Thinking about venturing off the beaten path in Italy and exploring the Dolomites mountains? You won’t regret it. This complete guide to the Dolomites in Italy has all the information you need!
If you’re eyeing a trip to the Dolomites in Italy, this guide is your best friend. It’s an easy-to-read overview of all the things you might need to know to visit the gorgeous northern Italian Alps. The Dolomites are a massive mountain range in northern Italy with stunning views, quaint villages, a unique culture, and tons of outdoor activities.
The Dolomite Mountains are best known for their breathtaking peaks and top-notch skiing. But every season of the year offers a different experience for outdoor activities here! The summer offers emerald-colored valleys with snowy peaks in the background, as well as sunny days that are perfect for hiking.
For those who love history and experience local cultures, you’ll want to visit Dolomite villages and towns, each with unique traditions and attractions. There are beautiful medieval buildings, war museums, fabulous food, and more.
To many, the Dolomites are a hidden gem of Italy, a part of the country you never considered before. For others, it’s been on your bucket list for a long time and it’s time to plan that trip! So, keep reading for my ultimate guide to the Dolomites, Italy.
What are the Dolomites
You might hear them called Dolomiti in Italian. The Dolomite Mountains (or Dolomite Alps) are a mountain range in northeastern Italy. You have to see them in person to really understand their beauty. There are towering spires, intimidating cliff faces, snow-covered plateaus, and pale-blue glaciers. You’ll also find the most beautiful lakes in Italy here.
Such a well-preserved area both for nature and history, the Dolomites were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. The Dolomites are an impressive place with 18 prominent peaks and over 2,000 mountains (those are just the ones that are named). The tallest peak is Marmolada, reaching over 3,000 meters or almost 11,000 feet.
Because of the dramatic landscape, the Dolomites are popular with adventure travelers all year round. But the area offers all kinds of outdoor activities for people of all skill levels! Some of the most popular are skiing, rock climbing, and hiking.
Another name for the mountain range is the “Pale Mountains,” because they’re made up of light grayish dolomite. This is a soft, carbonate rock that also gives the range its name. The Dolomites are also part of the greater Southern Limestone Alps that make up much of the Alps in Austria.
Where Are the Dolomites in Italy?
The Dolomite Mountains cover 350,000 acres from the Sugana Valley in Trentino and South Tyrol all the way north to the Italian/Austrian border. On your travels, you might even feel like you’re in Austria, and there’s a reason for that! Besides technically being in the Alps and sharing a border with Austria, South Tyrol and Trentino were once part of Austria, not Italy.
At end of World War 1, the regions of South Tyrol and most of Trentino became part of Italy but maintained strong independence from the rest of the country. In fact, the Dolomites are very culturally different than any other part of Italy. Most people from the area speak German as a first language, with Italian being their second. Because of this history, you’ll visit villages that are more Austrian than Italian in culture and appearance.
You can learn more about the different languages spoken in Italy, where, and why.
When to Visit the Dolomite Mountains
The best time to visit the Dolomites will depend on what you want to do. Summer and Winter are the peak seasons, with Summer definitely being the high season with the best weather. The wintertime offers lots of snow which is perfect for skiing. There are over 30 ski areas in the mountains with some of the best conditions for skiing and snowboarding. And the summer months are considered the best time for a variety of mountain activities like rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, hang gliding, and more.
It’s important to know that the weather in Dolomites Italy can change quickly. So, it’s best to be prepared and stay up to date on weather conditions during your visit. You can expect snowfall from December through March or April, but the mountains can experience first frosts and icy roads as early as August! So pack accordingly and be prepared for any kind of weather.
Spring and fall are beautiful in the Dolomites, but they’re short and unpredictable. Things don’t thaw out fully until late May or even mid-June in some places, and then you may have mud. The warmest months are July through September when the weather is steady and dry.
When to Visit to Avoid Crowds
The Dolomite Mountains are a beloved vacation destination for Austrians, Germans, the French, and Italians, too. The Dolomites aren’t considered a hidden gem of Italy because they’re unknown, but because they’re not as well-known with the English and Americans. However, that’s starting to change with more exposure online.
If you want to avoid crowds and come for the mildest Dolomite Italy weather, aim for the shoulder seasons. This would be May through June or October through November. It’s still cool during this time, but it’s still nice enough for outdoor excursions without snow. The last time we were in the Dolomites, it was September and the weather was absolutely perfect. We got some threatening clouds, which were stunning, but never did get rain or snow.
How to Get to the Dolomites
Figuring out how to get to the Dolomites can be a little bit tricky. You can’t exactly, just take a fast train there and explore one city, as you can in Rome, Florence, or Venice. It will require a little more planning on your part, but will definitely be worth it for those beautiful views of the famous mountain peaks!
Bolzano (Bolzen) is considered the “Gateway to the Dolomites” and it’s where most people start their time in the Dolomite Mountains. It’s the capital city of South Tyrol and all train and bus routes go there. Bolzano is also the closest Dolomite city to many other major Italian cities. The next biggest town is Cortina d’Ampezzo and it’s another place many people go.
Bolzano has a small airport, but a lot of airlines don’t even fly into it. You’re better off looking at the airports in Venice, Verona, or Milan. I recommend the Venice Marco Polo or Treviso Airports for the easiest time. But it’s nice to have options because you can compare rates and find the lowest prices.
Most people use the network of trains and buses to transverse the Dolomites. The major trains are Trenitalia and the highspeed Italo, and the best buses are through FlixBus. Read my guide to train travel in Italy to book the best rates and routes.
Times and Prices to Bolzano from Major Italian Cities
Let’s say you fly into a major Italian city. For our purposes, we’ll look at travel time and how much you’ll pay to get to Bolzano by train.
- Bologna to the Dolomites: 2.5 to 3 hours, less than $30 USD
- Verona to Dolomites: 90 minutes to 3 hours, less than $20 USD
- Venice to Dolomites: 3 to 4 hours, less than $30 USD
- Milan to Dolomites: 3 to 5 hours, less than $50 USD
Getting Around the Dolomite Mountains
The Dolomites are massive, and you’ll have to decide what’s the best way for you to get around. Keep reading for all your options.
Dolomite Italy by Train and Bus
Trains and buses are a popular way to travel in Italy, and in most places, they’re great options! In the Dolomites, they’ll get you to Bolzano and Cortina d’Ampezzo. From there, you can transfer to local buses. But even then, a lot of the little mountain towns and villages, including some ski resort towns, don’t have bus routes. Then you’ll have to rent a car or book a private transfer to get there.
However, if you’re coming to the Dolomites in winter, after the first freeze and aren’t familiar with driving in the mountains, I don’t recommend renting a car. I suggest finding a larger town and from there, exploring smaller towns with bus routes. For example, San Candido (Innichen) is a popular ski and culture town accessible by local routes from Cortina.
Dolomite Italy by Car
If you want to see the smaller, remote villages of the Dolomites, public transit doesn’t go here, so you’ll have to rent a car. Especially if you have younger kids, or if you just want to drive the scenic Great Dolomites Road from Bolzano to Cortina d’Ampezzo, a rental car is a must.
If you plan on renting a car in Italy, make sure you get your International Driving Permit before you leave on your trip. You legally have to have this to rent a car in Italy, so don’t skip this. It’s only $20 and takes about 5 minutes to get. I’ve been denied renting a car because I didn’t have mine.
If you need a rental car because you have kids, make sure to bring any car seats with you. Taxis and private transfers don’t legally require car seats, but rentals do. Age-appropriate car seats are the law for kids less than 150 centimeters tall and weighing less than 36 kilograms, or until 12 years. Rental services will offer to reserve a car seat for you, but I’ve heard too many stories of families showing up and no more car seats being left! Be safe and bring your own if you plan to rent a car.
Also, if there’s a chance at all of the snow or freezing temperatures, double-check that you have snow tires and chains, as well as an emergency car kit. The roads are well maintained and have clear signage in Italian, German, and sometimes English. But no matter how well they’re maintained, conditions can change at a drop of a hat in the mountains!
Hiking in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are a nature lovers’ dream. You can hike between many of the small towns in the Dolomite Mountains. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails for all skill levels, including miles of paved and gravel walkways. For the most skilled hikers and rock climbers, there are the vie ferrate. But don’t attempt one of these historic rock paths unless you know what you’re doing! There are many ferrata routes, but you should plan to go with a guide for safety.
Before your hike, do your research and read descriptions by people who have done the trail before you. I love apps like AllTrails. Some easy hikes in the Dolomites still require you to be okay with heights! There are many hikes with deep gorges and sheer cliff. Doing research will also help you decide if a hike is legal and on public land, or on protected or private land (which is something you should always avoid).
Accessibility in the Dolomites Italy
If you’re a person who uses a wheelchair, you’ll be happy to know that Italy does a decent job with accessible buses and trains. Your best bet might be to reserve accessible spaces at least 24 hours in advance of your trip. And for accessible hotels in the Dolomites, you’ll find them in all the major towns.
You can find Dolomite tours for wheelchair users and those with reduced mobility. Accessible Italian Holiday provides transportation to accessible locations within the Dolomites and across Italy. Besides tours, they offer recommendations for accessible hotels and mobility equipment rentals.
Monte Lagazuoi is a popular destination for wheelchair users who want views. It’s 2 hours by car from Bolzano. You’ll take a cable car to the refugio at the summit, where you can choose from different wheelchair-accessible trails.
Transferring between trains and buses in the Dolomite Mountains can make traveling with a stroller very tricky. If you depend on strollers, you might prefer going with a rental car or private transfers.
When you’re looking for things to do in the Dolomites, you’ll find plenty of stroller-friendly trails that are paved or gravel-based around Cortina di’Ampezzo and the nearby village of Siusi (Seis am Schlern).
The Dolomites as a Day Trip
Can you see the Dolomite Mountains on a day trip? It’s definitely an option! The Dolomites are massive, and it’s best done over at least a week! However, time doesn’t always allow for a longer visit. Perhaps you’re going to be in Venice and want to dip your toes into the Dolomites before committing to a bigger trip.
Venice is a popular city to start a short trip to the Dolomites. It’s an easy 2.5 hours to Cortina d’Ampezzo by car, train, or bus. Once you’re in Cortina, there are the ski slopes in the winter and scenic hikes in the summer. You can explore local art galleries, museums, shops, and restaurants.
Cortina is also where the Great Dolomites Road (or Grande Strada delle Dolomiti) begins! This famous route runs between Bolzano and Cortina d’Ampezzo., covering three popular mountain passes. This route takes about 3-hours to cover 140 kilometers, though it’s best seen by stopping at scenic points, museums, and villages along the way! I suggest driving the Great Dolomites Road during the shoulder seasons to avoid road congestion and adverse weather.
If you prefer, you take a small-group tour for a day trip to Cortina d’Ampezzo. Leave the planning up to those who know the area better and just enjoy the experience! On this tour, you’ll have time in Cortina to shop, eat, and explore. Then enjoy a nature walk with views of Tre Cime di Lavaredo and Lago di Misurina before you head back to Venice!
The Italian Dolomites by Air
A land of towering peaks and sweeping valleys like the Dolomite Mountains is stunning from any viewpoint, but for the best views of the Dolomites, head to the air! One of the most popular ways to see northeastern Italy from above is by hot air balloon.
In the first half of January, the village of Dobbiaco (Toblach) near San Candido hosts the Dolomites Balloon Festival. The 8-day event is free to the public. Come watch colorful balloons fill the skies or book a hot air balloon ride! Get a look at the mountains crowning the Alta Pusteria Valley, one of the most beautiful places in the Dolomites.
Or for a bird’s eye view any time of the year, thrill seekers can go paragliding in Val Gardena. This gorgeous alpine valley outside of Bolzano is the perfect place to experience unobstructed views. Enjoy sights like the Torri del Sella and Puez-Odle Nature Park.
Anyone can paraglide, beginning as young as 4 years! Gardena Fly offers both tandem flights and single-rider flights. You can take tours in the summer or the winter, with much more variety in experience and flight length during the summer.
Where to Stay in the Dolomites Italy
There are so many choices when it comes to the best hotels in the Dolomites. You’ll find resorts and hotels for every budget and experience. There are wellness retreats, chalets, refugios, and vacation rentals as well. You can stay at mountain resort spas, family-centric hotels, or ski lodges. And honestly, all of them are high-quality stays. The hard part is actually narrowing down which one to pick!
My suggestion? Base yourself at 1 or even 2 different hotels in the larger towns, like Bolzano or Cortina d’Ampezzo. This way, you can experience a few of the best stays, and then spend your days exploring the smaller villages and sights from there. Also, during the peak seasons (winter and summer), book well in advance. Remember that the Dolomites are a popular tourist destination, and rooms fill up fast!
Enjoy all the creature comforts of home at this elegant Art Nouveau-style Dolomites hotel built in 1910! Parkhotel Laurin is located in the heart of Bolzano, the “Gateway to the Dolomites.” It’s steps away from the train station and close to the town square. You can enjoy pools and gardens or sit by the fire of the Laurin Bar in the winter.
Choose between handsome rooms and suites. Rooms, public spaces, and gardens all feature modern paintings and sculptures. This is a pet-friendly, child-friendly hotel with child-safety gear available and on-site amenities just for the little ones.
Faloria Mountain Spa Resort
Outdoor adventure travel and wellness culture often go hand in hand. If you’re seeking a luxury spa resort with a prime location, consider the Faloria Mountain Spa Resort. You’ll find this beautiful stay just south of Cortina, and guests can enjoy complimentary shuttles to and from the ski lifts there!
Everything about this resort is calm, with minimalist alpine interiors that combine clean lines of modern design with natural local materials. After a day in the mountains, enjoy saunas, steam baths, pools, Turkish baths, massages, and more. The resort boasts a wonderful European cuisine restaurant, as well as countless amenities to make your stay memorable.
Apartments Im Winkl
Sometimes the best place to stay in the Dolomites is one of the many highly rated aparthotel vacation rentals you’ll find, like the Apartments Im Winkl in Brunico. Aparthotels are a great way to get away from the crowds and enjoy having an entire place to yourself. But you can still enjoy some of the perks of staying at a hotel like 24/7 concierge services and daily hot breakfast delivery.
You’ll feel right at home in the apartments with room for 1 to 5 people, depending on your booking. Each unit comes with a full kitchen, dining room, living space, and either mountain or garden views. You’ll also have access to outdoor grills and picnic areas, as well as laundry services, ski storage, and free parking.
5 Must-See Dolomites Towns from South to North
Because of the area’s unique history, towns in Dolomites Italy often have 2 names! One is the German name and then there’s the Italian equivalent. Sometimes you’ll see them referred to by a hyphenated version of the 2. Note the German name in parentheses in many places in this post.
Looking at a map of the Dolomites, you’ll find large towns surrounded by clusters of smaller mountain villages. A popular way to explore multiple towns is to set up camp in one place and visit different villages over several days. There are so many special towns in the Dolomites, but these are my pick for the 5 best places in the Dolomites!
Bolzano, Italy has many claims to fame. Besides being called the “Gateway to the Dolomites,” it’s also a great place to spend Christmas in Italy. The Christmas markets here are a must. The town is also famous for being home to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, which features Ötzi the Iceman, a mummy found in the Dolomite glaciers that dates back to 3300 BC.
One of the best places to see in the Dolomites, you can enjoy the town’s beautiful piazzas, parks, and churches. There are historic landmarks, a fascinating mix of Italian and German architecture, and great restaurants.
The mountain village of Canazei is in the Val di Fassa, just 90 minutes by car from Cortina d’Ampezzo. It’s an idyllic alpine German village with Marmolada towering overhead. Everywhere you look in this town are elaborately decorated buildings, flower-lined streets, and alpine forests with mountains beyond them!
The town itself is adorable, but a big appeal of Canazei is its location near some of the best hiking and skiing in the Dolomite Mountains. You’re near the scenic trails of Passo Sella and the Rosengarten Nature Park. You can take cable cars up to the summits of Marmolada for panoramic views.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is super popular. First of all, it offers some of the very best ski areas in Europe. Also, Cortina hosted the Olympics in 1956 and will host them again in 2026! This is a winter sports wonderland, but it’s wonderful throughout the year with high-end hotels, museums, art galleries, fine dining, and luxury shopping.
Cortina is amazing for scenic hikes and is where you’ll find some of the most famous vie ferrate, including Ivano Dibona. Or you can hike a variety of trails to see the stunning alpine lakes and waterfalls throughout the Ampezzo Valley.
The medieval town of Brunico is one place you’ll want to pick up a postcard! Imagine spiers of a golden-yellow Catholic church rising above orange-tile roofs with rolling meadows and gray mountains in the background. This is Old Town Brunico.
Set in the northern Puster Valley, Brunico is known for the many ski slopes of Kronplatz. Top-rated hotels and resorts dot the valley around town in this popular vacation area of the Dolomites. You can also find historical museums, the 13-century Bruneck Castle, and great shopping.
Vipiteno is the northernmost town on my list. A visit to this charming place must include a stroll down the Via Citta Nuova, the main street in town. It shines with cobblestone streets lined with colorful medieval buildings, shops, food stalls, and street-side cafes. At one end of the street is a striking Renaissance-era clock tower.
In the winter, Vipiteno is a magical place trimmed with twinkle lights and frost. There’s a great Christmas market that takes over the town center, as well. During the warmer months, you can find many easy nature walks to waterfalls throughout the area.
The Best Lakes in the Dolomites
Especially if you’re visiting in warmer months, you’ll want to make visiting the lakes in the Dolomites a priority. The gorgeous glacial waters are some of the most iconic views in Italy. Here are some of the most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites:
Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee)
This is probably the most well known Dolomites lake, also known as Pragser Wildsee. Remember how we talked about German being used up here? Some lakes will have two and even three names due to the amount of languages spoken in Italy.
If you’re planning a trip to the Dolomites, Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee) is undoubtedly an absolute must-see! With its mesmerizing emerald-green waters surrounded by majestic mountains and awe-inspiring reflections, this stunning lake will take your breath away. This picturesque setting also features a historic hotel, wooden boathouse and colorful rowing boats that offer visitors incredible photo opportunities for memories that will last forever. In fact, Lake Braies has quickly gained immense popularity in recent years as one of the most photogenic destinations in all of Italy. Don’t miss out on experiencing this paradise – make sure it’s part of your Itinerary!
Visiting Lake Braies is a breeze and doesn’t require any strenuous hiking. However, we still suggest taking the short loop around the lake as it’s definitely worth your time! Additionally, renting a boat should be on everyone’s Dolomites bucket list – although pricey, it will surely bring you unforgettable memories! It will cost you around $30 USD to rent one of the wooden row boats for an hour.
I recommend arriving at Braies Lake around 7:30 in the morning to beat the crowds and traffic that tend to crowd this place. The lake is nice and serene in the morning before any boats have touched the water.
Lago di Carezza (Karersee)
One of the most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites, this is another easy stop and located close to the road. There’s not too much to do here other than enjoy the view. If you have time, there’s a nice loop around the lake that’s about 1 mile long.
Lago di Dobbiaco (Toblacher See)
This is another lake in the Dolomites that’s easy to access due to its location near a popular road. Like Lago die Braies, which is close to this lake, you can rent paddle boats, walk around the lake, and enjoy the views. Park at the car park and walk about 5 minutes in.
Lago di Misurina (Misurinasee)
This gorgeous lake is located off the road on the way to the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike. You’ll even be able to spy the Tre Cime peaks from here. You can take the loop around the lake, which is about 1.5 miles, or rent a paddle boat.
A Dolomites Must: Hiking
Skiing is king in Italy’s northeast, but in my opinion, a must-do in the Dolomites is hiking. That’s because of the sheer variety and range of hiking trails that you can find in the Dolomite Mountains. There’s everything from easy alpine lake loops to mountain pass hikes that take a week to complete. You can climb summits or circle mountains. Some people spend months hiking the Dolomites and never see half of the trails!
Hiking in the Dolomites is accessible for all skill levels and mobilities. There are paved pathways for low-impact nature walks, strollers, wheelchair users, and cyclists. You’ll find gravel paths and clearly defined dirt paths. There are also rock scrambles and then the infamous via ferratas (which are more free climbing rocks than a hike!).
If you’re new to the Dolomites, I recommend starting with an easy day hike with stunning views like the iconic Lago di Braies Hike. It’s a 2.5-mile loop and makes for amazing photos. You can find many similar hikes around alpine lakes in the Dolomites. Or you can find tons of Dolomite hiking tours, like this private hiking tour near Bolzano.
More of the Best Things to do in the Dolomites
On the list of Dolomites things to do, Skiing is the most popular! The mountain range has a vast ski region with over 30 ski resorts and areas. It’s super popular with Europeans on vacation and can get pretty busy, but with so many different resorts, you’ll find the one for you. The best areas are Kronplatz and Val Gardena, and the highest trails are at Marmolada. If you want to snowboard, you’ll just want to make sure that you go to a ski resort where that’s an option.
Everyone can go mountain biking in the Dolomites! There are trails for all skill levels, and most hotels, resorts, and some smaller rentals even offer complimentary bike rentals. For a relaxing, scenic ride, try the paved Pustertal Cycle Path. Or for skilled mountain bikers looking for a thrill, you’ll love the Latemar Circuit in Eggen Valley.
Try the Food
Italy is all about food, and the Dolomites are no exception. The Italian classics, like pasta dishes, gelato, and pizza, are essential on any vacation to Italy. But in the Dolomites, you also have the influence of South Tyrol and Austria! Make sure to take time for specialties like apple strudel, kaisesmarren, and venison.
Visit the Christmas Markets
One of the best things to see in the Dolomites in the wintertime is the many Christmas markets found in every mountain village! These German-style Christmas markets are part of the Dolomites’ unique culture. During the entire month of December, you can find markets with Christmas carolers, ice sculpture contests, artisan stalls, sleigh rides, and more. I suggest at least checking out the Christmas markets in Bolzano and Merano.
Explore the Many Museums
If you’re a history buff looking for what to do in the Dolomites, you could create a Dolomites itinerary around all the different museums. Take lifts to the top of Marmolada and visit the Museum of the Great War, or find a dozen more war museums in mountain villages. There’s the Museum of Natural History in Bolzano with the well-preserved Ötzi the Iceman. Or learn about the unique Ladin people of the Dolomites in Vigo di Fassa at the Ladin Cultural Institute.
FAQ about the Dolomites in Italy
Are the Dolomite Mountains worth visiting?
If you love mountains, outdoor activities, and history, a trip to the Dolomites is definitely worth it! There are dozens of ski resorts, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and so many more outdoor things to do. Everywhere you turn there are majestic mountain views and rolling green meadows.
How many days do you need in the Dolomites?
The Dolomite Mountains cover a massive area. I recommend taking 7 to 10 days if you can. Base yourself in Bolzano or Brunico. From here you can head to the slopes, visit smaller mountain villages, and enjoy local attractions.
Is Milan or Venice closer to the Dolomites?
Milan is almost twice as far from the Dolomites as Venice is. Venice is one of the closest major cities in Italy to the Dolomites. If you’re flying in, I suggest Venice’s Marco Polo or Treviso Airports. And you can reach the popular Cortina d’Ampezzo ski area in less than 2 hours by train from Venice.
Overwhelmed? Get My Complete Guide to Italy
Now you have a better idea of what the Dolomites in Italy have to offer! The Dolomites are famous for views that leave you speechless and for some of the best hiking in the world. But there’s so much more, including year-round outdoor activities, fascinating cultural groups, and world-class hotels and resorts.
The Dolomite Mountains are a vast place that can be overwhelming if you’re new to the area, but I hope my guide has helped you start planning! If you need more help, get my complete guide to Italy.
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