If you’re planning a vacation with children and are wondering where to go, Lake Garda in Italy could be the ideal choice. This picturesque lake is located in the north of Italy, and its surroundings offer many attractions and activities that will surely please both children and adults. Below, you’ll find a guide to Lake Garda that will help you plan a successful family vacation.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Access – how to get to Garda?
When to go – weather on Lake Garda
Where to stay – accommodation on the Garda River
Garda by car
Towns on the Garda – which to visit and which to skip
Lake Garda – towns in the north
Limone sur Garda
Riva del Garda
Lake Garda – towns in the south
Peschiera del Garda
Garda with children – how to plan and what to see
What else can you do above guard with children
Getting There – How to Get to Lake Garda
To reach Lake Garda, you have several options. You can fly to nearby airports like Verona Villafranca Airport (VRN) or Milan Bergamo Airport (BGY) if you’re coming from abroad. Alternatively, you can drive to Lake Garda if you’re traveling from within Italy or nearby European countries. The lake is well-connected by road, and the journey offers scenic views.
When to Go – Weather at Lake Garda
- July and August: Lake Garda is a typical summer holiday destination, but it can get very crowded during July and August. If you’re traveling with children and plan to spend a lot of time in the pool and the lake, you may have to endure the crowds during this peak tourist season.
- Early September: The beginning of September can be an ideal time to visit if you want to enjoy swimming, and there should be fewer tourists.
- Late September: For those who don’t mind occasional rain and prefer milder temperatures, late September can be a good option. During a week-long vacation, you might encounter 2-3 rainy or cloudy days. Note that many campgrounds close in September.
- October: October can still offer decent weather, but it’s a quieter time to visit. Expect empty promenades and the need for jackets and scarves. If you plan to visit Lake Garda with children, the weather during this time may not be ideal for water activities.
Where to Stay – Accommodations at Lake Garda
Lake Garda offers a wide range of accommodations, from luxury hotels to family-friendly resorts and charming villas. Your choice of location depends on whether you prefer the northern or southern part of the lake. Popular towns on the northern side include Limone sul Garda, Malcesine, Riva del Garda, and Torbole, while the southern side features Sirmione, Garda, Bardolino, Peschiera del Garda, Desenzano, and Salo.
Lake Garda with Children – Where to Stay – Accommodations at Lake Garda
Northern Lake Garda for Active Travelers: For active travelers, the northern part of Lake Garda is the ideal choice. Most popular cycling routes run through this region, and there are plenty of hiking trails, with the Dolomites nearby.
The best base for active travelers is Riva del Garda, which offers various activities. More about Riva del Garda below.
You can also consider staying further to the northwest of the lake, for example, in Campione del Garda. Check out accommodations like Campione Univela in this area.
Southern Lake Garda Preferred by Families with Small Children: For families planning to visit Lake Garda with small children, the southern part of the lake is perfect. Most family-friendly campgrounds are located here, and the water is warmer with more beaches. If you’re looking for a more stationary vacation and plan to splash around with your kids in pools and the lake, then the south is the way to go.
We recommend Bella Italia campground near Peschiera del Garda for families.
Another nice option is Campeggio della Colombaia, situated on the western shore of Lake Garda, closer to Desenzano.
In Sirmione, you can stay at Casa Cristina. While this town might not have been our personal favorite (more about that below), friends have visited and recommended these apartments.
Exploring Lake Garda by Car
Renting a car is a convenient way to explore Lake Garda and its surrounding areas. Having a car allows you to visit various towns, attractions, and scenic viewpoints at your own pace.
The roads around Lake Garda are generally of good quality, and we were pleasantly surprised by this. However, during the peak season, traffic jams can be a problem.
Parking can be an issue as well. There are two main problems:
- Cost: Parking fees are relatively high, with the standard rate being around 2 euros per hour.
- Availability: Parking lots can fill up quickly, especially during peak times. Even during late September, towards the end of the season, parking lots were getting full by around 10:00 AM. Of course, you can circle around to find a spot, but during the high season, it might be more challenging. The best advice is to arrive before 9:00 AM.
Driving Culture: Many of the drivers are tourists, so the driving pace is generally relaxed. However, on the highways and in cities with more locals, be cautious of cars changing lanes without signaling. Overall, we didn’t encounter any crazy drivers, but there are many motorcyclists and cyclists, especially in the northern part of Lake Garda.
Highways are toll roads. You can purchase a Telepass for faster passage through toll booths. Alternatively, you can pay with a card or cash.
Scenic Towns on Lake Garda – Which Ones to Visit
If you’re planning a trip to Lake Garda with children, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time by the pool and on the water. However, there are a few towns that you must visit, even if it means dealing with a bit of child grumbling.
On the Northern Shores:
- Limone sul Garda: Known for its lemon groves, it’s a picturesque town with colorful buildings and a beautiful promenade.
- Malcesine: Famous for its castle (Castello Scaligero), this charming town has narrow streets, a cable car to Monte Baldo, and stunning lake views.
- Riva del Garda: A lively town with a historic center, a beautiful lakefront promenade, and plenty of water sports activities.
- Torbole: Great for windsurfing and kite surfing, it offers a lovely lakeside setting and a laid-back atmosphere.
On the Southern Shores:
- Sirmione: Known for its stunning castle (Scaliger Castle), this town is at the tip of a narrow peninsula. It offers thermal baths, a charming old town, and the famous Grotte di Catullo ruins.
- Bardolino: Famous for its wine production, Bardolino is a pleasant town with a lakefront promenade, restaurants, and gelato shops.
- Lazise: A family-friendly town with a relaxed atmosphere, a historic center, and a beautiful lakeside walk.
- Peschiera del Garda: Offers a fortress, a historic center with canals, and boat tours.
- Desenzano: Known for its lively atmosphere, this town offers shops, restaurants, and a castle.
- Salò: Famous for its long promenade and beautiful architecture, Salò has a historic center with plenty of shops and restaurants.
Lake Garda – Towns in the North
Limone sul Garda
If you have the time to visit only one town on Lake Garda, Limone sul Garda on the western shore is definitely worth choosing.
Located on the slopes of the mountains, it is incredibly picturesque, and the narrow streets invite you to get lost in them. However, please note that it’s steep, and it might be challenging with a stroller. It’s definitely worth planning to spend a significant part of the day here to enjoy the views and streets. You can combine your visit with a trip to Malcesine (see below).
We ended up in Malcesine rather spontaneously, taking a boat from Sirmione when we saw that Nella was falling asleep. At that moment, we made a quick decision – she can take a nap while we explore the town.
Malcesine is a tiny town perfect for a short visit. The main attraction is taking a cable car ride to Monte Baldo. The ride itself takes only a few minutes, but the line for the cable car is reportedly huge. You should arrive early in the morning not only to avoid the line but also to catch a good view before the clouds cover everything.
I’m writing based on what I found on the internet because, unfortunately, we couldn’t go up to the mountain (we had to plan our stay around our daughter, and it wasn’t possible to get there early in the morning).
Consider taking a boat to Malcesine from Limone – depending on where you’re staying, getting to Limone might be much faster than getting to Malcesine. The boat ride only takes 10 minutes, and the cost is 9 euros for a round trip.
We drove to Limone, left our car in the parking lot, and took a 2-hour boat ride to Malcesine. If you plan to take the cable car to the mountain top, it can be quite expensive because parking lots are very costly.
Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda is a picturesque town, or rather a city, in northern Garda. Its location at the foot of the mountains provides beautiful views and great photo opportunities.
It’s definitely worth focusing on the promenade and walking along the water here. The town itself isn’t that exceptional. However, along the promenade, you can find charming corners, a large playground for children, pleasant cafes, and even a pebble beach with a gentle entrance to the lake – we saw people and children swimming there (at the end of September).
Riva del Garda is primarily the center of cycling tourism around Garda. You can rent a bike or buy the appropriate equipment at every turn. Of course, there are excellent cycling paths nearby. If you’re looking for information about cycling routes, be sure to check out Karol from Koło Się Toczy.
Torbole is a tiny town located just a few minutes’ drive from Riva del Garda. You must go there for a walk along the promenade because the view of the lake with the mountains in the background is truly beautiful.
You can also take a walk from Nago to Torbole. If you’re with a child, it’s best to do it in one direction, from the top down, from the elevated Nago to the waterfront Torbole.
On the way between Torbole and Nago, there is a viewpoint where you can take such photos – in case you still have doubts about whether it’s beautiful there.
Sirmione is our biggest disappointment.
I’ve read so many times that it’s the most beautiful town, an absolute must, the highlight of Garda, that our expectations went through the roof. And as it often happens with high expectations – the town didn’t meet them. We really can’t understand the enthusiasm.
The town itself is pleasant, but compared to others on Lake Garda, it falls short. Perhaps its popularity comes from its ease of access – you can easily reach it for a day trip from Milan or Verona. It’s certainly also a destination for organized groups, which we didn’t see in such numbers in other towns.
If you plan to visit Sirmione, here’s one piece of advice – we were there at the end of September, and the parking lot filled up by 9:30 AM. When we were leaving the town before 11:00 AM, the entire entrance to the old part was already closed, and you had to park far from the old town.
If you still want to stay there overnight, our friends recommended this place: Casa Cristina.
It was a cold and stormy day, so we couldn’t fully enjoy the charm of Garda. However, what we saw encouraged us to make a longer stop.
Certainly, it’s worth stopping by Garda for two or three hours. Along the promenade, there are many pleasant cafes, and on the narrow streets, you’ll find plenty of souvenir shops. The waterfront promenade is wide, inviting for walks, and the mountains visible in the background create an incredible impression.
As for Bardolino, we didn’t manage to visit it in the end. I mention it because you can add it to your itinerary when visiting Garda and Lazise.
Bardolino is famous for its wine. Our group consisted of me in my seventh month of pregnancy, Fryderyk as the driver, and a two-year-old, so it wasn’t the right time for us to visit Bardolino. But if any of you have been there, let us know if we should visit next time.
We arrived in Lazise only in the late afternoon, and we can definitely recommend that time. The wide, fairly long promenade invites for walks during the sunset, and after dark, you can sit down for dinner at one of the restaurants.
Peschiera del Garda
Peschiera del Garda is a surprisingly pleasant town with several restaurants nicely situated by the water. We would occasionally stop there for breakfast or a snack because it was only a few minutes away from Bella Italia campground.
Desenzano del Garda
If you are staying in the north, I wouldn’t go all the way to the south just to see it. However, if you are camping in the southern part, it’s definitely worth a two-hour visit.
Certainly, I recommend combining a visit to Peschiera del Garda with a stop in Desenzano del Garda, as Desenzano itself won’t take up much of your time. Two hours should be enough for a leisurely stroll and a coffee break.
We ended up in Salo by chance, and honestly, we can say that you can completely skip it.
While there is a promenade, a lake, and some restaurants in Salo, it may not leave as lasting an impression as other towns around Lake Garda. However, the nearby Riviera area seems more pleasant, and it might be a better choice to visit than Salo. Unfortunately, you weren’t able to explore Riviera during your trip, but it looked appealing from your car. If you’re looking for a stop in that area, it’s advisable to skip Salo and consider Riviera instead. Please let us know if you did get to visit Riviera and if it lived up to its appealing appearance.
Unfortunately, in this regard, a stay by Lake Garda can be a big disappointment for those with higher culinary expectations. It was for us. And I wouldn’t say that we’re super demanding.
I wondered how it was possible that during our 5-day stay, we didn’t manage to eat really well even once. It’s a fact that we mainly ate at randomly chosen restaurants in touristy places. But we always do that. And there’s always something super wow that eventually comes our way. However, it was a letdown here.
How is it possible that there’s no good food in Italy?
I explain it to myself this way: firstly, Lake Garda is a typical camping and camper destination. People come here with their own campers, stock up at Lidl, and cook for themselves. In restaurants, you might get coffee, snacks, and pastries at most, and only occasionally. Honestly, we didn’t even see a single restaurant on the main tourist routes that looked, let’s say, high-end.
Secondly, we don’t have a lot of comparison to other places in Italy or in Europe in general (excluding London), but the prices were quite low. Unfortunately, this often meant that the food was clearly reheated from frozen. At best, it tasted like ready meals that we sometimes buy in our London supermarkets. A few times, I left my food because I had serious doubts about its freshness.
A Week by Lake Garda with Kids – How to Plan Town Visits
Lake Garda is an ideal destination for a family vacation, and a week should be enough for both relaxation and sightseeing. Below, you’ll find a modified week-long plan based on what we did.
Lake Garda with Kids – One-Week Plan
DAY 1: Riva del Garda
If you want to immediately soak in the lake’s atmosphere, we recommend spending your first day visiting one of the prettier towns, Riva del Garda.
While you’re at it, it’s worth driving to the nearby Torbole, and if you have some free time, you can even do a hike from Nago to Torbole.
DAY 2: Limone sul Garda and Malcesine
We suggest combining visits to these two towns because taking a ferry between them takes just 10 minutes. A round-trip ticket for the ferry costs 9 euros.
Getting to Malcesine can be quite time-consuming, depending on where you’re staying. We stayed in the south, so it was easier for us to quickly drive along the highway to Riva and then to Limone than taking smaller roads to Malcesine. An additional advantage of this option is the opportunity to take a scenic route between Riva and Limone.
Of course, you can drive to Malcesine and then take a ferry to Limone or even drive to Riva del Garda, visit Limone, and then head to Torbole. It all depends on how well your child tolerates car rides.
DAY 3: A Day of Rest and Relaxation by the Pools
After two days of sightseeing, it’s time to give something back to the kids. We recommend spending this day at the campsite, enjoying the pools, taking a dip in the lake, or visiting Gardaland amusement park.
DAY 4: Scenic Drive Along the Western Coast + Salo/Gardone Riviera
A beautiful, scenic stretch of road runs along the western shore of the lake. If you love stunning vistas, it’s definitely worth dedicating one of the sunny days to a car trip.
The most beautiful stretch is between Gargnano in the south and Riva del Garda in the north. It’s worth driving from south to north to stay on the lakeside.
If you’re staying in the south, you can start with breakfast and a short walk in one of the southern towns, Salo or Gardone Riviera. Personally, Salo didn’t impress us at all, so just stop there for breakfast and be on your way.
The route is short, so you can also drive it starting from Riva del Garda, reach the vicinity of Gargnano, and then turn back.
DAY 5: Towns in the Southeast – Garda, Bardolino, Lazise
If, after visiting Riva, Limone, and driving along the western coast, you still have the itch for more, the charming little towns in the southeastern part of Lake Garda will do the trick.
If you plan to spend about 2 hours in each of them (which is more than enough), you can definitely see all three in one day. Our tip: Lazise is especially charming in the setting sun.
DAY 6: Sirmione and Relaxation
You can spend the morning in Sirmione, but only in the morning, and it’s best to be there around 9 a.m. if you want to find parking without a problem.
Sirmione doesn’t have too many attractions, so you’ll likely spend 2-3 hours there.
For the afternoon, we suggest planning relaxation by the pool, especially if you’re heading home the next day.
Lake Garda with Kids – Additional Activities
A full-day boat trip on the lake with short stops in some towns. We didn’t have time for the cruise due to rain and wind grounding us for two days. However, you can find more information on this topic from Globtroterka.
Bike trip – This is something we will definitely do next time. We’ll return to Lake Garda for a bike trip and let you know how to organize it with kids (straight away with two…). For now, make sure to check out Karol