Tips on visiting Plitvice Lakes
I read a lot of blogs and they always help me in planning what to see and how much time to spend somewhere. I wish I hadn’t read anything on Croatia’s famous Plitvice Lakes, because the National Park in our opinion really requires more than the one night stay/ half day excursion that most bloggers suggest. But maybe that’s because we’re old and no longer enjoy rushing through things.
For those not familiar with Plitvice lakes National Park: it is a Unesco World Heritage Site, the oldest National Park in Croatia, and is considered one of the most beautiful National Parks in Europe. It is known for its sixteen lakes which range from clear to turquoise and for the waterfalls, canyons, and streams that shape the landscape around these lakes. It really is a ‘waterworld’ which the visitor can access by following the wooden paths that have been laid out around the waterfalls and over the streams.
We took the Zadar – Zagreb bus from Zadar. Plitvice Lakes National Park is midway between the two cities, about 3 hours from each. We were staying at the Plitvice Hotel (which is the place to stay. Book early) and getting there couldn’t have been easier; the bus made a stop at Entrance 2 to the park and we just had to walk the 300 or so meters to the hotel.
Time: The consensus is that walking the park should take you 5 to 6 hours. There are a few factors you should consider however. They’ll make the difference between a relaxing day of hiking and a stressful day fighting the hordes for walking space on the narrow paths.
Itinerary: The itinerary you choose to visit the park will depend at which entrance to the park you arrive from. The park is logistically divided into the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes. Entrance 1 to the park is closest to the Lower Lakes, Entrance 2 is slightly closer to the Upper Lakes (although both parts can be easily accessed from this point). Most people coming through Entrance 1 will do the Lower Lakes first, then either walk or take the boat to the other section to do the Upper Lakes. Contrarily, those entering the park at Entrance 2 usually take the bus (10 min) to the top of the Upper Lakes then follow the lakes down, crossing by boat or walking to the Lower Lakes section. Either way, most people do the whole route in one day. In fact, some people don’t even overnight in Plitvice; they’ll arrive early in the morning on a day trip and leave late in the afternoon. You’ll notice the ranks of people swelling mid-morning and then diminishing mid-afternoon.
Below: some of the views you’ll see in the Upper Lakes.
Which is the most impressive section? Most people we talked to thought it was the Upper Lakes. We were most impressed with the Lower Lakes. Since so much depends on the lighting conditions, it probably depends on what time of day you saw either. Talk to the Park employees and they’ll say that ideally you should see the Lower Lakes in the morning and the Upper Lakes in the afternoon.
Below: Views in the Lower Lakes.
What we recommend? Stay 2 nights. Arrive early the first day and see the Upper Lakes in the late afternoon. The next morning do the Lower Lakes. Take a break at mid-day, then, if you want, re-visit any part of the lakes that you really liked in the late afternoon. The point however is that it is a beautiful, relaxing location that shouldn’t be rushed – and doing the walk in the early morning and late afternoon you’ll be avoiding the mid-day crowds. We really regret not having stayed two nights, we found our visit to Plitvice too rushed and didn’t feel that we enjoyed it as much as we could have. If you stay at the Hotel Plitvice, make sure to pre-book, it’s very popular and often sold out.
Talking about crowds: Plitvice Lakes National Park is the 2nd most popular tourist spot (after Dubrovnik) in all of Croatia. We were there early June so the crowds weren’t too bad. But we’ve heard about the hordes of people in July and August and have seen photos of airport-like lines on the paths. By all accounts it is a nightmare (ie. waiting hours to enter the park, following the crowds like a herd of sheep). While Plitvice is impressive nothing is worth that. We would never visit that time of year.
– Getting here by car is the best option. Have a look at Rentalcars.com for the best rates (it’s what we use). In this case we took the bus and it worked out very well coming (from Zadar) and leaving (to Zagreb). You can use this site to help you with the bus schedule.
– Accommodation. There are 2 government run hotels which are situated within about a hundred meters of entrance 2 to the park. Hotel Plitvice is the better of the two (the other is Hotel Bellevue). Hotel Plitvice was built in the 1950s and has a ‘Mad Men’ air. Quite elegant, we enjoyed the hotel bar and restaurant. Beautiful setting and as mentioned above easy to walk to from the bus stop (make sure you get out at the National Park’s Entrance 2). I really, really recommend a night there.
– Tours. I don’t recommend a day tour, as I say above Plitvice deserves more than that. However, if you have no choice, then I recommend one of these Full-Day tours.
– Prices for the park. Note that if you stay at the Park hotels (including the one above), you can buy and visit the park on your day of arrival AS WELL as the next day. Ask the staff at reception to validate your ticket for the next day and you can essentially get 2 days of usage out of your ticket.
Have you been to Plitvice Lakes? What was your experience?
Related: Bbqboy’s Guide to Croatia
Ps. If you find our blog helpful, please consider using our links to book your flights, hotels, tours, and car rentals. Have a look at our Travel Resources page.