The best things to do in the Dolomites: the best places to see and the best experiences for a vacation on this dreamy corner of Italy.
The Italian Dolomites are one of the most beautiful places in Italy and the world.
You may think I am letting emotions carry me away with this sweeping statement.
After all, I have spent my entire childhood vacationing on the Dolomites, so I am indeed biased.
However, even just a glimpse at those towering mountains will prove my point.
The Dolomites are simply stunning.
If you love beautiful landscapes, outdoor pursuits and want to experience a corner of Italy like no other, they will be the perfect destination for your next trip.
These are just 10 of the many wonderful things to do on the Dolomites.
10 best things to do on the Dolomites
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Take in the majestic mountains
It can only start with them, the magical, majestic and marvelous mountains that give the name to the area.
The Dolomites are a mountain range in the North East of Italy.
They stretch along the provinces of Belluno, Bolzano, Trento, Udine e Pordenone and are so unique for beauty and geological history that UNESCO listed them as World Heritage Site (Nature).
Indeed, it is hard not to marvel at the tall peaks, elaborate pinnacles and stone walls forming this mountain range.
The Three Peaks of Lavaredo are the most iconic and the symbol of the area but there are many massifs here that are out of this world beautiful: the Sella Massif, the Cadini and Le Tofane are only some of the most famous and they are simply stunning for hikers and onlookers!
The mountains have a distinctive light / pink colour that is unique to this part of the Alps and they form a stark and beautiful visual contrast with the vast green carpets of grass covering its altipiani and lower mountains.
Lower altitudes are covered by forests of conifers and, in the spring, mountain flowers bloom, bursting in yellow, purple and red colors.
No matter how you decide to enjoy the Dolomites, the mountains are what is special here.
As simple as it sounds, sitting and watching the panorama is probably the best thing to do on the Dolomites!
Some of the most picture-perfect corners of the Dolomites are:
- Misurina Lake
- 3 Cime di Lavaredo
- Val Fiscalina
- Alta Badia
- Val di Fassa
- Passo Gardena
- Lake Braies
Relax by its pristine lakes
The Dolomites have wonderful lakes, some remote and only reachable hiking, some in the many valleys of this area.
They are mountain lakes, cold and crystal clear and offer a wonderful backdrop to a day of rest or a family day out.
Depending on the experience you are after, you can choose to spend the day close to a bigger lake and rent boats or go to a smaller one and enjoy the silence of the mountains.
If you sit still, you will notice the only sound you hear is the wind in the trees and the faraway rings of cattle bells.
Among the most beautiful lakes on the Dolomites, I recommend Braies, Carezza and Dobbiaco Lake that stand out for natural beauty and ease of access.
One of the best things to do in the Dolomites in summer is of course making the most of the many hiking options in the area.
Hiking in the Dolomites is a dream and there are paths suitable for all ages and levels of fitness.
Families with young children can stay at the lower altitudes and enjoy the many farms (you can find our full guide to the Dolomites with kids here)
Many are accessible by well maintained roads (some even stroller friendly, but bring an all terrain one) and others require more hiking experience and some are full on hard mountain hikes and even multi day ones, for more adventurous and fitter travellers.
Hiking lovers can tackle the many paths meandering up the mountains, according to their ability and experience.
The paths go from easy to moderate to strenuous and some require special gear.
Always stay safe getting information about the trail before you set off, getting the right equipment and always letting your hotel or accommodation know where you are going.
While these mountains are dreamy, they can also be dangerous as nature here truly comes first.
Enjoy the snow
The Alps are a destination for almost all seasons and you will be spoilt for choice with the many things you can do on the Dolomites in the winter.
The Dolomites get covered in snow in the winter and while the exact dates and quality of the snow varies from year to year, they have some amazing option for winter sports enthusiast.
Depending on the location, you can go skiing, snowboarding or cross country skiing, something extremely popular here.
There is a long edition of skying in the area so if you are looking for lessons, you can find some incredible teachers here.
Wonderful places on the Dolomites to enjoy the snow are:
- Val Gardena (Ortisei, Santa Cristina, Selva)
- Alta Badia
Pretend you are in a fairy tale
The Dolomites are majestic but the architecture of its villages and churches is cute and fairy-tale like.
This creates a wonderful contrast between the vastness of the landscape and the pretty shapes of the buildings.
The most distinctive of all architectural traits here is probably the presence of small churches with pointy, red tower bells.
They are a style of building common in Austria (see below), and you find them in the centre of villages of perched on top of the mountains.
Sometimes they are attached to tiny chapels often suitable for a little more than one visitor at the time, truly charming places.
Church hopping is, maybe surprisingly, one of the best things to do in the Dolomites if you love art.
In many, you will find wonderful frescos and murals, some very ancient.
While very different from the world famous masterpieces you may find in churches in Rome, they are a treat for the art lover and can cast a light this part of local art so often overlooked.
Stroll around the pretty Dolomites towns
A stay in the Dolomites is about enjoying the mountains but this doesn’t mean that the area doesn’t have some beautiful towns worth visiting.
The main town in alto Adige is Bolzano, which is beautiful and interesting.
A small town, you can visit in one day but it is a lovely place to use as a base and with a dynamic cultural life.
Lovely towns worth visiting Bressanone, Cortina, San Vigilio, Siusi, Predazzo, Dobbiaco, San Candido, Sesto, Moso, Ortisei, Santa Maddalena, just to name a few of the best known.
Gorge on their earthy food and delicious wine
Italian food is world famous but the food from this part of Italy in particular doesn’t get a lot of attention.
Indeed, if you come here hoping for pizza and gelato you will be disappointed.
While you can find pizza here, the culinary tradition here is closer to the Austrian one and has earthy ingredients that reflect the nature of the landscape and the soil.
You cannot leave the Dolomites without trying some of their specialties such as knoedels, speck and that most delicious omelette like dessert that are kaisersmarren!
Make sure you wash it all down with the local wine: get ‘vino della casa’ and enjoy the surprising light and refreshing taste of the local reds.
This area has some lovely vineyards and it is close to the powerhouse of wine production that is Veneto (think Prosecco, Valpolicella, Traminer), so you now any local wine here will be good!
Get spoilt in the Dolomites hotels
The Dolomites have some gorgeous hotels catering to all types of travelers.
If you are after a rural, family-friendly proposition you can choose among the many farm stays available.
They are excellent for families and often have animals on-site and play areas that will keep the kids busy without the need to leave the premises.
The best website to book farm stays on the Dolomites is Gallorosso.it
For a more upscale experience, you can choose one of the many hotels in the area.
Many are equipped to welcome visitors in winter and summer and have those amenities that are typical of the ski resorts such as restaurants on site, game rooms, stubes and spas.
Embrace the rural charm
The Dolomites receive a lot of tourism each year but they still maintain wonderful rural charm.
You find it everywhere and it acts as a welcome counterpart to the many elegant hotels that welcome visitors to cozy interiors and, often, beautiful spas.
You have signs of the rural past (and present) of this area everywhere.
As you drive along the valleys you will encounter tractors and farms and, if you allow yourself to get lost in the smaller centre, you will encounter of houses still displaying the many tools of the trade.
The mix between modern and old is one of the most enjoyable aspects of any trips to the Dolomites.
Learn about the Dolomites’ peculiar history
This area of Italy has a very peculiar history which explains the distinctive character of the Dolomites.
This area belonged to Austria until the end of the first world war and the Austrian influence is still very strong.
You see in the architecture, you see it in the food and you very much hear it in the melody of the local spoken languages.
Alto Adige is bilingual German Italian, something you do not find anywhere else in the Italian peninsula.
The Austrian influence is one of the elements that make this part of Italy special but the relationship between the two countries hasn’t always been easy.
One of the most powerful ways to learn about it is to visit the many cemeteries in the area.
They are the resting place for the many soldiers fallen fighting on these mountains between 1914 and 1918 and a powerful memento of what war means.