Montenegro is a small and naturally-diverse country, nestled between the Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Serbia.
While few Canadians consider Montenegro as a European destination of choice, this little country welcomes thousands of tourists (Brits and Russians in particular), every summer. We chose to go for 10 days in early September and it was perfect—it was still warm and had very few tourists! I’ve also heard that May and June are also good months to visit, for the same reasons.
Getting around Montenegro
Arrive by plane and drive across the country
While we opted to fly in and out of Dubrovnik, Croatia (it’s only about 35 minutes from the Croatia/Montenegro border), you can also fly into Tivat or Podgorica, the country’s capital city. From the Dubrovnik airport, we rented a car to road trip across Montenegro. Having a car allowed us to set our own pace and itinerary—I highly recommend it! Our rental car was awesome on gas, and parking was readily available; I also chose where to stay in Montenegro based on which Airbnbs and hotels offered free parking.
Arrive by train, bus or cruise ship
One of the best things about Europe is the variety of transportation options! If you’re looking to arrive from another country, doing so by train or bus are more economical ways; if you’re looking for a more luxurious approach, consider a cruise!
My Top 5 Places to Visit in Montenegro
1. Kotor – travel back in time
My favourite Montenegro destination is (hands-down!) Kotor. The road down from the border runs alongside the Bay of Kotor; along the way, you come across several must-see towns, like Risan and Perast. You can also choose to cut down on the drive to Kotor by taking a ferry from a small town called Lepetane.
Upon arriving in Kotor’s “Stari Grad” or Old Town, you’re quickly swept back in time. As you walk into the entrance of this walled city, you can’t help but be charmed.
By day, you can eat and shop to your heart’s content. Dine in the open-air cafes, cool down with gelato, take in the city’s little architectural details, and meander through the abundance of jewellery stores and gift shops. There’s no shortage of “Kotor City of Cats” souvenirs, to take back home with you. Read on to my “5 travel tips” below to find out why…
By night, the Old Town is still bustling, but with a younger crowd. The pubs and night clubs fill up quickly with travellers and pub crawl groups. We opted for quieter nights, exploring the narrow mazing streets and alleys within the Old Town’s walls.
If you’re planning your own itinerary, take note: cruise ships tend to come in on Sundays and Mondays and the city becomes packed with tourists. To avoid the crowds, plan to visit the Old Town on other days of the week, or later in the evenings.
For us, Monday was the perfect day to hike up to the fortress of San Giovanni / St. John, from Old Town. The trek took about 3 hours and was pretty steep, so it deterred many cruisers from heading up. If you choose to do the hike, be prepared; the weather in the area changes very quickly! It can be grey and overcast one minute, but extremely hot the next. Wear layers and proper footwear, and bring a water bottle (or two).
2. Durmitor National Park – marvel at nature’s wonders
Even if you’re not the biggest outdoor enthusiast, Durmitor National Park will be a highlight for you. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a natural wonder with its gorgeous green vegetation, craggy rocks, serene glacial lakes and wildlife. If you’re not into hiking or climbing, driving through is also an option… that is, unless the sheep decide you’re in their way.
3. Skadar Lake Region – lush only begins to describe it
Do yourself a favour and hire a local boat or fisherman to take you out onto the lake. We hired a private boat for just the two of us that cost the equivalent of $40 CDN; it was well worth it! We went to the visitors centre, which is right off the main road. There are many fisherman there, ready to make a deal.
The other highlight of this area: it’s wine country! Be sure to plan a visit to the nearby village of Virpazar. If you’re a wino, plan a day of it because there are more than enough vineyards to explore. Many of them also offer food.
But take note: if you visit in September like we did, most of the vineyards are closed at the end of August. But we lucked out and got to visit one, a family-owned estate called Vinarija Durisic. Our host was so friendly, spoke fluent English, and took the time to share the family’s history and intricate details of each individual wine and liquor. After our tastings, we wandered around the family estate, taking in the beautiful landscape, as well as the home-grown grapes and olives.
If you have a designated driver, you can do a self-guided wine tour, since most of the wineries reside on two streets running through the town. You can also pre-book guided (and driven) wine tours. Other options include taking the local bus or train, or even a bike, and stay the evening at one of the local inns.
4. Stari Bar – quaint village life
If you’re a foodie, stay in Stari Bar, Bar’s Old Town. There isn’t a lot to do other than explore the ruins of the original town and relax with good food, good bevies, and good company (especially if you like cats).
I would recommend exploring the ruins closer to dusk; we loved the sunset from that view point. Stari Bar’s one main cobblestone street is so charming. Everything is just a few steps away; there are a number of unique restaurants, as well as olive oil and souvenir shops galore.
5. Budva – beach and party away
Budva is a beach-goer’s heaven; the water is warm, crystal clear and there are a ton of water sport activities. The Old town is similar to Kotor in its walled features.
Budva is the wild child of Montenegro; by day, its boardwalk is carnival-like with games and booths; by night, it becomes a night-owl’s delight—with themed night clubs that pump dance music into the early morning hours.
Not too far outside of Budva, plan to make a quick stop at Sveti Stefan. Today, it’s an incredibly exclusive and expensive resort, but once was a fortified town. If you plan to beach there, plan to pay for it; sun beds were going for 30€ a piece! There is a public area, but it’s quite crude with its rocky beach, versus the gorgeous white sands of the private beach (and they’re literally side-by-side).
5 Travel Tips to Remember
- Once you know how long you’re planning your trip for, make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months following your return date and that you know Montenegro’s entry and exit requirements for Canadians.
- Don’t stress if locals don’t welcome you with open arms; Montenegrins aren’t overly-friendly to tourists. Our host in Kotor explained that Montenegrins will be respectful and address your questions, but have no interest in pretending that they know you and like you. As she described it, “We aren’t fake (like some other cultures are)”. If you’re respectful, they will reciprocate.
- If you’re planning to rent a car, add on the extra navigation system; we chose not to, and regretted it. We had a data plan, so we thought Google Maps would direct us everywhere we wanted to go. Nope. We soon learned coverage was spotty in many areas and surprisingly, Google maps pointed us in several wrong directions… we literally spent two hours one day, driving around the Podgorica area trying to find one of Montenegro’s most popular wineries. We were sent to the actual vineyards and the head office (where no one spoke English and were not pleased about being interrupted by tourists), but we never ended up at the estate where the tours were held!
- Be sure to do your research on rental car travel insurance. If you Google around during the planning phase, you’ll see that many travellers warn of rental car vandalism and/or theft in Montenegro. Because of this, I was worried this could happen to us and I didn’t want to get stuck with another expense, if it did. Luckily, we didn’t have to go through that kind of travel nightmare, but I was prepared for it… just in case.
- If you’re a cat lover like I am, you may be upset about the number of stray cats. But don’t be alarmed; our host assured us that they’re fed well by locals. Tourists are suckers and feed them from their plates because many cats roam around, howling at you underneath your restaurant chair. But like any greedy animals, they want your food… not theirs. Cats are kept and fed to keep away the rodents, especially in walled towns like Kotor and Dubrovnik.
I hope these tips will help you in planning your adventures in Montenegro!
Have questions or comments? Share them below!