The Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia’s most popular tourist attraction, was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979. Located roughly halfway between capital city Zagreb and Zadar on the coast, the lakes are a definite must-see in Croatia.
The national park is world-famous for its lakes arranged in cascades. Currently, 16 lakes can be seen from the surface. These lakes are a result of the confluence of several small rivers and subterranean karst rivers. The lakes are all interconnected and follow the water flow. They are separated by natural dams of travertine, which is deposited by the action of moss, algae, and bacteria. The particularly sensitive travertine barriers are the result of an interplay between water, air and plants. The encrusted plants and bacteria accumulate on top of each other, forming travertine barriers which grow at the rate of about 1 cm (0.4 in) per year.
The National Park covers a total area of 300 square kilometres, whilst the lakes join together over a distance of eight kilometres.
There’s also quite an altitude difference – the highest point is at 1,280m, the lowest at 380m – although the total height difference between the lakes themselves is only 135m. (Veliki Slap, the largest waterfall, is 70m tall.)
The lakes are renowned for their distinctive colors, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colors change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight.
The best time to visit
Plitvice Lakes isn’t just for summer. It’s a stunning place to visit any time of year as the different seasons see the Park take on different hues, whether that’s lush greenery in spring/summer, rich colours in autumn, or magical scenes in the snow and ice in winter. Even if conditions are rainy, the park can still be wonderful to explore as the water takes on a dramatic effect – sometimes bubbling up underneath your feet on the wooden pathways!
Understandably, Plitvice can get very busy during summer and the pathways can be quite crowded. We’d ideally recommend a spring/late summer visit when the weather is still good, the park is open for relatively long hours but there should be fewer people.
Do note that the Entrance 2 (lower lakes) is normally closed in winter – but there’s still plenty to explore from Entrance 1.
Getting to the Plitvice
If you are considering coming to Croatia to specifically visit the Park and want to fly into the nearest airport, take a look at flying to either Zagreb or Zadar Airports.
Zagreb Airport is a good option to fly to to reach Plitvice – it is about 140km away. From Zagreb Airport, take a connecting bus (they wait outside the terminal building) to the main bus station in Zagreb. From here, you can then take one of numerous buses to the Plitvice Lakes, journey time is about 2 hours 20 minutes.
Zadar Airport is the technically the closest airport to Plitvice, at about 130km away. More and more airlines now fly to Zadar Airport, so it’s actually not a bad place to start from if you’re planning a visit to Plitvice Lakes. If you do find yourself flying to this airport, take a connecting bus to Zadar Bus Station, then another bus to Plitvice. Journey time is about 2 hours.
List of bus journey times from various places in Croatia to the Plitvice Lakes to give you an idea of how long it will take you to get there:
- from Zagreb: 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)