This ultimate Dolomites road trip guide should show you why visiting South Tyrol was our favorite trip to date. I’ve bookmarked images from the Dolomites for years now and I have to say, the photos do not do it justice. It’s hard to describe just how otherworldly this outdoor haven is in person.
After deciding on a 9-day road trip through the Dolomites, we set out to gather as much information as possible before visiting. This is the first place where we found it quite challenging to get good advice on the overall details of the trip, so I wanted to share all of the knowledge we gathered and learned firsthand. This may be my most lengthy blog post to date and it covers almost every aspect of traveling to the Dolomites.
Road tripping in the Dolomites is certainly the best way to see the area as it is the most accessible by car. Having a car affords you the opportunity to explore limitlessly, so I highly recommend it. Take a peak at my ultimate Dolomites road trip guide.
The Ultimate Dolomites Road Trip Guide
How to Get to the Dolomites
We opted to fly into Venice, Italy as we wanted to return our car to the same place (best option for pricing). Essentially we did one big loop around the Dolomites. You can fly into major airports like Milan, Verona, or even into Innsbruck, Austria pending on what part of the Dolomites you want to spend time in. Flying into Venice is the shortest amount of time for driving if you’re starting on the Cortina d’Ampezzo side of the Dolomites (Tre Cime di Lavaredo) like we were.
Renting a car for the Dolomites
We partnered with Hertz Europe for this trip to rent our car for the road trip. Picking up our car in Venice when we landed was really easy as the rental car pickup is right in the terminal. We took the “Super Coverage” for our trip and am really thankful we did after driving for the nine days as it gave us a clear mind. I’d recommend booking your car directly with Hertz Europe to ensure your reservation. One thing to note in Italy, an international drivers permit is needed — AAA is where you can get one in the States. It is crucial if you get pulled over.
Driving in the Dolomites
We’ve driven before in Italy so we were not foreign to the often fast Italian drivers. Be comfortable with roundabouts, other cars passing you on single lane roads, and always have a look at the signs. There are some tolls on the routes, which you can pay in either cash or card. Most signage is in Italian or German, so be prepared to have to translate some parking signs into English.
One note: Gas stations often will not take American credit cards. We had to use cash a few times, so be sure to always carry Euros.
What to Know Before Visiting the Dolomites
Here’s a few good things to note:
- It’s an incredibly seasonal destination. Most towns shut down entirely from October-December and March-April, as do the gondolas (open for ski season). We were on the tail end of the season (second week of October), so we found most places to be empty which was to our benefit for hiking but challenging for restaurants and accommodations.
- A few of the smaller roads will close down for winter seasons, so best not to visit in midst of winter if you don’t have to.
- Based on research, I think mid-to-late September would be nice, or early summer before the crowds.
- You could spend anywhere from 1-2 weeks here, pending on what you want to do and see.
- Italian and German are the two languages predominantly spoken.
- It feels more like an alpine region like the alps of Switzerland.
- Always carry Euros.
- GPS or a good local cell service is necessary for navigating.
- Pack layers — weather changes fast here. We went on a hike where in one moment it was sunny, then thundering rain, to fog so thick we couldn’t see, and then clear again.
Where to Stay in the Dolomites
When it comes to the Dolomites, there are a ton of options for where to stay — it completely depends on what you want to see and do. We did not want to change hotels frequently so we split our time into two sides with 3 nights in Cortina d’Ampezzo and 4 nights in Ortisei (and one final night in Verona). We were really happy with how we allocated our time and the only change would be to add a night in Alpe di Suisi so we could access the road for sunset/sunrise photography.
From Cortina d’Ampezzo and Ortisei most sights/hikes were only 45 minutes away, so these two towns were the perfect base to come back to each night.
Where to Stay in Cortina d’ Ampezzo
We stayed in a very budget hotel on the Pocol side of the valley and would not recommend being that far over or this hotel. I’d recommend staying in actual Cortina d’ Ampezzo town or on the Cianderies side as that is the road that leads up to most of everything you’ll see. There are incredible Airbnbs (use this link for $40 off your first booking) and the hotel that caught my eye was the Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Hotel which had just closed down for the season a day prior to arriving. (reopens for winter).
Other areas to consider staying in nearby: Misurina, a night in the Lago di Braies area.
Where to Stay in Ortisei
We booked an Airbnb for our four nights just on the side of the mountain and were really happy with having a kitchen and a big space to come back to — there are quite a few options on Airbnb, but they must be reserved in advance. For a night in Alpe di Suisi, the Adler Lodge Hotel is a dream and in Ortisei town, I’d recommend the other Alder Spa Resort.
Other areas to consider staying in nearby: Val Gardena area, Badia, Castelrotto, Chiusa, or a night in St. Maddalena.
Here’s a map to better see the distance between the two areas:
Where We Went in the Dolomites
I’m going to split this into two sections, where we went from Cortina d’Ampezzo and where we went from Ortisei. In each point of interest, I’ll also mention where we dined and any other notes of interest.
From Cortina d’Ampezzo
The town of Cortina d’Ampezzo
The ski village of Cortina d’Ampezzo is a great base as there is a ton of restaurants and it’s quite charming. One exceptional experience we had was our two lunches at SanBrite. It was a dining experience similar to what you would see on Chef’s Table and their passion for bringing local ingredients to the plate is beautiful. I’d recommend eating here at least once and also at their second restaurant called Agriturismo El Brite de Larieto. For casual food, we dined at La Tavernetta in town twice as we loved the pizza!
Tre Cime di Lavaredo
This is really what we came for. We went into the park two times during our stay. It’s one road in and out (a fee of 17€ to enter) and takes you to the top where the Rifugio Auronzo is (we ate a few meals here between hikes). We did two main hikes in Tre Cime di Lavaredo. The best part is that with little effort, you can get to incredible views here.
- Hike 1 to Cadini Group Peaks (pictured here): I had seen the photos of this shot on Instagram and was amazed by how high the peaks are, so we set out to find it. The first time we were unsuccessful as the fog covered the peaks so we walked the wrong direction. The peaks are just in front of where you park. Don’t follow signs for the rifugios, just go right out and follow the one way trail there. If you can’t find it, just show the photo to someone there and they’ll point you in the direction. It takes about 40 minutes to hike there and sunrise is beautiful here.
- Hike 2 to the three peaks: This is the main hike that everyone does and it’s in the direction of Rifugio Lavaredo. The first part is really flat (you’ll see everyone going there, all the tour bus groups) and you can stop at the church or keep ascending for incredible views. You could circle around Tre Cime and make your way all the way around. There are two other rifigios along the loop that you can visit for a rest or snack. We stopped at the view point and made our way back as we had done the other half the day before.
Lago di Braies
It’s a beautiful place to catch sunrise and I highly recommend coming here for a few hours. It can get crowded so be sure to arrive early and pay to park in the lot near the lake. You can rent boats from June until late September from 10AM until 5PM for 15.00€ for 30 minutes and 25.00€ for 1 hour.
Nearby, we stumbled by Latteria Tre Cime on the main road to Cortina d’Ampezzo where we stopped in for lunch and a drink. It’s a local creamery and they have cheese plates and a ton of local products — it was the perfect pitstop.
Lago di Sorapis
This was our most challenging and rewarding hike. We showed up incredibly unprepared and with not the right amount of time, resulting in an hour long hike back in the dark forest. So first off, allow yourself the proper amount of time — from the parking location at Son Zuogo, it is a good 4 hours round trip with no stops. The trail can be challenging to follow, so be sure to follow the markers. There are always a ton of hikers, so ask if you need help. The ascent goes along a very steep path on the side of the cliff with no railing, though there are cables to hang onto. It’s an effort, but this lake is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen.
On the way to Ortisei, we stopped off here to snap a photo of one of the windiest roads in the Dolomites. It’s so beautiful and loved the views from here.
This is where we were based so we popped into town for a few meals and for grocery shopping. We ate at Cascade Pizzeria twice when we were in town. There’s not a ton going on during off season, but I’d imagine it gets quite busy during peak months.
Val di Funes
We spent a full afternoon exploring Val di Funes by car and it was one of our favorites areas, especially for photography. It’s incredibly picturesque, and we stopped at iconic St Johann in Ranui church. Afterwards, we caught sunset over the valley and Santa Maddalena from the famous lookout here. We capped off the night with a yummy dinner at Waldschenke in the valley where we had some local dishes.
Our favorite place we saw in the entire Dolomite region was Seceda. We spent the entire day on the mountain soaking in the views and hiking around. To get to the top, you take the gondola from Ortisei town (it’s 30€ per person roundtrip and runs from 8:3-5:30 from June 2 -October 14, dates may change). We had lunch at Baita Troier on the mountain, hiked to Malga Pieralongia Alm hut to see the free-roaming donkeys, and then returned back to the gondola.
Alpe di Suisi
If there is one place not to miss, it’s Alpe di Suisi. It’s the largest alpine meadow in Europe and breathtaking. It can be confusing on how to visit as the roads are closed for the public unless staying at a hotel or arriving before 9 am or after 5 pm to the parking lots in Compatsch. This blog post (coming soon) will share all of the exact details on how to visit this area and the other components of parking or taking the gondola up. The easiest access is the gondola ride from Ortisei.
We spent most of the day hiking around the valley and out to Malga Sanon for an incredible breakfast with the best views. Afterwards we hiked back to the parking lot and soaked in the scenes along the way. On our way back to Ortisei, we stopped and had lunch at a beautiful farm/hotel called Lafogl.
Another great viewpoint in the area is the drive through Sella Pass. There are hikes here, though we just stopped to soak in the views of the Sassolungo Peaks.
Lago di Carezza
We had one more free afternoon, so we took the scenic route to see the incredible colors of Lago di Carezza. Along the way, we dined at Ristorante Hennenstall for a filling lunch in a beautiful space. Afterwards, we went to the lake and walked around to enjoy the views. It’s important to note that you can’t actually walk down to the water’s edge as you may see a ton of IG posts from there — there’s a fence which some have jumped over.