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Montenegro shimmers from every angle. Fortified cobbled towns, glacial lakes, Venetian odes and beaches beneath rugged mountains. It looks good on any photo and only gets brighter once you are there, enthusiastic locals keen to share their newly independent nation.
Pictured above is the iconic medieval town, Kotor.
Montenegro is a tiny country where magic and mystery accompanies you at every turn. Wild mountains are backdrops of the balmy Mediterranean coastline, with a domineering sense that nature continues to rule. History bursts from the land, and medieval Kotor, the most recognized stop in a country that has always straddled east and west. The locals are friendly, the adventure is intoxicating, and the culture is quick to win over hearts.
Idyllic old towns are a good place to start learning about the country. Catholic spires juxtapose with mosque minarets, medieval walls encase cobbled lanes, and monasteries meet with Roman villas. Montenegro straddled the east and west when the Roman Empire was split between Rome and Constantinople (now Istanbul) 1,600 years ago. While Montenegro has only been independent since 2006, before the wars and takeovers, the state was initially founded in the 15th century. Ottoman remains are scattered around, and there are stories left behind from the Venetian Republic and Habsburg rule.
It is not a history that is easy to follow, but it is certainly easy on the eye. Picturesque towns line the water, Mediterranean in design, yet Montenegrin in style. Kotor is one of Europe’s finest historical cities, where your footsteps echo across cobble lanes, and fortress walls are bathed in the salty scent of the sea. Obscure mountain villages resemble postcards that nobody has ever seen, and the remains of distant empires await in an evocative state of ruin. Montenegro may be beautiful, but it shies away from pomp and razzmatazz. Even in the heart of Kotor, you are more likely to be accosted by a grinning local seeking conversation than a tout selling museum tickets.
The green pyramid at Skadar Lake National Park.
In its heart, Montenegro is a rural country. Glorious landscapes set the scene for every vacation here. The Dinaric Alps are a destination for both winter skiing and summer hiking. Lakes and forested slopes are found in the heart of the country, along with the capital city, Podgorica, and the town that once bordered the Ottoman Empire, Cetinje. Down on the coast, you find bustling resorts and quiet stretches of sand, with the water snaking inland to the World Heritage Sites, Perast, and Kotor.
All these charms mean Montenegro has evolved quickly into a tourist destination. It may be small and unknown on the world scale, but it is up there as a premier stop for those interested in the Balkans. Despite this, there is no feeling that tourism has taken over, even in small historic towns. The Montenegrins provide wonderful travel memories as they proudly show off their newly independent land. They are riding a euphoric wave, and every visitor is something to cherish. Particularly given the over-tourism recently seen in some famous European destinations, Montenegro shows that locals and visitors can come together harmoniously.
Beautiful view on city of Perast at Kotor Bay.
Such a small country is easy to get around, even if you get stuck behind a tracker or have to wait for a herd of sheep to cross the road. Some visitors merely dip their feet into Montenegro by visiting Kotor and Perast on a day trip from Dubrovnik, Croatia. It is possible to pass through in three or four days as part of a longer Balkan vacation. Albania is immediately south, with Bosnia and Croatia to the north. The journey to neighboring Kosovo and Serbia is a real adventure through the mountains, one that harks back to a distant era of European travel, when you did not know what to expect when traveling east.
Montenegro is becoming one of Europe’s most memorable destinations. The small country is filled with untouched Adriatic beaches, open wilderness, enchanting old towns. While tourism is rapidly growing, Montenegro does not get the vacation hordes of neighboring Croatia or Italy across the way. It is no longer a hidden gem, but it still sparkles from every angle.
The Bay of Kotor
Old Town Kotor is pictured above.
Dripping in history and ornate detail, the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Kotor, and Perast are Montenegro’s unmissable destinations. Draped above the Bay of Kotor, these historic cities kindle a dreamy preconception of Baltic history. Wander down cobbled alleyways to hidden plazas, where café terraces stand beneath redbrick churches. Mountains rise behind Kotor’s rugged town walls, enclosing the city between dramatic slopes, and serene sea. There is evidence of Ottoman conquest, Venetian rule, early Greek history, and Hapsburg rule, yet the modern experience is distinctly Montenegrin. Kotor is the country’s pride and joy; the locals are more than happy to have you.
The pedestrianized Old Town is where you will find most of the charm and it is a wonderful place to stay overnight. While you need a good guide to understand the history, the iconic Montenegrin experience is to wander without a map on a long summer evening. Just a few kilometers along the bay, Perast is part of the UNESCO protected area. Its royal history hangs glamorously above the Adriatic, and it is hard to find a more alluring setting anywhere else in Europe. While these twin sites are no longer the hidden gems that they used to be, the experience remains laid-back and low-key, especially when you stick around after the Dubrovnik tour buses have departed. In the same bay, a new super-yacht marina at Tivat has been attracting a new kind of visitor.
The Adriatic Coast
Visit the Montenegrin coast for a relaxing getaway.
With its hideaways and hand-restored towns, the Montenegrin coast is quickly winning favor as visitors travel here rather than the more developed Croatian coast. It is the same body of water, unimaginably turquoise on a summer day with backdrops of forested cliffs. Whitewashed towns are dotted all along this mountain-edged coast, enjoy days at the beach and evenings soaking up the local vibe. It has become something of a European hotspot over the last decade; expect to see super yachts lulling in the harbors and a growing abundance of boutique resorts.
Herceg Novi awaits on the route between Croatia and Kotor, a vibrant introduction to what is to come further south. Budva is a Balkan summer party capital, attracting beach lovers from all across the southeast of Europe. It has superb beaches and lots of historic buildings, although you will probably want to stay away from Budva’s bustling center. Sveti Stefan, a few miles away, is a chic 15th-century town with a complete change of tempo, almost like a miniature version of Croatia’s Dubrovnik. The entire islet is now an exclusive Aman resort that has hosted countless royalty and celebrities over the years. Continue further down the coast, and you reach Bar, where a morning on the beach can be complemented by an afternoon amid the ruins of Stari Bar. Ulcinj and Lake Skadar delight in their lack of foreign visitors.
Lovćen Mountains National Park.
Most journeys through Montenegro stick to the coast, a captivating road that twists and turns between Croatia and Albania. Travel inland and the pace slows enormously. Most typically, the route goes through the mountains of Lovcen National Park to Cetinje, the beautiful 15th-century capital that Montenegro was founded. Pushing deeper into the hills you can stop in modern Podgorica, a city that is greener than almost any other capital in the world.
Keep traveling east, and you enter a land where sheep far outnumber people. Durmitor is striking on the eyes and sparkling for the soul, a national park of giant karst peaks and enormous canyons. It is a destination for off the beaten path outdoor adventure, with hardly anyone else around even at the height of summer. Try rafting in Tara Canyon or following the sheep trails across mountain escarpments. You can ski here in winter, and head down to the beach on the same day; such is the size of Montenegro.
Luxury and Cruising From Tivat
UNESCO World Heritage site Kotor is pictured above.
Part submerged river canyon and part dreamy vision of a Scandinavian fjord, the Bay of Kotor is Montenegro’s most unmissable destination. It is becoming an enclave for the rich and famous after a super-yacht marina was established in Tivat. The setting is sublime, and the atmosphere kindles impressions of St. Tropez back in the day, before the crowds. Set off on a multi-day yacht excursion from here, or dock for the night after a journey along the Adriatic. Upmarket hotels now dot the mountains around Tivat making it an option for a leisurely stay on the Bay.
The Glacial Lakes of Durmitor National Park
Piva Canyon in Durmitor, Montenegro.
For off the beaten track adventure nowhere else in Europe can rival, visit Durmitor National Park. Winter means skiing, an adventurous brand that encourages going off piste and carving through new snow. In the summer, you can walk between the mountain eyes (gorske oci), a series of 18 glacial lakes connected by trails that offer views all the way down to the coast. Perhaps the ultimate outdoor adventure is the Peaks of the Balkans hiking trail, a 130-mile trail through isolated villages connecting Montenegro, Albania, and Kosovo.
Historical Stories Across the Country
The rock cut Ostrog monastery, Montenegro.
Kotor and Perast only tell one side of the Montenegrin story. Monasteries and shrines are scattered through the mountain landscape, rekindling tales of the country’s proud early history. Perched 900 meters above a vertical cliff, the rock-cut Ostrog Monastery shimmers white from a distance and commands astonishing views over the countryside. Petar II’s mausoleum marks an exceptional lookout point in Mt. Lovcen National Park while local guides can connect you with storytellers in small villages across the country.
Exploring Medieval Architecture
Gorgeous architecture surrounds the towns of Montenegro.
Travel around Montenegro, and you will soon recognize the country’s distinctive manner. The architecture, however, reflects a complicated history with Venetian townhouses, Renaissance remains, colorful Yugoslavian blocks, plus whitewashed Orthodox churches and medieval fortresses. Compare all this with what you find in Cetinje, the first Montengrin capital, a small town that resembles Western Europe from the 15th and 16th centuries. Endearing and charming, the architecture provides the foreground to a mountain backdrop.
White-Water Rafting on the Tara River
White water rafting on the Tara river.
The Tara River quickly transports you into the heart of Montengrin nature, an inflatable raft the fastest way to travel between pristine forests along the banks. Monasteries cling to the mountain cliffs while epic birds soar overhead. Soon you are in Europe’s deepest canyon, rushing down rapids and getting very wet in the process. This one-day adventure is a change of pace from quiet days on the beach.
Eating With the Locals
Eating with the locals is a highlight in Montenegro.
Montenegrins enjoy welcoming their visitors with the local cuisine. Grilled meat skewers off the fire, mountains of homemade cheese (domaci sir), decadent and fatty prosciutto (prsut), plus donuts and dried mutton (kastradina). When you travel inland, add an abundance of smoked and fresh fish when you are along the coast, then wash it all down with glasses of rakija. Most locals make their own version of this fermented fruit spirit, ranging from the unpalatable to the dangerously drinkable. It is not necessarily gourmet, but there is always a homely feel to the cooking and the dinnertime atmosphere. Eating in a country that loves its food is always a highlight of travel.
Visit the Montenegro in the summer for long days and warm evenings.
Montenegro comes alive during the summer months. The beaches frolic beneath the sun, especially in and around the resort town of Budva. Clear warm weather and elongated days make the mountains a beautiful place to be. The evenings are warm in Kotor, alluding to old-world times when cafe terraces stayed open until the church bells rung midnight. Montenegro feels eastern and exotic in the summer, and this is the premium time to visit.
While July and August are favorite times along the coast, particularly with visitors from other Balkan states, you can have great weather with fewer tourists in May, June, and September. Even as early as March and towards late October the climate is benign along the coast, although spring and fall do see widespread rainfall at higher altitudes. Not many people visit during winter, even if you can go skiing and dip your toes in the Mediterranean on the same day. It is not necessarily a bad time to come, but there is so much more you can do on a summer day.
Beautiful 5-star hotel on the coast of Montenegro.
The Montenegrins are famously social people, and they gave tourism the boost it needed when the country found independence. At a time before Airbnb, the locals opened their doors to tourists by renting out spare bedrooms. Hosts and guests would break the ice over a healthy slug of homemade schnapps and meals would often be shared in the evening. This local and incredibly welcoming form of accommodation has laid a platform for small-scale boutique hotels and guesthouses. By combining the charm of the home-stay experience with something a little more upmarket and luxurious, Montenegro has forged a distinctive style of accommodation that’s as unique as the country it graces.
Most places you stay are delectably old-world, something that reflects the country’s general atmosphere. Sveti Stefan, a medieval town turned boutique resort on the Adriatic, is the most famous and exclusive hangout. From above it appears like a miniature version of Croatia’s very renowned Dubrovnik. When you go inside the cobbled and lantern-lit streets are exclusive to guests, giving Sveti Stefan the sort of atmosphere that attracts various international luminaries – Serbian tennis player, and former world number one Novak Djokovic was married here.
Along the coast, you can find something with an element of decadence to complement the homely feel that Montenegro is known. Villas and converted farmhouses make the excellent exclusive-use accommodation, especially for families. Some visitors also travel the coast by yacht and sleep on board, as part of a longer Adriatic Sea cruise. Do not except vast levels of accommodation choice as luxury tourism remains in its infancy. Nor will you find many international brands; Podgorica is not a well-known capital, and even the business hotels have a low-key style. Like Montenegro itself, the accommodation is more about charm than over-the-top impressions.
Visa and Arrival
European, U.S. and Canadian national may visit Montenegro with no pre-arranged visa.
Montenegro is firmly on the path towards ascension into the European Union and has already adopted EU measures on visa-free travel. All European, U.S. and Canadian nationals can visit without any pre-arranged visa. Holders of a Schengen visa or anyone with permission to stay in the United States can also travel for 30 days without a visa.
Getting to Montenegro is not straightforward. Podgorica International Airport is small, and although its flight network is growing, you may have more choices when flying to Dubrovnik, Croatia, then traveling the 40 miles over the border. A new airport has opened in the Bay of Kotor town of Tivat, mostly for European charter flights; however, this is changing as budget airlines have begun using the runway.
Traveling overland is more straightforward, and Montenegro is ideally situated on a dreamy route through the Balkans. Stick on the coast for a few days as you connect Croatia with Albania. Another route is through the mountains of Albania or Serbia before dropping onto the Adriatic and the Bay of Kotor. While it is not as famous as its neighbors, it is hard to imagine anyone missing Montenegro off a multi-country Balkan itinerary.
Make sure you have a local contact in Montenegro in case of an emergency as English is not widely spoken.
There are not many warnings required for a visit to Montenegro. Crime is low although there can be some petty crime along the coast during summer, particularly around the bar streets of Budva. It is incredibly rare to encounter problems in rural areas. Medical facilities are of a passable standard, but you should note that there are not many hospitals, and clinics in a country with a population of just over 600,000. Always visit a hospital or clinic with your guide or a Montenegrin speaker as English is not widely spoken.
People and Culture
Montenegrins are known for being warm, friendly hosts.
Montenegrins are famously friendly, and one of the highlights of traveling here. Forget pestering touts and over-the-top boat tour salespeople, Montenegro is a place where strangers simply want to have a conversation. Warm-hearted and welcoming, the locals may even give you one of their customary bear hugs after a shot too many of rakija. These are people that will welcome you into their homes and go out of their way to provide a memorable experience. Proud of their newly independent country and eager to share their story, the people make a welcoming change from the experience in some of Europe’s over-touristic destinations.
As a mix of Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims, you might expect Montenegro to be conservative. This is far from true. The people like a drink, however, being visibly drunk on the streets is frowned upon. Swaying on the walk back to a hotel is likely to attract attention. Not swaying when walking is easier said than done because the locals can handle their liquor and rakija is typically 50% – 60% proof.
Montenegro's currency is the euro.
Upon independence in 2006, Montenegro did not have a currency. In a clear sign of its future direction, the new country adopted the euro. Banking facilities are relatively well developed along the coast, but they become scarcer when you travel east of Podgorica. For trips into the mountains, it is recommended to carry cash. For most things along the Adriatic, you will be okay using credit cards, although it is always worth keeping some euros for smaller purchases. A small tip is expected, and it is normal to round up the bill at a restaurant, bar or taxi.
The challenge is communicating with the people so eager to speak with you. During its communist Yugoslav era, the people learned Russian, and it is only since independence that English has filtered into education. Guides, of course, will speak English and can translate for you. The younger generations tend to be better although the enthusiasm of older Montenegrins more than compensates for the lack of English vocabulary. Montenegrin has its own language, yet it is more of a dialect than a distinct language. The language falls in the same group as Serbian and Croatian. Simple words you learn in these other Balkan states will help you get by in Montenegro.
Zicasso's travel specialists will ensure you have the vacation of you dreams in Montenegro.
Montenegro is blossoming into one of Europe’s great getaways. Zicasso connects you with tour operators who have been at the forefront of developing tourism in the country. These boutique operators handcraft Montenegro tours for your interests and wishes. Whether it is just Montenegro or a longer Balkan itinerary, the Zicasso experience is always individualized. Complete a trip request to start the conversation.