Krka or Plitvice Lakes: How to pick between the Croatia waterfalls

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Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Serene emerald pools, wooden pathways, gushing falls that burst out of craggy rocks, and turquoise water so clear you can see the fish swimming through it. These are just some of the mesmerizing scenes you’ll find at Krka National Park and Plitvice Lakes, which are the best places to see waterfalls in Croatia.

Krka National Park, Croatia waterfalls

Krka National Park

The vibrant colours and tranquil trails at these natural wonders are guaranteed to make your jaw drop, providing a welcome escape from busy cities like Zagreb and Dubrovnik. And while both parks are known for their spectacular backdrops showcasing Croatian waterfalls, that’s about where the similarities end. There are some major differences between exploring the Krka waterfalls and those over at Plitvice (like for example, where you can swim), which are important to consider if you only have enough time to visit one park during your Croatia trip.

From the colour of the water to the on-site attractions to how many tourists you’ll be sharing the boardwalks with, here’s everything you need to know about choosing between Krka or Plitvice Lakes.

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Highlights of the Plitvice Lakes waterfalls and Krka waterfalls

The major things to consider when debating between Krka or Plitvice Lakes are the kind of scenery you’re interested in, and if you want to swim versus hike.

Krka National Park centres around the jade green Krka river, and highlights include bike trails, a series of religious monuments, seven waterfalls and five medieval fortresses. A fun way to explore is taking a boat ride over to Visovac Island, Roški slap and the Krka monastery, before heading to the most popular tourist area to see the park’s crown jewel: Skradinski buk.

Krka National Park, Croatia waterfalls

The boat to go to Krka National Park in Croatia

The boat to go to Krka National Park in Croatia

Formed like a series of terraces, water from the Krka and Čikola Rivers spills over 17 travertine steps into tranquil, deep pools before flowing into the next set, eventually creating Skradinski Buk which is the largest of all of them. In fact, the grand Krka falls are so powerful they helped power the world’s second oldest hydro-electric plant.

Krka National Park, Croatia waterfalls

Krka National Park

The highlight of any Krka tour is cooling off by wading into the water and swimming at the base of Skradinski Buk, and there are facilities including a restaurant and bathrooms which makes this a great spot to relax on a sunny summer day.

Krka National Park, Croatia waterfalls

Krka National Park

As impressive as a Krka waterfalls tour is, there are few places in the world that can compete with the dramatic scenery in Plitvice Lakes National Park, which makes it a photographer’s dream. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Plitvice has 16 interconnected, gem-toned lakes to explore, plus trails that loop above and beyond them.

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Countless aquamarine pools are framed by the Mala Kapela and Lička Plješivica mountain ranges, and narrow waterfalls burst out of the cliffs. The trails are a series of hiking paths and wooden boardwalks, which wind among the pools creating a postcard-worthy scene from above.

Globe Guide tip: For a fab view of the wooden boardwalks winding through the turquoise lakes, walk on the path between the P1 entrance and S1

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Visitors are not permitted to swim in the Plitvice Lakes National Park waterfalls, so this is a better place for exploring than working on your tan.

The trails in Krka National Park vs Plitvice

Plitvice Lakes is a hiker’s paradise, with about 22 kilometres of pathways around the lake and 36 kilometres of trails to explore throughout the national park. There are seven different loops to tour the lake system and four hiking trails to choose from, which makes it easy to get away from the crowds.

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Budget at least six hours for a visit, which allows time to explore both the lower and upper lakes, take the free boat ride across, and stop for lunch and plenty of photo-ops.

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

The boat that takes visitors across a lake in Plitvice

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Meantime, hiking Krka National Park isn’t really a thing; there’s only one trail that winds through the park, and it’s mostly a boardwalk. The loop takes you past a small village with a working blacksmith and loom to show what life was like here pre-Industrial Revolution, tranquil shaded ponds, and lookout points over the falls (note: you’ll get better photos of Skradinski Buk from directly in front of it).

It only takes about an hour for the whole walk, which makes Krka a good option for families with young children.

Krka National Park, Croatia waterfalls

Krka National Park

Note: Unfortunately, neither of the parks are ideal for those with mobility issues or toddlers, since it’s pretty much impossible to push a stroller or wheelchair on the trails.

Locations of Krka National Park and Plitvice Lakes National Park

It’s absolutely possible to see both Krka and Plitvice Lakes even if you only have one week in Croatia, especially if you’ve rented a car. It takes less than two hours to drive from Krka National Park to Plitvice Lakes, on the speedy, well-maintained D1 highway.

Krka National Park is easily accessible from some of the major cities in Croatia, which makes it a great day trip from:

  • Krka to Trogir: 45 minute drive
  • Krka to Zadar: 50 minute drive
  • Krka to Split: 1 hour drive

Plitvice Lakes National Park is a bit more out of the way since it’s in the northern part of the country, so it makes the most sense to get there from Zadar or the capital, Zagreb.

  • Plitvice to Zadar: 1:30 minute drive
  • Plitvice to Zagreb: 2 hour drive

Timing

If you only have time for a quick day trip, Krka is usually the winner here. Not only is it closer to most major cities, but the national park itself is smaller than Plitvice. That means even if you only have a few hours, you can see most of the highlights and still have time for a swim without experiencing serious FOMO.

On the other hand, you could spend days in Plitvice Lakes National Park exploring the different hiking trails, nearby swimming holes and enjoying activities like lake cruises, wildlife spotting and horseback riding, so it’s a good option if you’re looking for a beautiful, rural area to base yourself in for a couple of nights. While it’s absolutely possible to do a day trip to Plitvice Lakes, keep in mind you’ll only have time to see the main highlights and none of the surrounding trails.

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

The crowds in Krka vs Plitvice

It’s not even a contest: Plitvice Lakes is much busier than Krka National Park, especially during the busy summer season.

To beat the crowds, the best time to visit the Plitvice Lakes waterfalls is early in the morning or late afternoon, to avoid the tour buses and crush of people queued up to take the boat back across the lake. During mid-day, that line can sometimes stretch for over an hour, so you might be better off grabbing a snack at the nearby concession and waiting until it dies down a bit.

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Boat rentals are available in Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

While Krka doesn’t get as many visitors each day as its northern neighbour, it’s still a popular place to beat the heat. One trick to get the place (somewhat) to yourself is to take one of the late afternoon ferry rides over, instead of arriving in the morning. While you won’t get as much time at the falls, a few hours is still enough time to wander around the trails and go for a dip in the emerald waters. As a bonus, chances are there won’t be many people around to photobomb your pictures!

Krka National Park, Croatia waterfalls

Enjoy the Skradinski Buk to yourself by visiting late in the day

Prices for Plitvice Lakes and Krka National Park tickets

Plitvice Lakes: Due to its popularity, you’ll want to buy your Plitvice Lakes tickets online at least one day in advance to avoid the disappointment of finding them sold out when you arrive at the entrance.

  • Adult ticket in winter: 55 kuna (about $8 USD)
  • Adult ticket in spring, summer and fall: 150 kuna (about $22 USD)
  • Kids: Free up to age 7

Krka National Park entrance fee: There are 10 different ways to get into the park, and if you arrive at the Skradin entrance you get to take a boat ride through the canyon to Skradinski Buk.

  • The Krka entrance fee for adults ranges from 30-200 kuna (about $5-$30 USD) depending on the season, with June through September being the most expensive time to visit.
Krka National Park, Croatia waterfalls

Krka National Park

And the best Croatia waterfalls are…

So, which park is best? It’s truly impossible to pick a clear winner between Plitvice vs Krka, and ultimately comes down to how much time you have, and if you’d prefer to relax (Krka) versus hike (Plitvice). Personally, I think Plitvice Lakes is one of the most gorgeous places on the entire planet and the views will absolutely blow your mind; however I also have fond memories of getting to swim in a deep emerald pool right in front of Krka’s Skradinski Buk waterfall with almost no one around.

So my advice is…go to both! Here’s some additional information for booking your trips:

Book a Plitvice Lakes tour

 

Plitvice Lakes accommodation

  • Hotel Degenija: Found just eight minutes from the Plitvice entrance, the updated rooms at this hotel have perks like mini-bars and bathtubs, and amenities include a pool, playground, rental bikes and free parking. Click to book
  • Plitvice Holiday Resort: This fun spot has the ‘unique accommodation’ nailed, with options like tree houses and tipis. The resort is a 10 minute drive from the park, and has an outdoor pool. Click to book
  • Plitvice Hotel: This property at the entrance to Plitvice is a welcome respite after a long day of sightseeing, since it’s basically as close to the gates as you can get. Don’t expect luxury here: what you’re paying for is the convenience of getting to the falls ahead of the tour buses, which is priceless! Click to book
Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Book a Krka National Park tour

 

Visiting Krka National Park: Where to stay

Since Krka is only a one hour drive from cities like Split, Trogir and Zadar which have more accommodation options, your best bet is to base yourself at one of those and just take a day trip to Krka. However, there are a couple of B&Bs close to the park:

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