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Plitvice travel guide

Plitvice Lakes is Croatia's most stunning national park. Here's how to travel, what to eat and where to stay at Plitvice Lakes National Park

© David Jepson/Time Out
Plitvice lakes

Plitvice Lakes is one of Croatia's most alluring attractions. Just a few hours from capital city Zagreb, and easily reached by road, this remarkable feat of nature is very accessible. Visitors flock here in summer months to gaze at the 16 startlingly clear lakes and heavenly cascades spread over its lush terrain. Carefully protected by the government, Plitvice is not overrun with eateries and hotels, but you can easily find places to dine and doze around the fringes of this natural wonderland. 

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Plitvice travel guide

Plitvice overview
Attractions

Plitvice overview

For all Croatia’s pristine beaches and panoramic peaks, many consider the country’s greatest natural attraction to be the Plitvice Lakes. And although this National Park attracts over one million annual visitors, they are soon absorbed among the walkways, bridges and boardwalks that allow you to see the spectacular scenery right up close. Plitvice is home to 1,146 species of plants, 140 types of birds and more than 50 mammals. Lynx, wild cats, brown bears and deer number among the mammals, as well as skunks, martens, weasels and wolves. This natural wonder is just off the motorway between Split and Zagreb in Lika, a region known for its rustic lifestyles, unspoiled wilderness areas and fantastic roast lamb. Most of all, though, people flock here for the series of 16 continually changing, cascading, crystal-clear lakes. The dimensions of these lakes have been created from centuries of calcium carbonate deposits, which find home in and on algae, moss and bacteria. This deposit-and-plant combination has created a sequence of travertine barriers or natural dams, each of which might grow by a couple of centimetres a year. The water collects behind the dams, creating Plitvice’s distinctive landscape of interconnected lakes, the higher ones feeding the lower ones via a rushing, crashing series of rapids and cascades. This process, a singular occurrence and one of the main reasons Plitvice is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, means the bodies of water and the waterfalls l

Getting to Plitvice
Travel

Getting to Plitvice

For those with their own wheels, getting to Plitvice is a straightforward drive along the A1 Zagreb-Split motorway followed by a short distance on minor roads – the Plitvice exit on the motorway is clearly marked. For a more leisurely approach, head for Karlovac and then take the minor road to Plitvice via Slunj, site of the picturesque Rastoke Falls. However you arrive, there are large car parks (complete with toilet facilities and cafes) outside both Entrance 1 and Entrance 2. Although most Zagreb-Split buses take the A1 motorway and bypass the lakes entirely, there are still eight to ten daily coast-bound buses that stop right outside the main park entrance points – expect to pay 90kn-100kn each way. Keep your wits about you when trying to catch a bus back to Zagreb – many drivers hurtle along the winding park-side road at such speed that they don’t notice waiting passengers waving at them from the bus stop until it’s too late. Many hostels in Zagreb will hook you up with minibus tours to the Plitvice Lakes that aren’t much more expensive than regular public transport and can represent a more sociable way of travelling. Wanderer Travel will get you to the lakes and back and throw in a quick visit to Rastoke into the bargain for 200kn – the entrance fee to the National Park is extra.

15 reasons to visit Plitvice Lakes
Blog

15 reasons to visit Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes National Park is famed for its unsurpassable natural beauty. Sitting between Zagreb and Zadar, at the Bosnia Herzegovina border, it is the jewel of mountainous central Croatia, and it’s easy to see why it made the Unesco World Heritage register in 1979. Here are 15 reasons why you shouldn’t leave Croatia without visiting this spectacular feat of nature:     1. Glorious nature spots are casually scattered around Croatia. But Plitvice is the largest of the lot. It’s also the oldest nature park in Southeast Europe, and it continues to reign supreme.   2. Plitvice is essentially a collection of lakes. They are all clear as glass, and they are all stunning.    3. They’re so clear, in fact, that you can see schools of fish swim through the water in microscopic detail.        4. People tend to love them because of their impossibly vibrant array of colours, which constantly change: when the slant of the sunlight alters (and when other scientific things happen) azure turns to forest green which turns again to bluey-grey. From a birds-eye view, Plitvice looks something like a tilting tray of green-blue inkpots.   5.And each pool of crystalline colour is fringed with waterfalls. Hundreds of them – from kitchen-tap dribbles to near-Niagra cascades – gush at once, and walking around the park can make you feel as though you’ve stumbled into the ultimate Herbal Essences advert.        6.So it’s no wonder that around 1.2 million people visit Plitvi

Croatia national park guide
Things to do

Croatia national park guide

As well as beaches, festivals and seafood, Croatia offers some of Europe’s most diverse wildlife. In total, more than 400 areas of the country are protected, including ten nature parks and eight National Parks. Read on for our guide to the five best. Do you agree with this top 5? Think we've missed anything out? Facebook or tweet us your thoughts.

Plitvice restaurant guide

Plitvice restaurants
Restaurants

Plitvice restaurants

A handful of tourist-friendly eateries dot Plitvice Lakes, doling out bowls of grah (bean stew), sausages and simple grills. There are also a lot of stalls around the main park entrances selling the home-made treats for which the Lika region is famous – tangy yellow škripavac cheese, and scrumptious cherry strudels. The best-known destination for sit-down eating is the Licka kuca restaurant, but there are plenty of others, including a couple of pizzerias, in the villages of Grabovac and Rakovica, eight to ten kilometres north of Entrance 1 on the road to Karlovac.

Licka Kuca
Restaurants

Licka Kuca

Just outside of the National Park, Licka Kuca is a traditional-style barn-like building with timber beams inside and a sprawling terrace outside. It's always been a popular landmark, and after it was gutted by fire in 2012 it was painstakingly rebuilt by the park authorities. The menu is traditional, hearty and meat-based: Lika favourites include as lamb spit-roast on the open fire, pan-fried trout, and the house speciality of Licka juha sausage stew. Homely atmosphere and hot, well-cooked meals make this the perfect place to refuel after a long day of lusting after the lakes. 

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars

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