Montenegro might be small, but there is plenty to see and do. This mountainous country has some of the most spectacular landscapes in Europe and seems to have only scenic roads: perfect for a road trip! Although the coast gets plenty of visitors, the interior is still rather wild and deserted, especially outside the summer months. This itinerary takes in stunning national parks, intriguing orthodox monasteries and picturesque old towns… Add to that some of the friendliest people and good wines, and you’re sure to have a great trip!
Montenegro itinerary highlights:
- Durmitor National Park
- Ostrog Monastery
- Bay of Kotor
- Skadar Lake
- Sveti Stefan Island
The best time to go to Montenegro is during the shoulder seasons of May-June, when days are long and wildflowers abound, and September-October, when autumn foliage colors the hills red and the weather is usually still lovely. It is easy to drive in Montenegro, although you do have to feel comfortable with steep narrow roads and hairpin bends. Distances seem short but always take longer than expected! We were traveling with a baby so we didn’t move around as much as we normally would have, but even taking it easy you can still see a good part of the country in one short week.
Upon arrival at Podgorica airport late in the afternoon we headed straight to Hotel Sokoline, our base for the first two nights. Rooms are simple, but clean and comfortable, and the panoramic view is just stunning. There is a good restaurant with a lovely terrace upstairs, and staff is very friendly.
Day 1: Durmitor National Park
Spend the day exploring Durmitor, Montenegro’s most beautiful national park. There are several hiking trails, but by far the most well-known is the easy 4km trail around the scenic Black Lake. It can get quite busy here and the best view is actually right where you arrive, so I suggest you just walk up to the lake for a look and choose one of the other trails for some more serious hiking (check out this blog post for some ideas). The restaurant overlooking the lake, Restoran Crno Jezero, serves surprisingly good food.
After lunch, take the panoramic road to Pluzine cutting right through Durmitor National Park: the views are epic. Several other hiking trails are accessed from this road, but even just driving through is a great experience.
After exiting the park on the other side, continue down to Lake Piva, along a rather spectacular road that passes through one rock tunnel after another. If you still have time you could consider a stop at Piva Monastery. It’s not Montenegro’s most beautiful monastery, but the frescoes are worth a look.
Day 2: Ostrog Monastery and Bay of Kotor
In the morning, pay a visit to Ostrog Monastery. This is Montenegro’s most popular pilgrimage site, which means that in high season or on orthodox holidays there are way too many people… but out of season it’s a remarkable place to visit. The monastery church sits spectacularly nestled high up a sheer cliff and is partially carved out of the rock. Colorful frescoes cover the walls and ceilings of the cave chapels (no photography allowed inside, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself!)
Stairs lead up the steep wooded slope, and most pilgrims walk up, some barefoot. But when it’s not busy (or if you travel with a baby!) you can usually drive all the way to the Upper Monastery next to the church. Make sure to stop at the viewing platform halfway for a good view of the church’s gravity-defying position.
Next, drive to the Bay of Kotor, again along a very scenic road. The view over the bay as you near your destination is incredible. Stop for lunch at Catovica Mlini, a charming restaurant in a converted water mill serving delicious seafood (if a bit expensive for Montenegrin standards).
Besides the fortified town of Kotor, there are several other small villages scattered around the bay. We had decided to stay in Perast instead of Kotor, and I was very happy with our choice. Perast is extremely picturesque, it prospered during the Venetian period and has barely changed since. It’s small and quiet: there are just enough hotels and restaurants to feel you have choice, but not the hordes of cruise-ship tourists that invade Kotor.
We enjoyed our stay at Hotel Nauta, which has comfortable, modern rooms, all while keeping the charm of the original old buildings. Staff is incredibly friendly. The place is best suited for warmer weather though, as there are not really any indoor common spaces except for a tiny breakfast room. The hotel restaurant was unfortunately closed when we were there, but I can recommend Otok Bronza or Hotel Conte nearby.
Day 3: Perast and Kotor
One of the most emblematic sights of Montenegro is Our Lady of the Rocks church, sitting pretty on a tiny islet in the Bay of Kotor, just in front of Perast. If you get enough of admiring it from the shore, you can hire a boat to take you there. Entrance includes a guided tour through the church and its museum. The adjacent islet of St George is a working Benedictine monastery that’s not open to visitors.
Head to Kotor for lunch at Galion, for fine dining with a view, whether you sit inside or out (dinner might also be a good idea, this is the best place to see Kotor’s lit up city walls at night). By this time, you’ll probably have noticed the horrendous giant cruise ships disfiguring the bay. At times Kotor gets overrun by their passengers, you can check timetables here if you want to try to avoid the worst.
Maybe most special about Kotor are its fortified city walls. You can follow them all the way up to San Giovanni Castle, it’s a steep 1,2km hike, but you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views. Inside the city, try not to miss Sveti Tripun Cathedral and the frescoes of Sveti Luka Church, but just wandering around is the best thing to do here. The farmers market (mon-sat 8am-2pm) is a rather touristy affair and not very interesting.
Day 4: Lovćen National Park and Cetinje
The following day, drive up the (in)famous 25 hairpin bends of the Kotor-Lovćen road and towards the mausoleum of Petar II Petrović Njegoš in Lovćen National Park. This park is actually just one mountain and is all about the views. The mausoleum sits right on top. It was built in the 1970s under communist rule, after the original chapel was badly damaged in WWII. Even though it is actually quite interesting and affecting, most people come for the panoramic view from the platform in the back of the mausoleum. And the views ARE impressive. Nevertheless, having to pay access to both the park and the mausoleum seemed a bit much to me, especially as this country is practically made of views.
You can have lunch on the way at Nevjesta Jadrana with sweeping views over the Bay of Kotor (we just happened to be stuck in a cloud during our lunch there unfortunately…). Or you can head to the nearby village of Njegusi which is famous all around the country for its prosciutto and cheese, although the restaurants here are not very inspiring.
Our accommodation for that night was in Cetinje, the old royal capital. Cetinje is a small but cute city with colorful houses and a scattering of historical museums. We stayed at Gradska Cetinje, a brand-new hotel right on the main plaza and a stone’s throw away from the museums (which I must admit we didn’t visit) and pretty Cetinje Monastery. The hotel bar seems to be the new place-to-be in town, have dinner there (rather than in the usually deserted hotel restaurant).
Day 5: Lake Skadar National Park
More scenic roads today! A short drive from Cetinje is Lake Skadar, Southern Europe biggest lake. It has some great landscapes and is an important bird reserve, if you’re very lucky you might even spot the endangered Dalmatian pelican. This is also Montenegro’s main wine-growing region.
Drive to the village of Rijeka Cronjevica via the Pavlova Strana viewpoint (follow the M2.3 until the turnoff at Groblje Meterizi, the last piece of the road is very narrow with lots of hairpin bends, but allows for the best views over the famous “Horseshoe Bend” in the river!). Rijeka Crnojevića is a small village with some nice old houses, a few restaurants and a picturesque stone bridge. It felt a bit abandoned, but maybe only because we were there outside the summer season.
Next, continue towards Virpazar, another village on the edge of the lake. You’ll get some sweeping views along the way. Virpazar itself is not really worth visiting, but this is the best place to get on a boat to explore the lake from close up. Unfortunately, it started to rain as we arrived, so we decided to skip the boat trip, but you can check out this informative blog post for some ideas.
Of course, you can’t leave Montenegro without having seen the coast. To finish your trip in style, splash out on a stay at the Aman Sveti Stefan. This refined luxury hotel occupies its own private island, eponymous Sveti Stefan Island, and the former summer residence of Queen Marija Karadordevic, Villa Milocer, on the main land. Although the island is more unique, the rooms in the villa are actually more luxurious and comfortable (and also stay open year-round).
If you’re looking for something a bit more affordable, there are plenty of self-catering apartments in the area. But although the immediate surroundings of Sveti Stefan are very nice, most of the originally surely stunning coastline around Budva is now all constructed and rather ugly, so it’s not always as idyllic as it might look in pictures.
Day 6: Sveti Stefan
Spend the day relaxing on the beach or, if the weather is not cooperating, at the Aman’s stunning indoor pool and spa. If you’re not a guest at the hotel, consider booking a massage or lunch at one of the hotel restaurants to be able to take advantage of the setting. Another great spot for lunch or dinner is Langust, in the small fishing village of Przno just a short walk away. They serve delicious seafood in a quirky, cozy spot.
For us this was the end of our trip, but if you want to add a day or two to this Montenegro itinerary there are several possibilities. You can go rafting on the Tara River, explore Lipa Cave or the ruins of Stari Bar, get lost in the remote national parks of Prokletije and Biogradska Gora… or just spend some more time on the beach of course!