Visiting Plitvice Lakes: How To Have The Best Experience
When you imagine traveling to Croatia, it most likely involves seeing a few waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes. Images of the most breathtaking waterfall scenes are all over social media so it’s hard not to have a little wanderlust before stepping foot in Croatia. Visiting Plitvice Lakes needs to be on your list of places to see as there is nothing like it in the world!
Although the Plitvice waterfalls are the highlight of visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park, there is a lot more to do in the national park. But the first priority should be to see the magnificent waterfalls.
Let me put it this way, you can’t visit Croatia without going to Plitvice Lakes!
You may be wondering if it is worth visiting and whether you should visit both Plitvice and Krka Falls? And the answer is yes! Plan to see and experience both Plitvice and Krka national parks as they are completely different yet amazing in their own way.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is much larger than Krka and will take more time to see. To read more on spending time at Krka National Park, visit my post, 15 Top Things To Do In Split.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of eight and Croatia’s most famous national parks for good reason. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has over 16 lakes, numerous waterfalls with trails and boardwalks to tour.
When walking through the park, it is hard to imagine that having that many waterfalls in one place is possible! It almost looks like a scene from a fairytale movie and won’t disappoint.
Guide To Visiting Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice Lakes Hotels
Definitely consider staying overnight so that you don’t have to hurry your visit and miss out on seeing any areas of the park. Staying overnight at Plitvice Lakes is extremely peaceful and a terrific place to get away into nature.
Staying in or on the outskirts of Plitvice Lakes National Park is the best location so that you are just minutes from the park entrances. Some Plitvice Lakes hotels are even close enough to walk to the Plitvice waterfalls!
Hotel Degenija – this hotel is 5.9 km from Entrance 1 and also has an incredible restaurant.
Plitvice Miric Inn – I stayed here and absolutely loved it. The rooms and beds are very spacious and comfortable which is greatly welcomed after a long day of walking. The morning breakfast was superb and fueled me up for a second day at the park. If you are ambitious and want to get more walking in, the inn is only 2 km away!
Plitvice Holiday Resort – this hotel was another one that I was considering and had great reviews. It is 8 km from Plitvice Lakes. You can choose from tents, rooms, bungalows, or treehouses!
If you won’t have a car and want the closest access to Plitvice Lakes, then the three hotels that are located inside the park are Hotel Jezero, Hotel Bellevue and Plitvice Hotel.
If camping is more your style, there are two areas designated for camping. Autocamp Korana is off of the Korana River and 6 km from Entrance 1 of Plitvice Lakes National Park. They have both spaces for tents, campers or you can rent a cute bungalow.
The other camping area is Camp Borje which is further away at 15km from Plitvice Lakes. This is only for camping and no bungalows to rent.
Tips for Experiencing Plitvice Lakes
- Stay overnight so that you get to see the entire park without the rush.
- Arrive at the park early and be there when the park opens.
- Bring very comfortable walking shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking!
- Tour the Lower Lakes early and then when the crowds start filling in, go up to the cliff views where there won’t be any crowds.
- Bring a wide-angle lens to get some great shots.
- If you want to avoid the lines at lunch, bring your own and enjoy a picnic.
- Bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
- Bring water! There are only a few places in the park to get water, so make sure to bring your own reusable water bottle with you.
- Bring a light rain jacket as the weather is different from the Croatian coast and showers can appear even in the summer months.
- If you are visiting during the peak summer months, purchase your tickets online prior to your trip. They do limit the number of tickets sold during peak months.
- Make sure you go to the bathroom at either entrance before you start. There are not a ton of restrooms so you don’t want to take off having to go!
- If it gets hot and you don’t want to carry your jacket, attach it to your backpack or purse with this handy travel clip!
- If you see a group tour, hurry and do whatever you can to get around them (safely). You will be thankful to stay ahead of the tour.
- Overall have patience, especially if you are visiting in the middle of the summer. You will need it with the crowds!
Where Is Plitvice Lakes National Park?
Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s first and oldest national park located in Northern Dalmatia.
It is nestled in between the coastal mountains and the border of nearby Bosnia. Located in the northern inland region, Plitvice is about 2 hours south of the capital, Zagreb.
What really surprised me about the drive to Plitvice Lakes is that it is at a much higher elevation than the coast.
I soon realized that we were heading up into the mountains noted by the cooler temperatures. It is a very lush landscape with a forest of alternating scenes of farmland, small villages, and forests.
One question that is probably on your mind and I should answer before going much further, is whether you can swim anywhere in the lakes and waterfalls? NO!
Sadly, there is no longer any swimming allowed at Plitvice Lakes.
If you are determined to go swimming in the waterfalls, you can do so at Krka National Park. See my post with more information on Krka Falls.
Croatians have a deep respect for nature and do their part in making sure to preserve it for future generations. Plitvice is incredibly clean, the trails well maintained, and top-notch in the preservation of the lakes.
So please help out and make sure to keep it clean by disposing of trash only in wastebaskets or carrying it out with you.
How To Get To Plitvice Lakes
During my trip to Croatia, I rented a car and found it extremely easy and cheap to rent. Driving in Croatia was no different than driving in the U.S. and I thought the roads were actually better in many areas!
I loved the ability to stop at quaint towns or markets along the way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Driving from the town of Split to Plitvice Lakes via a rental car, took about 2.5 – 3 hours.
The other major city that you might be traveling from is the capital of Zagreb. From Zagreb, driving to Plitvice Lakes takes about 2 hours.
If you want the freedom to go on your own schedule but don’t feel comfortable driving, you can book a private transfer in a car or small shuttle.
I had looked into this option with Octopus Transfers but found it to be more expensive than if you rented your own car.
That is, a 2-week car rental was cheaper than a roundtrip transfer to and from Split and Plitvice. It was one of the main reasons I decided to rent a car.
If you are coming by bus, check the schedule from your departing city at Getbybus.com to find out departure times and cost.
Taking a bus is an economical option but you will be limited to when you can leave. There are usually 3-4 times a day that buses arrive in Plitvice. Expect it to take 4 to 5 hours by bus (from Split).
Distances to Plitvice Lakes:
Split – 255 km (158 miles)
Zagreb – 135 km (84 miles)
Zadar – 134 km (83 miles)
Dubrovnik – 435 km (270 miles)
Note: When driving on your own, always take the toll roads! Just make sure to have some cash and change on you as you will save a lot of time and the roads are excellent. Plus, there are rest stops where you can gas up and take a break in the cafes or restaurants if needed.
How Much Time To Spend At The Park?
Wondering how long you should plan to spend exploring Plitvice Lakes? I would recommend spending 2 days and would avoid a day trip.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is quite large and to really do it justice and cover both the Upper and Lower Lakes regions, you need more than a half-day.
I recommend 2 days for a few reasons. First, the drive from most cities is 2 – 5 hours away and unless you are willing to have the longest day of your life it will be exhausting. Spend a night, see the area and don’t feel rushed.
Second, the waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes are like nothing you have ever seen and a visit here shouldn’t be hurried. If you made it here, take a little time to enjoy its magical beauty!
Third, if you are going in the summer, the crowds can be intense and overwhelming. It can get so crowded that you can barely move along the paths and boardwalks literally.
To have the best experience possible with the least crowds, visit Plitvice from 7 am to 10:30 am and then again from 4 pm to 8 pm.
These blocks of time are the least crowded because they are before and after the tour buses and day-trippers visit.
Plitvice Lakes National Park Entrance Fee
Once you pay the entrance fee to Plitvice Lakes National Park, you will have access to the entire park.
Your ticket fee also includes bus shuttles between Entrance 1 and 2. As of this post, the ticket price for adults are:
Adult Ticket Prices (one day)
January, February, March, November & December: 60 Kuna (8 Euros or $9 U.S.)
May & October: 100 Kuna (13.50 Euros or $15 U.S.)
June, July, August & September: 250 Kuna (34 Euros or $38 U.S.)
If you plan on visiting on two separate days, you can purchase a ticket at a discount if you buy a 2-day pass. There are also discounts for students and children. In addition to your entry into the park and the bus shuttles, your ticket also includes a ferry boat ride.
It doesn’t really matter which Plitvice Lakes entrance you park at because you can easily take a shuttle between the two. But if you are visiting over 2 days, park at Entrance 1 on one day and Entrance 2 the other day.
There are pretty forested walkways and glimpses of the falls that vary between the two entrances. That way you can experience both!
I didn’t notice any difference between the two entrances as far as the crowds go. They were about the same. You will likely encounter Entrance 2 first and if you continue on for a few minutes you will encounter Entrance 1.
Note: There is paid parking available at both Entrance 1 and 2 and the cost depends on how long you stay. Grab a ticket when you enter and take your ticket with you. You will pay at a kiosk before returning to your car.
How To Navigate The National Park
Plitvice Lakes Park is extremely large and can’t be fully covered in a day. But if you are focusing on the areas of the famous Croatia waterfalls then you can see them in 1-2 days. I highly recommend seeing it over 2 days as mentioned above.
An important thing to know before you get to Plitvice National Park is that you will do a ton of walking and there will be some hills and inclines involved.
Once you arrive at either entrance, walk down to where the footpaths and boardwalks start. That means that you will be walking uphill on the way back! Luckily the walk is beautiful and full of many photo opportunities every few steps if you desire.
It should also go without saying that you must have comfortable shoes and be prepared to do a lot of walking.
Luckily all the paths, walkways, and boardwalks are very well maintained and easy to move on. Wandering the park is a nature lover’s dream as there are so many types of flora and fauna, birds, and animals to see.
The easiest way to see the Plitvice waterfalls is to break up your time between the Upper and Lower Lakes.
Each lake region has numerous waterfalls, lakes, and walking paths for you to view. If you are there for two days, you can focus on the Lower Lakes one day and the Upper Lakes the next day.
If you have limited time such as a half-day, then I would recommend seeing the Lower Lakes as the largest waterfall is located here. Keep in mind, you can’t go wrong with either section!
When To Visit Plitvice Lakes
Surprisingly, you can visit Plitvice Lakes any time of the year. If you are brave enough to venture out in the winter then you will likely have the place to yourself.
I have seen photos of the park covered in snow and it is lovely. Do expect the park to have shorter hours of operation during the winter months.
Not to sound negative, but I have heard of many people hating their experience that went in July and August because the crowds were so overwhelming and made it very difficult to move about the park.
For that reason, the shoulder seasons are best as you get good weather and fewer crowds. That would be the months of April/May and September/October.
Try to time your visit for getting to the park right at opening time or later in the afternoon to closing time. These are the periods of the day that you will see fewer crowds. Why do I keep emphasizing going at times with lessor crowds?
Well, a good portion of the walking you will do will be over boardwalks that are going across the lakes and waterfalls. There are no railings or enclosers with just enough room for people to walk single file each way.
It’s very easy to get knocked into the water if you are not careful (I spoke with someone that this happened to!). It can also be frustrating when you want to walk faster but can’t because you are in a long line of people.
Is it still worth going? Definitely!
Suggested Routes To Follow
I really like how the park has created different walking itineraries or routes for you to choose from that are all clearly marked by “letters”.
There are signs throughout the park that help guide you to the next letter or route. This is very helpful when you are short on time and want to see a specific area or just want to make sure you get to see everything that you want.
There are 7 routes labeled A, B, C, E, F, H, K and range in distance from 3 km to 18 km. Route K is the longest of the seven and goes around the entire park. Route A and E are the shortest of the itineraries.
Entrance 1 is a starting point for routes A, B, C and K and Entrance 2 is a starting point for routes E, H, F, and K. Here is a breakdown of the 7 routes:
The shortest of the routes, it begins at Entrance 1 and covers only part of the Lower Lakes. It does cover the largest waterfall, called the Great Waterfall (Veliki Slap). Veliki Slap is definitely worth seeing, so make sure that whichever route you choose, it includes this magnificent waterfall. The distance for this trail is 3.5 km (2.2 miles) and is considered easy.
This route is longer than A as it covers the entire Lower Falls meaning it is route A (includes Veliki Slap) plus a little bit more. It also includes taking the boat ride and the shuttle. The distance of this trail is about 4 km (2.6 miles) and pretty easy like A.
Route C is longer than route B and is route B (the Lower Lakes) plus covering the Upper Lakes. This trail also includes the boat ride and the shuttle bus. The trail is about 8 km (5 miles) and considered fairly easy. It is a good route if you are only able to visit in one day as you get to see both the upper and lower lakes.
This route starts at Entrance 2 and covers the Upper Lakes only, the boat ride and the shuttle. The distance of this trail is 5.5 km (3.4 miles).
This route covers a section of the Upper Lakes, a variation from E and includes the boat ride and the shuttle. The distance is 4.6 km (~ 3 miles) and considered easy.
Starting at Entrance 2, take the shuttle up to the top of the Upper lakes. Walk through the Upper Lakes then take the boat across the lake to the Lower Lakes. Tour the Lowers Lakes and then take the shuttle back to Entrance 2 when complete. Route H is about 8.9 km (5.5 miles) and is considered moderate in difficulty.
This route is the longest route as it encompasses the entire park but does not include the boat and shuttle. Instead of giving your feet a break on the boat and shuttle, you get to walk instead! In total, the distance for K is 18 km (11.2 miles). So be prepared to get a ton of steps in!
Note: If you plan to visit the park in one day, I recommend Route H which covers both the Upper and Lower Lakes. If you are visiting over 2 days, then follow route B one day and route E on the second day. Those two routes combined will cover both the Upper and Lower Lakes as in H.
Upper Plitvice Lakes
Why is this area of the park referred to as the Upper Lakes? Well because it is at a higher elevation than the Lower Lakes by a significant amount.
The difference between the highest point of the Upper Lakes and Lake Kozjak (where the Lower Lakes begin), is 100 meters or 328 feet. There are 12 lakes that make up the Upper Lakes with the main waterfall to view is Galovacki buk (25 meters or 82 feet).
Lower Plitvice Lakes
On the opposite side of Lake Kozjak from the Upper Lakes, is where the Lower Lakes begin. There are four lakes that make up the Lower Lakes. You will notice quickly that the terrain changes with steep cliffs made of limestone and karstic rock.
The views from any spot of the Lower Lakes is stunning. You will be in awe and question whether what you are seeing is real! But yes, it is real so take a moment to capture both in your mind and with your camera.
The highlight of visiting the Lower Lakes is the Great Waterfall (Veliki Slap). You will likely hear the Great Waterfall before you come upon it. Because Veliki Slap is so “great”, do expect a crowd here as this is the busiest section of the park.
Veliki Slap stands an impressive 78 meters (256 feet) and is the tallest waterfall in Croatia. Most of the Plitvice waterfalls are formed from water spilling over from the Upper Lakes down to the Lower Lakes. But Veliki Slap is formed by the Plitvica Potok River above it.
No matter the time of year, be prepared to get wet as you get close to Veliki Slap! The mist that the waterfall creates makes it seem as if it is raining.
It is nice to have a light rain jacket and cover up any nice camera gear. I took a few shots quickly and then put my camera away and used my GoPro the rest of the time.
Best Viewpoints for Waterfalls
Depending on the time of year or whether it is sunny or cloudy, you can see various shades of emerald green, turquoise, and blues. I have seen photos of the lakes in several different colors and wondered how that could be.
A lot depends on the amount of sunlight hitting the water and combined with the water running through the limestone, varying vibrant colors can be seen.
The views throughout the park are amazing, but if you want to get even better views then you need to go up!
No not in a helicopter or via a drone (they are prohibited by the way) but hike up to the top of the cliff to get a birds-eye view of the falls. This will add on both distance and time to any of the lettered routes but is worth it, I promise!
There are a few ways to get up to the cliff, the first is to take the staircase up from the Great Waterfall (Veliki Slap). You can’t miss it if you are at the base of Veliki Slap. Once you get to the top, you can take several gorgeous shots of Veliki Slap without all the mist spraying you.
Next, you have two options, either left or right. You will cover both, but for now, go right. Walk a few minutes on an asphalt road and when you see a small bridge, turn after it to your right.
In the photo below, you can see in the upper right corner a tiny rock platform or balcony. You have basically walked behind and around the Great Waterfall. Head down the trail to the most breathtaking scene!
It is at this viewing platform that you will get to see the Lower Lakes and falls in all their glory. To give you a frame of reference, you will be on the left side of the Great Waterfall (Veliki Slap).
After taking some time to enjoy the views, head back the way you came. Instead of going back down the steps, continue on the road.
There are several places that you can walk through the foliage and take in views of the Lower Lakes and falls. You get to see them from different vantage points which make for outstanding photos.
Eventually continuing on down the road, you will encounter a small entrance booth. Just show your ticket and you can continue on down into the park.
As you get to the bottom it will be clearly marked where to turn left and bring you to Lake Kozjak. It is here that you can get something to eat and catch the ferry boat.
Where To Eat In Plitvice Lakes
When you are visiting the park, there are 3 main locations to get food. There is an area in the Lower Lakes near the ferry boat dock where you can purchase something to eat.
At this spot, there is a large grass area that you can picnic at or just take a break from all the walking you are doing! Don’t expect to get a great meal, it is pretty typical of food at any tourist location.
At both Entrance 1 and 2, there are a number of casual restaurants that you can grab a quick bite to eat. Now after saying that, I would recommend eating an early or late lunch to avoid the long lines.
If you are lucky enough to eat outside of the park then there are several delicious restaurants that will leave you more than satisfied!
Restoran Degenija – this was my favorite meal while visiting Plitvice with excellent food and service. Restoran Degenija offers local Croatian, European, and Italian food that is the perfect way to end a day of exploring and seeing the Plitvice waterfalls. The restaurant is 5.9 km from Park Entrance 1.
Bistro & Caffe Plum – this is also a great choice to dine and has Croatian, European, and Mediterranean food as well. It just happens to be next to Restoran Degenija.
Lička Kuća (the house of Lika) – this is a great restaurant for Croatian and European food. It is located directly across from Entrance 1 and is a good spot to get lunch. But make sure you make a reservation if you want to eat lunch here. The large tour groups can dominate and fill up the restaurant quickly!
Gear To Pack
There are some key essentials that you definitely want to pack and bring with you to Plitvice Lakes. The most important item to have is a good pair of shoes that you know are comfortable to walk in.
This isn’t the time to test out new shoes as that will likely lead to blisters and an unhappy day. Because you are in and around water, it does help if your hiking boots or walking shoes are moisture-wicking and dry fairly easy.
Another important necessity is to have a good camera to capture the stunning waterfalls! A good camera that is easy to use and takes great photos (without spending too much), is the starter Canon camera. If you want to step up your picture taking then consider upgrading to this excellent Canon camera.
I also like to carry a GoPro to take video and not worry if it gets wet. Near the waterfalls, I like using the GoPro for this reason.
For a sturdy and compact tripod, you can throw this awesome travel tripod in your backpack!
To make sure you have your hands free to take a million photos, have a good day pack to carry all of your stuff. I particularly like this day backpack which is comfortable, breathable (for those hot days) and can carry everything you need for the day.
To carry plenty of water to keep you hydrated, I like to use one of these filtered water bottles and/or this reusable stainless steel reusable bottle.
Throughout the park, you will be exposed to the sun, so bring a packable hat and organic sunscreen (reef-friendly) to help protect from those rays! And no matter the time of year wear comfortable clothes to walk in and dress in layers as the weather can change without notice.
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Have fun visiting Plitvice Lakes & its beautiful waterfalls!
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Such an informative and detailed guide Vanessa. This place is definitely on our list so I’ve pinned it for future reference.
Thanks so much Wendy! I highly recommend Plitvice as it really is a bucket list place to see. I couldn’t get over the beauty of the park. 🙂
What a comprehensive guide! I will definitely share this with my friends and followers who are considering a trip to Croatia. Although a little far from the coast, these lakes are a must see in Croatia! Hvala!
Oh thank you so much, Elizabeth! I really appreciate you sharing with others. 🙂 It really is a must place to see when visiting Croatia for sure.
I can see why this place is so popular in Croatia. It is really out of this world. My concern, however, is that since so many people talk about it now that it might be extremely crowded. It’s easy to make things look quiet in pictures. What were the crowds like when you were there?
It really is a magnificent place to visit. The photos you saw are from various times of day over two days all in the middle of May. It is the shoulder season and doesn’t see as many crowds as the middle of summer. That is why I would suggest avoiding the middle of the summer. But no matter what it is still worth seeing as there is nothing like it. 🙂
Oh my goodness this is gooooorgeous! All those waterfalls are fantastic! The Plitvice Lakes area looks unreal!
I would loooove to explore this stunning area and go hiking. I can totally see why you loved it so much!
Thanks Josy! Omg, the lakes and waterfalls at Plitvice are straight from a fairytale and so fun to explore! 🙂
I have to admit, I only really know about Dubrovnik so this post has been really interesting to see some of the natural beauty of Croatia. Thanks for your tips about spending the night to avoid the crowds and your restaurant recommendations. I’ll be sure to save this for future reference and trip planning.
You’re welcome! Oh I love Dubrovnik too, it is such a wonderful city. Yes, it is always nice to get out of the city and see nature. Croatia really does have the most spectacular outdoors to explore. I hope you get the chance to go back! 🙂
Great post! There are so many places in Croatia I want to visit and this is near the top! It looks so beautiful. This is a fantastic guide, too!
Thank you so much! Croatia really is an amazing place to visit and Plitvice Lakes is one you don’t want to miss. I’m glad you found this helpful! 🙂
What a great, thorough guide. And your photos are stunning. If I ever get to see this part of the world, I will most definitely follow your advice.
Oh wonderful! I really hope you do get the chance, it is one of those places that is so amazing to see. It’s incredible how so many waterfalls formed in one spot. 🙂
Wow, those lakes look amazing! I’ve never been to Croatia but would love to go!
I hope you do get the chance to go! You won’t be disappointed as Plitvice Lakes are so beautiful! 🙂
Plitvice Lakes is one of the places that I plan on visiting soon. The place looks amazing – and I love waterfalls. Plus, now my son is 8, so we can all go together and enjoy the stunning scenery. Gorgeous photos and useful tips!
That sounds like a wonderful time and something that you can enjoy together! Plitvice really is a fun place to explore! 🙂
This is one of the best guides I’ve read – so detailed and informative. Your images are gorgeous! Would love to check out Plitvice Lakes one day.
Oh thank you so much, I really appreciate that! 🙂 I try to think of all the questions I have when I wrote it. Yes, I hope you do get the chance to visit one day and use this guide!
Hey, Vanessa! Love the comprehensive guide for the park including the list. I agree — it’s important to plan extra time to accommodate traveling to the park.
Thank you, I’m glad you found it helpful. Yes, I think too many people try to see Plitvice in a few hours and it’s just not enough time to see all its beauty. 🙂
Can I be transported there pretty please? This place is gorgeous! I like this side of Croatia.
Haha, wouldn’t that be so nice?! All of Croatia is so pretty but Plitvice is over the top in a good way! 🙂
I have added this to my Croatia bucket list. It really looks so beautiful with the lakes and waterfalls that I can imagine being totally entranced by it all.
I’m so happy to hear that you are adding this to your places to see! It is a magical place with so much beauty. 🙂
Plitvice Lakes looks so incredibly beautiful! Croatia has been hiigh on my list for several years, so when I eventually go there I’m definitely visiting this place. Thanks for the very helpful tips!
You’re welcome, I’m glad this guide can help when you do get the chance to visit! Croatia is definitely up there as one of my favorite countries now. 🙂
Croatia seems to be such a popular place to visit now, and I can see why!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything about this park before. It’s stunning! The greenery is remarkable, and the waterfall! Definitely adding this to the bucket list!!
Visiting Plitvice Lakes won’t disappoint! All of Croatia is stunning but the beauty of the lakes and waterfalls is unreal! 🙂
I so want to visit Plitvice Lakes – it looks so beautiful! I love being around the water, so all of the water and waterfalls here just makes me love it already. I never thought about visiting in the winter, but I bet it is pretty then too. Thank you for all of the tips!
You’re welcome, Christine! I agree, there is something about being near or hearing water running that is so peaceful and relaxing. 🙂
These waterfalls look amazing! I have never heard of this area before. I will have to add it to my list.
I hope you do get the chance to visit Plitvice Lakes, it is a gorgeous place to see!
So beautiful! Thank you for a great guide.
You’re welcome! Hope you get to use the guide on a visit one day. 🙂
How stunning! Croatia has been on my list for a while now, would love to do a road trip here!
Thank you! Oh do go if you get the chance, Croatia is such a stunning country! 🙂