Having visited 16 countries, people often ask me what my favorite place is. It’s tough to choose, but there’s one place that pops into my head every time, and that’s Plitvice Lakes National Park.
This past summer, I traveled to this world-renowned national park in Croatia. Despite my pleas to go to the ever-popular Krka, my brother insisted on Plitvice. Well, I can whole-heatedly tell you I’m glad he persuaded me. Not that Krka isn’t beautiful, but Plitvice is entirely more epic in my opinion. The only con is you can’t swim at Plitvice like you can at Krka, but once you get there, you’ll appreciate the undisturbed beauty.
Plitvice Lakes is something out of a movie. Every step feels like some sort of dream, with seemingly endless waterfalls cascading in every direction you look, even around your feet. This type of natural beautiful is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else, and for that reason, Croatia will always hold a special place in my heart.
A little background on the park
Plitvice Lakes (pronounced PLEET-veet-seh) is made up of 16 pristine lakes that weave together to form the most idyllic waterfalls and streams, all stitched together by wooden pathway and limestone rock formations.
The recommended starting point is Entrance 2. If you’re like me and want to stop for photo ops (quite often, might I add), plan to spend several hours hiking. For the most part, the trails are very leisurely. There were only a few steep areas, but the paths are extremely well groomed. If you want to cover ground quickly, there is a free boat that takes you across Kozjak, the park’s biggest lake, as well as multiple buses that run regularly.
Getting to the park
My family and I headed to Plitvice Lakes by car from Dubrovnik, and I’ll admit that I slept for most of the ride despite the breathtaking views. The drive took a little over five hours with stops. Shoutout to my brother for driving the entire way. You’re the real MVP.
The low-down on accommodations
If you want to get the most out of your Plitvice experience, I highly recommend staying in the park overnight. My family and I actually stayed within the park for three nights, but 1-2 will suffice if you’re limited on time. You’ll definitely want a full two days of hiking as there are many different trails and so much to see.
We ended up staying at an adorable little B&B called House Nina (pronounced Nay-Nah). I truly can’t say enough great things about this adorable little house, particularly about Nina herself. First of all, it was a great deal. Be sure to call her directly to book a room as it’s cheaper than booking through Trip Adviser or another site. (Actually, you should always call directly, especially in Europe!) It was a bit tough to find, but once we arrived, we were ecstatic to learn that it’s just a five minute walk to the tallest waterfall in the park (and in Croatia!), Veliki Slap.
Nina’s place was quaint with a garden where she grows vegetables, raises her sheep, and has countless kittens running around. She actually grew up in the house, and when she was young, she would swim and fish in the lakes before it was prohibited. Our stay with Nina was the finale of our month-long trip through Europe, and she made us feel completely at home. This isn’t a place you visit for an upscale, flashy experience. It’s a place where you come to throw on a t-shirt, go for a hike, chill out by a fire, get a home cooked meal and spend quality time with loved ones. Some of my favorites memories include Nina making us breakfast every morning and hanging out by a bonfire on our last night with a couple of beers.
The food situation
The food options are very limited within the park. I’m pretty sure we had our choice of a cheeseburger, chicken sandwich and possibly a salad of some sorts. If you’re a picky eater, I recommend packing your lunch. This may or may not be illegal, so don’t tell the park ranger, but the blackberries in the park were perfectly ripe, so of course we had to indulge and try a few… (Completely just solidified the American stereotype right there, didn’t I?)
What to bring
If you’re traveling during the warmer months, I recommend tank tops, athletic shorts and a t-shirt or two. I’d also throw in a cardigan or denim shirt as it cools off quite a bit in the evening— even during summer. Obviously, lather on the sunscreen, toss on your sunnies and be sure to throw a reusable water bottle and your camera in a backpack to capture the moment. I brought my DSLR out one day, and my GoPro the next. Comfortable shoes are also a must! I lived in my birkenstocks and sneakers.
Plitvice Lakes is truly unlike any other place I’ve visited in Europe. While it was still heavily saturated by visitors, it felt intimate– and beyond that– authentic. With no tourist traps, gift shops or manmade attractions, Croatia opened my eyes to a new kind of European experience that allowed me to get in touch with nature.
Have you ever visited a destination in Europe that took you by surprise?