Plitvice Lakes: Explore Croatia’s Largest National Park 2024

Veliki Slap: a maior cascata dos Lagos de Plitvice.
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2024-01-25

Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia and is located in Plitvice, i.e. in the central part of the country.

It has almost 30,000 hectares and has a stunning landscape, with a mixture of forests and meadows, highlighted by the incredible Plitvice Lakes system.

The Plitvice Lakes are interconnected lakes, divided into upper and lower lakes, along which visitors can walk along the paths and walkways that allow you to closely observe the waterfalls, rivers and waterways.

The upper lakes, formed in dolomites, have gentle terrain, gentle shores and are surrounded by dense forests. On the other hand, the lower lakes, smaller and shallower, are located in limestone canyons with steep banks in some places.

Finally, the diverse and stunning landscape of this region of Croatia makes Plitvice Lakes a very attractive destination at any time of the year.

So, will you join me on this journey of discovery through Croatia’s national parks?

What to do in Plitvice Lakes National Park?

O que visitar em Zagrebe: Parque Nacional dos Lagos de Plitvice.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia.

Walk the marked trails

The most common way to enjoy the Plitvice lakes is to walk along the trails that surround the lakes and waterfalls.

Thus, visitors to the park can explore the pedestrian paths that wind through the forests and along the shores of the lakes, as they offer breathtaking views at every meter of the park.

In fact, to see the turquoise lakes and the plants and animals of the region, the best thing to do is walk. Routes vary in length and difficulty, with options for short hikes as well as full day hikes.

By taking these trails, visitors can immerse themselves (not literally) in the natural beauty of the park and experience the peace and tranquility of the forests.

Take a boat trip

Passeio de barco no Lago Korzak.
Korzak Lake.

Exploring the Plitvice Lakes by boat is a unique and breathtaking experience and an excellent complement to trail walks.

Visitors can leisurely cruise the calm waters of the lower lakes, surrounded by the park’s towering cliffs and lush forests.

The boats are electric, that is, in addition to being ecological, they are silent. Taking a Plitvice Lakes cruise is a peaceful and serene way to enjoy the beauty of the Plitvice Lakes while giving your legs a rest.

In addition, the boat ride is included in the park entrance ticket.

See Veliki Slap, the highest waterfall in the park

Veliki Slap: a maior cascata dos Lagos de Plitvice.
Veliki Slap: the biggest waterfall in Plitvice Lakes.

Veliki Slap is the highest waterfall in Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. It is located a few minutes’ walk from Entrance 1 of the park, just beyond a wooden walkway that winds through one of the lakes.

The waterfall is an impressive 78 meters and is one of the most iconic and visited attractions in the park.

Surrounding the waterfall is a wealth of lush vegetation and wildlife, making it a popular spot for nature lovers and photographers.

The sound of cascading water adds to the serene and peaceful atmosphere, making Veliki Slap a must-see destination for anyone visiting the Plitvice Lakes area.

Observe the diversity of wildlife

Vegetação junto aos Lagos Inferiores.
Lower Lakes.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including 256 documented species. Although it is possible to see a variety of animals in the park, some patience and luck are required.

Common species that are relatively easy to spot include butterflies, damselflies, beetles, trout, owls, bats, and eagles. With a bit of luck, visitors may also see and hear woodpeckers in areas with taller trees. Crayfish, salamanders, lizards, and snakes can often be seen if you take the time to be in a quiet place.

However, the park’s protected species such as the brown bear, gray wolf, Eurasian lynx, and Eurasian otter are rarely seen by visitors.

See the mist rising from the Lakes

Trilho nos Lagos de Plitvice.
Trail on Plitvice Lakes.

As the sun rises and the day begins, mist rises from the water surface of Plitvice Lakes, creating a dreamlike, peaceful atmosphere.

In fact, on some days, mist envelops the entire park, enhancing its already supernatural beauty.

It’s a magnificent sight to behold, but for that you need to get to the park quite early. Or stay overnight in one of the region’s hotels (more information below!) Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

Picnic at Plitvice Lakes

Picnicing in Plitvice Lakes National Park is a different way to experience the natural beauty of the park.

The fresh mountain air and serene setting help to whet your appetite and create a perfect picnic setting.

In my opinion, the best place to have a picnic is at P3 park, which is where you catch the boat. There are wooden tables available, toilets and a cafe and the place has a wonderful lakeside setting which makes for a pleasant and relaxing experience.

Imagine yourself sitting at one of the wooden tables, surrounded by a breathtaking view of the lakes and enjoying a delicious meal al fresco on the mountain… wonderful, isn’t it?

Trust me, the tranquil atmosphere of the park, combined with the beauty of the surroundings, makes the Plitvice Lakes picnic experience unforgettable.

Accommodation inside Plitvice Lakes National Park

Apartments Lisinski em Zagrebe.
Apartments Lisinski, in Zagreb (Croatia).

Staying overnight in Plitvice Lakes National Park should be a unique and immersive experience for visitors.

While most tourists opt for a day trip from Zagreb, Zadar or Split, staying overnight in one of the park’s hotels offers the opportunity to fully appreciate its natural beauty.

The most popular hotels to stay overnight in Plitvice Lakes National Park are the Jazero Hotel (3 stars), Lakeside Hotel Plitvice (4 stars) and the Ethno Hotel Plitvice Lakes Deluxe (5 stars).

There is no doubt that these hotels offer comfortable and convenient accommodation for exploring the park, however, they are more expensive compared to accommodation in Zagreb, for example.

I stayed at Apartments Lisinski in Zagreb, took the bus to Plitvice, returned the same day and found the trip to be quite smooth.

What is forbidden to do in Plitvice Lakes National Park?

Proibido no Parque Nacional dos Lagos de Plitvice.
Signpost in Plitvice Lakes National Park.

As Plitvice Lakes is part of a national reserve, it is important that you are aware of what is allowed, but also what is prohibited in the park.

So, check what you can’t do on a visit to the park:

  • It is not allowed to use drones in Plitvice Lakes;
  • Collect plants;
  • Feed the park animals, including fish;
  • Swim in the lakes;
  • Leave rubbish on the trails or somewhere other than the rubbish bins available throughout the park;
  • Leave the marked routes.

In addition, there are some recommendations that you should follow:

  • Wear appropriate clothing and footwear for walking;
  • Carry enough water and snacks;
  • Use adequate protection from rain and sun, depending on the season, i.e. umbrella, sunglasses, hat and sunscreen;
  • Confirm the weather forecast in advance, especially in winter, as some areas of the park may be closed;
  • Check the information regarding the time required for each route, ensuring that you have enough time to do the tour.

Plitvice Lakes trails (detailed information)

Lagos Inferiores do Parque Nacional dos Lagos de Plitvice.
Lower Lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park.

First of all, you should know that there are two entrances to the national park, Entrance 1 is the main one and Entrance 2 is the secondary one.

All trails are circular, so you don’t have to worry about calculating the return time.

Trails can include walking, electric boat ride and ride on a “panoramic train”, which actually looks more like a jeep to many people.

It should be noted that this vehicle is very practical, as it covers large areas of the park that are less interesting from a landscape point of view. Bear in mind that the lakes area corresponds to only 1% of the total area of the national park, that is, the panoramic train crosses a forested area, which, while pleasant, turns out to be “more of the same”.

In addition, depending on the ticket you choose, you have four routes with different distances to choose from.

Different trails in Plitvice Park

"Panoramic train" no Parque Nacional dos Lagos de Plitvice, Croácia.
“Panoramic train” in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia.

Thus, from Entrance 1, you can choose the following routes that are marked in green on the route:

  • Trail A: 3.5 km, 2-3 hours (walking only);
  • Trail B: 4 km, 3-4 hours (includes walking, boat ride and panoramic train);
  • Trail C: 18.3 km, 6-8 hours (includes walking, boat ride and panoramic train);
  • K Trail: 8.9 km, 4-6 hours (includes walking and boat ride);

On the other hand, from Entrance 2, you can choose the following routes marked in orange:

  • E Trail: 5.1 km, 2-3 hours (includes walking, boat ride and panoramic train);
  • Trail F: 4.6 km, 4-6 hours (includes walking, boat ride and panoramic train);
  • H Trail: 8.9 km, 4-6 hours (includes walking, boat ride and panoramic train);
  • K Trail: it’s not a mistake, the K Trail can be accessed from both Entrances 1 and 2. It’s 8.9 km, 4-6 hours (includes walking and boat ride);

You should also bear in mind that the boats, as well as the panoramic train, have defined timetables.

Thus, the boat departs from P3 to P2 every half hour, from 9 am to 3 pm in winter time, while the panoramic train has its schedule adjusted to this time, that is, when you leave the boat, you have time to go until the next transport stop.

All routes are very well marked, with signs and maps, that is, only if you are very distracted will you make a mistake on the trail.

If you want to change your route, you can also do that, and the maps indicate the current location of the visitor and how long it takes to get to the nearest exit.

How long does it take to visit Plitvice Lakes?

Passadiços de madeira nos Lagos Inferiores.
Wooden walkways in the Lower Lakes.

It’s best to arrive early in the morning and plan your route based on the number of people in the park, weather conditions, and park closing time.

You can ask the information desk for trail recommendations when purchasing your ticket. Trail B takes approximately 3 hours to complete.

You can check the estimated time for each trail by reading the previous section. Information boards with departure times are located throughout the park.

Which entrance is better for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park – Entrance 1 or 2?

Entrada 1 em Rastovača (Parque Nacional dos Lagos de Plitvice - Croácia).
Entrance 1 in Rastovača.

Both Entrance 1 in Rastovača and Entrance 2 in Hladovina have ticket offices, restrooms, restaurants, gift shops, and bus stops.

However, if you are coming from Zagreb, it is recommended to get off at Entrance 1 as it is closer to popular attractions such as the Veliki Slap (the largest waterfall in the park) and the lake crossings.

Additionally, if you are leaving the park and taking a bus, there are more free spots at the bus stop at Entrance 2.

How to get from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes?

Autocarros Flixbus na Croácia.
Autocarros Flixbus na Croácia.

The most convenient way to get from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes is by bus, with Flixbus taking about two hours for the journey.

The cost of a one-way ticket is €11.99 per person and it’s advisable to book in advance to secure a place and potentially get a cheaper price.

If you prefer to drive, the fastest route from Zagreb is by car on the D1 and E65/E71 roads, which includes part of the journey on the motorway.

When you arrive at the park, you will need to park in the designated parking lot.

There is a fee for parking, which is €1.32 per hour from June to September and approximately €1 per hour the rest of the year.

Motorhomes are charged approximately €13 per day during the summer months and €10 per day during the rest of the year. Note that motorcycles are exempt from paying parking fees.

Tour or go to Plitvice Lakes independently? Pros and cons

Cães nos trilhos.
Plitvice National Park.

Choosing a tour and going to Plitvice Lakes on your own has advantages and disadvantages, so which one to choose?

If you also have this doubt, here are some positive and negative aspects to consider.

Advantages of the tours:

  • Guided experience with an experienced tour guide (if tour includes a guide).
  • Ease of transport.
  • Ability to ask questions and receive information.
  • May include other activities or attractions in the area.

Disadvantages of tours:

  • Limited freedom to explore at your own pace.
  • Fixed itinerary, meaning you cannot change plans easily.
  • Potential crowds and long wait times when a group is involved.
  • Higher cost compared to going independently.

Advantages of traveling on your own:

  • More control over your itinerary and pace.
  • Ability to explore outside the usual itinerary of other tourists.
  • Lower cost as there is no need to pay a tour guide.
  • Avoid crowds and high tourist season.

Disadvantages of traveling on your own:

  • Responsibility for planning and transportation.
  • Lack of guidance and specialized information.
  • Potential to get lost or miss important sights.
  • Difficulty getting from one place to another without a guide.

I hope that with these considerations it will be easier for you to decide, but in summary, if you value the freedom to walk at your own pace and the financial issue, going independently to Plitvice Lakes is a good choice.

On the other hand, if you prefer the security of being accompanied, not worrying about missing transport and having explanations from an experienced guide, then I think you are better served by joining a group.

How much do Plitvice Lakes tickets cost?

Mapa dos Lagos de Plitvice.
Map of Plitvice Lakes.

Ticket prices for Plitvice Lakes vary according to the time of year, and tend to be more expensive in summer.

Despite the fact that the price information on the official website is outdated (it has prices for 2022), I can say that in January 2023 I paid €10 for the regular ticket.

I hope this information is helpful!

When is Plitvice Lakes National Park open?

Paragem de autocarro Entrada 1, em Rastovača.
Bus stop Entrance 1, in Rastovača.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is open all year round if weather conditions are favourable, but opening times depend on the time of year.

By the way, it is advisable to confirm on the official website if the park is open during the winter months, since snow and rain can mean the park is closed.

In any case, apart from these exceptions, the park is open from 8 am to 5 pm in winter (ticket office closes at 2 pm) and from 7 am to 8 pm in summer (ticket office closes at 6 pm).

Visit Plitvice Lakes in Winter

O que visitar em Zagrebe: Parque Nacional dos Lagos de Plitvice.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia.

When visiting the Plitivice Lakes in winter, wonderful things can happen, but it can also go very badly.

In the worst case scenario, you should bear in mind that if the weather is not favourable, the park may simply be closed to visitors.

In addition, in winter the days are shorter and there are fewer hours of sunlight, which makes walking in nature less pleasant.

It is also true that in the winter months the landscape turns into shades of brown, as the trees are in a vegetative state, and the reflection of the turquoise blue water is less intense.

However, if you are lucky enough to visit the snowy Plitvice Lakes, believe me, you’ve hit the jackpot!

I visited Plitvice in January and got neither bad weather nor snow. It was a beautiful sunny day with mild temperatures, so it was a wonderful time to walk.

The reflection of the water, as well as the landscape around it, were beautiful (if it doesn’t look like it, you can blame whoever took the pictures), but, of course, it was a winter scene.

Restaurants and picnic parks in Plitvice Lakes National Park

In total there are 15 restaurants in the national park, but not all of them are always open.

Thus, some are open only in the summer months, and others only on weekends.

In addition, some restaurants only allow payments by card, as is the case in the restaurant at Entrance 1, where it is not possible to pay with euros.

Usually near the restaurants there are areas where you can have picnics, so it’s a good idea to take a picnic with you.

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