Visiting the Plitvice Lakes National Park

A trip to the incredible Plitvice Lakes National Park, and a welcome return to Croatia.

There are pictures of the Plitvice lakes all over Pinterest, and rightly so. The largest national park in Croatia is home to a series of gorgeous turquoise lakes, an uncountable number of waterfalls and charmingly winding wooden boardwalks for the 1 million+ tourists who visit every year.

The incredible waterfalls at the Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
The incredible waterfalls at the Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

I’d had a picture of Plitvice on my Beautiful Places board for years before planning a trip, but finally we got to visit.

We arrived at Plitvice on a coach from Zagreb. There are several services each day and the journey takes around 2 hours (after our visit to the lakes we carried on to the coast at Zadar – about another 2 hours). We got off at Entrance 2, and headed to our hotel, the Hotel Plitvice, which is one of only three hotels in the park, all clustered around Entrance 2.

Our balcony at the Hotel Plitvice
Our balcony at the Hotel Plitvice

We were staying at the Hotel Plitvice for two nights to give us a full day in the park and a relaxing evening before getting the bus to Zadar. We’d arrived too late to make a two-day ticket worthwhile so we enjoyed the views from our balcony and explored the grounds around the hotel.

Walking down a quiet path we came to an abandoned building. For such a beautiful place the Plitvice Lakes has a turbulent history; in 1991 it was the scene of the first armed clash of the Croatian War of Independence, and for much of the war and afterwards the area was heavily mined and the hotels used as barracks.

An abandoned hotel at the Plitvice Lakes National Park
An abandoned hotel at the Plitvice Lakes National Park

The next morning we got to the ticket office as it opened and took a bus up to the upper lakes and the start of the main trail. The first lake is wide and flat (and full of pesky midges) but it’s not long before the waterfalls start.

One of the first waterfalls we came to
One of the first waterfalls we came to

The first waterfalls are small ones which tumble over rocks and under the wooden boardwalks.

Then they get bigger and you really start to feel like you’re in some kind of watery version of heaven.

Am I in heaven?
Am I in heaven?

About halfway through the park, the path stops and you get to see the turquoise water from a boat as you cross the largest lake.

Crossing the largest lake
Crossing the largest lake

And when you get off, there’s a little, wooded camp straight out of Moonrise Kingdom. We stopped there for something to eat and to relax in the sunshine.

What we’d seen so far was incredible, but the next part was truly awesome. The water got even brighter, clearer and more turquoise, and the waterfalls more abundant. Everywhere we looked, there was a waterfall.

Waterfalls and beautiful turquoise water everywhere
Waterfalls and beautiful turquoise water everywhere

And then they got really big; at one point water was pouring into a deep hole in a 360 degree torrent. We’d been following signs for the Big Waterfall and thought this must be it, but no, the path carried on…

The water pouring into the ground from every direction
The water pouring into the ground from every direction
The Big Waterfall at the Plitvice Lakes
The Big Waterfall at the Plitvice Lakes

From the Big Waterfall we followed the trail signs to the next camp. It took us back the way we’d came, and then up a steep path through the rock.

The path up through the cliff
The path up through the cliff

And at the top, we saw this.

The view from the top of the cliff over the waterfalls
The view from the top of the cliff over the waterfalls
The view from the top of the cliff
The view from the top of the cliff

I’ve been to some beautiful places, but the Plitvice Lakes just defy description. Any superlative you can imagine just doesn’t do them justice. It was a full sensory experience – warm sun, a gentle breeze, nice food and Croatian beer at our lunch stop and at every turn incredible views and the sound of waterfalls.

Is the Plitvice Lakes on your Wanderlust Wishlist?

42 thoughts on “Visiting the Plitvice Lakes National Park”

  1. It most certainly is on my wish list!! And I hope to visit on my next Euro trip! I had no idea there was accommodation on site, that would be amazing! And even though photos of it are everywhere you still surprised me with so many more beautiful shots!!

    Reply
    • It was really lovely to stay on site, and not even very expensive, although with only 3 hotels on site we did have to book quite far in advance. The Hotel Plitvice is the cheapest of the three but was absolutely brilliant, the interiors are all amazing (original) mid-century modern and the views are just to die for. It’s so peaceful after the park closes too.

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  2. This looks absolutely stunning! A beautiful day trip and the view from your hotel looked like it was a wonderful place to relax as well. I’ve only visited Dubrovnik briefly but now I realise that I need to book a trip back to Croatia as it looks like there is so much more to explore!

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  3. Oh my god, I have officially fallen in love with your post! WHAT A PLACE! This is heaven indeed! And your pictures are awesome, it looks less crowded that on other blog posts I have seen, they are really good. I guess one should hit the low season. These waterfalls are simply magical. I have forever been obsessed with waterfalls (Iceland, Niagara, Iguaรงu…) and I think I must see those ones! Pinning your post all over Pinterest not to forget ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
    • It was pretty crowded later in the afternoon, there was a bit of shuffling in line along the boardwalks. They’re also really narrow so you can’t get past people taking pics/selfies. I think the key is to avoid weekends and public holidays, and we made sure we were on one of the first buses of the day up to the start of the trail. I love a waterfall too, I grew up near High Force in the UK which is a pretty special place ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I think I’d assumed that the pics I’d seen were somehow enhanced and that it’d be lovely but not quite as good as the professional pictures. But it really does look like that!

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    • Me too, I had no idea. I suppose it is really close to the Bosnian border though. It was only when I was trying to find out what the abandoned building was that I started reading about how the war had affected the area. Very sad to think of such a beautiful place, so full of nature, being a war zone.

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  4. Plitvice Lakes is most definitely on my wanderlust wishlist! I have wanted to go to Croatia for the longest time and your post definitely makes me want to go even more. Such a beautiful place and looks like you got some great walks in!

    Reply
    • I think so, we didn’t have a car and most of the other accommodation wasn’t walking distance from the park. We really liked the Hotel Plitvice but we did have to book quite a long time in advance. I hope you have an awesome time in Croatia, the whole country is amazing!

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  5. Beautiful post, Helen. Great photo’s too. I was in Dubrovnik very briefly two years ago and fell in love with the beauty of the old town. I am longing to return one of these days – thank you for reawakening my interest. I hope you will come by to visit my travel blog sometime, it would be nice to see you there :). Your friend in travel, Deb

    Reply
  6. Krka National Park is almost as wonderful and not so crowded. It can be easily reached from Spilt on a day trip. I did both in April when the water was in torrents from spring snow melts but the greenery was subdued so my photos are not so dramatic. Walkways and bridges as well as boats in both parks make the falls so accessible. I’m a waterfall lover so I was in heaven!

    Reply
    • That sounds gorgeous, I’ve heard that you can swim in the waterfalls there too? It’s definitely on my list, I think I’ll be back to Croatia before too long ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply

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