When most people think of traveling to Italy, they immediately think of cities like Rome, Pompeii, and Venice. However, while these cities are beautiful and amazing experiences, many focus on them alone and miss out on the incredible beauty of Northern Italy. In doing this, they miss some of the most beautiful and unique mountains that I have ever seen: The Dolomites. Most people don’t even realize that there are amazing opportunities for hiking in Northern Italy, but the Italian Alps are a true sight to behold and definitely a “can’t miss” kind of experience. This guide will help you plan every step of your travel to the Dolomites region of Northern Italy.
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What Are The Dolomites?
The Dolomites is a mountainous region in Northern Italy that is actually a section of the Italian Alps. Located in South Tyrol, this incredible mountain range used to be known as the “Pale Mountains.” The region itself is famous for its incredible hiking, history, skiing, and jagged mountains. When you see photos of mountains in Italy that are dark or spiky, it is likely a photo from the Dolomites region. When traveling to the Dolomites it is important to note that there are heavy German and Italian influences in the region. The region itself is full of history and beauty that is worth experiencing.
Best Time to Travel To The Dolomites Dolomites Region
The Dolomites region has something to offer everyone year-round. In the summer, hiking is a huge draw as there are hundreds of different hikes to experience in the area. In the winter, the area is filled with both alpine and cross country skiers as the area has multiple ski resorts that draw in people who enjoy winter sports. Both the summer and the winter can be busy times in the Dolomites region, but it is never overwhelmingly busy if you plan correctly.
Personally, I went in the shoulder season in November. It wasn’t quite winter yet so the winter crowds weren’t there. It was snowing, but we were still able to do some hiking as there wasn’t a base layer of snow on the ground in some areas yet. By going in the off-season, we saved a ton of money on hotels and ticket prices were CHEAP ($390 roundtrip and direct from Orlando!).
How To Get To The Dolomites From Venice
In general, in Italy, train travel is the way to go! Trains are efficient and easy, and there are multiple cities that you can travel to by train. If you are wondering how to get to the Dolomites from Venice by train, the easiest way is to go to the main train depot in Venice, Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia. From there, you can catch a train to the Calalzo – Pieve Cadore – Cortina station. It is possible that there are changes in trains along the way, but you can buy a ticket to take you there. It takes anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours to get to the area from Italy. Once there you will need to hire or car or driver which can be arranged by your hotel.
Other options for getting to the Dolomites from Venice are to rent a car or join a guided tour. When we went, we rented a car because we knew that we wanted to really drive around and explore the area. We drove from Milan to the Dolomites and then from the Dolomites to Venice. Just keep in mind that no cars are allowed on the island of Venice so you will have to rent one from off the island. If you choose to drive, it takes about 2.5 hours to get to the Dolomites from Venice.
If you are looking to join a tour, they will take care of all of the transportation for you. This is the ideal option if you just want to do a day trip to see the beautiful mountains and lakes.
How To Get To The Dolomites From Milan
If you are wondering how to get to the Dolomites from Milan, the best answer is to rent a car. They are located at the northern tip of Italy and connect with the rest of the European Alps. It is about a 2.5-hour drive from Milan to get to the Southern Tyrol region in general. However, it is more like a 5-hour drive to get to the main area of the Dolomites. When traveling to the Dolomites from Milan, you go through an incredibly mountainous area which makes it difficult for there to be a direct train route or road. While the distance straight to the Dolomites isn’t long, you have to wrap around mountains to get there. The bonus of driving to the Dolomites from Milan is that you pass a bunch of incredible little castles on the side of the road and the views are absolutely incredible. It is a wonderful drive to do.
If you decide to take the train from Milan, the best way to get to the region is to go to the Milano Centrale Railway Station in central Milan. You will want to catch the train heading towards Munchen (Munich) and stop at the Franzensfeste stop in the Dolomites region. From there you can hire a driver in the region. You will want to make sure to book your ticket in advance so that you can plan for the trip.
Camping in the Dolomites
The Dolomites is an incredible area for camping and hiking. If you are planning on camping in the Dolomites, there are a lot of options for locations and types of campsites. It is important to note that you can only camp in established campsites in the region unless you are completing a multi-day trek. Even with the multi-day treks, there are specific areas where you can camp during your hike.
Places To Stay in the Dolomites
The ideal area to stay in when traveling to the Dolomites is in the South Tyrol area. There are multiple beautiful lakes there that make it the ideal location. A lot of people like to stay in Val Gardena, Santa Cristinam, and Alta Badia although anywhere that you stay in the Dolomites will offer you incredible views and experiences.
Low-Cost Hotel: GH Hotel Piaz
Mid-Range Hotel: Boutique Hotel Villa Blu Cortina
Luxury Hotel: HOTEL de LEN
Things To Do When You Travel to the Dolomites
There are multiple options for hiking in the Dolomites from short day hikes to long multi-day treks. The Dolomites has hikes to offer everyone during the summer season and more technical hiking and mountaineering during the shoulder and winter seasons. Most of the most famous hikes in the area surround the incredibly beautiful lakes in the Dolomites. Between the lakes and the mountains, the views are to die for.
One hike that we did in the Dolomites took us about 3.5 hours, and we didn’t even make it to the top. It was supposed to take us “3” round trip, but we never believe the times that websites tell us. Especially in the snow and ice, hiking can take much longer. Plus, my camera obsession means multiple stops looking for the perfect shot along the way. We also took time to fly our drone into this really awesome ice cave on the top of a mountain during the hike.
It got intensely foggy as we got closer to the top and it was also starting to snow pretty hard. Being on a tight schedule, we decided to turn around. On the way back, we noticed some things that we missed on the way up. There were actually World War buildings and caves built into the mountain. There were leftover turrets and broken-down walls. We were hiking in history and didn’t even realize it when we planned the trip. Pretty cool to be honest.
If you love hiking as I do, make sure you check out these quotes about hiking to find some inspiration!
If you are interested in learning more about the hiking options in the Dolomites, check out these two awesome books: Walking in the Dolomites: 25 Multi-day Routes in Italy’s Dolomites and Shorter Walks in the Dolomites for some inspiration and awesome tips!
The Dolomites provide multiple different hikes for different skill levels. While my husband and I love hiking, we are in no way mountaineers, and I have too many injuries to be a crazy hiker. That limits our ability to do some hikes that we would like to do. I mean, heck, I’d climb Everest if I had the ability to train and complete something like that, but alas, an adventure of that amount of intense physical grandeur and ability will never be in the cards for me.
Participate in Alpine Sports
The Dolomites region has some incredible skiing and snowboarding opportunities for people of all skill levels. Being a part of the Alps mountain range means that the “alpine” experience is incredible. If you are looking for an awesome winter adventure that includes some time on the slopes, then the Dolomites have a lot to offer you! The plus side of the “Off-season” is that the ski slopes in the Italian Alps are beginning to open but aren’t busy yet! If you are a fan of skiing, snowboarding, or other alpine sports, then it’s worth checking the ski season dates for the year before your trip! Likewise, the French Alps also have incredible skiing opportunities! Check out the French Alps Ski Season Dates here.
Experience the History of the Dolomites Region
While there, my husband and I actually hiked to a World War Cemetery. It was an interesting experience because more than 2000 soldiers’ ashes were put into a giant urn in the middle of the room. It was very solemn inside. The other crazy thing was that we were standing there as Americans looking at the graves of mostly German and Italian soldiers. Our country caused those deaths, and, even though they were always the enemy.
It gave me a whole new perspective on war. Those were people. Thousands of dead men and women were buried in that one room. Enemy or not, evil or not, those were people just like you and me. They had families and friends. Many likely did not even want to fight, they could have felt that there was no other option in life or they were drafted and forced to fight.
More information about the battles in the Dolomites can be found here.
No matter how big the world seems, the people are the same on both sides of it. I think that’s one of the most important things that travel has taught me.
Travel To The Dolomites During the Off-Season
The downside of planning travel to the Dolomites during the off-season was that the farther north we went, the more things we found were closed. Italy is known for its incredible food, but Eric and I found that we were often left hungry. Every time we got hungry, it wasn’t in sync with the times that things were open. Northern Italy seems to take this huge siesta from 1pm-7pm. We couldn’t find anything but bars (with closed kitchens) open! While this makes sense from an economic perspective, our stomachs didn’t care.
If you do decide to travel North in the off-season, bring snacks to get you by. Another thing that was closed was the cable car that we were planning to take to the top of the mountain for the start of a hike. We really didn’t plan on that being closed (terrible website really). Actually, the whole town in the middle of the Dolomites was like a ghost town in November, but it comes alive with the snow in December. However, we found hikes and did our own thing and were fine. Overall, hiking in Northern Italy was one of the highlights of our trip!
The Language in Northern Italy
One more thing that was unique about planning your travel to the Dolomites region is that Italian is not the only language that you need to know. Even though we were still in Italy, the farther north we went, the more Germany was spoken. Many of the towns had street signs that were written first in German with the Italian translation under it. Although many people in this area are trilingual (Speaking English, Italian, and German), knowing a little bit of each language can be helpful for getting around. You can still get by with English, but it’s good to know the common German phrases for “Thank you” (Danke), “You’re welcome” (Bitte), “Water” (Wasser, pronounced “Vasser”), “Please” (Also bitte), etc.
Let me know if you decide to travel to the Dolomites! I would love to hear about your adventure!
I never seem to think of Italy as mountains with snow! Great insight into a different part of Italy 🙂
Thank you! They are actually a part of the Alps, just the Italian Alps rather than the French Alps. 🙂
I’ll keep this in mind when I go to Grenoble!
Yay! I hope you have a great time!