The Italian Dolomites may not be the highest mountains in the world, but few could deny that they are among the most spectacular and unique.
What sets the Dolomites apart from the rest is their accessibility and the outlandish shapes time and nature have wrought their multi-hued rock. They are, moreover, home to a wealth of stunning alpine flora, thousands of miles of trekking routes and some of the most exquisite alpine lakes and meadows you’re ever likely to see.
It won’t take you long to understand why the Dolomites merit their UNESCO World Heritage status and all the other accolades and praise they’ve received over the years. Soon, we imagine, you’ll be wanting to some more of your own – all of them, no doubt, speckled with the most superlative adjectives in your vocabulary!
The reasons to visit the Dolomites run into the hundreds. Narrowing it down to a mere top ten has been no easy task, but in the end we made it! Read on and get ready to book those flights!
1. The Via Ferrata: A Hiking-Climbing Hybrid
The Italian Dolomites are the home of the via ferrata. These routes were originally used by troops during WWI to reach high-altitude outposts and tunnels. These days, they form a long and breathtaking network of safe, hybrid climbing and hiking routes over some of the most thrilling terrain known to man.
If you fancy tackling a via ferrata in the Dolomites, check out this guide: Via Ferrata Dolomites.
2. The Alta Via Routes: Long-Distance Hiking at its Best
The Dolomites boast 10 Alta Via (“High Route”) trails in total. Each one takes in a wide and wonderful variety of mountainous terrain and lets the adventurous thru-hiker see the best of the Dolomites on foot on an epic, multi-day adventure.
For more info on the Alta Via, take a look at Dolomites Hiking.
3. The Tre Cime di Lavaredo: The Most Iconic Peaks in Europe?
The Three Peaks of Lavaredo are among the most photographed mountains in the world – and with just cause! They look, to most eyes, as if crafted by the hand of a master-sculptor rather than by the forces of time and nature alone. These three majestic pinnacles are also very accessible, either on a three-hour hike from the San Candido side or by car/bus and 10 minutes on foot from Rifugio Auronzo.
To learn more about hiking to the Tre Cime, check out this page from Pusteral.
4. Cortina D’Ampezzo: The Adventure-Lover’s Playground
Cortina is the unofficial capital of the Dolomites and the perfect base for exploring the stunning mountain groups that surround it on all sides. It’s an incredibly cute, cozy and picturesque alpine village that in the winter time becomes something of a mecca for skiers and snowboarders.
Want to know more? Go to Dolomiti.org
5. The Historical Perspective: War Walks and Museums
Remnants of WWI’s ‘White War’ are everywhere in evidence in the Italian Dolomites. The region’s tragic past is preserved in several open-air museums, with the most impressive being those at Cinque Torri and Lagazuoi. Out on the trails, you will find the old via ferrata cables, chains, ladders and tunnels used by troops to supply and defend high outposts, and even the odd bullet shell amongst the rocks. For a bit of mountaineering history, the Messner Mountain Museum in Bolzano boasts one of the most impressive collections of mountaineering artifacts in the world.
For more on the Dolomites War Walks, take a look at Dolomite Treks
6. The Food: Italians Cuisine with an Alpine Twist
We all know Italy is famed for its delicious cuisine. In the Dolomites, that cuisine is served with a tasty alpine twist and a touch of influence from neighboring Austria. The highlights include just about the best apple strudel you’ll ever taste, blueberry pie, casunziei (ravioli stuffed with spinach or pumpkin) and tris di canederli (a form of dumpling containing cured ham and served in a tasty broth).
For more on Dolomitic delicacies, feast your eyes on this article from Saveur: How to Eat the Dolomites.
7. Lago di Braies: An Emerald Gem on High
South Tyrol’s spots of natural beauty are numerous enough to merit a book or two in themselves. Perhaps the most impressive of these, however, is the dazzling and delightful Lago di Braies. This 2.4-kilometer turquoise lake lies in a forested glacial cirque ringed by giant, fang-like peaks and, according to local legend, was the gate to the Fanes underworld.
Catch a sneak preview of Lago di Braies here!
8. Val Gardena: A Picture-Perfect Paradise
The world is home to very few valleys as picturesque as the florid, Eden-like Val Gardena. It’s surrounded by towering peaks and lined on both sides by exquisitely-colored alpine flora: gentians, edelweiss, rhododendron, lilies, and King of the Alps being just a few. In the winter, moreover, it offers some of the best skiing in Europe.
Learn more at the following link for visitors to Val Gardena.
9. Lago di Misurina: Downtime With a View
Another ideal and wonderfully scenic base for exploring the best of the Dolomites is in one of the hotels or campsites on the shores of the emerald-watered Lago di Misurina. The views in all directions are simply stunning and the lake itself the perfect place to cool down after a hard day’s hiking.
Take a look at the views on offer from the lake here.
10. The Mountain Huts: The Most Scenic Sleepover Spots You’ll Ever Find
All of the trails in the Dolomites are served by a network of very convenient mountain huts, called ‘rifugi’ (singular: ‘rifugio’) in Italian. These are the ideal spots to break up the long distance routes or simply to spend a night in an incredible environment up amongst the clouds. Some rifugi, such as Piz Arlara and Rifugio Nuvolau, are located in possibly the most outrageous and dramatic locations you’re ever likely to experience.
For more info on mountain huts in the Dolomites or to make your booking, follow this link.
Certain locations are so utterly unique and impressive that we feel compelled to spread the word so others can be inspired to get out there and enjoy all they have to offer. The Dolomites are one of these locations. From awe-inspiring peaks and valleys to gorgeous alpine lakes and fauna, they have something for everyone and forge memories of the kind never to be forgotten. If you only visit one outdoor destination in Italy in your lifetime, make it the Dolomites! Alternatively, please check the wider guide to hiking in Italy.
How did you like this list? Let us know which of the above is top of your tick-list or if you think it missed anything out. And if you’d like to do your part to help inspire potential visitors, please feel free to share this article with your friends, family, colleagues and anyone else who might want to see some of the most majestic mountains mother nature ever made!