Lake Garda Italy For Couples
Everything you need to know | Where to stay, what to see, where to eat and drink, what to book and what to miss!
Why Go to Lake Garda Italy
Lake Garda was our last stop in Italy and I chose Lake Garda over Lake Como as I’d already been to Como. I absolutely love Como, it’s so scenic and elegant but we try not to go back to the same places as there are so many places to see. Lake Garda is supposed to be quieter and less touristy but honestly, I found it to be the opposite. Having now seen both I definitely prefer Como for many reasons which I’ll get into.
We were coming from Venice by train which is an easy, 2 hour direct journey and gets you in Peschiera del Garda at the Southern point of the lake. The easiest way to get to your accommodation from here is via taxi. You don’t need to book, you just have to wait for one.
How to Get Around Lake Garda
Lake Garda is huge and getting around is a slow process. Think 4 hours plus by fast boat to go from South to North. So allow plenty of time for travel and don’t try and cram too much into one day.
How to use the Buses in Lake Garda
We didn’t use the buses as we were warned that they took hours and tend to run late.
East Lake Garda Italy buses: hourly services run from Riva del Garda – Peschiera del Garda train station (1½ hours). SIA Operates the Riva del Garda–Brescia (3 hours, 4 times daily) route. Trentino Trasporti Buses go from Riva del Garda-Arco (20 min) & Trento (1 hour, departures every 2 hours). Buses are much cheaper than the boats and you can use them to visit any of the towns on the east side of the lake.
How to get around Lake Garda on the Ferries
The ferries are probably the fastest and most scenic way to get around. Although not as scenic or colorful as Como. It’s still time consuming getting around, so chose just a few places you want to go to. Shops and restaurants by the harbors tend to be more expensive (but are still reasonable) and we ate mainly here for the views versus going into the heart of the town which is cheaper. We didn’t do any shopping as we found the shops to be really touristy wherever we went and our suitcases were already full from shopping in Venice. Make sure to take advantages of the duty free rebates at the airport.
The ferries are an affordable way to get around and probably the most convenient. It’s worth paying the extra for the fast ferries if you’re going directly and not hopping from town to town which is difficult to do due to the ferry schedule anyway. A 1-day, unlimited-use ticket is available for the whole lake or either the North or South part but can only be used on the slow boats. You’ll need to pay a supplement to use the fast boats.
TIP: Get to the ferries as early as possible as they get full. Especially the last ones of the day and many people aren’t going to be able to get on! Not quite sure what they do then, probably a very expensive taxi ride!
Walking around Lake Garda
Sometimes it’s quicker to go by foot than boat, especially with the ferry schedules so check the walking paths in your area. Many run along the lake making for a scenic route. E.g. you can walk from Garda to Bardolino in 45 minutes along the lake path or Bardolino to Cisano in 15 minutes, then to Lazise is another hour. If you go in the opposite direction, you can walk from Garda to Torri del Benaco in 2 hours. Another option is to rent a bike or borrow one from your hotel and take the lake path or roads.
Remember to pack your sneakers or comfy shoes if you want to walk the lake paths or do any of the scenic hikes on the North Shore. Forget your wedges and heels, there’s way too many cobble stones, hills, and walking for that! We were averaging 7+ miles a day here. Excuse my ugly shoes! I got through 2 pairs of shoes this vacation from all of the walking, including splitting the thick soles on these in half!
Where to Stay in Lake Garda Italy
When looking for a place to stay it helps to know what you like and where’s most convenient to where you’re coming from as the lake is large and slow to get around. The North shore was part of Austria until WWI and so has more of a Northern European flair with high peaks and is known for its outdoor sports, climbing, hiking, and kite surfing.
In contrast, the South shore feels more Mediterranean. The lake is wider and the climate warmer, away from the Northern breezes. Both areas are beautiful to explore on foot but it’s easier in the South as its flatter and than the hiking up North.
We chose to stay in the town of Lazise on the South Eastern shore as it was close to the train station (15-20 minute taxi ride) and Verona. It also looked like one of the most scenic towns. It has a lakefront path dotted with cute sidewalk bars and restaurants, the 6 towers of Castello Scaligero, a charming old town centre and small harbor.
Read more about Lazise below.
Hotel Corte Valier, Lazise
We stayed at Hotel Corte Valier, Lazise as it was one of the more modern luxury options and had a lakefront location with a pool overlooking the lake. It was also walking distance to the town center and offered an extensive breakfast buffet. Don’t skip their croissant stuffing machine! Nutella stuffed croissants and a lake view maybe one of my favorite ways to start the day. Especially if some bubbles are involved too.
Tip: Book a lakeview from with a private balcony for sunset drinks. But be sure to wear mosquito repellent around sunset. There’s not a lot of them, but if you’re anything like me and attract them it’s better to be safe than itchy.
Towns to Visit in Lake Garda Italy
These towns were all on my list but because it takes so long to get from one to the other we didn’t visit all of them. You can visit different towns by local ferry from leisurely steamers to speedy hydrofoils or you can drive but there can be a lot of traffic during the summer months. Market days differ from town to town, so if you’re interested in those ask your concierge which days they’re where.
Lazise, Lake Garda
If you’re arriving into Peschiera del Garda Train station or planning on going to Gardaland with your kids (Ronchi in the town of Castelnuovo del Garda), Movieland (Lasize), or Caneva world aquapark (Pacengo) the most popular amusement parks in this area, or Venice or Verona then Lazise is a great option. It’s a historical small town full of narrow alleys, shops, restaurants, and hotels.
Where’s the Best Place for Dinner Lake Garda
It’s easiest to do dinner in the town you’re staying in as the ferries stop early. If you’re looking for a romantic restaurant in Lazise, I mean, you’re in Italy after all, we dined at both Ristorante Classique and Vecchia Dogana Ristorante. Both are great options. Ristorante Classique feels more elegant and is upstairs; if you make a reservation (which I definitely recommend as it’s very popular) try and request a table with a lake view.
The bison carpaccio with truffle and parmesan was phenomenal, I honestly can’t remember what I had for my main as I left it too long to write this blog (sorry!) and a bottle of wine was involved. What I do remember is leaving full and content.
Vecchia Dogana feels more authentic and is quieter. It’s located down a small alley with a slither of a lake view. It would have been good but I mis-ordered and chose the seafood platter which is all raw except for the 1 king prawn!
On the walk back to Hotel Corte Valier we found a lakefront bar which was always buzzing and attracted a hip crowd of all ages. It’s not listed on TripAdvisor or maps but if you walk North away from the harbor along the lake path Lagolungo Vittorio Cavazocca Mazzanti (could they have made a longer street name) you can’t miss it. Especially on evenings when they have live music.
Malcesine | The Jewel of Lake Garda
This was our favorite town on Lake Garda Italy and deserving of its name as the Jewel of the lake. If you only visit one town I’d suggest going here and booking the cable car in advance! You can ride the cable car ‘Funivia Malcesine’ to the top of Mount Baldo for a birds eye view of the lake’s expanse. If you don’t book in advance you’re looking at a 2.5+ hour wait time which you won’t have time for if you’re on the ferry schedule.
To save time we went to Castello Scaligero and climbed the tower there which also has magnificent views. Just beware of the loud bells on the hour! Some of the steps are steep and narrow so if you have health issues it may not be the best to go up the tower, but if you don’t it’s well worth going up there.
I wish we’d just done Malsecine on this day and booked the cable car in advance rather than trying to cram in Limone Sul Garda on the same day which we could’ve skipped.
Where to eat Malcesine Porte Vecchio
You have to eat at La Pace Ristorante Porte Vecchio! This restaurant couldn’t be closer to the lake and has amazing views, service and some of the best mussels and Tiramisu we’ve ever had plus it’s incredibly reasonably priced. Oh and the Limoncello is a must drink as well.
Things to do in Limone sul Garda Italy
I wish we’d just spent the whole day in Malescine and not gone to Limone Sul Gard. It’s sold as a picturesque cozy old town with a waterfront promenade with lots of restaurants, cafes, and little shops. Yes, you can easily combine a visit to Limone (Lombardy) with Malcesine or Riva via ferry as it’s a short distance and doesn’t take long. However in reality it’s super busy, tacky, touristy and not worth the time. Plus, it takes longer than you think as the ferries don’t run that often. I also went for a hunt for Benacus Gin which I’d seen on Instagram but no one had heard of it.
I was such a tourist this day and had found this cute lemon print dress I thought would be perfect for Limone Sul Garda. Which meant I took every opportunity to snap photos with as many lemons as possible because there really wasn’t much else to do here, besides bar hop while waiting for the return ferry.
We took the ferry and got to Sirmione early in the morning. You could also go late in the afternoon but the last ferry is at 6:27pm. Mainly to avoid the crowds as it gets really busy and already was when we arrived.
The 13th century Rocca Scaligera Castle is a great spot to stop and take photos (we got to use our selfie stick again), as well as the Church of San Pietro, Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, and Grotte di Catullo (peninsula). To get to Grotte, you can either walk from downtown, it takes about 10 minutes, or go by a little electric train that leaves from the Baths 9.30am-6.30pm. We went up to the peninsula but unless you go in the Grotte (8 Euro per person) there really aren’t any views and unfortunately we didn’t have the time as we were trying to make the next ferry.
If you’re looking for something more relaxing and a spa option, check out Aquaria Thermal Spa. The spa has 2 large thermal pools that are 37*C, set outdoors picturesquely on the shore. You need to book in advance for treatments e.g. thermal massages & mud baths or you can just turn up for a dip in pools. Bring your swimsuit and they’ll provide you with a swimming cap, towel and bathrobe. We didn’t bother as it just looked like swimming pools and a hotel. I’d been expecting natural thermal lakes as everywhere described them as lakes not pools.
Desenzano Del Garda, Lake Garda Italy
This quieter town’s easy to get to from Sirmione as it’s on the south shore. We stopped by quickly for lunch after visiting Sirmione as it’s easy to get to from there. We could’ve skipped Desenzano and just stayed in Sirmione for lunch but I have this fear I’m going to miss the best parts and want to see everything. There’s several restaurants to your right when you get off of the ferry on a little water inlet. The last ferry back to Lasize from here is 3:30pm.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening back in Lasize relaxing, drinking, eating, and watching the world go by. There are a few beaches in Desenzano which are all rather small. The best equipped beach here is Desenzanino Seaside Resort with a bar, sunbeds and deck chairs, located just outside the historic center. The local market takes place every Tuesday morning along the street overlooking the lake in the heart of downtown.
You can only visit here via tour. I wanted to go but we didn’t have enough time, we’d have needed a week to do everything I wanted to do. It’s open from March to October when the Borghese Cavazza family opens their home for guided tours. The tour includes the park, the beautiful Italian and English gardens and two rooms inside the elegant neo-gothic Venetian style villa currently still lived in by the owners.
Gardone Riviera (Brescia)
Gardone Riviera is a small tourist resort on the western shore of Lake Garda thats easy to get to as it’s on most of the ferry routes.
2 places worth seeing here are Il Vittoriale degli Italiani up by the historic center of Gardone Sopra which is a short walk up the hill with little restaurants, courtyards, stairs and flowers. The Vittoriale has panoramic views of Lake Garda and the large Liberty-style villa (house, gardens, war museum) is open all year (closed on Mondays). It was home to the Italian writer Gabriele d’Annunzio until his death in 1938. D’Annunzio was buried here and his tomb dominates the nationalist memorials here.
The other place is the botanical gardens. Heller Garden (Giardino Hruska Botanico) with stunning exotic flora, intriguing art, and quaint bridges surrounded by charming bamboo gardens.
Riva del Garda (North Lake Garda)
Riva is for the outdoorsy of you, you can walk to Cascata del Varone, a splendid waterfall and into an immense gorge. Cascata del Varone is signposted about 3K NW centre of Riva. Another site up here to see is the Marmitte dei Giganti rock formations (potholes).
Arco (North Shore Shore)
Discover fairytale castles sprouting from mountain promontories in the Dolomite foothills at Arco. Arco castle was carefully restored in 1986 allowing the discovery and recovery of some frescoes depicting knights and court ladies of medieval times. There’s also Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace, Palazzo Marchetti, and Palazzo dei Panni to visit. Arco has long been known primarily as a ‘winter health resort city’ and still offers spas such as Garda Thermae.
Madonna Della Corona
Madonna della Corona sanctuary, is a spectacular church built in the rocky mountain overlooking the valley. It’s another spot South East of the lake that I was dying to see from the photos I’d seen.
However, it’s not actually on the lake but a 27km drive or taxi ride from Lazise and since my husbands not really into churches and we didn’t hire a car we didn’t go. I still suggest looking it up and deciding if you want to go. If you do, send me your pics so I can live it through your eyes if you make it there! Photo Credit http://media5.trover.com
You can take a half day or day trip to Verona from Lake Garda. Which is easiest to get to if you’re staying on the South or East shore. This was high up on my list (as home to Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet) but by the time we got to Lake Garda we just wanted to relax as we’d already been bouncing around so much from place to place.
Check out Viator Tours for the best options. They often email you a discount code for another tour in the same area after you book the first. So if you’re planning on booking more than 1 tour, book 1 and then wait a day or 2 before booking the 2nd in case they email you.
Lake Como or Lake Garda?
Lake Como is more elegant and upscale, it’s also slightly less touristy and busy as it’s harder to get to from Venice or Verona and more expensive. However, the North of Lake Garda is quieter too as it’s harder to get to and more rugged. If you’re looking for a family vacation, roman ruins and castles Lake Garda is probably your best bet. However, if you’re looking for more refined villas, hotels, romance, landscaped gardens and shorelines Lake Como is probably a better choice.
The best time of year to visit Lake Garda
Lake Garda (or Benaco), the largest Italian lake, are fortunate to have a temperate microclimate which is great for agriculture. However, the winters are cold and the Summers are hot and sunny (although there’s often thunderstorms).
We live in Vegas, so we enjoy the heat. In Summer, June to August, the highs around Lake Garda can get as hot as 35 °C (95 °F) with a mild-moderate breeze. Making the best times to visit Lake Garda spring and early summer (mid-April to mid-June and September).
What’s the weather like in Lake Garda
Is Lake Garda Expensive?
Like most places, it’s really up to you and there’s something for everyone and most budgets. Lake Garda Italy is huge and there’s everything from camping, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts to luxury hotels. As well as a huge variety of places to eat. We found most cafes and even waterfront restaurants really reasonably priced, especially after coming from the Gritti Palace, Venice and our Michelin Star Restaurant experience at Borgo San Jacopo in Florence (well worth the splurge).
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Eve Dawes is a Blogger, Podcaster, Mrs. England World 2021, a WBFF Pro Diva, SAG-AFTRA actress, NASM certified Personal Trainer, Founder of Dawes Custom Cosmetics and GlamourandGains.com. Eve's also the host of BFF (beauty, fitness & fashion) segment on Spill The Tea Live! The show for British Expats.Eve has over 15 years experience in the fashion world, is an avid traveller and cruelty-free beauty advocate.