Montenegro was country #6 on our digital nomad adventure abroad this year, and the second country that we visited in the Balkans (Croatia was the other). After spending three weeks in Istanbul, arriving to Montenegro was a welcome nature reprieve and quite literally a breath of fresh air, especially having been in Western Europe this whole summer, experiencing heat in the high 30’s C (90’s F) and above. September is the perfect time to visit Montenegro, as peak season has ended, crowds are minimal, and the weather starts to cool, but it’s still warm and sunny enough to swim.
In this blog post, I’ll outline our top 12 things to do and see in Montenegro, along with 8 helpful things to know before visiting. But first things first; where is Montenegro? Many people have never heard of this tiny country in the Balkans. Located North of Albania, and South of Bosnia and Croatia, Montenegro is just across the sea from Puglia, which is another place we visited this year. Both Puglia and Montenegro sit on the Adriatic Sea.
We visited at the very beginning of September, and witnessed the end of their peak season; when we first arrived, every restaurant along the Bay of Kotor was booked solid for three nights and required reservations. Just one week later, we could simply walk up and select from any table in the entire restaurant.
I absolutely loved everything about Montenegro. The natural beauty is out of this world; at every turn, we oooed and ahhhed, admiring the giant mountains surrounding Kotor Bay, the crystal clear waters on the sea in Herceg Novi and Budva, and the lovely villages in old towns. The water is so clear and inviting for a swim, the food is simple but delicious (lots of fish, potatoes and chard), and nature is truly alive here; you’ll see bees and butterflies everywhere, which is always a good sign.
Montenegro is often overlooked, especially when its popular neighbor to the North (Croatia) gets all the tourism hype. But this beautiful Balkan gem truly has something for everyone; whether you’re wanting to relax at a resort, get your adrenaline fix with paragliding or white water rafting, take on a challenging hike, or wander through an ancient village, Montenegro has so much to offer.
Before I dive into our top 12 things to do in Montenegro, here are 8 things you should know before visiting Montenegro:
8 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING MONTENEGRO
- The language spoken is Serbian. When we first arrived, we tried to find Google translate for Montenegrin, and found out it doesn’t exist. Some Montenegrins say that they have their own language, but in reality it’s just a version of Serbian
- At most restaurants, our server brought us the bill before the food even came out. When we ordered more items, they just printed out another receipt and brought it to our table. I found this quite confusing because I wasn’t sure which was the correct bill we needed to pay, and it’s wasteful of paper
- You cannot tip on a credit card machine, so be sure to carry cash and coins to tip
- The currency used in Montenegro is the euro
- Drivers are quite brazen, especially on highways. We passed one accident each day for four days straight (caused by fender benders from people following too closely, or taking on other cars). Be extra vigilant on the roads and practice your defensive driving skills
- The Balkan countries are not exactly known for their hospitality; they tend to be more transactional, so don’t take it personally if you don’t feel very warmly greeted when you walk into a store or restaurant, it’s just a different culture
- Montenegro has some of the tallest people in the entire world. The average height here seemed to be 6’2″ (Sasha finally found a place where his height of 6’7″ is no big deal!)
- How much time should you spend in Montenegro? That all depends on what you’re keen to see and do. Some people drive from Dubrovnik just for a day to see Kotor Bay, and others spend a whole month here. We spent 9 days and found that to be the perfect amount of time (though keep in mind we work from 3PM – 12 midnight, so we only have the mornings and early afternoons and weekends to explore, so if you’re taking a holiday here, 5 – 7 days should be plenty to see all the sites)
TOP 12 THINGS TO DO IN MONTENEGRO
- Kotor Bay
- Kotor Old Town
- Hike to the Top of the Saint John’s Fortress (AKA San Giovanni)
- Sveti Stefan
- Lovcen National Park
- Herceg Novi
- Paragliding in Budva
- Durmitor National Park
- Stari Bar
Most of my photos are from Kotor Bay, as this is where we stayed and spent most of our time. There are a plethora of apartments to select from on Airbnb. Our flat was just across the street from an outstanding swimming spot, and just a 40-minute walk (or 5-minute drive) to Kotor Old Town. If you’re into five-star boutique hotels, the Huma Hotel is a nice choice and right on the water.
Kotor Bay is a very special place, and was our favorite part of Montenegro. We found out from locals that unfortunately, the water is not always this clear; why?…Cruise ships. For the past two years, cruise ship traffic into and out of Kotor Bay has been very limited. I can’t imagine what this beautiful place looks like with a giant eye sore blocking the views of the mountains. It made me sad, but also very grateful to have been able to visit during this time when everything is so pristine. I do wish that they would follow suit with what Venice did by banning cruise ships into the bay, because cruise ships ruin the natural beauty and disturb the local life in such a negative way. I have high hopes that if we’ve learned anything since the pandemic, it’s that sustainable tourism and protecting natural habitats and local communities must be top of mind.
The drive around the Bay is beautiful, and there are several spots to get out and swim, or enjoy an espresso!
Our favorite place to dine, was Konoba Portun, located directly on the bay with jaw dropping views and delicious food. The servers are all very friendly, and all from Serbia; they come here in the summer to work the busy season, and then go back home during the winter to spend time with their families.
Don’t miss Perast, one of the most beautiful towns around the bay with views of the iconic Lady Of The Rocks.
KOTOR OLD TOWN
Kotor Old Town is a lovely, charming little triangular corner on the southernmost tip of Kotor Bay. It is immaculately clean, and the local furry residents will greet you with a purr. Though not nearly as populated with cats as in Istanbul, Kotor’s old town is known for their feline friends.
There are numerous cafes and restaurants in the old town, but if you are visiting during cruise ship season, my recommendation is to check the schedule so you can avoid being there when thousands of passengers disembark the boat for a few hours in the old town.
Kotor Old Town is the starting point for the rewarding hike up to San Giovanni Castle (also known as Saint John’s Fortress.)
HIKE TO THE TOP OF SAINT JOHN’S FORTRESS (SAN GIOVANNI)
This hike will take you up 1,350 steps to the top, at 280 meters above sea level. This fortress goes by many names (Saint John = San Giovanni in Italian). It was built to protect foreign invasion from Kotor Bay. Entry to hike to the top is a few euro per person, and it takes around one hour or less (depending on your fitness level and how often you stop for photos) to reach the top.
Sveti Stefan is an exclusive island connected to the mainland by a narrow road. Though you can visit the beaches on either side of the island, access to Sveti Stefan is only for guests staying at the luxury Hotel Aman. Sveti Stefan is just ten minutes from Budva. While you’re in this area, I highly recommend lunch at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the island, called Muse.
LOVCEN NATIONAL PARK
This beautiful black mountain is what gave Montenegro its name. The park is located just a short one-hour drive from Kotor along a twisty mountainous road, but the views alone on the way up (and down!) are worth the ride!
The national park is small but makes up for its size in jaw-dropping views. There’s even an epic zipline that you can do for €10 on the way up there, if you’re an adrenaline-seeker. You literally just pull up to the hut, they’ll outfit you in under two minutes, and off you go into the abyss. A guy waits for you on the other side, pulls you in, puts you into a van and drives you back to where your car is parked.
Tivat is the ritzy, sparkling home to multi-billion-dollar yachts. This is the place to see and be seen in Montenegro!
Herceg Novi is located on the sea with beautiful spots for swimming.
Budva is a favorite holiday spot for Russians, so you will hear Russian everywhere here! Located on a beautiful stretch of coastline, Budva is a more built up resort town, and one of the top things to do here is paragliding!
DURMITOR NATIONAL PARK
This park is quite out of the way in the Northwest corner of Montenegro. Don’t expect a huge national park like you’d find in the U.S.; there are a few hikes around the lake and up to the ski resort where you can take a gondola. Because we live in Washington State and are spoiled for choice when it comes to gorgeous scenery with mountains, forests and lakes, we didn’t feel the long drive was worth it.
“Stari” means “old” in Serbian. Over the centuries, this old town has been occupied by the Venetians, the Serbians, the Hungarians and the Ottoman Empire. The ruins from history still stand today. You can visit the fortress, overlooking mountains and overrun by tall grass and weeds. There are some shops and restaurants in the town of Stari Bar just outside of the ruins. It’s so small that you can see everything in under one hour. From the ruins, you can even see a Mosque!
Montenegro is definitely an overlooked destination, especially amongst American travelers. It is such a beautiful gem and way less expensive than its Croatian neighbor to the North! While Croatia seems to get all the tourism love, Montenegro has so much to offer, and was a wonderful way to start our trip in the Balkans. We’re very excited to return next year to visit Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina!
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