Last updated on September 16th, 2023
If you’re headed to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Dolomites in Italy’s South Tyrol, you’re in for a treat!
The area’s combination of gorgeous mountain scenery, outdoor activities, incredible food, and three distinct cultures make it a destination for all interests.
I’ve been visiting the area multiple times a year since 2004, for work and play. This list of the best 20 things to do on a trip to the Dolomites (Dolomiti in Italian) is based on almost 20 years of experience in the area.
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Go Hiking in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are home to Italy’s best hikes, and the area has something for every level of hiker – from mountain climbers to families pushing strollers on flat (and scenic!) trails.
Five of our Favorite Hikes in the Dolomites
|Santa Croce||Take Pedraces lift and hike to San Cassiano||Stations of the Cross; La Crusc Summer Park|
|Rifugio Fanes||Camping Olympia to Rifugio Fanes, then out to Cortina d’Ampezzo||Fanes-Senes-Braies Park; food and atmosphere at Rifugio Fanes|
|Cinque Torri||Take lift from Baita Bai de Dones and walk to Rifugio Averau and Rifugio Nuvolau; optional hike to Passo Giau||WW1 open-air museum; watch rock climbers on Cinque Torri; bis pasta at Rifugio Averau|
|Resciesa||Take the Ortisei-Resciesa lift and hike to Schutzhütte Raschötz||Funicular ride; expansive views|
|Alpe di Siusi||Many hike options; Compatsch to Rifugio Alpe di Tires is a favorite||Picture-perfect vistas; wildflowers in the summer|
More Popular Hikes in the Region
- Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Drei Zinnen)
- Val di Funes
- Vajolet Towers
- Lago di Sorapis
- Adolf Munkel
Good To Know: Remember to dress in layers (or carry them in your pack) – the weather in the Dolomites can change in an instant!
Go Skiing in the Dolomites
If you visit in the winter months, don’t miss out on some of Italy’s (and Europe’s) best skiing.
You can buy the Dolomiti Superski Pass, which gives you access to 1200 kilometers of ski slopes and 450 lifts (that’s not a typo). Or, choose area passes, which cover less territory but are less expensive.
Not a skier? You can also go snowboarding, snowshoeing, sledding, or cross-country skiing in the Dolomites. Or, build a snowman or have a snowball fight!
Good To Know: If you’re visiting as a family with children, check out the snow sports packages on Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm). The area is an excellent base for kids of all ages.
Ride a Bike in the Dolomites
Italy is known as a cycling destination, and most people think of Tuscany as the ideal destination.
The Dolomites have cycling options for everyone!
|CYCLIST TYPE||WHY THE DOLOMITES?||WHERE TO RIDE|
|Mountain Bikers||Well-marked trails; variety of routes; organized races and rides||Alpe di Siusi; mountain passes|
|Road cyclists||Spectacular scenery; quality roads; challenging routes||Sella Ronda loop;|
|Beginner||E-bike rentals; quality roads and trails; traffic-free valley bike paths||Alpe di Siusi; valley bike paths|
|Families with children||Traffic-free valley bike paths; many bike rental shops||Valley bike paths; Alpe di Siusi|
Competitive athletes can join like-minded cyclists in the well-known Maratona dles Dolomites (road cycling) or the BMW HERO Südtirol Dolomites (mountain biking).
All levels and ages of cyclists will enjoy participating in a Sella Ronda Bike Day, a twice-yearly (June and September) event that closes the Sella Ronda loop to vehicle traffic.
Not into hiking or cycling? Other sports you can participate in during your visit to the Dolomites include paragliding, rock climbing, and Nordic walking.
Tackle a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are home to many vie ferrate, or ‘iron ways.’ A via ferrata is a route in the mountains made up of steel cables, fixed anchors, ladders, and bridges. Climbing a via ferrata allows you to experience exposed and difficult parts of a mountain climb if you’re not an experienced climber by clipping your harness into the steel cable that runs along the route.
Interesting Fact: Many of the vie ferrate in the Dolomites were installed during WW1.
If you’d like to try a via ferrata, it’s best to go with an experienced guide. I highly recommend:
- Helmut Kritzinger & Brigitte Mair of ArcAlpin (based in Fiè allo Sciliar)
- Heidi Vittur of Vico Travel (based in San Cassiano)
Visit a Messner Mountain Museum
Reinhold Messner, one of the world’s most accomplished mountaineers, is from South Tyrol (Bressanone / Brixen). He founded Messner Mountain Museum, a 6-site museum dedicated to the mountains. Each museum has a different theme and unique structure:
|Firmian||Near Bolzano||Man’s Encounter with the Mountains||Sigmundskron Castle|
|Corones||Kronplatz||Traditional mountaineering||Created by architect Zaha Hadid|
|Dolomites||Monte Rite (near Cortina d’Ampezzo)||Rock||Renovated fort|
|Juval||Val Venosta||Magic of the Mountain||Juval Castle|
|Ripa||Brunico||People of the Mountains||Bruneck Castle|
|Ortles||Sulden am Ortler||Ice||Underground|
Learn About Ladin Culture
The Ladin people, one of three main cultures of the Dolomites, are concentrated in the areas of Val Badia (Badiot in Ladin), Val Gardena (Gherdëina), Livinallongo del Col di Lana (Fodòm), Val di Fassa (Fascian), and Cortina d’Ampezzo (Anpezo or Ampëz).
The best way to learn about the Ladin culture is to spend time with a Ladin guide. I highly recommend Heidi Vittur from Vico Travel for hiking and cultural visits in the area.
Or visit one of the area’s Ladin Museums:
- Museum Ladin at Tor Castle (San Martino in Badia)
- Museum Gherdëina (Ortisei)
- Museum Ladin Ursus Ladinicus (San Cassiano)
- Museum Ladin de Fascia (Pozza di Fassa)
And, don’t be afraid to say ‘bon dí’ (good day) to people you meet in the valleys!
Eat Delicious Food in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are home to three distinct cultures – each with its own distinct cuisine.
As you travel throughout the region, you’ll see Austrian (Tirolean), Italian, and Ladin food.
Be sure to try:
|Knödel||Canederli||German bread dumpling, on its own or in broth|
|Apfelstrudel||Strudel di Mele||Apple Strudel|
|Spätzle||Spätzle||Spätzle (noodle/dumpling), often made with spinach|
|Schlutzkrapfen||Mezzelune||Ravioli (with spinach & ricotta)|
|Krapfen||Krapfen||Doughnuts (filled with jam)|
|Apfelsaft||Succo di Mela||Apple juice|
|Maisbrei||Polenta||Boiled cornmeal, usually served with cheese, mushrooms, or ragù|
You can sample the local dishes in a variety of settings, from mountain huts to Michelin-starred restaurants.
A few of our favorites include:
- Romantik Hotel Turm – excellent menu and our favorite salad bar in the Dolomites
- Rosa Alpina – both the Michelin 3-star St. Hubertus and the Wine Bar & Grill are worth a visit [CLOSED UNTIL WINTER 2024]
- Rifugio Fanes and Rifugio Alpe di Tires – Simple and delicious mountain fare
See more in our post on the Best Places to Eat in the Dolomites!
Visit Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm)
Alpe di Siusi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Europe’s largest high alpine plateau, is one of our favorite areas in the Dolomites. I’ve visited annually since 2004 and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon! The vast green area and views of the surrounding mountains will have you snapping photos all day!
Besides taking photographs, you can spend your time on Alpe di Siusi hiking, riding the lifts and cable cars, cycling, paragliding, dining on hearty mountain food, playing at a playground, or taking a horse carriage ride.
Good To Know: You can stay on Alpe di Siusi, but I recommend visiting on a day trip. The services are better in the towns and villages at the base of Alpe di Siusi (Fiè allo Sciliar, Siusi allo Sciliar, Castelrotto, Ortisei, Selva di Val Gardena, Santa Cristina di Val Gardena).
Learn about WW1 in the Dolomites
The Dolomites were the scene of a long and difficult WW1 battle between the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians. Known locally as the Great War, it divided families and pitted friends against each other in the harsh mountain terrain.
- Tre Sassi Fort
- Sasso di Stria (open-air)
- Lagazuoi (open-air)
- Cinque Torri (open-air)
Look for Dolomites Wildflowers
The Dolomites themselves are one huge flower garden in the summer months when the wildflowers carpet the meadows and grassy areas.
One of the best places to see wildflowers is on Alpe di Siusi in the months of June and July – the grassy areas burst into shades of purple, blue, orange, and yellow.
Grab a wildflower guidebook (I recommend the green Kompass pocket wildflower guide) and start identifying!
Meet the Ice Man in Bolzano
If you’re anywhere near Bolzano, you must stop by the South Tyrol Archaeological Museum to see Ötzi, the Ice Man. Ötzi is an over 5,000-year-old well-preserved mummy that is on display in the museum along with his clothing, tools, and weapons.
A visit to see the Ice Man is educational and interesting for all ages. We visit every time we go to Bolzano!
Good To Know: Don’t say hi to Ötzi and leave! The museum has excellent rotating exhibits upstairs that are worth a look.
Attend a Festival or Event in the Dolomites
The area celebrates throughout the year – in larger cities like Bolzano and in small mountain villages.
All cities and villages have weekly (or daily) farmers’ markets, and they’re excellent places to purchase locally-made jams, cheeses, and bread and enjoy just-picked produce.
Cultural and sporting events take place year-round. A sample of events include:
- Oswald Von Wolkenstein Ride
- Seiser Alm (Alpe di Siusi) Half Marathon
- Sella Ronda Bike Day
- Trento Film Festival
- Merano Grape Festival
Good To Know: Check with the excellent (and reliable) local tourist offices or websites. They’ll have info on local events including hikes, family activities, concerts, and more.
Good To Know: The 2026 Winter Olympics will be held in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Sip Local Wines, Cocktails, or Digestifs
When you think of Italian wine, you probably think of Chianti towns along with Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Barolo, but the Dolomites has its share of excellent wines. Be sure to try LaGrein (hearty red), Vernatsch (light red), and Gewurztraminer (white). Vineyard visits can be arranged with advance notice.
Spend the aperitivo hour gazing at the mountains and sipping on the area’s signature cocktail, the Hugo. It’s a refreshing drink that includes prosecco andelderflower syrup.
Get the recipe for an Authentic Hugo Cocktail – Straight from the Dolomites!
After lunch or dinner, try a local digestivo (digestif). Rifugi often have homemade grappa infused with local berries or mountain herbs.
Read more about Italian Digestifs!
Looking for a non-alcoholic drink to enjoy in the Dolomites? Enjoy the region’s delicious apple juice. Or, sip on a refreshing skiwasser – they’re perfect mid- or post-hike!
Visit an Alpine Lake in the Dolomites
The Dolomites have some of the most beautiful lakes in Italy. Some you may want to check out:
- Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee) – The Dolomites lake of Instagram fame. We recommend going early and walking around the lake for a different perspective and to escape the biggest crowds. You won’t be alone though!
- Lago di Misurina (Misurinasee) – You can see it on a visit to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
- Lago di Molveno (Malfeinsee) – One of Italy’s cleanest lakes, and a perfect swimming spot for all ages. The children’s playgrounds are a bonus!
- Lago di Dobbiaco (Toblachersee) – Easy to access from the road.
- Lago di Sorapis (Sorapissee) – The water is a gorgeous turquoise color (due to glacier dust). You’ll need to hike in, but it’s worth it!
- Laghetto di Fiè (Völser Weiher) – An easily accessible small lake with swimming, row boats, and a large dock / sunbathing area.
Good To Know: You can’t swim in all Dolomites lakes.
Read about Lake Molveno with Kids
Check out a Castle in the Dolomites
Italy has thousands of castles, and some of the best ones are in the Dolomites!
- Sigmundskron Castle (Firmian) – One of the six Messner Mountain Museums. Its theme is ‘Man’s Encounter with the Mountains.’ There are also temporary exhibitions each year.
- Prösels Castle (Fiè allo Sciliar) – Our favorite castle to visit with kids. They love the armor, weapons, and scenes of daily life.
- Roncolo Castle and Mareccio Castle (Bolzano) – Two easy-to-access castles in Bolzano.
Go on a Dolomites Road Trip
The classic Dolomites Road trip is along the historic Great Dolomites Road. The route takes you from Bolzano to Cortina, passing places like Lago di Carezza, Passo Pordoi, and Passo Falzarego along the way.
We typically drive an alternate northern route – from Bolzano, past Alpe di Siusi, through Val Gardena, Val Badia, Alta Badia, and to Cortina. On this alternate route, you’ll go over some gorgeous Dolomites passes, including Passo Gardena, Passo Valparola, and Passo Falzarego.
Good To Know: You can also ‘detour’ a bit and do the entire Sella Ronda loop (Passo Sella, Passo Pordoi, Passo Campolongo, Passo Gardena).
Good To Know: If you’re dreaming of a road trip, keep in mind that July and August are busy in the region. The roads will be full of cyclists, cars, and RVs, so expect traffic and slow speeds.
Spend the Night in a Dolomiti Rifugio
If you have the chance, include a night in a rifugio in your Dolomites itinerary. A rifugio (hütte in German)is a mountain hut, and in the Dolomites, they can range from rustic to downright fancy.
Some of the best food I’ve eaten and the most gorgeous views I’ve seen have been from rifugi!
Check out the range of styles and services at a few of them:
Many can only be reached by foot, while others are easily accessed with the help of chairlifts, cable cars, 4×4 vehicles, or even by regular vehicles.
You can stay in a rifugio on a multi-day hut-to-hut hike, or you can hike in and hike out the next day.
Rifugi offer half or full board and the bathrooms are usually shared. Book in advance, as they tend to fill up during the summer months.
Good To Know: Some rifugi require multi-day stays during busy periods.
Explore a City or Village in the Dolomites
Take a break from the stunning mountain hikes and wander the streets of a city or village center.
The best place for shopping in the Dolomites. We also love its markets, museums, and green areas.
Cortina is known as the ‘Pearl of the Dolomites’ and is the chicest destination in the region. High-end shops line the pedestrian-only street, and it’s the perfect place for people watching.
Corvara in Badia
Check out my guide to Corvara in the Summer
Ortisei is an excellent base for exploring Alpe di Siusi or other well-known hikes like Seceda and Resciesa. It’s also a nice place for aperitivo or a stroll along the pedestrian-only street in the evening.
Read more about Ortisei:
Ortisei with Kids
Complete Guide to Ortisei
The small village of Castelrotto is worth a visit for its views of the Sciliar, frescoed buildings, and local folk band. It’s another great base for exploring Alpe di Siusi.
Read more about Visiting Castelrotto (Kastelruth)
Fié allo Sciliar
Fiè allo Sciliar is our family’s favorite base for exploring the Dolomites. The quiet village has excellent accommodation options and family-friendly activities within arm’s reach.
Read more about Fiè allo Sciliar (Völs am Schlern)
San Cassiano is another nice base for exploring the Dolomites. Luxury hotel and dining options are available at Rosa Alpina (an Aman Resort) [CLOSED UNTIL WINTER 2024] and you can hike the nearby Santa Croce, Fanes, or Pralongia.
Trento is a bigger city in the area and is worth a trip for a stroll in its city center and a visit to the MUSE museum.
Merano is home to the area’s best thermal baths. We also love strolling the town’s main and residential streets.
Admire a Garden in the Dolomites
Each small village in the Dolomites takes pride in flowers and you’ll see them in flower boxes at hotels, decorating gardens of family homes, and in displays in the town center.
The best garden to visit in the Dolomites is the Botanical Gardens at Trauttmansdorff Castle, near Merano. Adults (and kids) can easily be entertained for an entire day at the Trauttmansdorrf Botanical Gardens.
Nearby, in the Merano city center, you’ll find the ‘Animal’ Garden, which is actually a lovely garden with interesting plants and a few sculptures.
Peek into backyards and you’ll see beautiful, organized gardens full of vegetables and flowers.
Find Your Favorite Playgrounds in the Dolomites
If you’re coming to the Dolomites with Kids, you must visit some of the region’s wonderful playgrounds. The Dolomites and northern Italy have the country’s best play areas!
Some of our favorite playgrounds include:
Talvera Park in Bolzano – play areas for all ages, from toddlers to teens! We love the trampolines (paid), huge rope climbing structure, bumpy slides, zipline, huge grassy area, and the baby and toddler park.
Ortisei’s Central Playground – set above the town on the Luis Trenker Promenade, this playground is a hit with kids. It has a fun sandy area, hammocks, mini trampolines, a massive play structure, swings, and more.
There are also some great playgrounds at mountain huts that you can stop at while you’re out on a hike.
See our list of the region’s best playgrounds in our post on visiting the Dolomites with Kids!
You may also want to check out our posts on:
Alpe di Siusi with Kids
Bolzano with Kids
Italy with a Baby or Toddler
Italy Packing List for a Baby or Toddler
Diapers in Italy
Printable Map of Italy for Kids
Italy Coloring Pages
Indulge in a Mountain Wellness Treatment
If you’re sore after a long day hiking (or, if you just want to be pampered!), indulge in a wellness treatment in the Dolomites. Our picks for the best places for taking care of yourself in the mountains:
Spas in the Dolomites
There are spa hotels everywhere you look! Our favorites:
- Rosa Alpina (San Cassiano) [CLOSED UNTIL WINTER 2024]
- Romantik Hotel Turm (Fiè allo Sciliar)
- Miramonti Boutique Hotel (Avelengo)
Thermal Baths in the Dolomites
Head to the thermal spa town of Merano and soak in its indoor or outdoor pool, relax in the sauna, or get a massage.
Hay Baths in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are home to a unique wellness treatment – the hay bath (bagno di fieno). Hay baths probably have their origin in the area in the village of Fiè allo Sciliar (Völs am Schlern). The town’s Hotel Heubad (Hay Bath Hotel) has been offering hay baths for over a century!
Hay baths originated with local farmers, who sat in or bathed in the hay and mountain herbs to soothe muscles, heal ailments, and help alleviate water retention.
The most common ways to take a hay bath are to soak in a hot tub filled with hay and herbs or to soak in a hot tub with a cloth sack filled with hay and herbs (kind of like a huge tea bag).
Good To Know: Worried about allergies? I was too, but I found my first hay bath to be very relaxing (and sneeze-free). I was told that allergies aren’t affected because the hay is wet (in the same way you can drink herbal tea without sneezing).
Where are the Dolomites?
The Dolomites are a part of the Alps in Northern Italy, located along the border with Austria. They run through the Italian provinces of Belluno, Trentino and Alto Adige (aka Südtirol or South Tyrol), Vicenza, Verona, Udine, and Pordenone. They run through the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige / Südtirol, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and the Veneto.
Interesting Fact: Most of the Dolomites were part of Austria until the end of World War 1, when the provinces of Alto Adige and Trentino became part of Italy.
Map of the Dolomites
Where to Stay in the Dolomites
You’ve got quite a selection of accommodation options in the Dolomites! You’ll find mountain huts (rifugi in Italian, hütte in German), B&Bs, apartment rentals, budget hotels, luxury hotels and resorts, and spa hotels.
Some of our favorites from our years of visits include:
- Rifugio Fanes (Fanes Valley)
- Rifugio Alpe di Tires (Alpe di Siusi)
- Vikoler Apartments (Fiè allo Sciliar)
- Pension Hubertus (Fiè allo Sciliar)
- Hotel Schgaguler (Castelrotto)
- Ciasa Salares (Armentarola)
- Romantik Hotel Turm (Fiè allo Sciliar)
- Cristallo Resort and Spa (Cortina d’Ampezzo)
- Rosa Alpina (San Cassiano) [CLOSED UNTIL WINTER 2024]
- Hotel La Perla (Corvara in Badia)
How to Get to the Dolomites
It’s easiest to get to the Dolomites by plane, train, or car.
If you’re flying into Italy and the Dolomites is your first stop, depending on where you’re headed in the Dolomites, you can fly into Innsbruck, Venice, Verona, Bologna, or even Milan.
If you’re arriving by train, I recommend getting to Bolzano, and then from there renting a car or taking the bus. Read more about Train Travel in Italy.
If you’re arriving by car, you can take the Autostrada to either Bolzano or Cortina d’Ampezzo, and begin your exploration there.
Read our Tips for Driving in the Dolomites
Getting Around the Dolomites
The Dolomites have an excellent public transport network. You can take buses, cable cars, and chairlifts to get anywhere you need to go.
Even so, it’s really nice to have your own car. Driving your own vehicle gives you the flexibility to stop on the side of the road for photos, a picnic, or to say hi to the cows!
If you’re planning on driving in Italy, check out our posts on:
Renting a Car in Italy
Renting a Car in Italy as an American
Italian Gas Stations and Getting Gas in Italy
Important Italian Road Signs
Driving in Italy
International Driving Permit for Italy
Renting a Car in Italy with a US Driver’s License
Italian Toll Roads – Driving on the Autostrada
Paying Tolls in Italy
Parking in Italy + Parking Sign Translations
ZTLs in Italy
First trip to Italy? 10th? Either way, check out our 200+ Essential Italy Travel Tips!
Things to Do in the Dolomites FAQ
The Dolomites and Lake Como are both in Northern Italy. Looking at two of the main cities in each area (Como in Lake Como and Bolzano in the Dolomites), they’re less than 200 kilometers apart as the crow flies, but they’re about 300 kilometers apart by road. The drive from Como to Bolzano takes about 3 hr 15 min.
No, you’re probably thinking of the Cinque Torri, the Five Towers, located near Cortina d’Ampezzo. The Cinque Torri are popular with rock climbers, and the surrounding area is full of hiking trails, a unique open-air WW1 museum, and delicious rifugio food!
The Dolomites are technically part of the Alps. Usually, Italians refer to the mountains in the Val d’Aosta as the Alps and the mountain range in Trentino-Alto Adige and the Veneto as the Dolomites.
No, you cannot swim in the crystal-clear water of Lago di Braies. You can enjoy the lake from the shore, on a hike around the lake, or you can rent a row boat. Many websites say you can swim in the lake, but the tourist board confirmed it is not allowed.