Salò, what to see: 10 places not to miss

What to see in Salò: ten must-see sights in the charming town on Lake Garda.

On the shores of Lake Garda lies the charming Salò, located on the western shore of the lake, a destination that enchants visitors with its well-kept historic center, lake views, long history, and location: surrounded by a backdrop of majestic hills and mountains, Salò offers beautiful views that combine with a number of places of considerable cultural and historical interest. The history of Salò spans centuries of change and development, bearing witness to the evolution of the area from its origin to the present day. The first traces of human presence in the area date back to the prehistoric era, but it was during the Roman period that Salodium began to gain importance as a center of trade and commerce. However, one of the most significant periods in Salò’s history was the Middle Ages, when it was the capital of a small federal state of towns overlooking Lake Garda (the “Magnifica Patria”), which lasted until 1797, although it was subject from time to time to foreign rulers. The city thus became an important port on the lake and an administrative center. But the certainly most discussed chapter in Salò’s history is the period of the Italian Social Republic (RSI), the puppet government established under the aegis of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime. During the final years of World War II, Salò became the capital of the RSI and housed the government and its officers. Today, Salò, once again a major tourist resort in the area, enchants visitors with its picturesque beauty, charming historic center, and sparkling lake that stretches out in front of the town. A walk along Salò’s cobblestone streets will take visitors through historic squares, boutiques, restaurants serving local delicacies, and artisanal ice cream parlors. The city then offers numerous activities for sports enthusiasts, from sailing to trekking in the surrounding hills. In addition, its strategic location on Lake Garda makes it an ideal starting point for exploring other fascinating locations along the lake. What to see in the center of Salò and its immediate surroundings? Here are the ten places not to be missed!

1. The Cathedral of Salò

The Cathedral of Salò, dedicated to Santa Maria Annunziata, is one of the architectural and spiritual jewels of this fascinating city on Lake Garda, but it is also one of the most interesting buildings of worship in all of Lombardy. Located in the heart of Salò’s historic center, the cathedral dates back to the 15th century, when it was built in the late Gothic style starting in 1453 to a design by Filippo dalle Vacche. The exterior of the Duomo is characterized by its gabled facade decorated with a splendid portal (the work of 1506-1508 by Gaspare Cairano and Antonio Mangiacavalli, important Lombard sculptors of the Renaissance) surmounted by a rose window. The interior holds many fine works of art including the spectacular Ancona di Salò, a wooden polyptych housing statues of ten saints, made in the late 15th century by Pietro Bussolo. Also worth seeing are the Madonna between Saints Bonaventure and Sebastian and St. Anthony of Padua and a donor by Romanino, Paolo Moerich’s Crucifix, and Zenone Veronese’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ.

The Cathedral of Salò
The Cathedral of Salò. Photo: Wolfgang Moroder

2. The church of San Bartolomeo

Located in the hillside hamlet of the same name, 480 meters above sea level, this is a small church with a single nave and a gabled facade, an important testimony to the art and religiosity that characterize this area of Lake Garda. It is distinguished by its very simple structure, made of local stone: the only decorative element on the facade is the oculus that opens above the portal. The interior preserves an altarpiece depicting the Madonna in Glory between Saints Bartholomew and James, the work of Garda painter Giovanni Andrea Bertanza. Also of interest are the two canvases flanking it, depicting Saints Catherine and John Nepomuceno, attributed by some to Andrea Celesti.

The Church of St. Bartholomew
The church of San Bartolomeo. Photo: Wolfgang Moroder

3. The MUSA

The MUSA (Museum of Salò) is a must-see for lovers of art, history and culture visiting the city on Lake Garda. The museum is housed within a historic building, the Santa Giustina complex, and is dedicated to the history of the city and its artistic evolution through the ages. It is designed to offer visitors an immersive experience that will take them on a journey through time, allowing them to discover Salò’s cultural and artistic roots. The different exhibition rooms are organized in chronological order, allowing visitors to follow the path of Salò’s history from its founding to modern days. It begins with the “Anton Maria Mucchi” Civic Archaeological Museum, which preserves artifacts found in Salò and its surroundings; it continues with sections on the late Middle Ages, on Venetian Salò (works by Palma il Giovane, Zenone Veronese, Sante Cattaneo), that on the great luthier Gaspare da Salò, the section on the city between the 19th and 20th centuries (the history of Salò is intertwined with that of Gabriele D’Annunzio), and then the section, opened in June 2023, on the period of the Italian Social Republic (RSI), when Salò was the capital. This section offers an opportunity to delve into the historical context and better understand the events of those complex times. The itinerary is completed by the Museo Storico del Nastro Azzurro (dedicated to 200 years of wars) and the Civica Raccolta del Disegno, with works by artists such as Lucio Fontana and Emilio Vedova.


4. Victory Square

Victory Square is the main square in the historic center of Salò, directly overlooking the shores of Lake Garda. The square is dominated by the imposing presence of the Palazzo della Magnifica Patria and the Palazzo del Podestà and has an open and airy conformation: the benches, cafes, and restaurants surrounding the square offer outdoor seating, perfect for enjoying the atmosphere and the view of the lake. In the center of the square stands the war memorial, a 1930 work by sculptor Angelo Zanelli, to whom another square in the city center is dedicated.

Victory Square
Victory Square. Photo: Wolfgang Moroder

5. The Palace of the Magnifica Patria

It is located in Victory Square and is the main palace of administrative power in Salò. The Palazzo della Magnifica Patria is a sumptuous structure with Renaissance origins (it was built in the 16th century), although it has been remodeled over the centuries. It was initially the place where the General Council of the Magnifica Patria met (the Sala del Gran Consiglio, decorated with a vast coffered ceiling and a fresco by Giovanni Andrea Bertanza depicting St. Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of Salò, recalls Salò’s glorious past). Inside the palace is a bust by Angelo Zanelli depicting violin maker Gaspare da Salò, believed to be the inventor of the violin. The atrium, on the other hand, is decorated with frescoes by Angelo Landi. Today, the palace is home to Salò’s town hall.

The Palace of the Magnificent Fatherland
The Palace of the Magnifica Patria. Photo: Visit Garda

6. The Church of the Visitation

The Church of the Visitation has 18th-century origins and is an important spiritual and cultural landmark for the local community and for visitors wishing to explore Salò’s rich religious history. It is located in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and was built by the nuns of the Order of the Visitation of Saint Mary between 1712 and 1715. It is distinguished by its neat façade executed, like the entire building, to a design by Antonio Spiazzi (although it was not built until 1825, with a slight modification from the original design: in fact, the four niches were added to house the statues of Saints Augustine, Francis de Sales, Joan Frances de Chantal and Margaret Mary Alacoque). Inside one can admire the beautiful altarpiece of the Visitation, a masterpiece by Marcantonio Franceschini, the high altar by Giuseppe Cantone, and the spectacular fresco decorating the presbytery vault, a Glory of the Trinity by Giovanni Antonio Cappello, a Brescian painter active in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The Church of the Visitation
The Church of the Visitation. Photo: Wolfgang Moroder

7. The church of San Giovanni Decollato

A house of worship with very ancient origins (the present church was built on the site of an 8th-century building), the church of San Giovanni Decollato, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, dates back to the 14th century but was extensively remodeled in the 18th century. It is located in Piazza Zanelli, in the heart of the center of Salò, and is surprising for its external appearance: in fact, the facade has a very irregular shape and blends in among the stores on Via San Carlo, the main street of the historic center. Inside one can admire the altarpiece of the Beheading of the Baptist, a Renaissance work by Zenone Veronese, under which one can admire a medieval fresco that has a special history, since in ancient times it was on the façade of a house near the church: the wall that housed it collapsed due to a fire and the fresco miraculously remained intact, which is why it was brought to the church. The church of St. John Decollate then has another peculiarity: the very rich collection of relics.

The Church of St. John Decollate
The church of San Giovanni Decollato. Photo: Garda Museums

8. Villa Simonini

Also known as Villa Isabella, it is an elegant mansion built in the early 20th century by the Simonini family, who had it decorated with frescoes by the best local artists of the time, such as Angelo Landi and Cesare Bertolotti. It was one of the most important buildings of the period of the Italian Social Republic, since it was the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was then bought in the 1960s by hotelier Franco Rossi, who turned it into one of the most beautiful hotels in the area, Hotel Laurin. Even today it is still one of the busiest hotels on Lake Garda and has kept its twentieth-century atmosphere intact, albeit with the obvious modernizations to follow the needs of the market: however, one can still see the splendid Art Nouveau interiors and early twentieth-century frescoes.

Villa Simonini
Villa Simonini. Photo: Hotel Laurin

9. The Clock Tower

The Porta dell’Orologio, also known as the “Clock Tower,” is one of the symbols of Salò. This imposing tower, which constituted the entrance from the west to the city, not only served a practical function of telling the time, but also a symbolic function in the historical and cultural fabric of Salò: in fact, the Lion of St. Mark is depicted on the gate, indicating the period when Salò and the Magnifica Patria were subject to Venetian rule. Dating back to the 13th century, the gate was later remodeled in the following centuries (its current appearance is 17th-century): the clock, for example, was added in the 17th century, and what was once known as the “Porta della Fossa” later became the “Porta Nuova” or the “Porta dell’Orologio.”

The Clock Tower
The Clock Tower. Photo: Wolfgang Moroder

10. The Giuseppe Zanardelli lakefront

The Giuseppe Zanardelli lakefront is a fascinating promenade that winds along the shores of Lake Garda in the city of Salò. This lakefront offers residents and visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the lake and enjoy a pleasant walk along a scenic route. The lakefront is named after Giuseppe Zanardelli, from Brescia, a prominent political figure in 19th-century Italy, minister of Grace and Justice, minister of Public Works, and later also president of the council (the statue on the lakefront celebrating him is by Angelo Zanelli). The lakeside promenade offers spectacular views of Lake Garda. As you walk along the path, you can enjoy panoramic views of the lake waters and surrounding mountains. This peaceful and serene place is ideal for a relaxing walk, jogging, sitting and admiring the scenery, or simply enjoying the scent of fresh lake air. Along the way, you will find benches and spaces suitable for relaxing and taking a break. It is a place where local residents and tourists meet, socialize and enjoy quiet moments.

The Giuseppe Zanardelli lakefront
The Giuseppe Zanardelli lakefront. Photo: InLombardia

Salò, what to see: 10 places not to miss
Salò, what to see: 10 places not to miss

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