Visiting the Dolomites for the First Time | Ultimate Guide & Top Tips

Visiting the Dolomites
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Visiting the Dolomites and wondering how to plan the best trip? From must-do hikes to the most photogenic spots and great places to visit, here are all the tips you need to plan your perfect visit to this beautiful region of Italy.


My first visit to the Italian Dolomites was heavily influenced by my newfound love for hiking and my long-term love for photography. Since that first Dolomites road trip, I’ve been back several times, and I fall a little more for this beautiful region every time.

Visiting the Dolomites is an absolute must if you’re planning a holiday in Italy, and I’d do my best to add it to any first trip to Europe.

If you’re searching for soaring mountain peaks, sparkling alpine lakes and the dreamiest views, the Dolomites are for you. Not to mention the divine food, drink and accommodation scattered throughout the lush green valleys.

After four months exploring the Dolomites, I’ve written this guide to help anybody planning a visit to the Dolomites for the first time. I want to help you find the best hikes in the region, hidden gems and photography spots, as well as incredible experiences, food, drink and accommodation in the Italian mountains.

Here are my top tips for a great trip in the Dolomites, including my favourite experiences in this northeastern corner of Italy and a whole lot of practical advice to plan your visit.

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VISITING THE DOLOMITES

How to travel | Renting a car is the easiest way to get around

When to go | I adore autumn in the Dolomites, but don’t sleep on ski season or summer hikes!

Where to stay | Base yourself in two or three towns and explore from there

Top Tip | It’s essential to book ahead in the summer months, or you’ll be left without a place to stay

Best for | outdoors lovers, photographers and foodies!

Table Of Contents
  1. ULTIMATE GUIDE TO VISITING THE DOLOMITES FOR THE FIRST TIME
  2. Where are the Dolomites?
  3. A Brief History of the Dolomites
  4. How to Get to the Dolomites
  5. The Best Time to Visit the Dolomites
  6. How Long Should you spend Visiting the Dolomites?
  7. How to Get Around in the Dolomites
  8. Best Things to Do in the Dolomites
  9. Where to Go in the Dolomites
  10. Don't Make These Beginner Mistakes Visiting the Dolomites
  11. Where to Stay in the Dolomites
  12. What to Eat & Drink in the Dolomites
  13. What to pack for a visit to the Dolomites
  14. Responsible Travel in the Dolomites
  15. Is Visiting the Dolomites expensive?
  16. FAQs about Visiting the Dolomites
  17. Planning A Trip To the Dolomites?
  18. FOLLOW & SHARE

ULTIMATE GUIDE TO VISITING THE DOLOMITES FOR THE FIRST TIME


The features in this post were hand-selected by a picky diva (that’s me) and some of them are affiliate links. If you buy via these, I may earn a commission on some of these awesome recommendations at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your wonderful support – Cat.

A visit to the Dolomites is often overlooked in favour of Italy’s more famous attractions. Rome’s incredible historical sites, Florence’s stunning museums, Tuscany’s rolling hills and the magical canals of Venice have lodged themselves in the collective subconscious so well that they tend to be where most visitors end up.

I’d been to Italy half a dozen times myself before I ever made it to this stunning Italian mountain range tucked up in the north of the country. I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did! Visiting the Dolomites should be right up there on your list of things to do in Italy, even if you can only spare a few days in the region.

the light grey jagged cadini di misurina mountain peaks in the distance with the pale stone and red shuttered rifugio lavaredo in the foreground
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One of my first stops when I’m visiting the Dolomites is always Tre Cime
VISITING THE DOLOMITES

Where are the Dolomites?

The Dolomites are right up the top of Italy, in the northern Italian Alps, tucked up against the border with Austria. In fact, one of my favourite hikes in the Dolomites, Olperehütte, is reached from Austria rather than Italy!

VISITING THE DOLOMITES

A Brief History of the Dolomites

Formed from dolomitic limestone, the jagged peaks and plunging ravines create a landscape that has to be seen to be believed. I throw the word “breathtaking” around a lot when it comes to visiting the Dolomites, but when you go, you’ll see why.

Designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2009, one of the other things that make the Dolomites so fascinating is that the planet’s history is literally carved into these mountains. The beautiful pale rock spires used to sit at the bottom of a tropical sea when dinosaurs ruled the Earth; now you’re looking up at mountains where once you’d have looked down at a coral reef!

lago di federer on the croda da lago hike, rifugio g palmieri, the mountains and orange larch trees reflecting in the mirror-like lake
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My favourite hike when I’m visiting the Dolomites in autumn is the Croda da Lago
Golden light spills over the hillsides and tiny mountain huts of Alpe di Siusi with the peak of Seceda in the background
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Alpe di Siusi at sunrise is simply magic

Apart from the fossil record, this region of Northern Italy also tells a very human story. In 1914, as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Dolomites became the frontlines of the First World War, waged here between Italy and Austria. The tunnels and fortifications that once sheltered soldiers fighting desperate battles can still be visited today.

The region of South Tyrol, which includes some of the Dolomites’ most famous sites, was annexed from Austria by Italy in 1918, ushering in an identity crisis that’s still very much in evidence today.

Visiting the Dolomites feels like taking a trip to Austria. Most people here speak German rather than Italian, and there’s even a third local language with its own distinct culture called Ladin.

From the orderly organisation to the language, legends and local people, the Dolomites are very much a unique part of Italy.

Wooden row boats drifting on the crystal clear Lago di Braies with grey mountain peaks and scattered orange and green larch trees
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One of the most popular spots for people visiting the Dolomites is Lago di Braies
VISITING THE DOLOMITES

How to Get to the Dolomites

Getting to the Dolomites by Plane

There’s no “Dolomites” airport or station, so you do need to do a bit of research to work out the best way to get to the Dolomites from where you live. The region isn’t that big – you could drive north to south or east to west in about four hours – and most people pick up a rental car for a road trip through the Dolomites.

Fortunately, visiting the Dolomites is easy from most international destinations because it’s close to many major airport hubs. Most people visit the Dolomites in a loop, so pick the airport with a direct flight from where you live and enter the Dolomites at the closest point.

DISTANCE TO THE DOLOMITES FROM MAJOR EUROPEAN AIRPORTS

AUSTRIA | Innsbruck
90km | 1h 15min driving time

ITALY | Verona
150km | 1h 45min

ITALY | Venice Marco Polo
150km | 2h

ITALY | Milan Malpensa
320km | 3h 40min

GERMANY | Munich
350km | 4h

Getting to the Dolomites by Car

Innsbruck is actually the closest airport to the Dolomites, but if you’re hiring a car, it tends to be cheaper in Italy. It may not be enough to offset any inconvenience of more extended layovers though!

I always recommend using the Discover Cars aggregator site to check prices and book your rental car and Insurance4carhire to cover excess insurance. Picking up a rental car in Bolzano is a good option if you’re taking public transport to the region.

If you live in Europe or are visiting with a car and planning to drive to the Dolomites, it’s worth noting that there are some outrageously expensive toll roads. For example, if you were to drive from France via Turin and Milan, you’d be looking at €250 in fees unless you take the slow roads!

A woman with red leggings, orange sweater and jacket sits on the roof of a green van with mountain peaks in the background
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Visiting the Dolomites in my van is my favourite thing to do
A woman in an orange sweater taking a photo of a reflection in a mirror
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Playing around with reflections in the Dolomites

Getting to the Dolomites by Bus

Bolzano is the central transport hub in the Dolomites. You can also rent vehicles here, making it an excellent destination to start your trip if you’d rather pick up a car on arrival or take public transport throughout the region.

The AltoAdigeBus route goes to thousands of destinations throughout South Tyrol from all the major airports and transport hubs. Flixbus is a good option for the bigger towns if you’re coming from elsewhere in Europe. You can then transfer to a local bus service.

Getting to the Dolomites by Train

Honestly, with the number of train changes and cost, this is unlikely to be a convenient way to get to your destination, especially since you’ll have to take another means of transport from Bolzano. If this is something you want to investigate, I recommend using Omio to check your options.

READ THIS | How to Get to the Dolomites (coming soon)

VISITING THE DOLOMITES

The Best Time to Visit the Dolomites

I love visiting the Dolomites in autumn. The mountains glow pink in the setting sun, the hills are painted shades of gold from the larch trees, and the skies are powder-puff blue. It’s hands down my favourite time of the year here.

TIP | Mid-October is the best time of year to visit the Dolomites for peak autumn colour.

Having said that, these are the mountains, and the weather is unpredictable. Some years autumn comes early, and some years it doesn’t come at all.

Visiting the Dolomites in Autumn

When I visited Croda da Lago in autumn, I was fortunate to have the most fantastic experience. However, some of the other photographers I spoke to there said that three years prior, the trees were all still green, and the area was covered in snow during the exact same week!

Peak colour tends to be in mid-October, and the weather is usually pretty settled at that time of year. You should, however, be prepared for anything!

the peak of beco de mezodi reflected in lago di federa with orange larches all around
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Lago di Federa in autumn is absolutely magical

In the valleys, daytime temperatures from September to November average 11-25°C (50-77°F) and night temperatures are 0-11°C (30-50°F).

Snow can arrive at any time, and temperatures are obviously much colder as you go up the mountains. Every 100m gain in altitude leads to at least 1°C decrease in temperature.

Later in autumn, visiting becomes more challenging as chairlifts close, hiking trails shut down for the winter, and accommodation closes before the start of the winter season.

Visiting the Dolomites in Summer

Summer is high season for alpine hiking and the busiest time of year for Dolomites visitors. It’s the warmest, but also the wettest, time of year for a visit. European school holidays also coincide with the summer months of June, July and August.

The temperatures at lower altitudes are a lovely 27-29°C (80-84°F) during the day and 13-15°C (55-59°F) at night.

Everything’s open – chairlifts, accommodation, activities and restaurants – and public transport options are available to all the popular destinations. Summer is definitely the easiest time of year to visit the Dolomites, but you’ll need to book everything in advance and prepare for crowds.

mountains shrouded with cloud
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Visiting the Dolomites means guaranteed spectacular views everywhere you look
flowers in the sunshine on the croda da lago hike
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Even the tiny details in the Dolomites are something a little bit magical

Visiting the Dolomites in Winter

The Dolomites are massively overlooked as a winter destination – the skiing here is wonderful, and the apres-ski fantastic. I’d insist everyone go here for ski season, but I also selfishly want to keep it on the down-low!

Val Gardena and Alta Badia are right up there as a couple of the best ski resorts in the whole of the European Alps for me.

READ THIS | Best Ski Resorts in the Dolomites (coming soon)

If you’re visiting the Dolomites for snowy mountains and winter sports, January is usually the best month for snow. December to March is peak winter, but snow and ice often persist at higher altitudes all the way into late April.

Visiting the Dolomites in Spring

This is probably the only time of year that I wouldn’t recommend visiting the Dolomites unless you’re there to experience the epic wellness culture.

Only the bigger resorts are available for accommodation, the winter sports have stopped, and the hiking trails are yet to open.

If you want to visit Italy in the spring, my advice is to head further south!

READ THIS | The Best Time to Visit the Dolomites (coming soon)

VISITING THE DOLOMITES

How Long Should you spend Visiting the Dolomites?

I’ve spent months meandering through the region, but I know that, for most people visiting the Dolomites, that’s just not an option.

If you’re planning to visit the region as part of a more extended trip visiting Italy, then I would allocate at least three days in the Dolomites. That’s enough to enable you to get a feel for the region, do one or two of the best day hikes and some of the best things to do.

For those of you who want to dedicate more time to the area, perhaps doing a longer multi-day hike or just take it a bit slower, then ten days to two weeks is my recommendation.

Obviously, the longer, the better and if you’re lucky enough to have several weeks to spare, you should take a look at my three week road trip itinerary (coming soon)!

The Rifugio Locatelli / Drei Zinnen Hutte nestled in the mountain peaks on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hiking loop
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VISITING THE DOLOMITES

How to Get Around in the Dolomites

Hiring a car in the Dolomites

Although I’m a big fan of public transport, it’s often not practical for most travellers in the Dolomites, particularly if you’re wanting to get to trailheads early and depart late. Renting a car and driving will save you a vast amount of planning stress, and since I’ve always driven in the Dolomites, it’s definitely my recommendation.

Hiring a car in Italy is easy – it’s just a question of where to collect it from. If you’re travelling from overseas, then picking up your car at the airport will be the most simple option. I always use and recommend Discover Cars to check prices and book, mainly since they include comprehensive insurance.

TIP | You need either a European Driving License or an International Driving Permit to hire a car in Italy.

For those coming from elsewhere in Europe, especially if you’re arriving by train, renting a car in Bolzano is a good option.

Although the roads here are steep and winding, they’re very well maintained, and driving in the Dolomites is a breeze.

Public Transport in the Dolomites

Although the roads in the Dolomites are good, they’re also not built for large volumes of traffic. There’s a big push in the region to ease congestion on the roads by helping visitors get around on public transport.

Your best option for working out how to get around via public transport is by using SuedTirolMobil. You can check routes and times and buy tickets on their website or mobile app.

Visiting the Dolomites by public transport in the summer is considerably easier than at other times of year since many routes stop once the snow sets in.

A white church backlit by the sunrise with orange autumn colour in the foreground
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A lot of the hotels in the Dolomites offer a Guest Pass, which provides free public transport and other benefits. You can read about South Tyrol Guest Cards here, and be sure to check with your hotel if they offer it included in the cost of your room.

If you’re planning to be in the area, want to use public transport, but aren’t staying in a local hotel, it’s worth looking at the Mobilcard, which is valid for 1, 3, or 7 days of consecutive travel. There are also regional public transport cards which are another great money-saving option.

VISITING THE DOLOMITES

Best Things to Do in the Dolomites

If you’re anything like me, then you probably think that hiking is the only thing to do in the Dolomites. We were wrong!

When I visited the Dolomites for the first time, I was blown away by the sheer variety of things to do. The activity I did most of was, indeed, hiking, but I also indulged my love of photography, scared myself shitless on a via ferrata, cycled, camped and indulged in some of the best spa experiences the Dolomites has to offer!

A woman standing on an outcrop in front of the mountains wearing the F-stop gear orange backpack which is some of the Best Hiking Gear for women
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Visiting the Dolomites is fabulous for hikers with amazing trails all over the region

Here’s a quick summary, but for all the details, you should read my post covering all the Best Things to Do in the Dolomites.

Hiking in the Dolomites

Whether you’re someone who hates the idea of lacing up a pair of hiking boots or that friend who suggests a week-long trek as the best holiday ever, the Dolomites have something for you!

Most of you won’t have the time to explore anything more than the best day hikes in the region, and even narrowing those down can be tricky!

MY TOP 3 DOLOMITES DAY HIKES

Best for Autumn |
Croda da Lago
Best for Beginners |
Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Best for Experienced Hikers | Lago di Sorapis

Several day hikes can be turned into overnight hikes by booking a bed at one of the many rifugi dotted through the mountains. Staying at a rifugio is an absolute must-do as far as I’m concerned, and you can make it happen even if you’re only in the area for a couple of days!

For more of a challenge for experienced hikers, there are the incredible multi-day Alta Via routes. Alta Via 1 and 2 are the most popular, and you need to get organised and book in advance to be sure of a bed for the night!

As always, make sure you have all the right hiking gear and Dolomites maps before you head off on your adventure.

Via Ferrata in the Dolomites

As a person who isn’t very good with heights, the via ferrati pushed me waaaay out of my comfort zone. If you’re an experienced climber, they probably won’t make you break a sweat!

If you’ve never heard of them before, I can best describe them as a helping hand from those who’ve tackled a scary route before!

You’ll find anything from steel cables to steps, ladders, rungs and anchor points fixed into the rock. The idea is that you’ll clip on with a cable and remove the risk of plunging to your death down a mountain. See? Helpful.

A river winds through a valley leading down to Misurina which is a great stop when you're visiting the Dolomites
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The views from Cadini di Misurina to Lake Misurina are amazing when doing the hike at sunrise
light grey jagged mountain peaks are everywhere when visiting the Dolomites
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Cadini di Misurina gives bang for your buck when visiting the Dolomites

They were initially constructed during World War I as a means of helping soldiers navigate the mountains safely. Now, they’re a way to help hikers get through exposed sections of the trails without having to have formal climbing knowledge.

Via ferrata aren’t unique to the Dolomites, but they were pioneered here, so they’re a great place to try some of the best via ferrata for beginners.

I’m going to put my ‘responsible human’ hat on here to tell you the three things that you always need before you tackle a via ferrata:

  1. The appropriate level of travel insurance to cover you for extreme activities
  2. The correct via ferrata gear
  3. A guide or experienced buddy

Unless you’re very experienced, I’d recommend taking a tour with somebody who is! Why not try this highly-rated guided via ferrata tour?

Don’t let being afraid of heights put you off – I’m terrible with heights, and I still love this activity!

Road trips in the Dolomites

Have I mentioned yet today how much I love a road trip?

Well, a road trip in the Dolomites is amazing. The scenery is mind-blowing, the roads are great, and there’s literally a jaw-dropping view around almost every corner.

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If you want to cover the most ground, then this is definitely the best way to do it. You’ll be able to get to hiking trails that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach, see sights that you couldn’t otherwise get to, and generally have the most amazing experience.

My only caveat is that if you’re travelling in the height of summer, you might find yourself sitting in traffic more often than not, so save the road trips for early summer or autumn.

Photography in the Dolomites

It’s difficult to take a bad photo in the Dolomites. Those soaring peaks and lush valleys do the work for you. Having said that, there are some phenomenal photo spots in the Dolomites that you shouldn’t miss if you love photography.

I think that the landscape itself ignites the creative spark, so don’t blame me if you find yourself running around looking for the best angles or deciding to hike back an hour in the wrong direction because you think you missed that perfect viewpoint!

Golden hour at Alpe di Siusi with orange rolling meadows, small mountain huts and the mountains in the distance is one of the best photo ops if you're visiting the Dolomites
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Sunrise at Alpe di Siusi is a must-do if you’re a photographer visiting the Dolomites

Some spots you’ll visit will make it difficult for you to get the exact shot you want (or have seen on the ‘gram), but please don’t be tempted to ignore signs and fences to copy somebody else. Trespassing and putting yourself in danger really aren’t worth it. And nobody likes an asshole.

Camping in the Dolomites

Camping in the Dolomites requires some planning. Most of the region is a protected park, and wild camping is illegal as a result.

There are, however, some amazing campsites in the Dolomites, and it’s an incredibly affordable way to travel in the region. Whether you’ve got a campervan, motorhome or just a tent, you’re spoiled for choice.

A lot of the cable car parking areas will also allow you to stay overnight for a fee, and it’s one of the best ways to be the first one at Lago di Braies for sunrise! I spent weeks camping in my van in the Dolomites and found it one of the best ways to experience the area.

Paragliding in the Dolomites

So listen, I wasn’t going to go paragliding in the Dolomites. I thought that I’d be terrified and that it wouldn’t be for me. Boy, was I wrong.

When three of my friends launched themselves off the hills on tandem paragliding flights, it looked like such fun that I immediately decided that I had to try it.

Wheeling through the air with stunning mountains on either side and little villages dotted through the valleys below was simply incredible. I loved every second of it, and no sooner had we landed than I wanted to do it all over again!

Tandem paragliders with the Dolomites in the background
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Visiting the Dolomites is the perfect opportunity to try out paragliding

For me, it’s absolutely one of the best activities to do when you’re visiting the Dolomites. I went with Gardenafly and they were fabulous, but there are plenty of other locations for tandem paragliding in the Dolomites if their location doesn’t suit you.

Helicopter Tours in the Dolomites

If the thought of tandem paragliding is just too terrifying, or you’re not able to participate in that sort of activity, then why not take to the skies anyway?

It’s no secret that I love a scenic flight, and the Dolomites is an incredible place to experience one. You’ll get phenomenal views that you’d otherwise only experience if you have a drone.

Read the reviews, check availability and book your helicopter flight here!

Cycling in the Dolomites

If you’re a cycling fan and don’t mind hills, the Dolomites is a fantastic place to take a bike tour. You can bring your own bike or hire one from the dozens of shops throughout the area.

From road bikes to mountain biking, you can explore the region in whichever way you prefer – there are dedicated cycle paths in many places to keep you safe.

For those who like a challenge, you can take a tour that incorporates some of the most beautiful passes in the Dolomites. Check availability and book here.

Those of us who like an easier life (secretly think we’re not fit enough to cycle up a mountain) can take an e-bike tour through the region. You can check that out and book here.

Skiing in the Dolomites

Visiting the Dolomites in the winter is an opportunity to experience the magic of winter sports in the Italian Alps. Skiing in the Dolomites is hands down one of my favourite things to do in the area, and you get to see a whole different side of this part of Italy.

Home to the Winter Olympics, Cortina d’Ampezzo is also where you’ll find some of the best ski resorts in the Dolomites. All those cable cars that take you hiking in the summer are now your entry to groomed slopes and thrilling off-piste experiences.

Of course, downhill skiing isn’t all that’s on offer. You can also go snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, paragliding or simply enjoy the apres-ski vibe in the mountains!

Wellness in the Dolomites

In the Dolomites, they take wellness seriously. There’s an entire industry dedicated to bettering your health, both physical and mental.

The spa hotels in the Dolomites are some of the most beautiful venues for relaxation – I think there’s nothing better than gazing out at the mountains while sitting in a sauna.

You can expect spa treatments, swimming pools, yoga, gyms, saunas and more. Honestly, I think that any itinerary in the Dolomites should include a couple of days where you pamper yourself. You deserve a massage after all the action!

VISITING THE DOLOMITES

Where to Go in the Dolomites

The easiest way to decide where to go when visiting the Dolomites is to break it down into the hikes or sights you don’t want to miss.

There are several main towns that you can base yourself in and use for day trips in the Dolomites. I’d recommend a minimum of 3 nights in one location unless you’re really stretched for time.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the most popular regions, the main towns to base yourself in, the best hikes in the area, and sights you shouldn’t miss.

mountainsides covered in trees with a small lake in the distance and towering mountains in the background which are classic views when visiting the dolomites
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The view to Lago di Misurina from the Lago di Sorapis hike
The Rifugio Locatelli / Drei Zinnen Hutte nestled in the mountain peaks on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hiking loop
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Rifugi are an amazing experience if you’re visiting the Dolomites

Area | Val Gardena

Towns – Ortisei (St. Ulrich in German, Urtijëi in Ladin), Selva di Val Gardena (Wolkenstein in German, Sëlva in Ladin) and Santa Cristina.

Hikes – Sassolungo loop, Puez Circuit, Monte Pic, Gran Cir, the Sella crossing and Seceda.

Winter – Val Gardena is one of the main winter sports centres in the Dolomites.

Area | Alpe di Siusi

Towns – Kastelruth (Castelrotto in Italian, Ciastel in Ladin).

Hikes – you’re spoiled for choice in Alpe di Siusi, and there’s a lot more to explore.

Sights – a medicinal herb farm, the beautiful St Valentin’s church, and more.

Small wooden mountain huts are a common site if you're visiting the Dolomites and these are nestled in the rolling orange meadows of Alpe di Siusi with the mountain peaks in the background
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Alpe di Siusi at sunrise
a close up of onion-domed st valentin church in siusi nestled between trees with orange autumn foliage
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St Valentin Church near Alpe di Siusi

Area | Val di Funes

Towns – Santa Maddalena, Tiso and San Pietro

Hikes – Some of my favourite hikes are in Val di Funes, including the Panoramaweg and the Adolf Munkel Trail (home to my favourite Geisler Alm restaurant!).

Sights – Don’t miss Insta-famous San Giovanni in Ranui and the Santa Maddalena Church.

Area | Alta Badia

Towns – Corvara, La Val (Wengen) and Badia (Abtei)

Hikes – Alta Badia is home to the fascinating Mt Lagazuoi, where you’ll find extensive WWI tunnels, and amazing summit hikes to Mt Piz Boe and Mt Sassongher.

Sights – don’t miss Via Ferrata Pisciadu, the busiest via ferrata in the Dolomites, or the stunning mountain passes of Passo Sella, Passo Pordoi, Passo di Falzarego and Passo delle Erbe.

Area | Tre Cime di Lavaredo

Towns – Sesto (Sexten), Misurina, Dobbiaco (Toblach), San Candido (Innichen).

Hikes – Some favourites are the Cadini di Misurina viewpoint and Tre Cime di Lavaredo.

SightsLago di Braies, Lago Dobbiaco (Toblacher See).

A woman visiting the Dolomites in hiking gear standing on an outcrop with jagged light grey mountain peaks in the distance at Cadini di Misurina
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Cadini di Misurina is a must for me when visiting the Dolomites
VISITING THE DOLOMITES

Don’t Make These Beginner Mistakes Visiting the Dolomites

1. Not getting Travel Insurance

This is a huge no-no when you’re visiting the Dolomites. If you’re here in summer, then you’re almost certainly going to be hiking and maybe even tackling some via ferrata. Mountains can be dangerous, even to the most experienced hikers, so please don’t skip the travel insurance.

In winter, you’re probably here for skiing and other winter sports. Again, nobody plans to break an arm or a leg, but if you do, travel insurance is a must. Make sure you’ve got the correct level of cover for any activities you’re planning and any gear you’re taking with you.

2. Not booking in advance

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll be able to find something last minute, especially in summer. Accommodation sells out months in advance at the popular areas.

If you’re planning a multi-day hike and want to stay at one of the beautiful rifugi in the Dolomites, then you really need to book ahead.

the view from the window at rifugio croda da lago with golden light on a mountain peak in the distance
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One of the best things about visiting the Dolomites are the views from rifugi windows
The Rifugio Locatelli / Drei Zinnen Hutte nestled in the mountain peaks on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hiking loop
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Rifugio Locatelli is a prime example of amazing rifugi views when you’re visiting the Dolomites

3. Not doing your research

Visiting the Alpe de Siusi actually takes much more planning than you might think.

The toll road to Tre Cime di Lavaredo can significantly eat into your daily budget.

Lago di Braies can either be magical or a nightmare if you don’t know the seemingly thousands of rules that apply to your visit, especially in summer!

Some hikes are best done at certain times of year. Croda da Lago, for example, is best in Autumn, and some hikes become completely miserable at the first sign of colder weather.

4. Bringing the wrong clothes

You need hiking boots that you’ve broken in. Don’t even attempt the Dolomites in sneakers unless you don’t value your life.

It’s also the mountains, and it gets cold at altitude even in the summer, so make sure you bring your hiking layers!

5. Visiting at the wrong time of year

Spring in the Dolomites actually sucks. Most hiking trails don’t open until June, so visiting the Dolomites in May is a terrible idea.

Late autumn is also a gamble. Lifts aren’t open, winter sports aren’t happening, trails are dangerous, and there’s nowhere to stay or eat as everyone takes a well-earned break before the winter season starts.

6. Trying to do too much

Those winding mountain roads mean that everywhere takes longer to get to than you think.

It’s possible to rush around to see the highlights of the Dolomites in a long weekend, but I think you’ll be sorry that you didn’t give it more time. I think it’s better to pick one area as a base to explore if you’ve got limited time.

A wooden mountain hut in the middle of a green pasture surrounded by trees
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Classic scenes when you’re visiting the Dolomites
VISITING THE DOLOMITES

Where to Stay in the Dolomites

Have a look at the best things to do in the Dolomites, decide on your must-dos and then look at a map and the best places to stay in the Dolomites.

A lot of the things you like the look of are likely located in clusters since that’s how visiting the Dolomites works. Find a couple of towns that are located no more than an hour’s drive from these clusters, and then make those your base locations for a few nights.

Book early, especially if you’re going in the summer. I almost always use Booking.com to find my accommodation in the Dolomites.

Rifugi | Mountain Huts with a Difference

A rifugio is a mountain hut that’s family-owned and run, and they’re one of my favourite places to stay in the Dolomites.

They’re open during the summer hiking season, opening and closing at different times depending on their altitude and when the hikes they’re on are safe to travel. A lot of them also open during the winter, providing food and accommodation on the slopes.

The stone building of rifugio vandelli with blue and white striped shutters at lago di sorapis
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Rifugio Vandelli has one of the shortest openings of the season at Lago di Sorapis

The accommodation is basic, often bunk rooms and dormitories, but some have twin or double rooms available too.

The food is universally fantastic, and they offer amazing value for a wonderful experience that’s unique to this part of the world.

Some of them are also perched in the most incredibly photogenic places, so they’re worth a visit for that alone!

Hotels

Wellness is a big deal in the Dolomites, and you should really schedule a night or two in one of the many beautiful spa hotels in the region.

Many of them have infinity pools with mountain views, saunas overlooking picturesque valleys, and spa services, including massages for tired legs.

If you’re looking for luxury, you also won’t be disappointed. There are some incredible luxury and boutique hotels scattered throughout the Dolomites.

Some are designed with romance in mind, while others are just a perfect place to treat yourself or hang out with friends.

B&B and Farm Stays

If you’re anything like me, you love immersing yourself in the local culture. There’s no better way than staying with locals.

In the Dolomites you’ve got traditional B&B options and farm stays (Roter Hahn), where you can get involved in helping out with the action or just sampling all the produce!

Self-Catering

There are lots of wonderful chalets in the Dolomites, and Airbnb/VRBO have a huge presence here too. Again, it’s best to book well in advance if you’re planning on visiting during peak summer or winter seasons.

VISITING THE DOLOMITES

What to Eat & Drink in the Dolomites

It’s not an exaggeration to say that part of my love of visiting the Dolomites is because of the amazing foodie scene here.

Although it’s in Italy, the food here is heavily influenced by the Austro-Hungarian past, and you’ll find a definite Austrian flavour. That’s not to say you won’t get pasta and pizza because you can definitely find some of the best in Italy here!

South Tyrol boasts 21 Michelin-starred restaurants, and I really think that I need to put in more effort to eat at all of them! It’s actually the highest density of Michelin-starred chefs in Italy, which is no mean feat.

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cocktails on the deck at Geisler Alm
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Some of my favourite dishes here are Knödel (Canederli in Italian) which are dumplings made of bread and cheese. For the meat eaters, they often contain Speck, a local cured ham. You’ll frequently see a dish called Knödel Tris, usually a trio of spinach, cheese and speck dumplings.

Once I got over my childish hysteria at a dish called Schlutzkrapfen, it became one of my favourite dishes. It’s essentially a cheese and spinach ravioli, although there are other flavours, and it’s wonderful after a day of hiking. Spinatspatspazlen is another great spinach pasta dish.

I’m also a huge fan of Keiserschmarren, a pancake-style dessert chopped into large slices and covered in sweet berry sauce and cream.

You’re not going to go hungry visiting the Dolomites!

Given that this is Italy and there are sloping hills, it should also come as no surprise that there are some phenomenal wineries in the area too.

The Dolomites is also home to my favourite spritz, the Hugo. Sweeter than the more famous Aperol, the Hugo is made with elderflower cordial, which is a big thing in the region.

VISITING THE DOLOMITES

What to pack for a visit to the Dolomites

There are 300 sunshine days a year in South Tyrol, so you need to bring your sunscreen, no matter when you visit!

In summer, don’t forget your hiking essentials and in winter, your best winter sports gear. If you’re wondering what to wear on your feet then you’ll want to read best shoes for the Dolomites (coming soon).

If you’re planning to tackle some via ferrati, either purchase your own gear or hire it while you’re visiting the Dolomites if you don’t think you’ll need it again.

For rifugi stays, it’s nice to have some slippers to put on so you don’t have to find a pair of common shoes that fit you.

The Dolomites, as a whole, are a place where people come to be active, so you’ll be fine with casual clothes most of the time. If you’re having a meal at one of the fine dining restaurants or staying at a boutique hotel, pack at least one fancy outfit.

VISITING THE DOLOMITES

Responsible Travel in the Dolomites

It’s good to know a few words of both German and Italian here since you’ll find a huge variability in the primary language spoken in the places you’ll visit.

I think it’s nice to be able to say at least hello, please and thank you in the native language of any country that you visit. I’m yet to learn Ladin, though, so if you’ve got some knowledge of that, I’m all ears!

Despite some of the images you might see online, prominent “no drone” signs exist in many popular areas. A lot of people visiting the Dolomites are doing so because of photos and videos that they’ve seen (myself included), but if it becomes clear that the banger shot you want is going to mean ignoring those local requests, please don’t do it.

Some of the Alpine lakes welcome swimmers, but others definitely don’t. No matter how tempting the turquoise water of Lake Sorapis may look, swimming in it will eventually destroy it. Even stepping in it causes damage, so be careful where you put your feet.

You may also turn up somewhere to find that Google has taken you on a “shortcut” to somewhere, but there’s private property between you and it. Rather than embark upon some fun trespassing, have a quick look at a map, where you’re bound to find the actual route to your destination!

In a truly mind-boggling discovery, it became clear to me on some of my hikes in the region that some people find that it’s ok to simply take a shit on the trail. And then throw some dirty loo roll around. Please take a hiking toilet kit and use it.

Also, feel free to educate others.

VISITING THE DOLOMITES

Is Visiting the Dolomites expensive?

There’s no getting around the fact that a trip to the Dolomites can get expensive. A lot of accommodation is at the luxury end of the spectrum, eating out adds up, and lift passes don’t come cheap.

Here are some tips to keep your budget in line:

Booking self-catered accommodation means that you can save a lot on meals out. I also find that eating a lot of rich food every day doesn’t really agree with me, and it’s nice to be able to have some more simple meals available.

Heading to some local stores and getting ingredients for a picnic will also save you money, while removing the temptation for yet another round of carb-loading at a mountain hut. Although, honestly, don’t miss out on those hut lunches either!

Pasta courses are often listed as a starter, but they’re usually large enough for a main and if you’re still hungry, there’s always gelato!

Make sure you explore the options for transport – there’s the Mobil Card in Val Gardena as well as multi-day lift passes throughout the region. If you’re driving, you can often save on parking by stopping further away and walking or hiking to your destination.

VISITING THE DOLOMITES

FAQs about Visiting the Dolomites

What is the best Dolomites airport?

The closest airport for access to the Dolomites is Innsbruck in Austria. If you prefer to fly into Italy, then Venice or Verona are the best choices.

Should I hire a car in the Dolomites?

The closest airport for access to the Dolomites is Innsbruck in Austria. If you prefer to fly into Italy, then Venice or Verona are the best choices.

Will I have cellphone signal in the Dolomites?

There are regions in the mountains of the Dolomites where you’ll lose cell service. If you’re hiking then I highly recommend taking a personal locator beacon or similar device. It could save your life. In the towns you’ll likely have full reception.

What’s the best time to visit the Dolomites?

I love the Dolomites in the autumn, but early July is also gorgeous as the snow melts and spring flowers start to dust the alpine meadows. The lakes will be at their fullest at this time, but it can be wet. August is peak season and requires you to book everything well in advance.

How many days do you need in the Dolomites?

I recommend at least a week in the Dolomites and 10 days to two weeks is best.

What’s the best way to see the Dolomites?

I think a combination of road trips and hiking is far and away the best way to get the perfect experience of visiting the Dolomites. Try to fit in at least one overnight hike during your visit and stay the night in a rifugio.

Planning A Trip To the Dolomites?

With world-class summer hiking, incredible winter skiing, and a perfect blend of Italian and Austrian culture, the Dolomites is one of my favourite European destinations.

Check out these essential guides, travel tips, and more to help you plan your trip:

PLANNING A TRIP TO THE DOLOMITES | Here’s what you need to read if you’re visiting the Dolomites for the first time, want to know the best things to do in the Dolomites (for foodies and adventurers!) or want to rent a car in Bolzano

DOLOMITES DAY HIKES | My favourite day hikes in the Dolomites and complete guides for hiking Lago di Sorapis, Croda da Lago, Seceda, Tre Cime di Lavaredo and Cadini di Misurina

DOLOMITES PLACES | My favourite places to visit in the Dolomites like Lago di Braies, Alpe di Siusi and Val di Funes

ITALY | Plan a perfect first trip to Italy with my Top Tips for Travelers to Italy and Italy Travel Guide

TRAVEL INSURANCE | Don’t go anywhere without it! I use and recommend Safety Wing.

THOUGHTFUL TRAVEL | No matter where you go, always be aware of the fact that travel impacts the place and people that live there. Being a thoughtful traveller is more critical than ever. Here are my top tips to make your trip a mindful one.

PHOTOGRAPHY | Love my photos and want to know how to take better shots on your own trips? Then my photography guide is for you. Here’s all the photography gear I use too. Want to buy one of my images? Head to the Print Store.

ESSENTIAL GEAR | You’ll find my travel essentials here, and a complete guide to all my hiking gear here.


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8 Comments on “Visiting the Dolomites for the First Time | Ultimate Guide & Top Tips”

  1. As someone who wants to visit the Dolomites, and knows nothing of them, this is a brilliant resource. Thank you!

  2. Hey Cat!

    This was super helpful!

    I just had one question, there is a photo with two glasses of wine with the peaks in the background. What restaurant is this?

    1. Hi Evie! Sorry about the delay in reply – that photo was taken at Geisler Alm, a restuarant on the Munkelweg trail in Val di Funes. It’s one of my favourite hikes and (I think) the best mountain restaurant in the Dolomites!

  3. Just finished reading this

    It’s beautiful, Cat!

    Thank you so much, I truly enjoyed and now planning a trip.

    Super grateful for this article and resources

  4. Love this guide! We can’t wait to make a plan to really dig in on our trip. How would early September be in the Dolomites?

    1. Hi Jennifer – that’s a beautiful time to go! I’ve been at that time and we had lovely settled weather. It might be a bit busy in some spots but I think this is one of the best times of year. I hope you have an amazing time.

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