A travel guide to the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia – breathtaking pictures, insider tips, opening hours and ticket prices.
Hidden Deep in the Croatian hinterland knowledgeable travelers will find the Plitvice Lakes National Park. The UNESCO World Heritage site is perhaps Croatia’s most famous tourist attraction – it certainly is the most beautiful one. Soaring waterfalls crash through verdant canyons, while a gentle breeze blows across the many crystal clear lakes. The Plitvice Lakes National Park presents itself as a cornucopia of nature’s most stunning wonders. This travel guide will tell you what to expect.
Visiting the Plitvice Lakes National Park
Imagine yourself a broad mountain creek that thunders down unobstructed across the gentle slope of a mountain. Now further imagine that this has been happening since thousands upon thousands of years. Abrasion, the inevitable passage of time and the constant change of weather patterns thus created hundreds of gullies and channels in the rock – some growing to veritable canyons while others ended in shallow side arms filling the valley with quiescent ponds and lakes. Here the sediments from the washed out mountainous karst settled down to form wide barriers. The damned up water eventually found its only release in sweeping waterfalls and veritable cataracts.
This is Plitvice Lakes National Park. And you will love it. The park is home to 16 large lakes that are interconnected through uncounted waterfalls, caves, and foaming rapids. The difference in height is, contrary to what you might expect, only 135 meters all in all. Thus it goes without saying that Plitvice Lakes National Park will be a welcoming respite for visitors of all constitutions. You don’t need to be an experienced hiker to explore the roughly 7 kilometers of waterways, but you will need a bit of time, which is why I recommend you to visit it on a Croatia road trip.
And speaking about the water: it is so unbelievable clear that you can see right to the bottom of the lakes. Deep down below fragile tuff formations create otherworldly underwater vistas, while small schools of young fish speed along the shallow waters closer to the shore. If crystal clear has a benchmark, then surely it will be Plitvice Lakes National Park!
All those natural wonders are open to you through a dense network of wooden walkways and gravel paths. Now mind you, you are not allowed to leave the official paths. But neither will you want to. In fact, they sometimes flank the waterfalls so closely that you will not escape the occasional splash of cold mountain water. But don’t be afraid – rather welcome it as a respite from the dazzling Croatian summer.
On your walk through the Plitvice Lakes National Park you might get tired. After all the park stretches over 7 long kilometers, covering 300.000 hectares. There is, however, a regular sightseeing train that connects both ends. On the larger lakes, electric ferries will cater to the needs of footsore visitors. Both will require no additional fee. Even if you are an avid hiker, I recommend you to get on one of the ferries. The boat trip will open up a whole new perspective on Plitvice Lakes to you.
What to see at Plitvice Lakes National Park
Personally speaking, there is nothing you shouldn’t see at Plitvice Lakes National Park. The whole UNESCO World Heritage site is one big highlight. Plan one full day for your visit there. Rushing through will spoil the whole experience. Getting there early in the morning will allow you to enjoy the park before the major tourist groups flock around the upraised umbrellas of their guides.
Other than that you should definitely see the big waterfall close to the northern end of the park. Veliki Slap, how the biggest waterfall in Croatia is called, thunders down an impressive 78 meters. If you look closely, you will find a narrow set of steps to the left of the waterfall. Climb these to get access to a lofty viewpoint affording you a breath-taking look on the waterfall from above.
The whole park is split in between the upper lakes and the lower lakes. Make sure to visit both (and don’t forget the train connecting both ends of the park if you are on a tight schedule!). The upper parts are greener and steeper. All the major waterfalls are located there, filling the air with a constantly cooling spray.
The lower lakes, however, are nestled in between high canyon walls, creating an equally impressive, but totally different sight. Here the two lakes called Gavanovac and Kaluderovacs meet in a foaming paradise of greenery and gargling water. A wooden walkway leads right through the scenic setting, while a path along the mountain ridge affords you with a spectacular bird’s eye view.
Is swimming allowed in Plitvice Lakes National Park
The Plitvice Lakes with their crystal clear water may look perfectly inviting, but swimming (or any other water sports activity) is forbidden. Sorry! Be aware that the Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site with roughly a million tourists each year. Swimming runs the risk of polluting the waters and it will thus destroy the natural balance that leads to the creation of tufa. If this sedimentation process was to be disturbed, the tufa barriers creating the many waterfalls would slowly but steadily dissolve. So alas (or luckily deepening on the perspective) swimming is not allowed in Plitvice Lakes National Park.
When to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park
This is a tough question. Be aware that Croatia is a country that is best visited in summer. You will want to enjoy the coast and all its amnesties during the warmest time of the year. Plitvice Lake National Park is a different matter altogether. Famous as it is, the Park will be incredibly crowded in summer. Together with the high humidity and temperatures around 30° Celsius, a visit in late or early summer might actually be recommended. But know that the park will be beautiful throughout the year – even in winter. Just imagine half of the waterfalls being frozen, while a blanket of snow lies upon the verdant canyons and you will definitely not regret visiting Plitvice Lakes National park in January or February!
Opening Hours and Tickets for Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice Lake National Park is open every day of the year. Depending on the season, however, different opening hours and admission fees apply. So make sure to check the official opening hours before your visit!
Opening hours: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
admission fee in Kuna: 55 adult / 45 student / 40 child
Spring & Fall:
Opening hours: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
admission fee in Kuna: 110 Kuna adult / 80 student / 55 child
Opening hours: 7:00 am – 20:00 pm
admission fee in Kuna: 180 adult / 110 student / 80 child
Please be aware that electric boats and the sightseeing panoramic train will operate on a different schedule! The personal at the entrance of the Plitvice Lakes National Park will be able to provide you with a current departure schedule. Discounts are available for two-day-tickets and groups; groups bigger than 15 people will have to book their tickets in advance. Consider buying a map at the entrance as well. It will greatly help you along on your tour through the park.
Last thoughts on the Plitvice Lakes National Park
On your vacations in Croatia visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park is almost mandatory. No other highlight comes even close! Make sure, however, to bring shoes or sandals you don’t mind getting wet or dirty. Especially after strong rains the walkways are sometimes partially submerged. This is nothing you need to be afraid of – just plan accordingly. There are a couple of restaurants in the park. I found them to be somewhat lacking diversity or truly authentic Croatian cuisine (mostly burgers, chips, and pizza).
If you don’t mind carrying the extra weight, prepare a little picnic so you can enjoy nature’s finest view with your favorite food. Either way, you should definitely take along some drinks. The few available restaurants and bistros are very far away. Especially in summer, you will get thirsty walking the long paths very fast. I suppose you could also drink the water, though! Oh and don’t forget your sunscreen, either!
Other than that I’m sure you will genuinely enjoy Plitvice Lakes National Park. I at least did! Have you been to Plitvice Lakes or plan to go? Make sure to share your views in the comment section below!
Picture Credit: Alessandro Caproni, Pablo BM