When was the last time your instagram dreams actually looked even better in real life? Insanely vivid shades of blue, lush green pristine forests and snow white foam from cascading falls. Waterfalls as far as the eye could see. A new lake upon every turn. Welcome to Plitvice Lakes! The Plitvice Waterfalls were actually my major reason for wanting to travel Croatia. They simply looked out of this world. And the photos didn’t lie.
How to Get to Plitvice Lakes Fast
How to Plan Your Trip
The key to avoiding crowds is to be faster than everyone else. This means getting up early in the morning to drive or bus around Croatia. But, trust me, it’s so worth it! At first I was bummed that I didn’t realize my particular bus trip from the Croatian capital to historic Zadar passed by the national park. (Some trips follow a more coastal route. You can check bus routes, stops and prices at Buscroatia.com)
But then I was actually glad. After visiting the Plitvice waterfalls, I knew it was paramount to spend as much time here as possible. It’s such a big area and there is so much to explore and walk. Your best bet is to stay in Zadar, a town with a wonderful historic centre. It has some of the best sunsets in Croatia if you ask me!
Taking the Bus to Plitvice Lakes
From here, you can pop by the Zadar bus station on the day and directly purchase your (return) tickets. The price doesn’t depend on what day you buy. The entrance price to the Plitvice Lakes, however, depends on the season and number of people in your party (aka individual vs group tickets). One ride between Zadar and Plitvice takes a little over two hours and there might even be WiFi on the bus.
If you stay in Zagreb or Split and can only afford a day trip to Plitvice, you have to drive or bus to Zadar first. It is possible though but it also means that you won’t have much time at the Plitvice Lakes. The ride can take up to eight hours in total. Check out how to get from Zagreb or Split to Plitvice first. It’s better to join a day group tour for such endeavours as they help you get the most out of it.
Escaping the Crowds at Plitvice Lakes
Basically, Plitvice looks great any time of the year, frosted in winter, colourful in autumn, soft in spring and vivid in summer. You can’t go wrong with a visit. One of the best months from what I’ve been told is May. The colours start to burst, the weather is pleasant and the crowds haven’t spilled out of the cruise ships and European class rooms yet. Though during my visit, it was cloudy and there were school outings happening. I guess you should check Croatian holiday times as well. Better avoid high season overall!
Escape into the Woods
Luckily, it being a cloudy day meant that many tourists didn’t venture too far into the park. Instead they stuck to the park buses and ferry rides, which are included in the ticket. (The park still looked great!) The wait for the ferry across the biggest lake took nearly an hour. In less than that time, I had walked the distance and found myself practically alone. Most people walk by the lakeshore. Be aware that on a rainy day, they can be flooded. Plus, the forest is utterly charming and faster to walk. Don’t let FOMO tell you that you miss out. There are 15 more lakes to see!
Plan a DIY Picnic
Around the ferry points it is possible to drop into cafes and cafeterias or get snacks from the souvenir shops. But you might already have guessed it, that’s where the crowds will flock to. All around the park there are bench scattered along the trails, so bring your own lunch and snacks! (But don’t forget to take your trash with you as the bins are located near the official eating spots.) The food spots in Plitvice Lakes are not that great to begin with: fries, mini burgers, sausages. Basic food food. Not much choice. Foodies won’t miss out.
Good to Know
Plan in plenty of time for your trip and leave your impatience at home. Yes, you will have to wait for other people to move. Yes, there usually are human faces in your nature photos. But if you stay cool and just enjoy the view, there is no need to stress out at all. Enjoy this park as you should, through your eyes, not a selfie lens.
Walking around the Plitvice waterfalls, you cannot leave the designated paths. They are wooden boardwalks following the turns of the lakes and going around the waterfalls. So you will always get close enough and have spectacular views. The best birds eye view can be had just after Entrance 1! Don’t go down just yet but walk on or keep this spot in mind at the end of your tour, when the bus drops you off.
There is a lot of walking involved when you visit Plitvice Lakes but it is not that challenging. The ascend from the four lower to the 14 upper lakes is not that hard as there are plenty of level trails inbetween. Should you be feeling lazy but still want to see the outdoors, this national park is ideal. If you are in a wheelchair, Plitvice might not be your best bet though you can make it happen. Here are some tips on wheelchair accessibility of Plitvice Lakes.
The Plitvice Lakes were absolute stunners! If you are nearby in Croatia I encourage you to definitely go and see them. The entry price is not the cheapest (especially in high season) but even a cheapskate like me happily handed over the money. I’d go again. Hopefully in autumn or winter.
Over to you: Is visiting the Plitvice Lakes on your bucketlist? Or have you already been?