Before visiting Montenegro back in 2014, I’ll have to admit, I had never really heard of it. The stunning Balkan country lies on the Adriatic Sea nestled in between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania. The landscape is dramatic with tall mountains plunging into the waters below, stunning National Parks, and a host of quaint towns.
Tourism is increasing again in Montenegro after it suffered greatly in the Yugoslavian conflict. The region has stabilised and it is now a perfectly safe area to explore. In 2016 Kotor was named as the Top City To Visit In 2016 by Lonely Planet. So, I guess the secret is kind of out now.
After spending about a month exploring Montenegro I can safely say a part of my heart was left there. With way fewer crowds but equal beauty, Montenegro is the perfect alternative or adjunct to Croatia. Whether you want your breath taken away in Kotor, to feel small among the mountains of Durmitor, or party it up in Budva, Montenegro has it all.
Capital City: Podgorica
Language: Montenegrin, but English widely spoken in touristed areas
Schengen status: non-Schengen (Read: How To Legally Spend More Time In Europe)
Visa for Australian passport holders: not required, 90 day stay within 6 months
SEE MORE: Montenegro Destination Guide
Getting to Montenegro
Montenegro is connected to other areas in Europe and can be easily accessed. People most frequently travel overland with a cheap bus from Dubrovnik, there are also buses to/from many other Balkan locations. It can often be cheaper to buy a flight to Dubrovnik and then catch the bus to Herceg Novi/Kotor than to fly directly to Montenegro.
Montenegro has airports in Podgorica and Tivat. Once you arrive at Podgorica Airport it is hard to get to the coast directly so you need to enter the city and then find transport. Your hotel or hostel in other city might have airport transfer available from Podgorica but be warned: this will cost you. Tivat Airport is coastal but does not service much of Europe.
Ferries also run from Bar to Ancona and Bari in Italy. These trips take around 8-10 hours but can be an affordable way to reach the country from Italy.
My recommendation is to enter the country by bus from Dubrovnik.
Travelling around Montenegro
The buses in Montenegro are cheap and they service a wide area. Although not always the most reliable, fast or highest quality vehicles, they do get the job done. Bus fares between different cities are usually less than 10 euro. This is the method of transport I recommend. Remember: it’s the journey not the destination
Taxis operate within Montenegro but are more costly than catching the bus. Taxi drivers will always try and hustle for the best price.
When should you visit
As you are probably aware, I loooove shoulder seasons for travel. You get better prices, fewer people, and the weather is almost as good. For me, I think the best times to visit Montenegro are late May/early June, and September. In the height of summer destinations like Budva and Kotor get really crowded and your experience can consequently get diminished.
However, if you are visiting Montenegro for the party and social scene then visiting in the summer period is the way to go. This is when pub crawls run, hostels are full of other travellers, and the party vibes are rife.
Montenegro also has opportunities for snow sports. There are ski runs around the Durmitor National Park so if this is something you want to check out then a visit in January is ideal.
Where to visit
Montenegro is broken up into several regions with different landscapes and vibes. They are:
- Bay of Kotor: the famous mountains plunging into the bay, includes Herceg Novi, Tivat, Kotor and Perast
- Budva Riviera: the area known for beaches and nightlife, where Budva is located
- Central: a large portion of Montenegro which contains Podgorica, Cetinje, Niksic, Skadar National Park and Lovcen National Park
- South Coast: takes up a large portion of the Adriatic coastline and includes places like Bar and Ulcinj
- Northern Mountains: this is my favourite part of Montenegro and it is packed with untouched landscape, includes the Tara Canyon in Durmitor National Park, and the snow sports capital Zabljak
Not many people put Herceg Novi on the list but I found it to be a rather charming place to visit. It felt authentically Montenegrin and the beauty of the Bay of Kotor could be enjoyed. Accommodation is cheap in the coastal town and it is connected well to Kotor and Dubrovnik. When you are in the town you should check out the Forte Mare castle which was built in 1382.
Kotor is the jewel of Montenegro with dramatic mountainous landscapes, a walled old town, and beautiful terracotta roofed buildings. The weather here is moody as clouds can easily descend down the mountains and fill the Bay. The old city walls run up the mountainside and light up at night looking halo-esque.
Within the marble lane ways and courtyards of Kotor there are plenty of cafes, bars, and eateries which are affordable and atmospheric. As described in my Quick Guide To Kotor there is also the best burger I’ve ever had only a 5 min walk from the Old Town Centre.
If you are looking for a place to call home for the few days you’re in Kotor then look no further than the Old Town Hostel. This is easily one of the best hostels in Europe. With themed nights, incredible staff, pub crawls, and organised tours on offer, there is nothing here that has been missed out. I just kept coming back to Kotor just to stay there again.
READ MORE: Quick Guide To Kotor
Budva and Sveti Stefan
Budva is a well-established party destination in Montenegro with epic bars and clubs easy to find. The beautiful Montenegrin essence of Budva has been kind of lost in this mass tourism. The small old town is right up next to huge concrete apartment blocks and the beaches are totally swarming with people. Budva is a place which I enjoyed visiting but felt as though my three days there was too much. If you’re looking for relaxation, this may not be the place.
Sveti Stefan is a beautiful town only a short (and 2.5 euro) bus trip away from Budva. Although you can’t get onto the island itself, swimming off the beaches in the water surrounding it is a lovely experience. I would recommend going swimming in the evening as the sun is setting. By this stage most of the sunbathers have left and it feels like you have the whole place (almost) to yourself.
Durmitor National Park
Durmitor National Park is a simply stunning part of the world. Carved out by glaciers and containing Europe’s deepest gorges means that the landscape is dramatically beautiful. The park belongs to the Dinaric Alps and it is the largest protected area in the country. The area has fantastic hiking, canoeing, white water rafting, and climbing opportunities.
When I stayed in the area I based myself in Zabljak at a gorgeous guesthouse with a friendly Montenegrin host Sreten (Rooms and Bungalows Sreten Zugic). I sampled some local rakija and hashed out a deal for a white water rafting trip down the Tara River. If you are in Montenegro, visiting Durmitor National Park is a must.
Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro and also the largest city with 200000 people. Although it is not the most stunning place to visit in the country, I always feel it’s important to visit the capital cities and see the national museums and places of government. Podgorica, unlike much of the rest of the country, is mostly flat except for the 103.3 Gorica Hill which the city is named after. The architecture here is a mixed and not as uniform as other areas in the country, especially after it was significantly bombed in WWII.
Podgorica is home to the National Theatre, the City Museum,and the Natural History Museum which are worth visiting if you are interested. Seeing the Roman Square and the public gardens are also worth exploring.
It’s here that you will see less of the touristed Montenegro and more of the people who work to make this country run. With a big industrial area and one third of the country’s population, Podgorica gives you a sense of what life is like for most Montenegrins.
Skadar National Park
Lake Skadar (also known as Shkoder, Shkodra and Scutari) is on the border between Albania and Montenegro. It is the largest lake in the Balkan region and is host to a lot of flora and fauna (especially birds). On the Montenegrin side of the Lake Skadar is the Skadar National Park which has mountains, monastaries, and tiny townships. It is a peaceful part of the world and wonderful for outdoor enthusiasts.
I cannot wait to get back to Montenegro one day and explore more of this stunning country. This list is obviously not exhaustive and some other places I would recommend are: Lovcen, Bar and Ulcinj. If you are heading to the Balkan region Montenegro is my country of choice for travellers. It is stunning beautiful and very easy to get off the beaten path. It offers a unique combination of natural beauty, history, and culture — but beware of too much rakija!
READ NEXT: Complete Croatia Travel Guide
Been to Montenegro or have questions? Comment below — I would love to hear from you
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