Top 8 Spots in the Dolomites & How to Get to Them
If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen many photos of the Dolomites and presumed that such beauty must be set in the most remote locations and that only the most hardcore hikers could get to them. After doing some research and asking around, I found that to be the complete opposite. The Dolomites are a range of mountains set in Northern Italy just two hours north of Venice, and could very well be the most Instagrammed place this year along with Bali, and for good reasons. I visited the Dolomites with my friend Adam (@adamstevensvisuals) in October 2018, and we fell in love (Adam even cried a little). Here are my favourite places to visit in the Dolomites, when to visit them, and how to get to them.
Alpe di Siusi
Alpe di Siusi, or Seiser Alm, is an area in South Tyrol filled with wooden cabins and rolling hills, with the peaks of Sasso Lungo right behind. The area is closed off for cars (although some people drive through), and if caught driving through the area, you might possibly be fined around 100-150e. The best way to visit this place is to park your car at Compatsch and walk 30-40 minutes to the shooting spots. This is definitely a sunrise spot, and I suggest visiting in the summer as the colours of the grass will be vibrant green, and the sun rises next to the peak. If you’re lucky, you can see fog before the sun rises!
Seceda is a beautiful ski hill that’s open to the public, but not accessible via car. In the summer and winter you can take a cable car up, but during the off-season, they don’t run. The best time to visit Seceda is June/July, as that will be when the colours are most vibrant and flowers may start to bloom. The most common way of visiting Seceda is to take a cable car up for sunset, camp there overnight in a tent, and wake-up to experience it for sunrise. You can read more about Seceda on my friend Giulia’s blog here. I was, unfortunately, unable to see this spot myself due to weather, but my friend @KayvanHuisseling has some epic photos as shown below. It looks great moody too!
Sella Pass, Giau Pass, Vajolet Towers
I myself don’t have too much experience with these three, but you can read more on Giulia’s blog above. I have visited Sella Pass once and the view from above is quite spectacular. Kay (mentioned above) ended up getting up top of the peaks, and although I don’t suggest getting up there, it does make quite an epic photo. If you’re a fan of hiking, there are plenty of hikes around the area that you can do as well. I’d suggest reading up on some of them as they seem to be amazing.
Giau Pass is 30 minutes away from the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, and there is a view across it on top of a hill (15-minute hike). I went for sunset and it was amazing, but I’m pretty sure it would have been nice for sunrise as well.
I was unable to visit the Vajolet Towers due to time restrictions, but you can read about it on Giulia’s blog.
Tre Cime Di Lavaredo
The Tre Cime National Park is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, so beautiful I’ve been here five times (mostly because of weather conditions). My favourite season to visit is in the fall as the larch trees turn yellow and you may even get some snow on the peaks of the mountains. There’s a parking fee of 30 euros on the way up, and if you really don’t want to pay that, you can leave your car before the entrance and hike 4-5 hours (if I were you I would just pay). The actual three peaks are visible on the drive up, and once you get to the parking lot, there are a few places you can go. Here are my top choices:
First is the circuit that goes around the peaks. I personally have gone half way, but I’m certain that the whole walk is gorgeous. I’d say that it is fairly easy, as I’ve seen kids hike it before. You can start either side from the parking lot, with different things to see along the way.
Second is the view from behind Tre Cime. It is well marked, and there are quite a few spots to stop and admire the peaks from. Park your car at Rifugio Auronzo, and then hike to Dreizinnenhütte. There are plenty of shooting spots along the way and around the area, including Forcella Lavaredo which is my personal favourite (see the photo below). When you get to Dreizinnenhütte, you’ll also see two lakes on your right which are great to shoot for sunrise. There is also a cave nearby, but I was unable to find it. This whole area is hard to map out, but the surrounding area of Dreizinnenhütte is amazing, and I’d suggest going early or the day before to scout out your spot.
My third favourite place is actually not shooting Tre Cime. and I’m not sure what this spot is called specifically, but you’ve probably seen in on Instagram. Instead of heading towards Tre Cime from Rifugio Auronzo, follow the path that goes towards the peaks in the image below. The hike is about 30-40 minutes walk, and more or less pretty well marked. Personally, I think sunrise and sunsets are both fantastic here, and even during the day, it can look good! I have loosely mapped out the hike below.
Lago di Braies
Lago di Braies, or Pragser Wildersee in German, could very well be the most photographed lake in the world, as it is set right at the base of the valley with beautiful mountains surrounding it. The lake is best shot during sunrise/early morning, and depending on the time of the year the light stays soft until 11 AM. Be warned though, there are many tourists and landscape photographers who will most likely shout at you if you tried to get on the dock. There is a parking lot right next to the lake and there is no necessary hike (although you can take a stroll around the lake, which is quite nice). In early July until late September you can rent a boat for half an hour at 15€, or 25€ for 1 hour, starting at 10M till 5 PM.
Lago di Sorapis
I haven’t been here personally due to low water levels, but Lago di Sorapis is a stunning blue lake with a magnificent hike and a famous rock that you can stand on. The hike itself is said to be a 4-hour round-trip with stunning views along the way, and there are sections where there is a cable to hold on to. My friends say that it is best for sunrise, and I myself will add that the best season to visit this is early summer as during the fall the lake dries up quite a bit, hence why I was not able to see the lake…at all. According to Giulia, “the hike begins at the Passo Tre Croci, where you can also park your car then look out for the sign *215”.
Lago di Carezza
Lago di Carezza is another popular lake, with vibrant colours and a beautiful walking path around it. The government has recently installed a fence surrounding the lake though, so, unfortunately, you aren’t able to take photos up close to it (you can cross it on your own discretion). I’d suggest visiting it early summer so that there is more water. I personally like to visit it pre-sunset or post-sunrise, depending on the time of the year.
Val di Funes
The Church of San Giovanni is a famous church set in Val di Funes (Villnöß) on an open field. Behind it is a gorgeous mountain range, and it is quite photogenic. Sunset is usually a good time to shoot it, but I’ve shot it at 10 AM before and it still looked quite amazing. I’d suggest visiting in the fall so that you can get the larch trees in the background but still have the grass green.
Tricks and Tips for the Dolomites.
WEATHER, DRIVING, AND FOOD
The weather is very unpredictable but also plays a large role in your experience. Most of the passes look best when there is fog, so plan accordingly (use weather apps, and look outside). Fog occurs when cold air passes over warmer water or moist land, so if it had just rained the previous night, odds are there would be fog in the morning.
Driving in Italy is not too bad, but there are quite a few speeding cameras (looking for orange poles) in the towns, and the roads are extremely winding. You’ll probably want a more powerful car as there are many steep slopes, especially through passes. Also, be careful of the wildlife, there are quite a few deer in the area.
I would say that the food is not significantly more expensive, but if you go during the off-season (fall/spring), you’ll have a hard time finding restaurants that open early and close late. From my experience, there doesn’t seem to be a breakfast culture in Italy, so don’t expect a big breakfast after your morning hike. Restaurants often close after 2 PM and open at 5-7PM, so make sure you don’t miss lunch! Oh and they close early too, and there is nothing worse than not being able to feast after a sunset hike, so you might consider If you’re looking for a great cheap pizzeria, Adam and I found two in Cortina d’Ampezzo two that opens late and has reasonable prices: Pizzeria La Perla and Ai Due Forni Di Aldo E Alverà Brothers S.a.s..
WHERE TO STAY
Most of the lakes and Tre Cime are on the east side of South Tyrol whereas Alpe di Siusi, Seceda, Val di Funes, and Lagos di Careza are on the west side, with the passes in the middle. When booking a place to stay, keep in mind that the roads are very windy so distances are farther than expected. I’d suggest staying in the towns of Ortisei/Bolzano or nearby for the west locations, and Cortina D’ampezzo for the east.
BEST TIMES TO GO
Fall: Lago di Braies, Lago di Carezza, Tre Cime
Winter: Seceda, Alpe di Suis
Spring/Summer: Seceda, Alpe di Suis, Lago di Sorapis, Val di Funes, Tre Cime
All Year: Sella Pass, Giau Pass, Vajolet Towers
That’s about it! My trip to the Dolomites was honestly quite hectic as I was not able to visit most of the locations I wanted to go to, due to the lack of preparation, weather, and unexpected situations (my AirBnB caught on fire), so I wrote this post in hopes that it’ll help and make your trip easier and more enjoyable. Cheers! Also huge shoutout to Giulia for her amazing blog and to Kay for some amazing photos!