Ah, Dolomites – one of the most spectacular places on Earth. A breathtaking destination that everyone must visit once in their lives. If you are looking for a place in the Dolomites to stay or to explore, Bolzano is one you must consider.
So, what and where exactly is Bolzano? Bolzano is the capital of the province of South Tyrol in northern Italy. It is the Alps’ urban center – and because it’s the city closest to the iconic peaks in the Dolomites, people call Bolzano the Gateway to the Dolomites.
Dubbed as the “Gateway to the Dolomites,” you might think it’s a destination all about panoramic views, hiking, and skiing. But, no. It’s a place that offers many other experiences too. They are the reasons to visit Bolzano, and we’ll talk about them in this post!
In this blog post, you will find the best things to do in Bolzano, which are also the “reasons” why you must visit Bolzano. At the end of the post, I’ll share my thoughts on why you will find Bolzano is worth visiting and a few tips good to have when you plan to visit.
So without further ado, let’s discuss more things about Bolzano and the beautiful experiences to make you visit this city in the Alps:
10 Reasons To Visit Bolzano
The fact that Bolzano is situated within the Alps is enough already to consider it an unmissable place to see. When you visit them with a reflective mind and heart, Mountains shall change you to become a better version of yourself. I have even experienced healing by climbing mountains!
Anyhow, here is the summary or list of 10 compelling reasons to visit Bolzano:
- Bolzano is the Gateway to the Dolomites
- Bolzano’s Christmas Market
- Historic City Center of Bolzano
- Bolzano Cathedral
- Castel Roncolo in Bolzano
- Museo de Arqueología del Tirol del Sur in Bolzano
- Earth Pyramids Renon, Bolzano
- Torre Panoramica del Colle overlooking Bolzano
- Serenity in Santa Magdalena near Bolzano
- Picturesque Seceda near Bolzano
Now, Let’s discuss each reason:
Reason #1: Bolzano is the Gateway to the Dolomites
The first reason to visit Bolzano is unquestionably the Dolomites. It is clean, safe, and ideal for everyone, even if you travel solo, couple, or with your family. Being in the heart of this beautiful region, Bolzano offers so many fun activities to do regardless of the season.
Of course, hiking, mountain biking, mountain biking, etc., are the most common activities in the Dolomites. But you’ll be surprised because there’s a lot more! Just from Bolzano alone, you can already visit the castles, explore the gorge, chase waterfalls, discover new things in museums, or wander around to travel back in time!
Look in Google Maps, and you’ll see Bolzano is dotted with numerous attractions around it! I’ll mention some I find really interesting. They are (click to see location in Google Maps): Castel Roncolo, Castel Mareccio, Treuenstein Castle, Palazzo Mercantile, UNESCO World Heritage GEOPARK Bletterbach, Muri-Gries Abbey, Museion, and more!
Also, though Bolzano is dubbed as just the “Gateway” to the Dolomites, it does not mean you won’t see really spectacular views here yet. Surrounded by peaks of 1000 to 2000 meters (3280 to 6561 feet) high, it is the mountain’s breathtaking views that will welcome you to the city.
But, indeed, the ones awaiting you in the heart of the Dolomites, like in Cortina d’Ampezzo, are much better!
Actually, you can move up to two of the viewpoints close to Bolzano straight from the city center and see a better view of the panorama I’m telling. One of them is called Renon, and another is Colle. Going to these places is a stunning activity already as you’ll be riding a cable car overlooking the city and the valleys.
We’ll talk about Renon and Colle later. But for now, do you know what else you’ll see as the cable car goes up aside from the city and the surrounding peaks? The vast vineyards. These expansive vineyards mean one thing: good-tasting wines awaiting you in Bolzano.
I can continue describing Bolzano on and on. But all I’m pointing out is that you won’t get bored in Bolzano when you visit.
There’s just a lot to do, and that is why it is worth going to Bolzano. Stay in this post and continue reading, and you’ll learn more fascinating things about visiting Bolzano.
Reason #2: Bolzano’s Christmas Market
Indeed, there is a lot to do in Bolzano and in the Dolomites all year round. Even in winter! Though outdoor activities and adventures will be limited to “playing in the snow,” cultural events and dazzling attractions occur, and they are your fun and magical substitutes.
In the winter season in Bolzano, Dolomites, or in South Tyrol, you’ll see most clearly the influence of German and Austrian culture in the region. Guess what it is? Christmas Markets! You’ll love the glittering lights and the plethora of glamourous locally made products.
Actually, Bolzano’s Christmas Market is “special” – and it is a beautiful reason to visit Bolzano. It is the “largest and oldest” Christmas market in Italy – jam-packed with lovely food and goods mixed of German, Austrian, and Italian cultures.
There are performers in Bolzano Christmas Market, playing Christmas carols in a very European way. If you are going to travel to Italy during the Christmas season and you’re from a different part of the world, don’t miss this Christmas Market! With enthusiasm, it will surely be a beautiful experience.
Lastly, never miss tasting the chocolate pretzel, Raclette, or Schaumkuss, when you visit Bolzano and its Christmas Market! Bolzano’s Christmas Market occurs in Bolzano’s well-known square, Waltherplatz, situated just 5 minutes away by foot from the train station. Check the schedule of the Christmas Market in Bolzano here.
Reason #3: Historic City Center of Bolzano
Whether it’s the city center or the outskirts, Bolzano shall feed your wanderlust – that’s for sure! However, the people who love the great outdoors like me would be enticed to go out of the town, see the Dolomite mountains up close immediately, and stay there “forever.”
That sweet moment at the top, where you can see almost everything so far beyond, is just an indescribable feeling. The top of the world feeling like you own everything you see feels exhilarating yet humbling. There you’ll realize how small you are compared to the world.
Even though visiting the mountains can give you this ecstatic feeling, it does not mean that you can already skip the city center. Well, of course, you can! But, the attractions in the city can be worthwhile too, and they are a reason to visit Bolzano, in my opinion.
There are nostalgic castles and thought-feeding museums in Bolzano, which I think you’ll love to see. We will discuss them later. Nevertheless, the fun in the city center of Bolzano starts in its streets. Discover the city architecture, find picturesque cobblestone lanes, and see how different cultures (German, Italian, and Austrian) interweave.
Bolzano city center has four lovely parts. They are the Piazza del Municipio Rathausplatz, Via dei Portici, Via dei Bottai, and Piazza Walther. These streets and squares are the most Instagrammable parts of the city too. So, prepare your cameras as you visit!
Piazza del Municipio Rathausplatz, from its name, is the place where you can find the Townhall of Bolzano. In this Piazza in Bolzano, the two most beautiful lanes intersect, the Via dei Bottai and Via dei Portici.
Piazza del Municipio Rathausplatz is just a little square, though. The flower-embellished windows of the town hall’s facade and its gorgeous bas relief decorations will be the main subject of your visit. The town hall has a clock tower with a good-looking pinnacle, too.
In the Via dei Bottai, situated on the left side (or east) of the town hall, you’ll find the most charming houses in the city. Proceed to the lane going north or away from the town hall to see them. You will uncover meticulously architectured and fascinating Lüftlmalerei-painted facades along your stroll in Via dei Bottai.
Lüftlmalerei is a mural art mostly found in Tyrol and southern Germany. These murals are painted on the facades of the houses. Usually, Lüftlmalerei depicts the daily lives of the residents living in the community or their favorite saints, and many more.
The street across the town hall of Bolzano is called Via dei Portici. Stroll into it to see countless shops, restaurants, and boutiques, all within tens of arcades. This shopping district is also one of the most photo-worthy spots in Bolzano – you have to stay in the middle of the lane to see the picturesque angle/view.
The main square of the city, Piazza Walther, never goes off the list of unmissable places to see in Bolzano. Wide-open, it lets you see the gorgeous mountains surrounding the town – so refreshing to the eyes! But most importantly, here you can find the Bolzano Cathedral, which is another reason to visit Bolzano.
Reason #4: Bolzano Cathedral
Duomo di Bolzano (Bolzano Cathedral) adds to the worthiness of a visit to Bolzano. You’ll like to see it, particularly if you’re buffed in discovering unusual architecture. Its unique ornate roof and elaborated steeple are absolutely eye-magnets!
The history of this church dates back almost 850 years ago when it was consecrated in the year 1180. It was built on Romanesque architecture until the 14th century, when the church was reconstructed in Gothic style.
Assumption of Our Lady Cathedral is the other name of Bolzano Cathedral. And according to my sources, this cathedral is the first Gothic church with a long central nave and two side naves built in the form of a cross in the history of architecture.
Of course, the churches in primary Italian cities look better than Bolzano Cathedral. But, it does not mean that the cathedral can’t be a reason to visit Bolzano.
Come inside Bolzano Cathedral to see more impressive things other than its exteriors. The first thing you shall notice is its expansive and picturesque vaulted three-nave interior. The benches, columns, and ceiling form beautiful proportions and leading lines – they are photography elements that undoubtedly please the spectators’ eyes.
Actually, things shall interest you even before you enter the cathedral from the side of Piazza Walther. The entrance or portal called “Leitacher Törl” is known as one of the finest High Gothic portals in Tyrol. But before you enter, look up, and you’ll see the gargoyles (that they say) similar to Notre Dame in Paris.
The single pillar pulpit shall also capture your attention when you enter the Bolzano Cathedral alongside the photogenic interior, the beautiful high altar, and century-old murals. It is heavily elaborated with a bas-relief mainly depicting the four evangelists.
A visit to Bolzano Cathedral is incomplete without peeking into the Cathedral Treasury located at the foot of the tower. The Cathedral Treasury houses the oldest, most sacred, most precious religious items in Tyrol! Definitely, it is a must-see place.
The items inside the Cathedral Treasury are literally expensive. Some of them are made of silver and gold. One best example is the 136-centimeter (4.5 feet) monstrance made of 13 kilos of solid silver coated with gold.
With all these mentioned, it’s now clear that the cathedral is indeed a reason to visit Bolzano.
So, planning to visit? Bolzano Cathedral’s opening hours are from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm, with a 2-hour break starting from 12:00 noon. However, the Cathedral Treasury is only open from 10:00 am until 12:00 noon. Both are open for visitors Monday to Saturday.
Unquestionably, the Assumption of Our Lady Cathedral is an icon of Bolzano. But, believe it or not, an archeological museum in this city is more famous than this beautiful cathedral. It is called the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, and obviously, it is a reason to visit Bolzano.
Reason #5: Museo de Arqueología del Tirol del Sur in Bolzano
Time-traveling may still be fiction today, but our imagination can bring us to the past with preserved centuries-old buildings and objects we discover in traveling. In Bolzano, you will not only be transported back to medieval times. With the help of Ötzi, the iceman, you can reach as far as the copper age!
So who is Ötzi? He is Europe’s oldest known natural human mummy found in the Alps, along the borders of Italy and Austria. From the studies conducted in Innsbruck, it was estimated that he lived sometime between 3350 and 3105 BC. That’s unbelievably 5000 years ago!
Today, he and his belongings are kept on the third floor of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, making the museum and Bolzano known to people everywhere. Well, that’s not true for every one of us, of course! But to the scientists and enthusiasts, it’s most likely.
Whether you are interested or not, we can consider the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology as a reason to visit Bolzano for the unique discovery awaiting the visitors inside. I think it’s best to see if you have your kids with you when you go to Italy.
Outside, the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology looks like an ordinary building in Bolzano. You can quickly notice it because of a tarp with the image of a prehistoric man. It is located along Via Museo, one block away from River Talfer and a 7-minute walk from the Piazza Walther. Here is the exact location of the museum on Google Maps.
The museum is well-organized, and it has a mobile app audio guide for easy understanding of the museum’s contents. You can see the opening hours, admission, and requirements from the iceman’s website.
I just would like to share that northern Italy is a place like no other. It has a diverse range of exciting experiences and beautiful destinations worthy of your time and money. Read my article about northern Italy to know why. Here’s the summary (click to open in a new tab and read now/later):
- Cinque Terre – The Charming coastline towns of Northern Italy
- Milan – Home to the Genius’ (Leonardo da Vinci) artworks and science
- Bergamo – The scenic and medieval city of northern Italy
- Lake Como – One of the world’s most beautiful lakes
- Verona – The romantic town, home of Romeo and Juliet
- Venice – Another romantic city where three architectural styles meet and mix
- Trento – The city to introduce you to the Dolomites (visit mountains, lakes, and castles)
- Cortina d’Ampezzo – The town in the heart of the Dolomites
- Florence – It’s where you can find the best Renaissance artworks
- Rome – The beautiful eternal city where you can start or end your trip to Northern Italy
These links to guides, a list of reasons to visit, things to do, and articles to help you discover different places in northern Italy. Read the full article about the reasons to visit Northern Italy.
Reason #6: Castel Roncolo in Bolzano
Northern Italy has castles dotted its territory if you look at the map. Some sit beside a lake, and some are perched on top of the hill. Either way, they are truly magical and fairytale-ish. Because of them, visiting the region appears more worth doing.
Actually, you can already find more than 10 castles just around the city of Bolzano. Few are already in ruins, but most of them are still intact. In fact, some of the castles that are still standing are now being used as event venues.
But, among the castles in and around Bolzano, what do I think worth a visit? It’s Castel Roncolo, a picturesque medieval castle from the 13th-century perched on a hill. Other people call it in its German name, Runkelstein Castle. Don’t get confused!
You can find Castel Roncolo north of the city of Bolzano at the entrance of Sarentino Valley. It’s a 30-minute walk from Bolzano city center, but you can ride a shuttle bus from Piazza Walther for convenience.
We can consider Castel Roncolo a reason to visit Bolzano for three things. First, for its breathtaking location. Second, it’s a lovely place to photograph and just wander around and lastly, for its famous story-telling medieval frescoes.
Of the three, it’s wandering around and getting the feeling that I’m in an actual castle is the experience I want. I’ve watched movies set in medieval times, and I always wonder what it feels like to be in their story. Anyhow, it’s seeing the frescoes in Roncolo Castle that will be the highlight of a visit to the castle.
The frescoes in Roncolo Castle are one of South Tyrol’s primary attractions. They are known to be one of the most “comprehensive” fresco cycles of the middle ages. Stories of noblemen, court ladies, and hinting scenes are well depicted in these frescoes.
It has rooms painted with colorful images. Some frescoes also illustrate classical literature, like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The most notable ones are located in the west wing of the castle.
You can find the visitor’s information like the opening hours and admission fee from Roncolo Castle’s official website. I recommend you to read the entire page to see recent announcements regarding entry requirements. Here’s a summary of the visiting information as of this writing:
- Admission Fee: 8 EUR for adults, 16 EUR for family, 5.50 EUR for students and senior citizens.
- Summer opening hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (5:30 pm last entry), Tuesday to Sunday
- Winter opening hours: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (last entry is 4:30 pm), Tuesday to Sunday
- Closed on December 24,25, 31, and January 1.
Renon Castle is just one of the scenic places you can easily visit from the city center. Renon and Colle are another two that are breathtaking, too. You can get to them even without a car.
Reason #7: Earth Pyramids Renon
One of the most visited breathtaking places in Bolzano is called Renon. It is a high plateau of 1000 to 1300 meters in elevation, situated northeast, and overlooking the city. People usually come here to get some peace and have wholesome nature walks.
Renon looks very idyllic. You shall see beautiful verdant vistas with stunning blue mountains in the background during spring or summer. It’s no wonder why people love going to Renon. The view in Renon is enough to be considered a reason to get to Bolzano and visit this.
Several villages are in Renon, each connected with scenic hiking paths. These hiking trails are well marked, passing woods, alpine pastures, and little lakes. In some parts, like Trail B or the Panoramic Trail, a jaw-dropping 360 degrees view of the Dolomite Alps awaits.
Below is a printable brochure from the official website of Renon, where all the information you need in visiting Renon (peak) is written.
You can find cable car ride prices to different attractions, bus schedules, and more from this brochure. It also has information about the length of time needed to finish the hiking trails and the difficulty, bus stops, parking lots, and restaurants locations.
Aside from the eye-pleasing views of the idyllic Renon, another reason why people come to this place? The earth pyramids. They are mysterious-looking cone-shaped pillars of clay – some have boulders on top.
The earth pyramids in Renon in Europe’s tallest. Studies say that it took mother nature 25,000 years to create these earth pyramids. They are located in different parts of Renon, in the Katzenbach-creek gorge below Soprabolzano, in the Gasters gorge in Auna di Sotto, and in the Finsterbach creek between Longomoso and Monte di Mezzo.
One of the earth pyramids in Renon is a 40-minute hike from the village of Collalbo. The vantage point from Collalbo includes a view of the earth pyramids and Odle and Sciliar Dolomites in the background. The lovely houses and church in the middle of a picturesque meadowy hill are also in the scene.
Getting to Renon is easy and quick, 12 minutes from the city center through a cable car. Here is the Google Map location link of the cable car station (Talstation Rittner Seilbahn) heading to Renon. It is just 5 to 10 minutes away from the city’s main terminal on foot.
Renon is a day trip or two-day visit from Bolzano for a maximized experience. If you want to see pretty stunning views of the alps without getting too far away from Bolzano city center, check Kohlern-Colle discussed below.
Reason #8: Torre Panoramica del Colle overlooking Bolzano
Bolzano, actually, has its own mountain located very close to the city center. This mountain is called Monte Pozza and near its peak is Kohlern-Colle, one of the city’s districts. Have a 360-degree view of Kohlern-Colle below:
In my perspective, Kohnlern-Colle is the smaller version of Renon without the earth pyramids.
Like Renon, Kohlern-Colle is connected to the Bolzano city center with an aerial lift. This aerial lift, called Funivia del Colle or Kohlerer Bahn (in German), is considered the world’s first aerial lift built for passenger use. Believe it or not, Funivia del Colle is already more than 100 years old, being inaugurated on June 29, 1908.
The view inside the Funivia del Colle’s gondola is already stunning. You get an overlooking scenery of the city and a sight of Renon and its villages during the ride. However, what awaits you on top shall look even better.
The main attraction on Kohlern-Colle is a rustic tower called Torre Panoramica del Colle. Visitors climb up to the top of this tower for an absolutely panoramic 360-degree view of the surroundings! The city of Bolzano, the Renon Plateau, Adige Valley, Monte Alto, Monte Tondo, and more will be all yours to see from the top.
Torre Panoramica del Colle is made of wood and was constructed about 80 to 90 years ago. Knowing that it is not made of steel or cement, climbing it can be a bit worrying, but it’s totally safe! It has been repaired and restored into good shape just recently, not more than 30 years ago.
Climbing the tower can give you a sense of a unique experience because it is made of wood. Like, where else can you find a wooden lookout on top of a mountain nowadays?
The Torre Panoramica del Colle is open for visitors from 7:00 am until 8:00 pm. The best part? You can enter for free! It’s best to visit the tower during the afternoon to watch the sunset and the golden hour over Bolzano.
Another beautiful place or structure to see in Kohlern-Colle is the beautiful castle-like chalet called Villa Bittner, located at the farthest end of Kohlern-Colle. I think it is private property, but it can be a quick stop/look before you go back to Bolzano after enjoying the rest of Kohlern-Colle.
For me, Kohlern-Colle is a reason to visit Bolzano because it gives you easy access/opportunity to see the breathtaking views of the Dolomites without too much effort. You do not have to hike for hours or rent a car, drive, and so on – it’s one of the best places to be if you have limited time in northern Italy.
Yet, of course, the sceneries are absolutely better if you can get closer to the heart of the Dolomites. The two places next in our discussion shall explain why.
Reason #9: Serenity in Santa Magdalena near Bolzano
Being the “Gateway of the Dolomites,” Bolzano is already close to the most picturesque and stunning locations in the Italian Alps. One of these places is called Santa Magdalena. It’s a place you’d thought heaven because of its indescribable beauty.
I’ll just leave pictures of Santa Magdalena below because it’s absolutely unjust to describe it with words. The village of Santa Magdalena and the church with the peaks of Odle mountains in the background is one of the most photographed spots in the Dolomites.
Santa Magdalena can be reached by public transport and private car from Bolzano. By driving, it can easily be reached within 40 minutes. Using public transportation, you can follow this route:
- From Bolzano train station, ride a regional train heading to Bressanone Brixen. The trip lasts 30 minutes, and the trains depart hourly.
- When you reach Bressanone Brixen, transfer to bus #330, which services the village of Santa Magdalena. The bus ride also lasts for 30 minutes, and buses depart every hour.
Reason #10: Picturesque Seceda near Bolzano
Last, but perhaps the most breathtaking place in this post, is Seceda. Like Santa Magdalena, it is also the place in the Dolomites, which I think was photographed a million times already! Just in my case, it’s never out of my Instagram feed every day.
Seceda is a ridge located on the sunny side of Val Gardena within a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Places around it turn into a skiing paradise during winter and a heavenly nature idyll during summer. Apparently, it really has spectacular views that are absolutely breathtaking!
Again, this place is honestly indescribable, so I’ll just leave photos for your mountain lover self to drool over. Just kidding! To make you inspired, of course! 😉
Since Seceda is on top of the mountains, you cannot go directly to it using a car. You have to make several transfers using public transportation from Bolzano. You can follow the steps below to reach Seceda or see complete information from the official website of Seceda.
- From Bolzano, you have to go to Ortisei first via bus or train. Drop off at the Piazza S. Antonio, Ortisei village center. You shall see signs giving directions to Seceda.
- You shall find a small street between Calzature Rabanser Di Senoner Emilia shoe store and Sparkasse Ortisei Bank. Proceed to it and take the covered “La Curta” escalator going up.
- At the end of the escalator, find the conveyor belt walkway. It shall lead you to the Seceda cableway valley station.
- There will be two cable car rides before you reach Seceda. Ortisei-Furnes, and then Furnes-Seceda. Furnes is the middle station, and Seceda is the top station. You will be asked at the counter where you want to go.
Parking information can be found in the previous link I gave.
Is Bolzano Worth Visiting?
Just being one of the towns in the spectacular Italian Alps is enough to justify that Bolzano is a city worth visiting. Bolzano is not only a place blessed with stunning natural beauty all around it. But, it also has fascinating historical and cultural attractions worth your money and time.
How Many Days to Stay in Bolzano?
One day is enough for exploring the city of Bolzano. However, I would recommend 3 to 4 days of stay in Bolzano if you want to see the natural spectacles around the city too. That includes the day trips to the most beautiful places in the Dolomites, such as Seceda and Santa Magdalena.
How to Visit Bolzano?
Bolzano is linked to nearby cities in Italy and Austria by bus and trains. Here is the table that shows the distances and commute rides from the surrounding major cities:
|From City||Private Car (km)|
|Milan||270.9 km, 2h 30m||2 trains, 3h||Milan to Bolzano|
|Venice||266.5 km, 2h 30m||1 train, 3h||Venice to Bolzano|
|Verona||151.5 km, 1h 30m||1 train, 1h 30m||Verona to Bolzano|
|Bergamo||234 km, 2h 30m||1 bus, 3h 20m||Bergamo to Bolzano|
|Rome||638.5 km, 6h||1 train, 5h||Rome to Bolzano|
|Innsbruck||122.1 km, 1h 30m||1 bus, 2h||Innsbruck to Bolzano|
Day Trips from Bolzano
Bolzano and the Dolomites are such beautiful places! Don’t you agree? 🙂 Here is a list of activities and tours you can join if you need help and guidance in visiting Bolzano.
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