Clear blue waters, majestic mountains, colorful flowers in bloom. . . Lake Garda is mesmerizing. Not only that, the lake offers a myriad of activities that are fun for kids, and fun for adults to do along with kids too! There’s walking, swimming, biking, shopping for souvenirs, kid-friendly dining, and even theme parks! My guide is based on my most recent trip in June 2023, in a group of 3 adults and five exuberant boys ages 2 ½ to 9 ½.,
It would take weeks to fully explore the whole lake. With kids, I recommend focusing on southeastern Lake Garda, where there is a concentration of charming villages like Lazise and Bardolino. Gardaland, Italy’s iconic amusement park, is in this area too.
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VISIT PICTURESQUE LAKESIDE VILLAGES
The southeastern shore of Lake Garda lies in the Verona province of the Veneto region, and is dotted with lovely villages one after the other. Going from south to north, I’ll focus on Peschiera del Garda, Lazise, Cisano, Bardolino and Garda.
I recommend staying in one of these towns and making it the base for your visit. Cars are not allowed in the old town centers, which is a big highlight when you’re walking around with kids.
PESCHIERA DEL GARDA
Top kids highlights in Peschiera del Garda:
- Talking to the swans along the lakeside promenade
- Taking a tour of town in the trenino, the kids’ tourist train, which leaves from Piazzale Betteloni
- Having a gelato at one of Peschiera’s many gelaterie
- Throwing crumbs to the ducks on Canale di Mezzo while having Neapolitan pizza for lunch at La Rocca
- Swimming at the public beach west of town (in front of Camping Bella Italia campground)
Peschiera del Garda sits on the southeastern corner of Lake Garda. It was the first town we visited on the lake, and the aquamarine color of the water stopped us in our tracks. The town center sits a bit back from the lake on the other side of a road . . . inside a Venetian fortress!
Peschiera del Garda’s pentagon-shaped fortress, with its impressive ramparts and canals, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can take a walking tour, or even a boat tour to learn about the site’s rich history, from the ancient Romans to 16th century Republic of Venice. Take in the fortress ramparts, wander through the old town’s cobblestone streets brimming with shops, and you’ll come to the lovely Canale di Mezzo, a canal lined with restaurants and cafés.
Read how to spend 2 Days in Peschiera del Garda.
Top kids highlights in Lazise:
- Walking through the old medieval gateway into the center of town
- Seeing mamma ducks and ducklings along the lake
- Discovering Porto Vecchio
- Swimming at the small beach just north of the old town center
Lazise is about 9.5 km north of Peschiera del Garda. As you approach by car from SR249, the main road, you’ll see the majestic Scaligero Castle and medieval walls that surround the town. To enter the town center you can pass through one of the old gateways in the ramparts, which feels like you’re entering a fairy tale castle.
Once inside the old town, you’re greeted by charming narrow streets bursting with colors. You have your pick of shops, cafés and restaurants, and there’s a magnificent, wide promenade along the water. Visit Porto Vecchio, or the Old Harbour, to feel like you are strolling along a canal in Venice.
Top kids highlights in Cisano:
- The playground by the lake
This little jewel is actually an offshoot of Bardolino, which lies to the north. Cisano was a strategic spot for us during our June 2023 trip because we discovered Cisano Bike Rent there, a great bike rental place next to a shaded, free parking lot and nice lakefront playground. Cisano became our base for exploring the area by bike.
Top kids highlights in Bardolino:
- Taking a tour of town in the trenino, the kids’ tourist train, which leaves in front of Torre Catullo
- Riding the ferris wheel right on the lake
- Relaxing at Bardolino beach
- Making new friends with kids at the skate park.
Bardolino gives its name to two of the area’s high quality red wines, Bardolino Superiore DOCG and Bardolino DOC. This lovely town also boasts a ferris wheel right on the lake! The old town center is filled with boutiques and cafès for people watching.
Bardolino beach is a great place to spend the day by the lake with kids. Bardolino’s spiaggia pubblica, or public beach, is a long, green shady stretch along the lake, not a sandy beach. You can play, relax and take a swim in the lake. There are plenty of cafès where you can eat, get refreshments, and use the bathroom as well.
Near the beach but set away from the lake, there is a multi-use park set away with a basketball court, outdoor workout apparatus, and a skate park. The park doesn’t have shade, but there is a convenient large parking lot right next to it.
Top kids highlights in Garda
- Boat watching
Garda is yet another town that oozes with charm. It sits on a wide bay that hosts a harbor full of boats. Along the shore south of town there are beach clubs perched overlooking the water where you can rent umbrellas and beach chairs for the day and take advantage of the trendy bars.
SHOULD YOU VISIT A MARKET ON LAKE GARDA WITH KIDS?
One morning every week each town has an outdoor market. It is packed with stands and people who flock to experience an Italian open air market, or mercato. There are clothes, jewelry, textiles, trinkets, leather goods, food and wine. Generally there are not many local crafts or handmade items.
Kids might enjoy looking for treasures at the market if it’s not too crowded. But if you’re visiting in the late spring, summer, and early fall, I think the market is a recipe for a melt down, not to mention getting separated. If you like sweaty crowds, traffic and difficulty parking, you’ll be fine. Otherwise, plan your day so you’re far from town on market day, whether you’re on foot, bike or by car.
The summer market schedule for the Lake Garda’s southeastern towns is:
ENJOY THE LAKE WITH KIDS
When you see Lake Garda’s surreal light blue waters, you and your kids will probably want to jump right in like we did! But there are also plenty of activities to do on Lake Garda that don’t involve actually going in the water.
SWIMMING AND SUNBATHING
The water in Lake Garda is clear and wonderfully refreshing, as only lake water can be. If you are looking for free public beaches, options include Lido Cappuccini in Peschiera del Garda and in front of Camping Bella Italia; a very small beach just north of Lazise; another just north of Garda; and the long grassy stretch of public beach in Bardolino.
However, don’t expect comfortable, wide sandy beaches. The shore is pebbly, which means uncomfortable sunbathing for adults, but lots of fun looking for treasures and playing with rocks for kids!
In fact, much of the shore on the southeastern coast is pebbly and/or rocky, and stays shallow quite far out. I needed flip flops to get in and out of the water, but surprisingly my children had no problems and no complaints.
For free public beaches for kids, I recommend Bardolino beach, the green stretch just north of Bardolino, which has plenty of grassy places to sunbathe, as well as some docks that go far out into the water. There are several cafès with food, refreshments, drinks, and bathrooms for customers. They also usually rent sun loungers and beach chairs if you don’t want to lie on the ground.
Our kids also enjoyed beachcombing and swimming at the small beach just north of Lazise. It’s right in front of a cafè, so you can have your coffee while watching your kiddos.
WALKING BY THE LAKE
Make sure to take advantage of the promenade that runs along the edge of the lake. It’s smooth, flat, and well-maintained, making it great for strollers. If you have a toddler who hates their stroller, you’ll probably end up carrying them on your shoulders to keep them from falling in the water. Older kids will like checking out all the boats, looking for ducks, walking right up to swans, throwing pebbles into the lake, and smelling the flowers.
You’ll be in great company. On the promenade there are plenty of families, groups of friends, elderly couples, and tourists taking their passeggiata, or stroll. It’s great for people watching.
Families with toddlers: be advised that parts of the lakeside promenade run right next to the water and have no barrier to keep you from falling in. There are also sections that run next to the road without a safety barrier. If your child hates their stroller (like mine did) and likes to walk, make sure to hold hands!
So how do you get to the lakeside path? As you’re driving along SR249 (the main road that runs up the southeastern coast of the lake) it can be confusing as to how to actually get to the lake glistening in the distance, since the shore is so built up. Usually, you must park your car and then walk through town to get to the lake itself. Hotels and campgrounds on the lake have their own private lakeside access. Some exceptions are in Peschiera del Garda, the parking lot near Lido di Cisano, and north of Bardolino by Bardolino beach.
EATING AND DRINKING BY THE LAKE
The lakefront is brimming with options for where to eat and drink. Of course, when you’re with kids, it’s not always possible to have a leisurely, fancy lunch. Here are some recommendations for eating with kids on Lake Garda.
HAVE A PICNIC
A picnic is a practical way to eat when traveling with kids so you don’t have to worry about manners, spilling, keeping your kids at the table . . . luckily there are plenty of lakefront benches in the southeastern Lake Garda towns where you can enjoy a panino (sandwich) or other treats you’ve brought along.
CASUAL: EAT AND DRINK AT A BEACH CAFÉ
If you don’t have the energy for a formal meal, try a casual sit down meal at a cafè (which is called a bar in Italian). Along the lakeside promenade, there are cafès where you can enjoy everything from a coffee to an aperitivo, as well as snacks, sandwiches, and even pasta and meat courses.
Along Bardolino’s green public beach, there are numerous convenient cafés if you want to spend the day swimming and relaxing by the lake without worrying about food.
EAT AT A PIAZZA
Since the old town centers are closed to car traffic, dining outside at a café or restaurant on a piazza is a great way to eat out with kids. You get to sit down while your kids can run free. Relax, enjoy the scenery, and keep your eyes on the kiddos at the same time.
HAVE A (SEMI) CIVILIZED LAKEFRONT MEAL
When it’s time for meals or refreshments, you have your pick of places to eat and drink right on the water. In each of the towns there are restaurants and cafès with glorious front row Lake Garda views.
Unfortunately, if your kids are small, can walk, and won’t stay at the table very long, you will spend your meal chasing them down and trying to keep them from falling into the lake, since there aren’t any barriers.
One lakefront restaurant that is good for everyone is Beer Garden in Bardolino. It has shade, a hedge to separate you from the water, and killer views. Even though it’s kid-friendly, the ambience has a whiff of fancy about it. There’s pizza, as well as more sophisticated dishes. Win-win for adults and kids!
TIPS FOR EATING AND DRINKING ON LAKE GARDA
Since Lake Garda is a vacation spot, you’ll see people enjoying drinks at all times of day, especially bright orange aperol spritzes.
There are many DOC and DOCG wines produced around the lake, but specifically in this area are the wine zones of Bardolino Superiore DOCG and Bardolino DOC (reds), and Bianco di Custoza DOC (white). Look out for Amarone and Valpolicella as well. The land surrounding the entire lake is also a DOP extra virgin olive oil zone, where Olio Garda DOP is produced.
The majority of restaurant menus are geared towards an international tourist clientele. You’ll see a lot of dishes that feature seafood, which doesn’t come from the lake. Be on the lookout for local dishes. Usually wait staff appreciate when tourists are interested in local specialties, and are happy to point them out to you.
If your kids are extremely picky (like my older son), you can almost always depend on pasta bianca at Italian restaurants. It’s not on the menu, but 99.99% of the time they will be happy to make it for you. Pasta bianca means white pasta, and is plain pasta without any sauce. Pasta all’olio is pasta with olive oil, and pasta al burro is pasta with butter.
Keep in mind that even though most Italians eat dinner at about 8pm, restaurants on Lake Garda are usually packed for dinner at about 6:30 pm. The people having dinner at that time usually are not locals, but tourists from Germany, Holland, and other parts of northern Europe. To avoid the rush during high season, try having dinner out at Italian dinner time if your kids can stay up that late.
When you’re out and about be on the lookout for fontanelle, or water fountains, where you can get a free drink of mountain water and fill up your water bottle.
The promenade along the southeastern shore of Lake Garda is fabulous for biking at a leisurely pace while taking in the stunning lake views. I recommend it for older children, or kids who are experienced riders, because parts of the path run along the water with no safety barrier. Sections of the path are narrow and crowded, so kids need to be able to navigate and maneuver as well.
Make sure you know when market days are, because in Lazise for example, the market runs along the lakefront and the path is impassable.
There are plenty of bike rental places along the lake, as well as in the lakefront campgrounds. We were lucky to find Cisano Bike Rent, with friendly, attentive service and sturdy, well-maintained bikes. They had ebikes, city bikes, childrens bikes, baby seats, a trailer, bike locks, and helmets for our group of 3 adults and 5 children in June 2023.
A major perk of Cisano Bike Rent that it sits right in a shady parking lot on the lake in Cisano, so you don’t have to worry about where to park, or paying to park. If you’re not walking to your bike rental from your accommodation, or renting right at your accommodation, make sure that no matter where you rent bikes there’s free parking nearby.
Another great place to bike ride is along the Euro Velo 7, or E7 bike path, starting in Peschiera del Garda. The path is flat, and runs south along the Mincio River, for great views of the ramparts of Peschiera del Garda’s fortress. It’s a fun ride for the whole family, just be advised that there are no barriers or fences to keep you from falling off the path into the water, so it’s best for children with plenty of riding experience.
You name it, Lake Garda’s got it: diving, windsurfing, sailing, kitesurfing, waterskiing and more. Along the shore many of the beach establishments rent out SUPs (stand up paddle boards) and pedalòs (paddle boats), and you’ll find small and large rental centers where you can go in person, but it’s always a good idea to call ahead for availability. If you have your heart set on parasailing, definitely book ahead of time.
In Bardolino, there’s Water Ski Center, which offers a variety of activities. For parasailing, in Lazise there are both Watersports Gardawake, and Fun 4 Holidays, that offer plenty of options for water sports.
Do your kids like boat rides? There are many boat options if you’re looking to get from town to town, or just joyride on the lake. Lake Garda has a system of ferries that go between the picturesque lakeside villages I wrote about, as well as Sirmione and other towns that are well worth visiting. Before booking make sure you can bring your bike or car, if you need to transport them.
VISIT AN AMUSEMENT PARK WITH KIDS
As if the natural beauty of Lake Garda weren’t enough, the southeastern area of the lake is home to amusement parks galore.
Gardaland is Italy’s biggest, and most famous amusement park. If you’re in the area for at least two days and are a big fan of roller coasters, don’t miss visiting Italy’s version of Six Flags! You’ll need to devote a whole day to the park, which is about a 10 minute drive northeast of Peschiera del Garda (and a 10 minute drive south of Lazise).
If you’ll be visiting with kids when it’s hot, consider buying a combined ticket with Legoland Water Park, which is part of the Gardaland resort. Adults are only allowed if accompanying a child 14 or younger (and children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult). You’ll be glad for this fun place to cool off!
OTHER AMUSEMENT PARKS NEAR LAKE GARDA
Gardaland Sealife Acquarium
Yes, this aquarium has sharks!
Canevaworld Resort in Lazise has two exciting parks: Caneva Acquapark, full of water slides; and Movieland, a Hollywood themed park. Not only that, It’s also home to the Medieval Times restaurant and tournament show.
Parco Natura Viva
Have you always wanted to go on a safari? See lions, komodo dragons and more at Parco Natura Viva in Bussolengo, about a 15 minute drive southeast of Lazise.
Cavour Parco Acquatico
Cavour is a water park with pools and waterslides about a 20 minute drive south of Peschiera del Garda in Valeggio sul Mincio.
Want to climb through the trees? Jungle Adventure is an adventure park for adults, and children age 3 and up. It’s located 15 minutes from the lake in San Zeno di Montagna.
RIDE UP MOUNT BALDO WITH KIDS
For an exciting half day excursion, ride the cable car up to the top of Mount Baldo. Though it’s farther north than the other spots in this article, riding up the mountain is so fun I couldn’t resist recommending it!
The bird’s eye views of the lake and surrounding mountains are mesmerizing for kids and adults alike. The cable car, or funivia, leaves from Malcesine, another postcard perfect town which is at least a 35 minute drive north of Garda town. Especially if you’re visiting during the spring, keep in mind that temperatures will be lower on the top of the mountain, so come prepared with an extra warm layer of clothing!
GETTING AROUND LAKE GARDA
DITCH YOUR CAR
My main advice for getting around Lake Garda: use your car as little as possible. I know this can be difficult if you have very small children and have a lot of gear in tow. However, the SR249 road, which runs along the lake through the little towns, gets congested fast. Every evening at 6 pm there is bumper to bumper traffic SR249 between Lazise and Peschiera del Garda when Gardaland closes. Same goes for the areas leading into small towns in the morning on market days.
Driving is not allowed in the center of the old villages, which means you need to park right outside of town in any case. Arrive early in the day, since parking is expensive and hard to find during high season. Two places where you can park right near the lake are in Peschiera del Garda, and the parking lot near Lido di Cisano, and north of Bardolino by Bardolino beach.
Since the total walk from Peschiera del Garda to Garda town is over 19 km, exploring on foot is not the quickest way to get from town to town. Therefore, I’d recommend biking along the lake if you like cycling, taking a ferry from town to town, or taking the ferry but also walking between two of the towns that are close together, like Bardolino and Garda (about 3.5 km, at least a 45 minute walk).
WHERE TO STAY ON LAKE GARDA
The lake offers every possible kind of accommodation, from luxurious exclusive hotels to campgrounds. I can only recommend where I’ve stayed personally!
CAMPING BELLA ITALIA
This enormous campground complex on the lake in Peschiera del Garda has a variety of accommodation types, from onsite hotels, to bungalows, mobile homes, and campsites. What it lacks in local charm it makes up for with convenience, especially if you’re staying with kids. Camping Bella Italia has multiple restaurants, pools, and kids activities, and the grounds are well run and maintained by friendly staff.
GETTING TO LAKE GARDA
The nearest airport is Verona Catullo airport (VRN), which is about 21 km away from Peschiera del Garda (about a 20 minute drive or taxi ride.). There is train service from the airport to Peschiera del Garda Sirmione station. The other nearby airports, with distance from Peschiera del Garda, are:
- Milan Bergamo/Orio al Serio (BGY), 93 km
- Milan Linate (LIN), 136 km
- Venice Marco Polo (VCE), 145 km
- Treviso Sant’Angelo (TSF), 149 km
- Bologna Guglielmo Marconi (BLQ), 149 km
- Milan Malpensa (MXP), 177 km
Peschiera del Garda has direct train service from Milan’s central station, which can take as little as an hour if you take the high speed train. There is train service from Verona and Verona airport as well. The station is called Peschiera del Garda Sirmione, and it is about a 15 minute walk from the center of town.
Getting to Lake Garda towns is easy by car, however once you arrive, I recommend using your car as little as possible. Cars are not allowed in the town centers. The roads get clogged easily, and parking is an expensive hassle. Check my tips up above.
WHEN TO VISIT LAKE GARDA
I recommend visiting the lake in the spring, from April until June; or in the fall, in September or October. The summer in July and August is hot and very crowded, which is a deal-breaking combination for me. By visiting in the spring or fall months, you can take advantage of relatively warm temperatures and avoid peak crowds.