Val Gardena is the perfect base for exploring the central Dolomites with good transport links and beautiful scenery. Here’s our guide to Val Gardena including what to do and where to stay.

By: Paul | Last Updated: 20 May 2024 | Jump to Comments & Questions

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Tucked into the north-east corner of Italy, the Dolomites mountain range has some of the most dramatic scenery in Europe.

Cutting through its centre is the beautiful valley of Val Gardena. This remarkable valley is surrounded by soaring pinnacles, alpine meadows and rustic mountain huts.

We’ve stayed in Val Gardena several times, because it has a great mix of activities and (along with the area around Tre Cime) the best scenery in the Dolomites. It also has good transport links and plenty of cable cars, so you can get close to the stunning viewpoints without much effort.

This guide covers the layout of Val Gardena with recommendations on where to stay, plus all the great things to do in the area.

mark on the seceda ridge

IN THIS GUIDE

VAL GARDENA, DOLOMITES ITALY


WHY GO?

LAYOUT

WHERE TO STAY

GETTING THERE

GETTING AROUND

WHAT TO DO

MORE GUIDES

WHY GO TO VAL GARDENA & THE CENTRAL DOLOMITES

Val Gardena and its surrounding area has some of the most diverse and remarkable scenery in the Alps. It’s an excellent base for hiking, and all of these highlights can easily be reached by cable car and a short walk.

  • Seceda Viewpoint – a stunning view of the jagged pinnacles of the Puez-Odle Group.
  • Alpe di Siusi – the largest alpine meadow in Europe surrounded by rocky monoliths.
  • Sassolungo Massif – 3 towering peaks provide the backdrop to a stunning hike.
  • Val di Funes – a fairytale valley framed by soaring pinnacles.
  • Sass Pordoi – a high viewpoint of dramatic and rocky desolation.

LAYOUT OF VAL GARDENA

Val Gardena is a valley in the central Dolomites in the South Tyrol region of northeastern Italy. The valley has 3 main towns: Ortisei (St Ulrich), Santa Cristina (St Cristina), and Selva di Val Gardena (Wolkenstein in Gröden).

The towns are connected by frequent buses, and each has an excellent network of cable cars that head up to the surrounding mountains.

The combination of buses and cable cars makes Val Gardena an excellent destination for visiting the Dolomites without a car.

However, if you want to explore more of the surrounding area (like Tre Cime and Lago di Braies) a car is helpful as public transport becomes patchier further away from the valley.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


WHERE TO STAY IN VAL GARDENA

Thanks to the reliable bus service connecting the 3 main towns in Val Gardena, they each make a good base. However, they are all a little different, with their own attractions.

ORTISEI (St Ulrich)

Ortisei is the largest town in Val Gardena with the most choice when it comes to accommodation. It has a lively centre with a pedestrian area and the best shopping and nightlife in Val Gardena.

Ortisei also has the best cable car links for reaching the most stunning viewpoints. From the town centre, you can get cable cars to Seceda, Resciesa, and Alpe di Siusi.

We have stayed in both Selva and Ortisei and we recommend Ortisei as the best place to stay for easy access to the most photographed sights.

ACCOMMODATION IN ORTISEI

  • Residence Larciunei is a family-run chalet in the centre of Ortisei with fully equipped kitchenettes. Ski slopes are 600 metres away.
  • Aquila Dolomites Residences is in a great location in the centre of town about 180 metres from the nearest ski lift.
  • Hotel Garni Snaltnerhof is a family-run guesthouse with a traditional restaurant. It’s very convenient to the bus stop to Selva.
ortisei val gardena
ORITSEI

SANTA CRISTINA (St Cristina)

Santa Cristina is the smallest village in Val Gardena. It sits between Ortisei and Selva, so it’s convenient for getting to either of them by bus.

Cable cars head up either side of the valley from Santa Cristina. The Col Raiser and Fermeda chairlift brings you close to the Seceda Viewpoint; the Campioni and Monte Pana cable cars take you to the excellent hiking around the Sassolungo Massif.

The main road bypasses Santa Cristina, so it’s a good option if you’re looking for a quieter stay.

ACCOMMODATION IN SANTA CRISTINA

  • Apartments Boè has panoramic views of the valley from their self-catering apartments in the centre of town.
  • Smart Hotel Saslong is a clean modern property well located near the centre of town with a self-service bar and excellent breakfast.
  • B&B Marina is a clean functional B&B. Some rooms have kitchen facilities making it a great choice for families.
val gardena

SELVA DI VAL GARDENA (Wolkenstein)

Selva di Val Gardena is the highest village in the valley at 5,128 feet. It’s a lovely place with good facilities including some of the best restaurants in Val Gardena.

The village has two excellent cable cars. One heads up to Campioni and the Sassolungo Massif, while the other climbs towards Passo Gardena. The hiking from both these places is excellent.

The village also sits just under the two high passes (Passo Sella and Passo Gardena) and makes an excellent base to explore further afield if you have a car.

We recommend staying in Selva if you are an avid hiker or plan to explore the wider area with a car.

ACCOMMODATION IN SELVA

  • Chalet Pra Ronch is close to some great hiking and it has ski-to-door access making it the perfect summer or winter stay.
  • Linder Cycling Hotel is a smart modern property with a wonderful spa and indoor pool overlooking the mountain landscape.
  • Residence Antares has traditionally styled apartments with kitchenettes making it a great choice for families.
selva val gardena

GETTING TO VAL GARDENA

BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT

The closest main train station to Val Gardena is in Bolzano. There are international train services to Bolzano from Innsbruck, Venice and Munich. If you’re already in Italy, you can get to Bolzano from Verona, Milan, Rome, Florence plus many more. Check all the services at trainline.com.

From Bolzano, bus line 350 runs through Val Gardena stopping at Ortisei (1 hour), Santa Cristina and Selva (1 hour 20 minutes).

BY CAR

If you’re driving from the north, Selva/Ortisei is around 115 kilometres from Innsbruck Airport (about 1 hour, 45 minute drive).

From the south, Verona Airport is around 2 hours away by car.

HOW TO GET AROUND VAL GARDENA

As we mentioned above, Val Gardena is one of the best destinations in the Dolomites to visit without a car.

BUSES

The Val Gardena Express bus travels between Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva, and runs about every 30 minutes. It’s around 10 minutes from Selva to Santa Cristina and 15 minutes from Santa Cristina to Ortisei.

Check the most up-to-date bus schedule at valgardena.it.

Val Gardena Mobil Card – Most hotels in Val Gardena are affiliated with the tourist association and provide a Mobil Card which gives you free access to the public buses between Selva, Ortisei and Santa Cristina.

CABLE CARS

Val Gardena also has an excellent cable car network to get you to some beautiful destinations with minimal effort.

Most cable cars operate from mid-June to mid-October, but some start or finish a little earlier or later. Dogs and bicycles can be taken on almost all cable cars.

Check the most up-to-date cable car openings at val-gardena.com.

BY CAR

Although the THINGS TO DO IN VAL GARDENA (see below) can easily be done by public transport. Some of the THINGS TO DO NEAR VAL GARDENA (see below) are easier and less time consuming with a car.

WHAT TO DO IN VAL GARDENA

1. THE SECEDA RIDGELINE

The Seceda summit would have to be one of our favourite viewpoints anywhere and the best bit is that it’s very accessible. There’s a cable car from Ortisei (the Furnes-Seceda Cable Car) which is only 100 metres from the viewpoint.

The other option is to leave from Santa Cristina and get the cable car to Col Raiser, then the Fermeda chairlift. From here it’s also just a short walk to the viewpoint.

We had a great day out by going up via the Furnes-Seceda Cable Car to the viewpoint, strolling downhill to have lunch at Baita Troier Hutte, and then walking down to Col Raiser to get the cable car to Santa Cristina.

There’s a bus between Santa Cristina and Oritisei to get back to where you started.

2. EXPLORE THE MEADOWS OF ALPE DI SIUSI

Alpe di Siusi is a stunning alpine meadow in the heart of the Dolomites, surrounded by towering peaks and soaring pinnacles.

We hired e-bikes from Ortisei and took the cable car up to Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm). In just a few hours we were able to explore much more of the area than would be possible on foot.

Bamby Bike Rental is just under the cable car station and they help you get the bikes onto the lift. We suggest you hire e-bikes because it’s not as flat as the word ‘meadow’ might suggest!

3. HAVE LUNCH IN AN ALPINE HUT

One of the things that gets us most excited about visiting this part of the Dolomites is the alpine huts. After a long day walking, it’s great to unwind with good food in a scenic location.

Here are some of our favourite alpine huts in the area:

  • Rauchhütte on Alpe di Siusi serves alpine food including their famous venison ragu and locally sourced steak, accompanied by a serious wine list.
  • Baita Troier Hutte is perfectly positioned under the Seceda Ridgeline with excellent views of the Sassolungo Massif.
  • Rifugio Friedrich August was our favourite stop on the Sassolungo walk with excellent food (and donuts!) in a picture-perfect location.
central dolomites guide
FRIEDRICH AUGUST

4. DRIVE THE HIGH PASSES

At the eastern end of Val Gardena, a road rises to head over two spectacular passes. It’s a wonderful drive (or bus ride) and an easy way to take in some of the best scenery in the Dolomites.

GARDENA PASS (PASSO GARDENA)

Heading eastwards, Passo Gardena connects Val Gardena with Val Badia. The pass is at an elevation of 2,136 metres with jaw-dropping views of the incredible Puez-Odle peaks and Fanes Group.

SELLA PASS (PASSO SELLA)

Passo Sella links Val di Fassa with Val Gardena via a 12-kilometre windy road. Along this route, you’ll get excellent views of the towering peaks of Sassolungo and the impressive rocky monolith of the Sella group.

5. HIKE SASSOLUNGO (OR JUST ENJOY THE VIEW)

The Sassolungo Circuit is one of our favourite hikes in the Dolomites. It’s a full-day loop that takes a bit of effort, but it’s a thoroughly rewarding day out.

The scenery is wonderfully diverse with high alpine meadows, rocky high passes and sweeping views. If this interests you, we have all the details on our hiking the Sassolungo circuit guide.

If you’re not up for the whole hike you can get the cable car from Selva or Santa Cristina to Campioni, which is the starting point for the hike. There’s a restaurant here where you can take in the views without doing the hike.

6. GO PARAGLIDING

Val Gardena is one of the best locations for paragliding in the Dolomites with both stunning scenery and good thermals. Even with zero experience, you can take a tandem flight for an unforgettable day out in Val Gardena.

Gardenafly and Fly2 are two reputable operators who have been soaring above Val Gardena for over 30 years.

paragliding val gardena

THINGS TO DO NEAR VAL GARDENA

7. EXPLORE THE STUNNING VAL DI FUNES

Not far from Val Gardena, Val di Funes is famous for a charming church nestled amongst rolling green meadows under jagged spires of rock. But, there’s so much more to do and it’s well worth visiting while in the area.

We hiked the Panoramaweg and Sunnseitenweg trails; two beautiful walks that start from the picture-perfect village of Santa Maddalena. We highly recommend both.

The more challenging Adolf Munkel Trail is also a wonderful way to get up close to the jagged spires of the Puez-Odle group which form the backdrop to the church.

You can either get the bus from Val Gardena or hike from the Seceda Viewpoint. For more details, read our complete guide to visiting Val di Funes.

8. HIKE THE PUEZ ODLE ALTOPIANO

Puez Odle Altopiano is one of the most popular walks in Val Gardena with amazing views of the jagged Dolomites peaks.

From Selva take the Dantercepies Cable Car up to Passo Sella for the start of the walk. It takes around 6 hours to finish the 10-mile hike.

Although it’s relatively long, the cable car takes a lot of the effort out of the ascent and the scenery is so amazing that the time flies by.

Rifugio Puez is a great place to stop for lunch.

views towards the puez odle altopiano walk

9. SEE THE VIEWS FROM SASS PORDOI

Another great pass near Val Gardena is Passo Pordoi which reaches a height of 2,239 metres via 28 hairpins.

At the top of the pass, we took the cable car up to Sass Pordoi which was probably the easiest and most stunning viewpoint we found in the Dolomites. The cable car climbs 700 metres in just a couple of minutes, taking you to a 2,950-metre-high rocky wilderness.

From the top, you can see the Sella Massif which is like a colossal sheer-sided boulder. The three peaks of Sassolungo lie just across the valley.

In summer five or six buses run daily from Selva to Passo Pordoi. Otherwise its about a 40 minute drive.

10. VAJOLET TOWERS & THE SPIKY CATINACCIO GROUP

The Catinaccio Group is a spiky mountain range near Val Gardena with several great hikes. The most dramatic is the Vajolet Towers walk.

The Vajolet Towers are six summits that rise out of a rocky basin. We found hiking the zig-zagging path pretty strenuous, but the views at the top made it all worthwhile.

To get to the trail, park in Vigo di Fassa at the base of the Vigo – Ciampedie cable car. Take the cable car up to Rifugio Ciampedie where the trail commences.

Unfortunately, this is not easy to get to by public transport.

11. SOAK UP THE VIEWS FROM COL RODELLA

Col Rodella is one of the best viewpoints in the Dolomites. From the top you can see Sassolungo, Alpe di Suisi, Sassopiatto and Sass Pordoi.

There’s a rifugio on the summit which is around 10 minutes walk from the cable car station, so it’s very easy to get to. It was one of the most scenic beers we’ve ever had. The rifugio is open from 20 June to 30 September.

To get to the top of Col Rodella, either take the cable car from just outside Canazei or a short-ish hike from the bus stop at the top of Passo Sella.

12. CATCH THE REFLECTIONS AT LAGO DI CAREZZA

Lago di Carezza is a beautiful alpine lake whose emerald waters perfectly reflect the spiky Latemar mountains behind. The sunlight gracing its gentle waters, have earned it the nickname “Lake of the Rainbow.”

The lake is fed by underground springs so the water level rises and falls with the seasons. The best time to visit is in early spring when the snow has melted, and the lake starts to rise.

Lago di Carezza is the furthest attraction from Val Gardena that we’ve listed in this guide and the easiest way to get there is with a car.

Tall trees in front of the reflective Lago di Carezza with rocky mountains behind clouds
LAGO DI CAREZZA, ITALIAN DOLOMITES

MORE DOLOMITES GUIDES

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