Nothing ever happens in Montenegro.’
What makes young Montenegrins despair is a lucky circumstance for visitors. Most of the people we’ve met on our two-week road trip across the country were warm, welcoming and curious for a chat with us; her stunning nature — monte means mountains, after all — still lays there virtually untouched, waiting to be discovered.
Of course, ‘nothing ever changes’ isn’t entirely accurate. Just look at Budva, which continues to grow from its small walled old town along the coastline and into the sky. The whole country is slowly but steadily being conquered by tourists, which will undoubtedly change the landscape in the coming years.
Montenegro, where the crow never flies further than 250km to the next border has truly been blessed with some of the best of what mother nature has to offer: Her coastline includes one of Europes longest beaches and makes Italy across the Adriatic from her blush. Her mountain ranges, though not as vast as the Alps, average 2,000m and do not hold back in drama, vista and hidden gems like Europe’s deepest and longest canyon, and her dozens of crystal clear lakes, among them southern Europe’s biggest, ooze with mystery and romance.
Add to the mix some of the friendliest, most peaceful people you’ll ever meet, and a varied, ingredient-focused cuisine, and you’ve got yourself a perfect destination for pretty much any type of tourist or traveler.
A short introduction to Montenegro
The first evidence of human settlements in Montenegro dates back to 1,000 BC and the Illyrians. At the coast, they were first pushed back by the Greeks, and in the 2nd century BC the Romans took over, making what is now Montenegro part of the Dalmatia province. After the decline of the Roman Empire, Montenegro found itself at the borderline between Eastern — Ottoman — and Western — mainly Venetian — forces.
In 1878, Montenegro was the 27th country in the world to be recognized as an independent state (by the European powers).
Montenegro — ‘black mountain’ — is actually the Latin/Italian name of the country. The Montenegrins call their nation Crna Gora, which, however, can also be translated to ‘black mountain.’
The official language in Montenegro is Montenegrin, a variation of Serbo-Croatian, the language spoken in many of the Balkan countries. So hold on to your dobor dan and your hvala that you learned on your last vacation in Croatia.
Though it is without a doubt a multi-ethnic state — in the 2003 only 45% of the population described themselves as ‘ethnically Montenegrin,’ another 28% as Serbs, 8% as Bosniaks, and 5% as Albanians — those (perceived) allegiances seem to shift from census to census. What unites people is their adoration of national hero Petar II Petrović Njegoš, their pride in the local cuisine, their love for tennis legend Novak Djokovic (whose father is from Montenegro), and their resignation with the government.
About 70% of the people of Montenegro follow Eastern Orthodox Christianity (mostly Serbian Orthodox), which is widely visible in the numerous monasteries with their intricate interior decorations scattered across the country. About 20% are Muslims. The historical sense of unity and tolerance has meant that Montenegro mostly managed to escape the religious tensions of the last Bosnian War.
Though not yet part of the EU (or Schengen), the country currently uses the Euro as its currency. Because a lot of the accommodations and restaurants are small, family-run businesses, for the most part, do not accept credit cards; ATMs are, however, quickly found in all cities and tourist spots.
The tourism infrastructure is already vast in as there are plenty of accommodation and dining options in all parts of the country.
Almost a quarter of Montenegro’s 620,000 citizens lives in and around the capital, Podgorica. The city is otherwise not a top tourist destination. Neither is Niksic, the country’s second city. Both owe their size mainly to the fact that the otherwise mountainous terrain has opened up onto vast plains here, allowing easy settlement, large-scale agriculture, and a modest industry.
The four touristically interesting cities are all within less than 50km of the coast: Kotor, Budva, Bar, and Cetinje (a former capital and today Montenegro’s ‘cultural capital’).
The country’s five national parks cover roughly 8% of its area:
- Skadar Jezero (Skadar Lake)
Two sites have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
- Durmitor NP and Tara River Canyon
- old town of Kotor.
Planning a trip to Montenegro
Montenegro is tiny. The route by car from Ada, the southern-most point, bordering the sea and Albania, to the northern-most point, the border-crossing near Metaljka in Bosnia and Herzegovina, takes less than 6h and is barely longer than 300km.
This makes Montenegro a country perfect to explore on one short vacation while leaving space to come back ever and again for leisure activities.
To allow us utmost flexibility– mainly to stop and snap the stunning landscapes — my friend Resi di Berlino and I rented a car. We found a deal on billiger-mietwagen.de: 12 days, fully insured, no excess, unlimited kilometers, two drivers for €376. The main roads are somewhat new and make driving a breeze. However, further into the country, the two-lane highways are replaced by narrow serpentine roads requiring nerves and patience from the driver. The only toll road is the Sozina tunnel, connecting the coast and Skadar Lake (toll fee is€2.50).
If you decide against your own car, most of the country is easily navigated on public transport; this means mainly buses plus a small but useful train network running from Podgorica to Niksic, and from Bar at the coast (via Podgorica) to Belgrade in Serbia. Neither Kotor nor Budva is connected by train.
Montenegro 1-week itinerary
As a slow traveler, I took almost two whole weeks to roam the country, however, it is easily doable in less time. If you have only one week and you want to keep it simple, I recommend you begin by booking four nights in Budva to eat your fill of fish and seafood and explore. In a nutshell, this is my suggested 1-week itinerary for Montenegro:
- Day 1: Budva old town and its beaches (don’t miss Mogren!), Sveti Stefan, Petrovac. Check out my detailed guide to Budva here
- Day 2: Drive to Cetinje and on into Lovcen National Park up to the Njegos Monument and Njegusi village for local delicacies. Click here for more on Lovcen National Park and its surroundings
- Day 3: Bay of Kotor with Kotor’s Old Town and the fortifications, Perast and the two monastery islets, Risan and its Roman mosaics. Click here for my guide for a perfect day in Kotor Bay
- Day 4: Skadar Lake with Rijeka Crnojevica and the horseshoe bends, local wine, loads of endemic flora and fauna and freshly roasted water chestnuts (only available in autumn). Click here to find out about the best views of Skadar Lake
- Day 5: Then, move on to Durmitor National Park for two nights. On the way, stop by the old Roman bridge in Niksic, have a coffee at the Hot Rod Café not far from there, take the slopey street up to Ostrog Monastery — one of the most important monuments for Serbian Orthodox Christians, remarkable for having been built into the mountain –, and hike, if only for half an hour, into Nevidio Canyon.
- Days 6 and 7: Stay in Durmitor to have plenty of time to hike between the lakes, see Tara Canyon (maybe do a rafting tour), find the best viewpoints, have your fill of lamb sac (‘under the bell’) and local cheese, and see at least once the mist as it slowly lifts from the Black Lake (Crno Jezero). Click here for my full guide to Durmitor National Park
Logistics of travel to & in Montenegro
- Flights: There are two international airports in Montenegro: Podgorica and Tivat. Budget airlines Whizzair and Ryanair have begun to service Montenegro just this year. If you don’t rent a car to get from your respective airport to the city center/bus terminal, get a taxi or pre-organise a car with your accommodation. Montenegro airports: montenegroairports.com
- Buses: Buses run from all neighboring countries into Montenegro. To find the bus terminal look for Autobuska Stanika. Bus booking site (one of several — none has all connections): balkanviator.com
- Trains: For national and international train connections check out the Montenegro railway company website (language switch to the right of the top menu): zcg-prevoz.me
- Boats: Ferries from Italy (Bari, Ancona, Trieste) run several times a week to/from Bar in the South.
- Visa: Though the country is visa-free for European passport holders it is not a part of Schengen. Bring your passport, even if you are just going on a day trip from Dubrovnik! (You’ll even get a stamp…) Check the Montenegro Foreign Ministry website for visa requirements for non-EU passport holders: mvpei.gov.me
- Accommodation: All the usual booking sites have plenty of hostels, hotels, B’n’Bs and especially apartments on offer. If you want to keep it spontaneous, Sobe — rooms — were abundantly advertised almost everywhere we went. We rented whole studio apartments (and nice ones at that) for as little as €16 per night on Booking.com. Note: I’m linking the places we stayed at in the individual guide posts listed in the itinerary above.
This post was first published in October 2016 and was updated in January 2018.