Visiting Plitvice Lakes
A Dream in Hues of Turquoise, Blues and Greens
If you’re wondering how to visit Plitvice Lakes, this is the ultimate guide for you. Learn all about why you should visit Plitvice National Park, how to get to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb, Zadar or Split, what to see, which hiking route to choose, the best viewpoints and many more tips to help you plan the perfect visit to Plitvice Lakes.
Before we visited Plitvice Lakes we had done our homework, and then some. From the best viewpoints to the best routes, we were well prepared with notes and diagrams (did someone say over-planners?). However, nothing can prepare you for the sheer breath-taking vistas of Plitvice Lakes National Parks. Strolling along the wooden walkways which meander across the crystal-clear lakes is an experience you are going to remember. Behind every corner, there’s another stunning waterfall or lake in colors of deep green or dreamy turquoise. Even in midday, the roar of the waterfalls drowns the commotion and chit-chat of the day-trippers. If you’re still wondering whether Plitvice Lakes is worth visiting, just look at the pictures!
Table of Content
Is Plitvice Lakes Worth Visiting
In a nutshell, yes! Plitvice National Parks is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places we’ve been to. To be honest, we’re more of city dwellers. We love to go hiking for a few hours, to breathe some fresh air, and feast our eyes in stunning views, but then we’re eager to go back to explore trendy neighborhoods or check off some cool coffee shops from our bucket list. However, we couldn’t have enough of the stunning waterfalls, and gorgeous lakes of Plitvice National Park, so don’t skip one of the most beautiful places in Croatia.
Nevertheless, depending on the season and your itinerary, you might consider skipping this visit if you are traveling in July or August, AND you can’t get here in the early or late hours of the day. Also, in our opinion, if you plan to visit Plitvice Lakes on a day trip from Dubrovnik or Istria, it will take you too long to get to Plitvice, and you will probably see it during the most crowded hours.
Plitvice National Park General Information
Where Is Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice National Park (or or Plitvička Jezera- pronounced as Plit-vit-sa) is located in the mountainous region of Croatia between the Mala Kapela mountain range in the west and northwest, and the Lička Plješivica mountain range to the southeast. Generally speaking, you could say that Plitvice Lakes is located halfway between Zagreb and Zadar. There are many day trips to Plitvice Lakes from various Croatian cities, and you can also hop on one of the public buses or rent a car.
Driving time to Plitvice Lakes from various Croatian cities:
From Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes: About 130 km, 2-2.5 hours.
From Rovinj, Istria: About 240 km, 3 hours.
From Zadar: About 120 km, 2 hours.
From Split: 240 km, 2.5-3 hours.
From Dubrovnik: 440 km, 4.5-5 hours.
About Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia, and it is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The area of Plitvice Lakes National Park is part of the Dinarides karst region, which is considered to be one of the most impressive karst landscapes in the world. Today the park covers an area of almost 300 square km. Surprisingly enough, the famous lakes and waterfalls constitute only 1% of the park’s total area! There are 16 main lakes (and several smaller ones) at different levels which are connected with a series of waterfalls (more than 90 waterfalls to be exact).
There are two main entrances to the park and several routes you can choose from. Entrance 1 is closer to the lower lakes, while Entrance 2 is closer to the upper lakes. You can check the name of all the lakes and waterfalls on this helpful map. In addition to the regular routes, several longer hiking trails are crisscrossing through the park, and on the southern edge parts of the park, there are also cycling trails. Included in your ticket price are the boat ride across the Kozjak Lake and scenic train rides (more of a shuttle bus really). The shuttle bus stations are marked on the park’s map as St1, St2, St3, and the boat’s piers are marked as P1, P2, P3.
Plitvice Lakes Tip: Did you know that rowing is allowed on Kozjak Lake, the largest lake in the park? You can rent a rowing boat by hour at the P1 dock, every day of the week. Check out the updated prices here.
Plitvice Lakes Fauna and Flora
In terms of fauna and flora, Plitvice Lakes has a diverse animal life, and so far, 259 species have been discovered, some of which are rare and endangered species. There are plenty of birds, butterflies, and lizards but also larger animals like the grey wolf, the Eurasian otter, and even the brown bear. There are also two kinds of venomous snake species in the park.
In terms of flora, over 1,400 species and subspecies of plants have been recorded in the area of Plitvice National Parks, which constitutes about 30% of the entire Croatian flora. The geographic location and geomorphological, climatological and ecological conditions are responsible for this variety.
How to Visit Plitvice Lakes
You can visit Plitvice Lakes with a tour or by yourself. You can rent a car or hop on one of the many buses that stop at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes by Car
From wherever you are in Croatia, the easiest way is to rent a car. However, most car agencies won’t open before 8:30 am, which means you’ll get to Plitvice during the most crowded hours. You can also spend the night and enjoy the quiet afternoon hours in either the upper or lower lakes. The next day complete your sightseeing in the early morning hours and go back to which city you came from or turn it into a fun road trip and continue to explore other parts of Croatia (note that for renting a car at one location and returning it at another, there might be a fee). In terms of distance and driving hours, check out our general information section.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes by Bus
Visiting Plitvice Lakes by bus: You will find several buses a day from popular Croatian towns to Plitvice Lakes (different daily departures for the high/low season). Always take the direct bus, preferably the earliest one and don’t forget to check when the last bus leaves.
From Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes it will take you about 2.5 hours | 10-12 Euros (one way)
From Zadar to Plitvice Lakes it will take you about 2-2.5 hours | 12-13 Euros (one way)
From Split to Plitvice Lakes it will take you about 4-4.5 hours | 18-22 Euros (one way)
Check out the buses to Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Recommended Plitvice Lakes Tours
From Split: This highly recommended Plitvice tour is very affordable but note that driving time should take you about 2.5 hours each way. If you don’t want to spend 5 hours on the roads, or you want a chance to jump into the water (you can’t swim at Plitvice Lakes), consider taking a tour to Krka National Park.
From Istria (Poreč and Rovinj): You can take this recommended tour, but the driving time is about 3 hours one way.
From Dubrovnik: In our opinion, you’d be crazy to go on a day tour from Dubrovnik to Plitvice Lakes, but if you have some dough to spend and ‘crazy’ is your middle name, check out this private tour.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes Tip: Even if you drive or take the bus to Plitvice Lakes and you still want to deepen your knowledge about Plitvice Lakes and the surrounding flora and fauna, consider taking this private guided tour. For $ 110 for a group of up to 10 people, it is quite a good deal.
Plitvice National Park Working Hours and Tickets
Plitvice National Park Working Hours
The park is open year-round, but the hours vary depending on the season.
Winter: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm (You must enter the park until 2:00 pm).
Spring: 8:00 am – 7:00 pm (You must enter the park until 5:00 pm).
Summer: 7:00 am – 8:00 pm (You must enter the park until 6:00 pm).
Fall: 7:00 am – 7:00 pm (You must enter the park until 5:00 pm).
Plitvice National Park Tickets
The price per ticket can change according to the season and the time of your visit. There are also discounts for students and children ages 7 to 18. Children under 7 years can get in for free as well as disabled people (over 50% disability). For example, a ticket for an adult in the summer season costs $ 43 but if you arrive at 4:00 pm, you’ll only pay $ 28. Check out the updates ticket prices for Plitvice Lakes.
Pro tips for purchasing tickets:
- Always order your tickets online a few days or even a week in advance during the high season. The capacity of the park is limited.
- If you intend to visit the park for two days, purchase the 2-day ticket.
- You’ll need to choose your preferred entrance when you buy the tickets. Once you purchase it, you are required to enter the park through the specific entrance you chose.
- You will also have to choose your time of visit. The price of an afternoon ticket is lower.
- You will still have to validate the ticket before you enter. During the morning hours, there will be a long line (even at 7:00 am). With our 2-day ticket, we validated it in the afternoon without waiting at all, and the next morning we walked straight in, skipping the long line.
- For a big group (15 pax or more), ask for the group ticket which will give you a discount of at least 10%
Visiting Plitvice Lakes Tip: Though the trails at Plitvice Lakes are not fully adapted for wheelchairs and will be a challenge for parents with children’s trolleys, you can easily access the viewing platform at Entrance 1 and use the shuttle bus/boat system to see some parts of the park. You can contact Plitvice Lakes for more details at email@example.com and also have a look at this guide for persons with disabilities.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Plitvice Lakes
Unlike the Mediterranean climate along Croatia’s coast, Plitvice National Park has a continental climate. Summers are short and relatively wet, while winters are very cold, accompanied by snow. With an average of 11 – 15 rainy days a month, whenever you visit Plitvice Lakes, a raincoat and an umbrella is always a good idea. Even July and August have an average of 9-10 rainy days.
Plitvice Lakes is beautiful at any time of the year and every hour of the day. The lakes seem to change their color from blue to emerald green and turquoise, depending on the season and time of day. Here are some things to consider when choosing when to visit Plitvice National Park:
Summer (July & August): The hot summer months are the least preferred time to visit the park since this is the high season. The wooden walkways are going to be packed with people, especially at midday. Besides, the water level is at its lowest.
Spring & Fall: These are the best seasons to visit Plitvice Lakes. The water level is high, the weather is pleasant, the park is less crowded, and in Spring you’ll get the see the blooming flowers while in the Fall the park is colored in stunning orange and yellowish hues. However, it rains more often in Spring and Fall. Therefore, some paths might be closed.
Winter – The atmosphere is quite magical in the winter months. The frozen lakes are quite a sight, and there are very few visitors. However, it’s going to be very cold, and usually, the upper lakes and Entrance 2 are closed during the winter months.
Check out the temperature and rainy day by month here
Plitvice Lakes Entrances and Routes
There are two main entrances to the park, the northern entrance, Entrance 1, which is closer to the lower lakes, and the southern entrance, Entrance 2, which is located at the upper lakes. Altogether there are seven suggested routes (or programs) to choose from, ranging from 2-3 hours to a whole day. Programs A, B, and C start from Entrance 1. Programs E, F and H start from Entrance 2. Program K can be done from either Entrance 1 or 2.
This circular route starts at Entrance 1, and some of its highlights include the Big Waterfall (Veliki slap) and visiting the lower lakes till you reach your final destination, the Kozjak Bridge. From there, you can either walk back to Entrance 1 or take the shuttle bus.
Estimated time: 2 to 3 hours | Trail length: 3.5 km | Highlights: Lower lakes
This is another very popular route. It starts the same as Program A (Entrance 1), but when you arrive at Kozjak Lake (on the right side), you need to turn right and walk to the boat pier. From there, you cross Kozjak lake with a boat, passing near the small Štefanijin Islet in the middle of the lake. Once you get off the boat, you can either walk back to Entrance 1 or take the shuttle bus.
Estimated time: 3 to 4 hours | Trail length: 4 km | Highlights: Lower lakes & a panoramic boat ride
This route is similar to Program B (Entrance 1), but you will get off from the boat on the other side of Kozjak Lake at P2, and from there, you will have a chance to explore the upper lakes. In the end, you will embark on the shuttle bus from the St3 station via St2 to St1 station to return to Entrance 1 (you can also walk if you choose to). Note that at the upper lakes, the trail is uphill.
Estimated time: 4 to 6 hours | Trail length: 8 km | Highlights: Lower lakes & upper lakes with a panoramic boat ride
This route begins at the southern entrance, Entrance 2. After a few minutes of walking, you hop on the boat to cross Lake Kozjak from pier P1 to pier P2, and start exploring the upper lakes till you reach the edge of Prošćansko Lake. From there, hop on the shuttle bus back to Entrance 2.
Estimated time: 2 to 3 hours | Trail length: 5.1 km | Highlights: Upper lakes
With this route, you will start at Entrance 2 and walk to Pier 1. Cross Kozjak Lake with the boat to Pier 3, and start exploring the lower lakes till you reach Entrance 1. From there, you can walk or take the shuttle bus back to Entrance 2.
Estimated time: 3 to 4 hours | Trail length: 4.6 km | Highlights: Lower lakes & a panoramic boat ride
Just like Program C, by choosing this route, you will able to explore both the upper and lower lakes, but this route starts at the upper lakes. From Entrance 2, take the shuttle bus to the top of the lakes (St. 3) and start walking downhill through the upper lakes. When you reach P2, take the boat across the lake to P3 and explore the Lower lakes till you reach Entrance 1. From there, hop on the shuttle bus back to Entrance 2.
Estimated time: 4 to 6 hours | Trail length: 8.9 km | Highlights: Lower lakes & upper lakes & a panoramic boat ride
This route will take you all over Plitvice National Park, and apart from taking a very short boat ride between Pier 1 and Pier 2, you are going to do it all on foot. You can begin this route from either Entrance 1 or Entrance 2.
Estimated time: 6 to 8 hours | Trail length: 18.3 km | Highlights: Lower & upper lakes
In accordance with the social distancing measures, temporary lake tour programs have been designed. You should also buy your tickets a long time in advance. You can check the current open routes here.
Where to Park and Which Route to Choose?
In terms of parking, the parking lots near Entrance 1 fill up quite quickly. So if you are going to arrive at midday (which is not recommended), try parking at Entrance 2. However, you first need to know which route to choose. Choosing the best Plitvice Lakes hiking trail for you depends on how much time you have and the season of the year. If you’re visiting Plitvice during the winter months, Entrance 2 and the upper lakes’ programs will probably be closed.
If you only have one day, then we suggest choosing either Program C (which starts at Entrance 1) or Program H, which starts at Entrance 2. Both of these routes cover the lower and upper lakes and include scenic boat rides. Note that by choosing Program C you will have to walk uphill in the upper lakes but you walk towards some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park. With program H, you’ll be walking downhill in the upper lakes but end your day with a steep 10-15 minutes’ walk uphill. Some people say if you start from the upper lakes, it will be less crowded but in the late morning hours, it’s going to be crowded no matter what.
In addition, we also recommend taking short detours to the different recommended panoramic viewpoints. From the trail at the lower lakes, check out the Veliki Slap Viewpoint. There are great bird’s eye viewpoints of the wooden boardwalks of the lower lakes on the trail between ST1 and Entrance 1 so make sure to take the closest trail to the lakes when you return from the shuttle bus’ station back to Entrance 1 or walking from Entrance 1 to take the shuttle bus from St1 back to Entrance 2. Also, don’t miss the view from the viewing platform at Entrance 1. Check out our Viewpoints Section for more details.
Generally speaking, the routes are in good condition and pretty easy. It shouldn’t be a problem for a moderately fit person.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes Tip: When buying your ticket, you would have to choose your preferred entrance to the park (look at the suggested routes before choosing your entrance). You won’t be able to get in through any other entrance!
Should You Spend 1 Day or 2 Days at Plitvice Lakes
If you have the time, we suggest staying at least one night at the lakes because this will give you plenty of time to enjoy the beauty and serenity of Plitvice Lakes in the relatively quiet morning and afternoon hours. From about 11 am till 2-3 pm, the wooden walkways of Plitvice Lakes are going to be extremely crowded. Especially during the high season. However, in terms of hiking, it is totally doable to see the park in one day, and if you arrive from Zagreb/Zadar, the driving time is not too bad.
Where to Find the Best Plitvice Lakes Viewpoints
There are plenty of amazing viewpoints all over the park. We haven’t been to all of them, and to be honest, we usually prefer the lower angles and getting closer to the lakes/waterfalls. If you’d like to see the lakes from above, here are the top Plitvice Lakes viewpoints to add to your itinerary.
Entrance 1 Viewpoint – One of the best viewpoints is actually the viewing platform at Entrance 1. You’ll see the lower lakes and Veliki Slap (aka the Big Waterfall) and the smaller Sastavci Slap in their full glory, surrounded by lush vegetation.
A Bird’s Eye View of the Wooden Boardwalks – Another favorite viewpoint of ours was also pretty close to Entrance 1. Since our first day started late in the afternoon and we couldn’t start a proper route, as we’d planned, we went for a walk on the upper trails along the lower lakes. From Entrance 1, follow the path to the left that goes along the western side of the lower lakes. After a few minutes, you’ll get to a few viewpoints from which you’ll be able to see a bird’s eye view of the wooden walkways crossing the lower lake.
Veliki Slap Viewpoint – This is one of the most famous viewpoints in Plitvice National Park (known as the postcard view). However, we left it to the end of our visit and due to several reasons, we didn’t manage to get to it after all. You can check it out here. You can get to the Veliki Slap Viewpoint by taking a detour from the main trail of the lower lakes. Climb the staircase next to Veliki Slap, go right at the top , and follow the path till you reach a road. Turn right and continue walking till you reach a wooden bridge, continue on the trail to your right and follow the signs to the Vidikovac Sightseeing Point. You can also reach this viewpoint by driving.
Tips for Taking the Best Photos of Plitvice Lakes
You will have plenty of opportunities to take beautiful pictures at Plitvice Lakes. There are several bird’s eye viewpoints, and walking along the lakes, there will be plenty of times you’d want to stop as well. Here are some tips to help you photograph Plitvice Lakes and the photogenic waterfalls:
- Bring a good camera and a tripod. Even a GorillaPod is better than nothing for those lower angle shots. You can also find a place to attach it to.
- Come early and\or late to be able to use the tripod. Trying to balance a tripod on the wooden walkways is not easy. When it’s not too crowded, you’ll be able to score a few minutes without someone walking on the wooden trail, causing your camera to shake.
- Bring some filters with you. I was using a circular polarizing filter that reduced or removed reflections from the water and deepened the colors of the lakes. My sister was using an ND Filter to take long exposure shots and get the silky-smooth effect of the water. For daylight, you’ll need a 6-10 stops filter. If you only have one camera, go with the ND filter when it’s less crowded and switch to the circular polarizing filter when it gets too crowded to use your tripod.
- Take pictures with your phone – Sometimes the phone does it better. Due to the light conditions (half-shadow/half sun) when we were photographing the lakes from Entrance 1 Viewpoint, we weren’t able to get a decent shot with a hand-held camera. We could have taken out the tripod and do two shots of the scene and then composed it in Lightroom/Photoshop, but a simple click with my mobile solved the problem. Some phones have HDR filters or different adjustments that can help you take a better shot without a tripod.
- Think about your composition – Most times, changing the angle, going low, or high makes for a better composed and more interesting shot. In addition, try to include something in the foreground, leaves, the planks of the wooden walkways, etc.
- Be patient and Courteous – Many times you’ll need to wait for people to pass you to compose the perfect shot, then when everything is ready, your camera will start to shake in the middle of a perfectly composed long exposure shot when someone else gets too close. There’s nothing you can do about it. If you only have a few seconds for the shot to be finished, you can ask them politely to wait 10 seconds. But you can also be creative. Try to lean against a rock or a rail; if you can’t do long exposure, go for interesting angles etc. We’ve seen a few photographers getting too annoyed for their own good. You are here to enjoy yourself, and so is everyone else.
- Enjoy the moment – Sometimes, as photographers, we forget to enjoy the experience. Feel the tiny water droplets from the waterfalls, listen to the birds, sit at a corner and soak in the atmosphere (preferably after 11:00 am when the park is already packed with people, and you’ve already taken your perfect shot of the most famous waterfalls). Even at noon, you’ll get to have some peace and quiet if you stray from the main trails.
Tips for Visiting Plitvice Lakes
- Buy your tickets online – Buy your tickets ahead of time since it’s one of Croatia’s most famous attractions and you don’t want to be left without tickets. See our tips in the Plitvice National Park Tickets section.
- Plan ahead – You don’t want to waste your time trying to decide where to go, which trails to choose etc. Choosing a trail can be difficult, and you’ll need to know which entrance to park at. Do your homework prior to your arrival.
- Take a map or download an app – Take a picture with your phone of your preferred route or download one of the free apps. You can also buy a map if you wish.
- Choose your own pace – The recommended time for each of the marked trails is VERY flexible. You can finish it in a shorter time if you want, but during the crowded hours, it can get challenging crossing the narrow paths without falling into the lakes 😉 If you’re a photographer, you might want to take a few detours and wait for the perfect shot.
- Save your ticket – You’ll need it to use the inner bus and boat system.
- Start Early – Since this is a very popular attraction, guided tours arrive in the middle of the morning from the Dalmatian Coast and Zagreb. Therefore, we suggest getting an early start or choose to visit in the afternoon. We bought a 2-day ticket and arrived later in the day, and the paths weren’t too busy. The next day, we started at 7 am (there was a line to validate tickets that we got to skip since ours had already been validated). We had a fabulous time until about 11 am, and then it got very crowded. The opening hours vary throughout the year, so make sure to check them on the website.
- Bring good footwear – Don’t come with flip-flops since you are going to walk a lot. Plus, it can get slippery when it rains or near the waterfalls.
- Bring sunscreen/hat/umbrella/raincoat – The weather keeps changing so it might be sunny and in an hour you’ll find yourself walking in the pouring rain. You can buy umbrellas and raincoats at the gift shops at the entrance to the park, but if you are caught in the rain in the middle of the trail without an umbrella or raincoat, tough luck!
- Bring Mosquito repellent – If mosquitoes like you just as much as they like me, don’t leave your mosquito repellent at home.
- Bring water and snacks – You can buy some snacks at the entrance or even have a proper meal at the cafeteria, but inside the park, it’s going to be harder to find something to eat.
- Follow the rules – You are allowed to bring water and snacks into the park, but you are not allowed to feed the animals. You are not allowed to swim in Plitvice Lakes and don’t even think about bringing your drone. Check out all the rules of conduct relating to visiting Plitvice Lakes.
- Pay your parking ticket – If you’re using the parking lot, you’ll need to pay about 10 kn ($ 1.5) per hour. Don’t forget to pay it before you leave the park at the special booth.
- Know what to expect – Yes, Plitvice Lakes National Park is absolutely amazing, but if you think you will be able to go where you want and have the place to yourself, think again. Come early or late if you want to avoid the crowds, but there will still be people around, and from about 10:30 am – 3:00 pm, it’s going to be much less enjoyable
Pro Tip for your visit to Plitvice Lakes – There are many grocery stores on the way to the Lakes. We bought some fruits and snacks the day before and had a proper picnic with the most beautiful view in the park.
Other Things to Do around Plitvice Lakes
Most tourists arrive to the area mainly to visit Plitvice Lakes, (and maybe stop at the charming village of Rastoke) but there are so many other attractions for nature and sports lovers in the area. Plitvice Lakes National Park is part of the Lika Destination where you can experience a variety of watersports activities and go hiking, cycling or horse riding in the area. Check out all of the attractions on the Lika website or use this convenient interactive map.
Where to Stay in Plitvice Lakes
When choosing your accommodation at Plitvice Lakes you need to consider whether you have a car or not. If you don’t have a car you’d want to stay as close to the National Park as possible. There are three hotels that are situated right at the park: Hotel Jezero, Hotel Bellevue and Hotel Plitvice.
However if you have your own car, there are many accommodation options within 5-15 minutes drive from Plitvice Lakes. Just make sure they all have free parking. We stayed at 16 Lakes Hotel that is located about 10 minutes from Plitvice Lakes’ entrances. We loved its convenient location, big rooms, modern design and nice pool area. Other good hotels in the vicinity of Plitvice Lakes include Lyra Hotel Plitvice and Hotel Degenija. Although there are only few hotels in the area, there many apartments, villas and B&B to choose from:
More Resources For Your Croatia Itinerary
We stopped in Plitvice Lakes on our way from Istria to Zagreb and we fell in love with the charming area of Plitvice. Although Plitvice Lakes is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Croatia, Croatia also has many hidden gems so don’t forget to check out some of our posts to help you plan the perfect Croatia itinerary.
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