It wasn’t so long ago that most people would have trouble finding Montenegro on a map. This small Balkan country on the Adriatic would hardly get a mention in the world of tourism.
“Montenegro travel? What are you talking about?!”
But things have changed a lot in the past few years as tourists have discovered all the things to do in Montenegro. And they’ve realised there’s such a variety!
From the dramatic inland mountains with their lakes and canyons, down to the coast and its charming towns.
There are party towns where you can dance all night, and historical sites where you can explore the millennia of culture.
In the big cities you can find crowds, while the hiking trails offer peace.
And everywhere, as you explore all the things to do in Montenegro, you’ll be surrounded by the beauty of this enchanting European country.
To help you plan your Montenegro travels, I’ve put together this list of the best things to do in Montenegro. Have a look at the map below to see where they all are.
I think these are the best places to visit in Montenegro but, as you’ll discover when you visit Montenegro for yourself, you’ll find wonderful little spots everywhere you go.
Let’s start with the main cities in Montenegro. None of these will be the highlight of your trip but you’ll invariably pass through at least one of them.
Podgorica became the capital city of Montenegro with the formation of Yugoslavia in 1946 (although it was called Titograd back then). It has now grown to a population of about 200,000 to become the largest city in the country.
It has a relatively central location, meaning you’re likely to pass through it if you’re exploring Montenegro. However, there is not too much to see here.
I have received a lot of abuse for calling Podgorica ‘a hole’ in this article and, I confess, I was overly harsh. As you’ll see in the comments, the locals have suggested a lot of reasons why the capital is a nice place. You can make up your own mind but I wouldn’t recommend spending too long here.
The most popular city for tourists is Budva, which is on the coast and is a vibrant spot for sun and nightlife.
During the day, you’ll see people heading to the beach or escaping the heat in the cafes and restaurants. At night, Budva comes alive with dining until late and plenty of clubs that go even later.
There are some good historical sights and cultural activities here. And it’s also a convenient place to stay while you visit smaller places along the coast that don’t have much accommodation.
Podgorica may be the capital now, but previously it was here at Cetinje.
The city didn’t grow particularly large when it lost its political status and the population is now only about 20,000. But it has retained its charm and a lot of the buildings and monuments from its former glory are still here.
Cetinje may not be the kind of city you would stay overnight in, but it’s easy to do as a day trip – it’s only about 30 minutes by bus from Budva. The grand old buildings, adorable churches, and interesting houses make it worth the visit if you’re looking for cultural things to do in Montenegro.
Niksic is the second-largest city in Montenegro and, like Podgorica, is not known as a tourist hotspot. It’s mainly an industrial city and you wouldn’t miss much if you skipped it – but it’s actually had a bit of a renaissance in recent years.
As a student town, it’s got a vibrant nightlife and very affordable prices (and the national beer Niksicko Pivo is from here!).
There is also a growing art scene and a fair amount of cultural events that now happen throughout the year.
If you’re interested in seeing some of Montenegro’s cities, you might like one of these tours:
Now that we’ve looked at the cities, we can turn to the thing the country is best known for – the coastline and the wonderful towns that are some of the best places to visit in Montenegro!
The jewel of Montenegro’s coastline is Kotor, the World Heritage Site old town that sits on the shore of the incredible Kotor Bay.
The old 14th-century buildings and the fortifications around them show the wealth that came from the maritime industry here hundreds of years ago. What makes Kotor so special now is the way this architecture has been preserved and incorporated into daily life.
It’s also the setting that make this such a striking place to visit. It’s easy to just admire the scenery for hours.
Accommodation can be hard in Kotor if you don’t book early or during peak season. But it’s not far from Budva and can be visited as a day trip.
All along the shore of Kotor Bay are small communities. Other than Kotor itself, one of the most picturesque ones is Perast.
It’s much smaller and feels like a quaint fishing village. Because there aren’t as many tourists here, it also feels a bit calmer and you get a better sense of local life here. But there is still very limited accommodation.
Make sure you have a look at the clocktower and the beautiful Orthodox church. You can also see Our Lady of the Rocks, the island church, from here – or even take a boat over to visit.
At the far end of Kotor Bay, close to the border with Croatia, you’ll find Herceg Novi.
It’s bigger than Kotor or Perast, so don’t expect the same charm. But it’s still a beautiful town with about 700 years of history in the buildings. It’s almost like a mini Dubrovnik.
Have a look at the clocktower, the local church, the castle, and the other fortifications. Herceg Novi is also famous for its mud therapy spas, which are supposed to fix different medical conditions.
The town of Ulcinj is at the complete other end of Montenegro, down south near the border with Albania.
It has a very different feel to the others because it takes its cultural influences from places like Greece and Turkey.
It’s a busy town with lots of restaurants and cafes. It’s also easy to access nearby beaches (making it a popular holiday spot for Albanians).
I would recommend Ulcinj as a good base to explore some of the southern sights of Montenegro, such as Lake Skadar and Stari Bar.
You can also have a guide give you a local insight into the coastal towns with these tours:
There are five national parks in Montenegro and each of them offers a different experience. If you’re a nature-lover, I would suggest you check out a couple of them because they are some of the best things to do in Montenegro.
Durmitor National Park
The largest and most famous of Montenegro’s national parks in Durmitor. In an alpine area in the northwest of the country, one of its most prominent features are the high snow-capped mountains. But Durmitor is also known for the enormous Tara canyon and its 18 glacial lakes.
You can base yourself in the town of Zabljak to explore the area because there are quite a few good walks that leave from there, including to the stunning Black Lake.
It’s also worth noting that Durmitor National Park is one of Montenegro’s four World Heritage Sites.
Lake Skadar National Park
Lake Skadar is the largest in the Balkans and this water wonderland offers so many beautiful ways to explore it. The most important thing about it is the birdlife. There are more than 280 types of bird that live or visit here and you may be able to spot species like egrets or cormorants.
A popular way to see the lake is with a boat ride and there are lots of options leaving from Virpizar. You’ll be able to visit small village, island monasteries, historical sights, and beautiful beaches.
Lovcen National Park
Of the five national parks in Montenegro, Lovcen National Park offers the best mix of nature and history.
It’s set amongst rugged mountains that have great trails for hikers, leading you to dramatic peaks and stunning viewpoints.
But it’s the Njegos Mausoleum at the top of a mountain that is the highlight. After walking up 400 steps, you’ll get to this sacred spot that honours Petar II Petrovic-Njegos, considered to be the greatest Montenegrin ruler.
Biogradska Gora National Park
One of the most important things about Biogradska Gora National Park is the trees. This is virgin forest – one of the few remaining tracts in Europe – and some of the trees here are at least 500 years old.
There are a lot of trails in the park that take you through the forest, up the mountains, and to the lakes between the main rivers.
The centrepiece of Biogradska Gora National Park is Lake Biograd. There is a camping area, accommodation huts, and a restaurant here. If you don’t want to camp, you can base yourself in the nearby town of Kolasin.
Prokletije National Park
This is the newest and the smallest of Montenegro’s national parks – but that doesn’t mean you should consider it last. What makes Prokletije National Park so special is that it’s hard to access so it’s been extremely well protected.
The hulking mountains of the park have jagged peaks with snow most of the year. But lower down are lush green fields and dense forest.
If you’ve heard of the epic Peaks of the Balkans hiking trail, then this is where the Montenegrin section comes through.
You may find it easier to avoid public transportation and use one of these tours to visit a national park:
Other than the Bay of Kotor, I think the most astounding natural wonder in Montenegro is Tara Canyon. It runs for about 82 kilometres and is also the deepest canyon in Europe.
I mentioned it when I was talking about Durmitor National Park because it’s one of the highlights there. But you can access it from many other parts of the country.
One of the most adventurous things to do in Montenegro is go rafting on the Tara Canyon and there are lots of tour companies that can take you. You don’t need to be staying nearby – they’ll pick you up from the main tourist hubs.
The Orjen mountain range goes along some of the border between Montenegro and Bosnia-Hercegovina is named for Mount Orjen, which is 1893 metres high.
It’s easily accessible from the town of Herceg Novi and is a great spot for hiking near the coast. There are about 60 kilometres of marked trails that take you to impressive viewpoints, churches, and mountain huts.
Just off the coast of Budva is Sveti Nikola, Montenegro’s largest island. It is uninhabited (apart from deer), making it a beautiful natural escape from the tourist hordes in the coastal city.
You can take a boat across to the island and spend the day exploring. There’s not too much in the way of infrastructure, but you can buy food and drink and there’s a pretty 16th-century church.
There isn’t much development on the Lustica Peninsula, on the southern side of Kotor Bay, and not many people visit. But it has some wonderful secluded beaches and small villages, if you can find a way to access them.
The most popular attraction here is the Blue Grotto, a cave in the cliffs of the peninsula’s southern shoreline. The cave has up to nine metres headroom above the water and glows a blue colour because of the way the light reflects off the sandy bottom.
You can get here by boat from Herceg Novi. There is a cheap transportation option or there are some tours that give you more time and offer kayaking and other activities.
Here are some useful suggestions for tours that will take you to some of these natural sites:
You can see Ostrog Monastery well before you reach it. This large white building is built into the side of a cliff and stands out even from the highway kilometres away.
Constructed in the 1600s, it’s been a popular pilgrimage site for locals for centuries.
There are two churches – an upper and lower one – and you can go inside and see the beautiful decorations. It feels weird to look out from the balconies and realise how high up you are!
Ostrog Monastery is easy to reach and is just off the road that connects Podgorica and Niksic.
The old town of Stari Bar is in the hills above the modern coastal city of Bar. It lies in ruins after being abandoned after a 1979 earthquake, but it’s a fascinating place to visit.
Until the earthquake, Stari Bar was inhabited for centuries and passed between the hands of various empires – Venetians, Serbians, Hungarians, Ottoman.
It takes a couple of hours to explore the excellent remains of this city and remind yourself of the long history of Montenegro.
Stecci Medieval Tombstone Graveyards
I want to mention these graveyards because, although they’re not particularly famous or spectacular, they are very significant.
There are three graveyards in Montenegro that make up part of a World Heritage Site (along with 25 other graveyards in three other countries). All in all, there are about 4000 medieval tombstones that show the artistic and spiritual characteristics of this period of time.
If you want to visit the graveyards in Montenegro, there are two near the town of Zabljak and one near Pluzine.
San Giovanni Fortress
And, finally, it’s already been mentioned but I wanted to give special emphasis to one of the most iconic sights in Montenegro – the San Giovanni Fortress.
This castle is at the top of the fortifications of Kotor, the huge system of defences that has protected the town since the Middle Ages. It has been named as part of a World Heritage Site called the ‘Venetian Works of Defence’, which is separate to the World Heritage Site that covers all of Kotor Bay.
From San Giovanni Fortress, you can look out over the landscape and see the bay, the mountains, and the small towns. This is the best view in the whole country and is worth the climb up to the top!
If you’re interested in finding out more about the history, you may benefit from a local guide with one of these tours:
I hope this list has given you some inspiration for the best things to do in Montenegro.
I know there are lots of options and I probably haven’t covered everything so let me know in the comments below is you’ve got some tips for some of the other best places to visit in Montenegro.