Big blue body of water reflecting hills with dense foliage at Plitvice Lakes National Park

How to Plan the Perfect Day Trip from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes

If you’re looking for a natural wonder to visit from Zadar, you can’t go wrong with Plitvice Lakes. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most beautiful and popular destinations in Croatia, and for good reason. With its 16 turquoise lakes, countless waterfalls, and lush forests, Plitvice Lakes is a paradise for nature lovers.

In this article, we’ll tell you how to plan a perfect day trip from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes, including all the information you need to know before you go- from the best ways to get there, to what to expect when you arrive and what you need to bring with you.

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What to bring with you to Plitvice

Before visiting Plitvice Lakes, it’s important to plan what to bring with you. You should bring a backpack with enough space for at least one bottle of water, as well as some cash for things like souvenirs and your tickets if you haven’t booked in advance (definitely do this in peak season).

We recommend bringing a portable charger for your phone, as it’s unlikely that you’ll have access to charging ports throughout the day. You should also feel free to pack things like a camera and binoculars depending on your reasons for visiting the park.

If you’re visiting Plitvice in summer, you should bring sunscreen and a hat, and possibly something to cover your shoulders if you usually get sunburnt. Insect repellent is also a good idea. If visiting in winter, make sure to bring plenty of layers, as Croatia gets pretty cold.

No matter what time of year you visit, you should wear closed-toe shoes, as the trails often have loose dirt and stones. Hiking boots aren’t really necessary unless you intend to hike the longest route in the park, which takes around six hours. As long as you wear flat heeled shoes that are comfortable and provide enough support, you should be fine.

A great option to save money on food is to bring a picnic, especially since the journey isn’t so far that the food will degrade. We suggest visiting a bakery or supermarket in Zadar (either early in the morning or the night before your trip) and buying things like pasta, sandwiches and salad, as well as fruit and some sweet treats. This way, you’ll have plenty of energy to see the park’s highlights and still save some money.

How to get from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes

There are four main ways to get to Plitvice Lakes from Zadar: by bus, by renting a car, by private transfer or by guided tour. Each option has its pros and cons, so you can choose the one that suits your preferences and budget.

By bus

There are at least 7 daily buses running between Zadar and Plitvice Lakes from 8 am to 11 pm, with the journey taking between 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours 50 minutes, depending on the route. The ticket price is around €13 one way or €25 for a return.

The shortest route takes you from Zadar main bus station to Plitvice Entrance 1 and Entrance 2 (Slunj and Mukinje). The stops are well signed and look like log cabins, and you can also use Google Maps while on the bus to see when you’re approaching your destination. You can book your tickets online or buy them at the bus station.

The advantage of taking a bus is that you don’t have to worry about driving, parking, or tolls. You can also enjoy the scenic views along the way, and be assured that by taking public transport, you’re doing your bit to protect the environment.

The disadvantage is that you have to follow the bus schedule, which may not match your desired departure and return times. You also have to carry your luggage with you, as there are no lockers at the park. You can leave your luggage at the entrances, but you do so at your own risk.

By car

If you prefer driving, you can rent a car and drive to Plitvice Lakes. It’s approximately 120 km (about 1.5 hours) from Zadar to Plitvice, and driving is the quickest way to get there.

You can compare car rental prices on platforms such as Discover Cars and Qeeq (or BikesBooking if you prefer to ride). Vehicle pickup is available at Zadar airport, as well as at various points around the city.

The route from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes includes the E71 and D1. You can use Google Maps or a GPS device to navigate your way. Bear in mind that you’ll have to pay for tolls, which are around €10 for a round trip.

Parking is available at both entrances of the park, although if you’re coming from Zadar, you’re most likely to park at Entrance 2. Parking over winter is free, but but costs between €1 and €1.50 an hour between April and October. You can check the park’s official website for parking information.

The advantage of driving is that you have more flexibility and freedom to choose your departure and return times. You can also stop along the way to see other attractions, such as Zrmanja Canyon or the Nikola Tesla Memorial Centre in Smiljan.

The disadvantages of driving are that you have to deal with traffic, road conditions, as well as driving on the right side of the road (if you aren’t used to it).

By private transfer

Private transfer is another good option if you want flexibility, as well as getting to the park as quickly and easily as possible. Unlike with renting your own car, you won’t have to worry about directions or driving in a foreign country.

Platforms likes GetTransfer offer options to book a private driver and pay by the hour. You’ll have to agree in advance on drop off and pickup points, so you’ll need to decide how much time you’d like to spend in the park when you book. However, this option still provides more flexibility than a guided tour, and more freedom to explore the park independently.

Guided tours from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes

Another option is to join an organised day tour from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes. There are many tour operators that offer this service, and you can find them online or at your hotel. Get Your Guide offers a number of guided tours from Zadar to Plitvice; follow this link to explore the options.

The typical tour includes transportation, the entrance fee to the park, a tour guide, and sometimes lunch. The tour usually takes 8 to 10 hours, depending on the itinerary and the group size. Prices range from €40 to €80 per person, depending on the quality and the inclusions of the tour.

The advantage of taking a tour is that you don’t have to worry about anything. You just have to show up at the meeting point and enjoy the trip. You also get to learn more about the park and its history from a professional guide.

The disadvantage is that you have to follow the tour schedule, which may not suit your pace and preferences. You also have less privacy and flexibility, as you have to share the bus and the park with other tourists.

What to expect when you get to Plitvice Lakes

The park is known for its series of interconnected lakes and cascading waterfalls, all of which you can see by following various routes. The route you take will depend on a number of factors, such as your fitness levels, how much time you have in the park, and the time of year.

All routes are open during high season, whereas only a few can be explored during winter due to the conditions of the terrain. During high season there is also a train and a boat service to help you get around, which is great if you aren’t up to a six hour hike or if you’re travelling with kids.

You can find plenty of information about wildlife, routes, transport and amenities available in the park in our article The Complete Guide to Plitvice Lakes National Park: Tips and Tricks.

How much money you can expect to spend

The amount of money you need to spend for your Plitvice day trip depends on your transportation, entry fee (depending on when you visit), food, and souvenirs. Here is a rough estimate of the costs for each option when visiting in peak season:

  • By bus: €26 (return ticket) + €40 (entrance fee) + €15 (food) + €10 (souvenirs) = €91
  • By car: €10 (tolls) + €9 (parking) + €40 (entrance fee) + €15 (food) + €10 (souvenirs) + €20 (car rental) = €104
  • By guided tour: €70 (tour) + €15 (food) + €10 (souvenirs) = €95

These are just approximate numbers, and they may vary depending on the season, the exchange rate, and your personal preferences. You can save some money by booking your tickets or tours online, bringing your own food and water, and choosing cheaper souvenirs.

The prices are based on visiting in peak season (June-September) when ticket prices are at their highest. If you visit in April, May, or October, entry tickets are €23, and from November to March tickets are only €10.


Plitvice Lakes is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Croatia, and a perfect day trip from Zadar. With its stunning scenery, rich history, and diverse flora and fauna, Plitvice Lakes will amaze you.

Whether you choose to travel by bus, car, private transfer or on a guided tour, you’ll have a wonderful time exploring the park and its surroundings. Hopefully we’ve convinced you to book your day trip from Plitvice to Zadar- after all, it should be one of the easiest choices in the world!

CTA: Check out our article From Plitvice to Krka: The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Croatia’s Breathtaking National Parks for more information on Croatia’s parks!

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