Montenegro by car: 10 unmissable attractions
Montenegro by car: 10 unmissable attractions
Montenegro is like a precious treasure chest: it seems small, but the riches inside are stunning. It only takes three hours to drive from one end of the coast to the other, yet the country packs in Venetian fortresses, medieval monasteries, gorgeous beaches, and some of the best hiking in Europe. With so much to see, you’ll have to make your pick. In this article, we’ll list 12 attractions of Montenegro that you definitely shouldn’t miss.
While you can reach all the places on the list with an organized tour (and most even by public transport), the best way to explore Montenegro is with a rented car. Large international agencies like Avis and Hertz are all present, though you’ll get much better prices – and lots of free extras – with local companies, such as Sitngo.
The Bay of Kotor
The shores of this gorgeous bay are peppered with picturesque towns and villages. It’s often called Europe’s southernmost fjord, though technically it’s not true: fjords are carved by glaciers, while the Bay of Kotor is an ancient river valley. But in terms of sheer natural spectacle, it can definitely rival the fjords of Scandinavia.
A great way to enjoy the scenery of the bay – or Boka, as it’s known locally – is by boat (around 50 euro). It’s also the only way to visit the prison fortress of Mamula and the iconic church of Our Lady on the Rock, built on a tiny man-made island. However, the bay’s shore also makes for a fantastic drive. Apart from Kotor itself, you can admire the palaces of Perast, ancient Roman mosaics at Risan, the luxurious marina of Porto рMontenegro, and the cozy, tourist-free atmosphere of Herceg Novi.
Kotor is one of the most enticing destinations on the Adriatic. It’s like Dubrovnik in miniature – but with a fraction of its crowds and with much lower prices. The old town is small, yet you can easily while away several hours exploring its medieval alleys. The setting is dramatic, too: the city walls culminate with the Fortress of St John, 260 meters above the town. The hike is relentlessly up 1350 stone stairs, but the views are worth it.
For even better photo opportunities, get back into your rental car and drive less than half an hour to Lovćen national park. From the serpentine road, you’ll get the best views of the sparkling Boka, while the 360-degree panorama from the Mausoleum at the top covers most of the country. Make sure to take a warm jacket – there can be snow on Lovćen as late as June!
Budva Old Town
Budva is the main tourist hub on the coast, but it’s far from your average bland resort town. The old town is precious – though tiny – and relatively calm compared to Kotor.
Make sure to see the Gothic churches of St Mary and St John. Another landmark is the Dancing Girl statue: it’s reached via a path along the sea, with beautiful views back towards the medieval town.
Porto Montenegro Marina, Tivat
This luxurious marina was built for the super-rich and their yachts – but it doesn’t mean you can’t explore it. Tourists are very welcome, and having a coffee among the jet-setting crowd with a view over snow-white vessels won’t break your bank.
Porto Montenegro was built by the Canadian billionaire Peter Munk, but now the project belongs to the Investment Company of Dubai. And this means you can expect even more impressive development every year – in fact, this destination is designed to rival Monaco.
Porto Montenegro is particularly alluring at night, with its palm trees and hotels brightly lit. It’s very close to Kotor, so you could easily combine the two if your time is limited.
Durmitor National Park
Durmitor Ring is one of the Balcans’ ultimate scenic drives. The views of the Dinaric Alps, stretching north into Bosnia and Herzegovina, are unforgettable. The 85 km-long circular road can be accessed from the towns of Plužine and Žabljak. Try to make time for a hike around the beautiful Black Lake. Other activities include rafting, climbing, and horse-riding, while in winter you can go skiing.
If you only have time for a day trip, combine your visit to Durmitor with the incredible Đurđević bridge over the river Tara. Rising over 170 meters above the bottom of the canyon, it’s the highest bridge in all of Europe. It’s a magnificent site at any time of day, but particularly photogenic in late afternoon, when the cliffs glow golden.
An incredible feat of engineering – and faith – Ostrog clings to the sheer rock face. It’s the holiest Orthodox site in the country, so make sure to dress modestly: women will need to cover their head and wear a long skirt or trousers. The cave chapels hide lovely mosaics.
While you can reach the monastery by a fast new road via Danilovgrad, a far more scenic approach by car is via the old R23. This road is narrow and treacherous, but totally doable in any car. If you’ve never driven on mountain roads before, make sure to ask advice of the car rental company before you head out: managers at local agencies like Sitngo are very helpful and knowledgeable.
Skadar is the largest lake in the Balkans and a fantastic bird watching destination: for instance, you can see Dalmatian pelicans. The old road from Budva is an attraction in itself. Apart from the lake itself, you’ll get magnificent views of the sea and the island of Sveti Stefan. In Virpazar, you can arrange a lake cruise – and if you go in May or June, you’ll see millions of water lilies in bloom.
If cruise touts and noisy tour groups aren’t your thing, head for the lovely Murice beach, the pretty village of Godinje, or one of the many old monasteries. The lake has many traditional restaurants where you can taste impeccably fresh fish.
Montenegro isn’t known for its ruins – perhaps that’s why not many people come to Stari Bar. Yet’ it should definitely be on your itinerary: the original town of Bar is one of the most atmospheric places in the country. Its Gothic and Renaissance buildings were destroyed in the war with the Ottomans in the 19th century and then toppled for good by an earthquake.
The population moved to the new Bar, while Stari Bar was made an open-air museum. Count on a couple of hours to explore – and try to come in late afternoon for some magical light. If you have a car, make sure to drive a few more minutes to Stara Maslina, Europe’s oldest tree. Apparently it’s over 2000 years old!
Sveti Stefan is Montenegro’s most exclusive attraction. This islet is all one luxury resort, so the only way you experience it in its entirety is to stay the night – for a whopping 800 euro. Luckily, there’s a budget alternative. The managing company Aman Resorts runs 40-minute tours to Sveti Stefan twice a day – timings change, so check in advance. You can buy a ticket from the kiosk at the mainland end of the causeway, but make sure to come in advance in season: the number of visitors is limited to 10.
If you don’t want to pay 25 euro per person for the tour, you can enjoy a fantastic view of Sveti Stefan from the beach south of the island on the mainland. Renting a sunbed costs 15 euro, but otherwise this gorgeous beach is completely free.
Tara and Moraca river canyons
The impossibly turquoise Tara canyon is over 1000 meters deep and stretches into Bosnia. If driving, head to the viewpoint (vidikovac) on top of mountain Ćurevac. For an even fuller experience, go rafting on the Tara: the prices start from $30 per day. It’s great fun even for people who have never done rafting before, and you’ll be completely safe – just prepare to get wet! Since the canyon is part of the Durmitor national park, the two are easily combined in a long day trip.
The canyon of the Moraca river, which flows into the Skadarsko lake, is less well known than that of the Tara. It’s not as deep, either – 400 meters at most – but just as spectacular. E65, which runs along it, has a reputation of being dangerous, but this shouldn’t stop you. There are quite a few viewpoints along the road where you can safely stop and take pictures – and you’ll want to take many!
A few more ideas
This list is just a taster of what you’ll find in Montenegro. This little country is so rich that it could easily fill a month of your time. Here are a few more suggestions to wet your appetite:
– Old capital of Cetinje with its monasteries;
– Achingly beautiful mountain lakes in the Biogradska Gora national park;
– Mysterious ruins of the Roman-Illyrian town of Doclea near Podgorica;
– Charming Venetian fortress of Petrovac;
– Austro-Hungarian fortress at Gorazda, used during the First World War; history connections aside, it’s a great place to enjoy the sunset;
– Driving past glacial lakes between Nikšić to Lukavica on the old E762;
– Grahovo Memorial Park – another Yugoslavian site, overgrown and extremely atmospheric.
Montenegro is a perfect introduction to the Balcans – and one of the ultimate roadtrip destinations in the region. It has everything a car traveller needs: good roads, small distances, fantastic food, great wine, affordable accommodation, and varied landscapes. So what are you waiting for?