My guide to Montenegro: see, do, eat & stay
Europe is a fascinating continent. It has everything one could wish for in terms of scenery, history, culture and food. The countries are so diverse from one another, and a charm to explore. And for a summer vacation, the Mediterranean is the perfect place to go. This year, five friends and I decided to embark on a 7-day trip to a more off-the-beaten-path destination in Europe: Montenegro. Props go to my best friend Ilaria, who has wanted to visit this beautiful country for quite sometime now. My verdict after our week-long trip? It’s a must-see destination, for any type of traveler. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a beach goer, a culture lover or a foodie, Montenegro offers something for everyone. Below, you’ll find everything you need to live this stunning European country to the fullest! From where to stay and where to eat to what to see in Montenegro. Keep reading or jump to your desired section below!
The best things to see and do in Montenegro
Something that struck me about Montenegro are the people. They are so lively and kind and they are so attached to their land. You can feel that it’s a population that has been through a lot, a country that has been occupied by the Venetians, the Ottomans, the Nazis, a country that has gained independence only in 2006. But it’s a country made up of people who are ready to get back on their feet, slowly but surely. And something they all have in common is the love for their country. Whenever we’d take a taxi or other means of transportation, the drivers would always point out the window and tell us something about the land. They are so proud of their nation … their mountains, their lakes, and everything that has to do with their land, it’s so poetic. You get the feeling that it’s so important for them you experience their country at its best.
But it’s not just the lovely people I can’t get off my mind, it’s the landscape. Sweeping views of mountains dominate the country, alongside glistening ports and centuries-old palazzos. Mother Nature is predominant, the mountains are tall, the canyons deep and the lakes picture-perfect. Of course the ancient and the modern collide in urban centers to make way to luxury resorts, and sometimes not so luxurious resorts! But overall it’s extremely beautiful. If you’re planning on visiting Montenegro, my advice is that you stay at least one week so that you can explore more areas. Just like our tour guide said, “the best thing about Montenegro is that it’s quite a small country, so if you have the energy and time, you can explore almost everything”. Definitely true, but don’t exaggerate and cram everything together, remember to enjoy!
Budva Old Town
While Budva is a modern urban center in continuous development, its Old Town is a charm and a must-see. I even preferred it to Kotor, if that’s not completely crazy to say! Walk inside and start strolling its thousand-years streets, fortifications and more. There are various churches to visit, including the Church of St John and the Church of the Holy Trinity with its unique frescoes. There’s also some lovely boutiques if you’re up for shopping. For a refreshing smoothie or juice, stop by Elixir Juice Bar. For a happy hour or an after dinner drink, don’t miss out on Casper or Cafe Greco. Another great one for after dinner drinks is Club Emporio just outside the city walls.
Kotor is a must-visit during your stay in Montenegro. It’s located in Boka Bay, and it’s referred to as a fortification masterpiece! Apart from strolling its streets and walking along its seafront, don’t miss out on the old town! As soon as you step inside you’ll walk through Sea Gate, which is the main entrance of the town. The gate was built in 1555 under Venetian rule. Notice the St Mark lion, symbol of Venice, displayed on the walls and in many spots in town. There’s also a date inscribed on the gate: 1944 – the date of Nazi liberation remembered with a Communist star and a quote from Tito. Once inside the town, go where the wind takes you, but don’t forget to visit St Tryphon’s Cathedral, protector of Kotor, where his remains also lie.
After a stroll around Kotor head to the St Giovanni Castle for sweeping views of Boka Bay. Prepare for a long climb, but totally worth it. As you climb up, the view of the old town, with its beautiful rooftops just gets better and better. Definitely bring water, you’re going to need it! If you want to combine two things in one day, Kotor and Lovćen National Park is a great idea!
Lovćen National Park & Mausoleum of Njegoš
Montenegro is all about natural beauty. And Lovćen National Park is surely a place not to miss. Not just because its landscape will fill your heart with joy, but because you can’t miss out on the view from the Mausoleum of Njegoš, right on Mount Lovćen, at the highest peak of the national park. Who is Njegoš? Only the greatest hero of Montenegro, extremely beloved by the people. Petar II Petrović Njegoš was a statesman, a bishop and an artist, known for his literature and poetry masterpieces. He’s also a national hero who kept Montenegro from surrendering to Turkish attacks in the 1800s.
His mausoleum is truly a sight not to miss, and the sweeping views are well worth the €3 entry fee. Locals say that on a clear day, from the viewpoint after the mausoleum you can see 7 different countries including Italy! Pack your cameras, and wear a pair of comfy shoes, you need to walk 461 steps to reach the Mausoleum!
Book your Lovćen National Park tour here:
Rafting in Tara Canyon
Our driver came to pick us up at 7am, and that’s when the adventure began. Direction? Piva Lake, rafting in Tara Canyon and Durmitor National Park! The drive from Budva to Piva Lake was a bit more than 3 hours. As soon as we saw Piva Lake, we were stunned by its beauty. Emerald green water, cliffs and fish jumping out the water every second. Piva Lake is rich in trout, grayling and sprout, so if you’re staying for lunch get one of these grilled! After passing by Piva Lake, we were headed to Tara Canyon for rafting, which is part of the Durmitor National Park. It’s an area filled with camping villages and log cabins, so if you’re into outdoor activities, northern Montenegro will do the trick. We arrived to the rafting camp and had breakfast overlooking the point of the canyon in which three rivers connect. An amazing sight. Then we dressed up in our diving suits, jumped on a jeep and headed off to the river.
I had never been rafting before, and it was really fun in Tara Canyon – which also happens to be the deepest canyon in Europe! We were at a point where on the left side there was Montenegro and on the right Bosnia Herzegovina, amazing. Rafts were in teams of 8 people, and not that I wanna be cocky or anything, but we totally beat everyone! We were rowing and rowing. We also went for a swim, but I don’t quite recommend it, the water was 12°C, and if you’ve just had breakfast, not the best idea! Rafting took around 2 hours, and we stopped twice, once in this super cool wooden lodge in the woods for beer, and another to see a beautiful waterfall. It was an amazing experience and the nature was just jaw-dropping. Once we finished, we went back to the camp, washed up and had lunch overlooking the canyon. For rafting, breakfast and lunch we paid €40 per person.
Book your rafting experience on Tara Canyon here:
Durmitor National Park
After rafting in Tara Canyon, we were headed to the tallest peaks of Durmitor National Park, which is the largest national park in Montenegro, and part of the UNESCO World Natural & Cultural Heritage list. This area is famous for its 48 peaks that rise above plateaus at more than 2,000 meters above sea level. And it’s also home to many different animal species, including Brown Bears, Grey Wolves, European Wild Cats and 130 birds species such as Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons! For anyone interested in hiking, climbing or mountaineering, Durmitor National Park’s stunning peaks, alpine meadows and forests will be love at first sight. The area is also known for its beautiful glacial lakes. Let’s just say that there’s so much to see in this park, which is exactly why I recommend that instead of doing what we did – rafting and Durmitor National Park all in one day – you divide the two into two days and maybe spend the night in northern Montenegro. This way you’ll have more time to explore!
The best beaches in Montenegro
If you’re on the hunt for some nice beaches, Montenegro will surely deliver. We were based in Budva so most of the beaches we went to were nearby. Just a heads up, whatever you do, don’t go to Budva beach, the beach right on Budva’s seafront. The water is dirty, and everyone is crammed! It gave me claustrophobia just by looking at them! Plus, there are so many beautiful beaches that it would be a shame wasting your time there! Just keep in mind that if you come to Montenegro in the summer, beaches will be full of people, but there’s plenty of space in between the beach beds at the beaches I’m about to tell you. But make sure to get to the beaches no later than 10.30am to find good spots. Or better yet, try finding the name and number of the beach club to call and make a reservation for the next day!
P.S. If you’re not used to pebbly beaches, buy some water shoes!
Jazz Beach, Budva
If you’re searching for crystal clear waters get yourself to Jazz Beach! It’s just a 10-minute drive from Budva, and it’s amazing. Instead of stopping right away when you get to the beach, head to the left side to get the best spot. Two sun beds and one umbrella come at €10. I’m still shocked by how cheap it was. Jazz beach also has water sports and really fun giant aquatic inflatables! We spent 30 minutes on them and had the time of our lives, there are slides, high jumping points and more, I really recommend it! For lunch, there are plenty of restaurants to go to, we stopped at one called Trpeza which was absolutely delicious, the Greek Salad and fried squid were top notch!
Hawaii Beach at Saint Nikola Island
This beach might be my favorite. Saint Nikola Island is the only island in Montenegro and it has some beautiful beaches. It’s located right in front of Budva, just a 5-minute taxi boat ride away (€3 round trip). Hawaii Beach is one of those beaches, and it’s absolutely stunning. The water is super clear and it’s full of rocks everywhere. I really recommend it, it’s also less crowded than other beaches. Two sunbeds and one umbrella come at €10.
Rent a boat for the day in Budva, Montenegro
One of the best ways to explore the Montenegrin coastline is by boat. And all six of us agreed on that! So we went on a private boat tour that took us from Budva to Boka Bay, and back. It was surely one of the best and most relaxing days of our vacation. And the two sailors that took us were amazing! Two Montenegrins who work in Italy and come to Montenegro for the summer, sailors since they were 16 years old. They have traveled pretty much everywhere and are obsessed with the sea. They took us to an amazing beach cove close to Jazz Beach where it was just us and nature, the colors were stunning! We also stopped at the Blue Grotto and went for a swim there, which was wonderful!
We stopped for lunch in a yummy restaurant in Mirista called Mirista Restoran and then we proceeded to Boka Bay. The only downside is that the boat was very slow, so it took us quite a while to get to Boka Bay, and we should’ve listened to the sailor who had proposed we go to Saint Nikola, Sveti Steafan and a few beach coves instead! But we had an amazing time anyway, especially coming back. The sailor had an amazing playlist and the music was just the perfect companion. I remember the sky turning pink, the sun fading away, the sound of the waves and soaring through the water with the boat. It was so peaceful and beautiful. We had wine and beers and amazing conversations with the sailors. There were even tunas jumping in the water on our trip back!
Book your boat tour/cruise for the day here:
Where to eat in Montenegro: the best restaurants in Budva & Kotor
Before coming to Montenegro, some people had told me the food wasn’t all that great. I have to disagree. Montenegrin cuisine is actually delicious, and very similar to Mediterranean fare. Everything from the seafood to the meat and salads was delicious. If you’re heading to Kotor, get yourself to Przun Restaurant for delicious food away from the crowds in the center of the old town.
If you’re in Budva, you can’t miss out on the restaurants along the seafront. Porto Restoran is delicious, they had a tuna tartare with truffles that all six of us are still dreaming of! Their mussel sautè was exceptional, and so were the grilled squids, the grilled octopus and the fish soup. Another delightful restaurant is Restorant Olimp, right after Porto. If you come to Restorant Olimp you can’t not order the marinated salmon in orange juice, exceptional, as well as the seabass cooked in foil with spices! Another yummy one is Jadran Restoran, you dine right on the seafront with the tables right on the water. The must-orders? The black risotto, the seabass cooked in oven and the baked olives! And guess what, prices are so cheap! If you order their local wines, you can pay as low as €25 per person, while if you order Italian wines you’ll pay around €45 per person.
P.S. It’s always best to reserve!
Where to stay in Montenegro
We stayed in Budva during our trip in Montenegro, and I think we made the perfect choice! Budva is right on the sea, close to all the beaches, and not too far from Lovcen National Park and northern Montenegro. Plus, it’s very lively, full of restaurants and bars, so we were extremely happy with our decision! Just make sure you stay close to the seafront and old town, as that’s where all the movida goes on! We stayed in the amazing Aparthotel Villa Aria who had independentapartments called Spaska Apartments. And if you’re planning on staying in Budva, I highly recommend it.
We checked in at the reception and found a wonderful staff to greet us. The apartments are located in a different building from the hotel rooms, and they are so modern with every comfort. Our apartment was for six people, it had two bedrooms and a sofa bed in the living room. The bathrooms were modern, there was AC and also a small terrace with a table. If you’re 4 to 6 people, I definitely urge you to stay here. We were just footsteps from the seafront, port and Old Town, and the staff at the reception was super helpful in organising tours, transfers and taxis. One of our friends felt sick the last day and they promptly guided us to doctors and medical facilities. Thanks for the amazing stay!
Plan you trip to Montenegro: things to know
While planning our trip to Montenegro, we had in mind to rent two cars at Podgorica airport. Thankfully, once we found out we had to leave a very high deposit, we decided to get an airport transfer to the apartment instead, and rent cars when we’d need them. This was probably the best decision we made. Especially after we saw how Montenegrins drive!
Don’t get me wrong, I come from Italy, so I’m no noob on crazy driving. But Montenegro hits a whole new level of crazy! The roads are well kept but they are full of turns. And Montenegrins drive FAST! And they surpass cars even on turns! When we found out how cheap taxis and transfers were, we decided to just go by taxis. Plus, if you’re a group of 4 – 6 people, it’s very cheap, even for tours. So we got to relax, not drive, not think about parking, not think about Montenegrins surpassing us on turns, and it was just perfect. I’d recommend not hiring a car after all!
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