If you love to explore the great outdoors, discover native wildlife and breathtaking scenery – you’ve come to the right place!
Croatia’s Minister of Environment, Mihael Zmajlović, describes Croatia as “the National Park of Europe.”
Around one-third of Croatia’s land area is protected by National Park or nature park status, meaning that there are strict laws to protect the wildlife and habitat in these areas.
Each of Croatia’s National Parks is unique: from mountains to islands to wetlands and caves; and this variety in landscape attracts an abundance of animal species – birds, turtles, bears, lynx, eagles and more.
There are plenty of activities on offer for visitors too – whether you prefer swimming and sunbathing on the beach, or something a little more active such as cycling, hiking, climbing, canoeing and diving – you’ll find everything in Croatia’s National Parks.
Here is our ultimate guide to the 8 National Parks of Croatia:
Brijuni National Park
Brijuni National Park is a collection of 14 islands, which are home to almost one hundred sites of archaeological and historical significance, from the Neolithic period to the present day – over 5000 years of human history.
Some of the highlights include an ancient Roman villa, a 5th-century church which is reported to have been used by the Knights Templar, as well as a Byzantine temple.
It’s not surprising that humans have wanted to settle here – the colours of the scenery are breathtaking with lush green trees, Istrian white rock and the beautiful blue Adriatic waters.
There are plenty of activities, including tennis, golf, buggy cars, archery, cycling, zoo, picnic areas and snorkelling.
Krka National Park
Krka National Park is home to seven waterfalls, some of which are larger than those at Plitvice Lakes, and the park itself is more easily accessible from the coastal resorts.
Around the park, there is a bike trail, which takes you past the picturesque lake Visovac, a Franciscan church and monastery, medieval fortresses, an old water mill, and the remains of a Roman military camp.
There are also plenty of walking trails and tours, guiding you through the unforgettable scenery.
Paklenica National Park
Over 150km of hiking trails run through Paklenica National Park, through deep canyons carved out from rocky mountains.
Paklenica is the ideal place for adventurers, with an abundance of mountains to explore, as well as dense pine forests and caves.
The gorge of Velika Paklenica was where women used to transport goods from the mountain to the coast and back and warned about the legend of fairies who lured all those who looked at them.
You can still walk the gorge today, and follow in the footsteps of those Croatian Highland women.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Central Croatia – easily accessible from Zadar and Zagreb.
According to legend, a black queen sent a thunderstorm, which left 16 lakes after the rains ended.
She said, “from now on, people will come from all over the world to see these beautiful lakes,” and she was right, as the park receives around 1.4 million visitors each year!
The main attraction is the stunning waterfalls which cascade down from the 16 lakes, and there are various walking and hiking trails to explore.
We recommend staying overnight in the town of Plitvice so you can arrive early in the morning and avoid the crowds.
Risnjak National Park
Northern Croatia – easily accessible from Zagreb and the Istrian peninsula.
Risnjak takes its name from Risnjak Mountian (1,528m) which is part of the Dinaric Alps.
The park area is made up of mountains, valleys, forests and rivers, making it the ideal habitat for brown bears, wolves, deer, wild boar and lynx (“ris” from which the mountain is named.)
Risnjak National Park is one of the few places where it’s possible to see a lynx in the wild, and is also one of the quieter of Croatia’s national parks, with relatively few visitors compared with some of the others.
The climb up Risnjak mountain is rewarded at the top with panoramic views of the rest of the park.
Other activities include mountain biking, skiing, fishing, and educational walks.
Sjeverni (Northern Velebit)
Central Croatia –accessible from Zadar, Split and Istrian peninsula.
The newest of Croatia’s National Parks, which received its National Park status in 1999.
The main feature of the park is the Velebit mountain range, which is the largest in Croatia, with an area of 109 km2, and highest peak of 1676m.
The area is also famous for deep vertical caves – over 400 have been discovered in the area, including three whose depth is over 1000m.
Other than cave exploration and mountaineering, other activities include the Velebit botanic gardens, cycling and stargazing.
Kornati National Park
Island group off the Dalmatian coast.
The name Kornati comes from the Latin corona which means crown, referring to the hundreds of crags and cliffs surrounding the islands.
The National Park consists of two island groups, Kornatski and Pučinski, with a total of 89 islands, islets and reefs, and remains of Roman and Medieval settlements.
The islands are considered to be some of the most beautiful in Europe, and the writer, George Bernard Shaw described them by saying that God had created them from “tears, stars and breath.”
Enjoy bathing in the crystal clear waters of Kornati, and if you’re interested in wildlife you might spot some bottlenose dolphins or loggerhead sea turtles, so be sure to bring your snorkel!
Mljet National Park
Island in southern Croatia, 24 sea miles from Dubrovnik
The Island of Mljet has a rich cultural history and, according to legend, Mljet is the ancient island of Ogygia, mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.
According to the story, during his journey across the Mediterranean, Odysseus was detained on the island for seven years by a nymph named Calypso, who wanted to keep him as her immortal husband.
Visitors to Mljet can visit the Odysseus cave as well as explore the many scenic coves and bays around the island, which are perfect for swimmers.
The island is also home to two “salt lakes” which are actually valleys carved out from the last ice age, and flooded with seawater via a canal.
Croatia Nature Parks
As well as the 8 National Parks in Croatia, there are also 11 Nature Parks, which are also worth considering:
- Biokovo Mountain – 2nd highest mountain (1762m)
- Kopački Rit – “European Amazon” zoological reserve in the floodplains of the Danube
- Lonjsko Polje – wetland reserve and picturesque wooden houses.
- Medvednica – near Zagreb.
Medieval towns and skiing in winter.
- Telašćica – Bay on Island Dugi Otok
- Velebit – Trails, caves, climbing
- Učka Mountain – Range of mountains on the Istrian peninsula
- Zumberak Samoborsko Gorje – mountains and hills, near Zagreb
- Papuk – Forest oasis, waterfalls & mountains in Slavonija, eastern Croatia
- Vransko Jezero – Large natural lake, popular with birdwatchers & fisherman, Dalmatia
- Lastovsko Otočje – Island with old stone churches, 15th Century dwellings, ideal location for stargazing.
No matter what your preferred activity is, you’ll find everything in Croatia’s national parks, while enjoying some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe.
Day trips to the national parks can be added to any of our tours, so speak to us today and arrange your visit to one of Croatia’s National Parks.