Lake Garda is the largest and one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy. It lies within 3 Italian regions: Trento-Alto Adige, Lombardy and Veneto. Garda is increasingly visited by tourists from Poland. The trip by car is not too long and tiring, and popular airlines offer cheap tickets to Bergamo, from where it's a stone's throw to Garda. So much for the introduction - I encourage you to read the following guide to Lake Garda.
Getting there - how to get to Garda?
The easiest way to get to Garda is by car or plane. There are also buses from Poland to Lake Garda, but most tourists choose to travel by their own car or fly to nearby airports - Bergamo and Verona. If traveling by plane, I strongly encourage you to rent a car for the duration of your stay. There are plenty of attractions along Garda, often far away from each other. If we don't have such an option the buses that go around the entire Lake Garda remain.
Travel by car from Poland
Depending on the region of Poland, the trip to Lake Garda will take an average of 12-15 hours. There are actually two routes available - through Germany and Austria (actually a small part of it) and through the Czech Republic and Austria.
- Germany and Austria: if the two routes have a similar distance, I strongly recommend choosing to go through Germany and Austria. The road is more pleasant because we travel all the time on the highway. We will also not have to pay for a vignette in the Czech Republic. At the Austrian-Italian border we will pass through the Brennero Pass.
- Czech Republic and Austria: here we head for Ostrava, Brno, Vienna and then, depending on the destination on Lake Garda - either Graz and Tarvisio, or Salzburg, Innsbruck and the Brennero Pass. The route through the Czech Republic, unfortunately, does not lead entirely on the highway.
Remember to buy vignettes in Austria and the Czech Republic. As for Czech vignettes, electronic versions of vignettes were introduced at the beginning of 2021, replacing the traction ones stuck on the windshield. Vignettes can be purchased at edalnice.cz (official service, without intermediaries). The price for a vignette for 10 days for a passenger car is 310 crowns, or about 55 zlotys. Note: Failure to have an electronic vignette in the Czech Republic can result in a fine of up to 20,000 crowns, or more than 3,500 zlotys! In Austria, the cost of a 10-day vignette for a car up to 3.5 tons is €9.5. You can buy the vignette either at a gas station or online at the official site. In Austria, the fine for not having a vignette is €120.
We will pay for the Brennero Pass and Italian highways directly at the highway gates. The cost of the trip is €10 for the pass and several euros for the highway - depending on which exit you take from the highways. For more on gates and tolls in Italy, click here.
Before entering Italy, it's a good idea to turn off the Austrian highway (e.g., before Innsbruck in Schwaz) and fill your car to the brim. Fuel prices in Italy are unfortunately very high.
Flights to Lake Garda
Cheap flights are available from many Polish cities to Bergamo airports. A few dozen zlotys for a ticket to Italian Bergamo from Poland is not unusual. Flights are offered by low-cost airlines Wizzair and Ryanair. Prices, of course, increase in high season. We can also fly to Verona. These are the two closest airports from which we get to Garda.
As already mentioned, upon arrival, it is best to rent a car from one of the rentals. Otherwise, sightseeing and staying will be very limited. And there are a whole lot of attractions on Lake Garda!
But what if we don't have the option of renting a car, but want to get to Garda from Bergamo airport? There is an airport shuttle bus that runs every 20 minutes between the airport and the train station and the center (Airport Bus). It all depends on the destination of our trip. Choosing Desenzano del Garda, for example, we will get there by rail. Wanting to get to the north of the lake, for example. Riva del Garda take a bus or train to Brescria, and then already take a bus to the north of Lake Garda.
Where to stay? Which part of Garda?
Due to the fact that Lake Garda is very vast, you should think carefully about where you would like to stay. If we have never been to Garda, for a first stay I can certainly recommend the northern part of the lake - the area around the Riva del Garda, Torbole, Limone sul Garda, or Malcesine are sure to be a good choice. The northern part of the lake is characterized by a mountainous landscape that lends majesty and is somehow unique. The mountains in the northern part rise practically from the surface of the lake itself. In addition to the aesthetic experience, they provide opportunities for additional activities - hiking, mountain biking, via ferrata, or even paragliding. The only downside may be colder water than in the south and the Ora wind, which starts blowing from the side of the lake around noon in summer.
In the south you will also find interesting places like the charming town of Sirmione located on the peninsula, or Desenzano del Garda - with its beautiful old port of Porto Vecchio, old town and waterfront promenade. The town of Salo is also worth a visit nearby. Personally, however, I would choose the Riva del Garda area for my first stay on Lake Garda. The views from this area are certainly better. On the other hand, nothing prevents you from taking a trip to the southern Garda area one day.
When to go to Garda? Weather over Garda
Undoubtedly, the best time to go to Garda will be the summer months. From June onward, the water in the lake then becomes sufficiently heated to make swimming comfortable, and the temperatures allow you to walk freely in t-shirts and short shorts. During the summer (June, July, August and September) the average daily temperature fluctuates around 28 degrees. In July and August, temperatures at Garda can exceed 30 degrees. The hottest and most crowded month is August. There follows then a kind of siege of the lake by Germans and Austrians, who have Lake Garda quite close to them. Add to this also Italians, who take this period off and go on vacation. This makes the nearby highways jammed, and the roads and beaches get very crowded. September is the month when it is still warm enough to take a dip in the Garda.
The Garda region gets rainy in autumn (October and November), although the specific climate makes April, May and June the rainiest months. February and March are the months where precipitation is scarce, while July, on the other hand, is statistically the driest month. July is also the sunniest month on Lake Garda.
Garda - water temperature
The water temperature of Lake Garda in summer (June, July, August) is about 20 degrees. In May, the water is still cold - it is about 13 degrees. The same temperature the lake water reaches in October. September, with a water temperature of about 17 degrees, is de facto the last month when you can still comfortably swim Lake Garda.
Also note that the water in the northern part of the lake is cooler than in the southern part of Garda.
Lake Garda - attractions: what to see and visit?
Around Lake Garda attractions and places of interest are a whole lot. Some of them are grouped by cities. I encourage you to browse through the entire section - I think that everyone will find something for themselves: both the person who appreciates peace and quiet, shying away from physical activity as well as active people who love sports.
Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda is a village located on the northern shore of Lake Garda. Surrounded by high mountain peaks, but flat in its own right, it is a great base for those intending to explore the Lake Garda surroundings, especially its northern part. Riva del Garda is a town in the full sense of the word - unlike smaller lakeside towns like Sirmione or Limone sur Garda. Here you will find many stores, bars, pubs and restaurants. The town has a historic center, a harbor, and a promenade that stretches along the lake.
Riva del Garda is a great place to beach and relax by the water. The town's beach is wide and very well-maintained. Interestingly, the beach is mainly grassy, but the very descent to the water and the shore are rocky. The parks near the beach are great for picnicking.
Riva is also a good choice for lovers of physical activities. The town has several windsurfing schools (so popular on the lake). Fans of hiking will also be pleased. A great idea for them would be, for example hike to Monte Brione.
Trekking to Monte Brione
Monte Brione is a mountain massif lying between Riva and Torbole almost 400m high, which shape resembles... a crossaint. Trekking to Monte Brione will also be a great history lesson - along the route there are numerous bunkers, fortifications and remnants of the bloody war between Italy and Austria-Hungary that took place over 100 years ago. The route has many viewpoints.
Chapel Santa Barbara
Trekking fans from Riva del Garda can also go in the opposite direction - to the tiny Santa Barbara church, which is perfectly visible from the city. It offers a beautiful view of the city as well as the lake. It was built in 1935. It is located at an altitude of more than 600m, and the route to take is less than 2 h.
Bike trails in Riva del Garda
Lovers of two wheels will find numerous bicycle rentals (also offering electric bikes). The areas around Riva del Garda are bicycle-friendly - there are numerous bike paths and trails. An attraction not to be missed is Strada di Ponale - An old road dating back to the 19th century, which has now been opened to cyclists and pedestrians. The road offers a beautiful panoramic view of the lake.
The small town of Arco is located about 10 km north of Riva del Garda. Arco is one of the more charming towns of the region. Interestingly, it is also an international mecca for climbers!
Castello di Arco
Above Arco, on top of the hill rises a castle (Castello di Arco), which was built as early as the Middle Ages. It is, however, one of the city's major attractions. The entrance ticket to the castle costs €3.5, or €2 for youngsters under 18 and people over 60.
An attraction in itself is a walk through Arco - you will feel the atmosphere of a typical small Italian town. It is dominated by winding and narrow streets with Italian buildings. In the central part of the town is an intimate square with the church Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta di Arco.
Via ferrata Colodri
In Arco, not so far from the center there is a via ferrata Colodri. It is not too long and difficult, and the views after completing the ferrata are simply great. I recommend its passage to mullers of active recreation. There are also numerous climbing sectors in the region, but climbing enthusiasts are well aware of this.
Omkafè Coffee Museum
An interesting tourist attraction may also be the Omkafè local coffee museum . In addition to the typical tour, there is also a store where we will be able to buy various coffee accessories, as well as the coffee itself. Cups, coffee or a whole coffee box is a great idea for a local gift for friends. Plus the coffee tasting, which is of course free.
There are numerous ice cream shops, cafes and restaurants. In the main square you will find great and cheap takeaway pizza, which we can also buy in pieces, and a large bar with tables on the square, where we drink delicious coffee or Aperol Spritz. I can also definitely recommend Tarifa ice cream shop, which serves delicious ice cream. As for restaurants, my favorite is definitely the restaurant Antica Corte serving delicious Italian food at reasonable prices. Keep in mind that in Italy, restaurants mostly open at 6:30 p.m. During the summer season, especially weekends, it is worth making reservations in advance.
Another place worth noting is the town next to Riva del Garda - Torbole. The town itself resembles Riva - there is a beautiful promenade along the shore of Lake Garda, a small marina and a pebble beach. Torbole itself, however, is a smaller town than Riva. It also has the typical pubs that will appeal to young people.
Torbole is a place for the active. It is a very popular place for windsurfing and sailing. It is a good base for fans of hiking in the mountains.
Trail Busatte Tempesta
Near Torbole there is a famous attraction - a hiking trail called the Sentiero panoramico Busatte Tempesta. This is one of the most popular trekking routes in the area, due to the Garda landscapes stretching out during the trek. The entire Busatte-Tempesta-Busatte route is about 10 kilometers long.
Malcesine and the railroad to Monte Baldo
Malcesine is a very charming and peaceful city In the northeastern part of Lake Garda. It has something in common with the already described Arco - charming streets, old town and typical old Italian buildings. It's definitely worth going here for a stroll and exploring the historic center.
The attraction of the town of Malcesine is certainly Scaligero Castle - the most distinctive building in the city. The construction of the castle is estimated to date to the 6th century, but the castle in its present form was built in the 13th century. The castle houses museum The history of Monte Baldo and Lake Garda.
Railroad to Monte Baldo
An attraction that draws tourists from the area to Malcesine is also the cable car to Monte Baldo. Tourists have the chance to ascend this Italian peak without a long trek. The cable car is an excellent opportunity to experience the beautiful views of Lake Garda for those who are not fond of trekking. Thanks to the cable car, tourists will cover about 1800m in just a few minutes.
The railroad is open daily, from late May to early November. The dates in the 2021 season were May 22 and November 1. The ticket office is open from 8:30 a.m. The first ascent is possible at 9 a.m. The last descent is possible at 6:45 p.m. Prices in the 2021 season were as follows: €27 for a return ticket (€25 if purchased online) and €19 (€17 if purchased online) for a one-way ticket. For more information on tickets, train times, please visit here. You can also buy tickets online at the site.
Punta Larici (Cima Larici)
Punta Larici is, next to Monte Baldo, one of the best and most beautiful viewpoints on Lake Garda. Unlike Monte Baldo, it is located on the opposite side of the lake (its western part), and it also has no railroad. Punta Larici can only be reached on foot. Fortunately, you don't have to be a mountain chamois to conquer this trail.
We start the tour in the tiny town of Pregasina. From Riva del Garda we drive towards Ledro and turn left after the long tunnel. We can park the car at the very end of the village. Parking lots are located near the church. We can also get to Pregasina either by bus from Riva del Garda or by trekking - it's about 3h from Riva.
From the parking lot we set off along the road. The trail starts at the church - we head for the "Bocca dei Larici". After some time the trekking can continue along the forest road, or directly along the trail - in fact, we can choose between two variants of this hike - a typical trail (which in part goes along the "ridge") or a forest road. Both variants merge at the very end in one place, where Punta Larici - a spectacular viewpoint - is already nearby. We will cover the entire trail from Pregasina in about 1.5h.
Strada della Forra, Pieve and Tremosine
Strada della Forra - the 8th wonder of the world
NOTE: The road is temporarily closed due to rock slides. The planned opening will take place in 2022!
Strada della Forra - is said to be the most beautiful road in the world. The Forra road was put into use in 1913. We could see it in the James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace" in the chase scene. Winston Churchil described it as "the eighth wonder of the world." Strada della Forra is partly carved into the rock and partly leads through the canyon of the Brasa River. It is a paved road, but at some points very winding and narrow. Particularly in heavy traffic, it will sometimes be unavoidable to reverse to let oncoming cars pass. The road is regulated in part by traffic lights.
The road practically leads from the shores of the lake to the small town of Pieve in Tremosine. Halfway there is a great Italian restaurant called La Brasa. I highly recommend stopping there. If possible sit on the terrace, preferably by the stream. In my opinion, it however, of the best better restaurants in the Lake Garda region. The food is simply delicious, the portions are large, and the prices are very low compared to those in Riva del Garda, for example.
Viewing terraces in Pieve (Tremosine)
Strada della Forra ends in Pieve. This beautiful Italian town is not large, but very charming. Pieve is best known for its terraces overlooking Lake Garda. The most popular one can be found right in the center of town. Another noteworthy one is the terrace of Miralago restaurant - we can taste good Italian cuisine while visiting. The noteworthy Terrazza del Brivido viewing terrace is also located on the grounds of the Paradiso Hotel restaurant.
It is worth knowing that The culinary highlight of Tremosine is the cheese from Tremosine, typical of the region. If we have the opportunity, let's order cheese tortelli at the restaurant right from here.
Limone sul Garda
Limone is one of the more recognizable towns in the Garda region, although it has only over 1,000 residents. In high season, however, it is even besieged by tourists and gets crowded . The town itself seems to be directly wedged between the rocky slopes and the shore of the lake. Interestingly, the town's name comes not from the ubiquitous lemons - but from the Latin word for border.
A walk in Limone sul Garda
Limone is all about strolling through the small streets of the town. Here you can feel the typical Italian atmosphere of a small town, spiced up with great views. From everywhere one passes beautiful old Italian houses. Moving through countless alleys makes you feel as if you are in another world. Each alley and house is unique.
While in Limone, one must also visit the promenade, where one can also find restaurants, bars or boutiques. The beach in Limone is well-maintained and well-kept.
Lago di Tenno (Lake Tenno)
In close proximity to Garda are two more lakes worthy of attention. The first is a small Lago di Tenno. This turquoise lake is worth visiting because of its unitak appearance. Beaching there is not very popular (but possible), but by its unique appearance Tenno Lake attracts tourists from the region. There is a small island on the lake (although it depends on the water level - sometimes the island connects to the mainland), which is also what makes the lake so unique.
A walk around the lake
The lake itself is about 14 km from Riva del Garda. Near the entrance to the lake there is a parking lot. It is not very large, and the place itself is very popular. This should be kept in mind when going to Tenno. It is best to avoid weekends, especially in summer. A path leads around the lake. To cover it is about an hour's walk. Just walking there is a great relaxation, due to the surrounding nature. There are no restaurants or hotels around the lake!
Lago di Ledro (Lake Ledro)
Ledro is another lake worth visiting while at Garda. It is also located about a dozen km. from Garda itself. It is, of course, not as large as Garda, but it is much larger than the described predecessor - Tenno. At Lake Ledro you will find many places to beach. Next to the largest grassy beach (just after entering the lake area from the Garda side) there is a large parking lot, unfortunately paid. Going further, it is possible to park on the side of the road and beach in less crowded areas. In total, there are as many as 4 official beaches (including one for dogs), but there are also a lot of other "wild" places by the lake where you can relax.
Relaxation at the mountain lake Ledro
A trip to Lake Ledro is a great idea, as the lake itself is just as beautiful as the Garda or Tenno, and the temperature can be an undeniable advantage. When on Garda the heat pours from the sky, on Tenno it is cooler. The temperature difference is a few degrees, which is not insignificant, for example, in a month like August.
The Ledro River is also much quieter than the Garda River, especially in the vacations. I recommend going to this lake at least for 1 day. In addition to beachcombing, you can go kayaking, boating or SUP. There are water equipment rentals around Lake Ledro.
The town of Sirmione is located in the south of Lake Garda. It is a very recognizable town in the area mainly because of its location - it lies on a peninsula, as well as the very distinctive Castello Scaligero castle. Sirmione can be reached by car or by ferry across the lake.
Sirmione Castle is a landmark of the city and the Garda region. It is unique in that the entire castle is bathed in water and perfectly preserved. The castle is also a great vantage point. The entrance ticket to the castle costs €6.
Hot thermal springs (free!)
When heading to Sirmione, don't forget your swimsuit. Near the beach of Lido delle Bionde there are hot thermal springs. To get there, walk the whole of Sirmione until you reach the Maria Callas park - when you reach the park, head to the right until you reach the coast.
The ancient ruins of the Grotte di Catullo
There is also a historical treat waiting for us in Sirmione. There are the ruins of a Roman villa built between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. The ruins look extraordinary and allow us to move at least for a moment to distant, unknown times. From the area of the ruins, which is also the end of the peninsula, there is a great view of the lake and the surrounding area. The cost of a ticket to enter the Grotte di Catullo is €8 for an adult. A ticket to the ruins and castle area costs €12.
Accommodation on the Garda River
The lake is very vast and where we stay is entirely up to us. I highly recommend staying in the town of Riva del Garda. Below are some suggestions for accommodations: