In my previous post on Plitvice Lakes, I shared 10 compelling reasons to go from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes and explore the offbeat gems of the National Park Region. Now since you are interested to know more, let me share a complete travel guide on things to do in and around Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia. But before that here’s a trailer of why you should spend a few days in the park.
What to see and do in and around Plitvice Lakes
1. Hike the upper and lower lakes
Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a verdant maze of trails, bridges, woods, and meadows encircling the 16 sparkling turquoise lakes and over90 crashing waterfalls. These lakes are divided into two groups: 12 UpperLakes and 4 Lower Lakes. Both the lakes are accessible on foot via dirt paths and walkways. For people who don’t prefer walking too much, there are Shuttlebuses every 20 minutes along designated areas of the park. Also, to save time you can take a boat ride too.
The Upper Lakes are larger than the Lower Lakes but the latter is more crowded. It takes roughly around 2-3 hours to walk the entire 5.2 km trail of the Lower Lakeswhereas Upper Lakes takes around 4-6 hours to cover 8.9 km. What made my hiking in the upper lakes so interesting was my interaction with a very knowledgeable and lively local guide, Ana Udovicic, who is a teacher and a dance instructor.
I had a two-day pass to the park, therefore, one day I just did Upper Lakes and another day just the Lower Lakes. Boris and Ana were great guides who not only made me see the highest waterfall (76 metres tall Veliki Slap) and the highest lake (Prošćansko 134 metres) above the lowest lake (Novaković Brod) but they also made me hike to the secret viewpoints that only locals know. There are also several caves, springs and flowering meadows in the park. Don’t follow the crowd all the times. Explore the upper and non-touristy parts too but stay on the marked trails. Don’t fall into water or off a cliff taking a dangerous selfie.
One day pass costs 55 HRK (7.40€) per person in offseason and goes up to 250 HRK (34€) in peak season. A 2-day pass costs 90 HRK (12€) in offseason and 400 (54€) in peak season. For more info, check Plitvicka Jezera
2. Discover the untouched beauty of the Park by Horse Riding
There are many places around Plitvice where you can explore the unscathed beauty of the National Park region by riding a horse under the watchful eyes of shepherd dogs and a trainer. My horse trainer, Andrej, had spent 10 years at the Ranch Equus Igni in Rakovica taking care of 12 beautiful horses. Here you can choose to ride from 1 hour to a full day. The horses are well taken care of and are a beauty to ride.
Price starts at 200 HRK (27€). For more info, check Horse Riding Croatia
3. Explore virgin forests and abandoned villages by Quad Biking
Croatia, like many countries, is facing a problem of villages getting abandoned. Youth are moving to cities in search of better work opportunities and old people can’t keep them alive for long. But thanks to people like Branko Sokač, an ex-army person and renowned hunter, who are creating sustainable tourism opportunities for their kids and other youth in the area by running an Airbnb and adventure company.
He along with his wife Sonja and kids provide you an unforgettable experience of exploring the real offbeat Croatia by taking you on Quad bike through abandoned villages, virgin forests and rolling hills from where you can enjoy the panoramic views of the entire valley. On the way, he makes many stops to tell you the history and cultural relevance of the place.
And, even makes you taste the wild berries and fruits, which only an expert like him can spot who have learned the techniques to survive in extreme conditions under his military training. And, once you return home you are treated with a variety of homemade jams, homemade cheese, and cured meat cuts. Besides Quad biking, he also offers activities like horseback riding, cycling, hunting, rafting, fly-fishing, kayaking and other activities.
Two hours of Quad biking tour costs 400 HRK (54 €). For more info, check Mrzlin Grad
4. Conquer the surrounding mountains on a bike
Croatia, in particularly, Lika-Senj County, has been able to build a strong reputation as a leading European cycling destination, thanks to the country’s incredible natural wealth. Cycling paths are clearly marked in the national parks and Plitvice Lakes has one of the most beautiful cycling paths in Europe. While pedaling you can relish the surrounding beauty, smell the flowers and feel the freshness of the waterfalls, hear the birdsongs or taste freshwater directly from springs. Village roads, forest paths, and field cycling paths will reward you with visits to areas that are completely off the beaten track.
There are many local companies offering organised cycling tours who know the area inside-out and will provide the best excursions and routes you might otherwise not be able to access yourself. If you want to explore on your own, check cycling routes in the area at Lika-Senj County Tourist Board website.
5. Swoosh on Europe’s longest and fastest Zipline
Sometimes you neither need wings nor airplanes to fly, a simple Zipline is a good option. What if that happens to be Europe’s longest and fastest Zipline with magnificent scenery of Lika below you? When I visited ‘Zipline Beware of the Bear’ at the western edge of the national park, I was jumping with excitement like a kid. The line is 1,700 m long, 80 metres above the ground and can fly up to 120 km/h (when pushed by north wind from the back). The Zipline was started by a young and adventurous local called Sasha in cooperation with the local municipality.
How does it feel to be on the longest and the fastest Zipline in
When I became a spiderwoman on the longest and fastest Zipline in Europe – @PazimedoZipline #ziplinepazimedo Pazi Medo Zipline #adventure #DiscoverPlitvice #Croatia The Plitvice Lakes National ParkPosted by Travel See Write on Sunday, August 26, 2018
Besides Zipline, there are other activities that you can enjoy like climbing, cycling and disc golf. As per Sasha, the park has some promising future plans like constructing three hostels, 5km of skiing and downhill bike paths, world’s longest zip line (2950 m) and1250m long Air Bike.
Price is 240 HRK (32€) per person (Sep-May) and 280 HRK (38€) per person (June-Aug). For more info, check Zipline Plitvice.
6. Go wild and adventurous in Gospic
Gospić is tucked in the mountainous and sparsely populated region of Lika. My trip started with a quick stopover at a retreat like a place called Majerovo Vrilo, the source of Gacka River, where 20th-century flour mills dot the River Gacka Springs. It’s a great place for day picnics. There is a small restaurant run by an elderly couple where you can have lunch and buy souvenirs.
Being an adventure junkie I next headed 70 km southwest from Plitvice Lakes National Park to Adrenalin Park Gospic at Rizvan City, where I freefell from Croatia’s highest giant swing (17 metres). The park is a great weekend getaway for families, friends and corporate team building as it comes equipped with a lot of adrenaline and adventure activities like zip line, climbing, paintball, airsoft shooting, archery, fussball, kayaking, quad biking, cycling and abseiling.
But my adventure didn’t end here, it continued at the Kajak Kanu Klub Gospic where I enjoyed kayaking on the calm waves of River Korana and relishing some pears straight from the garden trees. I still can’t forget the smile of the gentleman who picked the best fruit from his garden to give it to me. A priceless gift indeed.
7. Visit the birthplace of Nikola Tesla:
65km away from Plitvice Lakes and 5km west of Gospić lies the tiny village of Smiljan, the birthplace of one of the greatest minds of the modern world who brought electricity into our homes and invented wireless technology. That person was Nikola Tesla and his home is now converted into a museum displaying key moments of his life and working replicas of some of his most famous inventions. The complex consists of his birth house, a Serbian Orthodox Church (his father was an Eastern Orthodox priest), a multimedia centre, an old barn, and a children’s playground. Every two hours there’s a guided tour which shows a couple of his experiments and a video about the great scientist himself.
Ticket costs 50 HRK (7€) For more info, check Nikola Tesla
8. Travel back in time at Rastoke
This was the first place I visited when I was traveling from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes. Located roughly midway between Zagreb and the Northern Dalmatian coast, it is just 25 km from the Plitvice Lakes National Park. A watermill village situated where the blue-green water of river Slunjčica flows into the Korana river. Rastoke is famous for its historic houses, well-preserved mills and the picturesque little waterfalls along the Slunjcica river, which flows into the river Korana at this place.The Korana river originates at Plitvice Lakes National Park. Most of the houses were built at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Because of its extraordinary natural beauty and historical relevance, in 1962 Rastoke village came under the protection of the State Directorate for cultural and historical heritage. It’s a great place to have a picnic.
For more info, check: Slunj Rastoke
9. Visit Europe’s one of the largest and most expensive abandoned airbases
It’s hard to imagine that a fairy-tale like a place could be so close to an underground bunker, which is one of Europe’s largest and most expensive military airbase. Zelijava Underground Airbase is situated on the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and was built by the Yugoslav government between 1958 and 1968. It was extensively used in 1991, during the Yugoslav Wars.
As per Boris, my de-facto local guide, the facility was like an underground city where no one except for the higher officials knew all details about the air base. At any given time two MIGs were ready to take off within 5 minutes. The bunker was coated with concrete shields to protect it from airstrikes and nuclear attack. There are four main entrances (only one is open) in the 3.5kms long tunnels. The underground tunnels housed aircraft and entire squadrons, as well as an underground water source, power generators, crew quarters, barbers, and a mess hall that could feed 1,000 people. It also stocked food, fuel, and arms to last 30 days without resupply. It was like a full-fledged city.
The underground base once housed dozens of MIG Fighter Jets but was destroyed in conflicts in the region after the fall of Communism. Many of the aircraft, including MIG Fighter Jets, were destroyed in the Yugoslavian war and many were abandoned to rot away. While their original purpose is lost, today they make up for a good Instagram post 🙂
10. Don’t leave without tasting ‘Rakijia’ and ‘Peka’
Croatians are one of the most hospitable people in Europe. If you get invited to a local’s place, brace yourself to hear “Jesti! Jesti! Jesto!” (eat eat eat) a lot. You will be welcomed with a hearty flow of ‘Rakija’ (homemade brandy). And, you won’t be allowed to leave without a few drinks.
When in Lika county, you must try ‘Peka’. A peka is a domed iron lid or “bell”, used to cover a pot, which is then buried into the embers of a fireplace to create a slow-cooking micro-oven. It’s mostly used for cooking veel, lamb, or octopus, along with potatoes and vegetables, with wine and olive oil. Since it involves slow cooking, you need to order Peka dishes at least one day in advance. And, it’s not just the Peka dish that is special, the places where it is served act as community centres where people gather to talk and have a good time.
Other places worth exploring:
Barać caves, Una National Park and Bihac in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here’s a video about my experience of visiting one of the prettiest National Park not just in Bosnia but maybe in Europe. If you are looking for some offbeat adventure, this is the park you must visit. For more info check, Una National Park website.
How to get to Plitvice Lakes National Park
The park is located between Zagreb and Zadar, very close to the Bosnian border (that’s why it makes sense to do a day-tour to Una National Park). The park is easily accessible from all directions. The best way to get to the National Park is by road. Here’s an average bus journey duration:
- From Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes: 2 hours 20 minutes
- From Zadar: 2 hours
- From Split: 3.5 – 5.5 hours
- From Varazdin: 4 hours 20 minutes (one bus per day)
If you’re travelling from elsewhere in Croatia to Plitvice, take a bus to one of the above places and change for another bus from there.Buses to the Park usually stop outside both the Entrances – 1 and 2.
Where to stay
- Hotel Jezero: I stayed at this property and highly recommend it. It is right in the central zone and just 300 metres from Kozjak Lake. With 210 rooms and 19 apartments, the hotel provides an excellent service in a peaceful environment within an affordable budget. The hotel includes a 400-seat restaurant, lobby bar and cafe, fitness hall, and the hotel complex includes a range of sports and recreation activities.
- Hotel Plitvice: Situated in the heart of the park, the hotel with 51 rooms was 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.
- Hotel Grabovac (mid-range): This small three-star hotel with 31 rooms is 10 minutes away from Plitvice Lakes National Park, 15 minutes from the Baraćevi caves and 20 minutes from the Rastoke village and its mills. Try out the hotel restaurant and cafe, offering local delicacies.
Where to eat
- Konoba Čemu Priša, Gospic: Must visit place if you want to try traditional Croatian food, Peka, which is cooked under fire. The restaurant name literally means, “what’s the hurry” talks about the unhurried culture of the place. Interesting artifacts and souvenirs have been personally collected by the owner, Nikola Stilinoyic, to create a rustic traditional farmer environment. Your meals become even more enjoyable with the traditional Dalmatian/Klopskey Music that plays in the café cum bar.
- The National Restaurant Lička kuća: Great place to sample local Lika delicacies. Portion sizes are huge and famous dishes are Prosciutto, cheese, lamb baked under the iron bell, grilled dishes, roasted potato halves, trout, fermented milk, Lika fritters, Lika cheese, apple or plum strudels
- Grabovac Restaurant: set in the newly opened hotel – Holiday Park Macola – is good when you are looking to grab a drink with your friends or family.
- Bistro Konoba Kum, Rastoke: famous for western and traditional Croatian dishes
- Highlanders Pub, Gospic: good to try their new lemonades, beers, and cocktails
- Kun Lun: Good for Asian food, especially Chinese
Things to know before visiting the Plitvice Lakes
- Plitvice lakes entrance: two main entrances open to the public, and the third auxiliary entrance Flora. North entrance, known as Plitvice lakes entrance 1, is just above lower lakes, while the south entrance, Plitvice lakes entrance 2, is next to the Upper Lakes.
- Plitvice lakes trails: There are 8 different hiking routes with the shortest route taking 2 to 3 hours while the longest one takes up to 8 hours.
- Plitvice lakes national park entrance fee is as following:
- Nov -March | Adults: 55 kn | Children (7 to 18): 35 kn
- April-June, Sept.-Oct | Adults: 150 kn | Children (7 to 18): 80kn
- July-Aug for visits until 4 pm | Adults: 250 kn | Children (7 to 18): 110 kn
- July-Aug for visits after 4 pm | Adults: 150 kn | Children (7 to 18): 50 kn
- Parking costs 7 kn per hour
- 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)
- Visa: If you are from the UK, EU countries, the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, then you do not need visas to visit Croatia. For other countries like India, if you have a multiple-entry Schengen visa then you can enter, stay and transit in or through Croatia WITHOUT the need for an additional visa (for tourist purposes).
- Currency: Croatian official currency is the Kuna (not the Euro). Although at some places like big hotels and restaurants you might be able to pay with Euro, However, that’s purely a personal call of the establishment. Nevertheless, ATMs and money exchange changers are readily available. You can pay by cards at big establishments but small ones would ask for Kunas.
- Transportation: while big cities and popular attractions are well connected by bus connections, the smaller and offbeat places require a private vehicle. Therefore, renting a car from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes is a better idea, if you want to explore offbeat places as I did. Prijevoz Knežević is a great bus company to travel with. Their buses are punctual and clean.
- Connectivity: There is good internet connectivity across and your EU mobile works here as per your “roam like home” local tariffs. You can also buy a local SIM like A1 for 13 Euros with 4GB data.
Practical Tips to visit from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes
- Buy your ticket at Plitvice entrance 1 or 2, but enter the park through entrance 3. It’s much quieter, and the boat stop is very close by
- Carry plenty of water and wear comfortable hiking shoes
- Use a toilet before entering the park. While there are many along the trails, you might not find it when you desperately need it
- Look at the trail map to decide which route to take but expect it to take a little longer than stated
- Either get to the park before 8 am or after 3 pm to avoid crowds. Further parts of the Plitvice park (from Burgeti station) are less crowded even in summer
- Dogs are allowed in the park, but must always be kept on a leash
- If traveling with luggage, you can leave it at the designated luggage area for free at each entrance for. Go early as storage space is limited
- Swimming in Plitvice lakes is strictly prohibited. However, if you feel like swimming, head to the village of Korana or a bit further north in Slunj
When is the best time to visit?Plitvice Lakes National Park is a destination for all seasons as the Park adorns different attires in different seasons. In spring and summer, it looks like the garden of Eden. In autumn, it bedazzles the onlookers with the arresting shades of bronze, gold and deep, rusty red. And Croatia in winters look magical, pretty much like Narnia.
Summer can get very crowded, peaking up to 10,000 people a day and winters can get very harsh. Therefore, if possible, plan a visit during shoulder season (April-June or Sept-Oct) when the weather is still pleasant, the park is less crowded and open for relatively long hours.
What to pack for a hassle-free trip?
- Essential for every season: Sunglasses, sunblock, hat, hiking shoes, rain jacket, camera, waterproof case and power bank for your smartphone.
- Summer (Mid-June, July, August to Mid-September): Afternoons could get hot and humid with occasional showers but evenings are generally cool. So, pack lightweight clothing like T-shirts, shorts, cotton dresses, hat, sunglasses, sunblock, wind /rain jacket, trousers, and comfortable hiking shoes
- Spring and autumn (May, June, September, October): Weather can be unpredictable with sudden rains or chill factor, therefore, don’t forget to pack a warm and waterproof jacket, winter hat, gloves, waterproof hiking boots, cotton scarf, and layers of shirt and cardigan.
- Winters (January to April and October to December): Save yourself from freezing by packing winter hat, woolen scarf, thick gloves, down jacket, waterproof jacket and trousers, layer up with heattech t-shirt and fleece.
Cost for the trip
Duration: 5 days from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes and back
- Accommodation: 4 nights’ double room: 299 €
- Bus (one way per person from Zagreb to Plitvice): 10 €
- Car (fuel cost & parking): 60 €
- 2-days park entrance pass: 53 €
- Zipline: 37 €
- Quad biking: 53 €
- Horse riding: 20 €
- Adventure Park 1: 40 €/day
- Adventure Park 2: 40 €/day
- Kayaking: 30 €
- Memorial Center Nikola Tesla: 7 €
- Airbase Zeljava by bike: 40 €
- Food and drink
- Meals and snacks: average 60 € per day
- Supermarket stuff: 30 €
- Mobile SIM Card: 13 €
TOTAL COST (€): 792/pax
Suggested Itineraries: Croatia and Balkans
From Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes and rest of Croatia
- 15 Days: Zagreb (2 days) – Plitvice & Una (4 days) – Zadar (2 days) – Krka National Park (1 day) – Split (2 days) – Brac (3 days) and Dubrovnik (2 days)
- 10 days: Zagreb (2 days) – Plitvice (3 days) – Zadar (2 days) – Krka National Park (1 day) – Split (2 days)
- 7 Days: Zagreb (2 days) – Plitvice (3 days) – Zadar (2 days)
- 5 Days: Zagreb (2 days) – Plitvice (3 days)
- 3 Days: Zagreb (1day) – Plitvice (2days)
Duration depends on your interests and how much time you have in hand. For all the places mentioned above, stay at least 10 days. If possible, start from Zagreb and end your trip at Dubrovnik
Suggested Balkan Itineraries:
- 30 Days: 5 Days in Slovenia (Ljubljana, Lake Bled and Kolpa River) – 10 days in Croatia (Zagreb, Plitvice, Zadar, Split/Dubrovnik), 4 days in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Mostar and Sarajevo), 4 days in Montenegro (Kotor, Buva or Durmitor National Park), 7 days in Serbia (Belgrade, Djerdap Gorge, Zlatibor, Uvac Gorge, National Park Tara)
- 15 Days: 5 days in Slovenia (Ljubljana, Lake Bled & Kolpa River Resort) – 10 days in Croatia (Zagreb, Plitvice, Zadar and Split)
- 10 days: 4 days in Slovenia (Ljubljana and Lake Bled) and 6 days in Croatia (Plitvice and Zagreb)
- 7 Days: 2 days in Slovenia (Ljubljana & Lake Bled) and 5 days in Croatia (Zagreb and Plitvice)
Activities: You can choose as per your liking – nature and adventure, urban explorations, beach time or exploring ancient ruins.
Hope this detailed Travel Guide from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes could help you find the right things to do in and around the National Park. Don’t forget to read Plitvice Lakes: 10 reasons why this is a must-visit Croatia National Park.
Have you ever visited Croatia? If yes, I would love to hear from you.
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I was invited by Plitvice Lakes Tourism Board. However, everything expressed above is based on my personal experiences and conversations I had in the country. Images used are shot by me. Please do not copy anything without written permission.