The 10 Castles not to be missed in the Lake Garda area

With their crenellated walls and fortified towers, the many castles on Lake Garda have served as guardians of the villages and towns that constellate the largest lake in Italy for centuries and have dozens of stories to tell.

Why visit the Castles on Lake Garda?

Generally built during the Middle Ages, many of the castles of Lake Garda were built on ancient Roman fortresses. Even today, some of these castles are almost perfectly preserved, while others have been reduced to ruins by the hands of time. Many of them host unmissable local museums and one of the castles  has even an eighteenth-century citrus grove with a pond with turtles and fish splashing around under the lemon trees.

The castles on Lake Garda are a great destination for exciting day trips from the nearby cities of Verona, Milan and Venice. But they can also be the highlight of a summer vacation spent on the shores of Italy's largest lake. No matter how many of these you get to see - one, two or ten - the castles of Lake Garda are bound to impress you with their mighty architecture and very rich history.

Let's discover the ten most beautiful castles to visit around the lake. Some of them are located right on the lakefront, while a couple are just a short drive away. They are all easily accessible by car and most of them are also easily accessible by public transport and can be admired in all their splendor even during a boat trip on lake Garda.

Departing from the most famous, the Scaliger Castle of Sirmione, you can go up along the eastern shore of the lake, stopping to admire the other medieval castles in the area.

Once you reach Riva del Garda and its fortress located on the northern end of the lake, the circle closes by traveling along the western shore of Lake Garda passing through Salò to arrive to Desenzano del Garda and Valeggio sul Mincio to visit their castles.

Scaliger Castle of Sirmione

The Scaliger Castle of Sirmione is undoubtedly the most famous castle on Lake Garda. It stands on the edge of the peninsula which extends deep into the waters of the lake and on the tip of which the picturesque historic center of Sirmione is built. The Rocca Scaligera of Sirmione is surrounded by water on all sides and can only be accessed via two drawbridges which, today, are permanently in place and are also the entrance to the historic center of the town.

With its crenellated walls and high towers, the Castle of Sirmione on Lake Garda has a surprising shape that can also be admired during a boat tour on the lake. The castle was built between the 13th and 14th centuries by the Scaligeri dynasty. From the top of the walls and towers of the castle you can enjoy an extraordinarily beautiful view of the village of Sirmione and the blue waters of Lake Garda.

There are many other places of interest to see in Sirmione: from the thermal pools to the beautiful beaches, not to mention the impressive ruins of the splendid Roman villa known as the Grotte di Catullo.

Stunning view of the old bridge and the port of Sirmione from the Scaliger castle

Scaliger Castle of Malcesine

For many, the Scaliger Castle of Malcesine is the most beautiful castle on Lake Garda. It stands on a rocky outcrop and crowns the small promontory to which the houses of the historic center of Malcesine cling. Seeing the village together with the castle as you approach Malcesine during a boat trip departing from Salò is a breathtaking experience.

Surrounded by cypresses, pomegranates and citrus trees, the Castle of Malcesine is truly evocative. For many centuries, the access to the town was possible only by water and the castle played an important role in protecting the territory and controlling lake traffic.

The Porta Siresina is the only access point to the castle and its park. A proud keep rises above the different buildings and courtyards surrounded by strong walls.

The Fortress of Peschiera del Garda

The city of Peschiera del Garda is located in the place where the Mincio river was born as an emissary of Lake Garda and it has always been considered a refuge since ancient times. It was first the site of an ancient pile-dwelling settlement and then also of a Roman settlement.

Peschiera del Garda was fortified by the Scala family in the 13th century before becoming part of the Republic of Venice. The Venetians restructured the medieval fortifications, added five massive bastions, opened large monumental gates in a couple of strategic points of the walls and remodeled the original buildings.

The work was superb and today Peschiera del Garda has one of the most complete defensive wall systems in Italy, representing the perfect model of a fortified city, so much that it was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2017.

It is a suggestive and very interesting place to visit. Rather than possessing a single castle like most other towns on Lake Garda, Peschiera's entire historic center is fortified.

Walls of the fortress of Peschiera di Garda surrounded by the waters of the lake

The Scaliger Castle of Lazise

Lazise is one of the favorite tourist locations for holidays on Lake Garda. The most striking thing about the village is its medieval Scaliger castle and the massive wall that surrounds the historic center.

Unlike the other castles on Lake Garda, the one in Lazise is privately owned and cannot be visited, but can be observed during a boat trip on Lake Garda.

The castle was built by the Scaligeri dynasty between 1375 and 1381. In the following centuries Lazise changed hands several times. Every new lord of the city, from the Visconti dynasty of Milan and the Republic of Venice to the French and the Austrians, has left his mark on the castle.

Between the ancient defensive walls of Lazise and the castle, there is a large public park with a large playground to spend some relaxing moments with the family on a hot day.

The Castle of Torri del Benaco

A mighty medieval castle stands guard over the historic center of Torri del Benaco. Berengar I, King of Italy from 887 AD. and Holy Roman Emperor from 915 AD, erected a castle above the Roman ruins and surrounded the entire city with a thick wall dotted with watchtowers.

The castle as we see it today was built in 1383 at the behest of Antonio della Scala, Lord of Verona and member of the Scaligeri dynasty. Today the Scaliger Castle of Torri del Benaco serves as an Ethnographic Historical Museum.

A visit is therefore a must, also because at the back of the castle it is possible to visit a traditional Garda lemon house, where there is also a pond with fish and turtles. The castle of Torri del Benaco is also clearly visible during a boat trip on Lake Garda.

Torri del Benaco Castle on Lake Garda

The Rocca of Garda

Rocca di Garda is a large flat-topped hill overlooking the villages of Bardolino and Garda, offering breathtaking views of the lake. In the 5th century AD. a fortress was built there by the Germanic Lombards. Soon the village of Garda became a lively administrative centre. Its importance was such that the name of the lake changed from the Latin Benacus to Garda at the beginning of the eighth century.

Garda derives from the ancient Germanic term Warda or Warte which means place of observation, place of guard or fortress. Little survives today of the original fortress, but climbing the hill, near its summit, you’ll encounter vestiges of once strong walls and an ancient stone road.

The ruins are covered in lush vegetation spotting them adds to the beauty of the place. The hike to the top of the Rocca del Lago di Garda is relatively easy and short; it is uphill but not demanding. The views from the top are absolutely stunning.

The Castle of Arco in Trento

Arco is an elegant town located at the northern end of Lake Garda. Surrounded by steep limestone cliffs, Arco has a ruined castle and several fine churches and palaces.

The town has a very Tyrolean atmosphere and it is interesting to note that the Habsburg court used to spend their summers here when this part of Italy was under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Rocca of Riva del Garda

Riva del Garda is one of the most famous towns on the shores of Lake Garda. With its pastel-coloured houses, Austrian cultural heritage, sparkling beaches and a long list of activities for water sports enthusiasts, Riva del Garda attracts thousands of visitors every year.

The Rocca di Riva del Garda is one of the most important monuments of the city. It is a medieval fortress that stands on a small artificial island in the historic center of Riva del Garda. The fortress is surrounded by water on all sides, and a small bridge leads to its entrance.

The Castle of Desenzano del Garda

Desenzano del Garda is the largest municipality on the shores of Lake Garda. It has a number of must-see tourist attractions including the ruins of a Roman villa and a well-preserved medieval castle.

A visit to the castle of Desenzano will lead you through the most winding streets of the village. The uphill walk takes only a few minutes but every effort will be amply rewarded with the breathtaking views over the red roofs of the town and the blue waters of the lake that suddenly open before your eyes, as soon as you reach the castle.

Panoramic aerial view of the Desenzano castle in the city of Desenzano del Garda

Scaliger Castle of Valeggio sul Mincio

Valeggio sul Mincio is a small town on the Mincio river and is less than 15 minutes far from Lake Garda. It is famous for local delicacies: handmade tortellini prepared with different fillings.

In Valeggio it is possible to visit one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy, the Parco Giardino Sigurtà, and nearby there is also the small village of Borghetto sul Mincio with its ancient mills built right above the impetuous waters of the river Mincio.

In Valeggio sul Mincio you can visit another mighty Scaliger Castle of Lake Garda which dominates the hill above the village.