Most people flock to Greece or Italy, with good reason of course, but Montenegro shouldn’t be looked over. Montenegro has one of the most underrated coastlines in Europe as well as dramatic mountains to go along with it. Montenegro, once part of Yugoslavia, has a definitive Balkan vibe but also with the influence of its past Venetian rulers.
Since Montenegro is a small country, you don’t need many days to see the highlights. Most of the interesting things are along the coast in my opinion, with the exception of course of the Tara Bridge which is just stunning and Ostrog Monastery.
For this post, I go into detail about how I would plan an itinerary for the Montenegro coastline, which includes stops in Budva, Bar, Kotor, and Ulcinj. There are smaller villages, beaches, wineries and the like nearby which I will get into detail in this post. I didn’t spend too much time in Montenegro as I find the beaches in Greece to be more stunning. Nevertheless, plenty of people come here to sunbath and soak in the Montenegrin vibe.
How to plan this trip
To do this trip, you will want to rent a car. The capital city of Montenegro is Podgorica. There are not many flights that come here from my experience and many people actually fly into Dubrovnik and make the drive down Croatia’s coast.
Either way, it behooves you to rent a car because there aren’t many viable public transportation options otherwise. Plus the whole beauty of this trip is in the form of a road trip!
If you are starting in Dubrovnik, then the itinerary will simply be to drive south. Your stops in chronological order will be Kotor > Budva > Bar > Ulcinj
How many days do I need for this trip?
This trip is relatively short and you can spend as much or as little time as you need to visit the sights along the coast. In total, I’d recommend spending at least 4 days in the area so you can explore at a more leisurely pace.
Because of the distances traveled, it’s possible to just stay in once place for the entire trip and just do day trips if that’s more of your style. I spent my entire time staying in Ulcinj and just drove to stops I wanted to see.
From Ulcinj (at the Southern border with Albania), it is only 2 hours to Kotor. Of course, I took the longer more scenic route but you get an idea of just how short the distances are.
The picturesque town of Kotor in Montenegro is well protected in the farthest corner of the beautiful Bay of Kotor , surrounded by a truly spectacular coastal landscape. Its breathtaking location and its cultural and historical monuments earned the city an entry on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.
The red roofs of Kotor nestle at the foot of the “Holy Ivan”, an impressive mountain with dense forests and stand in stark contrast to the super-expensive sailing yachts and cruise ships anchored in the port of Kotor.
Out and about in Kotor
The old town of Kotor is completely car-free and hardly any other modern building is reminiscent of the 21st century. The historical houses have all been reconstructed with original components, in between small businesses, service providers and schools remind that Kotor does not exist exclusively for tourists.
Accommodation in Kotor is rare, most guests come by cruise ship, make a stopover in transit or take a day trip from elsewhere in Montenegro. If you get hold of a room for the night, you will notice that the audience is younger in the evening and the streets are busier. But by 1 a.m. at the latest, the streets become quiet, except for occasional territorial fights between the cats.
Kotor City Walls
At just under 5km, the city walls of Kotor are even longer than the famous city walls in Dubrovnik , but the Croatian neighbor is still a lot more sublime. Nevertheless, a stroll to Kotor’s historic fortifications, which reach a height of up to 20 meters.
A tour of the walls is best started at the north gate, which was built in 1540 at the rather inconspicuous church of Sveti Marija from 1221. From there it goes through the main gate at the harbor to the south gate. From then on you have to decide whether to dare to take the steep and arduous path up the mountain of San Giovanni (under the Montenegrin flag you have a wonderful view at 260m) or go straight back down to the old town.
Tip: The entire tour over Kotor’s city wall takes a good hour and it can get uncomfortably hot, especially around lunchtime. Sun protection and sufficient water are essential!
Churches of Sveti Luka and Sveti Nikola
October Revolution Square
The main square of Kotor , Trg Oktobarske revolucije, also known as the arms square , is just behind the main gate of the city walls. The three-story Renaissance clock tower from 1602, which was built under the Venetian administrative general Antonio Grimaldi, sits enthroned here . If you look closely, you will discover that you are no longer standing straight – a consequence of the 1979 earthquake.
If you turn south from the main square, you will find what is probably the most beautiful palace of Kotor on the next square . The Palata Pima was built in the 14th century by the Pima family, the most important Kotor family from the 14th to the 18th century. As was customary for the rich upper class of that time, the finest stone from the Croatian island of Korčula was used for the construction . But even this is apparently not forever – the appearance of the facade is unfortunately already a bit shabby today.
Sveti Trifun Cathedral
The next street leads to Trg Ustanka mornara, which is dominated by the Cathedral of St. Tryphon. The bishopric of Kotor dates back to 1166, is the most impressive medieval building in Kotor and is often referred to as Kotor’s most beautiful church .
Behind the impressive facade with the two massive bell towers, a church treasure made of gold, silver and marble and the relics of the patron saint of Kotor are kept. The decoration and painting of the Tryphon Cathedral are also of great value.
The frescoes were created in the 14th century by important painters of the Greek School, parts of the tabernacle even come from the Romanesque church on whose foundation walls the current cathedral was built.
Hike up to San Giovanni Fortress
If there’s one must do activity in Kotor, it’s to hike up to the top of San Giovanni Fortress. The entrance is from the old town where you will see signs leading to the entrance of this hike. You’ll walk up numerous stone stairs zig zagging through the walls until you reach the fortress at the top.
Along the way, there is also the beautiful Chruch of Our Lady of Remedy which makes for some amazing photo opportunities. The rest of the hike is not too strenuous and there are even vendors near the top selling water and beers. I recommend doing this hike at sunset or sunrise so you can really see the colors pop.
I have been here twice at different times of year and must say that when it is not busy, it is truly beautiful and relaxing! The view is absolutely stunning of the Bay of Kotor as well as the old town just below.
Drive along the Panorama Road 3
From Kotor, I recommend driving inland to visit some of the beautiful mountain scenery of Montenegro before coming back via the coastline. Montenegro is famous for its mountains. Its name literally means Black Mountain in Italian so it’s safe to assume you are in for beautiful mountain scenery.
Staying in Kotor, you can see it already from the old town itself. If you have a car, you can drive through for even more stunning views.
Visit the Horizontal Cafe for Panoramic Views
From Kotor, you’ll want to follow signs for the Panoramic Road (brown signs) along the road. You will drive through extremely windy roads hundreds of meters above sea level where the view will become more and more stunning. Near the top is a beautiful cafe called Horizontal Cafe where you can see Kotor from a birds eye view. It is essentially the same view as San Giovanni fortress but from another 500 meters up.
You can even buy wine here to relax and enjoy the views.
From this cafe, keep following the road through the mountains where you will approach Skadar Lake. This lake is very stunning especially from the Montenegro side where it is surrounded by mountains and forests. The lake itself huge and at times I thought I was driving along the sea. There are many small islands within the lake making it feel like an archipelago you’d see in the ocean as opposed to a lake.
Ostrog Monastery is a Serbian Orthodox monastery that is one of the most famous in the world. It’s a regular pilgrimage site for Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox alike and is one of the most visited places in the Balkans.
It reminds me of the mountain-side church in Amorgos, Greece as well as the Predjama Castle in Slovenia. It’s a sight to behold for sure and it is only about 2 hours driving from Kotor which makes it a logical day trip from Kotor after driving along the Panoramic Road.
Old town of Budva
Budva is ancient. According to mythology, Budva was founded over 2,500 years ago by Kadmos, son of the Phoenician king Agenor, after he was exiled from Thebes. An old cemetery was uncovered between the city walls and the mountains, the graves of which were dug from the 4th to the 6th centuries.
In 1979 Budva was badly damaged by a devastating earthquake, but it was rebuilt true to the original and is now a listed building. Therefore, the facades do not look quite so antique.
The historic center of Budva is one of the most beautiful old towns in Montenegro . The narrow streets of Budva are often too small for the crowds who stroll between mini markets and cafés to the individual sights. Most of them are in the east of the old town, but the rest of the old town with its winding streets is also worth exploring.
City walls and citadel
The current city walls date from the Middle Ages, the oldest and now lowest parts were built by the Phoenicians, the rest by the Venetians and Austrians. The most important part of the city fortifications is the citadel on the hill. Its appearance today also comes from the Austrians, who even built their own small bakery for self-sufficiency. The small church of Sveti Marija, whose frescoes can now be found on the west and north walls of the citadel, had to give way. In addition to the wonderful view, a café and restaurant are part of today’s offerings at the Citadel. Outdoor events are often held here in summer.
Sveti Troica church
The church of Sveti Troica sits enthroned on the largest square in the old town, directly below the citadel. The Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity was completed in 1804 and stands out for its red and white patterned masonry.
Churches of Sveti Marija in Punta and Sveti Sava
A little further towards the sea is the picturesque church ensemble of Sveti Marija in Punta, the oldest church in Budva with a striking round tower, and Sveti Sava, which was often passed around between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
Sveti Ivan Church
The church tower, which towers unmistakably above the brick-red roofs of Budva’s old town, belongs to the Sveti Ivan church from the 15th century, simply called “katedrala” by the locals. While the tower dates back to 1876, floor mosaics dating back to the 6th century have been found inside the church. According to legend, the church houses a priceless icon of Our Lady with the baby Jesus, which is said to have been made by the evangelist Luke.
I found Budva to have one of the better old towns in the Balkans. To me, it’s like a mini Dubrovnik because it has a similar style and is located right next to the sea. The views from the top of the city walls are the best.
As well, make sure to visit Restoran Vista Vidikovac for amazing panoramic views of Budva Old Town.
The “old bar” is located in Montenegro a few kilometers from the coastal town of Bar at the foot of the Rumija coastal mountain range. The ancient city was founded more than 2,000 years ago, had 4,000 inhabitants at peak times and magnificent buildings of various rulers. Today Stari Bar is abandoned and only ruins remain of the buildings, but some of them have been restored and can be visited.
To find the old, charming bar, you have to venture around four kilometers inland through apartment blocks and industrial buildings. Once you have reached the ancient Stari Bar (“Alt-Bar”) at the foot of the Rumija Mountains, you stand in front of a picturesque ruined city, which is one of the most valuable cultural and historical sites in Montenegro.
Sights in Stari Bar
Some of the buildings in Stari Bar have been restored and are now silent witnesses of the individual reigns in a turbulent history. For a small fee, you can explore the historic Bars district.
The main gate in the city walls, which go back to the Venetian era, leads directly to the customs house , where a small exhibition can be seen. To the right it goes to the bishop’s palace , to the left over the Turkish powder tower to the citadel in the north, which was still used as a prison for the fascist occupation during the Second World War. By the way, from there you have the most beautiful panoramic view of Stari Bar .
If you turn your gaze to the other side of Stari Bar, you can see the imposing aqueduct , which has supplied the Bar with drinking water since the 18th century. Not even the devastating earthquake of 1979 was able to harm the filigree-looking building by the Turkish builders, which still amazes engineers today.
We continue via the Sveti Veneranda church from the 14th century, the St. John’s Church (Sveti Ivan) from the 15th century and the Turkish bath , which was heated with steam at the time, to the prominent clock tower in the south.
History of Stari Bar
Due to its strategically excellent location, the “old bar” has been settled for well over 2,000 years, some finds go back to the 8th century BC. It was first mentioned in a document in the 9th century under the name “Antibarium”, which should mean something like “across from Bari” (in Italy).
After the Romans came the Byzantines, the fortifications that are still visible today date from the Venetian period from 1443 to 1571, after which Bar came under Turkish rule and was destroyed in the course of the War of Independence in 1878. When exactly 101 years later a severe earthquake shook the city, Bar was finally abandoned and Novi Bar was built. Unfortunately, only ruins remained of the 30 Renaissance palaces and 16 churches and monasteries.