So you’ve booked your flight, you’ve poured yourself a preemptive Bellini and now there’s just one last job to do… find the perfect Lake Garda accommodation! But deciding where to stay in Lake Garda can bring on a headache before any Bellini hangover sets in. Which town? Which side? Which type? Garda Lake is HUGE and there are so many options!
Wondering what is the best part of Lake Garda to stay in is a conundrum we were faced with a few months ago. But, having just returned from a week on the beautiful shores of Garda, and having travelled the entire circumference, we felt it was time to write a post with some helpful tips on how to choose the best place to stay at Lake Garda.
Where To Stay In Lake Garda?
Obviously, we will all be wanting different things from our Lake Garda Holiday… are you taking the kids? Will it be a romantic break? Doing Lake Garda without a car? All these things will influence the final decision on the best place to stay at Lake Garda for you. But where do you start?
What To Expect From Lake Garda, Italy…
The circumference of Lake Garda is approximately 90 miles and the terrain is quite different depending on your whereabouts.
Lake Garda’s southern shores are flat and you can expect the towns to be laid out in the standard fashion – a network of streets, easy to access, and often pedestrianised areas around the prettier lake-side spots. The Lake is also wider at the southern end so there is more of a seaside feel in that the mountains are only just visible further north over a great expanse of water.
The further north you travel up the lake the more aware you are of the imposing mountains, the alps to the west and the Dolomites to the east. Garda Lake is narrower at the northern end so if the weather is clear the views are incredible. Lush green slopes with snow-topped peaks behind. Some towns have developed in flatter sections but many towns cling to the slopes and the network of streets can be quite steep.
The Lake Garda map below nicely illustrates the terrain…
When deciding where to stay on Lake Garda you may want to consider some factors:
- Do you prefer the sun in the morning or the evening?
- The further north on Lake Garda the more temperamental the weather.
- What kind of scenery do you prefer – lake views or mountains, or both!?
- Do you want easy access to other places, ie. Venice, Verona, Milan?
- Are you visiting Lake Garda without a car and reliant on public transport?
- How quiet a town would you like?
Depending on your answers we would like to make some suggestions on each section of Lake Garda with a few pros and cons of each place. In some places we can make some hotel recommendations too.
The Best Places To Stay – Lake Garda, Italy
WHAT IS THE MAIN RESORT IN LAKE GARDA?
Why? Located in the perfect sweet spot, Malcesine is a beautiful renaissance town on the north-eastern shores of Lake Garda. Compared to other lakeside towns on the east side, Malcesine is larger and has several popular tourist spots. Castello Scaligero di Malcesine is one of the main tourist attractions on Lake Garda and the cobbled pedestrianised streets are a joy to wander.
But another reason many choose Malcesine as their Lake Garda base is because of direct access to incredible hiking trails in the Monte Baldo mountain range that looms over Garda. There is a cable car a 5-minute walk from the centre.
- It’s the best town to stay in Lake Garda if you want to hike in the mountains but also explore the other lake towns too.
- If views from your hotel are important, they don’t come much nicer than Malcesine because you’re closer to the opposite side of the lake.
- If you’re taking a romantic break in Lake Garda and want to stay in one place, Malcesine has enough going on that you could easily spend a few days there. There are several tourist attractions.
- It has easy access to the opposite side of the lake via the ferry which docks here.
- It’s very busy!
- Many other popular spots on Lake Garda are over an hours drive away.
Our Malcesine Hotel Suggestion…
Eco Hotel Ariston has incredible views from every balcony as a result of its ideal location. We also love the fact it’s an eco-friendly hotel and has a hot tub. We took a look and are considering booking here for a future weekend romantic break on Garda.
BEST PLACES TO STAY ON LAKE GARDA WITHOUT A CAR (ARRIVING BY TRAIN)
If you’re deciding on the best place to stay in Lake Garda without a car, you should probably consider a town along the southern edge near one of the train stations. The towns of Desenzano and Peschiera both have excellent transport links to Milan and Verona airport via train and day trips to major cities, including Venice, are very easy to achieve. From these towns you can also hop on and off the local buses to many other lakeside towns.
Desenzano would definitely be our top choice out of the two. Its historic centre and neat little port are so picturesque and we loved getting lost in the winding streets of the old town. It’s known as the Gateway to Garda and in view of that there are plenty of lovely accommodation options and so many lovely bars and restaurants – the town really comes alive at night!
Friends of ours live in Desenzano and they highly recommended the Park Hotel, they’ve had many family members stay there and we think the reviews speak for themselves. It’s a 15 minute walk to the train station and a 5 minute walk to bus stops if you’re visiting Lake Garda without a car. Plus, who doesn’t love a rooftop pool!?
- Only 23 minutes by train from Verona.
- Gateway to both the east and west of the lake, either by car or public transport.
- A beautiful medieval old town
- Harder to find hotels with lake views as the town is set back from the Lake in many respects.
- The sun sets behind you so evenings can be chilly.
- It can get VERY busy!
WHERE TO STAY AT LAKE GARDA FOR A ROMANTIC BREAK
As I mentioned earlier, we already have Malcesine earmarked for a future visit based mostly on the prospect of some romantic walks in the peaks of Monte Baldo. However, another town I would definitely consider for its romantic location is Sirmione. It’s probably the Bellagio of Garda and thankfully the day visitors eventually leave and only locals and loafer-wearing holiday-makers remain! Traffic-free and laden with bougainvillea and citrus trees, a romantic stroll around the tangled streets of Sirmione is a delight and a pace that would suit me on a dreamy weekend away in the Italian lakes. Dare I say it might even rival my beloved Bellagio!
- Exclusive! And once the day visitors have left it can feel like you have the place to yourself!
- Manicured and aesthetically pleasing.
- Has a very romantic feel to it.
- There are 4 Michelin starred restaurants in Sirmione! (Other restaurants try to keep their standards up too)
- More expensive accommodation than other Garda towns.
- Cars have to be parked outside of the peninsula.
- The hotels with lakeside views get booked up quickly.
One of the most exclusive resorts on Lake Garda is the 5-star Malcelsine hotel ‘Villa Cortine Palace‘ tucked away in its own Italian piece of paradise. I’m saving up for this one! (or maybe we could just sell one of the kids?)
However, probably a bit more affordable (and ensuring we have the most amount of offspring available to care for us in our decrepit years) is the very chic, adult only, Hotel Ocelle Thermae and Spa. It has a private beach, a thermal pool and is right next to Sirmione Castle.
WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE GARDA FOR A WATER SPORTS HOLIDAY
Whether it be paddleboarding, sailing, windsurfing or just a morning swim in the lake, Garda Lake has it all! The northern tip of the lake is more geared up for all of the above, with the most popular resorts being Riva del Garda, Torbole and Malcesine.
Torbole and Riva are adjacent to each other so either would be a good choice if you were needing to hire equipment. Riva however is much larger and has more facilities so would be a better choice in the high season.
White water rafting is available in the Trentino mountain range and there are tours that leave from Riva daily.
Riva is the gateway to the hills and many other activities like mountain biking, hiking and canyoning are accessible from this town so it really is the best place to stay on Lake Garda for adventurists.
- At the top end of the lake the scenery is SO beautiful!
- Easy access and rental facilities for all sorts of adventure activities, not just water sports.
- Riva is a very large town so you have all of the amenities that go along with that.
- Immediately outside of the town the roads are winding and not for the faint-hearted.
- Not the ideal location if you are wanting to explore other lake Garda towns.
- The weather can be cooler and breezier.
We would recommend Oasi Hotel Wellness and Spa because not only is the owner happy for you to leave all of your equipment at the hotel but it has the added advantage of the spa facilities to soak your aching muscles at the end of the day. It’s a beachfront hotel, perfect for a morning dip, and has the most amazing views from the communal terraces.
WHERE TO STAY AT LAKE GARDA WITH KIDS
Lake Garda has a lot going on and take it from us it makes the perfect holiday destination for families. Water sports, sightseeing, theme parks, beaches and hiking are just some of the most popular things to do with kids on Lake Garda.
We think basing yourself on the south eastern shore of Garda, somewhere between Garda town and Peschiera del Garda is the best idea. This area of Lake Garda has theme parks, an Aquarium, waterparks, markets and other tourist spots. There are a host of camping sites with facilities for families and more hotels geared up for children.
The towns of Garda, Lazise and Bardolino are particularly beautiful and all have promenades away from busy roads. Imagine yourself at a table with lakeside views and a drink of Aperol whilst the little ones play next to you in the piazza. Grab a gelato from any of the vendors and slowly saunter back to your hotel along the shoreline with the sun setting on the opposite side of the lake. Are you with us?
- Get the best sunsets on Lake Garda and longer sunshine hours.
- Probably the most accessible area, within an hour’s drive to all of the best towns in Lake Garda and only 30 minutes to Verona airport. Only 1.5 hours to Venice and the Dolomites too.
- These towns are definitely quieter than some of the lakes larger towns.
- Close to GardaLand, Movieland and some Aqua-parks.
- The SR249 can get very busy in peak season due to high traffic from the theme parks
We stayed at Residenza Olivo in Garda town and would go back in a heartbeat! Stylish apartment suites with all the facilities you would need for a week’s holiday. Our apartment had 2 bedrooms and slept up to 6 people if you used the double sofa bed in the lounge. There was a gym, large pool and jacuzzi, a rooftop BBQ-ing area with incredible views, and several mini supermarkets and coffee shops and gelaterias within 5 minutes walk. There were lots of excellent well-priced restaurants nearby too and it was only 5 minutes to walk to the centre of Garda. It’s the perfect spot for Lake Garda family holidays. For the best prices at the Residenza Olivo hotel, click here.
What we loved about this area was the fact you had easy access to a lot of places. Most lakeside towns were only half an hour away and we made day trips to Verona and Venice too. Garda town itself isn’t too busy and it has a lovely relaxed feel to it in the centre. Plenty of shops, bars and restaurants and every evening we took a walk along the promenade. Locals were friendly and it felt much more chilled out than some of the other more touristy towns.
So there you have it – our Lake Garda ‘Best Places To Stay’ list, whether you are looking for an adventure holiday, one with the family, or just a quieter break to enjoy the scenery of the striking Italian Lake Garda. We have visited most towns on Garda so if you have any questions feel free to drop us an email.
As usual, we would like to say a big THANK YOU for helping us out – every time you click through to a link for a hotel from our page we make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) which all goes towards the upkeep of this blog. We truly appreciate it.