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
Related: Our 11 Favorite Places in Croatia (that you should visit)
Related: Wild, Wacky Skopje (Macedonia). One of the Strangest Places we’ve been
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Bookmarked this for April!
Thanks for the great advice on a multi night stay.
We stayed in Iguazu Falls park for three nights and didn’t think that was too long at all. Maybe even could have used one more day. We loved revisiting the different trails at different times of day and wind conditions. It was like being in a whole new place.
The water colour reminds me of (pictures) of Lake Louise in Canada.
Thanks Colleen. Hope you enjoy.
Haven’t been to Lake Louise since I was a teenager and hoping to go back next year. What part of Canada are you from Colleen?
Really appreciate the tip about park employee recommendations. We’re visiting next May and planning on doing upper one afternoon and lower the next morning, but I wasn’t really sure if that was the best way to do it. Thanks for the info!
Thank you Blaine. May is a good time. Hope you enjoy!
Hi Frank and thank you for such great info and photos. Another big thank you for confirming two days is OK. Every blog and all advice on tripadvisor says you only need 1 day. I wont ever stay in a place only 1 night. I want 2 full days, I dont want to rush &if I get stuck behind a crowd I’ll be like..Ive got two days. I want to take in the beauty! I might even ride the boat twice 🙂 im heading there in early August. Not the best time I know, but thats when my vacation time is so with two days I think i will be able to enjoy it, even with the crowds
Stumbled across this blog from Google. Thanks for the advice, tips and opinions. I’m visiting early July this year and from your advice we will be spending two days here. Renting a car from split and a pit stop at Krka Lakes before arriving is on the cards too.
Great James! You’ll enjoy it. Try to start early in the mornings if you can (before the daytrippers show up).
Great post, thank you. some brilliant tips and your photos.. Wow! We are going soon (unfortunately August) but planning on 2 nights and going early morning / late afternoon. So will definitely take your tips into account.
Hi Cheryl – that sounds excellent. Most of the other tourists will be there on daytrips. Going early morning/late afternoon is a good plan.
Are there places along the walkways to stop and have a picnic lunch?
No, there’s really no room. I’m also quite sure it’s forbidden being a National Park.
Morocco camel trekking
Thanks guys for this tips, realy your blog post is helpful, clear and well written. Keep writing and posting, you are doing great job.
Thank you 🙂
I recently saw a post on Instagram of Plitivice in October. Wow was it sensational with the beautiful fall foliage. Great tips here to get the best out of the experience. I agree, it is best not to rush especially a place as beautiful as this.
Thanks Ted, hope you get to go 🙂
Oh, it makes me happy to meet people who love slow travel 🙂 Thanks for this blog post that encourages people to stay a bit longer and really appreciate the beauty of Plitvice Lakes. If you ever get a chance to come in wintertime – that’s really amazing. And very very few crowds 🙂
It MUST be very beautiful in wintertime, I can only imagine. The thing is that everyone does it the same way (ie.rushed) and we fell in that trap. You’re in nature, relax and enjoy it, right? I’m sure we’ll make it back one day because we love Croatia 🙂
Totally agree, we spent a night in a guest house in a small hamlet about 100 yards from the entrance and one day wasn’t enough to do the lakes justice. We visited about the same time of year and it wasn’t too busy, but we did get drenched by heavy rain.
Rats – I can image rain would ruin a visit because you need the reflections of the sky in the water to appreciate the different colours of the lakes.
Thanks for the tips – I really try to avoid 1 night stays and it’s nice to get positive reinforcement about staying 2 to visit the lakes. Filing away for a Croatia plan that’s coming together…slowly.
You’ll love Croatia Rebecca! We’ll come back one day and explore the islands.
My feeling is that generally people rush through things too much and that’s especially the case at Plitvice where you’re surrounded by beautiful nature and the object should be to relax and enjoy. So good for you for having the good sense of staying 2 nights! 🙂
Frank, We visited Plitvice in April, and even though it wasn’t as crowded as the middle of summer, there were plenty of people. I think the most important tip is to be ready to hike at 8:00 am when the park opens. We hiked around for almost two hours before the hordes descended!
Hi Corrine, I’ve even heard of people starting off at 6:30. I don’t know if anyone is manning the gates at that time and if it is officially a ‘no-no'(I assume it is) but if it can be done it would be a beautiful time. The earlier the better. Also later; the first day we were walking from 5ish (pm) to 7ish (pm) and we didn’t see the crowds we would see the next day.
Wow! This is really an impressive place. I have never heard of it, and l certainly would never have pictured something like this in Croatia. It sort of reminds me of Hawaii somehow. Really impressive. Your pictures do it justice :-). They are fantastic!!!
Hey Kemkem – yes, totally different than Coastal Croatia that most people associate with the country. Once you get into northern Croatia the coastal mountains give way to hills and there’s a lot of greenery. Very different geography.
Love these pictures! Since we were there in early March, we didn’t get to see the lush green of the park OR the Upper Lakes. BUT, we practically had the place to ourselves and spent two days there. We think our entire experience would have been different if we had to deal with crowds.
Hey guys – that sounds nice. We didn’t quite have that but the first day when we arrived we took a 2 hours walk 5ish and almost had the place to ourselves. The next day we went out at about the same time as everyone else 8:30ish and the crowds grew steadily…until it was a bit too much around noon time.
We’ve discovered that visiting Europe in March is actually kind of pleasant, just for the reasons you just cited.
I’ve heard that area is beautiful but wow! What a beautiful National Park and great information. Enjoyed your amazing photograpy!
Thanks for taking time to comment Elizabeth. I just remember that it was a really hot day and that we sweated a lot 🙂