3 Days in the Dolomites: The Best Dolomites Summer Itinerary
Only have 3 days in the Dolomites? This 3 day Dolomites itinerary shows you the best places in the Dolomites.
The Dolomites is one of the most beautiful places in Italy that many people have never heard of. Indeed the turquoise and emerald lakes and pale peaks do not scream typical Italy if your impression of Italy is ancient ruins or coastal towns.
The unique geological formation of the Dolomites is characterized by towering peaks, dramatic rock formations, and breathtaking valleys. The stunning landscape of the Dolomites has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dolomites offers endless opportunities for hiking, climbing, and other outdoor activities in the summer and many people even take their kids to the Dolomites to enjoy the scenery and easy hikes.
Having three days to explore the Dolomites is a great way to experience the beauty and adventure of this incredible region. Even just 3 days in the Dolomites can take your breath away and show you the diverse beauty Italy has.
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Where is the Dolomites
Located in northeastern Italy near the Austrian border, the Dolomites is a large mountain range that form part of the Alps.
The Dolomites is a large area divided by 3 regions: South Tyrol, Trentino and Belluno. The Dolomites actually mean “Pale Mountains”; the name derives from the appears of the peaks made of carbonate rock dolomite.
Historically the Dolomites were part of Austria. The mountain range ran through the Austro-Hungarian and Italian border during World War I.
Both sides used mines during the war, which resulted in the creation of Via Ferrata, protected path along the cliffs above the mines. Via Ferrata now has become a tourist attraction and is one of the most popular things to do in the Dolomites
Nowadays the Dolomites belongs exclusively to Italy. This is the reason why the names in Dolomites are in both Italian and German and the food in the Dolomites have heavy Austrian influence.
When I was in the Dolomites I saw a lot of German speaking visitors and the hotel and restaurant staff all speak German, Italian and some English. Sometimes it made me wonder if I was actually in Italy!
How to Reach The Dolomites
From Venice it’s about a two hour drive to the Dolomites (but depends on where in the Dolomites you are going) and it’s about 2.5-3 hours drive from Innsbruck. The road from Venice to the Dolomites was pretty easy to drive on compare to what you will experience later when you drive between towns in the Dolomites.
Do I need a car in the Dolomites?
Although during peak summer months there are buses in the Dolomites and trains to major towns of the Dolomites, it’s definitely the easiest to have a car in the Dolomites.
The Dolomites is a large region with a lot to see and do. Although there are buses to major sights like Lago di Braies and Tre Cime, the buses are not always frequent (or as frequent as you’d like) and you often need to transfer to reach your final destination.
For example, one of my friends took a bus to Lago di Braies, it took her two hours to get there and she had to spend 6.5 hours there to wait for the bus to go back. So yes it’s do-able to take the bus, but it’s not the most convenient if you want to see multiple things in one day.
Driving in the Dolomites – What You Should Know
Driving is more convenient in the Dolomites but the roads are not always the easiest to drive on. Oftentimes you have to drive on very windy and narrow roads with crazy aggressive locals drivers tailgating you, which can be annoying and stressful.
Some roads are only wide enough for 1 car so you need to be prepared to yield or even back up. I personally found driving in the Dolomites a bit stressful but still manageable.
Before I went to the Dolomites, I read online that Italian car rental agencies require an International Driving permit, which you can easily get from AAA if you are based in the US. However nobody asked me for it when I was there but just something to keep in mind in case they ask.
It is likely that you will get a diesel car if you are renting an automatic car. I never had this issue before but our diesel car ended up having a dashboard light that said “DEF low, refill soon”.
Coming from the US, I had no idea what that meant! Basically you just go to any gas station and tell them you need the fluid, which goes into the DEF/AdBlue tank next to gas (see photo below).
Another thing you should be aware of while driving in the Dolomites is that everything takes longer than you think. We relied on both Google Maps and our car’s GPS (Google Maps was more accurate) and there were random road closures and detours we had to take.
Sometimes the junctions can get quite confusing and you may end up driving on the highway in the opposite direction for 20 minutes before you can get off and get back on the highway to go to the other direction.
There were also a number of car accidents on the highway since people drive so aggressively so on average I would add 30 min to an hour to your planned commute time.
Areas of The Dolomites
As mentioned earlier, there are 3 provinces in the Dolomites. For this 3 day Dolomites itinerary I will only focus on the province of South Tyrol (Sudtyrol in German). Within South Tyrol, this itinerary focuses on 3 areas, Val Gardena, Val di Funes and Sexten Dolomites.
The reason I focused on these three distinct areas is because they offer some of the best places to visit and hike in the Dolomites.
The Sexten Dolomites near Misurina has the famous Tre Cime (Drei Zinnen in German; three peaks in English) hike and it’s also close to the legendary Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee in German). It is more on the eastern side of the Dolomites region.
Val Gardena and Val di Funes are more west of the Misurina area (~2-3 hour drive). Val Gardena is where the town of Ortisei (Urtijëi in German) is located, as well as the famous Seceda and Alpe di Siusi.
Going slightly north from Val Gardena is Val di Funes (Villnöß in German); it is where the village of Santa Magdalena and Puez-Odle Nature Park are located.
These names may mean nothing to you, but just keep them at the back of your mind. After you read through the itinerary they will make sense to you.
Best Time to Visit the Dolomites
The Dolomites is popular to visit all year round depending on what you want to do.
If you are interested in outdoor activities such as hiking then you should consider visiting the Dolomites from May to early October when the weather is pleasant and when there’s no more snow on the trails. Most cable cars also have different hours of operation during the summer peak months so be sure to check the cable car websites when you plan your trip.
If you are expecting perfect summer days in the Dolomites then you probably will be disappointed. Summer in the Dolomites is one of the wettest times. I had friends telling me when they went to the Dolomites in the summer it rained the entire week they were there.
I visited the Dolomites in mid September and got totally lucky with perfect summer days the entire time I was there. However it did rain 5 days before I visited and it rained for a week after I left.
When I was visiting the Dolomites in mid September the temperature varied a lot during the day. It was cold in the morning and at night (~40s-50sF/ 10C) and it got super hot under the sun during the day (~85F/ 28C). See below for an annual temperature chart and monthly precipitation.
Keep in mind that summer is one of the busiest times in the Dolomites, especially on the weekend. Cable cars, lakes and hiking trails get crowded early in the morning so set your expectation to avoid disappointment.
Travel Insurance for the Dolomites
I always recommend getting travel insurance before any trip as you never know what could happen (hiking injuries, theft, flight delays, lost baggages, etc) and you don’t want to end up paying for everything out of pocket.
World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
3 Days in the Dolomites Itinerary
3 Days in the Dolomites is not a lot of time but it will give you the opportunity to visit the most beautiful places in the Dolomites. There are some hiking involved but the trails in this Dolomites itinerary are pretty tame/ easy so the whole family can enjoy.
Day 0: Arrive in Venice
Day 1: Tre Cime di Lavaredo & Cadini Peaks
Day 2: Lago di Braies & Santa Magdalena Village & Lago di Carezza
Day 3: Seceda & Alpe di Siusi/ Seiser Alm
This 3 days in Dolomites itinerary requires you to visit in the summer/early fall assuming roads are closed during the winter. In addition you absolutely need a car to do this itinerary as it covers a large area in South Tyrol and buses can’t get you to these places in a reasonable amount of time.
Day 0 – Arrival in Venice
Day 1 of 3 Days in the Dolomites – Tre Cime di Lavaredo & Cadini Peaks
Tre Cime (Drei Zinnen) is known as the Three Peaks and it is a group of mountain peaks famous for their distinct tower shapes. Up until 1919 the Three Peaks were on the border of Italy and Austria but now they are Italian.
You can hike around the Three Peaks to fully appreciate their glory from all angles. The hikes around the peaks are easy (if you do the day hike) and this is why the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike is perhaps the most popular and crowded hike in the Dolomites.
If you want to do the day hike to Tre Cime, there is a 3.5 – 4 hour loop hike that let you go around the peaks. There are 3 huts (Rifugios) along the way. After the third and the most famous Rifugio (it’s white and red in appearance), you can follow the sign for path 105 and go around the peaks to complete the loop.
Alternatively, you can hike as much as you like on the route as the path to the second Rifugio is very flat, suitable for strollers and wheelchairs. Many people either hike to the view point (the hill after second Rifugio) or to the third Rifugio (the one with the best view) before heading back the same way.
I did hear from my friends that the loop is narrow and rocky and if you are scared of heights you shouldn’t do it since you already saw the best view at the view point and at the third Rifugio (Rifugio Locatelli).
Logistics of Hiking Tre Cime di Lavaredo
There is a massive parking lot at Rifugio Auronzo (Rifugio No.1). Parking is €30 cash only (it may be more when you visit since I went a while ago). If you go after 10am you run the risk of the park lot being full then you need to park down the hill and hitch hack back up to the Rifugio.
We went at 10am in mid September and the parking lot was mostly full, so if you visit during June to August you should get there even earlier. The gate to the parking lot opens from 8am to 5pm.
Once you park the car, follow the path everyone walks on (101) to Rifugio Lavaredo (Rifugio No.2). The path is super wide and flat and I saw people with strollers and wheelchairs.
Once you go past Rifugio Lavaredo, you will climb uphill for 30 minutes until you come to a view point of the side of the three peaks. Some people turn back at this point but you can continue walking 40 minutes to Rifugio Locatelli (the red one, or I call it Rifugio No.3).
Rifugio Locatelli has really really good food and desserts and you can sit outside with the best view of Tre Cime. The hike there was some uphill but I promise the view is worth it.
At Rifugio Locatelli the path splits. You can either go back the way you came or follow signs to go around the towers to complete the loop.
The Cadini Peaks
Most people go to Tre Cime/ Drei Zinnen for the famous three peaks hike. Little do they know there is another amazing view point opposite of where the three peaks are. You can actually see the Cadini Peaks when you hike back from Tre Cime; the peaks are pretty distinct and magnificent.
The hike to the Cadini Peaks view point starts at the Tre Cime parking lot, opposite of where the 101 trail is. It takes about 40 minutes one way to get to the view point. The latter half of the hike is on a very narrow path next to a cliff but the view is totally worth it.
Where to Stay near Tre Cime
There are a lot of options when it comes to where to stay near Tre Cime. The biggest town to stay in is Cortina d’Ampezzo and there are a lot of hotels and restaurants in the town. Alternatively you can stay in Misurina, Auronzo, or go a little north to a small village called Dobbiaco/Toblach.
Day 2 of 3 Days in the Dolomites: Lago di Braies & Santa Magdalena Village & Lago di Carezza
Day 2 of your Dolomites itinerary is pretty packed, with a lot of driving between towns. However you will see some of the most beautiful places in the Dolomites on this day.
Morning: Lago di Braies
Start your day bright (or dark) and early to visit the famous Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee in German). If you stayed in Dobbiaco, it should only take you about 30 minutes to drive to Pragser Wildsee.
Lago di Braies is part of the UNESCO heritage sites in the Dolomites and it also is one of the deepest lakes in the Dolomites with the deepest point at 36m.
The lake became famous because it was featured in the Italian TV show “Un Passo dal Cielo”. In recent years it was also frequently seen on social media as a “must see” in the Dolomites.
Lago di Braies is not all hype fortunately; the lake’s turquoise colored water together with the perfect reflection of the mountains surrounding it make it truly postcard perfect.
When You Should Visit Lago di Braies
The lake is open all day long but I suggest you visit either really early in the morning or late in the afternoon from May to October (you don’t want to go in the winter or spring when the lake is still frozen).
From July 10 to September 10, between 9:30am to 4pm, Lago di Braies (and the Pragser Tal Valley) can only be reached by public transportation, on foot, by bike or having a valid reservation if you are driving.
I got to Lago di Braies around 7:20am on a Monday in mid September and there were already a row of photographers by the lake shore and a few Instagrammers taking photos.
Around 8am most of the photographers left so it was actually much nicer because there was still the perfect reflection on the water without all the people getting in my photos. By 9am regular visitors started arriving and by 10 it was pretty crowded at the lake.
You can spend as little as 30 minutes at the Lago di Braies just taking photos or as long as 3-4 hours hiking around the lake and rowing a boat.
The hike around Lago di Braies is easy and relatively flat with some uphills and stairs but nothing too bad (you can do it even if you are old or not fit). I really enjoyed the walk since it got me away from the crowd and you get to see the other side of the lake.
- Shared boat ride experience (you share with other people, 5 max per boat): 15 Euros for 30 minutes
- Private boat ride experience: 50 Euros for 30 minutes
- Shared boat ride + E-bike rental: 69 Euros for 30 min boat ride
Noon: Drive to the Village of Santa Magdalena (Santa Maddalena) in Val di Funes
The idyllic village is Santa Magdalena sits in Val di Funes in front of the magnificent Odle/Geisler massif in the Puez-Odle Nature Park.
Most people visit Santa Maddalena to see the picturesque Medieval Church from a view point up the hill. Others use St. Maddalena as a base for the hikes in Puez-Odle Nature Park.
It takes about 2 hours to drive to St. Maddalena from Lago di Braies. The roads to Santa Maddalena are not exactly wide or easy to drive on, so expect some narrow twist and turns on your way there.
You may also want to budget more time to drive to St. Maddalena in case you get lost (or in case of random road closures).
Once you arrive in St. Magdalena, you will find different signs for parking so just park where you can in the town. After you park the car, take a moment to explore this quaint village and find a place for lunch.
The famous view point of Santa Maddalena is outside of the town. To find the viewpoint, you should search for “Panorama di Santa Magdalena” on Google Maps, it gives you a more accurate direction to the view point, which is up the hills.
It takes about 20-30 minutes to walk to the view point from the town of Santa Maddalena and it is mostly uphill walking.
Afternoon: Visit San Giovanni Church (Church of St. John of Nepomuk)
Aside from the Santa Maddalena church, there is another famous and frequently photographed church in Val Di Funes called San Giovanni Church.
The San Giovanni Church is a small church located in Ranui in the foot of the Odel Dolomites. The mine owner Michael von Jenner commissioned the construction of this church in 1744.
It is easy to visit San Giovanni Church since it’s literally a 5-10 minute drive from St. Magdalena. When you look for directions, put “Kirche St. Johann in Ranui” in Google Maps and it will lead you right there.
There is a parking lot at where the Google Map location takes you. From there you can actually walk to the church and look inside.
Alternatively if you only want to photograph the church with the mountain peaks behind it, you will have to park on the side of the street at the beginning of the road leading up to the official parking lot.
Sunset: Lago di Carezza
The last stop of your Day 2 in the Dolomites is Lago di Carezza (Karersee in German). It’s a small alpine lake in South Tyrol in the foot of Rosengarten mountain range.
Located not too far from the city of Bolzano, Lago di Carezza draws tons of visitors with its emerald colored water and the perfect reflection of the peaks.
It will take you at least an hour to drive from San Giovanni church to Lago di Carezza so make sure you budget enough time so you don’t miss sunset. Sunset is the best time to photograph the lake (or you can visit during sunrise, with even fewer people).
Note that there is a fence all around the lake and signs that prohibit people from hopping the fence to get down to the lake. But many instagrammers blatantly ignore the sign and hop the fence. Don’t be that person and do respect the place you are visiting.
After you visit the lake, you can either drive 40 minutes to the large town of Ortisei (Urtijëi) to spend the night or stay at a hotel near Lago di Carezza.
Day 3 of 3 Days in Dolomites: Seceda & Alpe di Siusi
This is the last day of your short time in Dolomites and you will be seeing some of the best mountain peaks and views in the Dolomites without much efforts.
Seceda is a mountain located in Val Gardena above the town of Ortisei. Its chiseled hill side is one of the major draw point and gained social media success on Intagram.
Seceda is actually one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to visit the Dolomites so you can imagine my excitement to finally visit this mountain.
How to reach Seceda
Seceda is located above the town of Ortisei, a large touristy town in the heart of Val Gardena. If you are staying near Lago di Carezza, then you need to check out really early to drive about an hour to Ortisei to take the cable car to Seceda.
There are a couple of different parking lots at the Seceda Cable Car. If you go during peak summer months there’s a risk that the parking lots would get full, so i recommend going as early as possible.
The first cable car to the top of Seceda starts at 8:30am during the summer time and you can purchase tickets at the counter (you don’t need to buy it online).
There are two types of tickets, one to the middle station, then to the Seceda summit (get this ticket). If you are visiting in the summer time, you really should go up with the first cable car to beat the crowd.
Once you are on top, you can walk around to the Seceda photo point (there is a sign pointing to it) or just keep walking around and taking photos. There are hikes on top of Seceda too, so if you want to hike you can do that also.
After you come down from Seceda, you can spend some time in Ortisei since there are a lot of restaurants in town. One of my favorite restaurants in Ortisei is Ustaria Da Checco; it’s a little bit on the pricey side but the food is really good.
Afternoon: Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm)
After lunch and resting a bit, be sure to visit another amazing place which can be easily reached by cable car from Ortisei: Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm in German).
Alpe di Siusi/ Seiser Alm is the largest Alpine meadow in Europe and it’s one of the most popular ski area in Val Gardena. Located at the altitude of 1680m, the scenic Alpe di Siusi sits in the foreground of Langkofel Group.
How To Get To Alpe di Siusi
Alpe di Siusi is car-free, meaning that between the hours of 9am to 5pm, you cannot drive up there unless you have a valid hotel reservation.
If you get caught driving at Alpe di Siusi without a hotel reservation, you will be heavily fined.
Once you get to the cable car station at Alpe di Siusi, you have to walk down towards the “Adler Lodge” then continue down the road for another 10 minutes till you hit the best view point of Alpe di Siusi.
The “hike” down is easy and it takes about 20 minutes but you will need to walk all the way back up to the cable car station, which can be a little tiring especially if it’s hot.
If you have more than 3 days in the Dolomites and want to hike around Alpe di Siusi/ Seiser Alm, consider staying up there for the night. You can get the best sunset/sunrise photos and fully explore the plateau.
Alternatively you can stay in the town of Compatsch, which has cheaper and more hotels. The only drawback is that it’s about a 45 minute walk to the Alpe Di Siusi view point if you want the sunrise shot.
Is 3 days in the Dolomites Enough?
3 days in the Dolomites is actually a really short amount of time, and I personally would suggest at least 5-7 days in the Dolomites to fully experience it.
However if you are limited on time and just want to see the most beautiful places in the Dolomites then follow my itinerary.
If you do have more than 3 days in the Dolomites, then you can either spend more time at Seceda or Seiser Alm, do the hikes in Puez-Odle Nature Park, hike to Lago Sorapis, do a Via Ferrata or visit the Passo Giau. The choice really is unlimited if you are into outdoor activities and hiking.
Other Useful Things to Know Before You Travel to the Dolomites
Hotel receptions are not 24 hours in the Dolomites
One thing that added to my stress of traveling to the Dolomites is that hotel front desks are not always there. Generally they are there between 8am to 5pm but anything before or after those hours are questionable.
Why this mattered to me is because I was getting up really early every morning to get to the lakes and cable cars to beat the crowds. The hotels only took payment upon check out so I was quite stressed that nobody would be there to let me check out.
If you need to get somewhere really early, be sure to tell the hotel front desk the night before so you can make payments (or take care of parking if they have a paid parking garage).
It takes you longer to get to places in the Dolomites than you think
Buses are not always frequent in the Dolomites and you may need to transfer multiple times to get anywhere on public transportation.
Driving in the Dolomites is also tricky because of the windy roads, confusing directions and random road closures. Always budget more time to your travels when driving in the Dolomites so you don’t feel rushed like I did.
You can use credit cards most of the time in the Dolomites
I was worried about how much cash to have with me in the Dolomites because I wasn’t sure if places accept credit cards.
Most hotels and restaurants in the Dolomites accept international credit cards, but you should still have cash for parking and bathrooms (get coins for bathrooms).
If you plan to eat at the rifugios on your Dolomites hikes then you should also consider bringing some cash. Some lodges accept credit cards whereas others prefer cash.
You can [probably] fly drones in the Dolomites
Out of all the mountainous places I’ve visited, Dolomites is probably the most lenient when it comes to drones.
Most places in the Dolomites don’t have signs prohibiting drone usage and I saw many people flying their drones at Tre Cime, Lago di Braies and Seceda. Although rules can change but for now it looks drone friendly although it can be annoying to other people who are trying to enjoy some peace and quietness in the wilderness.
Don’t expect Italian food in the Dolomites
Although the Dolomites is technically in Italy now, it hasn’t always been. If you are expecting amazing pasta and pizza in the Dolomites then you may be disappointed. Although most restaurants do offer some pasta and pizza dishes, you will more likely to find Austrian food and local Tyrolean cuisine.
We had a lot of sausage, meat and Tyrolean dumplings in the Dolomites although we occasionally found a pizzeria here and there. The Italian food cannot be compared to what you would find in Florence and Rome.
Locals drive fast
Italian drivers are known to be aggressive and it is no exception in the Dolomites. As I mentioned earlier, even on narrow windy roads the Italian drivers can be really aggressive and sometimes borderline reckless.
There are also autobahn/ highways in the Dolomites and there is no speed limit, so you can expect cars zooming past you at 120-150 km/h.
What’s interesting to me (coming from the US) is that although drivers can be very aggressive, everyone stays on the right lane (if there are more than 1 lane) and people only use the left lane to pass. Once they pass they automatically go to the right lane, which I thought was courteous.
Other Italy Travel Resources
If you are traveling to Italy I have some other blogs that might interest you!
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