Plitvice Lakes: the Ultimate Guide to Visiting (2019)
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Plitvice Lakes, with its crystal clear waters and beautiful waterfalls, is one of the highlights of a trip to Croatia. Over 1 million visitors explore the lakes every year, making Plitvice Lakes the most popular tourist attraction in Croatia. Given the popularity of Plitvice Lakes, it helps to plan your visit in advance and make the most of your time in the park. Having experienced a fairytale visit to the lakes, we’ve put together our ultimate guide to visiting Plitvice Lakes with everything you need to know.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s oldest and largest National Park. Plitvice Lakes is made up of a system of 16 named lakes which are split between the Upper and Lower Lakes together with over 90 waterfalls. The stunning turquoise lakes are surrounded by lush green forest and waterfalls rush into the clear waters. Visitors navigate the park via a network of wooden boardwalks which meander through the stunning ecosystem – click here to buy tickets!
1 | How to get to Plitvice Lakes?
Renting a car: a rental car is the easiest way to travel to Plitvice Lakes. We rented our car when we arrived in Dubrovnik and travelled all through Croatia as well as Slovenia, Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina.
Make sure to shop around and book your rental car in advance for the best price. We recommend using RentalCars.com to reserve your car. They have the best selection and prices that we’ve found – click here to book now!
Visiting Plitvice Lakes tip: The biggest benefit of having a rental car in Plitvice Lakes is that you can stay overnight and experience the true magic of the lakes during the less busy hours.
Bus or tour: it is possible to make a day trip to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb, Split or Zadar either by bus or joining a tour:
Plitvice Lakes is located halfway between Zadar and Zagreb and day trips are available from:
- Zagreb: the journey from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes takes around 2 hours – check tour prices now
- Split: the journey from Split to Plitvice Lakes takes around 3 hours – check tour prices now
- Zadar: the journey from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes takes around 2 to 3 hours – check tour prices now
Visting Plitvice Lakes tip: Visiting Plitvice Lakes from Dubrovnik is not possible in a day as it takes at least 10 hours return by road.
2 | How many days do I need to visit Plitvice Lakes?
Plitvice Lakes are reachable on a day trip from Zagreb, Zadar and Split. However, we recommend spending at least one night in the area to allow you to experience everything the park has to offer. With this in mind, plan at least 2 days for visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Comprised of 16 lakes and over 90 waterfalls, the Plitvice Lakes site is huge and there are loads of trails to explore! There are 22km of hikes around the lake system alone, with another 36km of hikes throughout the national park leading off the lakes.
Even a brisk hike around the lakes will take a single day so we recommend staying 2 to 3 nights. This will give you two full days to enjoy and experience the park.
At peak times it is likely you will want to avoid the park in the middle of the day, so allowing a second day to enjoy other parts of the park is really worth it.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes tip: We were so happy we allowed 2 days to visit the park. We didn’t feel rushed and were really able to enjoy the lakes and the surrounding hikes.
3 | Where to stay at Plitvice Lake
We highly recommend staying as close to the entrances of the Plitvice Lakes National Park as possible. This will allow you to walk to the park entrance and you can visit the lakes multiple times per day, returning to the hotel/B&B in between visits. It is also a great way to avoid day trip crowds. There are a number of hotel/B&B options, however, most of the accommodation close to the lakes books up months in advance so get your reservation in early:
- Hotel Jezero: Located at the No2 entrance, Hotel Jezero is a great option for exploring the lakes. Due to its perfect location, however, it’s usually sold out so reserve early – click here for prices!
- Pansion Breza: Lovely guest house located close to entrance No1 with excellent homemade meals – click here for prices!
- House Tina: a 10-minute drive from the lakes, House Tina has nice rooms and a swimming pool – click here for prices!
4 | Plitvice Lake Tickets and Opening Hours
One and two-day tickets are available and it’s highly recommended to book tickets in advance, especially during peak season, as tickets are limited. You must purchase tickets 2 days prior to visiting and you can only collect tickets at entrance No 2. Entry is permitted during the hour stipulated on the ticket – click here to buy tickets!
Tickets include entry to the park as well as shuttle buses between the Upper and Lower Lakes, a boat ride around Kozjak Lake and a panoramic train journey.
Plitvice Lake Opening Hours: The Park is open 365 days a year, however, the hours of operation vary throughout the year. The park opens at 7am between June and September and 8am during the rest of the year. Closing time varies between 4pm and 8pm and visitors must enter the park/exchange tickets at least 2 hours prior to closing.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes tip: We chose to get the two day ticket as we wanted to visit the park over two mornings and afternoons for photos.
5 | When is the best time to visit Plitvice Lakes?
The lakes are stunning in all seasons. In summer the park boasts lush green foliage and in Winter, there’s likely the park is likely to be snow covered and the waterfalls frozen. The orange and browns of Autumn are also a hit as are the fresh spring days with rushing waterfalls from the melting snow. May, June, September and October are considered the best months. July and August are the busiest months and some visitors like to avoid if possible.
Visting Plitvice Lakes tip: if you are considering visiting Plitvice Lakes in winter, be aware that the Upper Lakes might be closed and transport through the park limited.
On any given day, the quietest times are the hours after opening and in the few hours leading to closing time. This is predominantly due to the arrival and departure of buses ferrying day-trippers. The park can be unbearably busy in the middle of the day so an early or late visit is, for us, anyway, more magical.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes tip: We took a break from the park in the afternoon and returned to our hotel, Plitvice Lakes recently implemented an advance ticketing system with allocated entry hours. Visitors have reported that they have been allowed to re-enter the park outside of their allocated entry hour. With the recently implemented an advance ticketing system do make sure to confirm this is possible at the ticket desk if you plan to leave and re-enter as we did.
6 | Which entrance is best for Plitvice Lakes?
There are 3 entrances to Plitvice Lakes: Entrance 1, Entrance 2 and the Flora auxiliary entrance. Visitors with advance purchase tickets must pick up tickets at Entrance 2 but can enter through any entrance once they have their tickets.
Entrance 1 and 2 are the most popular: Entrance 1 is above the Lower Lakes and Entrance 2 is adjacent to the Upper Lakes and both have large car parks. The Flora Auxiliary Entrance is within walking distance from the Plitvica Selo Village and tickets cannot be purchased at this entrance.
If you are planning on visiting the Upper and Lower Lakes either entrance works. Some visitors prefer starting at Entrance 1 as you then walk uphill through the park. At the end of the day, upon returning to Entrance 1, the walk will be downhill with tired legs!
Visting Plitvice Lakes tip: in winter, entance 2 and the Flora Auxillary Entrance are closed.
7 | What is the best route around Plitvice Lakes?
Due to its size and relatively complicated layout, it’s worth planning a route through the park and deciding in advance what you would like to see. The lakes are broadly divided into two sets: the upper and lower lakes, with two entrances, one corresponding to each set. Most of the route is completed by walking and there are some short transfers by bus and boat.
There are four suggested hiking routes from each entrance. Each route varies in duration and length and passes a variety of sights throughout the Lakes. The 8 hikes are detailed on the Plitvice Lakes official website.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes Tip: Both the upper and lower lakes are beautiful, however, the Upper Lakes are our favourite. This is due to the variety of smaller lakes and waterfalls scattered around this section of the park. It’s also much quieter early in the morning and later in the afternoon which really makes for a nicer experience.
You can explore the lakes any way you choose, however, we found the below route the best. It should help to avoid the crowds as much as possible and gives you plenty of time to explore the various areas of the park. It doesn’t include the longer hikes off the lake as they are more time-consuming.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes Tip: Plitvice Lakes recently implemented an advance ticketing system with allocated entry hours. Visitors have reported that they have been allowed to re-enter the park outside of their allocated entry hour. Make sure to confirm this is possible at the ticket desk if you plan to leave and re-enter as we did.
Morning: Lower Lakes
1 | Enter via Entrance No1 (Rastovača) and walk down to the Lower Lakes. Spend some time exploring the lower lakes. This route is quite physically demanding with inclines and steps throughout. One of the highlights of the Lower Lakes is the Great Waterfall, the largest waterfall in both Plitvice Lakes and Croatia.
2 | Walk along the lakes to the Ferry Port P3 and take the Ferry to P2. Allow around 2-3 hours to reach the ferry terminal drop off at P2. At peak times there can be a significant wait at ferry port P3 so try to avoid arriving between 11am and 2pm when the entrance 1 crowds start to accumulate!
Afternoon / Evening: Upper Lakes
3 | From P2 walk up through the Upper Lakes to the bus stop at ST4. There are many beautiful spots on this route so we recommend allowing 2 to 4 hours to see this part of the park.
4 | Take the bus from ST4 back to ST2. Explore the area around ST2 and then walk the path above the lakes back to Entrance No1 and back to your car.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes tip: We spent the morning at the Lower Lakes (steps 1 and 2 above) on our first morning before taking a well deserved rest at our hotel. We returned in the afternoon to explore the Upper Lakes (steps 3 and 4 above) when the crowds were much quieter. The Lower Lakes get extremely busy in the morning due to their proximity to entrance No1. The crowds reduce slightly during the day although there was a steady flow throughout the day. The Upper Lakes were extremely quiet in the late afternoon and we had some of the waterfalls to ourselves.
8 | Navigating Plitvice Lakes
Visitors navigate the lake system of Plitvice via a series of paths and wooden walkways, with stairs and steps in between. The boardwalks allow you to get super close to the water and really enhance the experience of the lakes. However, care is needed when the boardwalks get busy, especially at the narrow parts where traffic jams can form.
There are also shuttle buses between the Upper and Lower Lakes, a boat ride around Kozjak Lake and a panoramic train journey.
9 | Car Parking at Plitvice Lake
There are two main entrances to Plitvice Lakes National Park (No1 and No2) and both have paid car parks available. The car parks fill up relatively early in the day and you might have to park a little further from the entrance. We had parking included at our hotel so we were able to walk to both entrances quite easily.
10 | How busy are Plitvice Lakes?
As the most popular tourist site in Croatia, the Plitvice Lakes are extremely busy! The narrow boardwalks and only two entrances mean that at peak times the flow of visitors can get a little hectic. We highly recommend visiting outside of peak times. Check out our tips and recommended walking route which should help to escape the worst of the crowds!
Visiting Plitvice Lakes tip: Before our visit we were very aware that the crowds can get crazy at the Plitvice Lakes so we planned around the crowds as much as we could. As many of the visitors are on day trips, it’s still possible to visit at a quiet time and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the lakes.
11 | Can I swim in Plitvice Lakes?
For preservation purposes, swimming is not allowed in any of the lakes which make up the Plitvice Lakes. This is completely understandable due to the fragility of the ecosystem in the lakes.
If you want to swim in a similar setting, we recommend visiting Krka National Park where swimming is permitted. It is also possible to swim in the Korana River just outside the park.
Visiting Plitvice Lake tip: It’s possible to rent rowboats at Plitvice Lakes and we highly recommend it! The boat rental is located on the lake at entrance 2 to the park.
12 | Be respectful of the park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and a protected area. It’s crucial that visitors respect the park and help protect the fragile ecosystem. This includes staying on the marked paths, not swimming in the lakes and disposing of litter in trash cans or taking it home. Feeding the wildlife in the park is prohibited, as is taking any souvenirs such as plant material.
13 | What to bring to Plitvice Lakes?
Depending on the time of year:
- Sunscreen, sunglasses and a sunhat: the trails are exposed to the sun and temperatures are high in the summer months in Croatia. Make sure to sunscreen to top up during the peak of the day.
- Rain/cold gear: Bring a raincoat rather than an umbrella. In Winter, temperatures are freezing so dress accordingly.
- Appropriate shoes: sneakers are much more comfortable than flipflops on the park terrain. Wear hiking books if you are planning to tackle any of the trails.
- Mosquito repellent: if you are susceptible to mosquito bites then pack repellent. We noticed a lot of bugs in the upper lakes in the evening.
14 | Food and Drinks
Plitvice Lakes National Park is huge and it is likely you are going to be walking/hiking for hours. Take plenty of food and water with you. There are a few options for buying food in the park but it is limited and expensive.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes tip: We took a picnic and lots of water which allowed us to spend longer enjoying the magic of the lakes.
15 | Taking photos at Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice Lakes is one of the best photo locations in Croatia so definitely bring your best camera gear. We highly recommend bringing a tripod and a polarising filter as they will really enhance your photos of the lakes.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes: in the quieter evening hours, it was even possible to capture some long exposures using the boardwalk to rest the tripod. It can take some patience to capture a shot without passing feet causing vibrations. It’s impossible to use a tripod in the busier parts of the park when it is busy: due to both vibrations and the danger of having it knocked into the lakes.
16 | Where is the best view of Plitvice Lakes?
There are some awesome views from the Upper Lakes but our favourite view was from Vidikovac sightseeing point. It offers a postcard-perfect view of the lakes. Also known as the Veliki Slap viewpoint, it’s accessible from the waterfall or by car.
- Walking: From the Veliki Slap waterfall climb the stairs on the left and follow the path to the road. Turn right at the road and, just after the wooden bridge, turn right onto the dirt trail and follow the signs to the Vidikovac Sightseeing Point.
- Driving: If you are driving use the coordinates 44°54’09.1″N 15°36’26.4″E. Grab a parking spot along the road and make the short walk to the viewpoint. It is signposted as Vidikovac sightseeing point.
17 | Are drones permitted at Plitvice Lakes?
Don’t even try it! There are signs everywhere. Drone use is illegal without prior permission from the government in Croatia, something which is really difficult to get. Security are on the lookout for drones and their ban is rigorously enforced at Plitvice Lakes.
18 | Are there bears at Plitvice Lakes?
It’s unlikely you will come across a bear on the main park trails. However, bears have been spotted on the hiking trails!
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