We made a critical error when we were planning our visit to Croatia – thinking we could visit Plitvice Lakes National Park and Krka National Park in the same day. Sure, they are technically in the same direction from Split and the driving time made sense, but we should have allowed SO much more time to visit these beautiful parks and really take in the serenity and peacefulness of each place. Instead, we rushed through them, looking for the stunning views we had seen in pictures and missing the point of experiencing this part of the world.
Things in Croatia seemed a little bit more spaced out then Google Maps had lead us to believe. This may be because we were driving the speed limit and everyone else on the road was doing about 160km per hour, but who can say! The highways were completely deserted as we headed north from Split towards our first stop – Plitvice Lakes, with stunning mountain scenery and views overlooking the valleys along the whole trip.
Plitvice Lakes is considered Croatia’s most popular tourist attraction, and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a combination of sixteen lakes, inter-connected by countless waterfalls, found deep in the woodland of Croatia, and is the home to deer, bears, wolves, boars and rare bird species. It actually covers 300 square kilometres and the lakes join together over about 8km, so that was our first oversight in planning how much time we should spend here!
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes is the largest national park in Croatia, so its safe to say there’s a lot to do here! The water is some of the clearest and cleanest in Europe and actually appears to be different colours at different times of the day – sometimes appearing blue or green or grey. There are two different entrances, with one featuring the Upper Lakes and the other taking you to the Lower Lakes, with the ferry or shuttle bus waiting to taking you between the two.
The maps and signs around the park can be a little confusing, with no clear trails or signal as to where you are within the park. However, the trails do travel generally in one direction, so I would suggest that you set aside the day to wander around the park at your own pace. Different parts of the walks get you up close and personal to the waterfalls and lakes, across boardwalks, sandy banks and garden trails.
The drive from Split to Plitvice Lakes is about 2 and a half hours north (250km), and is a very easy drive. Driving is definitely the easiest and most efficient way to get to the National Park from the main village of Split. There were very few people on the roads despite it being peak season, and lovely scenery to admire along the whole trip. There are toll roads along the way to keep in mind (although I don’t remember them being very expensive), but it might be a good idea to travel with some cash. You pretty much just follow the A1/E71 Freeway all the way to Komic, and then drive to D1 in Rudanovac.
You could also choose to travel out to the National Park by bus, which takes about 4 and a half hours – I would absolutely only recommend this if you are staying overnight in the park, otherwise you’re just going to have to turn straight back around as soon as you get there! You can take bus numbers 3262 (8:30am), 371 (10:15am) or 86 (12pm) in the morning to get to Plitvice Lakes, and there are some afternoon services too if you want to arrive a bit later. Bus fare varies depending on the service – between 140 and 160kuna for the one way trip.
Visiting The Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park is open daily all year round, with longer opening hours during the summer months – usually between 7am and 8pm.
Entrance fees: The entrance fee to the park is considered a contribution to the maintenance and protection of the park, and changes depending what time of the year you visit. From January to March and in November and December the entrance fee is 55 kuna (or £6/€7.50/$8USD), between April and June and in September and October the fee is 110 kuna (£12.50/€15/$16USD) and during the peak months of July and August the fee is 180 kuna (£20/€24/$26USD). Tickets are only for sale until 3:30pm, so make sure you get in before then.
If you’re staying in the area and want to explore more of the park you can purchase a 2 day ticket, which often comes in a little bit cheaper. If you purchase a one day ticket and decide you would like to visit for an extra day, you can extend your ticket at the hotel reception. All ticket prices include the electric boat ride on Lake Kozjak, the panoramic train ride within the park and visitor insurance.
Parking: There is a large parking area where you can leave your car at Entrance 1. Parking for a car costs 7 kuna per hour, with higher prices for campers.
Where to stay
If you would like to take some more time to experience Plitvice Lakes I would recommend booking to stay near the National Park. There are quite a few different accommodation options depending on your budget and travel style. These are the closest options to stay for the night:
- Plitvice Hotel
- Bellevue Hotel
- Grabovac Hotel
- Jezero Hotel
- Korana Camping Ground
- Borje Camping Ground
Get to the park as early as possible to avoid the monster crowds in summer and experience the walks at more of a relaxed pace. At some points in the walk it can easily feel like you’re just moving with a crowd if there are too many people around and it’s much nicer to have a little more space and feel like you have a little of the park all to yourself.
Keep remembering to look behind you. Although you might have seen the view, it can look completely different and sometimes even more beautiful from the other way. There’s no doubt though, every which way you turn offers you a beautiful view.
As a time guide, I would definitely allow at least one full day to visiting and exploring Plitvice Lakes National Parks. It is absolutely huge, with two entrances and even hotels in the local vicinity. If I had realized this before I definitely would have booked one for the night and stayed out there. We didn’t even get to visit all the waterfalls in the park that I wanted to see, so Plitvice Lakes definitely has remained on my bucket list for Croatia as somewhere I have to go back to (which, to be perfectly honest, is a little frustrating to me because it feels so unproductive). Although a little rushed, the time we spent at Plitvice Lakes was lovely and the scenery was just spectacular.
Explore more waterfalls: How To Experience Krka National Park All To Yourself