In the summer of 2023, my husband and I spent one week in the Dolomites amid blue lakes, herds of cows, glacial valleys filled with wildflowers, charming mountain huts, picturesque villages, and dramatic jagged mountain peaks.
Our trip plans came about when a close friend asked us to attend a Bruce Springsteen concert with him in Milan in July 2023.
And I knew this was the perfect opportunity to spend the week before the concert in the intensely beautiful Dolomites mountains that span across the border of northeastern Italy and Austria.
Also scattered among the jagged mountain ranges and flower studded valleys are the cutest fairy-tale villages making this outdoor playground a place that once you have visited, you will likely want to return to time and time again ;).
In a rush?
The Dolomites Travel Guide
- The Little Details
- Where to Stay in the Dolomites
- Best Places to Eat in the Dolomites
- Top Things to Do in the Dolomites
- What to Wear in the Dolomites
- Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
The Little Details
How to Get to the Dolomites
Considered the gateway city to the Dolomites, Bolzano, Italy has a small airport with only a few airlines servicing it. This airport is where we picked up our rental car after our two day visit in Lake Como.
The second smallest but closest airport to the area is Innsbruck, Vienna. However the location of this airport with the surrounding mountains makes the reliability of flights in and out of the area not very good.
As far as flying in, your best bets are either Milan Linate or Venice Marco Polo – both about equidistant to Bolzano.
As I mentioned above – our first stop in our Italian vacation was the Lake Como area after flying into Milan Linate.
After taking private cars and trains for the first portion of our trip, we arrived in Bolzano via train from Milan with a stop/train change in Verona.
I booked our train tickets from Milan Centrale to Bolzano (also called Bozen) directly on the Trenitalia website, then downloaded their app and used mobile train tickets for all of our journeys.
I will say – if you can afford the extra costs, the executive class for our round trip journeys was the most comfortable train ride my husband and I have ever been on in Europe!
And we love to travel via train in Europe so that says A LOT!
Once we arrived at the Bolzano train station, we took an Uber to the airport where we picked up our rental car from Hertz (where we were upgraded for free with a fancy/super comfortable Audi ;)).
But be aware – this rental car counter is a one man show. As in one man that takes care of the reservation details and the same person goes and gets your car for you ;0.
Oh – and they also take a two hour lunch around 12p-2p and lock the office up so try to plan accordingly!
There was also a Europcar counter that seemed to have the same lunch hours and staffing situation as Hertz…
How to Get Around the Dolomites
As mentioned above, we used a rental car for our one week in the Dolomites.
While we normally make every effort to not drive in foreign countries, the Dolomites without a car seemed like it would have been a real hassle (based on all the reading I did about how to do it!).
There is a pretty good public bus system in the area, however it is such a large area with pretty much everyone having a different opinion on what are the top sights, so your best bet really is to rent a car and be on your own schedule ;).
As long as you have a smart phone with either Google Maps or Iphone Maps – the fact that you likely will not understand a single road sign is surprisingly not a problem in this area. Because there are no large cities to navigate through in this region of Italy – driving in the Dolomites was quite easy ;).
But it didn’t hurt that our driving only started (and ended) in the relatively small town of Bolzano – I cannot speak to what navigating the Italian highways would be like if you decide to drive from Venice or Milan ;0.
One thing to note is that since this area known as South Tyrol has three official languages, most street signs will have information in all three languages of Ladin, German, and Italian.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Dolomites
The most popular weeks in Italy for summer travel are around August 10 – 25 with a year to year variance based on when Ferragosto is (the Italian holiday period).
Our visit dates of July 19-24, 2023 were considered ‘shoulder’ season by Italian locals and had absolutely perfect hiking weather and no noticeably frustrating crowds and plenty of wildflowers blooming ;).
By no noticeable crowds I mean we never got behind slower drivers on the road, had no crowded hikes on the mountains, and did not need to worry about restaurant reservations being a problem ;).
In my research I found June/July and September/October are the most ideal times to visit for hiking.
However the Dolomites are also a winter destination if you are looking for a ski or winter sports destination.
How Many Days You Need in the Dolomites
We arrived at the Bolzano train station right before noon on a Wednesday and returned to the same train station (after returning our car at the airport) on the following Monday evening.
This allowed us 4 full days in the area with two half days as well (Wednesday afternoon and Monday morning).
With those 5 days in the area, we still felt we need to go back and see more or maybe just relax and sit at many of the rifugios (more later on those!).
The Dolomites area is truly massive and with our five days we were able to see many of the top sights with one large popular hike on one day (we are old-ish and didn’t want to push ourselves to do more than one serious hike on this vacation ;0).
If I could have had just three more full days in the area, I might have felt more fulfilled with seeing it all ;0. But as my husband always says “the sign of a great destination/vacation is when you leave wanting to come back ;)”.
And yes – we will most certainly be back to this incredible mountain destination ;).
All that to say – if you just want to drive through the area and see the major sights, 2-3 days will suffice.
But if you want to do some hiking, I would try to go for 5 or more days if you can fit that into your itinerary.
7-10 days in the Dolomites would most definitely allow you to see the majority of this impressive area ;).
Money Details in the Dolomites
Local currency in the Dolomites is the Euro and while for the majority of our European vacations, we have rarely needed cash, the more rural rifugios phone/computer systems were down when we hiked to them and were only accepting cash.
Now I am not sure if this is a common occurrence or not – be on the safe side and have maybe 100 Euro stashed in your wallet as a just in case.
We also needed cash to use the toilets at the parking lot of that same popular hike!
Otherwise, we pretty much used Apple Pay for our entire two week trip in Italy…
Where to Stay in the Dolomites
While doing my research for where to stay in the Dolomites, I found the majority of the articles suggested staying in two different locations with a couple of nights in Ortisei in the west then a couple of nights in Cortina d’Ampezzo in the east so that you see the two most popular areas of the mountain ranges without too much driving involved.
However, I decided packing up and moving hotels was not ideal for our 5 night itinerary and that staying in centrally located Corvara in Badia would work best for us.
Plus there is sooo much to see in the Corvara area that didn’t seem to get nearly as much attention from other blogs I found as it should!!
That said – when we traveled to Switzerland back in 2018, we stayed in Lauterbrunnen, which is one of the smaller towns in the Swiss Alps. And when we do our return trip to that country, we will likely stay in Murren which is even less populated than Lauterbrunnen.
I am giving you this info so that you know – we do not like to stay where the majority of visitors stay. While we do enjoy having choices for dining, we do not need a larger town full of choices nor do we look for any nightlife when we travel.
Both Ortisei and Cortina d’Ampezzo are larger than Corvara in Badia however we personally found everything we needed in this smaller town and truthfully felt the views and hiking available to us in the area were absolutely spectacular.
Bottom line- in our opinion, Corvara’s location in the Dolomites is absolutely phenomenal in allowing easy drives to multiple areas of the mountains with the ability to return to the same home base for dinner and rest ;).
I will only be giving you my review of the luxury hotel that we stayed at in Corvara in Badia however I have added tags in the map below to stunning properties in other parts of the Dolomites that I was looking into when planning our vacation if nightlife and slightly bigger towns are more your cup of tea or you would like to move accomodations in order to stay in two different parts of the area.
La Perla means The Pearl and is quite a fitting name for this family owned and operated hotel right in the middle of the magnificent Sella Group (a plateau shaped Massif in the Dolomites).
My husband and I were so excited to come back to this breathtaking home away from home every night for the five nights we stayed here.
With insanely delicious breakfasts AND dinners included in the partial board rate – this property is the perfect place to stay while exploring the mountains.
The opportunities for hiking right outside the doors of La Perla allow for you to not have to spend time in your car every day as well ;).
We splurged for the ‘Double Room Romantik Dolomites View’ and loved how peaceful the room and it’s view was ;).
Other Options on the Map
Best Places to Eat in the Dolomites
Truth be told, it’s the Rifugios (high elevation storybook mountain huts) that are making me want to go back to the Dolomites!
While we only ate or got a drink at the rifugios, many offer overnight accommodations for hikers as well. You can learn more here.
Some of the rifugios provide fine mountain dining while others are more rustic and primitive.
But the food at every single rifugio we ate at was absolutely incredible so you really cannot go wrong planning your day around which one to eat at ;0.
Most are easily accessible via gondola, tram, or lifts with most having just a short hike from where you get off.
The concept of the mountain huts is that you can enjoy some amazing food and drinks while hiking (and also then you don’t have to make sure you have a full sack lunch packed for your day hikes ;)).
It is most practical to buy an unlimited lift/gondola use pass for your entire stay so that you don’t need to stand in any ticket purchase lines.
Not like we had any lines at the end of July but still a pass would have been easier – ie we did not buy the pass and kept buying lift tickets at every single lift/gondola we took ;0!
Below is a map of all the rifugios we stopped at. Use this map to get directions once you decide which rifugio (I mean hike 😂) you will be doing that day.
I have added a photo gallery below of what I deem the most photogenic rifugios in the Dolomites to make your planning easier for which ones to visit.
Now mind you – we were only in the area for 5 days and I know with 100% certainty we have plenty to see on a return visit – including more picture perfect rifugios!
Can you see the Col Pradat Hutte at the top of the green “hill” above?
If nothing else – getting a plate of french fries and a beer while relaxing and enjoying the incredible views is 100% worth your time at as many as you can!
We’ve been told by a local however that the absolute best burgers he has ever had in his life can be found at Rifugio Col Pradat and Piz Boe Alpine Lounge (the latter of which you will have a view of the tallest peak in the Dolomites – Marmolada – so absolutely worth a quick stop at the least).
Sadly we did not get to try a burger at either but will absolutely make an effort to on our return visit…
BAITA SOFIE HUTTE
Located on Seceda Mountain, Baita Sofie Hutte provides a front-row seat to the breathtaking Dolomite scenery, allowing you to savor both the hearty mountain cuisine with awe-inspiring views.
This is where you will find the endearing and photogenic Dolomite inhabitants— the dolomites mountain hairy cows! These fluffy creatures, often referred to as Tyrolean Grey or Tyrolean Mountain Cattle, add a touch of charm to the already stunning landscape.
Rifugio Edelweiss is a mountain refuge that feels like a hidden gem in the rugged Italian Alps (and is also one of my top two favorite rifugios in the Dolomites!).
Named after the iconic alpine flower, this rifugio exudes a rustic charm with its traditional architecture and breathtaking surroundings.
Imagine stepping inside to find a refuge adorned with wooden interiors, a crackling fireplace, and hearty mountain fare to satisfy any appetite you may have built up in the mountains ;).
BAR RISTORANTE DANTERCEPIES
RIFUGIO COL PRADAT
From Rifugio Col Pradat, you can indulge in sweeping views of the iconic Sella Group and Puez-Odle massif.
PIZ BOE ALPINE LOUNGE
I TABLA HUTTE
We had one morning with quite inclement weather once we arrived at the top of gondola ride behind our hotel.
The next two refugios were the perfect place to wait out the rain and enjoy the scenery while eating some apple strudel (and playing the guitar they had lying around ;0).
ALPINE RESTAURANT PIZ ARLARA
The next four rifugios are on the Tre Cime Circuit – one of the most iconic (and popular) day hikes in the Dolomites. Since they are pretty remote – the credit card machines were not working at the 3 rifugios out on the trail and we were not prepared with enough cash to pay for the lunch we thought we were going to eat on this hike ;0.
But at least we had enough money for a Diet Coke and an apple strudel in the middle of the hike ;0.
Nonetheless – learn from our mistake and have some Euros on hand before heading out to this part of the Dolomites…
Because we left our hotel extremely early to be sure to get one of the limited spots in the parking lot (more later on that), we did not eat breakfast at our hotel that morning.
Rifugio Auronzo – while rustic and basic – provided a great start to the day with muffins and bananas (and restrooms before we headed out!).
Even if you aren’t ready for a snack on the trail (as you are really only about 30 minutes into it by the time you hit this rifugio), be sure to stop on the deck and enjoy the incredible views!
We were there on a very cloudy and threatening rain day which didn’t allow us to see the actual peaks but honestly we were still in awe with our surroundings the entire hike!
RIFUGIO A. LOCATELLI
Where all we could afford was the strudel 😂.
Not going to lie – the soups and sausages at this rifugio made me salivate. Like I almost offered to work in the kitchen just to get some scraps…
Remember – have some cash on you!
Like honestly – 100 Euro or more for this hike. Because yea – the food looked worth it ;0.
Top Things to Do in the Dolomites
There is soo much to do and see in the Dolomites and I have already made this blog post ridiculously long and with information overload, therefore I have put the best things to do and see in the Dolomites in a separate post for you ;0.
What to Wear in the Dolomites
Because this destination is primarily an outdoor activity destination, plan accordingly.
The only time we wore anything besides our hiking clothes was when we had our anniversary photo shoot or changed for dinner at our hotel – which wasn’t required – we just did so one or two of the evenings to feel more refreshed ;).
Some of our July days in the Dolomites were chilly and rainy so being prepared with some warm hiking sweaters/sweatshirts and a raincoat is always important in the mountains!
The average high temperatures for our July visit were in the low 70’s with lows in the 50’s.
Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
- Day 1: Fly San Diego to Milan via London on British Airways
- Day 2: Arrive in Milan & take private car to Como, Italy
- Day 3: Private car to Bellagio in Lake Como region
- Day 4: Explore Lake Como area
- Day 5: Train to Bolzano via Milan and Verona then drive to Corvara in Badia
- Day 6: Renew our vows on Passo Gardena then explore the Dolomites
- Day 7: Explore the Dolomites
- Day 8: Explore the Dolomites
- Day 9: Explore the Dolomites
- Day 10: PM train to Milan after dropping car off in Bolzano
- Day 11: Milan and Bruce Springsteen concert with friends
- Day 12: Explore Milan
- Day 13: Explore Milan
- Day 14: Fly Milan to San Diego via London on British Airways
I hope you found this travel guide for one week in the Dolomites helpful in planning your own adventures in this striking playground for outdoor enthusiasts!
The Dolomites are not just a place; they’re an experience that blends adventure and awe-inspiring beauty just waiting for you to discover them ;).
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Have a wonderful day my friend! I hope something makes you smile today ;).