Plitvice Lakes National Park has earned it’s spot on our list of favorite places in the entire world. The beauty of this magical and unique place knows no bounds. If you want to plan the trip to Plitvice that we wish we had experienced, keep reading. In fact, we loved visiting Plitvice so much that we will likely re-visit this park in the future to experience everything this beautiful area has to offer. If you’re reading this blog post you likely have already heard of Plitvice (aka Plitvica in Croatia) and are trying to figure out how to best allocate your time, and determine how much time you need to set aside for your visit. I get it. I spent countless hours searching YouTube and Travel Blogs to try to figure out how much time to allocate to the lakes. The truth, when it comes to traveling is that it’s difficult to know who to take travel advice and itinerary info from especially if that person doesn’t share similar taste in travel. I was struggling to decide which advice to take. Below are 8 tips we wish we had prior planning our trip to Plitvice:
- Geography – Plitvice Lakes National Park is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site nestled in the middle of Croatia. The park consists of 16 lakes cascading from one to the next. Visitors enjoy strolling miles upon miles of wooden bridge walkways to explore the endless geology of Plitvice. However, that is not the reason you need to know your the other “-ology” prior to planning a visit. It is worth noting the geography of Croatia. Their largest National Park is not close to any major city or town. Croatia does not have a extensive network of trains or buses. You will most likely need to rent a car and drive unless you’re on an organized tour bus/group. We spent the night prior in Zadar, woke up early and drove the 2.5 hours to the Park Entrance. We spent 5 hours in the park and at the end of our super rushed we visit popped back in the car and continued onward an additional 3+ hours through Croatian countryside to our next AirBnb in Rovinj. The truth is that we wish we had been able to spend longer strolling slowly and not feeling so rushed to get back on the road.
2. Where To Stay – Now, please note that we did not stay near the park entrance. We can not speak to the accommodations near by or how quality they are. What we do know is that you should likely stay near the park if possible, either the evening before, or the evening after – but you likely do not want to spent 2 nights here. Plitvice is GORGEOUS and you will want to take hours and hours to explore and take in all of its beauty as well as little side hikes. Since the park entrance is hours from any major city, staying near Plitvice is your best bet! The area surrounding the park is forested and reminded me of being at summer camp or popped into a fairytale. If we could have changed one thing it would have been to spend the evening before near Plitvica Jezera, with an early morning entrance to the park. You could also opt for a later entry, and spending the evening after your visit near Plitvice.
3. Buy Your Tickets In Advance – you can find tickets online here. Note that while booking your time slot that the entrance time is not set in stone. It appears that you must enter the park within your hour time slot, but you do not need to arrive right at the start time, for us this was 10 am – I would really loved to have known this while we were rushing that morning. Also, note that there are two separate entrances to the park, Entrance 1 and Entrance 2, you’ll see the word Ulaz which means “Entrance” in Croatia. Whichever entrance you book learn from our mistake, stay near the park, and book an early entrance time… you WILL need to stay near the park to make it to your early entrance time. We did not stay near the park, but wish that we had. It is also worth checking out a map of the park to determine how much walking you want to do and from which Entrance. When booking online I totally missed the tab that showed entrance tickets for Entrance 2. Be sure to check that out if your day is sold out for Entrance 1. *Tickets are not available day-of online, but you may still check the website to see if they have tickets available for purchase day-of.
4. What To Wear & Packing List – Wear Layers! We visited the park in October. In the morning it was cold, and rainy. Then it cleared up and was sunny.
Wear: Comfortable Walking or Hiking Shoes
Tank Top/Short Sleeve
In Your Pack:
Shorts or dress to change into if the weather shapes up
Sandwich (or other packed lunch)
5. Pack A Snack – my packing list includes packing a snack and lunch because you will be walking / hiking long enough that you’ll get hungry. They have cafe’s and restaurants placed at the entrances and in the middle of the hike before you get on the boats to cross the lake. We were underwhelmed by the food selection. It wasn’t bad it just was pricey by Croatian standards and pretty bland. Even if you don’t mind bland food and spending money – the lines for these cafe’s are LONG! If anything, pack your water, coffee thermos, snacks, and lunches so you don’t have to waste precious time at this beautiful location waiting in line.
6. Parking – We parked near Entrance 1. The parking lot is large, but crowded. We had to park pretty far away from the entrance. There is a fee for parking unless you travel by scooter. The biggest tip we can offer is for getting out of the parking lot in a more timely fashion when you’re ready to leave. Have one person stand in line to pay the parking, and another person go retrieve the car. There will be a line for getting out of the lot. Meet the driver of your car wherever they are in line but at least they will have been working their way out while you’re paying the ticket. If you don’t see a line to exit, don’t do this obviously.
7. Instagram vs. Reality – Go Early. Walk slower than the large group. If you try to out walk the group you enter with you’ll run into an even larger group that entered earlier. Be patient. It’s hard to believe from the photos above, but my Instagram photo didn’t have any people in it. I did not have to photoshop anyone out. I was just patient, and also quick with the photo because there were people behind us trying to walk by. Walk slower than the crowd you enter with but faster than the next rush. When you enter at Entrance 1 there is a big overlook. Our advice is to wait until that group takes their pictures at the overlook and moves on and be behind them. See if you can’t leave some distance between you and the group. Plitvice is crowded and the walkways are narrow. There is likely no opportunity to rush past people for a better photo, so walking slow or stopping and waiting for the crowd ahead of you to move on, is your best bet. There is no swimming allowed in Plitvice, so do not accidentally fall in for the sake of a photo. The most famous photo from Plitvice that you’ll see on Instagram (and my photo above) is taken from a spot about a 5-10 minute walk from Entrance 1. You will not get a less crowded, more beautiful view as you walk onward so stop and be patient for this one. Do not let my talk of crowds detour you from visiting this park. Even if you don’t get one photo without a million people in it, you’ll be happy that you went. Some people describe Plitvice as their favorite thing to see in all of Croatia and it is a world heritage site for a reason. Enjoy being in nature.
8. Pick A Tour – Lastly, but MOST IMPORTANTLY, choose a “Tour Program”. I am so glad you read through to this last tip. Click this link to view the maps available on the website. It is the most important for enjoying your best possible visit to Plitvice. One of our only regrets (other than not staying near the park) is that we did not plan our “tour program” ahead of time. Now, you may be thinking, but Jimie, you don’t like guided tours and you and Scott love to do your own thing and explore what you decided to explore when you decide to explore it… but nay nay! Not in this case. When you go to buy your tickets online, you’ll likely notice a tab that says “Plan Your Visit” or you’ll see the words “Program” or “Tours” and see various maps for Programs A-K. If you’re anything like me you likely ignored those and figured you’d wing it when you got there. However, LOOK AT THESE TABS. Pick a Tour or Program, they are NOT extra money, they are NOT guided. They should more accurately describe these as “self guided routes” that you can take to walk & boat through the park. Each “Program” or “Tour” has a different route and a different amount of time you should expect it to take. Another confusing word you’ll see when planning is “Trains”. By now you’ve gathered that I GoogleMaps EVERYTHING. When I was looking at the satellite imagery, there was no sign of a train track and I was thoroughly confused if the train would take too long, or whatever. The train is not a train at all, rather it is a bus with multiple cars that drives on a narrow, windy, steep road not for the faint of heart. The train is effective way to return to Entrance 2, or close to Entrance 1 (note you’ll still have about a 1/4 mile walk back).