Let me be honest: Budva is not a place for beautiful architecture and leisurely strolls in streets oozing charisma or history. That being said it would be a shame to miss this millennia-old city on your excursion into Montenegro. The best way to enjoy Budva is to find a place in or just outside the old town, spend most of your days outdoors – at the beaches or in the hinterland — and occasionally make use of the hip nightlife and restaurants in Stari Grad.
I found an oasis in the Franeta Apartments — 2-storey buildings, spread out in a cozy garden with three terraces, covered lushly with kiwis and vines, 50m from the main through road, 70m from the sea, ten minutes on foot from the old town, dedicated parking right outside the door, and all that for only €10 per person per night.
Budva is easiest understood through a story our hostess told us when we arrived: her father in law built the first house east of Babin Do, a small bungalow, in 1961. Back then people thought he was crazy. But within a few years, there was a whole community. The bungalows have long been replaced with 2-, 3-storey buildings, and even those now one by one give way to high-rises.
The good news is that some of the architecture is quite exciting (for hotel/apartment complexes) with a mix of materials, green balconies, and some buildings — like the luxe Dukley Gardens complex — are even incorporating and playing with the surrounding coastline.
A look at the yacht harbor right next to the old town hints that most visitors here are still either from the former Yugoslav countries or from Russia. Russian vacationers are known to prefer expensive things. This is occasionally reflected in — for Montenegro — ridiculously priced shops and restaurants, and it is best to steer clear of the eateries lining the beach promenade.
The beaches are what makes Budva stand out in Montenegro and compared to its competitors along the Croatian coast. They are largely sand beaches, though the sand is coarse and often mixed with pebbles of different sizes.
The longest single stretch of beach is Jaz to the West of the city. The location is also used as a concert venue and has seen such greats as Madonna and the Rolling Stones.In Budva itself, you can walk for 4km along a promenade (with some tunnels in between) from Mogren beach to Przno, and it is not unlikely that this walk will eventually be extended all the way to the two Sveti Stefan beaches.
Some stretches of beach are private while on others you are free to roll out a towel or can rent a lounger/umbrella starting at €10/day (€30/day in Sveti Stefan). My personal favorites are the Mogren beaches. They can only be accessed via two doors in the walls of the old town.
Between Mogren 1 and 2, you’ll find Budva’s mermaid: the Budva ballet dancer, an elegant bronze sculpture on a rock in the sea.
In addition to numerous cafés (that double as bars any time of the day), there is a surprising selection of cuisines in and around the old town — from classic local konobas (Croatian for ‘wine cellar’) to pizzerias all the way to Chinese and even Sushi. For dinner with a view, get your credit card ready and head up to the 15th-floor Hedone restaurant in Tre Canne hotel.
I fell for two places in particular in the old town: Veranda, a coffee shop during the day and low-key Irish pub at night, boasts a small terrace shaded by kiwi vines towards the back. Casper also has a terrace, in fact, it seems to be mostly a big terrace, shaded by massive rubber figs with latin jazz playing during the day and live concerts several nights a week; add on top of that tapas plates with Montenegro nibbles such as goat cheese, Njegusi ham or olives, and you have a pretty nice spot to spend hours.
Though Budva dates back 2,500 years, which makes it one of the oldest settlements along the Adriatic, there is not much left of even medieval architecture. That’s due to two factors: In April 1979, a massive earthquake damaged 392 of 400 buildings in the old town. It took until 1987 to rebuild it. But even before the earthquake, in the 19th century, the Austrian occupiers changed the architecture of the 9th-century citadel massively and added two fortresses in the area: Fort Kosmac (on the road towards Cetinje) and Mogren fortress.
Mogren fortress would for a few years at the end of the 19th century have towered above the city, giving you great views. But it is now a mere ruin with WWII concrete bunkers intertwined with old stone. Climbing up from Mogren beaches is adventurous as there are no markers along the narrow paths in the undergrowth, and all you can do is try your best to head uphill. The other option is to follow for about five minutes a dirt road branching off from the main Kotor road. Just know that there is no real parking space anywhere.
An easier view is to be had from the Cetinje road, as far up as past Lapcici.
If you get bored of Budva’s beaches, there are a number of easy excursions to be done, either in your own vehicle, by bus, or by booking a tour from tour operators along the promenade.
- Sveti Nicholas island and Hawaii beach: Saint Nicholas can be reached by boat (€3 round-trip) or — if you’re very brave — you could even swim. That’s how close it is to the mainland. Apart from the eponymous church, the island consists of a lot of woodlands plus a stretch of sandy beach called Hawaii.
- Sveti Stefan: This small village centered around a church on an islet has been turned into a super-luxury holiday resort with rooms starting at €600/night. While there is no access to the island itself for mere humans not staying there, there is a big park along the beach, which makes for lovely walks and romantic sunset pictures.
- Petrovac: A little further down the coast towards Bar is this small (former) fishing village with stunning views of crystal clear waters, a short stretch of beach and two picturesque islets off the coast, one rock with a church on top and one with a handful of trees. To just soak up the atmosphere, hang out with the locals at the cute pastel colored Konoba Tramontana at the northern end of the promenade.
- Lovcen National Park: Lovcen is the birth and final resting place of Montenegro’s hero, prince, bishop, poet, and philosopher, Petar II Petrović-Njegoš. The mountains and the forests are great for hiking (and skiing in the winter). But the highlight is certainly the Njegos monument, which has sculptures by Croatian icon Ivan Mestrovic inside and stunning views all the way to Kotor Bay outside. Check back later in the week for more on Lovcen NP and its surroundings.
- If you’re going to Lovcen, you might as well stop by Cetinje, Montenegro’s old capital. There you’ll find a monastery and a history museum, and you can have a coffee in one of the strangely numerous cafés (for a city with a population of less than 14,000) that line the main street.
- For more on Njegos and more importantly, some of the best cheese and ham you’ll ever have, visit Njegusi, a small village at the edge of Lovcen, towards Kotor.
- Of, course you can easily make Budva your base for a day trip to Kotor Bay, which is less than an hour away (both, on the bus and by car). Check back later in the week for my schedule for a perfect day in Kotor Bay.
- Budva tourism website: budva.travel
- Sveti Stefan Resort –aman.com/resorts/aman-sveti-stefan
- Franeta Apartments booking.com
- Dukley Gardens on booking.com
- Casper Bar: facebook.com/casper.budva/
- Sushi bar Black Iris:montenegrosushi.com
- Hedone restaurant on the rooftop of Tre Canne hotel: trecanne.me/en/usluge2/restaurant