Make no mistake, if you’re in Croatia, the world heritage listed Plitvice Lakes has to be on your agenda.
There will be few other places within the country you’ll visit that are as lush and green, seeing as the majority of the coastal cities (Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik) are very dry, rugged and rocky. Absolutely stunning, but dry as a bull’s bum.
What makes this national park so astounding and unique?
Plitvice houses 16 interconnected lakes arranged in majestic cascades, this natural phenomenon creates a myriad of enchanting small and large waterfalls that scatter flawlessly across the entire mountainous range. The pristine, almost divine, crystal clear blue and green hues of the water will never cease to amaze me.
If I were to return as a duck in my next life, I would be begging God to place me in the celestial waters of Plitvice National Park.
Most of you won’t be able to spare a couple of days to explore the vastness that is Plitvice. Coming from Australia on a trip to Europe, like we did, or other distant countries, time is of the essence.
After a hearty lunch at a restaurant I can’t pronounce the name of in a nearby town, we were fueled and ready for the hike. Mind you, it was already 2:30pm by the time we entered and tourists buses were starting to leave. That’s a win for us.
So if you only have one day planned for Plitvice, here’s how you can get as much out of it as possible.
GET TO THE BIG WATERFALL
If you’re arriving from Entrance 1, then look out for the signs “Big Waterfall” (Veliki Slap). It may not be the Niagara Falls, but it’s the biggest waterfall in the park, so you don’t want to miss this. You’ll be greeted with the grandiose view of Veliki Slap as soon as you enter.
Some people recommend arriving at Entrance 2 because it’s less busy, but if you’re arriving in the late afternoon like we did, hordes of tourists shouldn’t be an issue.
If you’re game, take a right before you exit back onto the boardwalk and climb up the rocky stairways to the top of the waterfall and enjoy a quiet view from above. Just beware of the stairways, it’s a bit of a steep climb, considering there are numerous steps missing, so be prepared to take a few leaps of faith. Oh, and they might just be a little crooked. Alright, they’re pretty damn crooked. With no handrails. Try and hold onto the nearest branch or leaf. Or faith.
PIT-STOP AT THE CAFE AT P3
Because I guarantee that by then, you’ll be hangry.
Stick to the boardwalk on the Big Waterfall side and you’ll reach the ferry station. More importantly, that’s where the restaurant and café resides. It’s not the greatest Croatian cuisine you’ll grace your tastebuds with, but it’s good enough to recharge.
In every corner of Plitvice, lies natural beauty that will feed your senses. Look out for the fallen tree in the water, and if time permits, take a peek into the mysterious dark caves on your walk to the ferry station.
The good news, for all you lazy shites, like myself, you probably won’t have to hike much more after this. Thank God for the Industrial Revolution and the invention of ferries and trains. The next leg will allow you to board a ferry, after which, you can either choose to venture to the Upper Lakes, or catch a train back to the carpark if that’s enough nature and exercise for the entire year, for you.
TAKE THE FERRY TO ENTRANCE 2
Of course, you can choose to hike further, or wander your way to Entrance 2 and admire more wonders the place has to offer – but why walk when you can sit your lazy ass down on a ferry?
If you’re traveling with kids, it’s a nice break to stop hearing, “When are we going home?” every five minutes. My 6-year old nephew’s only motivation for the long trek between the Big Waterfall and the ferry station was the distant promise of a boat ride. While trying to catch my own breath on the hike, I was plagued with constant questions of, “How much further until the ferry?” “I can’t do this anymore. Carry me.” “You said the ferry’s not far off. Lies!”
So take the ferry. Even if you want to walk. Do it for the kids. Promise them the boat ride so you have a moment’s peace.
EXPLORE THE UPPER PART OF PLITVICE LAKES
If you still find that you have enough time in your schedule, make sure to explore the Upper Lakes. Just as mesmerising as the Lower Lakes, the upper section takes lets you get a little more up close and personal with the park’s waterfalls.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to explore this segment of the park, due to, well, children. But on the flip side, it gives us a legitimate reason to go back.
TAKE THE “TRAIN” BACK TO EXIT 1
I’m not sure what the Croatian concept of a train is, but the piece of machinery that picked us up resembled a bus. No, it didn’t resemble a bus. It was a bus.
I guess making tourists think it’s a train makes it sounds somewhat more.. romantic?
The train, like the ferry, is included in your entry ticket. It runs every 30 minutes from three stations (ST1, ST2, ST3), so you can easily get from the upper lakes to the lower lakes with minimum physical effort.
It won’t get you all the way back to Exit 1, but you’ll get pretty close. It’s about a 10-15 minute easy walk from ST1 to Exit 1. If you need motivation to complete the last leg, then I’ll let you in on this. The postcard photos you see of Plitvice? This is it. This is the money shot.
- Don’t bring a stroller/pram – pack the carrier!
- Transport within the park (ferries, trains) are free, and we all know that kids don’t like to walk much, so make sure to use those services as often as possible.
- Try not to eat at the restaurants within or in close vicinity to the park, as the the Croatian food can be quite unauthentic. Try nearby towns on the way there or out, like Grabovac, Smoljanac where there is an abundance of food choice
- If you didn’t pack snacks or lunch, the food at the cafés within the park are… Edible.
- Try not to arrive at 10am – that’s when all the large tourist groups and buses
- Hladovina and Rastovaca carparks open at 7am, so if you’re an early bird and can get to Plitvice this early, you’ll have the park to yourself for a few hours
- Otherwise, get there after 2pm and you’ll find that the park starts to empty by 3pm. By 4pm, you’ll virtually have the place to yourself
This park looks absolutely stunning! The photos are phenomenal! Sounds like a great hike – hilarious anecdotes with the kids lol! Would love to visit some day!
Thanks for your kind words, Aisha. Hiking takes a whole new ball game with kids – not always for the better hehe. I hope you get to visit one day, it truly is phenomenal!
Beautiful photos! It’s too bad that I do not live on the west coast
Thanks, Aundrea! Hmm, not sure which west coast you mean, but Plitvice is in Croatia, which lies in Europe’s south east.
These pictures look beautiful – I’d love to see that waterfall! Kids add another dimension to walking/hiking to these sorts of sites though don’t they!
I’ve always wanted to go here! Saving for later. Lovely photos 🙂
It looks amazing. Have always wanted to go to Croatia. Another reason to put it on the list.
Ooooh, I really want to go here. It has been on my bucket list for awhile now!
Looks and sounds like the perfect time. The color is beautiful!
Thanks, it certainly was! It’s exactly the same colour in real life as it is in the photos.
Was just in Croatia, did Krka instead of Plitvice. Great photos!
Ooh, that’s one other place I need to visit. How was it? Did you get to swim in there?
Wow!!! wonderful pictures definitely convinced me to go and visit this beautiful place! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Hi. I am planning to go to Plitvice with my 2 year old in August. We will be wearing her in our Tula as well! Any tips? We are going with a tour group, so I am not sure what kind of flexibility there will be for us =(
Hi Irene 🙂 August is a fantastic time to go – it will be really busy though! The Tula’s great, my toddler was comfortable in it all day long, well, so long as he didn’t want to walk. Make sure you jump on the ferry ride – I’m sure your little one will love that. There were some parts where you are able to climb steep steps to get to the top of waterfalls – that can get really exhausting when you’ve got a heavy toddler on your back. But, you can probably skip those, or the tour might take you on a different route. You’ll have an amazing time! The boardwalk can get pretty narrow, and with the amount of people around, you just have to watch your step so you don’t trip and fall into the water lol. Although, that’s not such a bad thing, considering how pristine and beautiful the waters are. Enjoy!
Wow, this looks so magical! I can’t wait to go someday soon!
Tina, thank you very very much for this amazing guidance. We are here in Croatia on holiday and even thanks to you and your great guidance we decided to go to Plitvice Lakes on the way back to Slovakia.
Hi, Thank you so much for sharing this post. The way you express the beauty Plitvice Lakes was amazing and it really convinced me to visit this charming and stunning place
Cheers.. glad it could inspire you!
Lovely and Effective post for essential tips in your first time travellers.
Thanks for reading and I’m glad you found the post helpful 🙂