When we made the decision to visit Croatia last year, there was no doubt in our minds that we wanted our visit to include a day at the famous Plitvice National Park. Known for its natural beauty, waterfalls, and of course… the stunning blue-green lakes, Plitvice is not to be missed!
And if you happen to be travelling with young children, that is no reason not to visit!! Plitvice Lakes has something for all ages to enjoy!
VISITING PLITVICE LAKES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN
At all ages you will marvel at the beauty of Plitvice National Park and the numerous lakes and waterfalls that have formed over time. Everywhere you turn there is another waterfall to admire or a natural wonder to excite.
Plitvice Lakes is open to visitors year round, with guided tours available every day. It can get very busy during peak tourism season though, which means it can be very crowded at the entrance gates or along the walkways and bridges.
However, as we found out on our visit, even on a rare rainy day, it’s still a popular destination for all ages! But oh boy… walking around a National Park with young kids in the rain, now that was a family travel experience I could have gone without!! HA
We are still so glad we had the chance to experience Plitvice National Park in all it’s glory though! You just have to look at the photos to see how stunning it is!
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
The most popular option for visiting the lakes is of course a guided tour through the National Park to see many of the most famous and scenic areas, and they are breathtaking! There are waterfalls of all sizes everywhere you turn and the most crystal clear water.
A guided tour is a fantastic way to see a lot in as short a time as possible, as in most cases the time at the park is limited if you are doing a day trip like we did. You want to maximise the sights, without getting lost along the numerous walkways and hikes that take you around the lakes.
It was very cool in places like this where the waterfall flowed beneath the bridge you walked across and you could look down from above the gushing water.
Kids will love the chance to see rushing water beneath them as they cross over little wooden bridges and stand only inches from the lake edges. Plus you will see plenty of water dwelling creatures too… little fish and other critters that live beneath the surface. The water is so clear you can see the bottom in a lot of places.
During certain times of the year there is a boat that crosses one of the lakes and a panoramic train that runs. We enjoyed our ride on the electric boat, which was a delight for our kids. Although we didn’t have the chance to ride the train. It may not have been running due to the weather.
TIPS FOR VISITING PLITVICE LAKES WITH CHILDREN
Depending on the age of your children, it is important to be mindful of the water that surrounds you everywhere in the national park. Keep a close grip on your mini travellers, as it is easy to slip if not watching your step. Some of the wooden bridges have uneven planks, or are actually sitting at water level too so it can get slippery.
As you can see in the image below, there are very few railings or barriers along the pathways over the lakes. A lot of the water below is shallow, but still… you don’t want wet shoes! Our tour guide actually stepped off one of the lower bridges at one point by mistake and said it was the first time she had ever done it in her 9 years as a guide… wet shoe for the rest of the tour.
We did visit on an extremely wet day. Our tour guide said it almost never rains heavy so we got quite unlucky on timing, and that did cause a little stress on the day trying to keep the kids dry and comfortable. Thankfully the humid summer air helps you dry off pretty quick!
If you have young children, one of the most important things to be mindful of when doing a tour or self-guided walk of the National Park is the fact that it is not stroller friendly, at all! Best to leave the stroller behind and look for an alternative for preventing tired legs. Piggy back ride maybe? Or better still, an age appropriate toddler or baby carrier is a fantastic option!
We had our youngest in her Ergo Carrier during our visit, which meant she got to take a nap while we explored. Although it was hard to keep her dry with the disposable ponchos purchased from the gift store before the tour. Poor kid was either sweltering under the plastic poncho or getting wet.
Our eldest had her own kid sized poncho to keep dry in. She was pretty happy with her new style!
But at least we didn’t have to worry about her getting tired or slipping, as she was only 13 months old at the time of our visit.
Older kids will likely get tired too as there is a lot of walking involved. Some uphill. On tours there is not a lot of rest time, mostly because there are not a lot of areas to stop along the way, especially during the crowded summer tourist time.
We also had to wait quite a long time for our groups turn on the electric boat. Although this was after a snack/lunch break at the cafe. Carrying snacks for hungry little people will definitely help ward off tired crankiness though!
Eventually the big day did take it out of us all though. Poor Lily felt it the most, as she did a great job walking most of the day. Impressive for our not quite 4 year old.
Plitvice National Park is located in central Croatia and is a distance from major cities. You can travel there as a day trip from Zadar or Zagreb, which takes several hours there and back. We stayed 2 nights in Zadar at Pansion Maria, mostly for the purpose of visiting Plitvice, as it was much less travel overall than staying in the Plitvice area for a night without our own transport.
The long transit can be boring for kids so make sure you have snacks and activities for the bus ride if they are prone to restlessness. With any lucky they will sleep on the way back! Although they may be starving as we got back to Zadar quite late without a dinner stop.
There is accommodation in the area if you have your own hire car or private transport. Find Plitvice Lakes accommodation here.
NO SWIMMING AT PLITVICE NATIONAL PARK
There is no swimming allowed anywhere in Plitvice National Park. This is largely due to safety with so many flowing waterfalls and also to avoid damaging the ecosystems within the national park, as you will see below there are plenty of fish and other animals who live there.
If you are hoping to swim in a national park in Croatia, you will be able to do so at Krka National park instead, plus there is lots more beautiful scenery to enjoy at Krka as well. The two national parks are just under 2 hours apart so while you could fit them in one day, you would not have a lot of time at either, so you are better to dedicate a day to each and really enjoy them both.
THINGS TO KNOW
There are multiple entrances into Plitvice National Park. Not all entrances are open all year round, just as the electric boats and panorama train do not run all year either.
The entrance fee also varies drastically depending on the time of year, with peak season being more than triple the cost of visiting between November and March. However it is definitely worth it. Check the prices and opening times on the website.
Many tours will include the cost of entrance in their tour fee, however we had complimentary tickets as guests of Plitvice National Park and we were able to book our tour minus the entrance fee, which was great knowing they were flexible to suit individual traveller needs. Our tour was booked through our accommodation prior to our visit.
If you are unlucky enough to visit on a rainy day, there are ponchos available for purchase in the visitor centre at the main entrance. They are expensive though so if you can purchase elsewhere before your visit, definitely do so! You can also purchase snacks and souvenirs.
Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes and be sure to be sun smart with a hat, sunscreen and protective clothing if it is hot, like Croatia so often is!
Plitvice Lakes is a wonderful experience when visiting Croatia and one we recommend for families who enjoy spending time outdoors and marvelling at the natural world!
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