Opera, art and sailing - things to do in and around the Italian Lakes

Looking for inspiration in the Italian Lakes? Lisa Gerard-Sharp, our award-winning Italian expert, suggests you link your visit to a major festival or event. From contemporary art in Venice to opera in Verona, here are some of the best events for this summer and beyond…
Aerial View of the Grand Canal with Punta della Dogana
Aerial View of the Grand Canal with Punta della Dogana

Aerial View of the Grand Canal with Punta della Dogana. Photo: Shutterstock

Opera in Verona

The celebrated Arena di Verona summer season attracts thousands of opera buffs to the magnificent Roman amphitheatre. As the setting of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Verona is the most popular city excursion from the Italian Lakes, and is easily accessed from Lake Garda, a day trip that is featured as part of Insight Guides' Enchanting Italian Lakes itinerary. The Arena di Verona is both the best-preserved Roman amphitheatre of its kind and the largest open-air opera venue in the world. This July and August, the Arena will be holding Verona's annual opera festival.  

Verona Arena in a beautiful summer day. Photo: ShutterstockThe Arena di Verona is the largest of its kind on earth. Photo: Shutterstock


Contemporary art in Venice

The Venice Biennale is the other summer blockbuster, as much about the buzz as the art itself. The festival, which runs from May to November, may be sprawling and pretentious but is also chic, challenging and commercial. There is a place for everything, from post-modernist lampshades to erotic photography.

If that leaves you cold, then Venice itself certainly won't.

This jamboree ties in with the new face of Venice, including 'the art mile', the stretch of modern or contemporary art museums that hug the waterfront across from St Mark's.

The Biennale settings range from the pavilions dotted around the Giardini gardens to the monumental buildings in the ancient Arsenale, the historic naval boatyards.

In recent years, the exhibition has spilt out into the centre of the city, including the former salt warehouses and galleries that now line 'the art mile'. The Magazzini del Sale (salt warehouses) helped found 15th-century Venetian fortunes.

Established though the Biennale is, if you haven't been to Venice for a while, you'll notice that the city is far more focused on contemporary art throughout the year.

Set in the former customs house near La Salute, Punta della Dogana is a cutting-edge showcase for contemporary art, belonging to French tycoon François Pinault. Redesigned by Tadao Ando, the ravishing gallery has helped turn this cool stretch of Dorsoduro into the 'art mile', running down to the Guggenheim Collection. The Punta della Dogana gallery forms an integral whole with Palazzo Grassi, further down the Grand Canal, and, for conservative Venice, is a bold new step.

Venice is easily accessible from Lake Garda, but book ahead for hotels during the Biennale. Let us do the hard work for you, and visit Venice as part of a tailor-made trip to Italy, or browse our existing itineraries


A windsurfer pro-rider surfing at high speed on Lake Garda. Photo: ShutterstockA windsurfer pro-rider surfing at high speed on Lake Garda. Photo: Shutterstock

Sailing on Lake Garda

Lake Garda is awash with sailing regattas and windsurfing competitions. Even if you're not a yachting enthusiast, the spectacle of unfurled sails will enliven any stay. The key locations are Torbole and Riva del Garda on the northern part of the lake, and Gargnano in the north-west. Experience Lake Garda as part of our fully customisable Enchanting Italian Lakes itinerary.

Gargnano, one of the prettiest spots on Lake Garda, hosts the Centomiglia yachting regatta in September, and is one of the most exhilarating sailing spectacles of its kind. 

Torbole, tucked into the northern part of the lake, stages the Audi Melges 32 Sailing Series, in mid July. As part of a world series, this major international sailing regatta includes those who compete in the America's Cup. Torbole also stages the Italian National Windsurfing Championships, which is also in mid July. 

Science in Trento 

MUSE, the exciting Science Museum in Trento, represents an event in itself. The museum is readily accessed from Riva del Garda, the northern part of Lake Garda.

Fresh from the success of creating the Shard in London, Western Europe's tallest skyscraper, architect Renzo Piano has followed it up with the MUSE in his native Italy.

The Science Museum is deeply rooted in the Dolomites, presenting glaciers and extreme Alpine experiences as part of its remit. With its jagged, futuristic forms, even the design of the building seems like a tribute to the surrounding mountains. 

The exhibitions are equally exciting. See how it feels to leap from a rock face on a paraglider. You could be pitched into the icy atmosphere of a 3,000-metre peak – or feel as if you are hurtling down snowy slopes like an extreme skier. Touch a glacier with your own hands. Walk through a tropical greenhouse and listen to the sounds of the rainforest. Mingle with dinosaurs in an area that still displays fossilised dinosaur footprints.

This blog was originally published on May 16, 2013. 

Planing your trip to the Italian Lakes

Speak to a local expert about arranging the trip of a lifetime to the Italian Lakes here, or browse our fully customisable Enchanting Italian Lakes itinerary here

If you'd like to read more, visit our online guide or check out our top attractions. We also have a guide to exploring Lake Garda by ferry, boat or dinghy, the Italian Lakes for kids,  the most romantic locations, and a guide to the region's finest wines, and the Lakes on a budget...

Read more:

Best places to go in June, July, August

Best places to go in September, October, November

Get lost in a guidebook: Insight Guides: Italian lakes