Croatia National Parks

Eastern Europe’s most unspoiled natural gems

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Ronnie McCluskey

Ronnie McCluskey
HomeAway travel expert

PlitviceAt one time, Croatia might not even have appeared on your shortlist of dream destinations. Nowadays, though, much of the country’s economy is founded on a booming tourist trade: backpackers continue to sample its chic cities and coastline, families bake in the sun-blessed oasis of Hvar, and adventurers flock to the Plitvice Lakes for a week of exploration in the mountains. So what’s stopping you? Go for the culture and festivals, the medieval settlements, the stone-built villages residing on the Adriatic coastline. The cuisine isn’t lacking, either, with everything from roasted lamb and suckling pig to Skrandinski rizot – a slow-cooked, meat-based risotto – on the menu.

Aside from the Eastern European pleasures of Zagreb and Split, the most popular Croatian destinations among visitors are undoubtedly the country’s mesmerising National Parks. With eight to choose from, each as captivating as the last, the outdoor possibilities are nigh on limitless under the Balkan sun. 


Top five National Parks in Croatia


Plitvice Lakes Plitvice Lakes

The largest National Park in Croatia – and indeed the oldest in all of Europe – is a truly bewitching example of nature at its very best. The 16 lakes themselves are intertwined within a vast forest compound populated by lynxes, wild boar, eagles and even brown bears. As inviting as the crystal waters seem, swimming is strictly prohibited within the park – though this won't stop you enjoying the incredible views, the best of which can be found by following one of many hiking trails to the summit of the craggy waterfalls. 

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Krka Krka

Named for the river which is encapsulated within its 109-square-kilometre confines, Krka is a wonderland of contrasting green and blue landscapes. The blue, naturally, is provided by the river itself, supplemented by a glittering array of waterfalls. The Skradinski Buk area alone boasts a breathtaking 17 of these features, not to mention the gloriously shimmering natural pool at the heart of it all. From here, you can also take a boat trip to Visovac, an island haven that is home to a 15th-century Augustinian monastery. 

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Brijuni Brijuni

Of the 14 islands that incorporate the Brijuni archipelago, the vast majority are accessible only to the royal, wealthy and otherwise elite of the world. As luck would have it though, the ones open to the public are more than endearing enough! A trip to the Josip Tito Museum is an excellent way to learn about the country’s Yugoslavian heritage; or going even further back, you can take in the 13th-century St Mary’s Church and the Byzantine Castrum remains.

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Paklenica Paklenica

If rugged landscapes and heart-stopping peaks are your idea of the perfect outdoor adventure, look no further than Paklenica. A pair of awe-inspiring canyons – Velika and Mala – dominate the landscape of this northern Dalmatian terrain, forming a setting of sweeping, forested valleys and soaring mountains. As you may expect, climbing is the preferred activity here, with routes catering to all levels of experience. Of course, the greatest way to really discover the park is by doing so in your sturdiest hiking boots.

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Mljet Mljet

One of the country’s smallest National Parks accounts for roughly one third of its eponymous island. Although numbers are modest, tourists are drawn here in part because of the secluded yet Mediterranean climate, the blessed beaches of Saplunara, and the charming Benedictine monastery on the isle of Melita. The warm and refreshing waters of Veliko Jezero and Malo Jezero – translated as Large Lake and Small Lake, respectively – are ideal for cooling yourself off at the end of a long day in the sun. 

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Krka image © dmytrok
Paklenica image © dani_tic



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