If the mountains are calling on your next trip to Italy, these Dolomites travel tips are for you!
The Dolomites are one of the most amazing destinations in Italy.
With majestic mountain peaks and lush alpine pastures, these prehistoric mountains have some of the most stunning landscapes anywhere.
They overwhelmingly deserve a spot on everyone’s bucket list.
The Dolomites span three regions and seven provinces, making them geographically and culturally diverse.
So, knowing some inside Dolomites travel tips can certainly help you make the most of your trip and explore like a local.
In truth, The Dolomites are very different than other parts of Italy.
They don’t have the same feel as Venice, Florence, or Rome. Instead, they feel like something right out of a fairytale.
Straddling the Austrian-Italian border, this in-between land is one part alpine, one part Mediterranean, and a whole lot of magic!
Come and see for yourself…
Exploring The Dolomites
Since 2001, I’ve lived at the base of the eastern Dolomites, in the region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.
Exploring villages, taking scenic road trips, and diving into authentic food are some of my favorite weekend activities.
And the hiking , well it’s phenomenal! It’s my “go-to” to stay in shape.
I absolutely love the Dolomites and find they have so much to offer in regards to wellness travel.
Which if you’ve been here before, you’ll know it’s the preferred travel style around these parts!
I believe travel is a way to wellness and spend lots of my free time in the mountains.
The Dolomites are the ideal place to rest, relax, & recharge. They’re perfect for outdoor adventurers, nature lovers, photographers, and of course those in need of mindful tech-free adventures.
12 Travel Tips to Help You Plan & Travel Well in The Dolomites
Over the years of living here, I’ve learned some things (both the easy & the hard way) that have been helpful in planning and navigating my travels.
So, I rounded up 12 of those insights to share with you in this post.
These Dolomites travel tips will help you to better plan a trip that aligns with your heart’s desire and make the most of your time in this peaceful corner of the world.
It’s Italy With An Austrian Influence
Running the border between Italy and Austria, life in The Dolomites is certainly different than the rest of Italy.
It has its own authentic charms and traditions that are greatly influenced by its history.
A hundred years ago part of The Dolomites belonged to Austria and today there’s still an intriguing mingling of cultures.
With German TV and cows with bells, it seems more like Austria than Italy.
Life is more efficient than the laid back charms offered in other parts of Italy. And I often find myself speaking English (or my limited German) instead of Italian.
There Are Two Names For Everything
Whether it’s a quaint alpine village or mountain range, many things have two names in The Dolomites.
This is due to the fact that there are many official languages across the regions of The Dolomites.
The South Tyrol region has three official langauges: Italian, German, & Ladin.
So for example, if you are hiking Seceda, signs will be in German and Italian. If you ask for help, locals may also refer to mountains and towns in either language, depending on which they use as their first language.
The native romance language of Ladin is also spoken the provinces of Trentino, and Belluno. You will occasionally see it in print too.
Venturing into the most eastern part of The Dolomites in the region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, will expose you to yet another native language, Friulan.
This traditional section of The Dolomites has rustic hamlets & villages and challenging hikes.
There are no cable cars or lifts in this region, so the hiking here is for those who are willing to climb all the way to the peaks!
Rent A Car & Make It A Road Trip
There is no large airport in The Dolomites, but there are lots of starting points for your adventure. Making it easy to combine a visit with other iconic locations like Venice, Milan, & Trieste.
Since many of these airports house low-cost airlines, The Dolomites are also an ideal weekend getaway from other European countries.
Driving in the north of Italy is more civilized than in the south, so don’t be afraid to rent a car!
Here is some practical insights on airport drive times:
VENICE (Marco Polo & Treviso Aiprorts) // 2 hours to Cortina & 3 to Bolzano
VERONA // 2 hours to Bolzano & 3 hours to Cortina
MILAN (Bergamo & Malpensa Airports) // 3+ hours to Bolzano & 5 to Cortina
TRIESTE // 3 hours to Cortina & 4 to Bolzano
INNSBRUCK // 1.5 hours ro Bolzano & 2.5 to Cortina
Accessibility by train is limited, with a train line to direct to Bolzano but not to Cortina.
Flixbus has hubs in Bolzano and there are local bus services. Which connect major villages and run more regularly in the summer. But, relying on buses adds constraints that limit your time & destinations.
Renting a car is the most flexible way to travel, especially if you’re a photographer!
Distances Are Further Than They Seem
The windy single roads of the Dolomites make for some scenic drives.
But, add in the occasional farm machinery, curvy roads, and high season traffic, and things tend to slow down a bit.
And that is before the dozens of stops you will want to make to take photos!
So, be sure to factor in additional drive time. It’s always better to have extra time to stop and enjoy the landscape than feel rushed to get somewhere.
Strategically Choose Your Base
Logistically, this is one of the more important Dolomites travel tips, because it will help you maximize your time & reduce stress.
There’ s a lot to see and do in The Dolomites. Therefore, if you choose your sights and activities first, you’ll then know where to base yourself to make the most of your time.
If you have a 7-10 day itinerary, you could easily stay in 2-3 places.
Here are some of the central places I prefer:
BOLZANO // ideal for The Western Dolomites, The South Tyrolean Wine Road, or a Christmas market road trip
ORTESEI // ideal for Alpe di Siusi, Val Gardena, a Seceda Hike, & Val di Funes
SAN CANDIDO // perfect for Lago di Braies, The Lumen Museum of Mountain Photography, Tre Cime, & Val Fiscalina
CORTINA // hits the mark for Lago di Sorapis, Croda da Lago, Cinque Torri, & The Open Air WW1 Museum
Book Accommodation Ahead of Time
Yes, you can always find last-minute places to stay in The Dolomites.
But, compared to other places in Italy, accommodations in The Dolomites can be fully booked long ahead of time.
Especially in August when the Italians vacation and between Christmas & the new year.
In addition, some accommodations (especially in high-season) will have a minimum 2-7 night stay.
A travel hack I often use is to open google maps in a specific location.
Then I look for accommodations marked on the map and contact the establishment directly.
I’ve found some great places this way that aren’t on Booking, which is my go-to option for accommodation in Europe.
Make Walking & Hiking A Must Do
The Dolomites are a labyrinth of weaving trails and winding roads, making it one of the best places in the world to hike.
There are walks & hikes for every level, so everyone can experience the healing properties of nature and experience breathtaking views.
Many trails are easily accessible from towns & villages, making it convenient to work in walking as you go.
Hiking is also an incredible way to experience mindful travel because you can see, hear, and feel the landscape gradually change around you.
To visit The Dolomites and not take time to digitally detox and experience the quiet of the landscape would certainly be a pity!
Don’t Forget The Maps
If you are going to do any hiking or orienteering, you will want to pick up paper maps. Even though trails are well marked, its good to be prepared, especially at high-altitudes.
For anything anything more that a circular wander from a town, a Tabacco map is the way to go.
Cell phone service can be spotty, so don’t make on-line maps your first line of defense.
The blue Tabacco maps are paper maps sold in newspaper kiosks, bookstores, and train/bus stations.
You also may find them in sporting good stores or at tourist shops.
Maps are numbered and correspond to mountain ranges and areas. So, the number of the map you need will depend on where you’re hiking.
Pack Clothes That Layer
Being caught unprepared for the weather is no fun. And, the weather can certainly change on a dime in the mountains.
Packing layers is quite a practical Dolomites travel tip because it’s an obvious, yet easy thing to overlook.
It’s also a lesson I’ve learned the hard way more than once when the summer storm clouds come out of nowhere!
Bring layers. Even in sunny August, you can be hiking with a tank top one minute, and then pulling out the jacket the next when the clouds roll in.
The best approach is to wear layers, as well as fabrics that are sweat wicking and provide wind protection.
Oh, and don’t forget about the rain factor. Always have a jacket, water repellent at minimum.
Don’t Miss A Rifugio Experience
Rifugio is the Italian word for mountain hut and they are a hiker’s best friend!
In The South Tyrol region, they are called Hutte.
Their rustic atmospheres offer warm hospitality, traditional meals, relaxation, panoramic views, and beds for overnight stays.
Many of them are accessible by car, cable car, or an easy walk. Meaning you don’t even have to undertake a hike to experience these cultural gems.
If you want to experience the magic of sunrise or sunset up on the peaks, this is the way to do it! Spending the night will allow you to relax & enjoy the golden and blue hours.
Expense Is Relative In The Dolomites
It is true that The Dolomites can be more expensive than other areas of Italy.
But, it’s cheaper than the Swiss & French Alps. So, the expense is relative.
If you’re looking to free up some change (so you can spend more on wine), here are a few money saving Dolomites travel tips:
- buy multi-day transport tickets
- choose accommodation with a kitchen
- take advantage of the breakfast buffets offered by many hotels
- pack sandwiches or a picnic for your outdoor adventures
- eat sandwiches & take away pizza for lunch
- order starters over main dishes
And don’t forget, many walking and hiking adventures are free!
Expect To Fall In Love With The Dolomites
I can tell you from experience, just expect to fall in love. I did, on my very first visit at the age of 13.
More than any other place in Italy, my friends & family who come to visit are consistently blown away by the beauty, food, and outdoor opportunities.
The Dolomites are undoubtedly a unique cultural place and an area of outstanding beauty.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s what the experiences bring out in each of us that that makes them so special.
The awe-inspiring magnitude of The Dolomites is an absolute treasure, and one I hope you get to experience sometime soon.
until the next time…
live well – travel well – be well
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