Translating as “Black Mountain”, the tiny state of Montenegro has established itself as one of Eastern Europe’s larger-than-life destinations. Its stunning Adriatic coastline is dotted with charismatic historic towns, while the glacial-carved interior boasts one of the Balkan states most spectacular national parks at Durmitor.
Montenegro is a deservedly popular stop for cruise ships whose passengers come to soak up the atmospheric streets of Kotor, Perast and the picture-perfect vista across to Sveti Stefan. But those who venture off-the-beaten-track will be rewarded with outstanding trekking, mountain biking, white water rafting and bird watching. Montenegro packs a lot into its small size and no itinerary to this Balkan gem should underestimate the time needed to explore everything it has to offer.
When to travel - weather
Montenegro experiences a Mediterranean climate along is coastline, with hot summers and mild winters. While the mountainous inland regions are subject to alpine conditions, with bitterly cold winters.
The summer months of July and August are the peak tourist season along the coast, when local, European and North American visitors are on their long annual break. Heavy crowds combined with soaring temperatures can be a bit unbearable, not to mention the hotel prices which often double. June or September are a better time to travel if you want to avoid the majority of the crowds but still enjoy the summer warmth, while both early fall and late spring are pleasant. Keep in mind that between late October and early April some tourist attractions and hotels close their doors altogether, although a few still remain open with heavily reduced rates.
If you’re heading into the mountains, then the ski resorts of Kolašin and Žabljak experience their peak conditions between December and March, while the shoulder seasons of spring and fall are ideal for trekking.
Food and drink
Montenegro’s cuisine draws influences from Italian, Turkish, Greek and Hungarian traditions, with a Mediterranean focus along the coast and more Eastern European inspiration throughout the inland regions. On first glance, many travelers may think that Italian is the dominant cuisine, with countless restaurants serving pizza and pasta. But dig a little deeper and you will find traditional konoba restaurants serving Montenegrin classics.
Look for grilled meat kebabs (cevapcici), goulash stews, fried veal with vegetables (balšića tava) and the Albanian-inspired dish of brav u mlijeku (lamb cooked with milk). Squid, octopus, tuna and shrimp are served in restaurants throughout the coastal regions, while snacks such as sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with mincemeat), burek pastries, crepes and priganice doughnuts can be found everywhere. Salads are also very popular, including the bruschetta-style pamidora salata and the German-inspired kisjelo zelje sauerkraut.
Turkish-style coffee is the preferred morning drink, while rakija is drunk in vast quantities after dark. Montenegro produces good quality local beer, namely Nikšićko, together with some interesting local wine varieties which are worth trying.
Popular vacation spots
Kotor - With its beautifully preserved medieval town boasting a picture-perfect location along the Adriatic coast, it’s easy to see why Kotor is one of Montenegro’s most popular tourist destinations. The 12-century Cathedral of Saint Tryphon dominates the Old Town, overlooked by Kotor’s hilltop fortress in the steep mountains above. It makes an ideal base for relaxing on the sun-drenched nearby beaches and taking in the breathtaking views across the Bay of Kotor.
Ulcinj - Located near the Albanian border at Montenegro’s southern tip, the ancient port of Ulcinj is one of the oldest Adriatic settlements, dating to the 5th century BC. Today it is more renowned as a beach resort getaway, with the famed stretches of sand at Long Beach and around Ada Bojana Island, together with the 2,000-year old remains of the Ulcinj Castle. Its history as a predominantly Muslim city can be seen in the many mosque minarets which tower over the city skyline and it remains a center of Montenegro’s Albanian population.
Biogradska Gora National Park - Situated between the Tara and Lim rivers in the center of Montenegro, the Biogradska Gora National Park is home to one of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests. You can hire a row boat to explore the glacial Lake Biograd which stands as its centerpiece or hike the 17km loop trail up Mt Bendovac (1774m) for outstanding views back across the lake.
Sveti Stefan - Located just to the south of Budva, the picturesque island city of Sveti Stefan was established as a 15th-century fishing community on a rocky islet, connected to the mainland via a long isthmus. But in the 1950s the residents were evicted and it was converted into a luxury hotel town, now owned and operated by the group Aman Resorts. While you can’t actually wander through the village unless you are staying there, the views from the pebble beaches across Sveti Stefan are still superb.
Mount Lovcen National Park - Rising from the Adriatic Sea is Mount Lovcen - a symbol of national pride for Montenegrins and one of the country’s most impressive natural features. It is surrounded by Mount Lovcen National Park, which is home to around 1,000 different plant species and 200 different birds, including peregrine falcon and imperial eagle. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore from the park’s main hub at Ivanova Korita, or you can pay your respects at the Njegoš Mausoleum where the poet who wrote Montenegro’s national poem “The Mountain Wreath” is buried.
Cetinje - Founded in the 15th century and serving as the old royal capital, Cetinje holds significant historic and cultural importance within the country. Many of its impressive mansions and European embassies date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries and have today been converted into museums detailing Montenegro’s history. Glimpse the current presidential residence of the Blue Palace, wander the 15th-century Vlah Church, fenced in by Ottoman rifles, and explore the Serbian Orthodox Cetinje Monastery, renowned for housing the remains of St. Peter of Cetinje and the right hand of John the Baptist.
Ostrog Monastery - Carved into a cave within the immense rock of Ostroška Greda, the Ostrog Monastery is one of Montenegro’s most outstanding architectural sights and serves as an important pilgrimage destination for Christians. It was built in the 17th century as a refuge for monks from the Ottoman Empire and dedicated to Saint Basil of Ostrog who was buried there. The spectacular whitewashed facade houses magnificent frescoes, many of which were painted directly onto the rocky interior walls.
Perast - Located on the Bay of Kotor just a few kilometers northwest of Kotor, Perast is renowned for its historic churches and beautiful stone villas, set beneath the hill of St. Ilija. Two tiny islets lie just offshore - Our Lady of the Rocks and St. George - both of which have their own picturesque chapels. Climb up the bell tower of the Church of St. Nikola for impressive views across Perast and wile away the hours on the stone jetties which jut into the azure waters of the Adriatic.
Lake Skadar - Sprawling along the border of Albania and Montenegro, Lake Skadar is the largest of its kind on the Balkan Peninsula. It is renowned as a destination for bird watching, with more than 280 different species found, including the rare Dalmatian pelican and the world's second largest colony of pygmy cormorant. Kayaking along the tranquil waters and hiking around the shores are other popular activities, together with wine tasting in the surrounding countryside.
Durmitor National Park - UNESCO World Heritage-listed Durmitor National Park is undoubtedly one of the Balkan’s most magnificent natural landscapes, carved by glaciers and heavily forested within the Dinaric Alps. It includes glacial lakes and the world’s second deepest gorge which is traversed by the Tara River, together with the high peaks of the Durmitor Massif. During summer it is a hiker’s paradise, while during the winter months it transforms into a major ski resort.
Montenegro’s official language is Montenegrin, although Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian are all widely spoken and understood by most of the population. Albanian is also spoken by a select group, and those traveling to the more popular tourist areas won’t have any trouble finding English-speaking locals.
Montenegro’s currency is the Euro, despite the country not yet joining the European Union. Credit cards can be used to pay for accommodation in most big hotels, but cash is generally the preferred option in restaurants, bars and shops. ATMs are widely available and accept most debit cards.
Health and Safety
Crime rates are generally low in Montenegro, but travelers are advised to keep a careful eye on their belongings to avoid pick-pocketing around transport hubs and major tourist sights. Organized drug crime and corruption are still significant problems in Montenegro, but rarely impact on tourists.
Pharmacies are widespread throughout the country and the level of treatment in Montenegro’s hospitals is generally high. Aside from routine vaccinations such as rubella, measles, tetanus and polio, travelers are advised to have hepatitis A shots before visiting.