One of the questions I get asked a lot in the comments underneath my articles about the Dolomites is which town should I choose as my base when coming here on holiday?
I wish there was a straight answer to that. The Dolomites are dotted with little villages, each one surrounded by seemingly endless trails and via ferratas for keen outdoor enthusiasts.
Thankfully after spending two hiking seasons in this corner of Italy I have made my top picks for this region.
I have written detailed synopses about some of my favourite towns and included links to separate articles from my Italian Dolomites Guide.
I hope my recommendations will help you decide where to stay when planning your holiday in the Dolomites. If you would like to support my work please use the affiliate links in the text when booking your stay (even if booking different hotels than the ones I recommend). It won't cost you anything and I will receive a small commission for each booking! Thanks!
My Top Picks for Best Mountain Towns In the italian dolomites
1. Cortina D'Ampezzo
Cortina D’Ampezzo is undoubtedly the most famous of all the small mountain towns in the Dolomites and due to its popularity, it’s also one of the busiest and most expensive. I've spent a lot of time exploring Cortina and its surroundings.
The high street boasts high end fashion stores and fancy restaurants so if you want to intersperse your mountain holiday with some shopping then Cortina is the place to do it.
The popularity of Cortina is definitely justified. There’s so much to do around the town, it’s difficult not to recommend it to most people coming to the Dolomites. Hint, accommodation around here books out quickly, unless you are coming with a campervan or a tent, make sure you’re an early bird to avoid disappointment.
Personal tip: The best pizza in town is a small father-and-son take-away only place "Ai Due Forni Fi Aldo" opposite Cinema Teatro Eden. I used to buy a whole pizza and sit on one the benches on the main street eating it making all passerby's jealous. And for the best hot chocolate or ice cream head over to the Rizatti Shop!
Hiking around Cortina D'Ampezzo
Croda Da Lago
The Croda Da Lago Circuit is my favourite hike near Cortina. It comes to life in October in particular when the larches turn the trail into a golden paradise. The highlight of the trail is a beautiful high alpine lake called Lago Federa. A great alternative to the much busier Lake Sorapiss trail!
If you're a keen historian or just find The Great War interesting then the hike around Cinque Torri is for you. It's not difficult and offers a great chance to see these 5 monoliths from all angles all whilst exploring WW1 bunkers and trenches.
This is the classic hike around Cortina. The route to Lago Sorapiss includes forests, cliffs, cables, stairs and one huge mountain reflection at the end. As mentioned previously , it's a busy hike but with all the different sections, it's continually refreshing.
Via Ferratas ARound Cortina D'Ampezzo
Probably the most famous via ferrata in the entire Dolomites, via ferrata Ivano Dibona rose to popularity after featuring in Cliffhanger movie starring Sylvester Stallone. Since 2016 the gondola going to the start of the route closed significantly lowering the traffic. Nowadays this route gets hardly any footfall giving it, at least in my eyes, even more appeal.
Giro Del Sorapiss
If you're up for a challenging couple of days in the mountains then the Giro Del Sorapiss combines 3 individual via ferratas that, as the name suggests, circumnavigate Mount Sorapiss. It's not for the fainthearted and includes roughly 12 to 16 hours of hiking and climbing including the approach.
When I first read about via ferrata Monte Averau, I thought a climb that short can't go anywhere special. I couldn't have been more wrong. This short and easy via ferrata gave me some of the most outstanding views I've had during my 7 month stint in the Dolomites.
Because of the amount of different iron paths available, I have recently put together a separate article with the best via ferratas around Cortina D'Ampezzo for all level of adventurers.
Mountain Huts Around Cortina D'Ampezzo
The chair lift up to rifugio Pomedes is one reason that puts this hut amongst my favourites around Cortina. The main reason though is the view. Sitting on the terrace, sipping a beer, watching the tumultuous afternoon clouds build up over Croda Da Lago or watching climbers going up and down Ra Bujela is a real treat.
This private hut (pictured above) is accessible by the Lagazuoi Tunnels, a feast of adventure and WW1 history. It's also accessible by cable car but what sets this hut apart is the cuisine. It's some of the best hut food I've ever had. The view isn't bad either ;)
One of the oldest refuges in the Dolomites, this precariously placed hut is a grand feat of engineering. To appreciate its position, look at the hut from the top of nearby mountain Ra Gusela.
Hotel RecommendationS in Cortina D'AmPEZZO
2. Corvara in Badia
Corvara is kind of like Cortina’s little sister. Both are only about 20km apart as the crow flies (36km driving). The pass separating them is Passo Falzarego, one of the most scenic passes in the Dolomites.
However Corvara has another famous pass up its sleeve – Passo Gardena, where you can find several great via ferratas. This is also one of the passes where Alta Via 2 runs, a two week long traverse across the Dolomites.
The town itself is much quieter than Cortina and has more of a local feel. There are more independent shops, smaller side streets for exploring and it is completely surrounded by ski lifts if you’re coming in the winter.
FYI: Best pizza in town is the Bar Pizzeria Villa Caterina
Via Ferratas in Corvara
Gran Cir is one of the easiest via ferratas in the Dolomites making it a great introduction into the World of scrambling. It's short, impossible to get lost on and very rewarding. The views of the ant sized cars down on Passo Gardena make you appreciate how quickly you gain elevation on this route.
Tougher than Gran Cir, Brigata Tridentina has a Smith/Fletcher rating of 3B, it's a 4-5 hour return but could be broken up by an overnight stay in Rifugio Pisciadu, or extended by climbing to the summit of Mount Piscadiu.
Sentiero Attrezzato Sassongher
If you scroll back up to the panoramic shot of Corvara you will notice that the town lies directly at the foot of a beautiful peak. The peak is called Sassongher and as mean as it looks, its other side (not visible in the photograph) is accessible via a beginner iron path of the same name.
I go more into detail about this route in my article about the best beginner via ferratas in the Dolomites.
Hotel Recommendations in corvara
3. Sesto and San Candido
These two towns, separated by a 5 minute drive, are located in the northern region of the Dolomites. Their allure is mainly due to the proximity to the northern border of the Tre Cime Nature Park.
That being said, the towns themselves have no defining features over other small towns in the Dolomites apart from providing a break from the comparatively chaotic Cortina.
This doesn’t mean they aren’t worth staying in. On the contrary! They offer a quieter, more idyllic setting to appreciate the splendor of the mountains.
Outdoor activities near Sesto and San candido
The closest you can drive to the northern tip of the Tre Cime Nature Park is down Val Fiscalina. This valley is the gateway to the via ferrata Strada Degli Alpini mentioned below but also numerous hikes leading to mountain huts including rifugio Zsigmondy-Comici, Pian di Cengia and rifugio Carducci.
The hike through the Fiscalina Valley is one of my personal favourite day hikes in the Italian Dolomites and without hesitation I would place it in the top 3!
Via Ferrata Strada Degli Alpini
A great beginner via ferrata that starts in Val Fiscalina is the Strada Degli Alpini. It's a technically simple but very long ferrata.
I recommend splitting it up over 2 days to maximise your time spent at higher elevation and at the same time allowing yourself to experience the mountain hut culture of Italy by staying in either rifugio Zsigmondy - Comici or Pian di Cengia.
The Croda Rossa Summit
The route to Croda Rossa is only one of a few via ferratas on my initial list that I didn't manage to complete during my two hiking/climbing seasons in 2018 and 2019 in the Dolomites. It's best accessed from the Rudi Hut and the summit views of the nearby Croda Dei Toni are supposed to be unparalleled. If you do it, let me know in the comments below!!!
Lago di Braies
Sesto or San Candido are both great places to stay at if you want to check out the instafamous Lago di Braies. Personally I am not a huge fan of busy places. I normally head to the mountains to find solitude. However there is no denying that Lago di Braies is beautiful and with a little bit of proper planning you too can enjoy it without crazy crowds.
Hotel recommendations in Sesto and San Candido
If you plan on seriously exploring Tre Cime then this place gets you a closer start. I am not even sure if Misurina can be considered an actual town. Apart from a few hotels, restaurants and tourist shops there is nothing else here. The whole town just shuts down during the shoulder seasons.
Lago (from Italian: lake) Misurina is undoubtedly the most defining feature of this place. This tiny town offers the best access to the southern tip and a few classic hikes of the Tre Cime National Park.
TIP: There’s only a few hotels here, which book out even faster than Cortina, so book well in advance. Misurina is only 30 minutes drive away from Cortina, so if you don't find accommodation in Misurina you can still visit this area by staying in Cortina.
Outdoor activities near Misurina
One of the best photography spots in the Italian Dolomites, Lago d'Antorno is only around a 5 minute drive away from Misurina. If you're having a rest day then just meandering around the lake or sitting in the cafe with a coffee, watching the world go by, is really relaxing.
Via Ferrata Merlone
Imagine a ladder. Now imagine lots of ladders. Now imagine lots of ladders on the side of a mountain. You are now imagining via ferrata Merlone. This route, starting from Rifugio Fonda Savio, offers the opportunity for a good workout and culminates in spectacular views from the summit of Cima Cadin.
Tre Cime Nature Park Highlights
As well as Merlone there are other via ferratas in the Tre Cime Nature Park including Torre di Toblin and Innerkofler which are fun and exciting in their own way. For those of you who like to keep your feet on the ground there's also the world famous hiking loop of Tre Cime, one of the most sought after day hikes in the Dolomites.
Hotel recommendations in misurina
Suisi is a rather large town in the Dolomites and hasn’t seen too much of a tourist invasion compared to other spots. The main reason people come to stay here is the access to the Alpe di Suisi Altiplano - Europe's highest alpine meadow.
For closer access to the altiplano, Compatsch is better situated but offers almost no amenities or shops. The town of Siusi is quaint and has a very local feel to it. It also lies in the german speaking part of the Dolomites.
Suisi also makes a great place to start an adventure into the Rosengarten Nature Park to the South.
outdoor activities in suisi
Alpi di Suisi
The meadows, the main attraction of the town, are a short 20 minute drive away. The road however is closed to public traffic during certain hours. With a little planning ahead though you shouldn't have any problems to visit.
FYI: Make yourself aware of the road restrictions to Alpi di Siusi. They are in this article. I have met several groups who have been fined €100+ for breaking the rules.
The Seiser Alm Gondola
The Seis/Seiser Alm gondola negates the need to drive to Alpi di Suisi. It drops you off in the heart of Compatsch where you can walk into the meadows at your leisure.
San Valentino Church
The San Valentino Church (pictured above) stands high above Siusi and makes for an incredible photo opportunity. It is framed under the peaks of Massiccio dello Sciliar Schlern.
hotel recommendations in suisi
6. San Martino di Castrozza and Fiera Di Primiero
These two small towns located in the Trentino region of Italy offer unrivalled access to the Pale di San Martino range. This mountain group has some of the most incredible spires and monoliths I’ve seen in the Dolomites and receives only a small percentage of footfall compared to Tre Cime.
Whilst San Martino Di Castrozza is a typical ski town, Fiera Di Primiero has definitely a more local feel to it. It also has some of the best ice cream parlours I have come across when living in Italy.
Both towns are around 20 minute apart from each other and both offer great access to day hikes and via ferratas within the Pale di San Martino range.
outdoor activities near San Martino di castrozza and Fiera di primiero
Passo Rolle - Baita G Segantini
One of the most scenic passes in the Italian Dolomites, Passo Rolle lies just north of San Martino di Castrozza. By hiking only 45 minutes from the pass you can reach the idyllic Baita G Segantini - a small mountain hut built next to a pond with the best reflections of Cimon della Pala within the beautiful sawtooth range (pictured above).
Hiking in the Pale di San Martino Range
From a day hike to Passo del Mulaz to the challenging seven day Palaronda trek circumnavigating the whole Pale di San Martino range, there is something for everyone.
I have crossed the range twice, first time doing a 3 day loop starting and ending on Passo Rolle and the second time whilst backpacking along the Alta Via 2.
If you're after a more relaxing way to see the mountains, the two tier Col Verde-Rosetta cable car located in San Martino will whisk you up thousands of metres into the peripheries of the range in just a few short minutes.
From the upper station you can take a quick stroll to rifugio Rosetta or hike to the nearby peak of Cima Rosetta from where you will get a beautiful view into the heart of the range. This is probably one of the easiest summits you can bag in the Dolomites.
Via ferrata Bolver Lugli
One of my personal favourite iron paths in the Dolomites thanks to the combination of fun climbing and the dramatic views over the monoliths typical for this range. I have a separate article dedicated to via ferrata Bolver Lugli so make sure to check it out!
hotel recommendations in San Martino di castrozza and Fiera di primiero
7. Canazei and Campitello di Fassa
If I was lucky enough to be able to afford a place in the Dolomites, I would buy one in either of these two towns in Val di Fassa. Doesn't that already say something?
The stark contrast between hotel balconies covered in multicoloured pansies below monumentally large mountains make this my favourite valley.
Both towns are very close to Passo Pordoi, Passo Fedaia and Passo Sella, where a myriad of hiking trails and ferratas start. The passes give access to Sassopiatto and Sassolungo, Piz Boè to the North, the entire Rosengarten group to the West and Marmolada, the Queen of the Dolomites, to the South East.
They are also big enough to have real supermarkets with ample choice of produce and of course countless pizza parlours, gelaterias and cafes!
outdoor activities Around val di fassa
Apart from being a drivers paradise, Passo Sella is also great for hikers and climbers. Two excellent via ferratas start from the pass: The advanced via ferrata Mesules and intermediate via ferrata Oskar Schuster.
Passo Pordoi & the summit of Piz Boè
Passo Pordoi connects Val di Fassa with Arabba - another famous ski town around here. Directly at the pass you can take advantage of the Sass Pordoi cable car which will take you to an altitude of over 2900 meters. From here it's only 1-1.5 hour hike to the summit of Piz Boè. At 3152 meters it's the highest peak in the Sella group!
The Rosengarten Nature Park
I have a soft spot in my heart for the Rosengarten Nature Park. I spent a great week adventuring there with my friends. There's a lot to see and do there including via ferrata Passo Santner and via ferrata Sentiero Massimiliano or the fantastic hike to Vajolet towers!
Marmolada and the museum of the Great War
Whilst personally I am not a big fan of museums, this one is something else. The Great War museum is located at Punta Serauta - one of the the summits of Marmolada - the highest mountain in the Dolomites and there is a cable car going directly to it.
Make sure to also ride the second cable car from Punta Serauta to Punta Rocca and spend some time on the terrace with 360 degree view of the Dolomites!
The bottom of the cable car is in Malga Ciapella only 30 minute drive away from Canazei.
Hotel recommendations in Val di fassa
8. Madonna di Campiglio
The town I’m recommending that is furthest West (by a long way) is Madonna di Campligio. Comparatively to other towns on this list, Madonna di Campiglio and the nearby Adamello Brenta Nature Park are not as popular amongst international travellers, at least outside of the ski season months.
The Adamello Brenta Nature Park is otherworldly and I spent some time exploring it during my 5 day long Dolomiti Brenta Traverse.
The shot above was taken at one of the backcountry huts I stayed at and it best represents the views you can expect. It's a fun traverse that includes many via ferratas, minor glacier crossings and cozy evenings in the huts.
Madonna Di Campiglio is a great and slightly off the beaten path destination and I recommend it to anyone who wants to see the Dolomites beyond the famous but slightly overcrowded locations.
hotel recommendations in Madonna di campiglio
9. Ortisei in Val Gardena
Ortisei is a 'big' town with a decent sized supermarket and amenities. It has a very German feel to it. There's a river which runs through its centre and it has lots of quaint side streets perfect for exploring.
The Gardena Valley is connected with the previously mentioned Fassa Valley via the Sella Pass where you can get amongst the towers of Sassopiatto and Sassolungo on the Oskar Schuster Via Ferrata or to the moonscape on top of the Sella Massif on the Via Ferrata Mesules.
FYI: If you need a break after a good stint hiking then there's a public swimming pool with a sauna and steam room in Ortisei.
outdoor activities in ortisei
Photograph - Suisi and Seceda
Ortisei is a great place to base yourself if you are a photographer. On one side of the valley, there’s the St Ulrich Seisler Alm gondola which whisks you up to Alpi di Suisi, the high alpine meadow described earlier.
On the other side, the Col Raiser gondola transports you to the Puez-Ödle Nature Park where you can hike through the Puez Odle altiplano and see the instafamous Seceda Ridgeline. Both spots made their way onto my list of the best photography spots in the Dolomites.
I already talked about Passo Gardena earlier in my description of another town - Corvara. It's worth mentioning that this pass connects Corvara with Ortisei meaning if you want to check out the highlights of Passo Gardena you can also easily do that whilst staying in Ortisei.
Via Ferrata Sass Rigais
Sass Rigais is the highest peak of the Seceda Ridgeline and here's some great news: you can scramble to its top! Via ferrata Sass Rigais is a beginner route with a decent approach and descent but certainly worth putting onto your itinerary.
hotel recommendations in Ortisei
Without a doubt Alleghe has the most dramatic backdrop of all towns on this list. Not only is it located on the shore of a beautiful turquoise lake but also has great access to Monte Civetta which I personally call the meanest looking mountain in all of the Dolomites.
Its North face raises a whopping 2000 meters above the town efficiently blocking a lot of the sunlight in the Winter. Luckily this isn't an issue in the summer season when the days are long and leave plenty of room for exploring.
OutDoor Activities In Alleghe
Via Ferrata Degli Alleghesi
If you've got some via ferrata experience consider doing the via ferrata Degli Alleghesi to the summit of Mount Civetta. That's right, you can summit that mean looking mountain! Lake Alleghe is visible from the summit and it looks like a tiny pond! I guess that’s what 2000m of elevation gain does.
Hike to lake Coldai
Another one of my favourite dolomiti day treks. This 3-4 hour round trip hike takes you to a beautiful high alpine lake at the foot of Mount Civetta. The located nearby Coldai hut is a great place to grab a lunch so you can go as light as possible and enjoy your day!
Hotel recommendations in Alleghe
As you can see the choices are plentiful, all you have to do is take your pick! I know it's not easy but here is what I recommend.
If your time is limited, first pick the activities, hikes, climbs or photography spots you want to visit, work out where they are on a map then find the most central location. I am also working on a few itineraries that may help you with your planning.
Personally, if I were coming for less than three days I wouldn’t bother trying to explore more than one town. The hassle of checking in/checking out will waste your precious time so instead, focus on one place.
It’s hard to make a bad decision when visiting here but if you do have any questions please pop them in the comments below. I answer all comments personally!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.