – great information all around. I have 3 days in Milan in 2 weeks. I hope to do a day trip to Lake Garda. Can you share the best way to do this. I would love to catch some lake cruise and mostly walking around. Thanks so much.

    Reply
    • If you want to do a day trip, then spending time around Sirmione is arguably the easiest. It’s about 1.5 hours from Milan.

      Reply
  2. Ciao Maggie
    I will be in Italy next month and am planning a 3 day trip to Largo di Garda from 18 Sept to 20 Sept. Since I will be alone I do not wish to hire a car. It is possible to see some of the towns with public transport or a cruise. Where should I base myself? Then I will go to Largo Maggiore for 3 nights. Do you have any recommendations about where to stay and base myself whilst I am there?
    grazie
    Silvana

    Reply

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