Determining where to stay in the Dolomites is often one of the biggest challenges when planning a trip to this region in Northern Italy. The areas differ from Italian to German dialect, there are hotels, AirBnbs and rifugios to choose from – daunting right? Keep reading for everything you need to know about choosing where to stay in the Dolomites.
Where are the Dolomites?
The Dolomites are a mountainous region located in Northern Italy. The area is geographically sprawling and actually spans across the three Italian provinces of South Tyrol, Trentino, and Belluno. With the Dolomites wedged between the Austrian mountains and Italian plains, it not only makes for a very unique and stunning landscape but it also makes for a large Austrian influence. When looking for places to stay this can actually become confusing as some places will have two or three names, the Italian version, the Ladin version and the German version. When coming into trip planning as an English speaking person this was very confusing and led to wasted time, so learn from our mistakes!
How to Get to the Dolomites?
The Dolomites are located in Northern Italy and are most easily accessed by car or bus. There are no train stations or airports in this region, so driving is the most popular option for visiting this area. The closest cities are: Venice, Verona and Milan.
Driving out to the Dolomites is relatively straight forward. You will follow the main highway that is slightly windy, but well cared for. Once you’re in the Dolomites the driving will become more challenging. The driving within the Dolomites will include windy, mountainside driving, with cyclists sharing the road. We did see plenty of tour buses on these roads, so no matter the size of your car you will be able to drive these roads.
By Tour Bus
The Dolomites are also commonly visited by day tripping tour groups. The tour buses will often take you to one, two and sometimes three of the most commonly visited areas in the Dolomites. If you’re unsure or uncomfortable with the driving, this is a great option to see the area.
Once you’re in the Dolomites, there is some public transit in the form of buses however these can be inconsistent or run at times inconvenient for you. Once you’re in the Dolomites, driving by car is highly recommended so you can get the most out of your stay here.
Where to Stay in the Dolomites?
There are are several towns to choose from when determining where to stay in the Dolomites, however we recommend either staying in Cortina d’Ampezzo or Ortisei. These two towns are around 2-3 hours apart, so determining which town should be guided by what you want to do in the Dolomites. We recommend choosing 1-3 activities that are on your must do list and plan around these locations. For example, the Tre de Crime loop hike was a must do on our list, so we opted to stay in Cortina as this was a lot closer to the hike. Furthermore, keep in mind what city you are coming from.
Another important note to make is that these are the two main towns we recommend staying in, however there are a lot of villages nearby that have great AirBnb options. These two towns will have the grocery stores and restaurants, however if you opt for an Airbnb and have a car you can easily stay nearby in one of the villages.
Cortina d’Ampezzo (commonly referred to as Cortina) is centrally located in the province of Belluno in the center of the Ampezzo valley. The town of Cortina is vibrant with more shopping and restaurant options than Ortisei. If you’re looking to do some hiking and some relaxing in town – this is a great option. Additionally, if you’re here in the winter for some skiing then this a great option. One of the nearby attractions is the Tre de Crime loop hike. This hike features the iconic Tre de Crime mountain range which is the symbol of the Italian Dolomites UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The drawback of Cortina is that this area is expensive, while the hotels are well maintained and highly rated, they are pricey. If you’re looking for a more budget friendly option we recommend exploring AirBnbs that are nearby. Some recommended towns and villages nearby include:
- Alta Pusteria, South Tyrol (45 minute drive from Cortina d’Ampezzo city center)
- Serdes, Belluno (15 minute drive from Cortina d’Ampezzo city center)
- Valdaora, Bolzano (50 minute drive from Cortina d’Ampezzo city center)
Ortisei is the other town we recommend staying in or around. Ortesei is the Italian name for the town, however it is more commonly referred to by its Ladin name of Urtijëi or its German name of St. Ulrich. Ladin is the third language that is commonly spoken in this region, confused yet? We certainly were. No matter the name, this town is located in Val Gardena in the province of South Tyrol. Ortisei is the perfect location if you’re visiting during the summer and planning to do some hiking. The benefit of staying in the town, rather than the general area of Val Gardena, is that some of the trailheads and lifts are accessible by walking which is not common in the Dolomites. Another popular attraction in the Dolomites is the Seceda Ridgeline, which is best accessed by staying near Ortisei.
Similar to Cortina, the hotels within town tend to be more expensive. If you’re looking for a more budget friendly option we recommend exploring AirBnbs that are nearby. Some recommended towns and villages nearby include:
- Alta Badia, South Tyrol (45 minute drive from Ortisei city center)
- Val di Funes, South Tyrol (45 minute drive from Ortisei city center)
- Alpe di Siusi, South Tyrol (30 minute drive from Ortisei city center)
Hotel vs AirBnb
Despite which town you are staying in, we recommend opting for an AirBnb. Having an AirBnb will allow for you to have a good breakfast, prep a lunch for your hiking days and opt out of restaurant dining if needed. If you’re visiting in shoulder seasons this will be especially worthwhile as many restaurants will remain closed until peak season starts. We visited in the beginning of June, which was the beginning of peak season however many restaurants remained closed at this time.
An absolutely stunning AirBnb option is this mirror house.
Looking for a local, nature-focused, experience when in the Dolomites? We recommend staying in a rifugio. Rifugios are mountain huts that most often require a hike or gondola ride to access. There are several of these within the Dolomites and we recommend these if you’re looking to complete a multi-day hike or those looking to catch a sunrise in the mountains. The level of amenities will vary by rifugio, some have private bathrooms with hot water whereas others are one big room with cold water. Despite the level of amenities, all of these rifugios will have food preparation provided. Providing these meals to hikers is a tradition and these dishes will include Italian specialities. To look into booking a rifugio we recommend looking at this website.
Looking for an incredible, and famous, hike to do when you’re in the Dolomites? We highly recommend the Tre de Crime loop hike. For more information to plan for this hike, read our full breakdown.