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Have you ever considered visiting the small Balkan nation of Montenegro? Known for its dramatic landscapes, charming old towns, stunning beaches, and rich history, Montenegro is a hidden gem nestled in Southeastern Europe.
I’ve visited Montenegro several times now and can’t recommend it enough. When people ask me what my favorite country in Europe is, I often list Montenegro in my top 5 (my others are Italy, Greece, Portugal and Croatia).
But when I first visited Montenegro back in 2012, my knowledge of the country was very minimal. I knew it was small. I knew it was part of the former Yugoslavia, and that it used to enter the Eurovision Song Contest under ‘Serbia and Montenegro’. I’d heard whispers of pumping nightlife from Australians who had passed through on their tours of Europe. That’s about it.
The nice thing about visiting a place you know very little about, is that you can be pleasantly surprised when you get there.
And boy, did this country surprise me. Montenegro had me saying the words ‘wow’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘stunning’ over and over again. I was taken aback by the beauty of the place, and also by how chic and glamorous it was.
The country has some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen. Imagine standing on a pristine sandy beach, gazing out at the ocean, then turning behind you to see towering, majestic mountains. Each time I’ve been back, I’ve fallen in love with Montenegro that little bit more.
Whilst neighbouring Croatia basks in the limelight, Montenegro seems to have been lying under the radar- yet for many years the country was a popular vacation spot for A-list celebrities and VIPs.
In its 1970’s heyday, Montenegro’s Sveti Stefan was a playground for famous guests such as Sophia Loren, Sylvester Stallone, Claudia Schiffer and Princess Margaret. Since the country obtained independence in 2006, Montenegro has been making a comeback, and it’s now enjoying its finally enjoying its moment of fame.
If you’re planning a visit and what to know “Is Montenegro worth visiting?” the answer is yes.
But, since I want to give you the most honest and detailed answer possible, this blog post dives into the many reasons you should have Montenegro on your travel bucket list and also considers a few challenges you may encounter.
Reasons to Visit Montenegro
Let’s start with the scenery and atmosphere. From quaint villages to dramatic mountains, Montenegro’s landscape is incredibly diverse.
The UNESCO World Heritage site, the Bay of Kotor, is a must-visit with its majestic scenery and ancient fortified city. Kotor Bay is often known as “Europe’s southernmost fjord” and reminds me very much of the Lysefjord in Norway.
If you have the time, check out nearby Perast. This small town is located on the Bay of Kotor and is home to two beautiful islands, Our Lady of the Rocks and St George. The latter is a small island with a church that dates back to the 12th century. It’s also worth taking a boat trip around the bay to see some of the other islands and fortresses.
Further inland reveals the impressive Durmitor National Park, known for its limestone peaks, glacial lakes, and abundant wildlife. Don’t miss out on the Ostrog Monastery, built into a vertical cliff face, offering breathtaking views over the Bjelopavlići plain.
Then there’s Budva, Montenegro’s most popular beach destination. You can easily spend a few days here exploring the historic old town and relaxing on different beaches in the area. East of Budva you’ll find the famous Sveti Stefan island, which was once a fortified village but is now a very expensive luxury hotel.
Montenegro doesn’t have iconic landmarks like Buckingham Palace, the Louvre or the Colosseum, but it does have a lot of beautiful scenery and history to go with it.
Crystal Clear Water
So many places are described as having ‘crystal clear water’ that the phrase starts to lose meaning, but Montenegro really did have crystal clear water. And oh how the sea was sparkly- it looked like someone had sprinkled fairy dust all over it!
From Beaches…to Mountains
I love the way you can be on the beach one minute, and in the mountains the next. This whole region is incredibly mountainous, providing a spectacular backdrop everywhere you go. Beach bums can spend the day sunbathing, relaxing and swimming in the Adriatic, whilst adventurous travellers can pursue outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking and climbing.
Montenegro’s history is rich and complex, stretching back to ancient times. First inhabited by Illyrian and Celtic tribes, it later fell under Roman rule, leading to a blending of cultures. After the split of the Roman Empire, it became part of the Byzantine Empire. The region fought against Ottoman invasions throughout the Middle Ages, forming the principality of Zeta in the 14th century, later known as Montenegro.
Montenegro maintained its independence throughout the Ottoman period, becoming a kingdom in 1910. However, after World War I, it was forcibly incorporated into the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later renamed Yugoslavia.
Montenegro remained part of socialist Yugoslavia under Tito’s regime following World War II. However, with the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, it chose a more peaceful path, remaining in a federation with Serbia. In 2006, following a referendum, Montenegro regained full independence.
Today, the country is a parliamentary democracy. As a multiethnic and multireligious nation, it is aspiring to join the European Union, signifying its commitment to peace and cooperation with its neighbors.
The country’s long, storied history is evident in its walled cities, ancient monasteries, Orthodox churches, and medieval fortresses. If you’re a history buff, you’ll find quite a lot to keep you occupied here.
Montenegro might not be the first place that comes to mind when considering the nightlife, but places like Budva are known for their lively scene. The city comes alive at night with numerous bars, clubs, and beach parties. Cafe Greco and Casper Bar are hotspots for cocktails, while Top Hill and Trocadero are popular nightclubs.
Top Hill is a large, open air nightclub on top of “Toplis Hill”, hence the name. It’s only open during the summer season, but with a capacity for around 5,000 people, it’s become one of the most famous and talked about nightclubs in Europe.
The nightlife in Budva itself isn’t as trendy or wild as what you’d find in a place like Mykonos or Ios, but you can definitely party and have a good time in Budva. Kotor is a lot quieter, although it has some good cocktails bars and restaurants.
Montenegro boasts a stunning Adriatic coastline, and the most famous beaches can be found in the Budva Riviera. Here, sun-seekers can lounge on the sands of a variety of beaches, including Mogren, Slovenska, and Jaz Beach.
Unlike Croatia’s beaches, which are pretty pebbly, Montenegro has gorgeous sandy beaches that are comfortable for relaxing on. From secluded coves to long sandy stretches, there are beaches of all kinds here.
Compared to some of its European neighbors, Montenegro is relatively affordable for travelers. Whether it’s accommodation, dining, transportation, or entertainment, your money is likely to stretch further here than in many other European destinations. However, expect higher prices in peak tourism season.
Yummy Food and Drink
Montenegro’s cuisine is a delightful mix of Mediterranean and Eastern European influences. Seafood is a staple along the coast, while meat dishes dominate the mountain areas. Don’t forget to pair your meal with Vranac, a local red wine, or a shot of traditional Rakija. I discovered that the Montenegrin people really like their fire water. At every meal, and even breakfast, I was offered their home grown plum brandy, or Rakia, which is more or less just pure ethanol in a nice decanter.
I personally love the food in Montenegro – you get big portions, and the seafood is very fresh. Here are some of the top dishes to try in Montenegro:
Burek: Originated from the Ottoman Empire, this baked pastry is filled with a variety of ingredients. In Montenegro, it’s most commonly filled with cheese, spinach, or grounded meat.
Crni Rižot (Black Risotto): This intriguing dish gets its distinctive black color from squid or cuttlefish ink. It’s typically prepared with a mix of seafood like squid, clams, and mussels.
Njeguški Stek: Named after the Njeguši village, this dish is a stuffed pork loin with cheese and prosciutto, typically served with potatoes.
Ćevapi: These small, skinless sausages are often served with flatbread and a tangy sour-cream sauce called Kajmak.
Buzara: This is a simple yet flavorful dish of shellfish (usually prawns, mussels, or shrimps) cooked in white wine, garlic, and herbs.
Brav u Mlijeku (Lamb in Milk): This traditional dish involves slow-cooking lamb in milk with a generous mix of garlic and bay leaves until the meat becomes tender and the milk turns into a delicate, creamy sauce.
Njeguški Pršut (Njeguši Prosciutto): Njeguši is a small village in Montenegro known for its smoked and dried ham, sort of like Italian Prosciutto.
Classy, Upscale Vibes
Montenegro is one of the classiest places I’ve visited in Europe. You’ll see a lot of mega yachts moored here, giving the country some serious Monte-Carlo vibes.
Kotor is home to Porto Montenegro – a cosmopolitan marina with luxury residences, high-end fashion boutiques and upscale waterfront restaurants. Meanwhile Budva is home to Dukley Gardens – a luxury residential complex and resort with a trendy beach club.
Then there’s the iconic Sveti Stefan, a former village that’s been turned into a private island resort. A stay at the Aman Sveti Stefan can set you back €750 per night minimum, with prices running into the thousands.
The country is home to some really beautiful luxury hotels, although you can also find a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets.
Since Montenegro’s coastline faces West, it gets incredible sunsets- the kind that make you want to pull over by the side of the road to take a photo.
Despite all these enticing reasons to visit Montenegro, you should also be aware of a few drawbacks:
Cons of Visiting Montenegro
The infrastructure in Montenegro is still developing. Some roads, especially in the mountains, might be challenging to navigate. Public transport options are not as extensive as in some other European countries, but there’s a decent bus network connecting the major towns and cities. If you want to reach more remote areas, you’ll need to book a tour or rent a car.
The bus is the most popular mode of public transportation in Montenegro. If you plan to take a long-distance bus, make sure to book your tickets in advance, especially during the peak tourist season. Buses can get crowded, and some routes only have a limited number of buses running in a day.
There are trains in Montenegro, but the railway network is limited. There’s a line that runs from Bar to Bijelo Polje and another one that runs from Podgorica to Nikšić.
Limited Flight Connections
Many travelers find it challenging to get direct flights to Montenegro, as there aren’t as many international connections as one would hope for. Nearby countries like Croatia or Serbia may offer better flight connectivity, requiring an additional bus or car journey into Montenegro.
From the UK you’ll find only a handful of direct flights to Montenegro’s Tivat Airport. These seasonal flights are operated by Easyjet out of London and Manchester. Other airlines will require you to make a stopover somewhere else in Europe. If flights to Montenegro are looking expensive, you could fly to Dubrovnik in Croatia instead.
Tourist Crowds in Summer
Like many popular destinations, Montenegro can get quite crowded in the peak summer months. If you prefer avoiding large crowds, consider travelling during the shoulder seasons (spring or autumn) when it’s less busy.
During the summer the beaches are often jam-packed, particularly those in the center of Budva. Kotor is a popular stop for cruise ships, so the city can be overrun with cruise passengers during the daytime.
A Final Word
If you like dining al fresco, wandering around quaint old towns and relaxing on beautiful beaches, then Montenegro is definitely a country to put on your bucket list. Similarly, you’ll love it if you enjoy hiking and the outdoors. With beautiful mountains and a stunning bay, there tons of hikes and watersports to entice outdoor enthusiasts.
Montenegro has an air of glamor to it, and for me it feels almost like a cross between Lake Como and the French Riviera (two of my favorite places). My boat trip on the Bay of Kotor on a sunny day surrounded by beautiful scenery, was one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve ever had. It was the kind of day that had me thinking, ‘does it ever get better than this?’
All in all, Montenegro is a stunning place, and one that I’ll happily go back to time and time again. Although it’s not without its challenges, the rewards far outweigh the cons.