Or maybe you have, but I hadn’t…and that was after living in Europe for almost seven years and traveling fairly extensively in Italy! Sirmione is a historic town on the shores of Lake Garda and is just as charming as can be. The picturesque town center is only accessible via real life castle drawbridge and the narrow streets are just made for wandering. So now that you’ve discovered it, here’s what to do in and around Sirmione!
1) Wander Around the Charming Historic Center
Sirmione is popular with day trippers, so visiting in the shoulder season is a great idea. We went for a long weekend in early September and it was still busy, but not too packed. The town center is fairly small and mostly pedestrian only; cars need a special permit to drive within the center. The highlight of the town is the fairy tale-like 13th century castle. You can go inside the empty castle and climb to the top of the tower for the views!
2) Rent a Boat on Lake Garda
You don’t need a boat license to rent a boat on Lake Garda, and you can rent one for about 60 Euros an hour just outside the historic center, past the drawbridge. It was still warm enough to go for a swim when we went, but after a long day exploring we were happy to just enjoy the views!
3) Visit Gardaland
If you have kids, a nearby theme park called Gardaland will for sure be a highlight for them. There are rides and attractions for all ages and a water area if the weather is warm. There is also a Sea Life Aquarium right next door and you can buy a combi ticket for both if you’re feeling really ambitious! We were lucky that Kellog’s has been having a promotion all summer for different theme parks in the area so we were able to use the 50% off coupon on the back of the cereal box for both Legoland and Gardaland this season, making it much more affordable for a family of four. If you live in the area, look out for this before you go! We met up with a classmate of my older son for the day and the kids had a blast…and my younger son is still talking about “Gargle Land!” 😉
4) Take a Day Trip to Verona
Verona, famous for being the home of the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, is only about a half an hour from Sirmione and makes for a great day trip. The town is just gorgeous with great shopping, cafes, and restaurants. You can also go see the famous balcony of Juliet (not really authentic but established in the 1930’s mostly for tourists). We adored everything about Verona except for the crowds…even in September it was absolutely packed with people. I cannot imagine how crazy it must get in August! If I had the chance to visit again, I’d definitely come in more of the off season to have a chance to explore at a more leisurely pace and not feel like sardines crammed into the narrow pedestrian-only streets! At any rate, it was still a great day trip and parking was easy in paid lots on the edge of the Old Town. We also found our favorite Italian ice cream shop, Grom, so that was also a win!
“Juliet’s Balcony” aka the busiest place in Verona
5) Visit the Pottery Town of Nove
The town of Nove is about an hour from Sirmione and it is a small village famous for their many ceramic factories. Many popular American brands such as Tiffany & Co., William-Sonoma, Lenox, and Banana Republic, source products from different ceramics stores in Nove. Visiting Nove means that you can find pieces that you love at factory prices! We happened to be visiting during the town’s annual ceramic festival so after finding some treasures at a couple of factories, we went downtown to stroll through the tents and enjoy a delicious risotto lunch. The shop with the most variety is La Ceramica VBC and Larry’s is smaller but also a good find. Just check the times before you go…most of the shops close around mid-day on Saturday and are closed all day on Sunday.
I would recommend staying outside of the historic center of Sirmione as it gets so crowded with day trippers. We stayed out in the country side among the vineyards at the lovely Tenuta La Borghetta and I’d recommend it. Family apartments, a pool, breakfast, and the property’s wine on offer…what more could you want?!
We had great food at Il Ciclone and in fact enjoyed it so much that we ate there two nights of our stay…once for proper dinner and once for take away pizza. Both delicious!
If you happen to be coming from Geneva, I’d highly recommend a stop in the Aosta valley for lunch along the way. We stopped right around the halfway mark in a tiny village in Aosta and had an amazing meal at one of those restaurants with no menu, mom in the kitchen and son as the waiter, and it was of course fantastic. We also made a quick stop to admire the Forte di Bard that we always see from the highway when we come to Italy. It definitely helps to break up the drive from Geneva, which is about 5 hours.
There’s so much to do in this area around Lake Garda that you can definitely make a long weekend or week out of it! There’s a nearby mountain, Monte Baldo, that we wanted to take the cable car up to, wineries to visit, and more towns on Lake Garda to explore, but we just didn’t have the time. Maybe to return someday, we hope! So what about you, have you heard of or been to Sirmione? Tell us in the comments!