“At the birth of our planet, the most beautiful encounter between land & sea happened on the coast of Montenegro” – Lord Byron
To say Montenegro is the new Croatia and Kotor is the new Dubrovnik is a flippant dismissal of Montenegro’s unique beauty. Although, this is how people are describing one of Europe’s smallest countries.
Here’s a look at the best things to do in Montenegro and why this tiny country is worth visiting.
Montenegro or Croatia
Travel trends change. Destinations that would never have made the latest “Must Go” list for one reason or another finally take their turn in tourism’s fickle limelight.
For some years now people have known about Croatia’s beauty and value for money as a holiday destination. Regardless of Croatia’s undeniable appeal, to compare a country like Montenegro as being “the new” anything does not aptly describe the unique and breathtaking beauty of this small and relatively new country.
Sure, tourists are still embracing Croatia as one of the hottest travel destinations of the moment. Especially as she basks in the afterglow of her Game of Thrones fame. However, some are looking for a new and slightly less tourist-dense experience along this incredible stretch of the Adriatic.
Day Trips to Montenegro from Dubrovnik
Possibly one of the most beautiful countries in the Balkans; let’s have a look at what to do in Montenegro and reasons why this tiny country is worth visiting.
The Star-Studded Past of Montenegro
Long before the Yugoslav Wars which tore the entire region apart, Montenegro was famed as the St Tropez of the Balkans. A playground for the wealthy and elite.
While the war all but killed off tourism in the region, Montenegro retained a twinkle of that je ne sais quoi that had attracted the likes of Princess Margaret, Sofia Loren, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the 50’s and 60’s.
So much so, since gaining independence from Serbia in 2006, international investment is ripe in the region, attracting billionaires such as British financier Nat Rothschild to both holiday and invest in Montenegro.
Value for Money – Montenegro is One of Best Summer Destinations in Europe
While Montenegro’s unique beauty and welcoming culture are once again attracting the rich and famous, and despite the rapid development of luxury resorts and superyacht marinas, this tiny corner of the Adriatic is still a very attainable holiday destination for the average holidaymaker.
Montenegro remains one of the best value for money summer destinations we have visited (more on this below) with a genuinely friendly atmosphere and without any of the annoying tourist hustle.
Experience the Astonishing Natural Beauty of Montenegro
At not even 300km long, Montenegro packs in more spectacular scenery than thought possible for such a small country. Words like looming, majestic, serene and staggeringly spectacular are often used to describe what we believe may well be the most beautiful country in the world.
Mountains rise dramatically from the crystal clear sea where ancient monasteries cling impossibly to cliff faces. Medieval walled cities and picturesque fishing towns such as Perast blend gently into the water’s edge.
Montenegro is one of those fabulous places where you can spend the morning on the beach, be in the mountains for lunch and back to any of the picturesque old towns for a sundowner and dinner. These are just some of the highlights you can expect.
The Bay of Kotor
More commonly known as Boka Bay, the star of the show is one of the most awe-inspiring natural spectres we have had the pleasure to witness. Whether you drive its perimeter or sail the length of this fjord-like bay, you will be hard-pressed not to mutter the word “beautiful” at least twice.
Against a commanding mountain backdrop, picturesque medieval towns line the edge of some of the most stunningly clear waters you will find anywhere along the coast. Island monasteries overlook elegant water-front eateries, and small organised beaches offer a splash of colour and a delightful experience.
Montenegro’s Old Town Charm
Kotor Old Town
Arrive at the end of the bay, and you will find the UNESCO-listed medieval walled city of Kotor. Unlike Croatia’s Dubrovnik, Kotor’s Old Town is less of an empty museum. Visiting Kotor is one of the most popular things to do in Montenegro. The recent increase in cruise ships and cruising yachts into the small city is proof of this.
While Kotor does cater to the tourist well and prices may be slightly inflated inside the walls, it has a more authentic, lived-in atmosphere. Washing still hangs from windows, and people go about their daily business as with any of the old towns in Montenegro.
Kotor is not the only old town oozing charm. Budva, Montenegro’s most tourist populated beach town is not just about beach bars, hotels, nightclubs, and shopping malls; it also has one of the most beautiful old towns in the country.
At 2,500 years old, it is one of the oldest settlements along the Adriatic coast. The old town sits on a rocky outcrop along the main beach and now boasts lovely restaurants in quiet lanes and busy piazzas, boutique shops and guesthouses.
While the tourist scene of Budva is not quite our style, the Old Town is very much worth a visit even if only for a day.
15 minutes up the road from Budva is the 15th century fortified village of Sveti Stephan. This is where the rich and famous first discovered the joys of the Montenegrin coast between the 60’s and 80’s.
Closed as a result of the troubles in the former Yugoslavia, it has recently reopened and is now the exclusive Aman Sveti Stephan Resort. Unfortunately, unless you have around €700 / night to spend, you will only be admiring this old town from afar.
Herceg Novi is a charming coastal town at the mouth of Boka Bay. The old town is nestled amongst castles and forts that cascade from the top of the hill down to the waters edge affording magnificent views of the bay.
As well as restaurants, cafe’s and shops in the Old Town; during the summer, the upper castle acts as an open-air theatre hosting plays and opera and the lower fortress an open-air cinema.
Herceg Novi is a fantastic town for a beach holiday and for exploring the best in and around the Bay of Kotor. It also has a more laid back and less touristy vibe than Budva or Kota.
Perast may be one of the prettiest towns in Europe. Once the power and wealth centre of the Bay of Kotor, the small UNESCO listed town has been beautifully restored.
Beautiful stone palaces and churches line the shore while traditional boats wait for another passenger to transfer to The Lady of the Rocks church island in the middle of the bay. Perast is an idyllic town, perfect for a lazy lunch by the sea indulging in locally grown mussels and Montenegro’s world-class wines, neither of which will set you back much.
Visit Our Lady of the Rocks Island
Perast is famous for the two island churches which lie in front of it. One a natural island which is not open to the public is home to a monastery. The other, a man-made island built up over 600 years called Our Lady of the Rocks. The island has a Catholic church which is also a museum. You can take a guided tour on the island for around €1 pp or you can explore at your leisure.
How to Get to Our Lady of the Rocks
You can take a boat from Perast for around €3. The driver will come back to collect you when you are ready to return.
Many of the tours around the Bay of Kotor will include a visit to Our Lady of the Rocks, or you can take a scenic speedboat water taxi.
Beautiful Historical Sites
Like any country in the region, Montenegro is loaded with intriguing history, but it is also rich with amazing historical sites to visit such as Ostrog Monastery and Mamula Island.
Visit Mamula Island
The island of Lastavica is situated at the entrance of Boka Bay and is known simply as “Mamula” named after the fort built on it in 1853.
The island served as a concentration camp in both world wars and as a prison. The remaining ruins lay incredibly intact making it one of the most popular tourist attractions from the town of Herceg Novi.
Unfortunately, regardless of strong local objection, a 49-year lease has been granted for the development of a luxury resort on the island.
Rumour has it, part of this agreement includes restoration of the original structure and a museum. Hopefully, this means public access will still be granted.
Getting to Mamula Island
There are many small boat tours leaving from the town of Herceg Novi to Mamula. Many of the tours will be a half day and include a visit to the WW2 submarine caves and a swimming stop at the Blue Caves.
Another of Montenegro’s fantastic historical sites is the Ostrog Monastery, the burial place of Saint Basil. Located in the mountains between Podgorica and Niksic, Ostrog is visited by more than 100,000 pilgrims each year.
Carved into the vertical cliff face, it is a tradition for pilgrims to make the 3km journey barefoot from the lower monastery to the top of the mountain to pray in front of the body of Saint Basil. It is quite an astounding place.
Dress Code for Ostrog Monastery
You will need to have your shoulders covered and shorts or skirts at least to the knee to enter the monastery. T-Shirts are fine. This applies to both men an women. There is nowhere to change there so be prepared to change in the car if required in hot weather. Some women will cover their heads with a scarf but it is not a requirement.
Ostrog Monastery Opening Hours
May – September: 6 am – 5 pm daily
October – April: 5 am – 4 pm daily
You can stay overnight at the monastery. Accommodation is dorm style, bunks start at €4pp. You can also sleep in the monastery grounds – sleeping mats and blankets are available from the monastery free of charge.
Spectacular Coastline and Lakes
The Adriatic Coast offers some of the most remarkable waters you will find anywhere in Europe. The clearest of blues and greenest of greens, these are some of Europe’s best Blue Flag beaches.
Montenegro’s slice of the Adriatic is set against such a spectacular backdrop and delivered with a particular style you won’t find anywhere else. This is a summer paradise. It’s not surprising this little country is attracting the superyacht scene and massive resort investment.
Swim at The Montenegro Blue Cave
The Blue Cave on Lustica Peninsula near Herceg Novi is one of the best things to do in Montenegro. The largest of many caves both above and under the water, it’s called the Blue Cave because of the way the light hits the sandy bottom and reflects up through the water.
It is possible to visit the cave for swimming, or there is also the possibility of a dive trip through the underwater cave systems. A trip to the Blue Cave can be included with a visit to Mamula Island.
Had enough of the coast? Head to Lake Skadar on the Montenegrin / Albanian border. The largest lake in the Balkan Peninsula, Lake Skadar is a nature lover’s wonderland. 400km’s of the pristine national park set amongst Montenegro’s premium wine country offers an excellent combination of nature, adventure, and gastronomy.
Travel Facts for Montenegro.
While Montenegro’s future looks fairly well cemented in the calendars of the wealthy and famous all is not lost for the average holidaymaker. For now, it is a very attractive destination for the budget conscious.
Cost of Travel in Montenegro
We have stayed in Montenegro for periods of one month to six weeks during the peak season of July and August. While accommodation prices were slightly inflated, they were still very reasonable. Here is a look at what you could expect to pay during peak season.
Peak season is July – August but optimum time for visiting would be anywhere from June – October
Accommodation in Montenegro
We have rented a very comfortable air-conditioned one bedroom, fully equipped apartment with sea views, walking distance to town and the beach in Herceg Novi for €800/month – €26/night. For two people with all the comforts of a fully equipped home, we found this very reasonable.
We also rented a self-contained one bedroom air-conditioned apartment with magnificent views over the Bay of Kotor, only a short walk to the popular beachfront of Kumbor, just north of Herceg Novi for €600/month – Again, €20/night for all-inclusive, self-contained accommodation overlooking the beach is very reasonable.
Expect these rates to drop slightly during the shoulder and off-seasons. Longer term rentals of 3-4 weeks like we tend to do may attract further discounts.
You will find guest houses for as little as €6/night up to €700/night for the five-star resorts.
Compared to many other European destinations, tour prices are very reasonable as shown in the following examples.
A sailing transfer from Herceg Novi through the Bay of Kotor stopping at the Lady on the Rock Church, Kotor and the Old Town and Perast including a full lunch and refreshments starts at around €20pp.
A 3-hour small private boat hire for up to 4 people with skipper including a tour of bays surrounding the entrance of the Boka Bay, Mamula Island and swimming at the Blue Grotto starts at €60 for the entire boat. This includes a visit to some very cool abandoned submarine bays hidden in the mountains.
Dental Tourism in Montenegro
Montenegro is also making a name for itself in Dental Tourism along with other Eastern European destinations such as Macedonia and Hungary.
We have put this to the test twice and found the level of dentistry offered to be of a very high standard and a very reasonable cost. You can find out more about our dental experience here
Montenegro may be small, but access to some regions is difficult by public transport. Day tours are a very cost-effective way to move around the country but if you are more than one person so is car hire. We rented a compact car for €35/day over a period of 3 days.
This enabled us to see many of the countries major sites and visit Bosnia and Herzegovina for a day. Border crossings in hire cars are no issue, and if you want an alternative drop off country such as Dubrovnik, one way fees are as low as €40.
Cost of Food and Drink in Montenegro
You can expect to find many of the usual Balkan suspects here – Roasted peppers, grilled meats, kebabs and shopska salads but also expect lots of excellent seafood. Eating out in Montenegro is relatively inexpensive and of very good quality.
Examples of average prices in restaurants –
- A bowl of fresh mussels 500gm €4 – €6.
- Cuttlefish “Black Risotto” €8- €10.
- Grilled Squid €8- €10.
- Grilled meat dishes with potatoes & salad or vegetable €5 – €8.
- Many restaurants offer meat or fish daily menu deals for €5.
- A 2-course seafood meal for two including beer and wine in a good restaurant expect ~€50
- Cafe style restaurants or beachfront vendors – freshly made hamburger or kebab style meal deals with a drink and fries €2 – €3
Wine in Montenegro
Montenegro has some of the best wines in the world and very reasonably priced. A litre bottle of the famous Vranac wine in the supermarket €3 – €5. In a restaurant ~€15
Beer – expect ~ €0.70 in a supermarket or €2 for half litre draught in a restaurant
Getting to Montenegro
While there are two international airports in Montenegro – Podgorica, and Tivat, there is not a great selection of good flight routes available.
Dubrovnik Airport in Croatia is only half an hour from the Montenegrin border and the town of Herceg Novi. Many people will hire a car and drive across or take a taxi. This is a good option as the taxi drivers know the small border crossing which can be faster during the peak months.
Buses depart regularly from Dubrovnik stopping at all the major towns all the way to Bar. Check Bus Croatia for times and prices.