Why would you give up on this capital?

Although the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica, is not a pleasant place for tourists, it’s the opposite at the old royal capital of Cetinje.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Cetinje, Montenegro

As the old royal capital of Montenegro, Cetinje has an elegance to it that makes the city worth a visit to explore the heritage.

The streets are quiet, but it’s the heat of the day that’s keeping many of the locals away. The smattering of tourists in the wide pedestrian areas and shaded parks gives the city of Cetinje some life, though.

Every block has something to see – and old royal palace, a grand embassy building, an intricately-designed church.

Why, when Montenegro had such a nice capital like this, would it have traded it all in for the hole that is Podogrica?

Cetinje, Montenegro

Cetinje was founded in the 15th century and became the centre of the Montenegrin culture. Its fortunes rose and fell for hundreds of years but from the 1800s a lot of effort was put into the architecture and grandeur of the city.

It officially became the capital of an independent Montenegro in 1878.

Cetinje, Montenegro

It was after the Second World War, in 1946, that the capital was moved from Cetinje to Podgorica (then known as Titograd) and placed under communist rule. The old royal capital was left with just 9,000 residents.

Visiting it today, it feels like not much has changed since then. The population has grown slightly to about 14,000 people but the buildings and the streets don’t look too different.

Cetinje, Montenegro

The political capital may have moved but culture and history are harder to migrate. Cetinje was preserved almost as it was left.

The political capital may have moved but culture and history are harder to migrate. Cetinje was preserved almost as it was left.

Cetinje, Montenegro

The city is not very big and you can walk the streets yourself and explore the various things to do in Cetinje. Although, if you would like to learn more about it, there is this city tour by a local guide. Or, you can combine a visit to Cetinje and Lovcen National Park with this tour from the coast.

As you might expect from the old capital of Montenegro, there are lots of things to do in Cetinje. I’ve marked them on a map here.

Let me run you through the details of some of them.

Cetinje Monastery

The most important of the sights in Cetinje is the Cetinje Monastery, also known as the Monastery of Saint Peter.

Cetinje Monastery, Montenegro

Cetinje Monastery was built in 1484 by Ivan Crnojevic, a duke who moved his capital to Cetinje because it was easier to defend (effectively founding the city). But the buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries.

It’s one of Montenegro’s most significant sites and is seen as a symbol of the country’s spirituality. It holds the relics of one of Montenegro’s great historical rulers, St Peter of Cetinje, whose name is now associated with the monastery.

Cetinje Monastery, Montenegro

You can visit Cetinje Monastery and see the modest church at its centre, as well as the various artworks throughout the complex. The tombs and other graves of Montenegrin leaders are also here.

And you’ll find a little museum that gives you some more information about the significance of the site.

The Cetinje Monastery is open every day from 08:00 – 18:00.

There is no entrance fee for the Cetinje Monastery.

Photography is forbidden inside the monastery complex.

The National Museum of Montenegro

It may seem a bit confusing at first, but the National Museum of Montenegro is made up of a four different locations, some of which have more than one institution within them.

You can visit however many you like and pay the entrance fee for each one, of you can get a combined ticket for €12 to see them all.

National Museum of Montenegro

Although this building across from the monastery is usually just called the National Museum of Montenegro, it actually houses several different parts of the institution, including art galleries.

National Museum of Montenegro, Cetinje, Montenegro

You’ll get to see an interesting collection of artworks and learn a bit more about the cultural heritage of the country if you visit all the different parts of the building.

Njegos Museum Biljarda (Billiard Palace)

Although in a separate building, the Njegos Museum Biljarda is also part of the National Museum of Montenegro.

Cetinje, Montenegro

The building was the residence of a famous Montenegrin poet, Peter II Petrovic Njegos. The museum shows his personal belongings and furniture, which is probably more of interest to locals.

What is rather cool, though, is the enormous map relief of Montenegro created in 1917 that is now housed here.  

Museum of King Nikola

Across the street from the Billiard Palace is another part of the National Museum of Montenegro – the Museum of King Nikola. This palace was home to the last royal ruler of Montenegro, King Nikola, who it’s now named after.

Construction of the palace finished in 1867 and gives you a good impression of how the country’s elite lived in the 19th century.

Cetinje, Montenegro

You’ll need to do a guided tour of the palace, which is a combination of museum exhibitions and recreated rooms.

Ethnographic Museum of Montenegro

This final part of the National Museum of Montenegro is just across the road from the Museum of King Nikola. It’s called the Ethnographic Museum and has a collection of items related to the folk history of the country.

Cetinje, Montenegro

I would suggest that this is a site you could skip unless you have a particular interest in national costumes, traditional ornaments, or embroidery.

From April to October, the National Museum of Montenegro is open every day from 09:00 – 17:00.

From November to March, the museum is open from 09:00 – 16:00 every day except Sunday, when it’s closed.

A combined ticket for all the institutions within the museum is €12 for adults and €6 for concessions.

You can see the prices for the individual institutions here.

Other things to do in Cetinje

Aside from the monastery and the museums, there are quite a few other things to do in Cetinje. The city is full of small sights that you can visit to easily fill much of the day.

Cetinje, Montenegro

As you walk the streets, you’ll see the old embassies with their faded elegance, as well as other grand houses.

But have a look out for these particular landmarks.

  • Blue Palace
  • The Castle Church
  • Monument to Ivan Crnojevic
  • Royal Theatre Zetski Dom
  • Vlaska Church

And, of course, you can just spend some time in the main street of Cetinje, called Njegoseva ulica.

Things to do in Cetinje, Montenegro

Much of it is pedestrianised and there are lovely little cafes and restaurants where you can have a break from all the other things to do in Cetinje.

How do you get to Cetinje?

Cetinje is well-connected and it’s an easy place to get to from the coastal resort towns of Montenegro.

If you’re driving, there are good roads from Budva or Podgorica (although it’s a bit windy coming up from the coast). There’s lots of parking in the city.

It’s quite easy to get to Cetinje by public transport. There are regular buses from Budva, Kotor, and Podgorica. It will be less than an hour and cost just a few euros each way.

I recommend checking the timetables at either GetByBus or BusTicket4Me.

Are there tours to Cetinje?

A visit to Cetinje is often combined with a tour to Lovcen National Park. They are close to each other and tours to Lovcen National Park from Budva or Kotor have to pass through Cetinje.

I would recommend either this excellent combination tour or, if you’re just interested in the city, this tour of the sights by a local guide. 

Unless you want to spend the whole day seeing the heritage of Cetinje, a tour including transport could be your best option.

Although Cetinje is not too far from the tourist centres on the coast, it seems not many people bother to leave the water and make the journey inland to see this time capsule of history.

It’s not that surprising, I suppose. After all, most of the people at the beach are from Montenegro or nearby countries and they’ve seen enough examples of power shifting between cities, countries and leaders in their lifetimes.

Cetinje, Montenegro

But for a foreigner, it’s an interesting glimpse at Balkan life before the First World War began the game of thrones that lasted in the region for almost a hundred years.

The architecture is the most striking thing about Cetinje and it doesn’t take too long to walk through the city and see it all for yourself.

Cetinje, Montenegro

This is not a reason to come to Montenegro, it is not going to be a highlight, but it will be worth the half day you spend there. Especially when you compare it to where the capital was moved to.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN CETINJE

Although you can visit Cetinje as a day trip, you might like to consider staying overnight to see a different side of Montenegro

BACKPACKER

It’s more a house than a hostel, but Hostel Holiday Cetinje is a great backpacker option.

BUDGET

Although it’s very affordable, Apartments Gruda is a very comfortable and modern space.

LOCATION

With a bit more style, Main Street Cetinje is a wonderful apartment in a central location.

BUNGALOW

And for a rustic bungalow just on the edge of town, have a look at Brvnara Borovik.

29 thoughts on “Why would you give up on this capital?”

    • The architecture is really interesting and is different to a lot of the other buildings you’ll see around the Balkans. They’ve done a good job of preserving them all too and turning them into decent museums.

      Reply
    • Yes, it doesn’t take too much effort to go and see it from somewhere like Budva or Podgorica. If you’re interested in history, there’s plenty to see. And it is just a beautiful little place.

      Reply
  1. Sadly, I think countries lose a lot by moving capitals. From what I understand, Kazakhstan is much the same – in spite of Astana being the capital, most people would prefer to live in Almaty. Supposedly there is talk of moving the capital of Mongolia from Ulaanbaatar. While UB’s no treasure, I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen here!

    Reply
    • Capital cities tend to create their own history over time but the problem is that can then be neglected if the seat of power moves somewhere else. Places like Japan handled it well and Nara and Kyoto are wonderful examples of old capitals. But I think it’s different in this part of the world because the capital is normally moved by a strong leader who wants to make his own mark, and so ignores the former cities.

      Reply
  2. I love the photograph of the beautiful shuttered building as well as those of the tiny church in the graveyard, itself enveloped in overgrown grasses – and that of the sculpture of a man with wonderfully massive hands. So curious. I can hear Montenegro calling out to be explored.

    Reply
    • It is a really nice town for taking photos because the buildings have these interesting colours and lots of texture. Also, there aren’t lots of people getting in the way and standing in front of them. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts when you make it there sometime! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Whether its a capital or not it is beautiful place and I would really like to visit. I am sure it would be easy to convince the wifey as well. Though see might wonder were all the people are though.

    Reply
    • It doesn’t take too long to visit Cetinje… maybe just a lazy morning or afternoon wandering around and checking it out and seeing a few museums. You might appreciate the lack of people if you’re coming up from Budva or somewhere like that! 🙂

      Reply
    • Yeah, I suppose that is one way to look at it. The city would definitely feel very different if it was still the capital and full of activity. Perhaps things didn’t work out too badly in the end…

      Reply
  4. Montenegro e una paese mirifica e il popolo montenegreano e fantastico,ospitalieri,bravissimi e tutto che offrano lo fanno con tutto cuore e non aspetano niente in cambio……citta Cetinje e spendida….sono statta fortunata conoscere le persone bravissime…grazie Dragana,una guida di grande clasa

    Reply
  5. Just a small history lessons from a Montenegrin:

    The capital was moved after World War I in 1918. A convention was supposed to be held to decide whether Montenegro will join the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slavs. (Notice that the Kingdom name doesn’t mention Montenegrins). By joining this union Montenegro would keep its geographical borders but lose its national identity and it’s people would “fall under Serbs”. Cetinje, the capital at the time, was a Montenegro nationalist stronghold and opposed the idea of the union. In order to pass the convention, under the pressure of Serbian diplomats, the convention was held in Podgorica, which at the time was nothing more but a village. As a result of this corrupt convention, Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed to Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and after World War II Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and the capital was relocated from Cetinje to Podgorica (after World War II Podgorica was renamed Titograd, and in 1991 back to Podgorica again).

    Reply
  6. Interesting and suprising in a city i have never heard of so far, thanks! And really a great mix of architecture images as well, gives me a feeling for what to expect…

    Reply
  7. I’m on a tour that stops in Cetinje to see the National Museum. I’d rather wander the streets and look at the beautiful places you’ve photographed. Unfortunately, I can’t tell what each of the photographs portrays. Would it be possible to get the name of the buildings or even the streets you wandered? Thanks.

    Reply

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