The unforgettable Plitvice Lakes in Croatia – our guide to visiting them

Plan your trip to the beautiful Plitvice Lakes carefully to make the most out of it

If you are planning a trip to Croatia or a friend of yours has just returned from this country, you have probably heard about the one place that leaves everybody stunned with its beauty and greatness – the marvellous Plitvice Lakes. Their crystal turquoise waters, green forests and magnificent waterfalls take tourists to a different universe. It is a blessing to witness all this beauty.

Plitvice Lakes from above, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes from above

If you are already considering going there, here is what you need to know before going. It is good to prepare your visit carefully in advance if you want to experience all the wonderful emotions. Despite the place being absolutely amazing, there are some traps that could damage the positive experience. After we visited the Plitvice Lakes with a small child and learned some good lessons, we are now ready to share them with you.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park has a total area of 300 sq.km of which the lakes are only about 1 %. The park is located between 380-1280 m above sea level. Because of this, there you can meet various flora and fauna, including bears, wild boars, deer and wolves. Trout is among the most common inhabitants of the lakes.

Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes

But the area around the lakes is also an incredible natural phenomenon. The lakes are separated by natural dams or travertine, created by the interplay between water, air and plants. The encrusted plants and bacteria accumulate on top of each other, creating travertine barriers that grow every year by about 1 cm. So the valley of Korana turns into a cascade of 16 lakes flowing into each other and forming magnificent waterfalls and stunning everybody who have seen them.

Trout in Plitvice Lakes

Trout in Plitvice Lakes

The view is amazing both upwards to the waterfalls and downwards to the crystal waters. We still cannot believe how a place so visited could have stayed so clean and virgin.

Waterfalls on Korana river, Croatia

Waterfalls on Korana river

How to reach Plitvice Lakes?

Plitvice Lakes National Park is located about 130 km southwest of Croatian capital Zagreb. Reaching Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb is easy both by car and by public transport.

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Плитвичките езера вход 1 44.905678, 15.611722

By car, it takes about 2 hours. If you prefer public means, there are regular busses from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes. In the summer, there are more than 10 busses a day from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes and there is regular transport in the winter as well. For correct timetable and prices, you should better check at Zagreb Bus Station.

Tip: Allow at least 1 day to stay in Zagreb and explore this beautiful and amazing city. Zagreb is a wonderful place!

Plitvice Lakes waterfalls

Plitvice Lakes waterfalls

When to visit Plitvice Lakes?

Summer is the busiest season on Plitvice Lakes, especially in July and . We visited exactly at that time but if we could choose, probably we would pick another time. There were really many tourists and we are not huge fans of crowds. Also, the ticket prices are a lot higher in July and . However, there are ways to avoid the biggest crowds. Just avoid the busiest hours between 9-10 am. Instead, visiting earlier or in the late afternoon after 4-5pm will offer you a better chance to enjoy the lakes calmly. The park is open from 7 – 20h and tickets are sold until 18h.

Mimi and Anna in the crowds at Plitvice Lakes

Mimi and Anna in the crowds

Ticket prices for Plitvice Lakes for adults, 2017:

January – March, November-December: 55 HRK (7.5 EUR)

April – June, September – October: 110 HRK (15 EUR)

July – August: 180 HRK (25 EUR)

These are the prices for 1-day tickets. There are also tickets for 2 consecutive days, costing respectively 90, 180 and 280 HRK. See full list of ticket prices.

Tip: If you are staying in one of the hotels run by Plitvice Lakes National Park administration, you are entitled to extension of the validity of your 1-day ticked free for the period you are staying in the hotel. Ask for this at the reception of your hotel.

If you are with car, parking costs 7 HRK an hour on the official car parks near the entrances of the park. And around noon in the busy season it can be a challenge to find a parking spot even there

Which is the best season to visit Plitvice Lakes?

For me, the best season to visit Plitvice Lakes is spring. Then the lakes and waterfalls have most water and the views can be amazing with all the spring greenery around. Well, it could be colder and wetter, too. But the prices of the hotels and entrance tickets are quite cheaper than the summer and I would try a spring visit if I have a chance.

In the summer the waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes are not so full

In the summer the waterfalls are not so full

The waterfalls in June are much fuller

The waterfalls in June are much fuller

Thanks for the great photo to our friends “Drumi v dumi

Autumn would probably be very beautiful because of the many different colours of the trees. Winter, from the other side, could offer unique views of frozen waterfalls. I would actually go in every season, if I could. Summer would probably be my last choice, but I do not regret for my summer visit at all.

Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

More waterfalls

How to organize our trip to Plitvice Lakes in order to make the most out of it?

How much time we need to see the Plitvice Lakes?

Many visitors go there just for a day trip and even less. It could sound as a good idea if you have limited time and want to check in at as many places as possible. However, I think it would be really busy if you try to see everything in just 1 day and you will get very tired. I also think that the lakes deserve more than 1 day of attention.

Small waterfall in Plitvice

Small in Plitvice

What we did was a 2-night stay in the area, having enough time to enjoy the views and the atmosphere without hurrying. If travelling with a child like us, I think spending at least a night in the area is necessary.

The rocks near Plitvice Lakes

The rocks near Plitvice Lakes

Where to stay near Plitvice Lakes?

If you agree that spending a couple of nights near Plitvice Lakes, you have several different options – hotels inside the park, other hotels, guest houses, camp sites.. I think the most convenient option is staying at one of the hotels run by Plitvice Lakes National Park administration. There are hotels Jezero, Bellevue and Plitvice, as well as hotel Grabovac. The first 3 hotels are located in the park itself, just near Entrance 2. We actually stayed in Hotel Grabovac which is about 9 km away but is a very comfortable option, too. (Check the prices of  Hotel Grabovac)

Despite being some kilometres away, Grabovac is a wonderful hotel in a calm village nearby and driving to the lakes takes no more than 15 minutes. It also offers free shuttle to the lakes for its guests, once a day. Also, if staying in one of the 4 hotels, you are entitled to extend the period of validity of your 1-day ticket to the park by the period of staying in the hotel.

Another options for accommodation near Plitvice Lakes are the numerous camps, guest houses, family hotels and other hotels in the area. Some of them can be quite cheaper than the above 4 hotels but this also has its price. Few of them are located within walking distance of the park’s entrances. Also, you are not entitled to any perks about the period of the tickets. If you are travelling without car, reaching the park can be a challenge and you should count on taxis, walking or other private options for transport to the park.

Planning your program for Plitvice Lakes

Exploring Plitvice Lakes is well organised in terms of signs, marked trails and public means of transportation within the park. However, the park itself is quite big and you should better have a plan for your visit if you want to enjoy all the beautiful places and views. For the convenience of visitors, there are several different suggested itineraries, depending on the time you have and your physical condition.

Wooden bridges by the Plitvice Lakes

Wooden bridges by the Plitvice Lakes

The tickets to the park also include using the shuttles and boats operating within its territory. There are 3 shuttle stations – one in the area of Entrance 1, another near Entrance 2 and a third station at the highest .  There are also 2 boat lines – one connecting the two shores of Kozjak nearby Entrance 2 and another one, travelling by the length of the .  The boats are travelling every 30 minutes and the shuttles are every 15 minutes in the summer season.

The boat at Plitvice Lake

The boat at Plitvice Lake

The park is separated to 2 main areas – Upper Lakes and Lower Lakes. The border between them is somewhere around Entrance 2. The path by the Upper Lakes is quite steeper than the lower one. Walking each one of them takes 2-3 hours but exploring the Lower Lakes is easier.

Possible itineraries to explore Plitvice Lakes:

Our itinerary was the following:

Day 1, 16 h.

Day 1, 16h. Entrance from Entrance 2. Crossing Kozjak Lake by boat. Climbing the Upper Lakes and going back by shuttle. This is Programme E from the itineraries suggested by the National Park’s administration. It took us 2-3 hours of walking which would not be so exhausting if we were not carrying our 11-kg daughter most of the time. However, by the path there are numerous benches and gazebos and it is a good idea to have rest from time to time.

Program E, Upper Lakes

Program E, Upper Lakes

Veliki Prštavac waterfalls, Plitvice Lakes

Veliki Prštavac waterfalls

Day 2, 9 am.

Entrance 1. This appeared to be the busiest time at the entrance of the park with more than 100 people waiting to buy tickets. Luckily, we had tickets from the previous day. It was very busy in the park, too, and we needed to follow the big crowd in order to explore the lakes.  A possible escape from the crowds is arriving earlier or in the late afternoon.

Semi-dry waterfalls in the summer

Semi-dry waterfalls in the summer

The path by the Lower Lakes

The path by the Lower Lakes

That day we made Program B – starting from Entrance 1, walking by the Lower lakes and by the Great Waterfall and reaching Kozjak Lake. Then taking the boat across the lake and walking to Shuttle station 2, where we took the shuttle back to Shuttle station 1.

Програма B за Плитвичките езера

Mind that Shuttle station 1 is located closer to Entrance 1 but not very close. It takes around 20 minutes of walking to reach the entrance/exit by a panoramic path above the lakes. Then you have 15-20 more minutes of walking to the car park.

After we finished our morning walk we were so tired that we did not go back to the park later that day. This is why I friendly advise you to plan your trip carefully and try to explore the park slowly and easily, especially if travelling with small children.

The walk by the Plitvice Lakes might be exhausting

The walk by the Plitvice Lakes might be exhausting

Gavanovac Lake, Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Gavanovac Lake

Other itineraries

Another itinerary tried by our friends from Bulgarian blog Drumi v Dumi is taking the shuttle from Station 1 to Station 3 and then walking all the way back down. This is probably less tiring, especially for the area of Upper Lakes.

If you are enthusiast, there are routes suggesting entirely walking exploration of the lakes area. You can see all itineraries in the Plitvice Lakes National Park website. If you are staying more days, you could also do some trekking outside the lakes area or try a bike route – here are some ideas.

Bridge above Plitvice Lakes. You can also hire a boat there

Bridge above Plitvice Lakes. You can also hire a boat there

When visiting Plitvice Lakes, you should carefully think out how long time you want or you can walk. Your tickets include using shuttles and boats but the stations of the shuttle are only 3 and it takes 2-3 hours of walking between them. You cannot just stop and take the shuttle when you feel tired. So if you are not physically prepared for this, you should better have a small walk and return to your starting point in order to avoid problems. Or just allow more time in order to make many longer rests.

Ducks at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Ducks at Plitvice Lakes

Where to eat at Plitvice Lakes?

Around the entrances of the park there are several restaurants and snack bars where you can have breakfast or lunch or just grab a drink. There was also a snack point near shuttle station 3. However, you should better carry a quick snack and lots of water during your trekking. For us, the best place to eat near Plitvice Lakes is the restaurant of Grabovac hotel.

What equipment do I need for Plitvice Lakes?

You do not need any special equipment besides the proper shoes and clothing for the season which will make you feel comfortable after several hours of walking. In the summer, you could easily walk in your city sandals if you feel comfortable (no heels, though). Anyway, trekking shoes always help for your comfort.

Plitvice Lakes are also accessible for baby strollers – we met a few families doing this adventure. However, we would not dare to try it because it can be a challenge to carry both the baby and the stroller at some point.

Rest at one of the bridges. However, getting in the water is not allowed

Rest at one of the bridges. However, getting in the water is not allowed

What else to see near Plitvice Lakes?

The lakes are doubtlessly the best attraction in the area but if you feel exploratory and have more than 1 day there, there are other nice places to visit around. A popular tourist destination is the ethno village Rastoke, where you can see some old mills and have a pleasant walk.

For us it was more interesting to explore the remains of the old castle near Dreznik Grad from which nowadays a tower has remained. You can climb on the tower freely and enjoy the view. It is not a major attraction but we love such smaller and charming places.

The old castle at Dreznik Grad, Croatia

The old castle at Dreznik Grad

Another good place we were advised to visit in the area are the Barac caves which we missed. You can check opening hours and prices in their website.

Many thanks to Plitvice Lakes National Park for helping us organise this trip and making the most out of it!



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