plitvice-national-park-croatia

The 5 Best National Parks in Croatia

Wander waterfalls, scale craggy peaks and take boat trips to deserted islands, all in Croatia's best national parks
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Published on: June 15th, 2024

Last updated: July 4th, 2024

Croatia boasts some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in all of Europe where you’ll find over 400 protected areas and 8 national parks. Stretching from the idyllic coastline of pristine rocky coves and over a 1000 islands, into the ruggedly beautiful interior of dramatic canyons and cascading waterfalls.

The pretty cities of Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik are the gateway for explorations to Croatia’s coastal and off-shore national parks. Explore them on private yacht trips, snorkelling and kayaking trips. Then, venture inland with an expert guide to find dramatic canyons and crystal clear lakes at Croatia’s biggest national park, Plitvice Lakes National Park.

With so much natural beauty to discover we’ve asked our experts to help. Our experienced travel designers have collated a list of their best national parks in Croatia and they’ll explain exactly why they love them so much.

Plitvice Lakes National Park - Krka Waterfalls National Park - Kornati National Park - Brijuni National Park - Northern Velebit National Park

Aerial view of a wooden boardwalk leading through plitvice lakes national park in Croatia

1. Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes was the first area in Croatia to be designated national park status in 1949 and was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The lakes span an area of just under 300 square kilometres, a truly impressive sight. There are 16 main lakes that connect to a series of smaller ones, with cascading waterfalls between them. Open year round this beautiful national park can be explored on guided tours and over 4 different hiking trails.

There’s also a fascinating story behind the beautiful setting. According to local legend, the Plitvice lakes were created after a long drought when the “Black Queen” took pity on the people and animals desperately crying out for water. The queen then summoned heavy rains which collected into the lakes we see today. The natural beauty here is astonishing, with waterfalls spilling over picturesque hills, crystal lakes and verdant flora and fauna.

Need to Know: There’s a few different ways to experience Plitvice Lakes National Park. Set off on hikes, take a peaceful boat trip on the lakes or set out by bicycle from Rakovica, stopping off at the stalactite-dripping Barac caves.

Krka Waterfalls National Park

2. Krka Waterfalls National Park

Krka National Park – known for its ethereal waterfalls – is one of the most famous national parks in Croatia. Named after the Krka river, the park covers around 142 square kilometres and includes one of Croatia’s most renowned sights, the Skradinski buk waterfalls. Other highlights here are the small island of Visovac and the Roski Slap waterfall. Both of these areas look as though they have been lifted straight from a fairytale.

Along its green path the River Krka has seven spectacular falls and an incredible canyon that the waterfalls cascade into. Journeying from the foothills of the Dinara Mountains to the beautiful estuary under the walls of the historic town of Sibenik, the Krka River is truly out of this world. While visiting the falls you can wander through the winding wooden paths through the main park or learn about the area’s history in the Ethno Museum and shops housed in the old mills.

Need to Know: We recommend stopping at the pretty town of Skradin at the entrance to Krka National Park. Enjoy the riverside location, pastel hued houses and then take the 30 minute boat trip into the park itself. 

Aerial view of Kornati national park, Croatia

3. Kornati National Park

Kornati National Park consists of 140 islands covering an area of 114 square miles (300 square kilometres). With its natural beauty, endless coves and crystal clear waters it’s easy to see why the Kornati archipelago was given national park status. Due to their rocky terrain, these islands are peppered with cracks, caves, grottoes and rugged cliffs. 

The story behind these islands is that after God created the world there were still a few gems left in his hand. He threw them over his shoulders into the sea, and over time, these gems turned into the islands that now make up the Kornati islands. Visiting these islands is only possible by boat, typically from Zadar, where unbelievable scenery and new charming coves are found around every turn. Be sure to jump in and take a dip in the idyllic azure blue waters.

Need to Know: Villa Nai 3.3, featured on our list of the world’s most remote locations, is the best place to stay to experience Kornati National Park. Set on Dugi Otok island within easy reach of tiny, pretty towns and the protected national haven of the park itself. 

 

Verige Bay with the ruins of Roman villa in Brijuni National Park, Croatia

4. Brijuni National Park

The Brijuni islands lie northwest of the picturesque town of Istria. Declared a national park in 1999, these islands have an incredible history and are home to some of the best marine life in Croatia. With dinosaur footprints found on many of the islands, it’s thought that these magnificent creatures roamed the islands millions of years ago. 

Brijuni National Park is best explored on a private, full day boat trip from the mainland. We recommend stops at Crveni and Fazada islands, particularly pretty and great for a quick refreshing swim before you continue with your sailing adventure. The largest island in the park, Veliki Brijuni, was the favoured playground and summer residence of Tito, the leader of communist Yugoslavia – where he entertained and hosted many dignitaries and celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Queen Elizabeth II. 

Need to Know: Our favourite way to explore the islands is on electric golf carts. Let a guide lead you to the hidden locations while you look out for the remains of an ancient Roman villa, and of course, dinosaur footprints. 

Vertical of the mountains and forest in Northern Velebit National Park in Croatia

5. Northern Velebit National Park

Not too far from the city of Zadar, the Northern Velebit National Park encompasses 109 square kilometres of the northern Velebit mountains, the largest mountain range in Croatia. The park is made up of beech forests, ravines, caves and towering white stone mountains with incredible sea views that glisten into the horizon. Here, you’ll be able to explore the designated hiking trails while looking out for the wildlife that lives here such as bears, wolves, wild cats, boars, vultures and much more.

Particular highlights in the park are the Krupa Canyon and Modric Cave, which is filled with stalagmites and stalactites, formed over time by the flowing Zrmanja and Krupa rivers that run through these mountains to the Adriatic sea. Also, walks over the Vratolom ridge offer incredible views over the Krupa waterfalls. 

Need to know: If you’re visiting Northern Velebit National Park in search of adventure then look no further than the Premužić Trail, said to be the most scenic in Croatia. At 57 kilometres long and taking approximately 3 days to complete, this is for anyone looking for a challenge.  

Whatever you want from your adventure in Croatia, our travel desingers are ready to help:

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