On a recent visit to the Balkan Peninsula, B and I found ourselves spending one full day in beautiful Montenegro. This country is blessed with sweeping mountains, azure seasides and historic medieval towns. It is simply wonderful. Here are the five Montenegro must-sees that we visited and recommend for anyone lucky enough to travel to this Balkan gem.
Our first stop on our tour was the mountain town of Cetinje. This little town (only about 15,000 people live here) used to be the capital of Montenegro. By European standards, it is very young–only about 500 years old. However, when we walked through the cute little historic center on cobble stone and saw a man hammering on iron to make some nails, it certainly didn’t feel modern.
Other than the old town, we visited the Cetinje Monastery. This pretty stone structure is nestled at the edge of a park. When we walked up we saw several surprisingly young monks. Make sure if you visit not to take pictures of the monks. It’s rude.
#2: Lovcen National Park
Up, up, up the mountains from Cetinje we drove to arrive at the Lovcen National Park. It is in this region that the whole country received its name. Monte (mountain) + Negro (black) = Montenegro (black mountain). Although, to be honest, the mountains seemed more gray to me. They were indisputably beautiful, though.
On top of the second highest mountain in the area, a famous Montenegrin built a mausoleum for himself. To reach it, you have to climb several hundred stairs. Once you do, you are rewarded with 1) a cool structure, and 2) a stunning 360 degree view. You can see the Adriatic Sea on one side and the Balkan’s biggest lake, Lake Skadar on the opposite side. In between you see striking mountains, green valleys and the red roofs of houses dotting every now and again.
Our decision to hire a driver was validated once we began our descent from Lovcen to the coastal city of Kotor. This mountain pass road was something else–mostly unpaved and not really wide enough for two cars. Not to mention the hairpin switchbacks as you travel down 5,000 feet in elevation. Yikes!
It was well worth the nerve racking ride though, once we arrived in Kotor (a.k.a possibly the cutest town ever). Our driver dropped us off at the gated entrance to Old Town and for the next two hours we wandered inside a real life wonderland. B’s first comment was that it looked like something you’d see in Disneyland. No cars are allowed inside the walls of old town, so you are free to ramble down the cobblestone alleys without fear of being mowed over. We were constantly looking up at the sandstone colored houses and buildings that line the streets. And just when you forget where you came from, boom, there’s the crazy high limestone mountains erupting from the edge of the town.
#4: The Adriatic Sea
With our day (and access to a car) quickly disappearing on us, we made our final stop at the Adriatic Sea. B and I both prefer mountains and old cities to sunbathing by the beach, so we didn’t make the ocean a priority. However, one does not travel to the Adriatic without dipping one’s foot in it. So our driver took us to the fashionable town of Budva. We walked along a small beach and splashed a little through the lovely blue water.
Were we the partying types, Budva would also have been a good destination to dance at some discotheques. This region is called the Montenegrin Riviera and is the most popular tourist destination in Montenegro. As it was, I felt sufficiently unfashionable next to the beautiful bikini-clad 20-year-olds, so I was okay not spending too long here.
If you pronounce the capital of Montenegro ‘Podgoricka,’ then you will get corrected by a rather presumptuous whippersnapper. Or at least I did. It is actually pronounced ‘Podgorizza.’ Like rhymes with pizza. Nobody has much good to say about this capital city, so B and I didn’t allot any time other than evenings to spend here. However, I think this town might be getting unfairly critiqued.
We spent two evenings wandering around downtown. The nightlife scene seems to be hopping, tons of people were out and about starting around 9:00 p.m. We mainly saw people gathered in outdoor restaurants and bars, but I imagine there are also clubs around. It is very safe, in fact, our hotel lady actually laughed at us when we asked if it was safe to walk around. As B and I are usually tucked into our hotel rooms by 9:00 p.m., I consider the fact that we stayed out much later than that to be high praise for Podgorica.
A couple tips for traveling in Montenegro
Prior to visiting this less-traveled area of the world, we did some research into transportation options. I’ll give it to you straight: the options weren’t great. Unlike other parts of Europe, public transportation is old and a little sparse. To hit the five Montenegro must-sees we wanted to go, we would have to rent a car and drive it ourselves, or rent a driver and have him take us around. After reading some scary stories about the roads, we decided to seek out a driver.
Settling for not perfect, but good enough
I couldn’t find any private tours on the internet. There were a few taxi companies with websites in English, so I sent out a few emails. I had looked up highlights of the area and listed where we wanted to go in one day and asked for a quote. A gentleman named Radoslav responded with a price of 100 Euro. Since we didn’t really have any better options, so we agreed and told him where to pick us up. This was a bit of a leap of faith, yes, but it worked out just fine for us. Sure, the little English the driver spoke seemed to be (good-naturedly) mocking me. And sure, we had to get creative about explaining what we wanted to do. If this is out of your comfort zone, you might want to think about a car rental. Anyhow, our driver arrived on time and off we went to our five Montenegro must-sees
Conclusion for five Montenegro must-sees
The Balkan countries are much less visited than their Greek and Italian neighbors. This is beginning to change, though, as people hear about lovely countries like Montenegro. It would be terrific to be able to spend more time here, but if you only have one day, we highly recommend hiring a driver and visiting the above five Montenegro must-sees.