The Italian Dolomites are a place full of natural wonders – from majestic snow-capped peaks, through green meadows, to turquoise lakes. Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee) is one of those breathtaking places you must visit during your stay. Although it is one of the most popular and photogenic places in the Dolomites, known for its often duplicated frames, there is nothing like standing on the shore and watching the clear reflection of the mountains in the water surface with your own eyes.
Regardless of whether you will travel by car or public transport, I have collected for you the most essential information on how to get here, tips on where to stay in the area and when it is best to come here to avoid the crowds.
Where is Lago di Braies located
Lago di Braies is located in northern Italy in the South Tyrol region, close to the Italian-Austrian border. The lake is situated in the Braies Valley. It is part of the Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park (German: Fanes-Sennes-Braies Pragser Wildsee), which is part of the Dolomites, UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This largest alpine lake in the Dolomites stretches at an altitude of about 1,500 m (5,000 ft) at the foot of the Croda del Becco (German Seekofel).
Before World War I, this part of the Dolomites belonged to Austria, and during the war, the chapel by the lake was used to exchange prisoners. After the war, the Dolomites became part of Italy, so you can see signs in both German and Italian on the Lago di Braies. In fact, the Dolomites still speak a third language, Ladinian, which is the local dialect.
Where does the name Lago di Braies come from
In South Tyrol, mythology is extremely important and explains the formation of many places in the Dolomites. According to a local legend, at the southern end of the lake, below the imposing Croda del Becco, there was a gate (Fanes) to the underworld that could only be accessed by boat. It is for this reason that Croda del Becco is called “Sass for Porta” in Ladin, which means “Mount Gate”.
From a geological point of view, the history of the formation of the Dolomites is a bit different. More than 240 million years ago, the entire Dolomites were under the sea. The limestone mountains of Latemar formed as sea levels began to lower and the reefs began to resemble mountains. Throughout millions of years of erosion, the Braies Valley was formed, containing a body of water today known as Lago di Braies (Lake Braies).
How to get to Lago di Braies
Getting to Lago di Braies by car
Most people stay overnight near the Pusteria Valley and go to Lago di Braies. It is definitely a good solution when you want to get there for the sunrise. I had this plan out of the way, and I was driving from a different part of South Tyrol. To reach the lake at dawn, I had to get up at 3:00 am. I do not recommend it.
Approximate travel time to Lago di Braies from the main airports in the region:
- Milan: 4.5 hours / 420 km by car
- Venice: 3 hours / 200 km by car
- Verona: 3 hours / 250 km by car
- Innsbruck: 2.5 hours / 130 km by car
Parking in Lago di Braies
A fairly large parking lot is available right next to Lago di Braies. However, it gets full within minutes, especially in summer, so especially in the high season, it is recommended to book a parking space online in advance. In summer, if the parking lot is full, you will not be able to drive further into the valley until parking spaces are available.
As you approach Lago di Braies, you will see several parking lots – first P1, then P3, which is closest to Lago di Braies; located vis-à-vis Hotel di Lago Di Braise.
I was there at the beginning of October, and I didn’t have to reserve a parking space anymore. At sunrise, there were maybe five cars, including mine, in the parking lot. The Dolomites give you more peace of mind and less struggle with reality after the season. But to be super precise, around eight, that is after sunrise, the parking lot started filling up very quickly.
Parking is free for the first hour, you will pay 6 euros for the first 3 hours, then 0.80 euros for every 30 minutes thereafter. Interestingly, if you enter before 7.00 am, you will pay only 2 euros for 3 hours of parking.
Campers pay 11 euros for parking or 20 euros for 24 hours parking. Campervans can stay overnight in the parking lot (but with no electricity, water, or unloading facilities).
You can pay in cash or by debit/credit card. As I came across a few broken ticket machines in the Dolomites, always have cash on you, just in case.
The valley can also be explored on foot, by bike, or by public transport #442 from the paid parking lot in Ferrara. There is a hiking trail (#1) from Ferrara to Lake Pragser Wildsee, which takes approximately 1.5 hours, or you can take the #442i or #439ii bus.
Public transport to Lago di Braies
In the case of the Dolomites, an alternative to the car is a very well-developed public transport system. The region is very well connected thanks to a system of buses, regional trains, and cable cars. This also applies to connections to Lago di Braies.
You can consider purchasing a South Tyrol Mobilcard (15, 23, or 28 euros for 1, 3, and 7 days) to have access to all other transport options in the region. Tickets can be purchased at tourist information centers, hotels, and ticket machines.
Tourist buses run to Lago di Braies from the main towns (and even hotels) in the Pusteria Valley.
From Dobbiaco/Toblach, you can take bus #442 (5 euros per person per trip or included in the price of South Tyrol Mobilcard), which also stops in Villabassa and takes around 30 minutes. If you are coming from a bit more distant towns like San Candido/Innichen or Sesto/Sexten, take the #446 bus to Dobbiaco/Toblach.
From western towns like Monguelfo/Welsberg-Taisten, take bus #439 (5 euros per person per trip or included in the price of South Tyrol Mobilcard).
Buses run every half hour during the peak summer months, starting at 6.30 am and ending at 5.30 pm (from 10th of July to 10th of September, 2020).
When to visit Lago di Braies
Lago di Braies is one of those places you can visit all year round because it will look different every time. However, if I had to choose the best time, it would definitely be spring and fall – in other words – off-season.
In spring (June/early July), the water level in the lake is higher, which makes it look better in the pictures when the rest of the Dolomites are drowning in a sea of wildflowers. Snow covers even higher parts of the mountains, providing the most picturesque background to Lago di Braies.
In autumn, the surrounding larches take shades of yellow and orange. Their reflection in the lake is delightful. Sunrise times are also a bit more reasonable, so all photographers who want to be by the lake at this time can get some sleep (sort of!). The water level drops significantly in the summer, but it is still beautiful.
In winter, access to the lake depends on the weather conditions and the condition of the access roads.
When is the best time of day to visit Lago di Braies
It is best to visit Lago di Braies in the morning, at sunrise. Even if you do not care about the photos (because if you do, the sunrise is indisputable), in the morning, you will be able to experience this place in the best light and, most importantly, without the crowds of people. In addition, the sun emerging from behind the mountain peaks and reflecting in the lake looks spectacular.
I was here in October. I arrived at 6.00 am, which is half an hour before sunrise, and it was the perfect time to enjoy this place with no rush.
Unless you are a morning person, aim for the late afternoon before sunset to avoid the crowds of day trips that arrive at the lake in the middle of the day.
What to do in and around Lago di Braies
Rent a boat
One of the main attractions of this place is the possibility of renting a boat. This option is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend your time and explore this picturesque lake. And of course, you can take some fantastic photos.
From mid-May to the end of October, handmade boats can be rented. To do this, go to the marina in la Palafitta. In the summer months, the rental point is open from 8:30 am. You have to be there earlier because usually by 11.00 am most of the boats are already rented and you have to wait a long time for a boat to be available.
- Opening hours: July – August: 8.30–18.30; May, June, September, October: 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.
- Rental cost: 30 min – 19 euros; 1 hour –29 euros, photo fee in the boat hangar -150 euros.
Take a walk around the lake
If you want to see more than the standard views from Lago di Braies, I recommend an hour-long trip around the lake. It really is a wonderful place. The emerald deep water, dense spruce forests around the lake, and mountain peaks are just the perfect scenery to spend more time here, enjoy the beauty of nature, and breathe. The walk not only allows you to admire the lake from many different perspectives but also to escape the crowds that swirl around the boat hangar. On the way, there are also several viewpoints from which you can admire the lake.
- Difficulty of the trail: easy
- Distance: 4 km
- Time: 1-2 hours
A longer hike to Lago di Braies
Most people visit Lago di Braies to take some quick photos. However, there are many longer one-day hikes in the Dolomites that start here. One of the best is the hike from Lago di Braies to the summit of Croda del Becco (German: Seekofel). However, it is a difficult, steep route, intended for those more experienced and in good physical condition.
You start from the south-eastern end of the lake (trail#1). You climb towards Buco del Giavo along a steep and rocky path. You are slowly reaching Forcella Sora Forno. This is where another rocky section begins, leading to the cross at the top of the Croda del Becco. The views from the top are breathtaking. You have a 360 ° view of the surrounding mountains of the Park Fanes-Sennes-Prags and a unique view of the Lago di Braies below. The hike is physically demanding, with an elevation of over 1000 m, so I strongly recommend that you reward yourself by stopping by for lunch at the atmospheric Rifugio Biella before going back to Lago di Braies.
- Difficulty of the trail: hard
- Distance: 11.4 km
- Time: 6 hours
Visit the chapel in Lago di Braies
On the west bank of Lago di Braies, there is a beautiful chapel, built in 1904 according to the design of Otto Schmid – the same architect who was responsible for the Lago di Braies hotel, built in a style typical for South Tyrol.
The chapel is open to visitors in summer. This place also has important historical significance. During World War II, 137 political prisoners were deported from concentration camps in Germany on the orders of the SS commander. He wanted to name them for keeping himself safe. The exchange took place at the Pragser Wildsee hotel, on the shores of the lake, and liberated prisoners prayed at this chapel.
Best places to stay in Lago di Braies
Depending on your budget and plan, you can choose from several different places that will be a good starting point to the lake.
Directly by the lake
Hotel Lago di Braies – located just off Lago di Braies and offers rooms with lake views. This is perfect for someone who wants to have 24/7 access to the lake to avoid the crowds. You need to book in advance, especially in the summer season.
Hotel Trenker – located about 5 minutes drive from Lago di Braies. A good alternative to the Pragser Wildsee hotel.
From Lago di Braies it is about 30 minutes by car to get to the town. It’s not too far from Tre Cime di Lavarado either. There are several hotels and restaurants in Dobbiaco, making it a good location for anyone visiting this part of the Dolomites.
Misurina – a large town at the foot of the Tre Cime, 45 minutes from Lago di Braies by car. It has more restaurants and hotels and even has its own lake which is frequently visited by tourists.
Cortina d’Ampezzo – the largest city in this part of the Dolomites with lots of hotels and restaurants. Most people stay in Cortina as it is more familiar and convenient in terms of accessing amenities. Unfortunately, it is about an hour’s drive from Lago di Braies.
The material was created in collaboration with South Tyrol Tourism Organization