Plitvice Lakes is the largest and the most visited Croatian National Park. It’s so popular that as of spring 2019, the number of visitors is limited to 10,000 a day, to help preserve the lakes and the tufa formations. This year also marked the 40th anniversary since the park was admitted to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Situated in the Dinaric Alps region, the park covers an area of 300 km². It’s an ideal stop if you’re traveling to or from the Adriatic coast since it’s right next to the main state road that connects the continental and coastal Croatia.
To fully experience the park, I recommend you give yourself at least a couple of days to explore. There’s an abundance of accommodation options in the area like hotels, private rooms, apartments, and wooden cottages that make you think of a cozy evening in front of the crackling fire while the hills around you are covered in snow.
However, if your time in Zagreb is limited, a day trip to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb is still a great way to spend your day. The distance between Zagreb and the park is only 140 km (approximately 87 miles) and there are a bunch of transport options to choose from!
Getting to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb via Public Transportation
The Croatian public transport has a certain reputation, and it’s not a very good one. I have personally experienced a fair share of public transport dramas, from old buses that stop working in the middle of nowhere to unpleasant bus drivers.
There’s always a possibility that you’ll bump into unexpected road closures that make you go around and add a couple of hours to the charming experience that is public transport.
But don’t be discouraged. Yes, such incidents can happen, but they’re isolated events rather than a rule. Feel free to use public transport, especially if you’re on a budget since it’s the cheapest option when it comes to traveling in Croatia.
The best way to get to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb via public transportation is by the bus that leaves from the bus station in Zagreb. There are 3-10 departures every day (depending on the season) and the one-way ticket costs between 75 ($11 USD) and 90 kunas ($13 USD). You can buy the tickets online here or at the station, up to one hour before departure.
If you’re buying online, make sure that you enter “Plitvička jezera” under destination, and not just “Plitvice” because the former takes you directly to the park entrance and the latter would take you to the neighboring village.
The drive would take about 2.5 hours. Bear in mind though, that the May through September period is the high tourist season in Croatia, and there’s a possibility of a traffic jam that could prolong the drive. For that reason, I would recommend booking an early departure (anything before 12:00 PM would work).
If you’re a train lover, unfortunately, you’re out of luck. There are no train lines that can take you directly from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes. You could take a train to Karlovac and then take a bus to the park, but it’s a longer, more expensive option.
The train takes longer (it stops on every station between Zagreb and Karlovac to pick up passengers) and Karlovac to Plitvice Lakes is about 90 km (50 miles). You would have to book two different modes of transport and spend more time and money. Logistically, it just doesn’t make sense.
Getting to Plitvice Lakes via Private Transportation
If you’re traveling solo, your best option is the public bus, but if you’re traveling in a group you might want to consider taking a taxi or renting a car and splitting the expenses.
If you’re opting for a taxi, the return trip would cost you about 2378 kunas ($352 USD) per vehicle. The vehicles can carry up to eight passengers which takes you to a price of 298 kunas ($44 USD) per passenger.
There are a couple of local taxi companies that offer transport from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes and you can find them here. It’s not a bad option considering the drive is more comfortable and shorter than the bus ride (about 2 hours) and if you encounter a traffic jam, chances are the driver knows a shortcut or a detour.
If you or someone in your group is a driver, I would highly recommend renting a car. There are a lot of options, and the prices vary, depending on the type of vehicle, insurance, etc.
We’ve rented cars dozens of times in the Balkans through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental in Zagreb here.
It’s a simple drive, especially if you decide to use a Zagreb-Split highway. The drive takes about 1.5 hours. The exit signs for Plitvice Lakes are well marked, and the best route is to use exit no.3 (Karlovac) and continue driving on the state road D1 for about 80 km (50 miles). That way you’ll arrive directly to the two main park entrances.
You could use a state road on the whole route, but the drive might last a little longer, depending on the traffic.
For a round trip from Zagreb to the park, the gas would cost you about 200 kunas ($30 USD).
If you decide to use a highway, you’ll have to pay a toll and if you use the exit I mentioned it will cost you 40 kunas ($6 USD) for a round trip. You’ll also have to pay a parking ticket at the Plitvice Lakes, 10 kunas ($1.48 USD) an hour during the high season (June 1 to 30 September) and 8 kunas ($1.18 USD) per hour in the low season.
When you take in all the expenses, renting a car is somewhat pricey but the major plus of renting is the freedom to explore some beautiful and interesting locations on your route, such as Rastoke, a small village next to Slunj.
The village is situated on the state road D1, directly en route to Plitvice Lakes if you’re traveling from Zagreb. Rastoke is known for its waterfalls and watermills and it’s even called The Small Lakes of Plitvice. The entrance fees are 30 kunas ($4.44 USD) for adults and 20 kunas ($2.96 USD) for students, pensioners and children from ages 7-18. The entrance is free of charge for people with disabilities and children up to age 7.
Visiting Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb on a Guided Tour
Booking a tour is, of course, the easiest way to visit Plitvice Lakes on a day trip from Zagreb. In my experience, it’s the option most travelers opt for, mainly because they don’t have to plan a thing and the prices are acceptable.
I recommend this tour, it has a lot of positive reviews and, unlike most of the other tours, the park entrance fee is already included in the price. It will cost you 798 kunas ($118.14 USD) and you’ll also get to visit Rastoke, take a boat and a train ride inside the park, and you’ll have a guide. Check prices and availability here.
The Get Your Guide platform offers a bunch of other Plitvice Lakes tours (check available tours here) and is, in my opinion, the best site to find and book tours in Croatia.
There are, of course, a lot of tour options to choose from and you can check the availability, prices, and types of tours to find what’s best suited for your budget. Keep in mind that cheaper tours often do not cover the Plitvice Lakes entrance fee, so keep that in mind when booking.
Price of Visiting Plitvice Lakes
The park’s price list is very elaborate. Let’s cover the high season period first. Note that if you visit the park after 4:00 PM (3:00 PM from August 26 to September 30), you’ll get a slight discount.
From June 1 to September 30 the adult ticket costs 250 kunas ($37 USD) if you visit the park before 4:00 PM, and 150 kunas ($22.21 USD) if you visit it after 4:00 PM.
Students get a discount (if they can provide a valid student ID card) so they’ll pay 160/100 kunas ($23.69/$14.80 USD). For children (7-18 years) you’ll have to pay 120/70 kunas ($17.76/$10.36 USD).
In the mid-season (April 1 to May 31 and October 1 to October 31) the adults will have to pay 100 kunas ($14.80 USD), students 75 kunas ($11.10 USD) and children 50 kunas ($7.40 USD).
In the low season (January 1 to March 31 and November 1 to December 31) the price for adults is 60 kunas ($8.88 USD), for students 50 kunas ($7.40 USD) and for children 30 kunas ($4.44 USD).
Regardless of the season, children under the age of 7 and people with disabilities have a free entrance. All tickets include a boat and a train ride inside the park and insurance.
General Information about Visiting Plitvice Lakes
If you’re not visiting Plitvice Lakes on a guided tour that already includes an entrance ticket in the price, I strongly advise you to buy/reserve your tickets online at the park’s online shop, and not to rely on buying them at the park’s entrance.
There might be no available tickets, especially in the high season (a frequent occurrence since the park management decided to reduce the number of visitors). You can check the availability of tickets here.
If you’re buying the ticket online, there are a few things you should pay attention to. You have to purchase them at least 24 hours before your arrival, and you have to choose one of the park’s entrances and the exact time slot of your arrival.
You’ll receive a voucher, which you have to print out and show at the entrance to pick up your ticket. You can pick it up 30 minutes before your reserved time slot, or one hour after it.
For instance, you’ll buy a ticket for 10:00 AM. You can pick up your ticket at the entrance between 9:30 AM and 11:00 AM, but you can only enter the park between 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM. If you’re late, your ticket is canceled and you won’t get a refund.
Be very careful about picking a time slot, factor in the possible traffic jams, road conditions, etc.
Keep your ticket on your person at all times, since park officials often request visitors to present them.
The park is open 365 days a year, from 8:00 AM to 19:00 PM, but the working hours change, depending on the season (you can check them here).
Keep in mind though that you can exchange your vouchers and enter the park two hours before closing time at the latest.
Tips, Additional Information, and What Not to Do in the Park
• There are three official park entrances (EN 1 Rastovača, EN 2 Hladovina and EN 3 Flora). Most people use the first two entrances, since they’re closest to the state road, parking spots, and bus station.
• If you plan to visit the park during the summer, I sure hope you like crowds. You’ll have to arm yourself with patience (a lot of it!) and try not to let it ruin your experience.
That’s why I prefer visiting the park in late spring. Nature is waking up from a winter’s sleep, so everything is green and fresh. Early autumn is also a good option (just think of the beautiful autumn colors of the trees).
You should be careful if you want to visit the park during the winter. It’s beautiful when everything is snowy and frozen, but some parts of the park will be closed for visitors.
• Be sure to bring firm and comfortable shoes since you’ll do a lot of walking (FYI, flip-flops are not appropriate shoes, learned that the hard way). Bring some food and water too, especially if you’re traveling with public transport. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of Croatia’s mountains without provisions. For the late spring/summer season, bring sunscreen and a mosquito repellent (trust me, you’ll need it).
• Check the weather forecast before traveling and dress accordingly. Remember that the temperature is always a little lower in the mountain region than in Zagreb. Pack a raincoat, just in case.
• Do not litter. I can’t stress this enough. Nature should be cherished and preserved, so please pick up and throw away any trash.
• Don’t damage the plants. I know some of those flowers are beautiful, but picking them is strictly forbidden. Also, don’t feed the animals and don’t try to touch them. Park rangers take their job very seriously and you could get a fine if they catch you.
• If you want to try out the local cuisine, there are a couple of restaurants in the park. They can be quite expensive in the high season, but you have a lot of other options in the neighborhood. Also, the park allows you to bring in your own food and there are a few spots where you can sit down and enjoy your lunch.
• The trails are marked for a reason. If you see an unmarked trail, don’t follow it. It can be dangerous, you could get lost or fall down off a cliff. Follow the instructions and stay safe!
• The park is pet friendly, so if you want to bring a dog, you can, just make sure your pet is on the leash the whole time.
• Although Croatia is very safe to travel, destinations like Plitvice Lakes attract unsavory characters that prey on the tourists (or more precisely, their pockets and wallets). Be careful where you keep your money and pay attention to your surroundings.
• Have fun, enjoy the beautiful nature, yummy food and experience Croatia!
What to Pack for a Day Trip to Plitvice Lakes
If you’re visiting the Plitvice Lakes on a day trip, you’ll likely want to make sure you have these items with you!
Mosquito repellent: You can bring ones with DEET or without DEET, or I love having some of these mosquito repellent wipes that I can keep in my bag in case I suddenly start to get swarmed and don’t have my regular repellent with me.
Sunscreen: You can buy sunscreen in Croatia, but it’s likely cheaper at home or bought online in advance. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen. Who doesn’t love a good solid for liquid swap? Great to keep in your bag without worrying about sunscreen explosions
1 rain jacket: There can be some surprising weather sometimes even in the summer in Croatia, so bring a jacket that can handle rain and a bit of wind. We like this Columbia rain jacket for men and this Marmot Precip jacket for women. For colder weather, an ultra-light down jacket rolls up and packs easily in your day bag so it’s good to bring along – I have one really similar to this.
Comfortable walking shoes: You’ll want to wear at the very least good sneakers for your trip to Plitvice Lakes, and you may be more comfortable with hiking shoes if you’re planning to do several hikes in Croatia on your trip. I recommend these Ahnu hiking boots for women, and these Keen boots for men.
A secure backpack: We both carry the CitySafe backpack by PacSafe not only on our travels but in our day-to-day lives. It’s cute, it’s functional, it’s comfortable, and it’s secure. We’re talking about interlocking zippers (which you can then put through a second clasp for two layers of security), slash-proof wire mesh construction, and RFID blockers to keep your personal data safe.
It’s neutral enough to be unisex, it’s roomy enough to fit a small laptop, large camera, and tons of odds & ends, and it fits under the plane seat in front of you. We’re obsessed. Check it out for yourself!
More Croatia Travel Resources
Headed to Croatia? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Croatia, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Croatia packing list with detailed season by season tips.
While in Zagreb, check out our list of the city’s best photo destinations.
If you’re still putting together your itinerary, here’s a great list of places to visit in Croatia, our Croatia national parks guide, and Croatian waterfalls guide to help you choose. We also have a day trip guide for Dubrovnik and Split if you’re to be visiting these cities as well.
Next, check out our Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Croatia and local tipping customs.
If this will be one of your first trips in the Balkans, check out our massive list of things to know before traveling the Balkans as well as our Balkan bus, road trip, and itinerary guides.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Croatia (or really, any part of the world)! We have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While the Balkans are perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe.
Tea is a native Croatian and a passionate promoter of Croatia’s cultural and historical heritage. She holds an MA in History and has been working as a tour guide and museum educator. She enjoys hiking and traveling with friends, and believes that there’s no problem that can’t be solved with Balkan food.