The democratisation of travel and the trend of ticking off bucket lists have made all of us Ibn Battuta. Looking to visit the most exotic, most Instagramable places on Earth, we religiously collect immigration stamps on our passports. Expectedly, most of us never want to revisit the same destination simply because there is so much to see in the world, and we have little money and time in hand, so why would we want to revisit the same place we’ve already seen?
I used to think this way, too, until circumstances required me to return to destinations I’d already visited — and these trips turned out to be some of the best trips of my life. I met locals who became BFFs. And one such friend is Boris Luca, who works with the Tourism Board of Plitvice Lakes National Park. Boris is so good that adjectives fall short of describing him. He is one of the most selfless, hardworking, caring and OG when it comes to being cool. And, on top of that, he has a killer sense of humour. Because of my excellent experience with Boris in 2018, I couldn’t help but plan a second trip again to Plitvice Lakes in 2023. You can read all about my 2018 trip here. And, for Boris, I must dedicate an entire blog or book. Even then, I might not be able to do justice to his goodness.
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Why is Plitvice Lakes famous?
Returning to Plitvice, you must live under the rock if you have yet to hear about this place. Plitvice Lakes National Park is like a Hypermarket of waterfalls and lakes in Croatia – 16 cascading lakes and more than 90 waterfalls – making it one of Croatia’s most popular tourist destinations. Every year the Park (which has a mere population of 4000) attracts approximately 2 million visitors. As per the official records, the Plitvice National Park received 1.9 million tourists in 2022, which is way higher when you compare it with places like Zagreb and Dubrovnik, where One million visitors come every year. The Plitvice Park is known for its stunning natural beauty, cascading waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes, and lush green forests.
What is there to see in the Plitvice Lakes National Park?
The Park is home to 16 interconnected lakes that cascade into one another through a series of waterfalls and cascades. The Park is divided into two main sections: Upper and Lower Lakes. The 12 Upper Lakes are known for their clear blue-green waters, and the 4 Lower Lakes for their dramatic waterfalls. The upper Lakes comprise 12 lakes separated by tufa barriers created 6000-7000 years ago. The wooden walkways that connect the lakes offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Besides hiking the lakes, I took a boat ride to enjoy the Park’s flora and fauna from Kozjak Lake, the largest and deepest lake in the Plitvice Lakes system.
While the Park is undoubtedly a must-visit during the summer, it’s worth noting that each season brings its unique charm to the area.
Seasonal Splendour: Experiencing the Changing Faces of Plitvice Lakes National Park
With its ever-changing scenery and unique attractions, the Park offers a different experience each season, from the stunning fall foliage to the serene winter landscape, the vibrant spring colours, and the bustling summer beauty. In this blog post, I will take you on a surreal journey through the changing faces of Plitvice Lakes National Park, exploring the Park’s diverse and captivating landscapes during each season.
Blooming Springtime: Nature’s Rebirth
As Spring arrives, Plitvice Lakes National Park bursts into life with blooming flowers and rejuvenated foliage. The lakes and waterfalls are replenished with the melting snow, creating a symphony of flowing water and vibrant colours. The Park comes alive with birds chirping and the air filled with the fragrance of fresh blooms. The trails are lined with carpets of wildflowers, and the trees are adorned with fresh green leaves, creating a refreshing and invigorating ambience. Spring is a time of renewal in Plitvice Lakes National Park, where nature’s beauty unfolds in all its glory, making it a perfect season for nature enthusiasts and photographers to capture the Park’s exquisite charm. Spring had just knocked on the door at Plitvice Lake when I arrived to say hello for the second time. Unfortunately, the snow was still present in March when I visited, so Upper Lakes were closed until 31st March.
Vibrant Summer Colours: Bustling Beauty and Crowded Trails
Plitvice Lakes National Park is at its busiest as summer arrives, and it’s easy to see why. With the sun shining brightly, the lush vegetation is in full bloom, and the Park’s lakes and waterfalls flow at their peak. The Park’s vibrant colours are on full display, with shades of green, blue, and turquoise blending in perfect harmony. The trails are abuzz with visitors, and the Park’s natural wonders are a sight to behold. Summer offers excellent outdoor activities, such as hiking and boating, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the Park’s beauty. Despite the increased footfall, Plitvice Lakes National Park retains its allure, with its pristine nature and awe-inspiring landscapes continuing to captivate visitors during the vibrant summer season. My first trip to Plitvice National Park was in the Summer of 2018. I spent three days in the Park, where not only did I spend ample time in the Park, but I also got a chance to try out many offbeat adventures outside the Park that are otherwise unavailable in the lean season, such as white water rafting, kayaking, ziplining, horse riding among a score of other activities.
Fall Foliage: Nature’s Canvas of Colours
As autumn arrives, Plitvice Lakes National Park transforms into a painter’s palette, with the foliage of deciduous trees adorning the landscape with a riot of colours. The Park’s lush greenery turns into a mesmerising symphony of red, orange, and golden hues, creating a stunning contrast against the emerald lakes and cascading waterfalls. The trails meander through the Park, surrounded by a canopy of trees draped in a medley of fall colours, providing a picture-perfect backdrop for leisurely strolls and scenic hikes. The sound of leaves rustling underfoot and the crispness in the air add to the magical ambience of this season, making it a favourite time for photographers and nature lovers alike. Autumn is a great time to visit if you crave peaceful escapes as the crowds thin out. This season is perfect for hiking and exploring the area’s hidden gems.
Winter Wonderland: Frozen Beauty
Plitvice Lakes National Park transforms into a snowglobe-like winter wonderland as winter arrives. The Park’s lakes, waterfalls, and streams freeze over, creating a captivating landscape of icy formations. The trees and vegetation are dusted with snow, creating a postcard-perfect winter scene. The frozen lakes and waterfalls glisten in the sunlight, and the quietness of the Park adds to the tranquillity of the surroundings. Winter also offers unique activities, such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing or simply walking on snow-covered paths. Thus allowing visitors to experience the Park in a whole new light. The most striking feature is when the Park’s waterfalls freeze over, creating a magical winter wonderland perfect for photography. The winter wonderland of Plitvice Lakes National Park is a sight to behold, offering a serene and peaceful ambience for those seeking a tranquil escape from their busy everyday life.
Whether you choose to visit during the fall, winter, Spring, or summer, Plitvice Lakes National Park is sure to leave you awe-inspired with its breathtaking scenery and unique attractions in every season.
How much does it cost to go to Plitvice Lakes?
The entrance fee for Plitvice Lakes National Park varies depending on the season. During the high season (July to September), the ticket price is approximately 40 USD for adults. During the low season (January to March and November to December), the ticket price is around 10 USD for adults. Children under seven can enter the Park for free, and there are discounts for students, seniors, and families. It’s important to note that tickets can only be purchased online or at the Park’s entrance.
What time does Plitvice Lakes open?
Plitvice Lakes National Park opens at 8 am and closes at 6 pm. Below are the opening hours 365 days:
- Entrance 1: 8 am to 5 pm (April-June and Sept-Oct), 8 am to 6 pm (July-Aug) and 8 am to 4 pm (Nov-March)
- Entrance 2: 8 am to 5 pm (April-June and Sept-Oct), 8 am to 6 pm (July-Aug) and closed (Nov-March)
How many Entrance gates are there at the Plitvice Lakes National Park?
There are two main entrance gates to Plitvice Lakes National Park, Entrance 1 and Entrance 2. Entrance 1 is near the main hotels and parking lot, while Entrance 2 is on the other side of the Park. Both entrances offer access to the circular route, but Entrance 2 is closer to the K route. Additionally, there is a third entrance, called the “Florijanovac” entrance, which is only open during the high season and provides access to a small section of the Park.
How many routes are there in the Plitvice Lakes National Park?
To facilitate hassle-free movement of visitors through the lake zone, the Plitvicka Jezera National Park is divided into eight routes. Visitors entering the Park from Entrance 1 can choose between four routes marked in green (A, B, C, K) on the info panels, and the visitors entering the Park at Entrance 2 can choose from four routes marked in orange (E, F, H, K).
You can take different routes through the Park depending on how much time you have in hand and what you want to see. The best and most popular route is the circular route that takes you around the Upper and Lower Lakes, but you can also take several other shorter and longer routes. There are Shuttle buses every 20 minutes and designated park areas for people who prefer walking less.
A PROGRAM (marked in green)
- Duration – 2 to 3 hours
- Trail length – 3 500 m
This circular route is the most popular. It starts at the north entrance (Entrance 1) and takes you around the Upper Lakes and down to the Lower Lakes. Along the way, you’ll admire the “Great Waterfall” – the largest waterfall in the Plitvice Lakes of Croatia. The path leads upstream, through the “Lower Lakes” canyon, along the lakes “Novakovića Brod”, “Kaluđerovac”, “Gavanovac” and “Milanovac”, to a point at “Kozjak Bridge” where the trail begins to ascend towards the eastern side of the canyon. From this part, you return to the starting point (Entrance 1).
B PROGRAM (marked in green)
- Duration – 3 to 4 hours
- Trail length – 4 000 m
The B route starts at the Park’s north entrance (Entrance 1). Sightseeing is circular and includes a walk through the limestone canyon of the “Lower Lakes”, an electric-boat ride across the largest of the Plitvice lakes – Lake “Kozjak”, a panoramic train ride, and a walk along the top of the canyon’s east side back to starting point at “Entrance 1”. You will also see the impressive “Great Waterfall” and the “Sastavci” waterfalls, the beautiful dark blue lakes of “Novakovića Brod”, “Kaluđerovac”, “Gavanovac” and “Milanovac”, as well as the vastness of Lake Kozjak.
C PROGRAM (marked in green)
- Duration – 4 to 5 hours
- Trail length – 8 000 m
Starting point is at the Park’s north entrance (Entrance 1). Sightseeing is circular and includes the Lower and Upper Lakes area and a combination of walks and electric-boat rides. The return to the starting point will be mainly by panoramic train. Enjoy the beauty of the largest and most attractive waterfalls (“Great Waterfall”, “Veliki Prštavac”, and “Mali Prštavac”) and countless smaller waterfalls, as well as the lakes.
E PROGRAM (marked in orange)
- Duration – 2 to 3 hours
- Trail length – 5 100 m
The E program starts at the south entrance (Entrance 2). The tour is circular and majorly explores the “Upper Lake” section, and includes a short boat ride across “Kozjak Lake” and a walk upstream to “Lake Prošćansko”. There’s a sightseeing train to return to the starting point. Experience the “Upper Lakes “magic tranquillity and vastness with their wooded shores, admirable “Great and Small Prštavci “falls, and countless smaller waterfalls.
F PROGRAM (marked in orange)
- Duration – 3 to 4 hours
- Trail length – 4 600 m
The F route starts at the Park’s south entrance (Entrance 2). After a short walk and electric-boat ride across Lake Kozjak, the tour will take you through the limestone canyon of the Lower Lakes to the “Great Waterfall”. From the “Great Waterfall” to the train station, there is a steep serpentine leading to the canyon’s east side, where numerous viewpoints offer spectacular views of the crystal-clear, dark blue lakes and adjoining high cliffs. Return to the starting point by panoramic train. Sightseeing is circular.
H PROGRAM (marked in orange)
- Duration – 4 to 6 hours
- Trail length – 8 900 m
The H route starts at the Park’s south entrance (Entrance 2). After a short walk and panoramic train ride, you will continue on foot along the Upper Lakes, take a boat ride across Lake Kozjak, and walk through the Lower Lakes canyon to the “Great Waterfall” along the top of the canyon’s east side, and again take a ride on the panoramic train. This circular program lets you enjoy the beauty of the Park’s entire lake area.
K PROGRAM (marked in green -currently unavailable)
- Duration – 6 to 8 hours
- Trail length – 18 300 m
Starts at the north entrance (Entrance 1). This walking tour allows you to explore the whole lakes section of the Park. The time includes the “Great Fall “, a walk through the “Lower Lakes “canyon and on, alongside the western shore of “Lake Kozjak “, where the trail leads towards the “Stubica “elevation. A gazebo, “Tomićevo pogledalo”, offers a magnificent view of “Lake Ciginovac “and the vastness of “Lake Prošćansko “. On your return, you will enjoy a walk alongside the beautiful “Upper Lakes “and the east shore of “Lake Kozjak “, which is reached by a short electric boat ride. The last part of the tour consists of walking above the east shore of the Lower Lakes and back to the starting point (Entrance 1).
K PROGRAM (marked in orange – currently unavailable)
- Duration – 6 to 8 hours
- Trail length – 18 300 m
The K route starts at the south entrance (Entrance 2) and allows you to explore the whole lakes section of the Park. The tour includes a walk along the east shore of Lake Kozjak and continues above the east side of the “Lower Lakes “canyon, leading to the “Great Fall “. The walk continues upstream through the canyon and along the west shore of the Kozjak Lake, where the trail leads towards the Stubica elevation. A gazebo, “Tomićevo Pogledalo”, offers a magnificent view of “Lake Ciginovac “and the vastness of the “Prošćansko Lake “. On your return, you will enjoy walking alongside the beautiful “Upper Lakes “and the east shore of “Lake Kozjak “, which is reached by a short electric boat ride. The tour ends at the starting point (Entrance 2).
In conclusion, there are several different routes to explore in Plitvice Lakes National Park, each offering unique views and experiences. Whether you want to take a leisurely walk around the lakes or explore some of the Park’s less-visited areas, there’s a route for everyone. And remember to take a boat ride across Kozjak Lake to truly appreciate the Park’s stunning beauty.
Where to stay in Plitvice Lakes National Park?
While most visitors make a day trip to Plitvice from Zagreb, I highly recommend you spend at least two nights in the Park to experience the various offbeat adventures the Park has to offer. There are several accommodation options in and around Plitvice Lakes National Park. The Park has two hotels, Hotel Jezero and Hotel Plitvice, and several campsites. I’ve stayed at Hotel Jazero twice. The biggest plus of this four-star property in Plitvice Lake National Park is its biggest plus. With 210 rooms and 19 apartments, the hotel provides good service in a peaceful environment within an affordable budget. The hotel includes a 400-seat restaurant, lobby bar and cafe, and fitness hall, and the hotel complex consists of a range of sports and recreation activities. The rooms are spacious, and the staff is accommodating. However, the food could be better. Hotel Plitvice, too, is located in the heart of the Park and has 51 rooms constructed in the mid-1950s by renowned Croatian architect Marijan Haberle. At that time, it was the first A-category hotel in Croatia, and even today, it is considered one of the best architectural designs among public buildings in Croatian architecture.
Another hotel you can try is the newly built Lyra Hotel Plitvice, 15 min (15.4 km) from the National Park. Besides these hotels, several private apartments and guesthouses are there in nearby villages, such as Mukinje, Seliste Dreznicko, and Rakovica. If you prefer a more luxurious experience, several high-end villas and resorts are also in the area.
What to eat in Plitvice Lakes National Park?
Several restaurants and cafes in Plitvice Lakes National Park offer a range of food options, from traditional Croatian dishes to international cuisine. I recommend trying out Bistro Vila Bita at Korenica, a local farm-to-the-table restaurant serving local and international cuisine. We had cevapcici with kajmak and vegetarian Hunters Pizza. The food was so delicious and full of flavours that my mouth still waters when I think about it. And the desserts were outstanding. We tried their famous baklava and palatine with basa cheese. Our server Richard was a superb host who ensured we ate the best food in the town.
While we couldn’t sample all the local foods, some of the most popular dishes to try in Croatia, include cevapi (grilled meat), pesticide (beef stew), and sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls). Additionally, several snack bars and ice cream shops throughout the Park are perfect for a quick refreshment during your visit. And, if you get a chance, try out the feather-light soft mouth-melting Višnja, and Breskva – sir – višnja among other cakes from Plitvicka Strudla.
And don’t forget to try Rakija (local homemade brandy).
In conclusion, Plitvice Lakes National Park is a stunning natural wonder worth visiting anytime. With its cascading waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, and lush green forests, it’s easy to see why it’s one of Croatia’s most popular tourist destinations. Whether you’re interested in hiking, wildlife watching, or simply taking in the views, there’s something for everyone at the Park. So why not plan your visit today and experience the beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park for yourself?
Practical Tips for Plitvice Lakes
- Do not swim in Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s prohibited.
- Visit Early morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.
- Littering of any kind is forbidden in the Park.
- Do not rush your trip. At least spend two days in the Park, experiencing its various corners and route.
Things to do around Plitvice Lakes National Park:
Apart from visiting the Park, there are several other activities and places to explore around Plitvice Lakes National Park.
The Željava Airbase
This abandoned airbase is located about 30 kilometres (15 minutes) from the breathtaking Plitvice Lakes National Park, tucked under Plješevica Mountain on the border of Croatia and Bosnia. Said to be Europe’s largest abandoned military airbase, it is a perfect place for history buffs and those interested in exploring abandoned buildings. It was a top-secret underground complex located near. Built at a whopping cost of 6 billion USD, it was the most expensive airbase in Europe. Only to be destroyed deliberately during the Yugoslav War to prevent the enemies from using it.
The #ŽeljavaAirbase was an engineering and technology marvel having five runways, 4 Entrances, 3.5 km Tunnels, and parking space for 60 MiG-21 that could take off in 2 mins from the airbase. Most importantly, it was nuclear explosion-proof. In case of a nuclear attack, the base had sufficient means to operate autonomously for 30 days with 1,000 people.
At the entrance of this jaw-dropping site lies an old Douglas C-47 “Dakota” aircraft, frozen in time since May 1992 when it made its last landing.
It was my second time in a Lego-sized town called Gospic, about 60 kilometres from Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s home to several museums, including the Nikola Tesla Museum at Samjlan, which showcases the life and work of the most talented inventor of history. The museum is the birthplace of the greatest inventor of the 20th century – Nikola Tesla. Divided into three sections, it has a barn, house, and laboratory displaying the Tesla Coil.
Una National Park:
A hidden gem in the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Una National Park is home to stunning waterfalls and cascading rivers. Despite visiting twice, I always need more of this waterfall. It looks magnificent in all weathers, be it Spring or summer, Autumn or Winter. Una National Park is just a short drive from Plitvice Lakes National Park and takes 52 mins (42 km). The best way to get to Una National Park is by car, allowing you to stop at breathtaking viewpoints and enjoy the scenic drive. Along the way, I recommend you stop at the city centre in Bihac to indulge in traditional Bosnian food. Don’t forget to sample rakija (a traditional Balkan fruit brandy) at Hamza’s place in Celije village! But the excitement doesn’t stop there! Once inside the Park, for a nominal entrance fee of just 10 BAM (approx. 5 USD), you’ll be greeted by stunning waterfalls, pristine forests, thrilling adventure activities, white-water rafting, kayaking, fishing or simply hiking in the verdant trails. The best time to visit the Una National Park is between Spring and summer for lush greenery and vibrant colours. Whether hiking, rafting, or simply soaking in the stunning scenery, Una National Park is a must-visit destination.
Where to go next – from Plitvice Lakes National Park?
Most tourists coming from Zagreb visit the Plitvice Lakes before heading towards the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia to spend some time in Pag Islands, Split, Zadar, Trogir and Dubrovnik. You can either do this route or a more offbeat way heading towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, exploring towns such as Bihac, Jajce and Sarajevo along with additional stopovers at ski towns Montenegro – Zabljak and Kolasin – before ending your Balkan road trip in Dubrovnik.
And, if you want to go somewhere other than South East, you can visit the neighbouring countries of Slovenia and Austria.Read more: Exploring the Jewel of Croatia: Ultimate Guide to Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park
Conclusion – Is Plitvice Lakes National Park worth visiting?
People have different reasons for returning to the destinations they know and love. Going back to Plitvice is a reason I can’t even put into words – it stirred my emotions in a way nothing else had. All I can say in the end is Plitvice Lakes National Park is a natural wonder worth visiting in any and every season. From the vibrant colours of Spring to the serene winter wonderland, there’s something for everyone at the Park. Additionally, the surrounding areas offer several activities and places to explore, which makes Plitvice Lakes National Park a perfect destination for a complete vacation experience. Whichever season you choose, spend at least two nights in the Park to enjoy its natural allure and local hospitality.
Plitvice Lakes Tourism Board invited me. However, everything expressed above is based on my experiences and conversations in the country. The images used are shot by me, and please do not copy anything without written permission.