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The Dolomites, Italy

Dolomites Travel Guide

The Dolomites are a massive mountain range in the Italian Alps in northeastern Italy, stretching across the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia Giulia. In 2009, these mountains were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering a total area of 141,903 hectares. 

The Italian Dolomites are without a question one of the most dramatic alpine destinations in the world. Whether you’re out driving, cycling, skiing, or hiking, you’ll be captivated by the sheer cliffs, vertical walls, craggy pinnacles, karst plateaus, idyllic valleys, and alpine pastures that define the unique landscape of the Dolomiti. 

Here, mountain peaks slash the sky and light up in fiery shades of crimson and violet (Enrosadira). Below the soaring pinnacles, cattle graze on undulating alpine pastures, dotted with huts. This dazzling contrast between rocky mountains and silky meadows is what makes the Dolomites so cinematic. 

For the active traveler, this corner of Italy is heaven on earth. In summer, you can go via ferrata climbing, hut to hut hiking, mountain biking, and paragliding. In winter, you can ski in the largest ski resort in the world, Dolomiti Superski. 

What makes the Dolomites the most premier alpine destination in Europe is the quality of the accommodation and the cuisine (especially in South Tyrol). 

In this Dolomites Travel Guide, you’ll learn about where to go, where to stay, what to see and do, and so much more. If you have any Dolomites travel questions, don’t hesitate to DM us on Instagram @moonhoneytravelers

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Dolomites Travel Guide

Dolomites Travel Guide Overview

  • Dolomites Map: Where to Go in the Dolomites
  • Best Time to Visit the Dolomites
  • Languages Spoken in the Dolomites
  • Dolomites Accommodation 
  • How to get to the Dolomites
  • What to Experience in the Dolomites
  • Where to Hike in the Dolomites
  • What to Eat & Drink in the Dolomites
Dolomites Itinerary
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Pale di San Martino, Italian Dolomites

Dolomites Map

Where to Go in the Dolomites
Sella Group and Cir Peaks, Val Gardena Dolomites

Best Time to Visit the Dolomites

Best Time for Hiking in the Dolomites

The best time to hike in the Dolomites is from the end of June until the end of September. 

That’s when most trails are free of snow. It’s also when mountain huts (hütte, rifugio) and cableways are open. Many hikes in the Dolomites begin or end with an aerial cableway (chairlift, gondola, etc…). And, if you’re planning on getting around by bus, there are more connections and buses running during high season. 

August in the Dolomites

August is a very busy month in the Dolomites. Italians are on vacation, and there are lots of families on popular trails. Weather is generally excellent with the occasional thunderstorm.

September in the Dolomites

September is a wonderful month to hike in the Dolomites. It’s still busy, but not as packed as August. We spent 3 weeks hiking in September, and the weather was great 90% of the time. That other 10% involved a snow blizzard and some rain. Mountain huts are open, cable cars are running, and busses are frequent.

Learn More: Hiking in the Dolomites in September

October in the Dolomites

October is also a promising month to travel to the Dolomites, especially for fall colors. If you decide to travel to the Dolomites in October, we recommend renting a car. Many mountain huts will already be closed for the season, though not all. And, many chairlifts and gondolas will also be closed (by end of September). So, October promises quiet trails, beautiful colors, but with less convenience.

Learn More: Hiking in the Dolomites in October


Best Time for Skiing in the Dolomites

If your aim is to ski, the season begins in December and ends in April.  In November 2019, the ski slopes already opened up in Alta Badia. However, if you’re planning an international trip, stick to January and February to be safe. 


When You Shouldn’t Travel to the Dolomites

Early Spring. Traveling to the Dolomites in May is hit or miss since the weather is unpredictable. It can still snow, but it’s not “ski season.” Because the region’s many chairlifts aren’t in operation, hiking is limited. Also, many hotels and restaurants are closed, making it difficult to find places to eat. 

Late Fall. While early Fall can be a splendid time to visit the Dolomites, you should avoid visiting the Dolomites in November. The hiking season is over and the skiing season has yet to begin.

 
Hiking from Seceda to Col Raiser, Val Gardena Dolomites

What Languages are Spoken in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are located in 5 different provinces (within 3 regions) in Northeastern Italy. One province, South Tyrol (in German: Südtirol; in Italian: Alto Adige), was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to World War I.

German continues to be the primary language spoken in this region. When traveling and hiking through South Tyrol, every street, advertisement, natural area, mountain hut, etc… is written in both German and Italian

Another language that you may encounter is Ladin, a romance language spoken in the provinces of South Tyrol, Trentino, and Belluno, by the Ladin people. In Alta Badia, you’ll see signage and names (e.g. towns, mountain huts) in three languages: Ladin, German, and Italian. 

Malga Brogles, Val di Funes, Dolomites

Best Places to Stay in the Dolomites

The Dolomites stretch across three Italian regions. This is a huge alpine region. When you start to plan your Dolomites trip, it can quickly get overwhelming. After several independent trips to the Dolomites, we’ve narrowed down the best places to stay:

  1. Val Gardena, South Tyrol
  2. Alta Badia, South Tyrol
  3. Alta Pusteria, South Tyrol
  4. Val di Funes, South Tyrol
  5. Alpe di Siusi, South Tyrol
  6. San Martino di Castrozza, Trentino
  7. Cortina d’Ampezzo, Belluno
  8. Val d’Ega, South Tyrol

Learn More: Best Places to Stay in the Dolomites 

 
Hotel Ciasa Soleil Indoor Pool, La Villa, Alta Badia, Dolomites

Dolomites Accommodation

farm stays, hotels, mountain huts

There are many ways to experience the Dolomites. For those that want to experience the culture of the valleys and the towns, we recommend staying in farm stays. For those seeking a luxurious getaway, look no further than the region’s 5-star spa hotels. And for hikers who want to traverse long distances, we recommend sleeping in mountain huts (Rifugi, Hütten). Read our Dolomites accommodation guide to find the perfect place to stay.


Roter Hahn Farm Stays

Roter Hahn (Red Rooster) is a trademark given to farmhouses in South Tyrol that provide quality holiday accommodations. There are 1,600 Roter Hahn farms in the region. The goal of Roter Hahn is to put people in touch with the rural world of South Tyrol. Another objective is to help farmers establish another occupation and stream of income.

We stayed in three Roter Hahn Farms and had outstanding experiences each time. The hosts were hospitable, the rooms were clean, and overall the prices were cheaper than other accommodation options.

To look for farm stays, use the Roter Hahn website. There’s a form, next to each farmhouse page, that lets you reach out and request a reservation. If the farmhouse has availability for the date(s) given, they’ll reach out to you via email.


Luxury Wellness Hotels

If farm stays sound too rustic, and you’re in the mood for a real treat, check out some of these superb wellness hotels:

  1. Naturhotel Leitlhof in San Candido/Innichen, Alta Pusteria
  2. Romantik Hotel Cappella in Colfosco, Alta Badia
  3. Hotel Fanes in San Cassiano, Alta Badia
  4. Forestis Dolomites in Bressanone/Brixen
  5. Bad Moos Dolomites Spa Resort in Val Fiscalina, Sesto
  6. Alpina Dolomites on Alpe di Siusi
  7. Hotel Cristallo in La Villa, Alta Badia

Read Next: Best Hotels in the Dolomites


Rifugi

A Rifugio is a high-elevation mountain hut, accessible by foot.

One of the best things about hiking in the Dolomites is that you can go on a multi-day hike, overnighting in Rifugi (Hütten) along the way. These mountain refuges are located directly on hiking trails and enable you to spend the night deep in the mountains, without having to carry camping gear.

Whether you want to break up a longer trek, or simply wake up in the Dolomites, sleeping in a charming Hütte is a rewarding experience. The Dolomites have a vast network of rifugios, which allow you to hike from one hut to another. It’s important to make reservations in advance. Here are some hut to hut itineraries for inspiration:

Note: the plural of Rifugio in Italian is Rifugi, but English speakers commonly say Rifugios. In German-speaking South Tyrol, a Rifugio is called a Hütte.  

 
Hotel Rodella, Selva di Val Gardena, Dolomites

How to Get to the Dolomites

Where to Fly in and out

Getting to the Italian Dolomites usually requires a multi-leg journey, as there are no airports in the Dolomites. The closest airports to the Dolomites are:

  • Munich International Airport, Germany 
  • Malpensa Airport, Milan, Italy 
  • Marco Polo International Airport, Venice, Italy 
  • Valerio Catullo Airport, Verona, Italy 
  • Innsbruck Airport, Austria

Traveling to the Dolomites with a Car

International travelers typically fly to the Venice Airport, pick up their rental car, and drive to the Dolomites.

Depending on where you land, it can take anywhere from 2:30 to 4 hours to reach the Dolomites by car.

  • Munich, Germany to the Dolomites: 3:30 hours
  • Milan, Italy to the Dolomites: 4 hours
  • Venice, Italy to the Dolomites: 3 – 4 hours
  • Verona, Italy to the Dolomites: 2:30 hours
  • Innsbruck Austria, to the Dolomites: 2:30 hours

Traveling to the Dolomites without a Car

We’ve traveled to the Dolomites with and without a car. A car affords more flexibility, but you can definitely travel to the Dolomites without renting a car.

If you’re flying to Venice Airport, take the Express Bus from the airport to Cortina D’Ampezzo. From here, you can rely on buses to get to major Dolomites destinations like Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Cinque Torri, Alta Badia, etc…

If you’re traveling to the Dolomites from neighboring countries, you should take a train to Bolzano (Bozen). From Bolzano, it’s really easy to get to Eggental and Val Gardena with public transit. Use these sites to help plan your trip:

  • Dolomiti Bus –  transit schedules for the province of Belluno (Veneto Region)
  • SAD bus site – transit schedules for South Tyrol (Alto Adige)
 
Cadini di Misurina, Sesto Dolomites, Italy

What to See and Do in the Dolomites

Below, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite destinations and things to do in the Dolomites. For a complete guide to what to do in the Dolomites, read Unforgettable Things to Do in the Dolomites.

Rifugio Auronzo, Cadini di Misurina, Sesto Dolomites, Italy
Rifugio Auronzo

Stay in a Rifugio

One of the best things about hiking in the Dolomites is that you can sleep in a mountain refuge (Hütte, Rifugio).

Sleeping in a mountain hut, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, is a wonderful experience in and of itself. However, it’s also very practical, if you want to break up a longer trek like this 3 Day Rosengarten Trek or the Alta Via 1.

We love the atmosphere of Rifugi in the Dolomites. People play cards, read books, examine trail maps, and drink Schnaps. And because you’re seated with other hikers at dinner, you get to connect with new people and share your experiences.

Another benefit of staying in a hut is seeing how the colors of the mountains change with the time of day. When we arrived at the mountain hut Rifugio Alpe di Tires/Tierser Alpl in the late afternoon, the mountains looked purple. In the morning, they looked yellow.

Read Next: Hiking to Tierser Alpl Schutzhaus from Seiser Alm

 
Hiking the Loop Trail around Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Sesto Dolomites
Tre Cime di Lavaredo

Hike the Loop Trail around Tre Cime di Lavaredo

This day hike upstages all others. The views are mind-blowing. You might even think that you don’t deserve them, after barely breaking a sweat on the trail. Well, you deserve them. And, we hope you go.

In a nutshell, the hike circumnavigates the iconic Three Peaks (Drei Zinnen in German, Tre Cime di Lavaredo in Italian). It takes about 4 hours to do the whole loop, which is 9.7 km in length.

The most impressive view of the peaks is from Rifugio Locatelli/Dreizinnenhütte, which is a mountain hut facing the north side of Tre Cime di Lavaredo. It’s also a great place to have lunch. 

To start this hike, you’ll need to drive to Rifugio Auronzo in Belluno via a toll road (30 EUR).

Learn More: Tre Cime di Lavaredo Day Hike

Alternatively, you can hike to Tre Cime di Lavaredo from Val Fiscalina/Fischleintal in South Tyrol. We wrote about this scenic ascent route in our Sexten Hiking Guide.

If you want to combine the Val Fiscalina ascent with the circuit trail, check out our 3-day Tre Cime di Lavaredo hut-to-hut route.

 
Hotel Ciasa Soleil outdoor jacuzzi, La Villa, Alta Badia
Hotel Ciasa Soleil outdoor jacuzzi

Discover the Meaning of Wellness in Alta Badia

Nestled between the Puez Mountains, Fanes Group, Sella Group, Mount Sassongher, and the Cir peaks, Alta Badia is one of the best destinations in the Dolomites. This charming region in South Tyrol delights with its idyllic scenery, numerous hiking trails, and stellar hotels.

When it comes to wellness and spa hotels, Alta Badia is the reigning queen of the Dolomites. These hotels pamper guests with their extensive wellness and sauna facilities, gourmet half-board menus, alpine-chic design, and scenic locations.

  1. Hotel Cristallo in La Villa, Alta Badia
  2. Hotel Kolfuschgerhof in Colfosco, Alta Badia
  3. Romantik Hotel Cappella in Colfosco, Alta Badia
  4. Hotel Fanes in San Cassiano, Alta Badia
  5. Lagació Hotel Mountain Residence in San Cassiano, Alta Badia
  6. Hotel Col Alto in Corvara, Alta Badia

Photo: Hotel Ciasa Soleil in La Villa, Alta Badia

Learn More: Alta Badia Summer Guide

 
Odle Peaks, Seceda, Dolomites

Marvel at the Seceda Ridgeline and Hike around Val Gardena

Val Gardena/Grödnertal is a valley in South Tyrol that encompasses the towns Ortisei/St. Ulrich, Santa Cristina/St. Christina, and Selva di Val Gardena/Wolkenstein. From these towns, you can hop on an aerial cableway to various plateaus and summits in the Val Gardena Dolomites.

One of the most thrilling focal points in the region is the Seceda summit in Puez-Odle Nature Park. From the Seceda ridgeline, the jagged Odle/Geisler peaks look like a Swiss Army Knife, eternally stabbing the sky.

There are many ways to reach the Seceda summit.

The fastest ascent route to Seceda is via the Ortisei-Furnes-Seceda cableways. From the mountain station, it’s a mere 10-minute hike to the Seceda summit viewpoint. We highly recommend following the ridge trail to the Forcella Pana/Panascharte gap, and then continuing to the Pieralongia mountain pasture and ultimately to Rifugio Firenze/Regensburgerhütte. This circuit hike is 8.9 km and takes 3:30 hours to complete (without breaks). We wrote about this hike in detail in our Seceda hiking guide.

More Seceda Ascent Routes

Learn More: Best Hiking Trails in Val Gardena

 
Lago di Braies, Dolomites
Lago di Braies

Visit Lago di Braies: The Pearl of the Dolomites

Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee in German) is an alpine lake in Braies Valley (Valle di Braies in Italian, Pragser Tal in German), a side valley of Upper Puster Valley (Alta Pusteria, Hochpustertal) in South Tyrol.

Braies Lake lies at the foot of the north face of Croda del Becco (Seekofel in German, Sass dla Porta in Ladin), a towering massif (2,810m), which creates the jaw-dropping, picture-perfect backdrop of Lago di Braies. There’s a reason it’s called the Peal of the Dolomites. And like any declared “pearls,” Lago di Braies is not a secret.

You won’t be alone when visiting Lake Braies…not at 5 am and not at 5 pm. Everyone wants to visit this iconic sight. However, very few people who visit, know that you can hike from the lake to Hochalpensee (2254 m), Hochalpenkopf (2542 m), Croda delle Becco/Seekofel (2810 m), and Herrnstein (2447 m).

As of Summer 2021, there are new regulations regarding lake access during the high season (July 10 – September 10). To protect the sensitive ecosystem of the lake, local authorities are curtailing personal vehicle traffic. If you visit between July 10 – September 10, you must pre-book and pre-pay your transit to the lake as well as parking. We explained all the new rules in our Lago di Braies guide.

 
Geisleralm, Adolf Munkel Trail, Dolomites, Italy
Geisleralm

Hike at the foot of the Geisler Peaks

The Adolf Munkel Trail in Val di Funes (Vilnöss Valley) is an easy 9.2 km hike that takes you to the foot of the Geisler Peaks. As you ascend along a small stream to the peaks, you’ll quickly understand why the Dolomites are called the Pale Mountains.

After hiking beneath these impressive Dolomite pinnacles, the trail leads you to a high alpine pasture. Cows, donkeys, and horses might greet you as you hike to the mountain hut Gschnagenhardt Alm (Malga Casnago), elevation 2,006 meters. You can relax outside, order lunch, drink a beer, and interact with the animals.

Learn More: Hiking the Adolf Munkel Trail 

 
Forcella Pian di Cengia to Rifugio Pian di Cengia Hiking Trail, Sesto Dolomites

Discover World War I Trails and Tunnels

During World War I, the front between Austria-Hungary and Italy ran through the Dolomites. A bitter mountain war was waged between the opposing sides from 1915 to 1917. Both armies built tunnels, trails, and trenches to secure the border and protect themselves. The reason why there is such a great network of trails today is due to the efforts of these WWI soldiers.

During the course of the war, the greatest threat to both armies was the extreme weather. In December 1916, avalanches buried 10,000 Italian and Austrian troops in just two days.

Though it’s impossible to imagine how a war could be fought in such unforgiving terrain, there is plenty of evidence pointing to this region’s inglorious past.

To see trenches, tunnels and trails from the war, visit the open-air museum at Cinque Torri, Lagazuoi Tunnels, and Monte Piano.

 
Lago di Sorapiss, Dolomites Travel, Italy
Lago di Sorapiss

Fall in Love with Lago di Sorapiss

Lago di Sorapiss is a glacial lake within the region Veneto. The lake takes its name from the mountain Sorapiss. Framed by trees, Lago di Sorapiss is one of the most stunning places you’ll see in the Dolomites. Apart from the mountain backdrop, the most spectacular feature of the lake is its unique turquoise color. The water also has a milky quality due to suspended powdered rock. You might think you’re looking at an enchantress’ pool filled with a magic potion.

To get to the lake, start at Passo Tre Croci. The hike takes 1.5 – 2 hours, one-way. You’ll take Trail no. 215 towards Rifugio Vandelli, which is a mountain hut near the lake. The first half of the trail is flat, but the second-half is steep. The ascent is aided with ropes and stairs.

Read Next: Best Day Hikes in the Dolomites

 
Sciliar-Catinaccio/Schlern-Rosengarten Nature Park, Dolomites

What to Eat & Drink in the Dolomites

Italian Custom: Coperto

Coperto means cover charge. It’s the fee you pay to sit at a table in a restaurant. Generally, the fee is somewhere between 1 EUR and 5 EUR. This may, or may not be advertised on the menu.


What to Eat in the Dolomites

Contrary to what most believe, the food in the Dolomites isn’t homogenous. As you explore the many regions of the Dolomites, you’ll encounter Italian, Tirolean (Austrian), and Ladin cuisine. 

  • Brettljause: A snack board with Speck (dried ham), sausage, cheese, bread, and butter.
  • Knödel: large breadcrumb dumplings made with either Speck (ham), Käse (cheese), or Spinat (spinach). Knödel is often served in a soup, or as a side dish. You can also order the Knödel-Trilogie (Tris di Canederli in Italian), which is three dumplings (ham, spinach, cheese), garnished with butter and parmesan.
  • Schlutzkrapfen (Mezzelune in Italian): half-moon-shaped stuffed pasta, similar to ravioli. Traditionally, Schlutzkrapfen is filled with curd cheese and spinach. Our favorite type is stuffed with Eierschwammerl (chanterelle mushrooms). 
  • Südtiroler Naturjoghurt mit Preiselbeeren: Natural Yogurt with cranberries. 
  • Polenta: Boiled cornmeal. Polenta is commonly served with mushrooms, meaty stews, sausages, and fried cheese. 

What to Drink in the Dolomites

  • White Wine: South Tyrol is a major wine producer. And, 60% of their total harvest is white wine. They make excellent Gewürztraminer, Weissburgunder, and Chardonnays. 
  • Schnaps: Ein Schnapserl in Ehren kann niemand verwehren!”  Translation: “No One can refuse a cherished schnaps.” This toast perfectly captures the culture of South Tyrol. After dinner, many people opt for a Schnapps, as opposed to espresso, as a digestif. 
 
Alpe di Siusi Seiser Alm, Dolomites

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