If you previously read my blog, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of clichés. However, when I think of Montenegro, there’s one cliché that comes on my mind that describes this country so well that they might consider embroidering on their flag. “Good things come in small packages”. Capturing a tiny corner of Southeastern Europe, Montenegro is a country with some of the most beautiful and underrated beaches in Europe, capturing outdoors, breathtaking canyons, and beautiful mountains. All that in an area of 13,000 kilometers! If you want to travel to Montenegro, you’re in the right place.
Let’s start with the basics!
Montenegro doesn’t ring a bell? Here are some basic things you should know
The name Montenegro literally translates to “Black Mountain”. There are a lot of dark mountains in Montenegro but it also has some amazing beaches and canyons that will take your breath away. That’s why some people refer to it as the New Zealand of Europe.
Montenegro is one of the newest countries in Europe, gaining its independence in 2006. Today, the country shares a border with Serbia, Albania, Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Throughout the past century, it was a part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and later, Yugoslavia. With the referendum in 2006, Montenegrins decided to separate from the federation with Serbia and become an independent country.
Travel requirements for Montenegro
Montenegro has the same visa policy as the other Schengen countries. Some other countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, and Costa Rica also have a visa-free entry to travel to Montenegro.
If you’re planning to enter Montenegro with your own car you can officially use your own driver license. However, if you’re renting a car keep in mind that some rental car companies might require an international driver license. That leads us to…
Traveling around Montenegro
The public transport in Montenegro is not even close to public transport in most European countries. Larger cities are well-connected but the transportation options for the smaller towns are limited. One reason why this is the case is that most cities in Montenegro are so small, locals prefer walking. However, this might be challenging for visitors, especially ones that want to see the outdoors or smaller towns.
If you’re planning to rent a car in the summer, don’t. This is the high season and everything is more expensive, especially car rentals. If you still want to do this, prepare to pay at least 30 euros per day. The other alternatives are the bus and the train.
The train line runs from the coastal city of Bar through the capital Podgorica, through Kolasin and continues towards the border with Serbia. The train allows you to cross more than half of the country, from the beautiful beaches to the divine mountains, in one day, and only a few euros.
The bus can take you to more places but the train is cheaper and more comfortable. Also, note that Montenegro has a lot of mountain roads and driving on them isn’t very convenient.
Montenegro accommodation tips
Accommodation in Montenegro runs from posh resorts to campgrounds. You will find the cheapest accommodation in Suto More and the most expensive in Sveti Stefan, Kotor, and Budva.
Budva has a resort destination reputation and is sometimes even called Miami of the Adriatic and Kotor is the important historic capital. These places are overcrowded with tourists all the time and this keeps the prices at a higher level.
However, what I love about Montenegro is the fact that you can stay in Suto More or Kotor and go for a day trip pretty much anywhere without spending too much.
In the bigger cities, you can find some cool backpacker hostels. In the remote areas, you won’t find many hostels but you can find a lot of charming mountain cottages that provide lashings of local cuisine.
Another thing I love about Montenegro is that you can camp pretty much anywhere. No matter whether at the riverside, in the mountains, near the lakes or in the countryside, camping is allowed almost anywhere in Montenegro.
The food in Montenegro
The food in Montenegro is relatively affordable, except for the island of Sveti Stefan. Anywhere else, you can have a three-course meal for less than 15 euros. Another money saver is the fact that tap water is safe for drinking across the country, with the exception of Herceg Novi in the month of May when local water pipes are being cleaned.
Some must-try dishes include:
Kacamak, a simple breakfast meal made of corn flour, barley or whole wheat;
Rastan: a dish made out of vegetables, particularly the ones belonging to the cabbage family;
Cicvara: a dish featuring a young cow’s cheese that melts in your mouth;
Japracu: a soup-based dish that includes a dry meat, rice, and pepper.
Njeguski Steak: A veal/pork schnitzel steak that used to be Josip Broz Tito’s favorite;
Buzara: A dish made of shellfish, prawns, and shrimps with delicious red sauce;
Ispod Saca: the Balkan version of a good Sunday roast just better!
If you’re planning to prepare your own food, be careful. Many markets don’t have publicly displayed prices for groceries and some vendors will try to cheat you if you’re a tourist. They might try to overcharge you or give you a spoiled or older product, so keep an eye when you’re grocery shopping or just go to a well-known supermarket.
A few more things you should know before you visit Montenegro
Locals might seem grumpy but don’t take it personally. It’s just a part of their culture not to put up smiles and keep a distance. Montenegrins are actually very nice and welcoming people but they might come across as grumpy when communicating with strangers. Don’t get offended when you waiter asks “What do you want” without a smile on his face. That’s actually considered polite in Montenegro.
The best time to visit is fall. Well, at least I think so. Yes, you might not enjoy the warm beaches but you still might get a few sunny days in September. It feels much better when there are fewer tourists around. Additionally, the summer isn’t a good time to explore the mountains because of the high temperatures and UV index. Autumn seems like the ideal time to enjoy the best of Montenegro.
There’s a tourist tax. If you’re renting a private apartment and not staying in hotels, according to the law you have to pay a tourist tax. The tourist tax varies on the city but it doesn’t get higher than 1 euro per day. However, a lot of people didn’t register with the authorities and didn’t face any problems when leaving the country. This means you can get away even without paying the tourist tax unless the border patrol officials are being too curious.
Smoking is allowed everywhere. Smoking seems like a dying trend in most countries in the world but not in Montenegro. Here, you can smoke in bars, restaurants, supermarkets, and even buses!
Montenegro is completely safe to visit! The biggest danger comes from the local cheating vendors and crazy drivers rushing on the mountain roads. Other than that, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.
Why Montenegro is a rough diamond?
If you’re looking for a slick holiday destination where everything will be perfect, Montenegro might not be the right place for you. Even though Montenegro is a beautiful country, their tourism just hasn’t had enough time to reach the highest standards. There are several reasons why this is the case.
Customer service isn’t perfect. The customer isn’t always right in Montenegro. Montenegrins are nice and welcoming people but they won’t automatically give in to the demands of customers just because they are always right.
Prepare for the Montenegrin Shrug. Most locals grew up during WWII or Socialist Yugoslavia and they are used to making the best out of any given situation. They don’t think a 2-hour power breakdown is a big deal. They don’t mind the strong smell of drains when the north winds start blowing. Prepare to hear a lot of “What can we do? That’s just the way it is” in Montenegro.
Don’t expect a good infrastructure. Some of the mountain roads in Montenegro look flat out dangerous and are not pleasant to drive on at all but at least the views are spectacular.
Littering is a problem in Montenegro. Not as serious of a problem like some other countries but one they would need to solve if Montenegro wants to become a first-class resort destination.
With that being said, all these imperfections made my Montenegro experience even better. When I travel, I want to see a country with its good, bad, and ugly. With all of its perks and flaws. If you’re like me, you will definitely have a great time in Montenegro because…
Montenegro has something for everyone
For luxury seekers: You can find multiple luxury accommodations and other facilities across the country. However, of all the sights along the shoreline, Sveti Stefan is probably the most spectacular one. The 15th century stone villas of Sveti Stefan that overlook the impeccable beaches on the island will surely take your breath away.
For beach lovers: You will find some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. If you want to spend your days relaxing on the beach and drinking cocktails and spend your nights partying until dawn, look no further.
For adventure lovers: Tivat is a pretty coastal town surrounded by beautiful river canyons that resemble of Scandinavian fjords and lofty mountains and scenic serpentine roads. If you’re seeking for an adventure you’ll certainly find it here.
For history lovers: Montenegro is dotted with historic sights surrounded by magnificent scenery. The most popular destination for history lovers is the city of Kotor with its stunning castles, enchanting churches, and centuries-aged fortresses.
For nature lovers: visit some of Montenegro’s beautiful freshwater lakes. Skadar Lake is a great place for birdwatchers and the glacial lake at Mount Durmitor at Zabljak sitting at an elevation of 1,416 meters is a must for mountain lovers.
For couples: If you’re looking for a romantic getaway where you will spend your evenings wandering along the seaside and enjoying some fresh seafood and tasty local wine, Montenegro is a great choice.
For families: Most cities in Montenegro are really small and you can get family-friendly accommodation almost everywhere. This makes Montenegro a perfect destination for a family holiday.