If a country has mountain in its name you can guess what its main topographical feature is… Well, that and stunning lakes, deep river gorges and the Adriatic coast. Welcome to Crna Gora or Montenegro (which means Black Mountain).
Today’s article is jam-packed with all the key things you need to know to explore this fascinating country – at your own pace and without a car. We even put together an itinerary that takes you to all our favourite spots, in 14 days (or more). Whether you love the great outdoors, history or delicious food, Montenegro has something for everyone – guaranteed.
Key things to know (in alphabetical order)
The country’s official language, not surprisingly, is Montenegrin. To a large extent, it’s the same language that is also spoken in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. You will see both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets being used, though Latin is more prevalent. Near the border to Albania, street signs are bilingual: Montenegrin and Albanian.
If you want to learn a bit of Montenegrin before your trip check out these tutorials:
• 21 essential phrases you’ll need in Montenegro
• Learn Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian/Montenegrin in 7 lessons
Montenegro, like all Balkan countries, is heaven for smokers. Which means us non-smokers have trouble finding a place where we can breath unencumbered. Smoking is allowed in cafes, but you should be safe in most restaurants (you may just not be able to sit outside).
Likewise, sustainability is still in its infancy: plastic bags, plastic straws, no garbage separation, etc are the norm. Do your bit by trying to avoid plastic/packaging in the first place.
Best time to visit Montenegro
When to visit Montenegro generally depends on where you want to go:
- If you want to explore the Adriatic coast avoid the European summer holidays, especially July and August when Serbian and Russian families flock to the Adriatic (and you have gazillion cruise ships anchored in the Bay of Kotor).
- If you want to hike in the mountainous national parks avoid the winter months (November to March) as trails will be inaccessible.
Great months to explore the whole country are May, June and September. Temperatures are pleasant, there is a good chance for clear sunny days, and there are fewer crowds.
For year-round weather information check out Weather Spark’s website. You can choose your destination on the top right and even switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit.
If you want to explore Kotor and the surrounding area you may want to time your visit when there are no cruise ships in port or at least only one. The old town of Kotor is very small, and it’s a very different experience sharing it with thousands of cruise ship tourists to only sharing it with locals.
How much to budget for Montenegro
Despite travelling in peak season, we found Montenegro to be quite an affordable destination – certainly more affordable than Croatia or Slovenia. For a full download on what to consider for accommodation, food, transport, etc check out our Montenegro travel costs.
How to get to Montenegro
- Podgorica (IATA: TGD) is serviced year-round by non-stop flights from all over Europe.
- Tivat (IATA: TIV) is more seasonal, with year-round non-stop flights only from Belgrade. Between May and October however there are frequent non-stop flights from a number of European destinations, including Germany (Frankfurt, Hanover, Leipzig and Munich), the UK (London and Manchester) as well as Belgium (Brussels) and France (Paris).
While Dubrovnik‘s airport is also close by (less than 20km from the Montenegrin border), we do not recommend to fly into or out of Dubrovnik. The bus service between Dubrovnik and Montenegro is not the best, and long delays are very frequent. We even encountered a bus driver who smoked while steering the bus. Not much fun.
How to get around Montenegro (without a car)
You don’t need a rental car to explore Montenegro. While the country is mountainous and therefore journeys take longer, travelling around Montenegro by train and bus is actually very feasible and has the added benefit that you can fully enjoy the stunning scenery.
Train travel in Montenegro
- the railway that connects the seaside town of Bar and Montenegro’s capital Podgorica with the Serbian capital Belgrade (in the summer full of Serbian families going on or returning from holiday), and
- the railway between Podgorica and the town of Nikšić.
For up-to-date timetables (and fares) check out the ZPCG website. You can buy tickets at all train stations and from the conductor on the train.
Bus travel in Montenegro
We found Busticket4Me most useful when it came to finding timetables and fares. You can even book bus tickets online through the website. Just be aware that you still need to
- check in at the bus station (and pay a station fee);
- print off your bus ticket if you have ordered it online; and
- pay a luggage fee if you put your luggage in the hold.
The station and luggage fees are only a Euro each (per person and per item, respectively).
Buses stop frequently and can be waived down at stops along the roadside. In this case, you pay your fare (including luggage fee) on the bus.
Taxis in Montenegro
All taxi services in Montenegro only accept cash payments and no credit or debit cards.
What to pack for your Montenegro trip
Given Montenegro’s topography, temperatures can vary significantly depending on where you go. We visited the country in July with 30+ degrees Celsius along the Adriatic coast but temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius in Durmitor National Park. Check the Weather Spark website for your destination.
Ultimate Montenegro itinerary: Explore the highlights in 14 days (or more)
Our itinerary takes you from the fjord-like Bay of Kotor and Montenegro’s old capital of Cetinje to the coast of the Southern Adriatic, and the water lilies and bird life of Skadar Lake, before heading inland on a breath-taking rail journey through deep river gorges, and high up into majestic mountains with crystal-clear lakes, and challenging hiking and mountain bike trails.
|Destination||Minimum number of nights recommended|
|Bay of Kotor (Kotor, Perast and Risan, with option to visit Tivat)||3|
|Cetinje (with day trip/s to Lovćen National Park and Lipa Cave or Ostrog Monastery)||3|
|(Stari) Bar, Ulcinj and Skadar Lake National Park||3|
|Half-Day trip on the Bar-Belgrade Railway||N/A|
|Žabljak, Durmitor National Park and Tara River Canyon||4|
Tivat Airport to Kotor
You can travel by bus or taxi. Both take about 15 minutes through the road tunnel that connects Tivat and Kotor.
Kotor to Cetinje
There are frequent intercity buses between Kotor and Cetinje via Budva. The journey takes approximately 1 1/2 hours. For the day trip to Lovćen National Park and Lipa Cave, we recommend to hire a bicycle. Your accommodation may even provide one for free.
To visit Ostrog Monastery on a day trip from Cetinje, you need to first take an intercity bus from Cetinje to Podgorica (45 minutes) and then the ZPCG train from Podgorica towards Nikšić, getting off at Ostrog (another 45 minutes).
From the Ostrog station, it’s a steep hike of just over 2km/280m elevation gain to the lower monastery (and an additional kilometer/280m elevation gain) to the upper monastery.
It is possible to overnight at the monastery and experience the first service at sunrise. There are dorm rooms at both the lower and upper monasteries. You can even sleep in the courtyard of the upper monastery if the weather allows and you bring your own sleeping bag/mat.
Cetinje to Bar
- bus connections between Bar and Ulcinj (taking around 30 minutes), and
- train connections between Bar and Virpazar on Skadar Lake (taking 25 minutes).
If you do hire a car be aware that Montenegrin drivers (or Serbian drivers on holiday) are not the most courteous, and secondary roads tend to be skinny, requiring frequent stops to let oncoming traffic pass.
Bar to Kolašin or Mojkovac
The journey from Bar to the north of the country is one of the most amazing train journeys on earth. After crossing Skadar Lake and leaving the capital Podgorica the train slowly ascends through deep river gorges into the mountains – over myriads of viaducts and the 200-metre-high Mala Rijeka Bridge.
There are only two trains a day, one in the morning, another one in the evening. To experience the stunning scenery the train travels through you’ll need to take the morning train. The journey to Kolašin takes 2 hours 15 minutes (though often it’s delayed by at least 30 minutes), and 15 minutes more to Mojkovac.
As for where to get off the train, it’s really your choice: Kolašin is the more interesting one of the two, but if you want to add a few nights to explore Biogradska Gora with its virgin forests Mojkovac is closer to the park.
Kolašin or Mojkovac to Žabljak
Žabljak to Podgorica Airport
Between Podgorica town and the airport, however, there is no easy bus connection. From Podgorica, you can take a ZPCG train to Aerodrom Station which takes 7 minutes (costing EUR1.20), followed by a flat 10 minutes walk to get to the terminal (use Maps.Me to find your way). Check the train times though as trains are not that frequent. The main bus and train stations in Podgorica are adjacent to one another.
Where to stay in Montenegro
Accommodation in Kotor
Kotor‘s position towards one end of the bay means there are literally hundreds of accommodation options dotted along the bay, and there are buses that connect Kotor with the villages along the bay shore.
Here are our recommendations:
Accommodation in Cetinje
Cetinje is easy to walk or cycle, and you can even explore Lovćen National Park by mountain bike (it’s 15km/620 metres elevation gain to the mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos with 360-degree views).
We have therefore included some accommodation options that provide a bike free of charge:
Accommodation on the Southern Adriatic coast (Bar, Ulcinj and Skadar Lake)
Bar is a port town and not very pretty. We preferred Ulcinj. That said, if you don’t want to hire a car, it is best to base yourself in Bar as it’s easy to visit Ulcinj from there by bus and Skadar Lake by train (each is about 30 minutes away).
Accommodation in Žabljak (Durmitor National Park)
Žabljak is the gateway to Durmitor National Park, though the park entrance is a 2km walk southwest of the small town. Keep that in mind when you select your accommodation.
Here are our recommendations (we stayed at the first one on the list):
Food and restaurant recommendations
When visiting Montenegro make sure you try some typical Montenegrin or Balkan dishes, including
- Cevapi (small, minced meat sausages made without skin),
- Burek (filo pastry filled with meat, cheese or spinach) – locals have it with a yoghurt drink
- Ispod Saca (veal, lamb or goat meat slowly roasted under hot coals with potatoes, carrots, and onions)
- Buzara (a seafood stew with red or white wine sauce)
- Gavice (small fried fish)
- Grilled fish from Skadar Lake, and
- the local varieties of cheese (for example, Durmitorski Skorup, and Njeguški or Pljevaljski sir) and ham (the village of Njegusi between Kotor and Cetinje is known for its prosciutto).
Where to eat in Cetinje
If you dislike the service and prices in some of the more touristy spots in Montenegro you’ll be surprised of the value for money you get in Cetinje:
Where to eat in Bar, Ulcinj and around Skadar Lake
Narrowing it down to our top three wasn’t easy but here they are:
Where to eat in Žabljak
Being more a village than a town, Žabljak doesn’t have that many good dining options. The local bakery was always packed with people but our absolute favourite was a small family business (the first one on our list):
Feature photo courtesy of KerimHeper from Getty Images Pro