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Zagreb to Lake Plitvice National Park to Split without a car

My husband and I are taking the train to Zagreb from Budapest then we have a Dalmatian Coast cruise leaving from Split. A must see is the Plitvice National Park. I am seeking information on best way to get to the National Park without renting a car. Our intention is to go from Zagreb to Plitvice spend a night then go to Split. Can we get to and enjoy the Park without a car? Does anyone have suggestions or advice ? Also any recommendations of where to stay in Zagreb, PlitvicIe Park and Split would be very much appreciated.

Thanks so much,
D&D

Posted by
4700 posts

There is regular public bus service from Zagreb to the park and from the park to Split. I have not taken these buses, but I saw the stops when I drove to the park. I understand it is important to know the bus schedules well and be not afraid to "wave down the bus" as it approaches to make sure the driver stops. Buy tickets ahead of time, in season. If you have bags, the driver may expect you to store them in the hold under the bus (and pay a few kuna per bag). Last I checked, the last bus to Split was not late in the day. Check GetByBus.com or buscroatia.com for times, and read the dates carefully for when they run (some buses run only certain days or in high season). Another option I recall was connecting to a bus in Zadar - much longer ride. but it would leave Plitvice later in the day. However, if you are staying over night, not such a challenge to try to squeeze in everything in one day.

In Zagreb, the bus and train stations are not adjacent. There is a tram that runs between them, though, as I recall.

You don't need a car at all once you get to Plitvice. You can't drive in the park, anyway. You might consider staying in one of the overpriced park hotels - like the Plitvice Hotel which is at Entrance #2 (I stayed there once with a car). You can walk from the bus stop right to the hotel and from there into the park; people who drive and park at the parking lot near Entrance #2 must cross the highway and walk right past the hotels into the park, anyway.

One benefit of staying at one of the park hotels is that you can enter the park two days in a row on the same ticket, if you have the front desk stamp your ticket. If you arrive early enough the first day, you could see the lower lakes maybe the first afternoon and the upper lakes (near entrance #2) the following morning before departing early afternoon on that last bus to Split.

Another option to consider is one of the companies that offers a single day "Zagreb to Plitvice to Split" day tour. It's not cheap as I recall, but it would avoid having to deal with a public bus or the park hotels. You could stay over in Zagreb the night your train arrives, I guess, and take that the next morning and wind up in Split the same evening. (There's not realy a town at Plitvice so it's kind of dull at night and no real restaurant options you can walk to except the hotel restaurants.) I have no experience with such companies that offer this service, but I have read about them. You can find them by doing a web search.

Posted by
19217 posts

I think the number of daily buses to Plitvice varies with the calendar, but you certainly can get there easily from the Zagreb bus station (which I will warn you is a bit longer walk from the RR station than it appears on maps). Then there are buses on to Split as well, though I've always made a round-trip from Zagreb.

The BusCroatia website is good for preliminary planning, but throughout the Balkans I think it's best to double-check the schedules at the bus station when you reach each city. And I found buses back to Zagreb frequent, but apparently not running on the schedule I had been given. I wouldn't plan to take the last bus of the day, and I would plan to get to the bus station/stop early.

Although you might (I give no guarantee) be able to run into the Zagreb bus station, find the Plitvice bus and pay the driver, you will pay more than if you buy tickets at the ticket window upstairs. There can be a bit of a line, so don't push your luck there. For the onward trip to Split, I assume you'll just pay the driver. There are multiple bus companies going to Plitvice, so buying the onward ticket ahead of time might not be prudent.

Booking.com has some listings very near the park in Plitvice. Some may have shuttles, but I think some are within walking distance. There's at least one hotel (I assume more expensive) inside the park. I have not stayed in any of the local lodgings but agree that it's the only way to have a good experience in the park these days, since you must be there early and/or late to avoid day-tripping mobs.

In Zagreb I stayed at the Best Western Premier Astoria. I'd call it a business-class hotel. It's not too far from the train station (a bit farther from the bus station, but so is just about everything) and convenient to several large museums. You'd be able to walk to the very nice Old Town, but it's far enough that you might want to take a tram.

Edited to add: I would not take any one-day bus tour from Zagreb to Plitvice unless the bus departed at something like 6 AM. Otherwise, you'd be arriving at the same time as the day-trippers on the public buses. I made that mistake in 2015, and the experience was memorable, but definitely not in a good way. The park is wonderful (I know, but I had visited it twice before), but not if you're only there between 10 AM and 3 PM. The walkways are massively overcrowded.

Posted by
4700 posts

I too usually recommend arriving at the park when it opens (7AM in season) to avoid the crowds, but that isn't always practical for everyone. It's easier if you stay at one of the overpriced park hotels. The crowds aren't as bad off season. In mid-May 2015, there were definitely people mid-day but it wasn't miserably overcrowded. In the summer I imagine it is awful mid-day in the park. I don't know when the OP is planning to visit.

Posted by
19217 posts

I was there in late August, and I was stunned by the crowds. Quite a change since my last visit in the 1990s. It was a Friday, which probably didn't help. Think pictures of the Vatican Museums: that's what the walkways looked like. I'm amazed than no one ended up in the drink.

Posted by
4700 posts

Sounds awful, acraven. Good thing you had seen it before! I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to go in the summer at all, myself.

Posted by
4385 posts

Why not rent a car in Zagreb and drop it in Split? So much more convenient. Roads are excellent and you can make stops in beautiful towns like Rastoke/Slunj or Sibenik along the way.

Posted by
19217 posts

A brief car rental would be handy. Zadar's another very pretty town, not far off the route to Split.

But this can certainly be done by bus. A sense of adventure helps, but English is widely spoken by the younger folks in Croatia, so I don't think there will be significant difficulties.

Posted by
4700 posts

I found driving very easy in Croatia, and the drive from Zagreb to Plitvice to Split is easy (although I didn't have to drive into Split to return the car). But some people don't want to hassle with renting a car or driving in a foreign country, something I can well understand. And a one-way rental for two days is probably going to incur a one-way drop fee (or a high daily rate).

Posted by
4385 posts

You don't get a drop fee if you remain in the same country!

Posted by
4700 posts

Yes, you can be charged a drop fee, Emily, for a short rental. Check for yourself. Sixt, for example, for a two day rental in September from Zagreb to Split charges a 45 Euro "one-way fee." A week rental incurs no such fee with Sixt and also gives you a much cheaper rate per day. I believe other car companies have similar rates.

Posted by
4385 posts

We rent with Sixt all the time and have never had this experience. But clearly you are the expert so I defer.

Posted by
97 posts

I did a viator tour last week from Zagreb to Plitvice. You can also get that tour from Split. It snowed. Perfect. NO crowds. The tour was ok in that she didn't stay with us the whole time. She also truncated it because? Who knows. But the last part was that train like thing and I couldn't see what more we needed to see anyway.

And really people, if people say that they don't want to drive, don't give answers that tell them to drive. Honor that request!!

Posted by
97 posts

One more thing- once you are in the park you can get from one area to another by boat or that train thing.
One day is plenty. Kind of like churches etc. you don't need to see every waterfall. And if you don't have a guide, you won't know what you are seeing.
But check some local tour companies in Zagreb and Split.

Posted by
97 posts

And stilll one more- we had three people on our tour.. nice.

Posted by
97 posts

And stilll one more- we had three people on our tour.. nice.

Posted by
97 posts

We loved the Jaghorn hotel in Zagreb. Loved the Duck Fast Bistro too.
In Split we are at the Hotel Slavija. In the center of everything but not sure I am liking being in the center.
Stay longer in Zagreb. Show up here just in the nick of time.

Posted by
4385 posts

Linda - no need to slap someone down for offering an alternative suggestion and advice.

Posted by
19217 posts

Personally, I see no need for a guided tour to Plitvice, which is well-served by public buses, and I would never take a day-trip there after my mob-scene experience in 2015. Stop at the little shop and buy a decent map of the park so you'll see the entire picture. There are at least 3 color-coded walking routes, well-signed along the way, but it's good to have the map so you're comfortable branching off the coded path if you want to. I found the walking-time estimates to be padded. I think you'll beat them unless you spend an inordinate amount of time taking pictures.

Edited to add: I agree about Zagreb. I liked it a lot and would be happy to return even though I spent a number of days there just two years ago. Really pretty old town and some interesting museums.