Italian Dolomites Guide
Where to base yourself in the Italian Dolomites
Are you having a hard time deciding what region of the Dolomites to visit? These articles will help you decide.
Photography & road trips in the Italian Dolomites
Discover the most iconic photography locations, learn about the most photogenic mountains huts and see what mountain passes are worth driving through to get the perfect shot.
Day hikes in the Italian Dolomites
Dolomites offer endless hiking opportunities, from short 1-hour strolls through mountain valleys to full-day summit excursions. Choose a hike suitable to your mood and abilities.
Hut-to-hut treks in the Italian Dolomites
With an extensive alpine hut network, the Dolomites are perfect for planning a hut-to-hut adventure, from 3-day mountain range traverse to 14-day crossings of all Dolomites.
Via ferratas in the Italian Dolomites
Dolomites are the place where via ferratas were first created. See my guides for over 30 via ferratas from beginner to advanced routes.
Frequently Asked Questions About Travel in the Italian Dolomites
When is the best time to visit the Dolomites if I want to hike?
The hiking season starts officially mid-June that’s when most backcountry huts open. July and August are hot and tempestuous but very beautiful. August is the month of holidays for many Europeans and the trails can get very busy.
September and October are my favorites. The summer storms subside, and so does the tourist number. Autumn colors start to transform the region. Most alpine huts close by the 3rd week of September. The ski season in the Dolomites starts in early December and finishes toward the end of April. Some mountain passes might be closed during that time and hiking is only possible in the valleys (if at all).
If you choose to travel in the spring (May – mid-June), look for south-facing via ferratas and hikes or valley walks. Being exposed to the sun longer, they’ll have the highest chance of being snow-free.
Why are they called the Dolomites?
They are named after a sedimentary rock primarily made up of limestone but with extra goodies in there such as magnesium and calcium. I’m not going to pretend I’m a Geologist.
The Dolomites were named after an 18th-century French mineralogist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu. He was the first to describe the mineral.
Because of the rich compound nature of Dolomitic rock, it’s said to exacerbate the Enrosadira effect seen in the mountains before sunrise or after sunset. Enrosadira, which comes from the Latin ‘turning pink’ is more commonly known as Alpenglow. A phenomenon where the sun’s rays are reflected off atmospheric elements onto the mountains.
How much time do I need to see the Dolomites?
Let’s just get one thing straight, there is no upper limit to this question. I have spent over 7 months in the Dolomites over two hiking seasons and the list of things I want to do is still as long as ever.
A good amount of time to explore is at least 10 days. This will give you a real taste of what the Dolomites are all about. However, if you can only come here for a few days then I still highly recommend it. Just don’t try to see everything. It’s not possible. My recommendation would be to base yourself in one region and explore from there.
Read More: Guides to Dolomite’s regions
Is freedom camping allowed in the Dolomites?
Strictly not. The Dolomites have plenty of campsites. If you want to be in the mountains, there are also many mountain huts where you can overnight instead.
If you are going to break the rules, please don’t litter, don’t destroy any flora, and don’t light any campfires. The scorched earth around the shoreline of Lago Sorapiss, where hikers often blatantly ignore the no-camping restrictions will last for decades.
What is the best way to get to the Dolomites?
The two closest international airports are Innsbruck (Austria) or Venice, both a little over 2 hour drive away. If you’re not bringing your vehicle then flying into one of these airports and renting a car or campervan is your best option with compact car being my recommended choice.
Distances from nearest airports to closest Dolomiti towns:
- Venice Treviso to Cortina – 2 hours/138 km/86 mi
- Venice Marco Polo to Cortina – 2h10min/149 km/93 mi
- Innsbruck (AT) to San Candido – 2h10min/137 km/85 mi
- Milan Bergamo to Siusi – 3h/257 km/160 mi
- Milan Malpensa to Siusi – 3h45min/340 km/211 mi
Can I fly my drone in the Dolomites?
All places reserved for natural beauty (i.e. national & nature parks) restrict the use of drones. This covers most of the areas that you’ll want to fly your drone in, including but not limited to Lago di Braies (Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park), Tre Cime Nature Park, and the Seceda Ridgeline (Puez-Odle Nature Park).
Unfortunately, despite the regulations, there will be 10+ drones flying at any one point in any of those spots. Outside of national parks, drones are not allowed above 70m, to be flown at night or above people or roads. This website covers the rules and regulations more in-depth if you would like to know more.
Do I need a car to travel around the Dolomites?
To get the most out of your time here then I would say yes. The only exception would be if you plan on doing a thru-hike for several days that isn’t a loop and have no way of relocating your vehicle.
Besides, there isn’t much point in renting a vehicle if it will be standing parked the majority of the time. Whilst buses do exist, to get to certain photography spots, hiking trailheads, or climbs, going by public transport though possible can be frustrating due to limited times and routes.
What are the most photogenic places in the Dolomites?
If you want to take photos on the ground and not from your drone then knock yourself out. There are plenty of places where you can do so. My favorites are generally a mix of the most scenic passes in the Dolomites and some of the most iconic spots.
As I’ve gotten older I started to appreciate that the more effort you put into a single snap, the more rewarding editing, showcasing, and memorable that photo will be.
How to travel the Dolomites without a car?
Bus shuttles run regularly from Venice Airport to the town of Cortina. The towns in the Dolomites are pretty well connected by local bus networks.
For route calculations and schedules, I found that Google Maps and Sued Tirol Mobil work best and it’s the most user-friendly option.
Just bear in mind that similarly to hotels, gondolas, or mountain huts, buses also operate on a seasonal basis which means public transport during the shoulder seasons (October-November, May – mid-June) is very limited.
Cities and towns like Bolzano, Bressanone, Bruneck, San Candido, or Pieve di Cadore also have train stations. Again use either Google Maps or the Tren Italia website for looking up connections and schedules.
What are the best day hikes in the Dolomites?
Hiking trails are prevalent all over the Dolomites, I would know, I have walked over a thousand miles here. I almost feel like the third member of The Proclaimers.
I’ve created a list of the most rewarding day hikes in the Dolomites that I’ve done to date. Pssst….If you would like to know a few of my favourites here they are!
Are the Dolomites campervan friendly?
As someone who lived in a campervan for extended periods, I wouldn’t say Dolomites are particularly campervan friendly.
Yes, there are plenty of campsites, but they tend to be quite expensive and crowded. It’s difficult to drive on curvy and narrow roads with big vehicles and some parking spaces have a height limit.
I lost a mirror once thanks to a speeding local driver who was cutting corners. If you are coming with your campervan then go for it, but if you plan on renting my advice would be to stick to hotels and a compact car. If however you are set on travelling in a camper then Motorhome Republic is a perfect website for price comparison.
What are the best hut-to-hut treks in the Dolomites?
Due to the presence of over 1000 mountain huts, multi-day hiking is very popular. Apart from the famous Alta Vias, which I will get to in a second, there are 4 hut-to hut trips that I recommend.
The first is a north-to-south traverse through Tre Cime Nature Park, it gives you the opportunity to see the famous Three Peaks from all angles. The second is a south-to-north traverse of the Rosengarten Group which has many rewarding via ferrata extensions. My absolute favorite – Dolomiti Brenta Traverse – the lesser-known range in the southwest part of the Dolomites with lots of exhilarating via ferratas! Last but not least, a 4-day traverse of the San Pale di Martino Range, a part of the longer Palaronda route.
What is it like to drive in the Dolomites?
If there was no one else on the roads the driving would be awesome. However, it’s usually the locals, who ‘know the roads’, who won’t be scared to overtake round corners.This always sends shivers down my spine.
This is especially true for those on motorbikes. It’s unnerving at first because at times the roads can also be pretty narrow but just take it slowly to begin with and gradually gain confidence. It’s nicer the smaller the vehicle you have. You’ll be able to nip into small parking spaces and find it easier to corner on tight mountain passes.
What is an Alta Via?
Alta, coming from the Latin Altus, meaning “high” and Via meaning “road”, “path” or “way”. These are high paths through the mountains that take several days. In the Dolomites, there are predominantly 6 routes.
Alta Via 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. I have done all of Alta Via 1 (142km), Alta Via 2 (192 km), and Alta Via 4 (92 km) plus parts of Alta Via 3 and 5. As intimidating as they sound, they are achievable, even if you don’t have a lot of backpacking experience. Thanks to hut facilities, you don’t have to carry outdoor equipment such as tents, pots, pans, gas or food.
What language is spoken in the Dolomites?
Historically the Roman Empire spoke Latin, in the mountains the inhabitants developed this into Ladin. I have once heard two locals speaking it at a local cafe and I couldn’t work out what language it was until I finally decided to spark a conversation with them.
After the fall of Rome, Latin gradually morphed into what we know today as Italian. Sometimes referred to as ‘Modern-Day Latin’.
German, the third language in the Dolomites, mostly came from the First World War when the Austro-Hungarian Empire moving South collided with the Italian Forces. In the aftermath of the trench warfare, the Dolomites were divided. Some towns kept Italian but many because of their Austrian presence remained German. The German language goes back further than this however as the region of South Tyrol has been contested over between Bavarians and Italians for centuries.
It’s generally considered that German and Italian are the main languages. Almost all places have both a German and an Italian pronoun (and sometimes Ladin). For example, the German Dreizinnen and the Italian Tre Cime which translate to English as Three Peaks. You’ll get used to it once you’re here, but it gets confusing when you type into Google Maps directions for Siusi and end up getting them for Seis am Schlern.
What is the summer weather like in the Dolomites?
May is a really beautiful time of the year but just don’t expect many hiking trails to be open because there is still a lot of snow at higher elevations. June is splendid but hold your horses and don’t fall into a trap! If you plan your trip for June let it be the second half of the month, otherwise there is no guarantee the trails will be snow-free!
July and August are hot. Having temperatures above 30 (86F) is not uncommon. In the summer months, the mornings are generally calm but in the afternoon when the temperature rises, tumultuous clouds build, resulting in impressive downpours and thunderstorms.
The storms generally don’t last long, they are quick and intense. If you plan your trip and the forecast shows storms every day don’t cancel it! The storms are part and parcel of the area and generally only affect a short period of the afternoon.
In the peak summer months of July and August, I (try to) wake up early (around 5 AM). I do my hikes or climbs until around midday, then relax in the afternoon. This way I’m avoiding the hottest time of the day and I am finished by the time the afternoon storm rolls around.
September and October have plenty of blue-bird, brilliantly sunny days. They are my favorite months and I’m flabbergasted that the majority of huts close in September and many towns turn into ghost towns in October. The autumn colors start to show in late September usually with the peak hitting between mid-October and early November.
What is a via ferrata?
Via Ferrata comes from the Latin root of Via which means “way”, “road” or “path” and Ferrata which means “iron”. In English, they are referred to as iron paths, but most of the time we just borrow the Italian and refer to them as Via Ferrata.
They are routes constructed during the First World War, to help soldiers gain strategic military strongholds in the mountains. As you can imagine a soldier with a 50kg pack on, trying to resupply his team on top of a mountain wouldn’t be able to do many technical climbing moves so they drilled into the mountainside and inserted cables, ladders, pegs, and stemples to make their life slightly easier. After the war ended these routes eventually morphed into tourist attractions. The old, often wooden equipment was replaced with safe modern solutions.
What is a Rifugio?
Rifugio is the Italian word for refuge. In German, they are referred to as hütte which translates to hut. If I was to describe them in my own words I would call them high-alpine hostels. Almost all of them have restaurants (or at least means of getting some food) and the majority of them have overnight facilities allowing hikers to stay in them for a fee.
They are often the most scenically located options of all your accommodation choices so I highly recommend staying in as many as possible.
What's the tipping culture like in the Dolomites?
From what I understand there isn’t a tipping culture but my experience of the upper end of culinary establishments is extremely limited. I’m more of a takeaway pizza kind of person.
Obviously serving staff won’t reject tips but they are generally paid a good wage and tipping is not expected or mandatory. If you’re that way inclined though and feel that you have received excellent service, then why not?
Is it safe to travel solo around the Dolomites?
Can I use my credit card when visiting the Dolomites?
Italians love to dodge taxes. There I said it, I didn’t beat around the bush. Sorry, not sorry. Most places will accept cards but some alpine huts due to their location have poor, or even no internet connection, and so are cash-only establishments.
Some small businesses accept cards from Italians and cash from tourists or there is often a spending limit before you can pull out the Mastercard from your wallet. Usually it is 10 Euros. Whilst you’ll predominantly be using your card, carrying cash isn’t a bad idea.
As a self-employed person who puts travel costs as my business expenses, it was often a nightmare to receive invoices in Italy. I have some really interesting stories to tell one involving phoning the police to resolve a dispute!
Is it expensive to travel in the Dolomites?
Dolomites have exploded in popularity in recent years and so did the prices. I often tell people that the best value in the Dolomites is the Rifugios. Half board options are roughly 70-80€ per person and include a 3-course dinner and breakfast.
Yes, you might have to share a dorm but value-wise it’s unbeatable. Plus you’ll have incredible views. Food and drink will usually be your next biggest expense. Expect to pay around 30-40€ per person for an evening meal with drinks. Coffee is not only cheap but also really good. You are in Italy after all.
Activity-wise, most things in the Dolomites are free: hiking, climbing, or photography. The most expensive activity you’ll undertake will probably be gondola rides, most of which are less than 20-30€ per person return.