The best national parks to visit in Croatia

Croatia is an undeniably beautiful country. With mystical waterfalls, fairytale-like towns and delicious food to boot, there’s so much to see and do when in this awe-inspiring country. A favourite with interrailers, it’s also easy to travel around via Zagreb – its central hub and capital. 

When planning your interrailing trip across Croatia, you’ll start to create a list of the top things to do there. But with so much on offer, it might seem daunting at first to decide exactly what to do. One thing, in particular, that’s popular with those of all ages is to visit Croatia’s national parks. 

Although many visitors might think that the country is only home to historic towns and pretty beaches, there are 8 breathtaking national parks to explore. Each offering their own unique scenery, you’ll feel like you’re in a film whilst walking around them. From rugged rocks to whimsical waterfalls, the national parks have to be seen to be believed. 

To help guide you in the right direction, we’ve created a list of our top 6 national parks in Croatia. Of course, the other two national parks that aren’t on this list (Mljet and Brijuni) are also worth a visit, but for the differing scenery and the wildlife that’s on offer at these 6, they are arguably our favourite ones to visit during an interrail trip.  

Plitvice Lakes National Park 

Photo by Marla Prusik on Unsplash

First up is the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Located in central Croatia (between Zadar and Zagreb), it’s home to a limestone canyon, numerous waterfalls (including one that’s 78m tall) and 16 lakes that are spread across just over 72,000 acres. With several hiking trails to explore, you can spend hours wandering around this magical national park. It was even declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979!

When visiting the park, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for its thriving wildlife, which includes bears, wolves, boars and deer. 

When should you visit Plitvice Lakes National Park?

Unlike some national parks around the world, Plitvice is a stunning place to visit any time of the year. Whether you want to see the flourishing greenery in the spring or summer, the oranges and yellow hues of autumn or the magical snowy landscape in winter, Plitvice is perfect all year round. 

Krka National Park

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The second on this list is the Krka National Park. Probably the most recognisable and popular on this list with tourists, this captivating national park is located in southern Croatia. With 7 waterfalls, a monastery, nature trail passes and traditional watermills, you won’t have a dull moment at Krka. Part of Dalmatia, it’s quite a bit smaller than Plitvice, at 35,000 acres. The most popular attraction of the park is arguably the Skradinski Buk falls, often shown in documentaries about Croatia or photographed. 

There are several ways you can get to the park, which include the bus, boat or through booking an excursion from one of Croatia’s main cities (e.g Split) that’s offered by several tour companies. It’s also important to keep in mind that you do have to purchase a ticket to get into the park, either online before you go or on arrival, costing 200 kunas (£22). 

Northern Velebit National Park

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Covering just over 26,000 acres, the Northern Velebit National Park is situated within the largest mountain range in the country. Not only is it the starting point of the stunning Premuzic Trail, but it also features highland ridges and spectacular wildlife. So whether you’re hiking the trail or simply wandering through its forbidding grey peaks, this extraordinary national park offers dramatic scenery that you’ll never forget. 

Risnjak National Park

Photo by Sins S on Unsplash

Next up is the Risnjak National Park

Around 15km inland, this national park is set between two mountains and has the beautiful Kupa River running through it. With dense forestry surrounding the walking trails, you’ll feel like you’re in a woodland kingdom the moment you arrive at this bewitching national park.

National Park Kornati

Photo by Johan Doe on Unsplash

Perhaps the most distinctive national park on this list is Kornati. A popular destination for sailing, hiking, diving and camping, it has over 80 islands and reefs. Just off the Dalmatian Coast, this archipelago offers sparkling waters and a rugged landscape that’s different to any other park on this list.

And although you have to pay to sail through the national park, the cost of a ticket is well worth it. You could even take a tour of its islands by boat, offered by a handful of different touring companies (including GetYourGuide).

Paklenica National Park

Photo by Kristina Kutleša on Unsplash

Last, but not least is the Paklenica National Park. Featuring black pine forests, striking rock formations and cascading canyons it’s located just south of the Velebit mountain range. It’s also teeming with wildlife to admire, including bears, deer, eagles and falcons. 

For those adventurous travellers, Paklenica also has several hiking trails which are renowned for their challenging nature. Easy to get to from Zadar Airport and its bus station (both on busses and coaches), Paklenica is one of the more accessible national parks on this list.

How accessible are trains in Croatia?

Obviously when interrailing the first thing you’ll wonder is how accessible trains are in Croatia. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that trains are a popular mode of transport throughout Croatia, and train tickets are often thought to be inexpensive when compared to other Western Europe countries.

There are also 7 types of train lines to choose from, each including its own routes across the country; so make sure that you do your research and work out which lines you need to take in order to reach your destination.

So which national park should I visit first?

At the end of the day, it’s up to you which national park you visit. Of course, Croatia is quite a big country. So it will depend on how long you’re staying there and how much travelling you want to do within it. But even if you only manage to visit one or two of the national parks on this list, you’ll have an incredible time. 

With such differing scenery and wildlife, the national parks in Croatia are well worth a visit. Whether you’re into hiking, sailing or climbing, each of the national parks have their own unique features making them wonderful in their own ways.