After a recent trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park I’ve put together a mini-guide to the best photography locations.
This beautiful national park and UNESCO world heritage site in the north of Croatia is heaven for waterfall photography. The park covers nearly 300 square kilometers, but the most popular (and interesting) part is the series of 16 aqua blue lakes in the middle. The crystal clear waters tumble and cascade from one lake into the next, creating some of the most photogenic waterfalls in the world. Surrounded by dense lush woodland it’s a truly enchanting place.
The park is well set up for visitors, with marked walking routes, shuttle busses and electric boats to ferry you to different points. It’s split into two main areas – the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes. Here’s a short guide to some of the best photography locations:
- Near boat station P2
The P2 boat station sits just below a set of cascades and immediately after you get off the boat there are boardwalks over babbling streams and some small but beautiful pools to explore.
- Between Lake Galovac and Lake Gradinsko
The area between these two lakes is absolutely packed with waterfalls, lakes and streams, and a long wooden boardwalk winds right through the heart of it. It’s without doubt my favourite area in the park and with so much variety there’s enough to entertain for hours here. All of the photos below were taken in this area.
- Veliki Slap (Big Waterfall)
The biggest waterfall in the park. Personally, I found it really difficult to photograph, but you may well do better than me!
- Postcard view
The classic view over the canyon to the Big Waterfall is about 50 metres down the main path from Entrance 1. There’s another similar viewpoint on the zig-zag path down to the bottom of the canyon.
- Canyon view (pictured)
From the path along the top of the canyon between Entrance 1 and bus stop ST1 there are a couple of places where you get a great view down onto the boardwalks meandering across the lakes. If it’s sunny, it’s better in the afternoon when the whole canyon is lit (in the morning half is in shade).
- Boardwalk junction view (pictured)
As you head upstream at the end the first lower lake, a boardwalk forks off to the left to a cave. From the shore there’s a very pleasing scene looking back to the fork in the boardwalks.
- Secret view
This is arguably one of the best vistas in the park. Head for Veliki Slap (Big Waterfall) and when you leave the boardwalk, just before the waterfall, you’ll see a small stepped path up the hill on the left. Walk up this steep path and when you reach the road turn right. Continue along the road for about 200 metres and you’ll find the path to the viewpoint on the right.
Overcast conditions are far better than sunshine for long-exposure photography. In bright conditions there’s just too much contrast in the scene. Having said that, it’s not impossible to find a good composition when it’s sunny and the views down into the canyon in the Lower Lakes look much better.
Getting there and accommodation
- The park is a 2-hour drive from both Zagreb and Zadar. Various airlines fly from the UK to both airports. Taxi transfers from the airport to the park are convenient but not cheap. If you’d rather rent a car the driving is very civilised in Croatia compared to places like Italy.
- There are a lot of hotels, B&Bs and campsites in the park. I stayed in one of the park-run hotels (Hotel Plitvice) for the ease of getting into the park, just a 2-minute walk away from Entrance 2. They’re not the cheapest option, but very convenient, especially if you don’t have a car.
- You can buy a 1 day entrance ticket or a 2 day ticket. The price varies depending on the season, from 55 kuna for a 1 day ticket in winter to 280 kuna for a 2 day ticket in peak season (about £7 – £33 at the current abysmal exchange rate). Here’s the link to the park website for details. (If you’re staying in a park-run hotel you can buy a 1 day ticket and they will validate it for the rest of your stay.)
- The ticket price includes the use of the boats and shuttle buses, however it only entitles you to a one-way trip across the big lake from P2 to P3 (your ticket is tamped when you get on). There’s no mention of this on the ticket, or anywhere else in the park, so don’t get caught out.
- The last times for boats and shuttle busses are displayed at the information points at the entrances and at most of the stations – make sure you don’t get carried away taking photos and miss the last one – it’s a long walk back from some areas.
- It’s fine to explore the park outside the running hours, as long as you have a valid ticket.
- The park is open all year, but from November to mid-April the boats and buses don’t run, so you’re limited to exploring on foot, which restricts how much you can see in the time you have there.
- There is a small map on the back of the entrance ticket, but it’s best to get a park map from the information points at the entrances (20 kuna – about £2.40).
- There are cafes inside the park where you can buy drinks and food, but to be honest the food offering was pretty poor – if you can, bring a packed lunch with you.
- The walking is easy on well-maintained paths. Any ascents are very gradual, and the steepest paths, from the Lower Lakes to Entrance 1 and the boat station P1 to Entrance 2, are zig-zagged to make them easier.
- The walking distances aren’t too far either. For example, the loop from the P2 boat station around Gradinsko Lake is only about a mile. And it’s pretty difficult to get lost as all the junctions are signposted.
When to go and how long to spend there
- I visited at the end of May, when it was bursting with green and the waterfalls were in full flow, but it’s a riot of colour in autumn and still spectacular in winter.
- I haven’t visited in peak season (July and August), but by all accounts it’s very busy and best avoided.
- I spent 3 days in the park, but could have easily stayed for longer. In my opinion, one day is definitely not enough for photography – I’d recommend at least 2 days.
- The park is busiest with tour groups from mid-morning until late afternoon – go early or late to avoid them.
- A polarising filter is very useful to take the glare off the water and really bring out the colour.
- If you’re using a tripod, be aware that people walking on boardwalks near you cause vibrations. On most of the boardwalks it’s also pretty much impossible to set a tripod up without blocking the path, but you can usually manage by standing to the side and only opening the legs enough to get it to stand up unsupported.