Bolzano is the northernmost Italian city and probably one of the most underrated places by international travellers visiting Italy for the first time. It is nestled among valleys, mountains, and vineyards. And it’s a fantastic destination to visit in summer. It’s also the getaway to more exploration of the beautiful Dolomites and South Tyrol. I have compiled a list with my recommendations for the best things to do in Bolzano in the summertime, as one of the lesser-known small towns in Northern Italy worth a visit.
What to do in Bolzano in Summer
Being located in the Dolomites, Bolzano is a multifaceted city that completely changes its colours and flair to match the season’s scenery. You will be stunned to see how cheerful Bolzano turns towards the summer months. Its beautiful flowerbeds and the sunlight reflecting the buildings make it a concert of colours. If you plan a trip itinerary to South Tyrol, here is my guide to the best things to do in Bolzano for active travellers.
1. Embrace the Dolomites landscape at Walther Square
This is the place where to start your visit to the city. In the heart of Bolzano, Walther Square is an open piazza with a fantastic view of the surrounding valleys and the Dolomites. It’s a delight to spend time there, walking around and marvelling at the beautiful old buildings, a blend of German and Italian architecture.
You can view the statue of Walther von der Vogelweide, a medieval singer surrounded by large flowerbeds. Or sit outside and enjoy the warm sunlight in summer under the shade of umbrellas, sipping a drink or a coffee while watching people go by and the Dolomites in the background. Walther Square is where the famous Bolzano Christmas Markets and the Flower Market take place in winter.
2. Visit the Bolzano Cathedral
This Gothic and Romanesque cathedral is one of the main attractions in Bolzano, with the green emerald roof tiles that stand out and make it for picture-perfect scenery. The cathedral’s interior is not as exciting as the exterior, but the altar is a Baroque masterpiece of the 17th century. The entrance is free and worth a visit.
3. Browse through the markets of Piazza Delle Erbe
The Bolzano Market at Piazza Delle Erbe is also iconic in Bolzano, full of life, colours, and smells. You can buy the best, freshest local produce and taste delicacies from German, Ladin and Italian traditions. It’s worth browsing through the stalls to discover new herbs and spices. Don’t miss out on checking out the pubs and restaurants.
4. Take a stroll at Via Dei Portici – Laubengasse
This was the main shopping area in the oldest street of Bolzano when the city was born in 1180. Decorated vaults cover the walkway under the Via Dei Portici arches. A collonade stretches 300 meters from Mercato Delle Erbe to Via Bottai, past the town hall. Shine or rain, you will love this walk. And if you want to do some good shopping in the arcades, there are dozens of places, from big brands to old shops, for sure a must-do thing in Bolzano.
5. Meet the Otzi in the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology
No visit to Bolzano is complete without visiting the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology, a unique museum where you will see the well-preserved Otzi. The 5300 years old Iceman was found in an ancient glacier in 1991 in the Italian Alps. In the museum, you can learn about the archaeological findings and all the artefacts in an entertaining display, thanks to an excellent audio guide that will reveal many details about the fascinating life of Otzi the Iceman.
6. Take the Cable car Renon
This is another top thing to do in the city centre of Bolzano. Right from the Centro Storico (Italian) or Altstadt (German), you can take the cable car for a short ride to Renon on the top of the hills. For only 10 Euros, the train ride takes you to the SopraBolzano station. From there, you can savour the superb view of the surrounding mountains.
But there is much more to do. Grab a map of the trails; you can do dozens of short and medium-long walks from the Renon plateau to Collalbo, which is connected by a train. And from there, you can walk any of the many trails that take you through meadows, valleys and small picturesque villages of Bolzano.
7. Visit Hocheppan Castle
In Bolzano and South Tyrol, there are 800 castles to visit. While Runkelstein Castle is the most famous among the Bolzano castles, I suggest Hocheppan Castle, a.k.a. Castel D’Appiano, instead. You can get there by bus from town to visit the interior. First built in 1130 and rebuilt in 1350, this is probably the most beautiful castle in the region.
You can visit the castle inside and outside; it’s pentagonal donjon and complex structure with chalk and the tower make it a different fortress. Inside, you can eat exquisite food, a very well-known tavern, and a delicious lunch after hiking in its vicinity. In summer, the D’Appiano Castle will hold the Jazz Festival Event on Sunday, 30th June. On all other days, there is a guided visit to the castle complex and the chapel for 7 euros from 11.00 to 4.00 pm.
8. Explore the Puez-Geisler Nature Park
Out of the 7 South Tyrol nature parks, this picture-perfect place combines it all. The Puez-Geisler nature park is one of the most spectacular places in the Dolomites for hiking. It takes a half-hour drive from Bolzano, but the short day trip is worth it. You can stay overnight or go on one of the day hikes.
This place is significant because of the geological rock formations on the hiking trails.
There is quite a long circular hike at the foothills of the Sass de Putia, but there are many more starting from there, taking you to Zanser Alm (hut) and connecting Val Funes to Val Gardena. One of the unmissable things to do from Bolzano is a Dolomites road trip or a multi-day hiking trip.
Where to stay in Bolzano
Here are our top recommendations for staying in Bolzano. Hotel Laurin is a high-end 5-star hotel right in the heart of Bolzano. Hotel Scala is an excellent hotel 5 min walk from the town centre, and Hotel Figl is a great value budget hotel in the centre of Bolzano. I have stayed at Laurin and Scala and highly recommend both. Click the links below (off) to check them out and book with them.
How to get to Bolzano
The easiest way to get to Bolzano, from any other place in Italy, is to travel by train. Trains in Italy are the fastest way to move around the country. From Venice to Bolzano, it’s only a 2.5 hours train ride. From Milano, it takes 3.5 hours with the Frecce, and there are a few connections a day. If you prefer driving a car and want to visit more of the Dolomites, it will take a couple of hours from Verona on the highway (autostrada).
How to explore Bolzano
Bolzano is one of the easiest and safest cities in Italy to get around. You don’t need a car to visit its surroundings thanks to a fantastic local train and bus network that is very efficient and connects you with every smaller town and village in South Tyrol.
By bus and train: you can get almost anywhere from town. That’s a great thing because you don’t need to hire a car in Bolzano to explore the Dolomites.
By Bike: South Tyrol and Bolzano are famous for their extensive cycling paths. There are many, but these are Bolzano’s most known bike routes: the 17km Oltradige Cycle Track from Bolzano to Caldaro. The Valle D’Isarco Cycle Track from Bressanone to Bolzano. And the Val D’Adige Cycling track from Bolzano to Merano.
By Cable Car: three cable cars (Funivie) are in town to take to the surrounding hilly plateau to enjoy a city’s view from above.
By rental car: if you want to be more independent, then hiring a car is the way to go; it gives you more flexibility, and you don’t have to adjust to the train and bus fixed schedules.
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First published in 2019, last updated in March 2023
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