The Pristine Plitvice
Plitvice is a UNESCO world heritage site and is the most striking destination in all of Croatia. If you are planning a trip anywhere on the Adriatic coast then Plitvice should feature on your list. A 295-sq.-km forest reserve in central Croatia, Plitvice is known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by waterfalls, that extend into a limestone canyon. There are a number of number of walking trails and hiking routes through the park that leave most tourists charmed by the pristine beauty of this place.
What is the best time to visit ?
The best time to visit Plitvice is during the shoulder season (May, June, Sept). The weather during these months is pleasant but expect some rain. In fact, we visited Plitvice during mid June and there were storm like conditions so weather can be really unpredictable. But if you are lucky to get a perfect sunny day then you are in for some great views. The meadows are brimming with wild flowers amidst emerald lakes. It is best to reach the park early morning (entry starts at 7am) when the park is tranquil and the sunlight is perfect for breathtaking photos.
Visiting the national park during winters is another mesmerizing experience. During winters the park is totally transformed and you can expect to walk through snow clad mountains and freezing waters. Although the park is open to public during winters, bear in mind that some of the trails going through the upper side of the park are closed.
How much time do you need?
We recommend that you stay over in and around the park the previous night to start your day early. Most tourists typically reach the park a day in advance or stay over the day they visit the national park. You can also opt for a day trip/ tours from other cities like Split and Zagreb. In this case, you will typically reach the park around noon and continue to explore the park till the evening.
There are various trails that go through the park. The most popular trail which goes through the upper lakes down to lower lakes (trail H) takes about 5-6 hours on foot. There are other easier trails which go through only a section of the park and take about 2-3 hours. Read more about the different in the section below.
How to get to Plitvice?
Plitvice is easily accessible from other cities in Croatia and you can opt to get here either by bus or driving yourself. We preferred to drive to Plitvice ourselves to get there early and explore it in our own time.
Bus to Plitvice
There are about 10-12 buses from Zagreb to Plitvice during summer season. The journey takes about 2hours and costs 85kn (approx 12 euros) one way. You will get down at the main terminal in Plitvice which is about 10mins walk from the main entrance.
If you are going from south, then the nearest town to Plitivice is Zadar. It takes about 2-3hours from Zadar and about 3-4 hours from Split to get to Plitvice by bus. However, if you travelling from Dubrovnik then it will take about 6 hours. If you travelling from Split or Dubrovnik, we highly recommend that you plan to stay over the night in the park and visit it the next day.
Travel tip: It is best to purchase bus tickets in advance either online or from any city terminals. Tickets are are available on board but you will need to tender exact change in local currency. During the peak season, bus tickets are sold out in advance so you will be denied entry.
Be mindful of the timings of the last bus that leaves the national park since you will not have any other means to commute after the last bus routes.
Drive to Plitvice
It takes about 2 hours drive to get to Plitvice either from Zagreb . You can take the route going through Karlovac. It takes about the same time from Zadar and an hour longer from Split but the journey is quite comfortable.
Since we were travelling to Plitvice from Rovinj, we took the route which eventually joins Karlovac and further. It took us about 6hours to get to Plitvice but the route is great and passes through major cities.
On your way back , if you are travelling further south then you can either head to Split and Zadar. While most tourists prefer Split, we wanted to explore Zadar and Trogir and stayed the night at Zadar.
Accommodation in Plitvice
Most visitors visiting Plitvice wonder if it is worth while to spend a night in and around the park. In our opinion, you must consider staying the night before your visit. This can help you to get to the park early in the morning and get time to explore the park. Bear in mind that the visit to the park can take almost 4-6 hours so its not a short trip.
Here are some of the different accommodation options you can look at depending on your budget and liking.
Plitvice is a UNESCO protected area you will not find too many options of hotels inside the park. There are few famous hotels near Entrance 2 – Hotel Jezero and Hotel Bellevue. These are managed by the park administration and are typically overpriced. The advantage of staying in one of these hotels that you can easily get to the park entrance if you don’t have a car. Most these hotels provide free drops to the park entrance.
Another great economical option is to stay in villages around the park. You should prefer this if you have a car since the parking near the park entrances can cost about 7kn per hour. The good part is you will have more places to eat and stay over. The restaurants inside the park are mostly canteen style and the food isn’t great. The nearest villages are Plitvica Selo and Jezerce. These are well connected with other cities like Zagreb and Zadar.
Aside from hotels, there are many guesthouses and lodges around the park. These are either family residences or managed local families offered. In our opinion, this is the best option to stay over in Plitvice since these are economical and conveniently located. You also get a parking space for free.
We stayed over at Natura Plitvice Lakes and absolutely loved it.
Zrinka house is another highly rated guesthouse in the park.
The best way to book these guesthouses is through Booking.com since the confirmation is immediate and cancellation is free.
You can also look to book through Airbnb to get some more options for home stays. Make your booking through this link to get upto 39euros on your stay.
Camping is a great way to be one with the wilderness and enjoy the tranquility of Plitvice. If you are a nature lover, then Plitvice has some great camping sites that you can consider for your stay over.
Korana is one of the popular sites and surely the one we will consider for our next trip. There are several units located in lush green area of over 35 sq km. Common facilities for restroom, shower and laundry are available to guests. There is a free shuttle bus to Plitvice national park which makes this a convenient option even if you don’t have a car.
Camping Borje is another famous camping site about 15km away from Plitvice park entry. There are about 28 pitches available here equipped with electricity and water.
Travel tip: Ask camp site organizers for bike rentals. They also organize group activities like bike tours, hiking etc.
There aren’t too many hostels in and around this area so guesthouses and camping are the most economical options.
Entrance fees and tickets
The national park is open all round the year to tourists though some parts of the park are only accessible during summer season. The ticket prices thus increase during the peak season. It is best to purchase entrance tickets to Plitvice in advance as the number of visitors each day is capped. The best way to purchase tickets online from the official website. If you are a part of an organized tour, then most operators procure tickets on their own and include it in the overall cost.
The entrance ticket includes charges for electric boat and panorama train, which is a part of the trails.
Cost: Approx 150kn (Adults), 120kn (7-18yrs) during shoulder season | 250kn (adults), 120kn(7-13yrs) during peak season. Children below 7yrs go free. Check the latest price list here.
Contact: +385 0 53 751 026, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Parking: There are two main parking areas, one near each entrance. It is advisable to park the car in the designated parking spots instead of the road or open area outside the entrance.
- Cars – 7 kn per hour
- Camping vans, motor-homes – 70 kn per day
- Bicycle and motorcycle – free parking
Things to do in Plitvice
If you manage to stay over in the park, then we highly recommend reaching the park early. You can easily skip the queue and also enjoy the views in tranquility. Depending on which route/ trail that you intend to take you can start either at entrance 1 or 2. There are eight trails (programs) that you can choose from depending on time in hand and distance you prefer to explore on foot. Do note that Plitvice is a UNESCO heritage site and swimming is not allowed here.
Route A | Length : 3.5kms | Recommended time: 2-3hours
This route starts at entrance 1 and you get an opportunity to first visit the Great Waterfall – the largest in in Plitvice and in Croatia. This is a highlight of visiting the park and definitely should not be missed. After this, the route starts to ascend as you walk along the main lakes and interconnected waterfalls. At the eastern side, At the eastern side of the trail, you will start to descend and reach entrance 1 again. This is a relatively easier trail and should be preferred if you have limited time in hand.
Route B | Length : 4kms | Recommended time: 3-4hours
This trail also starts at Entrance 1 and goes along the lower lakes. You will also get to take an electric boat ride on Lake Kozjak – the largest lake in Plitvice and a panoramic train ride. The route also gives a chance to visit the Great waterfall before culminating at entrance 1. This according to us is a better alternative than route a since your get to explore more parts of the park in almost the same time.
Route C | Length : 8kms | Recommended time: 4-6hours
This is a longer trail that begins at entrance 1 and goes through a circulate route. You get to visit the upper and lower lakes, get boat ride on lake Kozjak and return to the starting point through a train ride. If you plan on spending this much time in the park, then we would recommend considering trail H. Read more about it ahead.
Route E | Length : 5.1kms | Recommended time: 3-4hours
This trail starts at the entrance 2 (southern side) of the park. You will explore the upper lakes, followed by the boat ride on Lake Kozjak and a beautiful path to another lake in the upper section. You will come across countless waterfalls along the way. The train ride will take you back to the starting point. The route itself does not lead you to the Great Waterfall so we recommend opting for route F if you want to cover this.
Route F | Length : 4.6kms | Recommended time: 3-4hours
This is another trail starting at entrance 2. Its a circular trail and you take a boat ride on Lake Kozjak that takes you to the lower lakes all the way to the Great Waterfall.
Route H | Length : 8.9kms | Recommended time: 4-6hours
This is the most popular trail amongst tourists as it gives you a chance to explore the beauty of the entire park area. This is the trail that we took during our visit to Plitvice. If you are comfortable with the distance to be covered, we highly recommend opting for it. The trail starts at entrance 2 and you start with the panoramic train ride. From here, make your way to the upper lakes dotted with numerous waterfalls along the way. You will need to take a boat ride to reach the lower lakes and from here you get to the Great Waterfall.
Route K | Length : 18.3kms | Recommended time: 6-8hours
This is the longest trail through the park and gives a chance to explore the entire park area including hiking to the area beyond upper lakes. You should opt for this route if you have an entire day in hand since this is an enduring trail. You can start this trail either at entrance 1 or at entrance. In both the cases, you will get to explore the lower and upper lakes, take the boat ride on Lake Kozjak and also visit the Great Waterfall. Around the upper lakes, you will make way to explore the upper ranges of the park.
This trail is usually a guided one and you will be accompanied with an experienced staff. Note that this trail is mostly inaccessible during the winter season.
Read more about each on the trail on the official website of Plitvice national park. Do check the latest maps and accessibility of these trails before your visit.
There are about 4-5 designated hiking trails within the national park area that you can take up if you would like to explore the park area further. Read more about the hiking trails, distance and maps here.
Its recommended to take up these hiking excursions along with a park ranger but you can always do this on your own. Since the weather in this area varies a great deal, these trails can be closed during any season so do check the official website before you visit.
Plitvice is a protected area and cycling is not permitted in the park premises but only on the state roads. You can take up cycling tours organized by any of the local tour operators. If you would like to go biking on your own, then explore cycling trails in the area of the municipality Plitvička Jezera here.
Skiing and Sleighing
Essentially a winter tourism activity, it is possible to go skiing and sleighin in the ski resort in the village Mukinje. Located at about 2.5kms from Plitvice entrance 2, this is a great place for even beginners to tray their hand at skiing due to a gentle slope gradient.
Read more about skiing experiences here.
There are several other activities and experiences that you can explore while in this area. A visit to Nikola Tesla memorial center, Barac caves and Raskote village in Slunj makes for great day trips. Transparent kayak is a unique experience kayaking over crystal clear waters of Gacak river. For the adventure lovers, you can plan for Quad safariin Gacak valley. Or visit Adrenaline park in Plitvice for some great options for zip lining.
You can explore the complete details of these experiences on the official website. The authorities have developed an interactive app to help plan for these experiences.
Plitvice vs Krka National Park
We often get asked by friends whether if they should plan to visit either Plitvice or Krka national park, and which one is better. Both the national parks are pristine in their beauty and have similar landscape with interconnected lakes, waterfalls and gorgeous flora. However, if you have time to make it only to one then we highly recommend visiting Plitvice. Swimming is permitted in the largest lake in Krka but it is not allowed in Plitvice. But we felt that trails in Plitvice are more exciting and cover a much larger area.
Some tourists try to plan to visit Plitvice and Krka during the same day but we don’t think this is a good idea. Although, the distance between the two is little over by 2hours driving but you need to consider the time required to cover the trails and soak in the experience.
Travel tips for your visit
- Weather in Plitvice is quite unpredictable as the locals say you can experience a different weather every 30mins. Expect heat/ rain depending on the season so we recommend having appropriate gear.
- Designated trails in the park are mostly wooden and go over uneven paths and inclines. The trails are neither disabled friendly nor comfortable with trolley for kids so plan accordingly.
- Pack a light lunch or snack for your visit. There are many restaurants along the trails but food options here are limited and not too great.
- Restrooms are available only at the entrance or at the bigger restaurants so plan ahead.
- There is not much difference in terms of crowds whether you start at entrance 1 or 2. For the best experience, we recommend either trail C or trail H.
- Get there early to skip the queue and get a convening parking spot.
- Swimming is not permitted in Plitvice so refrain from this.
- There are two view points that offer best post card pictures. Look out for Veliki slap and Vedikovac sightseeing point.
Although we visited Plitvice on a stormy, rainy day but still the experience of wandering through wooden trails curling at the edge of beautiful crystal waters and gorgeous scenery was priceless . We completed route H is about 4 hours with a nice lunch along the lake. From here we started our journey to Zadar, which is about 2hours further. As soon as we exited the Plitvice area and made our way to the highway, the weather cleared up. It was like we were leaving behind a completely different world ensconced in the lap of nature oblivious of our urban wonders 🙂
Read more about our adventures in the city of Zadar and the architectural gems it offers in this next post.