Plitvice Lakes National Park Shows Croatia’s Natural Beauty
Search for images of Croatia, and three key things show up: Split, Druvovnik (of "Game of Thrones" fame) and Plitvice Lakes. While all three are worthy destinations, we'd suggest going with the latter if you had to choose one.
A gorgeous national park near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Plitvice is an unusual place. Not just because of its unique series of lakes and waterfalls that look straight out of a fairy tale but also because of its history.
Learn more about Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia's most beautiful natural destination.
A UNESCO-Listed Karst Wonderland
Plitvice Lakes is not just a pretty sight. It's the result of a series of natural coincidences that are almost too perfect to be true. The karst landscape boasts a complex system of lakes and waterfalls that fall into sparkling emerald water and natural limestone dams called tufas.
This is Croatia's largest national park, protecting 73,341 acres of land, most of which is made up of forests and meadows. But water is the main draw. A series of 16 upper and lower lakes vary in steepness, relief and depth. As water passes through, it cascades down pale limestone cliffs, creating a breathtaking visual feast.
Most people come to see Veliki Slap, the largest waterfall inside the park, which drops around 256 feet. It only takes a single look at a picture of Plitvice Lakes to understand why it's considered the best national park in all of Europe.
Swimming in Plitvice Lakes: An Impossible Dream
Until 2006, people could happily splash in the lakes at Plitvice to cool off from a hot summer's walk.
And while this sounds like an absolute dream, it's also a great way to pollute the beautiful natural wonder (and a source of drinking water for locals).
A good alternative is to enjoy the water by boat. There are tour boat rides that make small scenic excursions, but you can also rent a row boat for a more intimate experience.
If you're set on swimming, you can go to Korana village, which is a six-minute drive from the park's entrance No. 2. Here, you are more than welcome to swim in the Korana River, blessed with the same clear pristine waters as Plitvice lakes.
How Much Time Do You Need in Plitvice?
Most visitors get day tickets for a quick trip from Zagreb or Zadar. If you're short on time and can't devote more than half a day to Plitvice Lakes, this is fine.
However, anyone who can swing it should stay at least one night. This is, after all, one of the most beautiful natural landscapes you'll ever see. And it's very much worth spending more than a day trip here.
If you stay the night, book the cozy and locally owned Plitvica Home. The beautiful log accommodation is right on the lake, so you'll enjoy water views even when the national park is closed.
Best Time to Visit Plitvice Lakes
As expected, the summer months are the most popular to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to travel at other times. But if you are, come during shoulder season, which is April through May and September to October.
Not only will you share the park with fewer people, but the weather will be very pleasant. In summer, the heat can be a too intense for comfort, especially since you can't swim while visiting.
Winter, however, is a surprisingly magical time that many people ignore. Yes, you won't see the waterfalls falling, but they're enchantingly beautiful frozen in the air.
During any season, try to arrive as soon as the park opens to avoid the tourist rush.
How to Get to Plitvice
If you have a rental car, it's easy to drive to Plitvice from Zagreb and Zadar, with the journey taking about 2.5 hours.
But if you're traveling on a budget or hate the idea of driving in a foreign country, don't despair! There are daily buses leaving from either city that take you straight to the park. Buses take only 30 minutes longer to arrive than cars. They're also inexpensive.
A National Park Inhabited by Humans
Natural parks are a wonder in their own right. But Plitvice is set apart from its counterparts by the fact that it's always been inhabited by humans.
The lakes and forests that make up the protected land have been mostly preserved from intervention. That said, there are villages within the park's area.
Although conservation efforts have existed to an extent since the late 19th century, it wasn't until 1949 that the area was designated a national park. Since they couldn't displace people, authorities have found ways to have humans and nature coexist peacefully — to a certain extent.
Pollution is somewhat inevitable, especially now that tourism in the area is booming. Thankfully, the park's UNESCO Heritage Site status incentivizes the Croatian government to protect Plitvice Lakes as much as possible.
Plitvice Lakes National Park Fast Facts