Lake Garda to the Dolomites – Your Ultimate Guide to Getting There 2024


Ah, Lake Garda and the Dolomites – Italy’s breathtaking duo that’s bound to steal your heart just like they did mine. When I was mapping out my Italian adventure, I knew I couldn’t just stick to the well-trodden paths of Rome, Florence, and Venice. Sure, I’m all about the hustle and charm of city life 🏙️ and sightseeing, but I LOVE the mountains, nature, and hiking. ⛰️

And that’s why Lake Garda and the Dolomites became the perfect finale for my family’s Italian journey. This was a chance to unwind and soak in the calm after the nonstop sightseeing.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through one of the most scenic transitions you can experience in Italy – traveling from the beautiful shores of Lake Garda to the majestic heights of the Dolomites.

We’ll dive into the best ways to make this journey, discussing whether to take the wheel for a drive 🚗 or to sit back and enjoy a guided tour 🚌. So, whether you’re seeking some chill time after the city buzz or looking to immerse yourself in nature’s embrace, let me help you figure out the best way to navigate this stunning Italian route 🌄.

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🙋🏻‍♀️ Travel Agent– Kim Swanson, Magical Moments Vacations

Are the Dolomites Worth it?

Absolutely! In my opinion, The Dolomites are an absolute must-see for anyone touring Italy. Especially if you’re a lover of mountains, nature, breathtaking views, or photography, this destination is a dream come true.

The view from Pordoi Pass, seen after riding a cable car to the top. It's part of the stunning landscape you will see on the route from Lake Garda to the Dolomites.

One of the coolest things about the Dolomites is how it feels like you’ve stepped into a different country altogether, almost like you’re suddenly in Austria.

This region is a fascinating blend of Italian and Austrian influences. Here, you get to experience a mix of languages, unique architectural styles, and an amazing fusion of cuisines. It’s like getting the best of two worlds in one trip!

And hey, if you’re someone who loves outdoor adventures, the Dolomites are like paradise. Whether it’s hiking and climbing during the sunny summer months or hitting the slopes for some skiing and snowboarding in the winter, there’s always something exciting to do. The Dolomites are not just a destination; they’re an experience, and trust me, you don’t want to miss out on it!

How Far are the Dolomites from Lake Garda?

The journey from Lake Garda to the Dolomites varies depending on your starting point and mode of transportation.

If you’re driving from the northern part of Lake Garda, like Riva del Garda or Limone, to a central point in the Dolomites such as the Pordoi Pass, it typically takes about 2 to 3 hours. From the southern end, like Sirmione, the drive can be around 3 to 4 hours, considering the extra distance.

A winding road leads through a lush valley with colorful trees, towards the towering, jagged peaks of the Dolomites under a clear blue sky. A small church nestles in the distance, adding a picturesque touch to the vibrant landscape.

If you’re traveling by public transport, the duration will be longer. Buses and trains from Lake Garda to the Dolomites involve transfers and typically take around 4 to 6 hours, sometimes more, depending on connection times and specific destinations.

How to Visit the Dolomites from Lake Garda

Whether you’re behind the wheel, relaxing on a bus or train, or enjoying a guided day tour, each option offers a unique way to experience this stunning journey. Let’s explore how you can make the most of your trip, taking into account convenience, comfort, and your own travel style.

From the flexibility of driving, and the laid-back pace of public transportation, to the informative and hassle-free experience of a day tour, there’s a choice that fits every type of traveler. Let’s dive in and find out which one suits you best!

Driving: Pros and Cons

Opting to drive from Lake Garda to the Dolomites offers freedom and flexibility that’s hard to match.

A welcome sign at Moena in the Val di Fassa, with the phrase "Fata delle Dolomiti" (Fairy of the Dolomites), adorned with vibrant flower boxes, with a backdrop of mountain scenery.  This is a must-stop on the journey from Lake Garda to the Dolomites.

It puts you in full control of your itinerary, allowing you to start your day whenever you wish, take spontaneous detours, and spend as much time as you want at each picturesque stop. The comfort of having your own space is undeniable, too. You can pack your favorite snacks, play your favorite music, and enjoy a level of privacy that’s sometimes missing in group tours.

Plus, having a car means you can explore off-the-beaten-path locations, discovering hidden gems and secluded spots that might not be accessible via public transport or included in standard tour routes.

However, there are downsides to consider. If you don’t plan on renting a car in Lake Garda, you’ll need to factor in the additional cost of a rental, which includes not just the rental fee but also insurance and fuel.

Also, driving in the Dolomites can be challenging, especially for those not used to mountainous terrain. The roads often feature narrow lanes, sharp turns, and steep inclines, which can be daunting and potentially stressful.

Additionally, when you’re the one driving, your attention is on the road. This means you might miss out on some of the scenic beauty around you. It’s also worth noting that after a day filled exploring, the drive back can be tiring.

Bus/Train Travel

Taking a bus or train from Lake Garda to the Dolomites is definitely an option. However, it does require a bit of planning.

And I will say if you are considering a day trip to the Dolomites from Lake Garda, I do not recommend this mode of transport. The journey typically involves multiple transfers between buses and trains, which can be time-consuming. By the time you reach the Dolomites, you may find that much of your day has already been spent in transit.

Furthermore, upon arriving, you’ll need to rent a car or take a taxi to reach specific locations within the Dolomites. Public transportation in the mountainous areas can be limited. This adds layers of complexity and time to your trip, making it not very practical for a day trip.

However, if you’re planning to stay in the Dolomites for multiple days, bus/train travel becomes a more viable option. It allows you to enjoy the scenic journey without the stress of driving. Plus, you won’t be as pressed for time. You can settle into the slower pace of travel, take in the landscapes along the way, and spend a few days exploring the Dolomites at your own leisure.

Take a Full Day Tour to the Dolomites from Lake Garda

Choosing a full-day tour to the Dolomites from Lake Garda was the route my family and I took during our stay in Lake Garda. 🌄 This option was perfect for us, especially since we were looking for a stress-free way to explore the Dolomites and only had one day to spare.

Our adventure kicked off as we hopped onto an air-conditioned bus from our convenient pickup point in Riva del Garda. (There are various pick-up points all along Lake Garda.) With an experienced guide on board, we set out on a scenic route, making our first stop at a charming café for a quick coffee and breakfast. ☕🥐

We made a quick stop in Moena to enjoy the scenery and take some quick pictures.

Kim and her boys smiling in the foreground, with the quaint town of Moena and the lush Dolomite mountains rising in the background on a clear, sunny day.

Our next stop near Lake Soraga allowed us to stretch our legs, take in the picturesque surroundings, and capture some beautiful photos. 📸

A picturesque scene at Lake Soraga, part of the scenic route from Lake Garda to the Dolomites, with its clear turquoise waters surrounded by lush greenery, alpine buildings, and the majestic peaks of the Dolomites in the distance.

But the real highlight of our tour was the iconic Pordoi Pass! Here, we had some free time to choose our adventure. Whether it was taking the cable car ride to the mountain’s summit, enjoying a delicious lunch, shopping for souvenirs, or simply soaking in the breathtaking views, there was something for everyone.

We decided to take the cable car up to Sass Pordoi and trust me, it’s a must-do experience. 🚡🏔️

Passengers boarding the Sass Pordoi cable car, ready to ascend to an elevation of 2950 meters, against the backdrop of a modern glass station and the rugged Dolomite mountains, under a clear blue sky.

As we ascended to altitudes of up to 2,900 meters, we were treated to panoramic views of renowned peaks like Catinaccio, Marmolada, and Sella. The sheer majesty of these mountains left us in awe, and the photo opportunities were endless! 🌟

The Traveling Swanson kids taking in the scenery atop Sass Pordoi.  This is a must do when traveling from Lake Garda to the Dolomites.

The area up here at the summit is very large too and you’re able to walk around a good bit to enjoy views from all the angles. It is just breathtaking!

Kim and Chris smiling on a rocky mountain summit, with the expansive and rugged landscape of the Dolomites stretching into the distance under a bright blue sky.

Our next adventure led us to the charming historic town of Ortisei. Nestled in the heart of the Dolomites, this Alpine gem allowed us to soak up the local culture, stroll through charming streets, and immerse ourselves in the unique atmosphere of the Dolomites. It felt like we had stepped into an Austrian fairy tale.🏘️ 🏞️

A vibrant street scene in the town of Ortisei in the Dolomites, with colorful buildings adorned with flowers, bustling with tourists and locals. This is a must-stop when visting the Dolomites from Lake Garda.

Tour of the Dolomites from Lake Garda is the Way to Go

I can’t emphasize enough how much I recommend this full-day tour from Lake Garda.

Without it, we would have missed out on the Dolomites during our time in Italy. The convenience of not having to worry about renting a car was a significant advantage. Additionally, the easy pick-up and drop-off at a location near us made the experience even more seamless! I’m so glad we got to explore this dreamy part of Italy that I had been dying to see! 🇮🇹❤️

Must-See Spots in Dolomites

If you plan on driving or staying in the Dolomites longer than a day, here are some must-see spots to explore. These attractions offer a glimpse into the beauty and charm of the Dolomites.

NOTE: All of these locations are pinned on the interactive map below, so you see exactly where they are located.

Wooden rowboats rest on the placid turquoise waters of Lake Braies, surrounded by a dense forest of pines and the striking mountain peaks of the Dolomites, creating a serene and picturesque setting.
  • Moena and Cavalese: Traditional mountain towns in the Fassa Valley, often visited when exploring the Dolomites.
  • Lake Soraga: A picturesque Alpine lake, often visited for its beauty and tranquility.
  • Pordoi Pass: A must-see pass in the Dolomites, offering breathtaking views via a cable car.
  • Marmolada Glacier: The highest peak in the Dolomites, accessible via a cable car.
  • Ortisei: An Alpine town where you can immerse yourself in the unique atmosphere of the Dolomites.
  • Gardena Pass (Passo Gardena): A high mountain pass with stunning views.
  • Val Gardena (Gröden): A valley known for its woodcarving tradition and outdoor activities.
  • Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm): Europe’s largest Alpine meadow, situated a bit to the east of Val di Funes.
  • Seceda: Known for its panoramic views, accessible via a cable car from Ortisei.
  • Val di Funes (Villnöss Valley): A picturesque valley and charming village with the iconic St. Johann Church.
  • Cortina d’Ampezzo: A chic mountain town, often visited when exploring the Dolomiti Superski area.
  • Tre Cime di Lavaredo: Located to the north of the Dolomites, famous for its dramatic peaks.
  • Lago di Braies (Lake Braies): A picturesque alpine lake surrounded by rugged peaks. It’s a popular spot for photography and hiking.
  • Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park: A protected area with pristine landscapes.

Map of Lake Garda to the Dolomites


Here are some frequently asked questions you might have in regards to getting from Lake Garda to the Dolomites.

A quiet mountain village with a tall church surrounded by green valleys, all under the towering, misty Dolomite mountains. It's a peaceful and scenic scene.

Is Lake Garda in the Alps or the Dolomites?

Lake Garda is located in the Italian Alps, but it is not part of the Dolomites. The Italian Alps are a vast mountain range that includes Lake Garda, which is situated in the northern part of Italy. The Dolomites, on the other hand, are a specific mountain range within the Italian Alps. They are known for their unique and dramatic limestone peaks.

What Italian city is closest to the Dolomites?

The Italian city that is closest to the Dolomites is Bolzano (also known as Bozen in German). It is the capital of the South Tyrol region in northern Italy. Bolzano is situated in the heart of the Dolomites and serves as a gateway to this stunning mountain range. It is surrounded by the Dolomites’ peaks and offers convenient access to various parts of the Dolomites. Because of this, it’s an ideal starting point for exploring this natural wonder.

Is the Dolomites closer to Milan or Venice?

The Dolomites are closer to Venice than to Milan. Venice is situated in northeastern Italy and is relatively closer to the Dolomites, which extend into the northern regions of Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige.

While Milan is in northern Italy as well, it is farther west and south of the Dolomites. Therefore, if you’re planning to visit the Dolomites, Venice would be a more convenient starting point in terms of proximity.

The Wrap-Up

I hope I have helped you in planning your journey from Lake Garda to the Dolomites! You’re about to uncover a unique side of Italy.

Leaving behind the cities and coastlines, you’ll find yourself immersed in pristine nature, rugged mountains, and captivating Alpine culture.

The Dolomites offer a distinctive experience, whether you’re a lover of the outdoors or panoramic vistas, or eager to explore the blend of two cultures in one trip. With choices like driving, a guided tour, or public transportation, this Italian route promises lasting memories.