Visiting Plitvice Lakes has always been very high on my bucket list but it always seemed rather challenging to get there. The Plitvice Lakes National Park is located in the central part of Croatia, very close to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina but not so near any major Croatian cities.
I’ve always thought it’s rather impossible to visit the lakes as a day trip from just about anywhere and I sort of gave up the thought of going there independently. But as I was planning my trip to New Zealand that was taking me through Zagreb I’ve decided to have one full day in the capital of Croatia. After all I really like the city, I’ve been there numerous times and I think it is among the most underrated capitals in Europe and amongh the Balkan highlights.
Again I’ve thought I won’t be able to make it from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes and back in one day but I still did some researching and, to my big surprise, it turned out it is very easily doable!
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Getting from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes
According to couple of internet sources there are 10+ buses travelling from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes. My numerous Balkan travels have taught me that I should have a rather limited trust in the online schedules so as soon as I arrived from the airport to Zagreb bus station I headed to the ticket office to ask for the connections and to buy my ticket from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes. The majority of connections I found online were accurate but most important the one I was aiming for, departing from Zagreb at 7:30 in the morning, was running on Saturday when I was about to take the trip.
The lovely lady at the ticket counter wrote down on the piece of paper all the return buses and advised me not to get the return ticket in Zagreb as I had no idea what bus I’d take back and how much time I’d need for visiting Plitvice Lakes. I can’t say I was comfortable with that as I like having everything organized but I followed her suggestion.
The next morning I arrived to the bus station around 7am, with plenty of time to get some breakfast and drinks for the journey and to be at the platform well before the departure time. It turned out to be a good idea as the bus was full (with the final destination Dubrovnik so a very touristy route) and even if on the ticket seats were allocated everyone sat wherever they wanted to.
I was a bit worried I will miss my stop so I put my alarm clock on and checked on maps.me where we are every now and then. Of course it turned out there is nothing to worry about! I wasn’t the only one going from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes, actually half of the bus did the same.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes
There are two bus stops in Plitvice Lakes National Park, next to two entrances located some 3kms away from each other. You can buy your entrance ticket there, the price depends on the period you’re visiting the park in and for adult vary from 55 kunas (~7,50€ / ~9$) in January – March and November – December to 250 kunas (~34€ / 40$) in the high season of July and August. I visited Plitvice Lakes in mid-October and paid 150 kunas for the entrance (~20€ / 24$). You can find the whole price list here.
Once you get your ticket you are free to explore the area. There are few routes you can take, depending on the time you have at Plitvice Lakes and your willingness to walk. Routes range from two to eight hours, all of them are marked with the letters A-K.
At the entrance to the park you will find a big map with all the routes marked – I took the picture of it and just checked it whenever I wanted to see where I am and where to go. Along the way you have signs pointing each route.
Very quickly I lost the track of the trails and just walked around, taking random paths here and there. But even with this chaotic exploration I managed to see some amazing views and enjoyed every minute of my time at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
I was really lucky with the weather too. Even if it was almost the end of October the sun was shining, the sky was clear blue, the air was so warm and the colors around me breathtaking – a perfect autumn day! It was a real treat to be out in the nature in such a gorgeous time!
There were moments where it was rather busy, especially at the viewpoint where you see the small wooden bridge crossing the lake, but overall there weren’t that many people. Actually the further I went into the park the less people I could see and there were moments when I was walking all alone.
I spent around 4 hours in the Plitvice Lakes National Park, wandering around as much as possible and enjoying the beautiful nature. I walked from the Entrance number 1 to the Veliki Slap – Big Waterfall – then to the viewpoint on the other side of the lake that I had to access through the cave, along the lakes to catch the boat and then again along the lakes to the very end of the visitors zone to catch the small train back to the Entrance number 2. Both, the boat and the train are included in your entrance ticket but you can use them only once.
From the Entrance number 2 it’s a short walk through the parking lot to the main road where you will find the bus stop back to Zagreb. There is a tickets office but when I wanted to buy the ticket they told me to get it in the bus.
My impressions of Plitvice Lakes
Now I have a small confession to make: I felt slightly disappointed with Plitvice Lakes. But I’m the only one to blame here. I’ve seen numerous pictures of the place online and I knew what to expect but somehow deep down I kind of thought it will be similar to Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina, just smaller. I have no clue why I had this idea in my mind, after all there is no “falls” in the name, just “lakes” and that’s exactly what I got – a complex of 16 named and few smaller, unnamed lakes in beautiful location.
Maybe also after seeing Krka National Park close to Sibenik or Kravice waterfalls in Bosnia I had this idea of falls stuck in my head. I really don’t know but after I shook off the minor disappointment I fully enjoyed Pltivice Lakes and I can see why this is the major attraction not only in Croatia but in the Balkans in general! I loved it too!
You could easily spend two days in the park, exploring all the corners of it as the number of walking paths to choose from is really big. But if you have limited time, like I had, one day is enough. I don’t feel like I rushed through the park, I walked in my own pace, taking as always way too many pictures along the way and enjoying the incredible nature that surrounded me. When I felt I’ve seen all I wanted to I headed back to catch my bus ride to Zagreb.
Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes – step by step guide
So, to sum up, here is step by step info how to go from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes by bus:
1. Go to the bus station in Zagreb to ask about the connections and to get the ticket. The sooner you do that, the better. I got my ticket a day in advance. According to the website with Croatian bus schedules the buses from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes depart at 5:45, 7:30 (the one I took), 08:00, 08:40, 09:15, 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 14:15, 14:30, 15:00, 21:30 but it’s always better to recheck at the bus station as they have the most accurate information there. The price of the ticket depends on the company but should be around 75-90 kunas (~10-12€ / ~12-14$) one way. The journey takes a little bit more than 2 hours.
2. On the day of your trip be at the bus station some 30 minutes before the departure as the buses tend to be full and you want to get the best (aka window) seat.
3. Once you arrive from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes you will be dropped next to the Entrance number 1 (I recommend using this one), it will be the first stop at Plitvice Lakes. The ticket office and entrance are on your right side, few steps away from the bus stop – you will see it! If you travel with a bigger luggage apparently there’s a left luggage option at both Entrance number 1 and number 2 but I haven’t used it.
4. Go inside and enjoy the area!
5. Once you’re done with the park you can either return to Entrance number 1 or leave by Entrance number 2 – I recommend the second option as not only you will see more that way but also the small train can take you up there. From the Entrance number 2 it’s few minutes’ walk to the main road, just follow the local road and you will be there.
6. When you reach the main road go right, you will see bus stops some 50 meters further. If you want to go back to Zagreb your stop is the first one, on the left side of the road. If you plan to continue to the seaside go to the stop on the right side. That’s also where the tickets office is.
7. Wait for your bus and then go to your next destination. The buses back to Zagreb depart from Plitvice Lakes at 06:52, 08:30, 10:15, 10:45, 11:00, 12:50, 14:45 (I took that one back), 16:15, 16:45, 17:18, 17:50 and 18:40 but better check those departures at the bus station in Zagreb when you buy your ticket to Plitvice Lakes. From Plitvice Lakes you can continue your journey with direct bus to Zadar, Sibenik, Split and numerous other destinations on the Croatian coast. Just keep in mind that if you travel with a bigger luggage you need to pay extra for it in all the buses in Croatia.
Organized tours to Plitvice Lakes
If you don’t feel comfortable organizing everything on your own there’re also organized tours that can take you for a day from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes. On the way you would stop in the village of Rastoke that I only passed by bus but it looked beautiful! Click here to see the current prices, details and opinions!
You can also go on an organized tours to Plitvice Lakes from other destinations in Croatia. Click on the links below to see the details
- tour from Zadar
- tour from Split and Trogir
- tour from Porec and Rovinj
- tour from Dubrovnik
- tour from Omis
Avoiding crowds at Plitvice Lakes
You can also follow my friend Ewa’s advice and stay overnight near Plitvice Lakes. She rented a car in Zagreb to get to Plitvice Lakes in the afternoon, spend the night close to the park and be among the first ones to enter the area in the morning. This way she could have explored the lakes without too many crowds.
There are plenty of accommodation options to choose from at Plitvice Lakes, for all budgets and tastes. Click here to see the options and prices and book your place to stay at Plitvice Lakes!
Plitvice Lakes pictures
And now, since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are few more of the Plitvice Lakes pictures I took during my visit there.
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