Sooner or later it'll happen. If you travel to Lake Garda, someone will suggest you visit the historic city of Sirmione, Italy. And, well, we couldn't agree more.
Yes, Sirmione is that town. As in, the town they visited in Call Me By Your Name where there are Roman ruins and a castle set along impossibly clear turquoise waters.
There are a lot of stunning historic villages to visit when you travel to Italy. But few have the combos of looks, history, geography, gorgeous water, and charm of Sirmione.
Get To Know Sirmione
It's important you know that Sirmione is not unknown. And while we always try to introduce you to places that are a deeper cut and we're all about avoiding classic touristy mistakes and skipping the uber-crowded spots, sometimes the best-known places are deserving of their recognition. And that's very much the case with Sirmione.
Naysayers will tell you there are touristy crowds in midsummer (and they're right), but we don't think that's a reason to 100% skip visiting Sirmione. Rather it just requires you're strategic when you travel there!
The History Of Sirmione
First things first, here's some background. Sirmione isn't merely a quaint Italian town on the southern shore of Lake Garda. But it's a historically and geographically significant place, thanks to its location on the border of Lombardy and Veneto provinces and because it's on a narrow, long peninsula that juts into the lake.
Over the centuries, Sirmione has drawn everyone from intellectuals to nobles including the likes of the poet Catullus and the opera diva Maria Callas. These days visitors flock to visit the old town which, in our opinion, is one of Lake Garda's prettiest historic villages.
Why You Should Travel To Sirmione
One of the things that surprised us most on our first visit to Sirmione? For a town so small, there's a lot to do.
Yes, you could easily day trip to Sirmione and do nothing more than simply walk the town, stroll the lakeside, and grab a bite. But, if we had the means, we'd spend a long weekend in Sirmione holed up at the luxury hotels pampering ourselves with spa services.
Our advice for a first-time visit to Sirmione would be as follows: do an extended day trip. Your Sirmione itinerary could be to arrive early in the morning and visit the historic sites then escape the daytime crowds with a midday spa service and wrap up the day with a classic Italian aperitivo cocktail on the square!
Here's our full list of what to do in Sirmione:
What To Do In Sirmione
Definitely give yourself time to explore the town center for everything from a meal to shopping and some history. If you're into the beach and wellness, you could spend all day in Sirmione walking the lakeside trails and dipping in the thermal baths. Or, if history and culture is a must for you, you can visit the Scaligero Castle, the Roman ruins, or even peek into the house where Maria Callas used to get some R&R. We say do a mix of it all with the following being our top picks:
For Gorgeous Views: Castello Scaligero
The Scaliger Castle is a 13th-century fortress and castle surrounded by water that stands at attention on the southern tip of the historic city center of Sirmione. The castle is known for being one of the best-conserved castles in Italy but we love it because it's surrounded by a turquoise moat and you can climb the steep steps for a not-to-be-missed view of Lake Garda.
For Roman Ruins: The Grottoes Of Catullus
Speaking of "Call Me By Your Name," Sirmione is where they filmed the archaeological dig scenes. Situated at the end of the oh-so skinny Sirmione peninsula are the Roman ruins known as "Grotte di Catullo." The Roman villa dates back to the 1st century B.C. and is one of the best-preserved ancient sites in Northern Italy.
For Relaxation: Thermal Baths "Terme di Sirmione"
One of the reasons people have hung out in Sirmione since Roman times? The thermal baths! There are actually two main sets of thermal baths in Sirmione – the Terme di Catullo in the town and the Terme di Virgilio down the road in Colombare. So, if you have time, definitely spend some at a thermal spa.
For Exploration: Wine Tasting
There are some lesser-known but very much worth your time wine regions nearby. Within an hour you could sip white wines of the Lugana DOC or even head north to the historic reds of Valpolicella. If you're willing to do a full-day trip, you could even drive to Trento or to Franciacorta to try premium sparkling wine. Of course, if you need help arranging that, we're here to help!
For Exploration: Day Trips
Its location on the shores of Lake Garda means that you could do many a day trip from Sirmione. To the west, you could head to the walled city of Bergamo (we love the local shops there!) or you could head into storied Verona for an opera. It's definitely worth it to circumvent the lake by ferry or car to see the nearby towns like Saló, Bardolino, and Lazise. If you have kids in tow, you'll want to make time to visit the beloved amusement park, Gardaland, and its aquarium.
Where To Eat In Sirmione
For High End Food: La Rucola 2.0
This Michelin-starred spot is our favorite option for dining in Sirmione. Though it is definitely the pricier option, it's worth it for the impeccable service and some of the more creative food – Frico Parmigiano popsicles, Szechuan Pink Peppercorn Carbonara Pasta, and Almond Milk and Uni Pasta, to name a few – on Lake Garda.
For Lakefront Dining: Tancredi
This restaurant's location on the lake means you can eat alfresco on the terrace or in their glass-walled dining room and enjoy the view while you dine. Go here for a white tablecloth experience that puts the spotlight on fish and seafood.
For Classic Italian Food: Tavernetta Maria Callas
If La Rucola 2.0 is pushing the envelope on creative food in Sirmione, Tavernetta Maria Callas is a classic as it comes. The service, food, and atmosphere are all on point with a good dose of small-town hospitality.
For Aperitivo With People Watching: Caffe Grand Italia
Hang around Salt & Wind long enough and you probably start to notice that we love ourselves a good aperitivo cocktail. When you visit Sirmione, the place to do aperitivo is at Caffe Grand Italia on the quaint Piazza Carducci. Full disclosure: we go here more for the people watching and the piazza-side tables than for the drinks or food but it's a fun place to relax for a second.
Where To Stay In Sirmione
For Super Classic Villa: Villa Cortine Palace Hotel
Sometimes you gotta go big and grand and over-the-top, we get it. In the case of Sirmione's historic city center, that's when you book a room at the 5-star luxury property, the Villa Cortine Palace Hotel. As the name suggests, this Sirmione hotel was first a villa and then converted into a hotel in the 1950s. Its location at the end of the Sirmione peninsula means it has gorgeous views of Lake Garda that provide direct access to the famous Sirmione thermal waters and a private beach. We're fans of it not only for the service and old-world charm but because the grounds of the sprawling 12-acre property are jaw-dropping.
Chic and Central Hotel: Hotel Eden Sirmione
This 4-star hotel is pretty much the easiest hotel to get to in the historic center of Sirmione because it's just a few strides inside the walled city center. But that alone is not a reason to stay here! It's lakefront terrace, gorgeous views, easy beach access, and central location, however, very much are!
For Modern Vibes: Aqva Boutique Hotel Sirmione
If small, chic, and boutique is your deal, then you'll want to check out this modern 18-room hotel in Sirmione. Its location just outside the historic city center of Sirmione means the Aqva Boutique Hotel is quieter than the other hotels here. Add to it that they have a cute library, a private dock, a gorgeous pool, and free bikes for riding around, and, well, we're fans!
How To Get To Sirmione
The nearest train stations to Sirmione are just under 10 miles in the towns of Peschiera del Garda and Desenzano del Garda. From either train station, you can hop a local bus or grab a taxi to get to the historic center of Sirmione.
If you're staying on Lake Garda, the local ferry is likely the easiest way to get to Sirmione -- especially if you only plan on staying for a few hours.
If you're arriving by car from the west or east (ie Milan or Verona or Venice) you'll want to hop on the A4/E70 highway and then follow the signs for Sirmione Centro Storico (as in the historic part and not the modern town of Sirmione). If you're staying on Lake Garda and driving over, it's easy to get to though it can take a while depending on traffic and weather. There is a ton of parking just outside the historic city center so try to drive as close as you can to the historic city center entrance before parking.
Best Time To Visit
Look, the historic core of Sirmione can get very busy during the high season (July and August) as tons of visitors pour in for day visits. Lake Garda is a playground for not only Italians but also many Northern Europeans (especially Austrians, Swiss, Germans, and Dutch) who travel there. That's not to say that this historic town on Lake Garda isn't worth a visit but, like so many uber-popular spots these days, it can feel like Disneyland if you visit in the midst of the high season.
If you want to visit Sirmione during the high season, we recommend going very early or late in the day as most visitors seem to visit between 10 AM and 4 PM.
Like a lot of smaller towns in Northern Italy, a lot of the main attractions are open seasonally from roughly Easter through October. We suggest you avoid the height of summer and instead visit Sirmione in May, June, September, or October when crowds are gone but the weather is still nice (ie late Spring and early Fall like we do on our Salt & Wind Italy trips).
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Photo Credit: Salt & Wind and Dreamwood