If you are staying in Split, or arriving at Split airport and would like to visit Plitvice Lakes from there, it gets just a bit more complicated than if you are getting to Plitvice from Zagreb or Zadar. Your options are to either use public transport – bus, get a rented car and drive or pre-book an organized day tour. Here is what is available:
The only public transport from Split to Plitvice is a bus. No trains nor flights are available unless you decide to get a flight or train to Zagreb and proceed to Plitvice Lakes from there. This is a viable option, perhaps more comfortable, but in terms of time, it is not shorter at all.
If you are visiting between June and September, getting here by bus is much easier than at other times of the year, as buses are more frequent in this period than out of season. Currently, there are at least 9 buses daily that are running from 7 am to 8 pm. The journey takes between 3 hours and 30 minutes and 5 hrs 50 minutes depending on the route the bus takes. The ticket price is between 16 to 23 Euro one way with some discounts for return, depending on the bus company.
The shortest route takes you from Split main bus terminal (which is in the very center of the town – check timings) via Skradin (Krka National Park) and Korenica to Plitvice entrance 1 and entrance 2 (Slunj, Mukinje). You will be there in about 3,5 hours.
The longer route will take about 4,5 hrs. This one runs from Split main bus terminal via Sinj, Vrlika, Knin and Korenica before arriving at your destination.
Note – some of the available bus routes last for almost 6 hours, stopping in numerous small places along the way. Make sure to avoid these options by checking the exact bus route in advance. Generally, morning buses take shorter routes than afternoon ones.
If you can, I suggest you take the morning bus that departs at 7:00. You will be in Plitvice at 10:30 am, which is a very good time if your plan is to stay here just for one day. You will still have part of the morning and the whole afternoon to explore the Lakes. With later buses, you will arrive here in the afternoon, which is already too late for a proper walk on that day.
Tip: Get off the bus at Entrance 1 instead of entrance 2 (which is closer to Split) and start exploring the Park from there. It is an easier walk than the Entrance 2 option. (check locations of the map)
You can book your bus journey in advance here.
If you are visiting out of season (spring, autumn, and winter), bus connections are not as convenient as above. There are only 3 buses running on this route, just one of them leaving in the morning from Split. At this time of the year, you can’t really do a meaningful day trip by bus from Split. And also, the other two afternoon buses take 5 + hrs routes, which is another inconvenience.
For this time of the year, you just have to overnight on the Lakes. At least one night. The good news is, however, that there is plenty of available accommodation here at this time of the year and prices are not as high as in full season.
If you plan to drive from Split to Plitvice Lakes, you basically have just 2 options – see below:
The shortest driving route from Split via Sinj, Vrlika, Knin, and Korenica (see the below map). The length of the drive is 237 km, with an estimated time of arrival of about 3 hours and 30 minutes. This is a free route, with no toll involved, leading along the ‘old’ road to Plitvice.
The newer and arguably faster route, a 264 km long route leading along E65 and E75 roads with an estimated time of arrival in about 3 hours. This one is not free, you have to pay a toll, and it gets pretty busy in the summer season.
Which one do I recommend? It depends. If you have plenty of time, take the first option. It is more enjoyable, leads through the countryside, drives along narrow roads, and gives you the opportunity to see the Dalmatian hinterland. And it is free. If in a hurry, join the motorway!
Getting in the opposite direction, from Plitvice to Split >>, in the period April to October buses start at 9:15, with the last one departing at about 23:45. There are at least 9 + daily regular daily buses running on this route with an increasing number of them in July and August. Ticket prices are starting from 16 Euro to 25 Euro, depending on the route and bus company.
If you are visiting the Park on the day trip, for this part of the year you can just about do it. Get the late afternoon one which will take you to Split by late evening. Altogether, you will have about 5 hours to explore the park which is a fair amount of time to get a glimpse of it if your time is so limited.
Yes, for this particular route, I would indeed recommend you join the pre-organized private day tour. Due to travelling time and distance, if you get on a private tour, you will get another couple of hours available for exploring the Lakes which would otherwise be lost in travelling by slow buses. So, if you only have one day to visit Plitvice from Split, yes take a private day tour. Here is a booking link.
You can also take Uber, which may be cheaper, see details here.
For the car hire option, well, it really depends – if you are visiting out of season, then car hire may be a good idea if you don’t have enough time to overnight in the Lakes and if the roads are fine. If roads are icy and you don’t have extensive experience with winter driving, perhaps you will be better off being driven by an experienced driver. Roads to Plitvice in the winter are often closed due to heavy snowfall and icy conditions. Still, a local, experienced driver will take you there to see the amazing frozen lakes. If you are visiting in summer, driving should be fine and yes, I would recommend considering this option.
On the above map, you can see two available driving routes – the shortest one and a bit longer one (see above). Both routes join at Udbine and Korenica, leading to Plitvice Lakes.