Croatia

Day trip from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes

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Visiting Plitvice Lakes, one of the best places to visit in Croatia, 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 Zagreb or anywhere else really 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 enjoyed all the great things to do in Zagreb (like visiting amazing Zagreb museums) and I think it is among the most underrated capitals in Europe and among 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!

Getting from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes

According to a couple of internet sources there are 10+ buses traveling 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.

Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes

The next morning I arrived at the bus station around 7 am, 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.

Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes

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. You can find the current prices here.

visiting Plitvice Lakes

Once you get your ticket you are free to explore the area.

There are a 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.

visiting Plitvice Lakes

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 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 fewer people I could see and there were moments when I was walking all alone.

visiting Plitvice Lakes

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 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 on the bus.

Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes

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 the 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!

visiting Plitvice Lakes

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, as 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

Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes – step by step guide

So, to sum up, here is step by step info on 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 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 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 Entrance number 2 it’s a 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 bigger luggage you need to pay extra for it in all the buses in Croatia.

Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes

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

visiting Plitvice Lakes

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!

visiting 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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Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes

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visiting Plitvice Lakes

visiting Plitvice Lakes

Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes

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Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes

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Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes

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visiting Plitvice Lakes

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visiting Plitvice Lakes

visiting Plitvice Lakes

visiting Plitvice Lakes

visiting Plitvice Lakes


Travel Resources

You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for the place to stay in Zagreb

Never travel without travel insurance, you never know what might happen and better safe than sorry. You can check the insurance policy for Croatia here.

I recommend joining organized tours to get to know the place better and to visit more places during your trip. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide – click here.

Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.


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Visiting Pltvice Lakes by bus from Zagreb, Croatia


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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Rajendera Sodhi
    11/06/2018 at 05:18

    As ever fascinating and informative…..thanks

    • Reply
      kami
      11/06/2018 at 07:21

      thank you! I’m glad you liked it!

  • Reply
    Maria
    12/06/2018 at 00:59

    Kami, this place looks stunning. I understand your frustration in comparison to other attractions, but the photos are just so beautiful. I have visited the Kravice Waterfalls in Bosnia – I really loved the visit, but they were crowded as it was high season. I can’t wait to visit them during the Fall, and also these lakes for sure, especially now that I know they are easily accessible by bus! Thank you for all the info!

    • Reply
      kami
      18/06/2018 at 08:58

      I loved Kravice but I was there in March, the weather was perfect and there was literally not a single person around! I would probably have hated it in the high season! I hope you will go to Plitvice one day, when it’s not too crowded! I’m sure you’d enjoy it a lot there!

  • Reply
    Isabel
    25/04/2019 at 12:40

    I’m a solo female traveller from Malaysia and I’m headed for Zagreb in October 2019. As I prefer to DIY my trips, this article is an excellent help. Your photos are gorgeous! Thank you for a wonderfully written article.

    • Reply
      kami
      27/04/2019 at 13:30

      Thank you for your nice comment. Have a great time in Croatia!

    • Reply
      Salinah Zakaria
      27/07/2019 at 04:23

      I’m a solo traveller from Singapore. I’ll be in Zagreb in October 2019. I almost made a booking via Viator but decided on taking a different route. I would probably take the public bus to enjoy the scenery and spend the entire day in Plitvice Lake. Thank you for the valuable information!

      • Reply
        kami
        31/07/2019 at 11:57

        Taking public transport is pretty easy and straightforward. I’m sure you will have a great trip. Enjoy Croatia!

  • Reply
    Vee
    29/06/2019 at 07:37

    Thanks. I Love how detailed and informative your article is with the necessary links & prices etc, I’ve even favorited it as my guide as I’m planning my upcoming trip in Aug. Thanks for the great advice & great pics

    • Reply
      kami
      30/06/2019 at 19:41

      Thank you. I’m glad you found it useful and I hope you will have a great trip to Croatia!

  • Reply
    Himanshu
    12/12/2019 at 12:09

    Very informative and beautiful pictures. May I ask in which month of the year you visited ?

    • Reply
      kami
      17/12/2019 at 09:51

      It was in mid October. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Somnath Dutta
    28/02/2020 at 15:59

    which one you think is better to visit Krka national park or Plitvice lake NP. I would be travelling during the Easter holidays and will be in Zagreb for two days

  • Reply
    Grant McWilliams
    02/03/2022 at 16:34

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been to Plitvice several times and it depends on when you go how impressed you are. There are times when there’s so much water flowing over the lakes that you can’t escape the sound and other times it trickles. I think it depends on how much prolonged rain Croatia has had.

    I will be back to Plitvice next month. It’s worth noting for anyone that is trying to do this during the pandemic that there aren’t as many buses running. We will need to rent a car from Zagreb because our tickets are for the 11-12 slot and the first bus arrives at 1pm. The car rental plus tolls and gas is actually the same price as the bus for 3 people so it’s fine.

    As for your thoughts on daytripping from Zagreb being tight. I once day tripped Plitvice from Ljubljana! It was a long day. We left on the first train, transferred to a bus and got to Plitvice just about noon. We spent four hours there and reversed the process and came into Ljubljana after midnight.

    • Reply
      kami
      05/03/2022 at 20:19

      Thank you for your comment and for the updated info! I can imagine it was a long journey from Ljubljana, but definitely worth the trip since Plitvice Lakes are pretty amazing :) Have a great time there again!

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