The mystery of Kotor. The opulence of Porto Montenegro. The serenity of Sveti Stefan. The peaceful tranquility of Lake Skadar. In 4 short days, the tiny Adriatic gem of Montenegro made its impact on us in a very big way. We navigated nearly 75% of Montenegro’s majestic coastline, wandered ancient alleyways, observed incredible wildlife, and drank homemade brandy with locals on the shores of remote lakefront villages.
But there were definitely some inland destinations that we missed, and so — somehow — we still left saying “if only we had more time…”
We’ve created this guide with the hope of offering travelers to Montenegro the best of what we did plus what we would have done with a few more days. We’ll share tips based on what we experienced, and offer suggestions on some other areas we didn’t get a chance to explore. This is an active itinerary for those interested in pristine coastline, dramatic canyons, saltwater sanctuaries & freshwater escapes.
Are you ready to experience beauty unparalleled in The Land of Fairy Tales?
Montenegro: know before you go
Here are a few facts you should know before visiting Montenegro:
- What currency do they use in Montenegro? the Euro (€)
- Is Montenegro part of the EU? as of this writing, Montenegro is not (yet) part of the EU. Montenegro applied for EU membership in 2008. Accession negotiations began in 2012.
- When should I travel to Montenegro? Like many other warm, coastal destinations in the northern hemisphere, high season for tourism is June, July & August. Prepare for incredible weather, but also prepare to pay a bit more for food, accommodation & activities. On the bright side: Montenegro receives far fewer tourists than its neighbor to the north, Croatia.
- What sort of beaches can I expect? GREAT question! Some sand, a lot of rock, and sometimes, solid concrete leading right into the water. Bring water socks/shoes.
Montenegro’s official language is Montenegrin, which is similar to both Serbian & Croatian. Here are some very important words to memorize before your trip:
- Hello → Zdravo
- Goodbye → Zbogom
- Thank you → Hvala
- Wine → Vino
- Beer → Pivo
- Cheers! → Živjeli!
Where to stay
Montenegro is an ideal destination for budget travelers. Apart from being far less crowded than Croatia — even during the high season — it’s also considerably more cost-effective. While researching options online, we found the rates to be fair, reasonable, and less expensive than similar properties in Croatia & Greece.
If you prefer to live life on the edge, leave things open-ended and sort out your accommodation when you arrive. Throughout the country — from the coastal villages to the inland forests — you’ll see signs advertising accommodation ranging from individual rooms to fully-furnished apartments. Here are a few more key words to look for, in front of houses and alongside the road:
- Sobe → room
- Apartman → apartment
- Guesthouse → guesthouse!
Getting to Montenegro & traveling around
Most travelers enter Montenegro 1 of 4 ways:
- Arrive by cruise ship, and explore a couple of coastal cities for a few hours each
- Fly to Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital city, located in the southern part of the country
- Fly to Tivat, a small northern airport located just 15 minutes from Kotor, servicing regular commercial flights to Brussels, Belgrade & Moscow, as well as charter planes
- Travel to Dubrovnik (Croatia), and drive across the border to Montenegro via rental car
We chose option #4, which is absolutely — in our opinion — the best way to see and gain an appreciation for all of the beauty that this relatively undiscovered country has to offer.
Rental cars: important things to know!
If you’re renting your car in Croatia and intend on driving across the border, you must inform the rental car company that you’ll be going to Montenegro!
- There is additional documentation that they need to provide you in order to cross the border.
- Depending on the rental car company, there may be additional insurance you need to take out. For example: our credit card’s car rental insurance benefit was not honored by the rental car company.
- If you show up at the border without this documentation, you will be denied entry and it’ll be a long drive back to Dubrovnik to secure the proper paperwork!
The Croatian car rental plan works well…only if you’re returning to Croatia!
- But — if you plan on ending your trip in Podgorica (or continuing south to explore Albania), then renting a car in Croatia will become expensive when you add the different country drop-off fee.
- To avoid this: instead of picking up your rental car in Dubrovnik, take a bus from Dubrovnik to Montenegro, and pick up your rental car after you cross the border (for example: in Herceg Novi).
Crossing the border
We flew from Athens and arrived in Dubrovnik around 10am. By 10:30, we were cruising on the highway in our rental car. By 11am, we arrived at the Croatia-Montenegro border. TWO HOURS LATER, we crossed the border. This was — without question — the slowest border crossing we had ever experienced.
travelhelix tip: you can *try* to avoid a long wait at the border by crossing on a weekday, early in the morning, or late at night. Good luck!
The wait was worth it. Let’s take a look at your itinerary for the next 7 days:
Welcome to Boka Bay
After you’ve crossed the border from Croatia, it’s time to explore the Bay of Kotor. Known locally as Boka, this beautiful aquatic landscape is as pristine as it is peaceful. Check out our guide to the Bay of Kotor for some recommended villages to visit & sights to see during this portion of your drive.
Where we stayed
We chose to cash in some credit card points and stayed 2 nights at Hotel Cattaro in Kotor. The location was amazing, the room was spacious and comfortable, and our balcony overlooked old town Kotor’s main square, Trg od Oružja (Arms Square). Overall: a perfect experience.
If you prefer a truly 5-star experience, look no further than the Regent Porto Montenegro, only 15 minutes away from Kotor, in nearby Tivat.
Happy Statehood Day!
During dinner on our first night, we realized that we’d arrived on a very important national holiday — Statehood Day — celebrated every year on July 13th. On this day in 1878, Montenegro became the 27th independent state in the world. We made this realization while enjoying fresh seafood and a bottle of local Plantaže white wine on the waterfront terrace of Restauran Galion.
travelhelix tip: when calling to make a reservation at Restauran Galion, be sure to request a table next to the water!
After a peaceful night’s sleep in Kotor, wake up early and hike up to St. John’s Fortress for breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding bay. The hike involves 1,350 steps and may take around 2 hours round-trip, depending on your pace and how often you stop to take pictures.
Following your hike, take a few hours to explore Kotor’s Stari Grad (old town). You’ll notice many, many cats as you wander the narrow, cobblestone alleyways of the ancient, walled city. Read more about the curious cats of Kotor here. We visited the store of the same name, and recommend you do the same!
Nightlife in the bay
The sunsets in Montenegro were out of this world, but the sunset in Porto Montenegro was something else entirely. Taxi over to Porto Montenegro sometime in the early evening, and enjoy the sunset before dinner. If you like Lebanese food, try Byblos. You will not be disappointed!
After dinner, stroll the boardwalk, and see where the night takes you. You may just find yourself pulled into one of Porto Montenegro’s many magnetic nightclubs, such as Platinum.
We chose to head back to Kotor where we got our first taste of Montenegrin nightlife at Maximus, conveniently located next door to our hotel!
Montenegro’s central coast: Budva & Sveti Stefan
If you’re up for another early morning hike, Mount Vrmac supposedly offers amazing views of Tivat and the surrounding bay. Afterwards, your roadtrip will continue south… but only for 30 minutes.
Known to many travelers as one of Montenegro’s prime partying destinations, Budva is a small but modern coastal town that’s definitely worth a look.
We stopped only briefly in the bustling beach city, before continuing on to Budva’s far more laid-back neighbor to the south.
Just 15 minutes after saying goodbye to Budva, we said a very sweet hello to Sveti Stefan. The rest of our afternoon was spent heating up on the beach, cooling down in the clear blue waters of the Adriatic, and of course: snacking on beach corn.
Where we stayed
We spent 2 great nights at Hotel Adrović, which was cost-effective and offered great complimentary breakfast. It also happens to be perfectly located.
Built on top of a hill, just a short walk from the beach, Hotel Adrović was the ideal locale for us to appreciate the iconic islet that’s recently given tiny Sveti Stefan a huge reputation on the world travel stage. Both evenings, we sat on our private balcony and watched — entranced — as the sky transformed over the exclusive Aman resort.
travelhelix tip: when making your reservation at Hotel Adrović, be sure to request a sea-view room!
~ TIME LAPSE: SUNSET OVER SVETI STEFAN ~
Another early morning departure, but this time, you’re heading inland to Montenegro’s most visited national park: Lake Skadar. Check out our full article for tips on planning the perfect lake cruise…
… and check out this video to get a glimpse of our experience!
Après Lake Skadar
After your lake cruise, grab lunch in the charming village of Virpazar at Restaurant Silistria, an incredible pirate-ship-turned-café!
If you’ve got the energy for more activity, take a walk in the surrounding area. This path behind the restaurant is just begging to be explored.
Nightlife on the coast
If you’re feeling lucky, head to one of the many casinos in the area. We had dinner at the Queen of Montenegro, and saw some awesome live music — including an amazing cover of Killing Me Softly!
Looking for a nightclub? Top Hill is apparently THE place to be.
What we missed: Montenegro’s inland adventures
At this point in the itinerary, we cannot offer any specific lodging or dining recommendation, as we didn’t visit these places. Nonetheless, we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction, based on our research.
Take a day trip to the Grand Canyon of Montenegro: Tara Canyon. Hiking and river-rafting are popular activities. Tara Canyon is only 13 miles north of Durmitor, but an hour drive due to the mountainous terrain. Plan a full day for this outing.
After 7 days and 7 nights, it’s time to head home. If you’re following our itinerary and heading back to Dubrovnik, you’ve got a long day of driving ahead of you. The silver lining: it’s a wonderful country & a beautiful coastline, so why not experience it a 2nd time?
travelhelix tip: Google Maps says the drive from Podgorica to Dubrovnik is 3.5 hours, but based on our experience, we suggest you allow yourself at least 5-6. To save some time, set your GPS destination to Tivat, where you can take a car ferry across the Bay of Kotor.
Beautiful things come in small packages
Montenegro is a small country that has carved out an incredible niche in a gorgeous corner of the world. Our 4 days there made a lasting impression on us, and left us wanting so much more. We can only imagine what you’ll experience in a week…
Did you have a blast following this itinerary, or have memories of Montenegro that you’d like to share? Let us know, in the comments below!