There are several ways to do this route, some are easier, some are more affordable, some are faster, read below to see which is the best way for you!
Getting there by bus (the cheapest option)
To get from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes, and then continue on to Split with a bus, would be the cheapest option for all travellers. There are many frequent bus lines that go from Zagreb Central bus station to Plitvice Lakes. You can see the schedule here on this link => https://www.akz.hr/en
You can buy the tickets online and the price varies from 10 to 13 EUR per passenger. Just double check the times the buses arrive to Plitvice Lakes, because some bus lines stop in many places on the way, making the ride much longer with one company as opposed to another.
The bus ride lasts for about 2.5 hours, maybe a bit longer in the tourist season when there could be lots of traffic on the roads. Only one part of the drive is on the highway, the rest is on local public roads.
Plitvice does not have a main bus station. There are just two bus stops which are near the north entrance 1, called “Rastovaca,” and the south entrance 2, called “Hladovina.” Just be careful not to miss your entrance because there are 3km between the entrances.
On the way from Plitvice to Split you can check out the bus schedule here on this link =>https://www.busradar.com/
There are still lots of bus lines that go to Split and it is possible to do the trip, the same day. You would have to catch the bus early in the morning, and after the Lakes, catch the afternoon bus for Split.
It would be a long day and you would get to Split in the evening (but it is doable). Also, check the duration of the trip time between Plitvice and Split, as this route usually has many stops on the way.
Getting there by car (the quickest option)
If you feel comfortable driving in a foreign country, and decide to rent a car, that is definitely a more flexible, fast option. You do not have to be stressed out about time and you can stop and see lots of interesting places on the way, or stop to eat in some lovely restaurants at your leisure.
The drive from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes without stopping takes around 2h, and depends on the tourist season. One part of drive will take you on the main Croatian highway towards Split. You will have to get off the highway at the “Karlovac” exit.
The second part of the drive is on a local public road called D1. When you get off the highway, follow signs for Split. The D1 road is in good shape but there aren’t too many spots for overtaking, so if you get stuck behind a slow truck or tractor, just be patient.
The speed limit on the local road is usually 80 Km/h, but in towns and villages along the way, it can drop to 50 Km/h. Be careful and watch for the speed limit signs because there are many police traps on the way.
Driving from Plitvice Lakes to Split will take you around 2.5hours without stopping. It also depends on the season, and if you want to take the highway or the old roads towards Split (the highway would of course be faster, but a more expensive option).
Firstly, you would have to continue on D1 road towards Split, then after about 40 minutes you would enter the highway again at the “Gornja Ploca” entrance. After less than 2 hours of driving on the highway, you will take the exit “Dugopolje” and drive to Split.
The second option for driving is to take the D1 road all the way to Split, which will take you a little bit more than 3hrs of driving, but will save you around 20 EUR in tolls. On the way, you would pass the royal town of Knin, with a beautiful fortress which is very important in Croatian history.
If you are not familiar with the driving rules in Croatia, our blog about driving could be helpful, please check out this link => https://www.royalcroatiantours.com/blog/driving-in-croatia-a-helpful-guide-with-practical-tips
Getting there by private transfer (the easiest option)
If you don’t want to think about driving in Croatia and you don’t like buses either, then transfers are the only option left for you (besides walking or cycling :)
There are no railway lines from Zagreb to Plitvice, nor from Plitvice to Split. Our company has competitive prices for private drives right from Zagreb->Plitvice->Split. The price would be 440EUR total for 1-8 passengers, and that includes door to door service with up to 4 hours of waiting time at the Lakes (which is enough time to see the majority of the Lakes).
Each additional hour of waiting would cost 10EUR. We are a licensed transfer company with professional, friendly English speaking drivers, and multiple vehicles in our fleet. We really take care of our customers, and you can see their satisfaction with our services on this Tripadvisor link =>https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g294454-d9763882-Reviews-Zagreb_City_Transfers-Zagreb_Central_Croatia.html
Online sales for Plitvice Lakes entrance tickets
Starting in early 2019, the National Park introduced a new online e-ticket system to avoid too many visitors at one time (busy hours are from 11am till 1pm). So you must now purchase your online vouches for either entrance 1 or 2, at least 48 hours before arrival at the Lakes. You can only pick up your ticket at the entrance you bought the voucher for (either 1 or 2).
Only 250 visitors can purchase a ticket for a slotted entrance time (which is every hour). You can sometimes still buy a ticket at the entrance, but there is the risk that all tickets could be sold out, so you will have to wait for a couple of hours for a free entrance slot time to open up. Here is the link to the Park’s site where you can purchase your voucher => https://ticketing.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/Index.aspx?l=EN
Our advice is to buy tickets in advance so you don’t run the risk of rejection when you appear at the entrance empty-handed!
How much time should you spend at Plitvice Lakes?
This is one of the most common questions our guests ask us. The answer depends on how long you want to walk. All paths are beautiful, you'll just see a little more of the park by doing a longer route, of course.
All of the paths are really well marked so you can easily explore the Lakes on your own without a guide.
In our opinion, you do not need a guide, unless you are joining a big group. If you come to entrance 1, there are 4 offered trails, marked A, B, C and K. Entrance 2 also offers 4 trails, marked E, F, H and K.
The easiest trails last about 2-3 hours, and they are A and E. If you decide to take A or E, you will see only one part of the Lakes - the Upper or the Lower Lakes.
We suggest taking trail C or H, which lasts about 4-6 hours of walking and compass both the Upper and Lower Lakes (equally beautiful). The duration of about 4-6 hours depends on a few factors - one of them is how fast you walk, and how many pictures you take, and the other is how busy it is at the Lakes.
What can you see on the way from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes?
If you drive to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb by car, or you have a flexible transfer service (like ours :) there are several spots where you could stop that might be appealing to you.
The first one is the Museum of the Homeland War in Turanj, just outside of Karlovac. This is a very interesting and modern museum which has been established in a renovated building called “Hotel California.”
The museum has lots of displays and interesting facts like how the war started in old Yugoslavia, lots of weapons, uniforms and so on. Outside of the museum building there is an exhibition of old tanks, howitzers, a crashed airplane from the Yugoslavian army, etc.
Another very popular spot to stop on the drive to Plitvice Lakes is the quaint village of Rastoke. Rastoke is situated on the estuary of the River Slunjcica, which flows into the River Korana. Rastoke is a perfect spot for a short visit before continuing the drive to Plitvice Lakes.
While there, we strongly recommend visiting Slovin Unique - family estate of “Holjevac.” This extraordinary place is in the heart of Rastoke where you can see stunning waterfalls, up close. You can also see the old mill, a museum, a fish pond, a cave etc. The entrance fee is 40kn, which is worth every kuna if you ask me! You can see it all in around an hour or stay longer if you feel like a drink and/or lunch while you’re there.
Where to eat on the way, and around Plitvice Lakes
Our warm recommendation for some fine dining is Bistro Plum, which is located in Seliste Dreznicko, only few kilometers from entrance 1 of the Park. The restaurant is owned by the well known “Hotel Degenija.” From the outside, it looks more like a bar than a restaurant, but it has a nice interior and great vibe as well.
The service is professional and the food is really delicious. They offer everything from burgers, steaks, and fish, to local meat dishes and sides that are very beautifully served. The price is also very reasonable for its location and what you get.
A cheaper option would be “Restaurant Degenija” which is the hotel’s restaurant. They serve a wide variety of local dishes like cevapcici, sarma, gulash, etc. and it is really decent food there.
Our last recommendation is “Restaurant Pino” which is not very close to the Park, but it’s on the way to Plitvice Lakes before the city of Slunj. One time, someone gave me a tip about how to recognize restaurants with great, reasonably priced food. Just look at the parking lot, and if it’s full of trucks, it’s a gem. This restaurant is just that - a little gem with really delicious, fresh, homemade food.
What should you see on the way from Plitvice to Split
If you have time to see more places on the way from Plitvice to Split, then I would suggest the following few spots.
The first one is beautiful Paklenica National Park. It’s a perfect destination for hikers, climbers and true nature lovers. The park is not crowded like Plitvice Lakes and has remarkable paths and stunning views.
It is a bit demanding for hiking, especially if you want to compare it with the Plitvice Lakes, but the reward of your hard work are unbelievable picture perfect view points, and stunning landscapes. In the heart of the park is a really popular mountain house called “Ramica dvori” where you can sleep and try some delicious food.
Another National Park with beautiful waterfalls is Krka. It is located very close to Sibenik and a perfect spot for swimming. This park is smaller than Plitvice, but you can swim near the waterfalls, which is amazing. Krka also has different vegetation than Plitvice Lakes and the views can be fantastic.
Lastly, on the way from Plitvice to Split, there are 3 beautiful Croatian cities worth visiting, which are Zadar, Sibenik and Trogir. Each one has its own unique story and history.
This is my quick guide if you are going from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes and then to Split, or doing the route in reverse. I hope these tips and places to stop along the way are helpful, and you enjoy the day, no matter where you stop and how you get there!
As always, if you need a private transfer service, just let us know!