Practical travel guide to the best places in the Dolomites + the Dolomites map and tips you need to plan your visit in this stunning corner of Italy.
The Dolomites are one of the most beautiful parts of the Italian Alps.
A high mountain system in the north east of the country, the Dolomites are Unesco world heritage site and a place of unforgettable natural beauty.
But what are the best places on the Dolomites to see, stay, hike and ski?
I have been vacationing on the Dolomites all my life and love the place with all my heart. These are the best places on the Dolomites for a wonderful vacation.
Where are the Dolomites + Dolomites Map
The Dolomites are a mountainous area in the north east of Italy.
They stretch between the city of Bolzano/Bozen and the border with Austria and are in the Italian regions of Trentino Alto Adige (provinces of Trento and Bolzano) and Veneto (Province of Belluno).
The nearest airports are Venice and Verona and the biggest train station serving the area is in Bolzano.
How to choose where to go on the Dolomites
There is really no bad place in the Dolomites, the whole area is so beautiful you will be hard pressed to find a place that is less than picture perfect.
However, different valleys do have also have distinctive traits that make some locations more suited than others to certain types of visitors.
Anywhere you go in the Dolomites, you can expect stunning peaks, pretty villages with flowery balconies and fairytale-looking streets.
You will also encounter anywhere in the area the peculiar mix of Italian and Austrian culture given by the peculiar history of the area (the area was under Austrian rule until the I world war and it is still now bilingual), which you still feel in the double language of the area and the delicious food you find here.
Unique to some valleys is the presence of a third language, Ladino, and the feel of different localities also varies quite a bit.
Some areas have a more glamorous, buzzy feel and style while others are more rural and better suited to a calm, no frill holiday.
All are wonderful and the truth is that many people go to one valley over the other not because one is more beautiful than the next but because these places are so amazing they truly capture your heart and one you see them no matter which one you happen to experience, is sure to just make you want to see it again and again.
The best places to visit in the Dolomites
Val Pusteria is a long Valley stretching from the town of Rio Pusteria in the province of Bolzano to the city of Lienz in Austria.
It is over 100km long, it is stunning and has some of the most famous landscapes and landmarks in the area.
This is the valley where you find:
The iconic Three Peaks of Lavaredo/ Tre Cime di Lavaredo / Drei Zinnen, now the symbol of the Dolomites,
Instagram- famous Lake Braies / Pragsee (this always cracks me up, I have been going there for decades before Instagram existed and I cannot believe the hype around it now. I mean it is pretty, but there are so many more lakes in the area, I don’t get the obsession!) – find our guide to visiting Lake Braies here.
The pretty town of San Candido/Innichen and the stunning Sesto natural sundial, a sequence of three peaks called 11, 12 and 1, aligned with the course of the sun!
Beautiful and child-friendly Lake Dobbiaco, one of the best places for a relaxed mountain walk with kids.
Several family parks including Olperl Mountain park, Mount Baranci Mountain park and fun-bob trail and Magical Forest Playgound in Dobbiaco.
Many family hikes: you can read about our favorite family hikes in Val Pusteria here.
The area is a delight of small towns with pretty balconies, flowers and churches with pointy tower bells and it is perfect for hiking and skiing.
Val Pusteria has been discovered by tourism a long time ago and you have plenty of German, Austrian and Italian holidaymakers who pretty much relocate here for the summer.
Advance booking in winter and summer is a must (up to 6 months ahead or more, for the most popular towns.)
Val Badia is a beautiful, sunny valley with two of the most beautiful mountain system in the area: the natural park of Puez-Odle and that of Fanes-Senes-Braies, an absolute paradise for nature lovers.
Val Badia is popular in summer for the many hikes of the area and in winter for its excellent skiing and it is also home to several Movement parks, that are equipped outdoor areas at high altitude with opportunities for hiking, biking, climbing and playing (great for kids too)
The main towns here are pretty Colfosco, La Villa, Corvara, San Cassiano and San Vigilio di Marebbe, all well equipped for tourism.
Not to be missed here is the stunning Passo Gardena, one of the most beautiful mountain passes in the area: drive up by car and catch the unforgettable view!
On the other side of Passo Gardena from Val Badia lies Val Gardena one of the most famous and visited valleys in the Dolomites.
Val Gardena has three main towns, Ortisei, Selva di Val Gardena and Santa Cristina and is dominated by the wonderful park of the Puez-Odle and its wonderful peaks.
Val Gardena is popular both in summer and winter and since it has been a popular vacation destination for decades it is also one of the best equipped.
In winter, you can go skiing, snowshoeing, do torchlight hikes and ziplining while in summer you have wonderful hiking opportunities and go for a ‘flying aperitivo’ on Mount Sassolungo!
Val di Fassa
Val di Fassa is dominated by imposing Marmolada, the highest massif in the Dolomites.
Val di Fassa has been a popular destination in the Dolomites for decades and it is a real hikers and skiers’ paradise as it gives easy assess to many mountains systems including Marmolada itself, Sella, Portdoi, Sassolungo and Catinaccio group, among the most beloved by mountain lovers.
Beautiful towns here are Canazei, Moena and Vigo di Fassa.
They are considered among the most family-friendly localities in the Dolomites and indeed they have something for everyone.
Her you can embrace mountain sports (paragliding, hiking, cycling, rock climbing, skiing), make the most of the local spas, beautiful and welcoming and, of course, you can bring the kids to one of the many local playgrounds or explore the many family-friendly hikes available
Val di Funes
Val di Funes is a small, beautiful Valley in the Natural Park Puez-Odle, characterized by wonderful peaks, large green lawns and pretty villages.
Slightly lesser known than others in the area, it is a wonderful place where you can still find quiet and tranquillity, something that many trendier locations on the Dolomites have, in the high season, somehow lost.
Val di Funes is perfect for a relaxing vacation with a rural feel but also has the pretty towns and the lovely hiking opportunities the mountains do so well.
Val di Funes is also where you find the famous chapel of Ranui, which is one of the most photographed churches in the whole of the Alps and the place where Messner was born so you know the trekking and hiking here is top-notch!
Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of the most famous and glamorous destinations in the Dolomites.
Nestled at the bottom of the wonderful peaks of le Tofane, the town has hosted the Winter Olympics and still now is considered one of the best places in the area for winter sports (if you love ice skating, the Olympic ice rink is here!) as well as summer hiking.
The town of Cortina has beautiful hotels and elegant shops and has a distinct upscale atmosphere.
This is the place where the Hugo cocktail was born and indeed, if you are looking for a place with elegant aperitivo sipping after a day on the slopes or hiking, Cortina may just be the place!
Lake Misurina and the beautiful historical hotel overlooking it is one of the most photographed and recognizable landmarks in the Dolomites area.
The stunning mountain overlooking the lake is Monte Cristallo and the area is rich of wonderful hikes that make it one of the most beloved mountains destinations in Italy for the summer.
From this area, you can easily reach the hikes on Piz Popena, Monte Piana (famous for world war I locations), Marmarole and Sorapiss and the famous 3 Cime di Lavaredo, which you can read driving up the scenic road that departs just from Misurina.
Misurina is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites you can reach by car.
How to plan your stay in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are a place for slow tourism, skiing hiking and the best way to visit is to pick one area, stay a few days and explore locally.
Most people spend here a week or longer, sometimes mixing one week in one locality and one in a different area, to explore different hikes.
The best time to visit the Dolomites
The Dolomites are a place for winter sport and summer hiking ski season usually is in full swing between December and march and summer hiking happens from the end of June to mid August.
The best way to get around the Dolomites
The best way to get around the Dolomites is my private car.
The roads are often narrow and winding (these are full on mountain roads) however, they are well kept and standard vehicles are more than sufficient to get around.
In winter, some roads and passes may be closed and snow chains are necessary, so always make sure you check weather conditions and warning if traveling in pretty much any season.
Accommodation options in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are very well equipped to welcome tourism and you can choose between several accommodation options:
Hotels – available in several price points, they range from simple pensioni to 4 star accommodation options with pools and spas. It is common for hotels in the area to offer half-board packages with breakfast and dinner.
Agriturismo – agriturismo in the area are ideal for those who want a more rural and familiar atmosphere. the best website for them is called gallorosso.it
Garni, – this is the local name for B&Bs and you find them in several localities usually at excellent prices.
Rifugi – rifugio is Italian for ‘mountain hut’ and many offer accommodation options.
These are usually for hikers on overnight hikes and can be wonderful if you are planning to stay up on the mountains and not come back to the valley for a few days.
What to pack for the Dolomites
The Dolomites are an area for skiing and hiking and they requires appropriate gear.
In winter, full on ski gear is needed and in summer you will need athletic wear and proper hiking shoes as basic items for almost all activities. Find my packing list for the Dolomites in summer here (winter edition coming soon)
I hope you enjoyed this essential travel guide to the Dolomites and it helped you plan your stay. Safe travel planning!