Montenegro was never on my bucket list… I didn’t even know it existed until a few months ago.
This tiny Balkan country—about 10 times smaller than the state of Florida—was the first stop of our RTW trip. I am only glad we decided to start there! Montenegrins are lucky to live in such a contrasting country, full of breathtaking nature and packed with mesmerizing history.
You can go from swimming in the Adriatic to hiking in the mountains in a few minutes … and if you still have energy after the adventure-loaded day, you can make it back to one of the many medieval old towns just in time for dinner that same night!
A memorable vacation doesn’t get much better. Add affordable prices and friendly people to the mix and you’ve got yourself the perfect trip!
Whether you are looking for inspiration, trying to decide if you should visit this ex-Yugoslavian state or just planning your upcoming trip to Montenegro, this blog post is for you. Here is a summary of the best things we did during our month-long stay!
Get lost inside the walls of Kotor Old Town & enjoy the views of Boka Kotorska
If you can visit only one of the destinations in this list, I would say go to Kotor. Miss Kotor and you’ve missed Montenegro! It’s the cultural center and probably the most famous town in the country.
It is a small medieval city full of charming buildings, narrow alleys, numerous churches, delicious food, a very interesting history…and lots of cats! The view of the Bay of Kotor and the fjord-like mountains is the icing on the cake.
The city can be divided into two main areas:
(1) the Old Town of Kotor, which is situated inside the Kotor walls
(2) the “new” Kotor, which is outside of the walls
The Sea Gate is the main entrance to the Old Town. As soon as you walk inside you will find The Arms Square, where most of the action happens. From there, the most popular and eye-catching buildings are the St Tryphon’s Cathedral, the Church of St. Luka and the Church of St. Nicholas.
My favorite thing to do in the Old Town was hiking to the St Giovanni Fortress. The fort is almost 4,000 feet (1200 m) above the old town. It takes approximately 30 minutes & 1355 steps to make it to the top. I know, that sounds exhausting, but trust me, the view and the actual experience are absolutely worth it!
Just outside the walls you find the cruise ship port, a beautiful marina, lots of restaurants, a shopping mall, and breathtaking views of the Bay of Kotor. My favorite area was the Dobrota Promenade. It’s a sea front pedestrian walkway lined with restaurants, small businesses, apartment buildings & lots of boats. From there you get uninterrupted and up-close views of the Bay and the mountains. Along the way you will also find the small but picturesque Kotor Beach.
I have another blog post all about how to spend one perfect day exploring Kotor. Make sure to check it out for more details.
Visit Perast & the two island in the middle of the Bay of Kotor
Just a few miles northwest of Kotor is one of the most (if not the most) picturesque villages of the Bay of Kotor, Perast. There are several small cafes and churches in the town, but the main attraction is the Church of St Nicholas. Its 55-meter-high bell tower is the highest building in all of the Bay of Kotor!
A short stroll around the romantic Perast waterfront is enough to admire the breathtaking view. From there you can also visit two of the most famous landmarks of the Bay of Kotor: Our Lady of the Rocks (Gospa od Škrpjela) & the Island of St George (Sveti Đorđe).
Our Lady of the Rocks is a small artificial island where you can visit its beautiful catholic church and a small museum. The smaller Island of Saint George is a natural island, where the Saint George Benedictine monastery (12th century) is situated. The history of both islands is enchanting, but their location is what makes them such a popular stop in Montenegro. The setting is just breathtaking and pictures will never do it any justice!
You have several ways to get to Perast and the islands. The most popular one is going on a shared or private boat tour of the Bay of Kotor. This is what we did; tours depart from the Kotor Marina and take approximately 3.5 hours. I do believe that this is the absolute best thing to do in the Bay of Kotor! You can read everything about our experience and itinerary here.
The other option is to drive or take a taxi from Kotor to Perast (only 15 mins away). From there you can take a boat to the islands. Many water taxis available in Perast, and the 10 minutes round trip is very affordable. This is a better option if you are on a budget or simply plan to spend more time exploring Perast.
Pay a visit to the Miami Beach of Montenegro: Budva
Budva is a city situated in the middle of the Montenegrin Adriatic coast. It is known for its buzzing nightlife, shops and some of the best beaches in Montenegro.
Although Budva has an Old Town too, the city has a more modern feel. You can find luxury hotels and new constructions all over. Some have said that it is the Miami Beach of Montenegro, and I can definitely see why!
If planning to visit Budva you should start your day in Stary Grad (the Old Town). This is one of the oldest towns in all of the Adriatic. It is surrounded by fortified walls and filled with charming buildings and cobbled streets.
While in the Old Town, I’d recommend you visit the Citadel. It is a preserved Mediterranean fortress from where you can learn about the history of the town. It is also the perfect spot to enjoy fantastic views of the city and the Hawaii island. I know, talk about marketing strategies!
Other popular historical attractions include the Archaeological Museum and the Podmaine Monastery. I can’t vouch for these since we did not visit them, but they seem very interesting.
My next suggestion is to go to one of the many Budva beaches (of course!). In Kotor the sea (bay) is surrounded by mountains, but in Budva you are in the open Adriatic Sea.
There is a beach just outside of the Old Town, the Plaža Ričardova Glava. This is a small beach backed by the old city walls and several restaurants. It is very easy to reach and beautiful.
If you have enough time to explore more, and are there during the summer months, here are of some of the top beaches in Budva:
- Mogren Beach
- Jaz Beach
- Becici Beach
- Slovenska Beach
My number one beach recommendation, however, is not mentioned above. Which brings me to the next item on the list, Sveti Stefan!
Admire the view of Sveti Stefan & enjoy the beach just outside its walls
Sveti Stefan is a picturesque small islet and exclusive 5-star resort. It is located on a peninsula approximately 6 miles (10 km) from the Budva Old Town.
Prices are ridiculously expensive for most of us. The island is completely off limits for those who are not staying in the hotel…but! you can still admire the view from the mainland beach just outside the resort. The view alone is worth the trip, and in my opinion, it is one of the best sights in Montenegro!
We visited during April, one of the shoulder months. We were lucky enough to have the beach all to ourselves on a beautiful and warm sunny day. However, this is obviously not the case during summer months. Something to keep in mind when planning your visit.
After spending an hour or so enjoying the scenery we headed to the Villa Geba for lunch at Muse Restaurant. Villa Geba is a boutique hotel nestled on the cliffs right above Sveti Stefan. From there we got to enjoy even better views of the island. There we also had one of the best meals from our month-long visit to Montenegro.
It was our 4 years wedding anniversary, and we did not mind the splurge. Consider yourself warned…prices are steep when compared to the rest of Montenegro. Still, I would highly recommend it. The setting is FANTASTIC and we even spotted the kitchen staff picking up fresh herbs from the garden next door. Their “Muse Tasting Menu” which changes daily was delicious and definitely worth it. If traveling on a budget consider going at least for a coffee or cocktail. It will feel like a steal once you get to enjoy the view of Sveti Stefan!
You can walk from the beach to the restaurant, but it was quite a hike. Taxis were hard to find in the area, maybe because we were there during the off season. We asked our waitress to call a cab for us…a good wait to find transportation when your phone is absolutely useless off WiFi.
Go wine tasting at the Savina Winery & explore the town of Herceg Novi
Another highlight of our time in Montenegro was visiting the Savina Winery in Herceg Novi.
The winery is located on a cliff right above the Savina Monastery, and offers great views of the Tivat Bay. During the tour you wander the vineyard and learn about their wine making process and family history. The price was just €35 per person and included the tour, wine tasting and some delicious snacks.
We sampled three different types of wine, their Rosé, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. We also had a chance to taste their Loza—a traditional Montenegrin natural grape brandy. They paired each drink with delicious snacks and side dishes, including fresh cheese, bread, olives and prosciutto.
We are not really wine drinkers, but we loved our visit! The wine, the view, the hospitality, the atmosphere…absolutely fantastic! Peaceful, quiet and very special; we couldn’t have asked for a better afternoon!
I called them just two days before to reserve our tour, but if you are visiting during the busy months I would recommend booking in advance…you know the drill.
Also, I highly recommend you hire a driver…after the drinks we were not in shape to drive back, especially through the curvy Montenegrin roads.
Before or after the winery tour, check out the Old Town of Herceg Novi. We didn’t spend much time there, but the place is so quaint! There are many cool little restaurants, and some beautiful churches. Herceg Novi is very close to neighboring Croatia. This is obvious as soon as you see the many stairs found in the Old Town. If you’ve been to Dubrvonik, I am sure you know what I am talking about!
Explore the mountain that gave the country its name: visit Lovćen National Park
Located just 12 miles (20 km) from Kotor, Lovćen National park revolves around Mount Lovćen, the black-looking mountain that gave Montenegro its name (Montenegro literally translates to “Black Mountain”).
Aside from the many hiking trails and the beautiful nature, one of the main attractions in the park is visiting the mausoleum situated at the very top. This is the final resting place of Petar Petrovic Njegos, considered the greatest Montenegrin ruler.
In order to get to Lovćen you will either have to rent a car or take a taxi. Public buses do not make their way up there…Let’s just say the panoramic road, although exciting, is not for the fainthearted.
Aside from the stunning 360 degrees mountain view from the top, the architecture is also breathtaking. Truth is, I am just judging from pictures … we had kind of an epic-fail-situation and missed the actual mausoleum …
Yes, we were there during early April, and the snow was still blocking part of the 461 steps tunnel that you need to climb in order to get to the mausoleum! This is the part where I remind
you me to do some research before going anywhere. Make sure to *always* check the road conditions when driving in the mountains!
Anyway, going back to Lovćen, it takes a lot of man-power and dedication to build a mausoleum on top of a 5,495 ft (1675 m) mountain peak. I wish we could have made it to the summit, but the view was still breathtaking, so no regrets! Now we have the perfect excuse to return to Montenegro one day.
Visit the royal capital of Montenegro: Cetinje
On the way down from Lovćen you can stop in the city of Cetinje. Podgorica is now the capital, but back in the days all eyes were on the royal capital, Cetinje.
This Montenegrin town is home to the National Museum of Montenegro, the Museum of King Nikola & the Monastery of Saint Peter. I can only vouch for the monastery, which makes for a great quick and free stop while exploring the city. It is a functioning monastery, so most of the building is private.
One of the monks welcomed us and gave us a mini tour of the chapel. It was very interesting to learn about right hand of John the Baptist and saw their piece of the holy cross. Both are kept in a coffin along with the remains of Serbian Saint Peter from Cetinje. ry impressive to witness and overall a quiet and peaceful place.
Something to keep in mind, both men and women need to cover their shoulders before entering the building.
Another popular attraction in Cetinje is the Lipa Cave, just 2 miles from the city center. A great way to experience a world of stalactites, stalagmites and amazing natural formations!
Witness mind-blowing architecture at the Ostrog Monastery
Really…another monastery? I know, but this one is a must-see! If you are only planning to visit one religious site in Montenegro, it should be Ostrog.
The upper portion of the Ostrog Monastery architecture is mind-blowing. It is literally set in the rocks, in an almost vertical background, the Ostroška Greda mountains. Very impressive to witness; the building looks like it is defying gravity!
Its history and culture are as interesting as its architecture. Ostrog is still a practicing monastery belonging to the Serbian-Orthodox Church. It is s dedicated to Saint Basil of Ostrog, who is buried there.
Aside from visiting the chapel, the upper balcony has beautiful mosaic works on the walls of the mountain. The view of the valley on a clear day is also amazing!
Ostrog is located 1.5 hours away from Kotor or 1 hour from Podgorica. You could join a tour, take a taxi or rent a car and make it a day trip. The road up to the complex is narrow, winding and can get scary. But honestly, if you compare it to other roads in the country, it is really not that bad.
We were there on a rainy and foggy day. Now that I look back, the fog made it even more mystical and charming. A friend who saw the pictures told me it looked like the castle from the Beauty and the Beast.
Magical! Just make sure to be very careful when driving and you will be fine.
Ostrog was not too busy when visited thanks to the COVID-19 restrictions. I have read that the line to enter the church gets very long. However, this is understandable since it is an active religious site.
There is a small shop from where you can buy all kinds of souvenirs. A bathroom facility is just outside the church. And again, you need to cover your shoulders and knees in order to enter. Photography is not allowed inside.
Explore the largest lake in Southern Europe: Skadar Lake
Also called Lake Scutari, Lake Shkodër or Lake Shkodra, Skadar Lake is a protected National Park in Montenegro and the largest lake in the Balkans. The lake straddles the Montenegro-Albania border and getting there is relatively easy. It is just under one hour from both Podgorica and Kotor.
Something very interesting about the massive Lake Skadar is the fact that its water volume fluctuates between 140 square miles and 200 square miles throughout the year. This contributes to the exceptional biodiversity of the area, ranging from lush vegetation to lots of animals, especially birds.
In fact, it is the nesting place for at least 250 bird species. We got to see lots of pelicans and seagulls during our visit!
Aside from hiking and fishing, kayaking and boat tours are among the most popular activities. Virpazar is the main town around the lake. From there you can rent kayaks or join a boat tour. However, there are many other small mountain villages scattered in the area.
We stayed at Old house Pajovic, a super cute cottage in the village of Seoca, a 10 minutes drive from the lake. The cabin is in a small family owned winery. Breakfast is included and they also have a meals service. Basically the family prepares all your meals for a very reasonable fee. The food was delicious, generous portions and very fresh! A true farm-to-table experience!
The only downside is the road to get to the cabin. You are literally driving on a narrow street on the edge of the mountains and traffic is going both ways! They told us that there has never been an accident, but it was still very scary at first. I *almost* cried when we made it to the place safe! The second time it was not that bad, though.
Our host took us on his charming ’94 Jeep to Lake Skadar. There we hopped on his family boat for a relaxing 2 hours tour of the National Park. If you are looking for the perfect mountain escape and an affordable opportunity to experience authentic Montenegro, this is a great option.
Discover the luxurious side of the country at Porto Montenegro
Located in the municipality of Tivat, Porto Montenegro is the playground for the world’s super wealthy that come visit the tiny Balkan nation.
It is basically a large marina, housing the most impressive superyachts I’ve ever seen. For the record, I live in Miami, where yachts are nothing to write home about. These were a whole different story! We even saw those that come with a helicopter, unfortunatly I did not have my camera that day!
Overall, it is a good place for strolling around. You have the sea, the yachts, high-end shops, modern architecture, small cafes and several restaurants. Must be a very nice area to visit during sunset. The restaurants had decent prices and the vibe was very relaxing.
If you are visiting during the summer, there is also an exclusive infinity pool and restaurant/bar in the Porto Montenegro Yacht Club (PMYC). It opens to visitors during the high season. The price is not disclosed in their website, but I have heard that it is not too ridiculous. I guess you will have to contact them directly if you are interested in spending a few hours there.
Swim in the crystal clear blue waters of the Lustica Blue Grotto
As part of our boat tour of the Bay of Kotor, we visited the Lustica Peninsula Blue Grotto, also known as the Blue Cave.
Notorious for the iridescent blue that’s reflected throughout the cave on a sunny day, the Blue Cave is one of Montenegro’s most popular attractions. Luckily, we picked a gorgeous sunny day and the grotto did not fail to impress! I read several negative reviews from people who visited on cloudy days and were not able to enjoy the cave because the light was not reflecting as expected. Something to keep in mind when planning your trip.
The only way to get to the cave is on a boat, but a boat tour is practically mandatory when in Montenegro!
The cave was totally empty when we visited, but safety can be a concern when the cave gets busy. I read that boats tend to keep moving even when there are multiple people swimming in the cave. It also sounded like some tours don’t even offer life jackets! Additionally, the diesel fumes inside the cave can be annoying and dangerous. Just make sure you go with the right company and you should be fine. I have another blog post with our Bay of Kotor boat trip details, check it out for more!
This was one of the highlights of our trip. I would highly recommend a visit to the Blue Cave if you have the time. Especially if you have never been to any of the Blue Grottos in the Adriatic sea.