4 Days in the Dolomites
We spent two weeks in Italy this summer and oh my gosh, it was the most delicious and magical two weeks of our lives! We kicked off our trip in the Dolomites, which is a beautiful mountainous area and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Italy. Between the mountains, charming towns, incredible people, and gorgeous lakes, it was not only our favorite thing we did during our entire two week trip, but also one of our favorite places we have ever been! We only had two days there, which was definitely not enough time, but we were still able to see some of the biggest highlights in the area. However, it was pretty packed and exhausting, so instead of copying exactly what we did, this guide will cover 4 days in the Dolomites so you can enjoy things at a slightly slower pace. But if you have more than 4 days, we highly recommend spending as much time there as you can! We are also writing this guide off of our own experience in the Dolomites and only focusing on the areas we went to, but we are adding some extra ideas at the end if you want more suggestions!
There are SO many beautiful places to explore in the Dolomites—it’s impossible to experience it all in a short period of time, but we hope this guide helps get you started! And if you have any questions about the Dolomites, let us know in the comments section below or send us an email, we’re always happy to help!
PS: For more Italy ideas, watch our Italy vlog series and check out the rest of our Italy guides:
- 1 Day in Venice
- 1 Day in Matera (Coming soon!)
- 2 Days in Positano (Coming soon!)
- 3 Days in Rome (Coming soon!)
- 2 Days in Florence (Coming soon!)
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
Tips for a Great Trip
We are still pretty new to Europe travel and tried to prepare as much as we could for our trip, but we still learned a LOT and had a LOT of mishaps along the way. Here are our Italy and Dolomites tips to make your trip a little bit smoother!
- Gas stations were our biggest struggle. In the more remote areas they are hard to come by and they also usually require either someone to pump your gas OR pay inside. They also close early and not all of them will have self service pumps for you to use after they close, and if they do have self service pumps, some are cash only and will not give you change back (we learned this the hard way). So make sure you plan ahead when and where you will fill up so you don’t get into a pickle!
- In Dolomites, there are multiple languages spoken (German, Italian, and Ladin) and most towns and attractions will have multiple names in these languages. This made planning a bit trickier because we would read about a lake we wanted to visit and it would have two names and we would get confused and hope it was the same place.
- Rental cars will likely be manual unless you specifically book an automatic. We booked an automatic, but had a Smart Car (not the tiniest one, but close) and our luggage didn’t all fit in the trunk and it was basically a go kart and struggled to get up the mountain. So we recommend splurging a bit for a non-economy car.
General Italy Tips
- Wake up early to beat the crowds. It’s 100% worth it!
- In Italy, they do not drink lattes (especially flavored ones) or many of the other coffee drinks we are used to in the US. The main drinks to order are: an espresso, macchiato, or a cappuccino (but only before 10:30 AM). We drank lots of macchiatos and loved them! Coffee is also way cheaper than in the US! You also usually drink your coffee and then pay, which is different than we were used to.
- Tipping is not expected in Italy like it is in the US. Some places do charge a small service fee or charge a little more for table service though.
- There is a rumor that gluten and dairy sensitive folks can eat gluten and dairy in Europe. Kathryn is gluten free in the US (and doesn’t eat much dairy) and decided to test the theory and felt fine the whole trip (and we ate a TON of gluten)!
- If you’re driving, make sure to get an International Driving Permit. You can get this from AAA for only $20. Make sure to bring your actual driver’s license with you too!
- We highly recommend getting an internet plan for your phone or SIM card. Relying solely on wifi can be a bit stressful at times and it’s worth the cost to be able to use your phone freely. We also suggest downloading offline Google Maps so you can use maps without eating up data.
- Buy an adapter before you go! Also, make sure your hair dryer and straightener (and other electrical items) are dual voltage. We took this hair dryer and this straightener with us during the trip and they worked great!
- None of our Airbnb’s had keypads so we had to meet the hosts in person, which wasn’t a huge deal, but this can be a tad trickier if you arrive somewhere late so keep that in mind. You also have to pay a tourist tax for all Airbnbs (this should be in their listing) and they will ask to see your passport, so don’t be alarmed when they ask!
- Bring Euros! We used Euros WAY more than we thought we would. We took out some Euros at our bank beforehand to ensure we had some on hand, but then used bank ATMs the rest of the trip (the ones in actual banks, NOT the ones just on the street in the big cities—those will charge you massive fees). We ended up spending around 500 Euros in cash over two weeks. In the smaller cities, don’t expect everywhere to take a credit card, but even in some of the larger cities, some gelato spots or restaurants only took cash. You also need some coins handy if you want to use public restrooms.
- If you’re staying at Airbnbs and need somewhere to store your bags, we recommend checking out Bagbnb. We have used this in many cities and it is a huge help!
- Sometimes restaurants/coffee shops/gelato spots weren’t open when Google said they would be (and we never knew why). We ran into this issue in almost every city, both big and small. We learned to not trust Google for hours and to not get too set on going somewhere because there was a chance it wouldn’t actually be open. Being flexible is key!
When to Visit
The Dolomites is a popular year round destination. In the winter it’s popular for skiing, while in the summer it makes for a killer hiking destination. And for those looking for less crowds, spring and fall make for a beautiful time to visit as well (we would LOVE to see fall foliage here!). As avid hikers, we chose to go in the summer when the snow has melted and we could access lakes and trails without any issues. This guide is specifically crafted for the summer, but could work for late spring-early fall adventures depending on snowfall.
There are three different airports you could fly into to visit the Dolomites. We flew into Venice, which is 156 km (96.8 miles) from the Dolomites. You can also fly into Innsbruck, Austria which is the second closest option at 174 km (108 miles) or Milan, Italy which is 361 km (224 miles) from the Dolomites. These numbers are based on just putting “Dolomites” into Google and can vary depending on where you go in the Dolomites.
After landing, the best option is to rent a car. Having your own way around the Dolomites will make the experience so much better. We saw some tour buses and you can take a train to the Dolomites, but the flexibility of having your own car makes the experience even better!
Where to Stay
We stayed in Ortisei (also known as St. Ulrich or Urtijëi) with the sweetest and BEST couple ever! They only spoke German and Italian, but we communicated via Google Translate and their hospitality was truly one of the highlights of our entire trip! They even made us coffee and breakfast our last morning 🙂 We couldn’t recommend their Airbnb more!
We were so clueless where to stay before our trip and were overwhelmed by the options. We ended up in Ortisei mostly due to cost and its proximity to some of the attractions we wanted to visit, but for this guide, we would recommend staying in two different areas to avoid having to drive as much as we did: Ortisei and Cortina. These two towns are a little under 2 hours apart and are both near spots on this guide. We will write under each day which spot you should stay in if you choose to split your time.
Here are some good spots to stay in both towns:
Another option is to stay in refugios! Refugios are huts in the mountains that often serve food and drinks and have beds/rooms to stay in. We visited many of these for coffee and snack breaks during our hikes, but didn’t have the chance to stay in one. If you want to stay in a refugio, here are some good resources to check out: Val Gardena Refugios and Cortina Refugios.
PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 off your first stay!
Day 1: Travel to Ortisei
One big regret we had from our time in the Dolomites is that we had to rush there. Our flight landed at 3:30 PM, but after a 2 hour wait at the car rental place (we got our car from Avis/Budget and it was a nightmare…) and a stop at the grocery store for some food to eat on the drive, we didn’t hit the road until 6:00 PM, which means we didn’t make it until pretty late.
The drive to the Dolomites is stunning and we would’ve loved to have stopped and explore some of the cute towns along the way. So one tip we have is to give yourself an entire day to get there, find little gems along the way, and have some time to relax once you get there—you’ll need the energy for the rest of the trip!
This guide will start in Ortisei, which is located in Val Gardena, but this guide can be reversed too and start in Cortina!
Where to stay: We recommend staying in Ortisei this night so you can get an early start in the morning!
Day 2: Seceda + Ortisei
- Wake up early and get ready to see some of the most epic views ever! We recommend skipping coffee and breakfast so you have an appetite for when you arrive to your first stop. 🙂
- Head up to Seceda. Just a short walk (or drive depending on where you’re staying) from the main part of Ortisei is the lift to Seceda. For €32/person, you can have a round trip lift ticket from Ortisei to Furnes to Seceda. You take two lifts total and the ride is absolutely stunning and worth the cost. The lift opens at 8:30 AM and we recommend getting there right when it opens. We had the top to ourselves for a bit before the crowds arrived! Make sure to check what time the lifts close so you don’t get stuck walking down 🙂
A few things to note: Seceda is only open in the summer from June 15-October 13. It is also open in the winter for skiing! If you plan to take multiple lifts in Val Gardena, you can also buy a 3 or 6 day Gardena Card, which gives you access to all of the lifts! You can also hike up to Seceda or hike down from Seceda, but it’s pretty steep and can take 3-4 hours.
- Wander around Seceda! Once you get off the lift, you are instantly greeted with some of the most insane views! We almost cried because we were so in awe of the beauty and just couldn’t believe we were there. Seceda is 2,500 meters above sea level and while it is known for being a popular skiing destination, it is also magical in the summer! Spend some time wandering around the main area and snapping photos of the awesome peaks.
- After soaking up the views of Seceda, it’s time to grab some coffee and breakfast! One of our favorite things about Seceda, and the Dolomites in general, was going “hut hoppin.” We loved visiting multiple refugios/huts and grabbing snacks and coffee. We went to Baita Troier first and had these delicious apricot stuffed sweet rolls on a bed of vanilla cream with cappuccinos while sitting on lounge chairs overlooking the mountains. It was amazing!!! Another option to check out is Baita Sofie. Both are a relatively quick walk from the main area.
- Explore more of Val Gardena! There are sooo many options of where you could go from the main Seceda area. We had somewhat limited time, so we didn’t go too far, but enjoyed every second of it. We recommend at least making it to Pieralongia to see the two peaks, the donkeys, and the views. You can even feed the donkeys, which was super fun! We turned around after this point, but if you have enough time, we recommend exploring more! You can hike into the valley and take one of the smaller lifts back up or hike/lift all the way to the next town (Santa Cristina) and take a bus back to Ortisei. The trails are well marked and even tell you how much time it’ll take to get to the next major point.
- For lunch, we recommend checking out Caffè Val D’Anna, which is at the bottom of Seceda near the lift. Make sure you get their apple strudel!
- Spend the rest of the day in Ortisei. We loved this little town so much! Wander around the streets, admire the local architecture, and check out the shops. While you’re in town, we also recommend grabbing some breakfast and lunch items for tomorrow. We loved taking prosciutto, bread, and other Italian treats with us for meals.
- End your day with dinner at one of our previously recommended restaurants: Tubladel, Cascade, or Mauritz Keller. Make sure to get some sleep because tomorrow will be another early and exciting day!
Where to stay: We recommend staying in Ortisei this night
Day 3: Lago di Braies + Tre Cime
- Leave your Ortisei accommodations bright and early for a sunrise adventure at Lago di Braies (also known as Pragser Wildsee)! This lake has become very popular lately on Instagram, but when we went for sunrise we saw only a handful of people, so we highly recommend getting there early! A few things to note about this lake:
- You have to pay to park. If we remember correctly, it was free for one hour and then €8, but don’t quote us on that.
- You can walk 5 km around the lake if you’d like! We didn’t do this due to time restraints, but we recommend it if you have time!
- You can rent the boats that line the water for €18 for 30 minutes or €28 for one hour. The boat rentals run from 10:00-18:00 during May, September, and October and from 9:00-19:00 in July and August. We did not do this, but it would be so fun!
- You are not allowed on the boat dock before the dock is open. You will see people breaking this rule to get a photo for Instagram, but please follow the rules!
- You can pay €150 for a private photoshoot on the dock for weddings or for your own personal use.
- The lake is about 1.5 hours from Ortisei, but the drive goes by fast!
- After exploring Lago di Braies, make the 55 minute drive (which is absolutely stunning!) to Tre Cime di Lavaredo (the three peaks)! There is a €30 fee to get to the top, but trust us, it’s more than worth it! As soon as you park you are surrounded by 360 degree views of the Dolomites.
- Hike the 6 mile Tre Cime Loop trail, which takes you by refugios and around the three peaks. The views are out of this world! We recommend stopping at the refugios for coffee and snack breaks. We stopped at Refugio di Lavaredo, which isn’t too far into the trail and enjoyed macchiatos and cake while overlooking the scenery.
- Once you complete the hike, drive 40 minutes to Cortina for the rest of the day. Walk around the streets, check out the shops, and grab a treat or gelato at Rizzati Shop!
- For dinner, we recommend Ristorante Pizzeria Ariston, Il Vizietto di Cortina, or Ristorante Lago Pianozes for a more moderately priced meal. For something a bit fancier, Tivoli or Ristorante Al Camin are good options!
Where to stay: We recommend staying in Cortina this night
Day 4: Lago di Sorapis
- Start the morning with coffee and a pastry at Pasticceria Alvera. You’ll need the fuel for today’s hike!
- Drive to trailhead 215 to hike to Lago di Sorapis. This beautiful blue, glacier lake rivals the lakes we have seen in Banff and is worth the trek! A few things to note about this hike:
- Trail 215 is about or 8.4 miles/13.5km round trip and an elevation gain of 1,066 ft/325m.
- There are two other trails that can take you there, #216 and #217. We accidentally took 217 and it was pretty challenging. Make sure to go to the parking lot to start the right trail.
- Make sure to pack enough water and food!
- Once you get to Lago di Sorapis there is a refugio at the top where you can grab food and water. This saved us, as we ran out of water on the way up. 🙁
- After finishing the hike, you can either explore more of the Dolomites and Cortina (some suggested spots are listed below), or head to your next destination in Italy! Need some ideas? Check out the rest of our Italy guides!
If you have extra time…
We would’ve loved to have spent more time in the Dolomites during our trip. There are so many spots we did not have a chance to visit, so we are listing some top places we want to explore next time below!
- Visit other towns! We drove through Alleghe and it looked awesome. Some others to check out are Bolzano-Bozen, Chiusa-Klausen, and Brixen.
- Go see and photograph the church in St. Magdalena.
- Check out Alpi di Siusi/Seiser Alm: This area is across from Ortisei and we wanted to visit so, so badly, but the road is closed to private traffic daily from 9 am to 5 pm, making it a bit more difficult to get there in the short time we had. To visit, you can park at Compaccio and take a cable car or bus the rest of the way.
- Admire Lago di Carezza
- Hike at Cinque Torri
- See the falls at Cascate di Fanes
Ready to explore the Dolomites?
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