PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK IN CROATIA – VISITING EUROPE’S TOP NATURAL ATTRACTION

Many travelers consider Plitvice Lakes in Croatia Europe’s top natural attraction. Despite the park’s popularity, planning a trip there has its challenges. Most visitors arrive just for a day trip from Zagreb, Zadar, or Split. Others make it an extended part of their Croatia holiday from the Adriatic Coast. In this post, you will learn all you need to know about visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park, including how to get there, how long to stay, and where to stay to create the most enjoyable experience.  

A series of waterfalls cascading over the cliff in Plitvice Lakes.
You will see water all around you when hiking in Plitvice National Park.

PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK IN CROATIA – VISITING EUROPE’S TOP NATURAL ATTRACTION

I remembered seeing pictures of Plitvice Lakes years ago, and I immediately knew I had to go there. I pictured myself flying to Croatia for a well-planned vacation, but my actual visit developed at the last minute as a part of my preparation to visit Poland. When I learned that my sister and her husband were taking a road trip to Hungary from there, I decided to invite myself and persuade them to extend their trip and take me to Croatia. They agreed!

Main trail in Plitvice National Park. Looking down from the cliff.
Colors of the fall make hiking in Plitvice Lakes even more attractive.

Why Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the top places to visit in Europe

National Geographic listed Plitvice Lakes National Park among “17 of the World’s Most Wild and Beautiful Places”. This most popular Croatia’s tourist attraction was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979. The park is famous for its unique sixteen turquoise lakes, carved into deep woodland, and cascading to each other by a series of waterfalls, 90 of them! A network of trails and boardwalks attracts more than a million visitors a year during their Croatia holiday.
The fauna and flora are just as fascinating at Plitvice Lakes. There are thousands of plants and over a hundred species living there. Much of the park is covered in dense forests of beech, spruce, and fir trees. With a landscape this lush, the air is almost medicinally clear.
Small turquoise lake with wall of plants around it and a boulder in the middle.
At places, you will feel like you entered a magical forest.

Where are Plitvice Lakes in Croatia and how to reach them?

Plitvice Lakes National Park is located in central Croatia, south of the capital Zagreb and north of coastal cities, Zadar and Split. As a protected natural wonder, the park is not close to any majorly populated areas. I recommend renting a car for your visit. It is definitely the most convenient way to reach the park, but bus service is also available from many Croatian cities, learn more here. There aren’t any airports close to the Plitvice Lakes. Flying to either Zagreb or Zadar Airports would be your best choice.

Red leaves floating down over rocks.
Plitvice Lakes National Park will capture your attention with every detail along the trails.

What are the best cities for day trips to Plitvice Lakes?

Most visitors come to visit the park on tour buses from Zagreb, Zadar, or Split during their Croatia holiday. If you are not planning to stay overnight, taking a tour is the second most convenient choice after driving. Also, having a tour guide during your visit will help you navigate the park most efficiently.

What is the best time to visit Plitvice Lake National Park?

I visited at the beginning of October when the fall scenery just started to appear. The leaves were still mostly green, but in some corners of the park, autumn was already in full swing. I am sure the park is beautiful at any time of the year, but I can’t imagine it could be any better than autumn. October 1st is the first day of the low season, so admission prices drop too.

Summer is the high season in the park, and that means crowds. Avoid this time of year, if possible. The park is open year-round, but when planning visiting in winter, check for the latest conditions.  Some trails may be closed due to snow or ice.

Europe's top natural attraction. View of of the lake through leaves.
At the Upper Lakes section of the park, you can find a more intimate, almost magical experience.

Should I buy my entry tickets in advance?

Crowds are a big concern at Plitvice Lakes, so plan your visit ahead of time, because the number of daily visitors is limited. Luckily, I checked the park’s website a few weeks before my trip and grabbed the remaining tickets for our dates. I can’t even imagine not being able to get into the park, the main attraction that triggered my Croatia vacations! Choose the first possible entry during the day. This way, you will arrive ahead of tour buses and will secure some room for yourself. In places, the trails get uncomfortably crowded later on. If you are staying overnight, a two-day ticket is available.

Trees reflecting in one of the Plitvice Lakes.
You will find numerous amazing reflections when hiking around Plitvice Lakes.

How much is the entry to the park?

Ticket prices are based on the season. You will pay over three times as much in July and August than in the winter months. Check here for the ticket prices on the park’s official website. All buses and ferries within the park are included in the ticket price. Paid parking is available by both entrances.

Plitvice Lakes, Europe's top natural attraction. Reflection of sky and woods at Plitvice Lakes.
Nature at its best at Plitvice Lakes.

How long to spend in Plitvice Lakes?

It depends. If you want a put a checkmark on this attraction and just get a taste of it, a day trip is sufficient. I stayed for three nights. For me, the lakes were the most important stop of my Croatia holiday. I was determined to take good pictures. With more time devoted to the destination, I aimed to increase my chances for at least one sunny day. Luckily, I got two!

Lady by the turquoise lake.
I could not ask for better weather for my visit.

Is food available in the park?

Yes, you can buy food and drinks at a few self-serve restaurants scattered throughout the park. The food is basic, and the choice is limited. Definitely bring water and some food for the trails.

Is swimming allowed in the park?

Swimming is not allowed in the park. There are strict rules about that. At no point, you are allowed to get off the walking paths. If swimming is an important part of your Croatia vacations, here are 10 best beaches for swimming.

Waterfalls over the rock wall.
Waterfalls everywhere you turn!

How difficult are hiking trails in Plitvice Lakes?

The park is one of Europe’s top natural attractions, so dealing with the crowds will probably be the most challenging part of your visit. The boardwalks are narrow. At most popular spots, you will find that other visitors are too close for comfort. As far as the terrain goes, you will encounter some steep sections, but the trails are predominantly easy. I saw a lot of people walking with canes.

Turquoise lake with one waterfall at Plitvice Lakes.
It is primarily the color of the water that makes Plitvice Lakes so appealing.

There are benches to take a rest, but their placement is rather bizarre – not a single one for a long time, and then a cluster of them almost next to each other. Also, there are no restrooms along the trails, so use facilities when you see them.

I find the map and trail system are somewhat uncoordinated. For example, you can see the names of the lakes on the trail but not on the map. Honestly, I find the map rather useless. You are not going to get lost, just stay close to the lakes and explore everything around you.

Europe's top natural attraction, Plitvice Lakes, changing into fall colors.
These kinds of views you can find when hiking along Lower Lakes.

How to see Plitvice Lakes National Park

This is what most visitors do, they enter at Entrance 1 and explore the most spectacular part of the park, the Lower Lakes. Again, try to be there early, before tour buses arrive, but even then, you cannot count on solitude. Still, this section is absolutely a must-see. This is where you will find the tallest waterfalls and the most dramatic views.

Plitvice Lake, Europe's top natural attraction.

When you are done with that area of the park, either walk or take the boat to the Upper Lakes. This section is very different, but equally impressive. It was almost no one there when I visited. It probably had something to do with later hours of the day and the fact that it started raining a little. For me, it was a magical, intimate experience. Actually, I did not mind the rain there. It added to the misty vibe of the area.

At the end of the day, you can return to Entrance 1 on foot or take a bus. Even if you take a bus,  you will still have a long way to walk back to the parking area, my estimate is about one kilometer.

Europe's top natural attraction, Plitvice Lakes.
This small charming lake can be found in the Upper Lakes area of Plitvice Lakes.

Plitvice Lakes Hotels

Despite being Europe’s top natural attraction, Plitvice Lakes Park is not overflowing with lodging. It is primarily because most visitors come for a day trip. There are a few small hotels serving visitors, but most of the park’s accommodation are guesthouses. They offer modern conveniences, are well priced, and allow you to meet the locals. Find the list of hotels and houses for rent here.  When I visited off-season, the park was packed, but it was easy to find a place to stay. Still, I would not take any chances in high season and secure a place well in advance.

Europe's top natural attraction, Plitvice Lakes, walking paths below.
You will certainly not be alone when visiting Plitvice Lakes.

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4 thoughts on “PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK IN CROATIA – VISITING EUROPE’S TOP NATURAL ATTRACTION

  1. Yvonne, Your pictures are beautiful! The water is such a beautiful turquoise color, what causes the water to be such a vibrant turquoise color? I am assuming the minerals in the mountains falling into the lakes?

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