A few years ago I read in Lonely Planet’s magazine about Kotor being the top destination for that year. Since then I wanted to visit Montenegro. It sounded like a magical place in a small country in an unexplored region.
But I was not the only person that had read this. Kotor is no longer the hidden gem it once was and Montenegro is quickly developing to become the Monaco of the Balkans. Luxury yachts and throngs of beach tourists dominate the coast in summer.
Kotor might have been too crowded for my liking, but Montenegro did not fail to impress me. With most tourists sticking to the beach, it is not difficult to find more quiet and off the beaten path places. And as beautiful as the bay of Kotor might be, it gets even better when you travel inlands.
Montenegro means black mountain and the rocky hills dominate the landscape. Pockets of virgin forests are the home of bears, wolves and deers. I came for Kotor, but found a wild beauty with incredible nature.
Backpacking Montenegro: A travel guide for the budget traveller with a 2 week itinerary
How to get to Montenegro?
The most exciting way to get to Montenegro is by taking the famous train from Belgrade to Bar. This journey crosses the Dinaric Alps and is one of the most scenic train journeys in Europe. For more information on this train click here.
Alternatively you can either fly into Podgorica or take a bus from neighbouring Bosnia, Albania or Serbia.
1. Podgorica (1 day)
Montenegro’s capital is not at all representative for what the country has to offer. I did not find any reasons to spend much time among the grim-looking Soviet flats. If you do happen to find yourself in Podgorica there actually is one reason to stay here.
Day trip to Ostrog monastery
Podgorica offers one of the cheapest and most adventurous ways to visit the Ostrog monastery. The monastery is perched in a cliff 900 meters above the valley.
Even though the view is enough reason to visit, most people come in search for miracles. Thousands of pilgrims of different faiths believe in the power of the relics of Saint Basil. Stories abound of unexplainable cures and spiritual inspirations.
The relics didn’t do much for me, but nevertheless it was a beautiful serene place to visit. I left impressed by the devotion of the visitors and the stunning location.
Logistics: From Podgorica there are seven daily trains to Niksic that stop in Ostrog. The journey takes 45 minutes and costs less than 2 euro. From the train station it is a steep hike up the mountain (1 – 2 hours).
2. The bay of Kotor (4-5 days)
This is probably the reason for many people to add Montenegro to their bucketlist. The charming old town of Kotor gets more busy every year. Despite the amount of tourists, Kotor remains a good place to stay for the independent budget traveller. Amidst the luxurious boutique hotels are some cheap backpacker hostels like Old town hostel , Pupa hostel & Montenegro hostel.
Kotor can keep you busy for a day or two. Strolling through the narrow streets with the old stone houses, walking up the fortress to see the view and visiting the cat museum.
In addition there are some great day trips. The old town hostel offers the Great Montenegro tour and the North Montenegro Tour. If you have little time I can recommend them. They are professional and you get to see Montenegro’s highlights in only two days. However, with most places I wished we had more time and it is not too difficult to visit them on your own.
Logistics: Kotor has frequent buses to Niksic, Cetinje, Budva and Podgorica (1 – 2 hours). There are also buses to Zabljak for Durmitor NP (3-4 hours).
Day trip 1: Lovcen NP & Cetinje
Cetinje is the former capital of Montenegro. It’s a small town with a pleasant boulevard and a beautiful monastery that is worth a visit. There is not much else to see, but from Cetinje you can take a taxi to Lovcen NP and the mausoleum of Njegos.
The early 19th century political leader, philosopher and poet played a big role in Montenegro’s history. The mausoleum was built in his favourite place. The peak of the Jezerski mountain. On a clear day you can see almost all of Montenegro and it is easy to recognize Kotor bay and Skadar lake.
Logistics: Take a bus to Cetinje and from there you can negotiate a taxi to Lovcen NP (20 euro with waiting time).
Day trip 2: Perast
There is more to the bay of Kotor than Kotor town alone. If you want to get away from the party scene and all the tourists there are some beautiful and quiet places nearby.
One of them is cute Perast that overlooks a monastery on an island. If I were to come back to the bay of Kotor I’d rather stay here then anywhere else in Montenegro.
Logistics: Perast is 20 minutes away from Kotor by bus.
Day trip 3: Bar, Budva & Sveti Stefan
Montenegro’s coast offers charming old towns with majestic mountains in the background. The scenic bus rides between the towns offer stunning views on the blue ocean. Personally, I found the journey more spectacular than the crowded towns.
The modern ports of Budva and Bar were uninspiring with resorts, souvenir shops and the typical beach tourists. You will have to make a bit of an effort to find beauty here, but in Montenegro it is never far away.
From Bar you can walk an hour up the hill to the fortress in Stari Bar. The old town was once one of the most important settlements in Montenegro, untill it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1979. The new town was built down the mountain. It’s only in recent years that renovation work has started to bring back the ruins to its former glory.
Near Budva is Sveti Stefan, one of the most photographed places in Montenegro. The fortified island with the old 15th century town villas is now owned by a resort. Only guests can enter the island through a narrow causeway.
Logistics: Between Kotor, Budva and Bar are frequent buses (less than 2 hours).
3. Durmitor National Park (3-4 days)
My favourite place in Montenegro was Durmitor NP. It is one of the reasons why I want to come back to Montenegro and spent at least 4 to 5 days in this stunning National Park. There are plenty of day trips from the coast, but you will only see the tip of the iceberg.
It’s easy to visit the park on your own and Hostel hikers den in Zabljak will help you to explore some of the spectacular trails. For example, the hike to the highest peak Bobotov Kuk. Check this excellent guide from Sandy feet for tips and advice.
Then there is the 10 kilometer hike to mountain Curevac at the edge of the Tara canyon. Check the guide from Traveltramp for that one. If that all sounds a bit too much for you there are also easier hikes to the beautiful lakes that dot the landscape.
Logistics: From the coast or Podgorica you can get a bus to Zabljak (3-4 hours)
Day trip to Tara gorge and river rafting
From Zabljak it is also an easy day trip to the famous bridge over the Tara gorge, the deepest gorge in Europe. Here you can go rafting or ziplining. I am not that adventurous, but the view from the bridge is enough reason to come.
Lake Skadar National Park (2 – 3 days)
Another place where I wished I could have stayed a couple of days was Lake Skadar. This birdwatchers paradise is the largest freshwater lake in the Balkan. With more than 260 different bird species it is also one of the best birding spots in Europe. From the small town of Virpazar you can organize boat excursions, birdwatching tours, kayaking and cycling tours with either Lake Skadar Adventure tours or Tourist Agency Outdoor and more.
Logistics: Virpazar is on the main train line from Belgrade to Bar. From Podgorica and Sutomore there are frequent buses to Virpazar (less than 1 hour). Virpazar has several accommodation options starting from 15 euro per night.
Some last tips and advice
If you want a more quiet experience in Kotor try to avoid the summer months when Montenegro is also getting unbearably hot. Spring and autumn are the best months to visit.