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Wondering how to get from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes? I’ve got you covered!
Plitvice Lakes National Park is an absolute must visit on any trip to Croatia. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a breathtaking series of turquoise lakes and cascading waterfalls is one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever experience.
But how do you get from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes? Well, there are a few ways.
Having called Zagreb home since 2014, I’ve made my way to the lakes through every season, trying out various modes of transportation including driving, buses, and organized tours. Each has its own appeal, depending on your timeline, budget, and travel preferences, and I’m keen to share these insights with you.
In this post, I’ll break down the travel options from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes, helping you pick the right one for a smooth and enjoyable journey to the Plitvice Lakes.
Getting from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes
When arriving in Croatia, you’ll most likely fly into the Zagreb airport, which is the perfect starting point for your Croatian adventure.
Before you venture out to the magnificent Plitvice Lakes, I’d suggest spending at least a few days in Zagreb. Wander through the cobbled streets of the Upper Town, marvel at the medieval architecture, and sip coffee in one of the many trendy Zagreb cafes.
There are tons of great day trip options from Zagreb, and Plitvice Lakes is definitely among the top choices. This national park, known for its stunning waterfalls and crystal clear lakes, is just a short drive from Zagreb and makes for a perfect day out.
Getting there from Zagreb is super easy, with 5 main options: renting a car, taking a bus, joining a small group tour, joining a large coach bus tour, or reserving a private transfer.
How Far is Plitvice Lakes From Zagreb?
The distance between Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes is 130 kilometers (80 miles) and it takes about 2 hours to reach the national park. Because of the park’s location in central Croatia, halfway between Zagreb and Zadar, the only way to reach it is by road.
Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes By Car
A Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes drive is the best way to visit the lakes if you want the freedom and flexibility to see the lakes on your own terms. I recommend renting a car from Discover Cars because they check both local and international rental companies to ensure you get the best rates.
All major car rental companies have offices either at the Zagreb Airport or in the city center, making it super easy to find and pick up a vehicle.
The drive from Zagreb is relatively easy and the E65 highway is new and well maintained. The Croatian highways have a toll system, so you’ll need to get a ticket at the toll booths on your way out of the city.
After driving about 40 kilometers, you’ll take Exit 3 toward D. Resa/Karlovac. You’ll drive through the center of Karlovac and continue onto the D1 Road (Državna cesta D1 in Croatian). Then you basically just drive straight the entire way until you reach the park!
For a route overview, or to follow exact GPS directions, just click on the Google Map above.
Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes Bus
Taking the bus to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb is a popular way to visit the national park.
The frequency of the buses depend on the season. During the summertime, buses depart daily, and multiple times per day, from Zagreb’s main bus station. In the off season, buses are less frequent, so be sure to check the up-to-date Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes bus timetable on the Zagreb Bus Station’s official website.
The bus ride from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes takes just under 2.5 hours, and most of the buses drop you off at Entrance 1 of Plitvička Jezera National Park.
Flixbus offers the best and most affordable option for traveling from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes. With comfortable seats, free WiFi, and a direct route, Flixbus is the perfect choice for stress-free travel. Other companies also provide service to Plitvice Lakes, too, and can be found on the Zagreb Bus Station website above.
Just keep in mind that by taking the bus, you’ll have less flexibility to explore nearby places like Rastoke Village and will have to stick to the departure times set by the bus company.
If you do decide to take the bus, make sure to purchase your ticket in advance and book the earliest departure time. Trust me on this one! Most tours arrive at the park around 10:00 AM, and things can get crazy busy in the summertime. So if you can arrive before then, you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.
Small Group Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes Day Trip
Joining a Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes day trip is an excellent option if you don’t want to have to worry about driving, parking, or navigating the national park on your own. Small group tours like this one cap the number of travelers to around 8 people, giving you a more personalized experience without the cost of a private tour but also without the large crowds of a big bus tour.
Most of these tours include pick-up and drop-off at select Zagreb hotels, a guided walking tour through the national park, admission ticket to the park, and some even stop at Rastoke Village.
Personally, I’d choose this small group tour (it has raving reviews!):
“FIVE STAR experience, greatly enhanced by a superb guide. I had expected to love Plitvice Lakes and I did. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is indeed a wonder to behold. However getting to and from the park and navigating the crowds within the park requires an expert guide and we had one! Our guide, Ivan, managed our small group’s expectations and experience superbly. He was thoroughly professional, very informative and a great driver.” – Sally (Read more reviews)
Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes Private Transfer
If you’re all about traveling in comfort and love having the freedom to explore at your own beat, then you might want to consider booking a private tour from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes. Sure, it’s a bit of a splurge compared to other options, but think of it as the VIP experience — tailor-made for relaxation and ease.
By booking a private tour, you won’t have to worry about finding the best car rental company, negotiating the best rates, finding parking, or dealing with the stress of driving in a foreign country. A private tour takes care of all those logistics for you, allowing you to focus on fully immersing yourself in the beauty of the national park!
This Plitvice Lakes private tour from Zagreb picks you up right in front of your accommodation and transports you straight to the national park in an air conditioned vehicle. On the way, you’ll stop for coffee at the charming Rastoke Village and won’t have to wait in line to purchase a ticket once you arrive at the park.
Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes Bus Tours
For a convenient and affordable trip to Plitvice Lakes, large group tours by coach are always a popular choice. While they are pre-planned and usually well-organized, these tours are actually not that much cheaper than small group tours. For that reason, I’d always recommend booking a small group tour over a large group bus tour.
Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes Train
If you were hoping to take a train from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes, you’ll be disappointed to learn that the train system in Croatia is not very extensive.
While there is a railway route from Zagreb to Split (and vice versa), the train does not stop at Plitvice Lakes. Rather, it passes through Rudopolje and Vrhovine train stops, which are the closest to the national park.
From both of those stops, you’d still need to drive about 30 kilometers to reach the lakes. There is no bus connection available, and Ubers in this part of Croatia are scarce, so I recommend avoiding this option.
Where to Buy Plitvice Lakes Tickets
If you decide to visit the waterfalls on your own and not with a guided tour, you’re going to need to purchase tickets to Plitvice Lakes National Park. I highly suggest purchasing your tickets to the park online, especially if you’re traveling during peak season (the months of June, July and August).
Tickets can be purchased in advance on the official Plitvice Lakes National Park website. While it is possible to buy tickets at the entrance to the park, summer can get very busy and crowded, and there are a limited amount of visitors allowed in the park per day. You wouldn’t want to travel all that way just to be turned away!
So the best way to ensure you get in is to buy your tickets online. You will also have to select a time slot to enter the park when purchasing your ticket. The earliest you can enter is at 7:00 AM, and then every hour on the hour until 5:00 PM.
However, if you’re visiting during the summertime, you’ll want to get to the park as soon as it opens. This way, you’ll practically have the park to yourself (or at least get to enjoy it with a lot less people) before the large tour groups start to arrive around 10:00 AM.
How to Get From Plitvice Lakes to Zagreb
If you book a small group tour or a large coach bus tour, your ticket will typically include the return trip to Zagreb.
If you’ve decided to rent a car and drive yourself to the park, or take the bus, the route back to Zagreb is the same as the one taken to get here. However, if you have the time and are feeling adventurous, consider taking a detour and exploring some of the smaller towns and villages along the way.
A few places you might consider stopping at are Željava Air Base, an abandoned underground military airport on the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the village of Rastoke (a historic village built over a series of mills and waterfalls).
What is the closest airport to Plitvice Lakes?
Zadar airport is the closest airport to Plitvice Lakes at just about 120 kilometers away. However, the nearest international airport is Zračna luka Franjo Tuđman in Zagreb, at 135 kilometers away.
What city is closest to Plitvice Lakes?
The two major cities that are closest to Plitvice Lakes are Zagreb and Zadar.
How do I get from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park?
You can get from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park by renting a car and driving, taking the bus, or joining an organized tour.
Can you do a day trip to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb?
Absolutely! Plitvice Lakes is one of the best and most popular day trips from Zagreb. The national park is truly spectacular and well worth the visit.
Is Split or Zagreb closer to Plitvice Lakes?
Zagreb is closer to Plitvice Lakes compared to Split. Zagreb is approximately 130 kilometers away, making it about a 2 hour drive to Plitvice Lakes. On the other hand, Split is roughly 241 kilometers away from the lakes, making it about a 2.5 hour drive to the lakes.
Now you know all the ways to get from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes!
I hope this guide has given you all the insights you need to make your journey smooth and enjoyable. Whether you’re driving, taking the bus, or joining a tour, you’re in for a treat once you reach the cascading waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Before you go, make sure you know the best places to stay in Zagreb!
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Croatia Travel Planning Guide
💸 What is the currency in Croatia?
As of January 1st, 2023, the official currency of Croatia is the Euro and NOT the Kuna (which is also the name of the national animal of Croatia).
🇭🇷 What language do they speak in Croatia?
Croatian is the official language of Croatia. Learn some phrases in Croatian before your trip with the Ling app!
🚑 Should I buy Croatia travel insurance?
10000% YES – Seriously, don’t leave home without it. You never know what can happen on the road. I like SafetyWing because they provide excellent coverage for as little as $1.50 a day.
📱 Will my phone work in Croatia?
Maybe – check with your provider to see if you’ll have service while traveling Croatia. If you don’t have service (or it’s too expensive) I recommend getting an eSIM like Airalo. Airalo allows you to have data while traveling without the high costs of roaming. They have super affordable plans available for 190+ countries, including Croatia. Download the app and get your plan before you leave home so that you have data as soon as you touch down in Croatia!
🏨 What’s the best way to book my Croatia accommodations?
For Croatia hotels, Booking is by far the best site.
🛫 What’s the best site to buy Croatia flights?
I always use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights.
🚗 Is it safe to rent a Car in Croatia?
Yes! – In fact, renting a car in Croatia is one of the best ways to see the country! I recommend Discover Cars because they check both local and international rental companies to ensure you get the best deal. (Get your Croatia road trip itinerary here)
💦 Is it safe to drink the water in Croatia?
Tap water in Croatia is completely safe to drink, so bring your reusable water bottle and fill up!
Do I need a visa for Croatia?
Depending on where you are coming from you may or may not need a visa to enter Croatia. Check the official Republic of Croatia Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for more information on who should apply for a visa.