I hate the term “must-do” but if it was going to apply to anything in Croatia, it would be Plitvice National Park. This is one of the many poster boys of this dazzling country with its impossibly blue lakes and stunning waterfalls. It’s an easy day trip (or longer) from either Zadar or Zagreb. I started and finished in Zadar and was surprised at just how easy it was to get there.
Regular buses leave from Zadar’s central bus station for Plitvice, run by a medley of companies. You can check out the timetable on the Zadar bus station website. Obviously you can get your ticket at the station on the day but, unsure how busy it would be, I opted to buy mine online the night before on GetByBus, a Croatian bus site. The ticket is emailed to you and there’s no need to print it out. You just show the driver your QR Code. It was really easy. I went for the 8.30am bus (arriving at Plitvice at 10.15am) and returned on the 5pm bus. This was the perfect amount of time to explore the park – I certainly wouldn’t have left any later. The return ticket cost around £20. It’s a very scenic drive. Sit on the right hand side for the most spectacular views on the way there.
The bus stops first at Entrance 1 and later at Entrance 2 to the park. Either of these is fine to alight, it depends what trail you want to take. One thing I will say is that coming back, it was quite busy and most people got on at Entrance 1 so to guarantee a seat, I’d advise finishing at Entrance 1. Even though my trail technically started at Entrance 2, it was a loop which also went via Entrance 1 so it wasn’t a problem. A ticket to the park is 150kn (£17) and you can pay by cash or card. This might seem a lot but it includes transport within the park (via boat and bus) and the park is just so gorgeous and well-maintained that it’s so worth it. You can cut costs by bringing a picnic rather than paying the high prices for refreshments inside. But seriously don’t let the price put you off visiting this outstanding place.
Inside the park you’ve got a whole range of trail options, denoted by letters. Some are short whilst others can take around 6 hours or more. I went for one of the longer ones, H, which covers most of the park. The 6.5 hours I had in the park was just enough to do H with a few diversions, such as to the Big Waterfall, including stopping for lunch/photos etc. Be aware that this time also includes waiting for buses/boats. I took one boat ride and the queue was huge, even in September. Just factor this into your time.
Other than that, the best thing to do is just soak up the park. It truly is breathtaking. It’s one of those places you where you begin to wonder whether it can be as good as its pictures but once you’re amongst it, hearing the splash of the waterfalls; seeing the sunlight reflect off the dazzling blue pools and zig-zagging between colossal groups of Chinese tourists, you realise it’s so much better than its pictures.
Trail H (starting from Entrance 1 as opposed to its official start) begins with a panoramic view up top of the lakes and the boardwalks snaking through it. The trail isn’t signposted at first but if you follow signs for Station 1/2 (where the bus departs) you’ll soon join up with it. Technically, you should take the bus from Station 1 near the entrance to Station 2 but I would advise walking this segment as well. Because most people take the bus, it’s very quiet and you are literally walking along the edge of one of the lakes. It’s really beautiful.
After that, I took the bus between Stations 2 and 3 and here the trail turned into a series of boardwalks, weaving through lakes and past waterfalls. When it’s busy, it can become a bit of a challenge knowing whether you’re joining a queue or just standing behind a long line of photographers. The Brit in me just casually joined all the queues and waited for something to happen. I can’t imagine what it’s like in summer when it’s presumably even busier. It makes you take your time though, especially on the boardwalks where you can’t really overtake. It was frustrating at times being stuck behind people who walked at the pace of snails on tar, but walking slower allowed me to soak up the sheer beauty of the park and that’s definitely not something to complain about.
One detour which is worth doing is the Big Waterfall which you should see signposted as you head back towards Entrance 1. The waterfall itself is impressive. Next to it you’ll notice a series of steps. It’s a bit of a relentless slog up but at the top you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the entire park. It’s about a 30-45 minute detour in total, if you factor in going :O :O for 5 minutes or so.
In fact, you should probably add about an extra hour’s worth of :O :O time for the whole park…