Updated: Feb 29
In northeastern Italy, lies a mountain range that will leave you utterly speechless! Dolomites , a UNESCO World Heritage site is a paradise for nature lovers, hikers, landscape photographers and simply anyone who loves to get enchanted.
Jagged mountain peaks, charming villages, lush green fields, beautiful lakes are just some of the scenes that you get to witness here in the Italian Dolomites, which is probably the closes you will get to finding heaven on Earth!
The Dolomites are a popular destination for all seasons, in Summer it offers beautiful hikes, while in Winter it turns into one of the most beautiful ski resort
1. TRE CIME DI LAVAREDO (THREE PEAKS)
You mention Dolomites to anyone and probably the first image that comes to their mind is the Tre cime di lavaredo, three impressive peaks rising up offering spectacular views when the conditions are good. The hike around these peaks is one of the most popular hikes in not only Italy but also in the world. Even during off season you should expect to see a lot of hikes and tourists, so come prepared for crowds.
The entire loop is around 11kms (6.5 miles) long with varying levels of altitude and elevation. I wouldn't say the loop is entirely flat, it does include paths where you would need to hike at an elevated angle, so please keep that in mind.
The hike begins at Rifugio Auronzo , which many hikers use as a base camp to sleep overnight and start the hike early in the morning. This hike can also be completed in a day (like I did), so I would leave it upto you to decide which works best.
There are also two other Rifugio's on the loop, so you have some options to sleep somewhere overnight to catch the sunset/sunrise or do some night photography.
When you are half way through you will reach Rifugio Locatelli which has a cafe and also has a restroom, so make sure you take some time and rest your legs here. If you look to the opposite side , you will find two secluded lakes that also offers a great opportunity to take some nice photos!
It is here where you will get an opportunity to climb uphill to one of those famous caves from where you get some unique perspectives of the Three Peaks. There is no exact location but from the Rifugio if you look up towards the path you will see these caves, believe me it's easily noticeable.
Location : https://goo.gl/maps/scAPktVHQNEy96as7
Tre Cime is one of the most popular destinations not only in Italy , but also in the world, so it gets a quite a number of tourists every day. I reached around 9 AM and could barely find a parking space, so if you plan to do the entire hike I would suggest coming as early as 8 AM in the morning, especially during the peak summer months.
2. SECEDA MOUNTAINS
Yet another iconic spot from the Dolomites is the Seceda mountain range which can be reached by two cable cars from the town of Ortisei. There are multiple hiking spots in the area, however to reach this iconic location, you need to walk up the mountain ridge and then walk along the line until you reach this spectacular viewing location from where you can get some impressive shots of the mountain and ridge, which looks like a pre-historic giant lurking in the background. The total hike may take around 1-2 hours depending upon your stamina and physique.
There are other longer hikes around the area , so if you have the time then you should definitely check out these hikes.
There are few parking lots available but the location mentioned below is probably the closest to the Cable car entry point. Parking cost is 8 EUR/day.
Tickets to the top cost 34 EUR round trip (that's for four cable cars, make sure you check the current schedule here before booking tickets
Location: https://goo.gl/maps/ZnSArdbg9QBgPcqW9 (Parking Lot)
3. LAGO DI BRAIES
If you have ever opened Instagram and scrolled through some of the photos then I am pretty sure you would have already stumbled upon a image or two from Lago Di Braies , a.k.a Pragser Wildsee (in German) a.k.a Lake Prags!
It is arguably one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy, if not in the world. When the conditions are apt, the lake sparkles in green , and along with the snow cad mountains in the background, paints a picture that one can only dream of, yet is absolutely real!
The lake has two parking lots which will of course fill up during peak season, so make sure you arrive as early as possible to find a spot. Fortunately , to reach the lake you don't have to do much of a hike, the only hike required is if you choose to go around the lake.
The best time to visit the lake is early in the morning when there are fewer people. Summer is officially one of the best seasons to visit (June - August), however I went in the first week of September and was pleasantly surprised by fewer crowds at around 8.30 am in the morning. The temperature was also ideal (a bit chilly), but I would say this was probably the best time and season to visit.
Parking Lot P1: https://goo.gl/maps/qYd2wo33moBGZTZB9
Parking Lot P2 : https://goo.gl/maps/9Rxxm8DP2L7ubZS56
P1 charges 6 euros per day whereas P2 charges 8 euros per day as it more closer to the Lake. If you can walk for a few more minutes I would choose P1 and save some money.
There are a few gift shops and a cafe around the lake, but they are of course expensive, so if you are on a budget, I would suggest bring your own food and have it near the lake whilst enjoying the view :)
4. LAKE MISURINA
The Dolomites aren't short on beautiful lakes and Lake Misurina is a solid proof of that. Located en-route to the Tri Cime de Lavaredo, this beautiful alpine lake is known for skiing in winter and also for it's clean air.
It is supposed that the particular climatic characteristics of the area around the lake, make particularly good air for those who have respiratory diseases.
Due to its clear water and the mighty mountain scenery that surrounds the Lake Misurina, it is also known as the "Pearl of Cadore".
The best time to visit the lake is early in the morning when the morning light makes for one of the most dramatic landscapes you have ever seen, however if you cannot make it , then anytime during the day should also be good enough for a spectacular sight.
There are some ample parking spaces on the road adjacent to the lake, however the key here is to arrive early or late as the place does get crowded , as with any other place in this list.
There are plenty of shops, restaurants and hotels in the vicinity if you are interested in staying over.
5. GIAU PASS
Simply put, the drive around the Dolomites is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, and I am surprised it is not mentioned more often. You will find ample mountain passes and stops along the way which will quite simply take your breath away!
One such stop is the Giau Pass (Italian: Passo di Giau) , a high mountain pass in the Dolomites in the province of Belluno in Italy. It connects Cortina d'Ampezzo with Colle Santa Lucia and Selva di Cadore.
There are a few hiking trails in the area , however if you are not interested in hiking , you can also just walk a few meters to get some spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
There is a cafe nearby called Passo Giau, with public restrooms and some really good coffee!
6. FALZAREGO PASS
You might be starting to see a trend here and I don't blame you. As I said before, there are numerous mountain passes in the Dolomites , however I am listing out only the ones I visited and feel are a must do!
Falzarego Pass is highly rated amongst tourists and when you go there you will understand why. Unlike the previous one, this mountain pass offers a Cable car to the top from where you can get some unique and breathtaking 360 degree views of the Dolomite mountain range.
The cost for the Cable car is 16 Euros round trip and I would highly recommend it if you are in the area. There are a couple of gift shops and cafes nearby if you want to grab a quick bite.
I always advise people traveling to foreign countries to carry some local currency with them, some places in Dolomites only accept Cash, so it's always good to carry some cash around for such cases.
Though driving in the Dolomites is extremely fun, it's also a bit dangerous in some areas as you are basically driving through a mountain range , so expect lots of curves and slopes. If you are not comfortable driving in such altitudes, I would suggest you look at alternate options for transportation. It's always good to be safe!
All the places listed above are somewhat closer to the town of Cortina d'Ampezzo and so it makes sense to make that your base if you are planning to visit these places on day trips (and I recommend that you do unless you want to spend more than a day somewhere else).
7. LAGO DI CAREZZA A.K.A KARERSEE
A gorgeous alpine lakes at the foot of the Dolomites , surrounded by snow clad mountains, too good to be true? Not really!
Lake of Carezza or Karersee(every place in the Dolomites have two names!) is yet another popular spot in Dolomites that has become very popular thanks to social media websites like Instagram. Once you get here , you will understand why people are dying to visit this lake.
On a clear day, this lake presents spectacular views with it's turquoise blue green waters and the surrounding mountains, sometimes you can even catch their reflections in the water which makes for the perfect frame!
There is a parking lot right opposite the lake and it's free for first 15 minutes, after that I believe it's 1 Euro per hour. There are also a couple of shops and cafe's nearby. I remember having a Apple Strudel here that was absoultely delicious , so would highly recommend it!
8. VAL DI FUNES/ CHURCH OF SAINT JOHN
We have all seen that one photo of Val di Funes on Instagram and other social media platforms , a quaint church surrounded by beautiful mountains, one instant look and anybody who loves serenity would love to be at this place.
When you drive into the road , you will see a small viewing platoform that is the source of most of these photos that you see on Instagram. There is no official parking lot but you can park on the side of the road (make sure you are parking safely!)
Once you are done taking photos make sure you go inside the meadow and actually see the Church in person! It's even more beautiful when you are standing right in front of it, surrounded my snow capped mountains!
The church is also a popular wedding location, check out their website here for more details.
If you have some more time to spend, I would suggest checking out the surrounding areas as there are a few hiking trails that offer even more spectacular views, but unfortunately I wasn't able to make time for it. More details here
9. St. -JAKOBS-KIRCHE
This is the second dreamy church in our list but one that is not quite popular on Instagram as the Val Di Fumes. Getting here is a bit of a walk but believe me it is worth the walk!
There is no official parking lot in the vicinity , however when it's safe you can park on the side of the road(without disrupting traffic of course!)
The road leading up to the Church is pretty steep so would require some effort , but in the end it will be all worth it as you sit on a bench and enjoy probably one of the most beautiful and romantic views you would have ever witnessed! I mean just look at that view, it's purely magical!
The church is also a popular wedding location (no suprises here!)
10. SASS PORDOI
Sass Pordoi is a 2,950 m high plateau rock summit that can be reached by a Cable car. I wasn't able to make it to the Cable car as last Car to the top goes at around 4.30 PM and you need at least 30 minutes or so at the top to explore the surrounding areas.
There is big parking lot opposite the Cable car base center, so don't worry about finding a parking spot