Venture inland from Montenegro’s alluring Adriatic coastline and you’ll find a freshwater escape that hosts an immense & exotic ecosystem. Straddling the border of Montenegro & Albania, Lake Skadar is the most impressive lake you’ve never heard of: it’s the largest lake in Southern Europe, expanding from 140 square miles in summer to 200 square miles in winter; it’s home to hundreds of different species of plants & animals, more than 20 of which can only be found here; and it’s Montenegro’s most visited national park.
While even the smaller, summer version of the lake is far too large to cover in a day, one can easily develop a deep appreciation in just a few hours. When planning your trip to Montenegro, set aside some time to soak in the serenity of Lake Skadar.
Our advice: get out here soon, while Lake Skadar is still relatively under-discovered. Check out this video of our experience, and see for yourself!
- Drive south along the coast for about 13 miles (19 km) until you see signs for: Zgrade
- Take the E80 inland (east) for 10 miles (16 km) until you reach the last village before the lake: Virpazar
- You can stop there, or continue another 4 miles across the bridge to: Vranjina → this is what we did
Choose Your Cruise
The tourism industry plays a major role in the local economy. As you enter Virpazar, you’ll see signs advertising lake tour or lake cruise everywhere you look. Step out of your car, and you’ll be approached by locals offering tours on kayaks, pontoon boats and motorboats. Price, duration and group size all vary.
travelhelix tip: if you’re comfortable leaving things a bit “open-ended,” resist the temptation to book online ahead of time. Sorting your tour out when you arrive is a great way to engage with locals, and part of the experience. You’re unlikely to hear the words “fully booked” or “sold out.” If you’re a tourist looking for a lake tour, you’ll find someone with a boat who’s willing & eager to take you.
Our Unplanned Adventure
After crossing the bridge to Vranjina, we pulled over to snap a few pics, and soon found ourselves in an unsolicited (and friendly) negotiation with a group of local teenagers. They presented us with two options:
- Take a 2-hour lake tour on a “slow boat”
- Take a 1-hour lake tour on a “fast boat” (see the same things, in less time, for more €)
We explained that we wanted to reach the northern village of Rijeka Crnojevića. They said that it’s far away… and outside of their standard tour route… and they don’t normally do this… but we seem like nice people… so they will take us.
A trip to Rijeka Crnojevića will take more than 2 hours, require the fast boat and of course, cost even more €€€, which we can pay upon our return.
We agreed. A couple of handshakes, and the deal was done. Our new friend Stefan pulled the cord on the outboard motor, and our 2.5-hour adventure began.
A Lake Bursting with Life
The first 5 minutes was a slow-paced navigation through narrow waterways lined with tall reeds and grass.
The boat accelerated as we emerged from the reed forest into a vast open space, blanketed with water lilies as far as the eye could see. Lake Skadar’s diverse vegetation hosts hundreds of different species of plants & animals. More than 20 — mainly fish & snails — are endemic to the surrounding basin.
Wings over Water
Over 270 species of birds — including herons, storks, seagulls, eagles & egrets — call Lake Skadar “home.” During our excursion, we observed at least two dozen species, some performing for us alongside the boat; others on the hunt, dive-bombing their prey.
bird’s the word: Lake Skadar is one of the only places in Europe where you’ll find pelicans!
“River of Crnojević”
Almost an hour after leaving Vranjina, we arrived at our destination in a remote northern corner of the lake. Rijeka Crnojevića embodies the phrase “small but mighty.” While the tiny village has only 200 residents, it was once the capital of Montenegro (15th century) and it still carries an esteemed legacy today.
We spent 5 minutes exploring the waterfront and 10 minutes befriending a local vendor, who offered homemade liqueur, jam and honey. Let’s just say that all 3 of us walked away happy!
Warm Freshwater Showers!
The afternoon wind created some very choppy waters on our way back to Vranjina. We were absolutely soaked by the time we arrived, but the warm freshwater was quite refreshing!
After the cruise, we drove back across the bridge to Virpazar to find a late afternoon bite to eat. We quickly found ourselves at the pirate ship that doubles as a café: Restaurant Silistria.
From our table on the starboard section of the restaurant, the view of the surrounding mountains and waterways was gorgeous.
travelhelix tip: plan your trip to Lake Skadar so that you explore the lake in the morning, then have lunch, followed by an afternoon walk or hike around the charming village of Virpazar.
After our late lunch and long day, it was now time to chase another sunset. During the 45-minute drive back to Sveti Stefan, we reflected — and agreed that Lake Skadar was a top highlight of our Montenegro experience.