Montenegro, or Black Mountain, can be driven in less than a day but you could spend months and still not want to leave. The entire country is exploding with nature: colourful flowers, deep green pine forests, dark towering peaks rising from crystal clear waters, and azure blue sea. Roughly 100km from top to bottom, Montenegro is also full of ancient walled towns and orange-roofed houses, postcard perfect at every turn. A rich culture heritage includes Roman villas, Orthodox monasteries, Catholic churches, mosques, and ancient defensive fortresses. Montenegro has always sat culturally between the east and west and encompasses the most incredible aspects of both. And if you include its 50 years as a communist state, this is a slice of European history that is truly unique. And what you’ll love the most? In every town across the country, Montenegrins enjoy the ritual of the leisurely evening stroll. Magical is a word that will come up often.
1. National Park Durmitor
One of five national parks in Montenegro, Durmitor attracts adrenaline junkies of all kinds. This beautiful and pristine park in the north of the country offers mountaineering, hiking, biking, swimming, bungee jumping, skiing, snowboarding, rafting, and more. No matter the season, outdoor adventurers make their way here to get their fill of excitement and incredible natural beauty. You’ll also get delicious local dishes here, thus completing this Montenegro experience.
2. Bay of Kotor
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Montenegro, the Bay of Kotor, and by extension the walled town of Kotor, has so much life and character. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the picturesque old town and active harbour. If you like, you can climb the 1500 steps to the fortress that overlooks the town. The bay is Europe’s most southern fjord and happens to be the largest natural harbour on the east Mediterranean Sea. If you’re looking for a base camp to explore the country, Kotor is a perfect choice.
3. Tivat and Porto Montenegro
Situated in the Bay of Kotor, one of the planet’s most amazing marine regions, sits Porto Montenegro. This state of the art marina was built on the foundations of the old Yugoslav naval facility. Here you’ll find over 600 berths for yachts and super yachts. A stroll through Porto Montenegro is sure to be jaw-dropping. The coastal community that has built up around the area makes for the perfect getaway. Rentals right on the water, fantastic restaurants and hotels, great shopping, and tons of water sports. With the ability to berth luxurious super yachts, some have taken to calling the area “the new Monaco.”
Just a few kilometres from Kotor is one of the most beautiful places in all of Boka Bay: Perast. It’s a lovely old town that’s been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most popular attraction is Gospa od Skrpjela, or Our Lady of the Rock. It’s a small island in the bay with a superb museum and church. Part of the fun is the taxi boat ride that will shuttle you to the island! End your afternoon with an unbelievable meal in one of Perast many seafood restaurants.
5. Skadar/Scadar/Scutari Lake
The largest lake on the Balkan Peninsula is Skadar. Roughly 400 square kilometres it’s a bit hard to describe accurately. Owned jointed by Montenegro and Albania, it’s been a national park since the early 1980’s. For outdoor enthusiasts who want a more laid back location, the vibe here will be perfect. Enjoy bird watching, cultural-historical monuments, festivals, cruising, water sports, and much more are all on offer. Skadar is one of most beautiful places in Montenegro.
Located on the Adriatic Sea and part of the Budva Riviera, Budva is famous for its nightlife and sandy beaches. If you’re looking for a place to let loose and party, this is exactly where you want to be. Before the party picks up, take a walk through narrow streets of Stari Grad, or Old Town, one of the most charming parts of town. In the historic district you’ll find a seaside citadel and the Church of Santa Maria in Punta, built in the 9th century. Budva is a big draw for those with multi-million dollar yachts – and a stroll through the marina is great for daydreaming and picking out which vessel you prefer.
7. Sveti Stefen
Fifteen minutes from Budva is Sveti Stefan, an icon of Montenegrin tourism. Frequented by the rich and famous, the small islet was once a fishing village and the old town remains largely unchanged with its narrow streets, small churches, and family shops. Sveti Stefan largely declined in the 20th century (with only 20 inhabitants recorded in 1954) but in the 1960’s a group of visionaries transformed the town into one of most attractive and luxurious destinations in all of the Mediterranean. To visit the island you must be a resort guest, but the north and south beaches are open to all throughout the year.
The former capital of Montenegro is now a backpacking haven thanks to the extraordinary mountain range that sits just behind Kotor and Perast. In the main square of Cetinje you’ll find the former home of King Nikola which has been converted into a museum. In fact, there are several museums in town all within walking distance. The main attraction here is the Cetinje Monastery, originally built in the 15th century. Though its been destroyed a number of times over the centuries and the current incarnation dates from the 18th century. Here you can visit a shard of the True Cross and the mummified right hand of St. John the Baptist.
9. Lovcen National Park and Njegos Mausoleum
Just 40 minutes from Cetinje is the fantastic Lovcen National Park, and the pièce de résistance is the 1750m majestic Mount Lovcen. In addition to the fresh outdoors, most people visit Lovcen in order to visit the Njegos Mausoleum. Located on Mount Jezerski, the park’s second highest peak, the tomb holds the remains of Montenegro’s greatest hero, Petar II Petrovic Njeos. The mausoleum itself has been built into the mountain and laid with marble. You have to walk the last 500 steps or so, but it’s worth it. On a clear day you can see almost the entire country – and it’s spectacular. George Bernard Shaw even said, “Am I in paradise or am I on the moon?”
10. The Ostrog Monastery
Nine hundred metres above the Zeta Valley is the luminous Ostrog Monastery. It’s the most important religious site in Montenegro for Orthodox Christians. Up to one million visitors come here annually to see this strange and arresting place. In the busy summer months, pilgrims are given free mats to sleep on in front of the Upper Monastery. This impressive monastery is often called “Sv Vasilije’s miracle” because it’s a mystery how it was built. Finished in the 17th century it appears to have simply grown out of the rock. Enjoy the frescoes in the Holy Trinity Church and the natural spring that you can drink from to receive a blessing.
Built in the 15th century by the Venetians who were attempting to defend the country from the Ottoman Empire, this is one of the most majestic fortresses in the country. To reach it you must take a steep but phenomenal walk 30 minutes through the pines. The stone path eventually leads you to the gate and the fortress rising behind. This is another landmark that will leave you wondering how in the world it was built. Inside you can explore the ruins as you walk through a grassy area of wildflowers and sage. Above the fortress sits St. Demetrius’ Church (13th century). It predates the fortress and once had separate Orthodox and Catholic altars
12. Piva Canyon
Part of the fun of Piva Canyon is getting to it. The road tangos with the river and clings precipitously to the cliff in several places. You have to pass through 56 tunnels carved out of the mountain after World War II. But once you’re there, you’ll be rewarded with the site of Lake Piva sitting beautifully in the Piva Canyon. You’ll want to visit Piva Monastery which was painstakingly moved to higher ground, over the course of 11 years, when the hydroelectric dam at Plužine was built. It’s a perfect place for rafting and camping.
13. Stari Bar
Once part of the Roman Empire, Stari Bar was the economic and political centre for the Byzantines of the region. Now, the ruins of that long gone era sit at the top of sheer cliff faces accessible only from one point. There is a small museum inside with exhibits of artefacts dating back to 800 BC. It will also give you a great recounting of the history of the place, including the 19th century bombing by Montenegro in its efforts to take back the town from the Turks. Visit St. Nicholas’ Church with its Serbo-Byzantine frescoes, the 11th century fortress, and St George’s Cathedral, Stari Bar’s patron saint. If you’re interested in Ottoman architecture, take a look at the Turkish bathhouse, the clock tower, and the 17th century aqueduct which carried water from 3km outside of town.
14. Tara River and Canyon
Second only to the Colorado River Canyon, Tara Canyon is known as the “Tear of Europe” is a magnificent sight. Untamed natural beauty has been forged as the river has cut its way through the canyon. You’ll find river paths, breathtaking gorges, waterfalls, and even tranquil stretches of river. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Tara Canyon reaches 1300 metres deep. If you need some context, the United States Grand Canyon is roughly 1500 metres. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Montenegro is rafting down the Tara River. For those who prefer land activities, enjoy hiking around Mt Curevac, which reaches 1625 metres high.
15. Biogradska Gora National Park
Located between the Tara and Lim rivers is National Park Biogradska Gora. You’ll find old forests, clear lakes, and lovely pastures here. But in the heart of the park is something truly incredible. First is the virgin forest. And the in the heart of this unbelievable virgin forest is Biogradska lake, a truly remarkable glacier lake. The park boasts six glacial lakes, mountain peaks over 2000 metres, archaeological sites, sacred monuments, and several buildings built in traditional architecture. Nature lovers will enjoy the 26 distinct habits, 200 plant varieties, 150 bird species, and 10 types of mammals.