Best things to do in Riva del Garda

Travel guide to Riva del Garda

Riva del Garda is my favorite town in Lake Garda. Perched amidst imposing mountains and boasting the most beautiful views in the region, this is a must-visit destination in the north of Italy. If you’re planning to spend a day or more in the north of Lake Garda, you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll find a complete travel guide featuring a highly curated list of the best things to do in Riva del Garda, as well as tips of restaurants, hotels and more.

Riva del Garda travel guide

Best things to do in Riva del Garda

Although small, there’s quite a lot to see and do in Riva del Garda. This charming and colorful town is home to museums, viewpoints and gorgeous square with medieval towers. Not to mention cozy beaches that steal the spotlight during summer months. Riva is a place you’ll want to explore with quality time, as you’ll see in this post.

But first things first – how long should you stay in Riva del Garda? To make the most of Riva del Garda, I recommend you plan at least one full day there. Though two or more would be ideal to fully explore the scenic hiking trails in the neighboring mountains. Now, let’s talk in details about the best things to do in Riva del Garda.

If you have only one day in Riva del Garda, I recommend you:

Explore Riva del Garda’s historic center

Get ready to explore the historic center of Riva, filled with interesting sights and things to do. It’s a compact area, so you’ll want leave your car behind and explore on foot or bike. If biking sounds like an interesting option for you, it’s good to know that traditional or electric bikes can be rented from any of the town’s numerous bike shops.

We preferred to walk and took our time strolling through town admiring the colorful streets, ancient piazzas, medieval towers. The stuff Italian dreams are made of. While exploring Riva, make sure to check Porta di San Michele and Porta San Marco which are medieval city gates. Then head to Parrocchia di Santa Maria Assunta, the town’s main church with a surprisingly beautiful interior!

Walk your way to Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, where you’ll find Fontana della Sirenetta and MAG Museo Alto Garda. MAG is an interesting museum with permanent and temporary exhibitions hosted in an ancient medieval castle on the lakeside. Even if you’re not interested in visiting the museum, it’s totally worth taking a walk around and enjoying the viewpoints surrounding it!

Then, head to Piazza III Novembre surrounded by historical and charming buildings. The nearby cobblestone streets are just perfect, so make sure to explore them, especially Via Fiume and Via dei Fabbri. In the piazza you’ll find Torre Apponale, a medieval tower, as well as a harbor and many seafront restaurants.

Climb Torre Apponale

If you’re willing to climb up 165 wooden stairs leading to the top of Torre Apponale, you’ll be awarded with gorgeous views of Riva del Garda and the lake. The ticket costs 3€ and the views are even more magnificent on sunny days!

Ride Bastione di Riva Funicular

A few hundred meters from Piazza III Novembre you’ll find the funicular railway heading up the mountain to Bastione di Riva. A less than 5 minutes long ride in a glass cable car, takes you to the remnants of a Venetian Castle. From up there, you’ll be able to admire the most beautiful views of Riva del Garda and the lake. Take a walk around and order refreshments at the café to enjoy the idyllic atmosphere from up there!

Walk the gorgeous promenade

Riva is surrounded by dramatic mountains and it’s from this specific area you’ll find the best angle of them. Although we had seem some pictures of this area, nothing could have prepared us for seeing it with our own eyes. We were completely astonished by the landscapes and ended up spending quite a lot of time there. It’s an absolutely magical spot and one you simply cannot miss while in Lake Garda!

We started our walk in Giardini all’Italiana di Punta Lido, close to the sailing club Fraglia Vela Riva. As we got there, we watched hundreds of kids from all over the world wrapping up a competition. It was super impressive. There are many great angles for pictures there, so make sure to snap some memories at this spot!

Then we walked to Via Giacomo Maroni viewpoint, soaking in the most amazing views on the way. We had planned for a sunset picnic and we found Punta Lido, a small grassy area with beautiful views, to be the best spot for it. We had the most amazing experience and recommend it to all romantic souls out there. Bring a bottle of Italian wine, some snacks and a blanket, and I can guarantee you’ll have an experience of a lifetime!

We loved this area so much we decided to come back the day after, before continuing our road-trip around Lake Garda. There was live music, the sun was shinning, and we couldn’t have had a better time snapping some pictures and taking a slow romantic and walk by the lake!

If you have two or more days in Riva del Garda, I recommend you:

Hike Old Ponale route

The receptionist at our hotel urged us to check Old Ponale, a hiking path she considers the 8th wonder of the world. Regrettably, we didn’t have time to hike this route, but a quick online research left us in awe. So, if you’re a hiking or bike enthusiast and have enough time in Riva del Garda, I strongly recommend giving it a try? The Old Ponale is 10km long and connects Riva to Valle di Ledro. You actually don’t need to walk the whole way to find amazing views, as the first 3km boast some great angles!

It’s good to know that Old Polane route was a built in the 19th century to connect Riva del Garda to the villages on the west side of the lake. It was replaced by a modern tunnel in 2024 and since then has been closed to traffic. Nowadays, it’s only accessible to bikers and hikers, so if you’re interested in checking it out, you can read more details here.

Enjoy the beaches in Riva del Garda

Not so far away from Punta Lido you’ll find two organized beaches: Spiaggia Riva del Garda and Spiaggia Sabbioni. Both have sunbeds and showers and are perfect spots to spend a summer day. Spiaggia Pini, down the road, is another great option!

Visit Villa Canale

Villa Canale is a medieval village located in the hills above Riva del Garda. Picture cobblestone streets, hundreds of years old stone buildings and gorgeous views – that’s what you should expect from it. To top it all up, you may combine a visit to the village with Lago di Tenno, a beautiful lake not so far away. It’s a perfect 1 day-trip from Riva del Garda!

Visit Parco Grotta Cascate Varone

Visiting Parco Grotta Cascate Varone is one of the most popular things to do in Riva del Garda. The area features a botanical garden and a boardwalk trail leading into a grotto and a waterfall. It’s a cool place to visit during warm summer days, but be aware of the crowds during high seaso and prioritize visiting early morning or end of the day. Here you’ll find info about opening times and tickets!

Water activities

We were surprised to find our how sporty Riva del Garda is as a destination. From sailing on the lake to scaling rugged cliffs and indulging in water activities, there’s an endless playground for the adventurous soul. Don’t miss the chance to peruse the numerous bike and water sport shops scattered throughout town to find out your options.

Hike around Riva del Garda

Nestled among stunning mountains, Riva del Garda beckons hikers with a plethora of trails just a stone’s throw away. Monte Brioni boasts a renowned circular route, while Punta Larici offers breathtaking vistas from its lofty summit (but beware, it’s not for the faint of heart). For a gentler trek with equally spectacular views of Riva and the lake, journey to the Santa Barbara Chapel. The options are endless, so take your pick and let the mountains guide your adventure!

Where to stay in Riva del Garda

Riva del Garda has great hotels for all types of budget. However, the best cost-benefit in town may be offered by Hotel Benacus Panoramic, where we stayed for two nights. We found the service and views at the hotel simply great. And the pool is just what the doctor ordered in warm summer days!

Although decoration and styling could be upgraded, the rooms were recently renovated and are really comfortable. Breakfast is really good and included in the price, which is a plus. The hotel sits on top of a hill, so I wouldn’t recommend booking it if you are not renting a car to explore Lake Garda. But if you’re, I truly cannot think of a better stay in Riva del Garda for less than 100€ a night!

Please note we paid for our stay and never had contact with the hotel’s management or marketing team. This is a 100% reliable and honest recommendation, as we were very pleased with their service and structure. To support us, please book using our affiliate link. We may earn a small commission and you won’t pay extra for your booking. It’s a win-win, thanks in advance!

Best hotels in Riva del Garda

If you’re not quite convinced on booking Hotel Benacus Panoramic for your stay in Riva del Garda, let me present you with alternatives for different budgets. These are the best hotels in Riva del Garda:

If you’re visiting during summer, make sure to book a hotel with air conditioner. Not only in Riva del Garda, but in Italy in general. Surprisingly enough, rooms with ac are not a given, so do take the second to double check before making your reservation.

Best restaurants Riva del Garda

Our absolute favorite restaurant in Riva del Garda was Leon d’Oro. A true gem located in the cutest street in town featuring indoor and outdoor seats. Their menu is extensive and caters very well for gluten free diets. It was there I had the best gluten-free pizza in the whole trip, with crusty home made dough. The tartufatta flavor was to die for!

If you only have time to visit one restaurant in Riva del Garda, I recommend you make Leon d’Oro the one. However, there are some other great alternatives in case you’re planning to spend more time in town or prefer to try a different option:

  • Villino Beach, close to the lake with authentic italian dishes in their menu
  • Hostaria Al Buongusto with a beautiful rooftop and delicious dishes in their meny
  • Ristorante Pizzeria Bella Napoli with great pizza and a very genuine set-up
  • La Caneva Bistrot with a romantic atmosphere and great menu

Conclusions and general tips

After having traveled extensively through Italy, I can confidently say Riva del Garda is one of the most beautiful towns in the country. It doesn’t have the medieval atmosphere of some, or the famous landmarks of others. But the dramatic landscape comprised of imposing mountains and a gorgeous lake is hard to beat. If you are headed to Lake Garda, I’d definitely recommend planning at least a day in Riva. The charm and authenticity of this place will blow your mind.

Here are some practical tips for you:

  • Riva is best explored on foot or bike, so make sure to leave your car at the hotel. If you’re not staying the night or have booked a hotel far from the city center, you may rely on one of the town’s parking lots.
  • Be aware it can be tricky to find parking spot, especially during busy season. In our experience, Parcheggio Terme Romane and Parcheggio ex ospedale seemed the most available ones in Riva del Garda.
  • In Riva del Garda, the crowds are fewer and the landscapes more dramatic than in the south of Garda.
  • Due to its proximity to the Dolomites, it’s worth setting aside 1 or 2 days in your itinerary to explore is a perfect destination to combine with the region.
  • The distance to Riva del Garda from Milan and Venice are very similar, so both airports should be considered when planning your trip to the north of Italy!

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