If you plan to visit Italy's stunning Dolomites mountain range, the city of Bolzano, capital of the South Tyrol region, makes a good starting point for explorations by car, train, bus, bike or foot. Considered the gateway to the Dolomites, Bolzano (which also appears as Bozen on maps and road signs) is easily reachable by train or car from Italy's major cities.
If you're planning to hike or bike the region, arriving to Bolzano by train makes the most sense. If you want to explore the small towns, luxury spa hotels, and ski areas, and take day hikes across the region, then it makes the most sense to arrive by car, or at least rent a car upon arrival at Bolzano.
Duration: 2.5-5 hrs
If you're taking the train, Bologna's Central Station is the major junction for travelers going between Northern Italy and Central Italy, including Rome and Florence. Direct Trenitalia trains from Bologna to Bolzano's main station run several times a day and take between 2.5 hours and 3 hours, 20 minutes. Other trains connect at Verona Porta Nuova station, and these take between 3.5 and 5 hours. Italo, Italy's private, high-speed rail service, offers two trains a day from Bologna to Bolzano, with a travel time of 2 hours, 27 minutes. If you purchase your tickets well-enough in advance, Italo can sometimes be significantly cheaper than Trenitalia.
If you're driving to Bolzano from anywhere south of Bologna, you'll approach Bologna via the A1 Autostrada or the E45 highway, which become the same roadway at Bologna. From Bologna, it's 180 miles (290 km) to Bolzano, for a drive time of 3 to 3.5 hours. Just after the A1/E45 passes Modena, you'll pick up the A22/Autostrada del Brennero, which is also signposted E45. From the Modena interchange, it's 145 miles (233 km) to Bolzano.
European bus company FlixBus offers inexpensive daily buses from Bologna's bus terminal to Bolzano. At 5 hours, the journey is longer than by train, but the cost is significantly lower.
From Milan or Venice
Duration: 3-4 hrs
Travel to Bolzano from the Northern Italian cities of Milan or Venice involves changing trains in Verona. Travel time from Milan is between 2 hours, 45 minutes and 3 hours, 45 minutes. From Venezia Mestre, Venice's mainland station, travel time to Bolzano is between 2.5 and 4 hours.
If you're traveling to Bolzano from Milan by car, it's a 175-mile (280 km) journey. Drivers should take the A4/E70 east from Milan in the direction of Verona. At Verona, pick up the A22/E45 heading north to Bolzano.
Driving from Venice, you'll pick up the A4/E70 heading west, then jag north on the A22/E45 at Verona. The 170-mile (270 km) drive takes about 2 hours, 45 minutes.
By Private Transfer
If your budget allows for a private transfer to Bolzano, it's fun to relax and let someone else do the driving. North of Verona, the scenery gets increasingly more dramatic.
If after you've hiked the Dolomites you're still up for more adventure, consider this 14-day Cycling Northern Italy: Dolomites to Venice, Slovenia to Croatia trip, which starts at Bolzano.
Elsewhere in the Dolomites
Direct trains and buses from Bolzano connect to the South Tyrol cities of Merano/Meran and Bressanone/Brixen in less than an hour, and either city is an easy drive from Bolzano. Getting to other cities in the region, such as the ski resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo or the village of San Candido/Innichen, the start of this 10-Day Dolomites High Traverse hiking adventure, is more complicated. By public transportation from Bolzano, travelers must take a combination of 4 trains and buses to get to San Candido and 6 to get to Cortina d'Ampezzo. Drivers will head north from Bolzano and pass through Bressanone and Brunico/Bruneck to get to either city.
Direct buses from Venice connect to Cortina d'Ampezzo in about 2 hours, 30 minutes. From there, buses reach to San Candido in about an hour.