Backpacking Montenegro: 16 must visit destinations
Earlier this year, Ben and I spent 7 amazing, fun-filled weeks living and exploring beautiful Montenegro. We were based in Lake Skadar National Park where we were doing a Workaway program and lucky for us got to see a lot of this Balkan country. One great thing when backpacking Montenegro is it’s fairly easy to see most of it, as it is so small and it’s affordable for budget travellers. So far this beautiful country has been the highlight of our trip.
I was really excited to be heading back to Montenegro as I had wonderful memories from the 2 months I spent based in Porto Montenegro when I worked on a superyacht 2 years earlier. Before we arrived in Montenegro from Croatia, multiple people told us about how ‘wild’ the country was. While I don’t necessarily believe it’s wild, there is a lot of natural and undeveloped areas. This makes the country perfect for outdoor lovers and hikers.
If you’re not into hiking and the outdoors, don’t worry, the country still has something for you. The coastal areas are more built up and quite developed in certain parts. The coastal waters are crystal clear and very calm, perfect for swimming or paddleboarding. You will find many cafes, restaurants and bars all at a fraction of the cost to what you would have been paying if you came from Croatia.
So, if you are ready to put your backpack on, come and join me through Montenegro. I promise you will love it as much as we did.
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Firstly, where is Montenegro?
You’ll be forgiven if you don’t know where Montenegro is. Although, if you’ve put my hints from above together you may have worked out it is near Croatia on the coast. So near, in fact, Montenegro borders Croatia to the south and has 293 km of coastline on the Adriatic Sea. Montenegro also borders 4 other counties, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania.
How to get to Montenegro
As you’re backpacking Montenegro you will probably be arriving by land. Buses are easy to take from neighbouring countries and it’s worth looking online for the local bus companies. Otherwise, you can book tickets online through sites like, Get By Bus and Bus Ticket 4 Me.
There is a train line which connects Belgrade, Serbia with Bar, Montenegro. This route is meant to be extremely scenic and is surprisingly affordable. Tickets for €19.80 for two window seats. You can read more about this journey at Chasing the Donkey blog.
The main Montenegro airport is located in the capital of Podgorica. There is also a smaller international airport near Tivat.
The Montenegro Coast
If you are coming from Croatia, Herceg Novi is the first major seaside town you will reach. I loved that during the summer months, I was able to see kiwi fruit growing all around town. Herceg Novi is only small but is a lovely place to go swimming, paddle boarding and kayaking. One really cool kayak tour you can do is to the U-boat shelters during the war times.
Kotor might just possibly be the most famous town in Montenegro and for good reason. Situated deep inside the Bay of Kotor, mountains climb dramatically straight from the water’s edge. From the roadside, Kotor doesn’t seem like much. However, once you enter pass through the Old Town Gates and enter Kotor’s Starigrad you will see what draws the tourists.
Wonderful cobblestone laneways weave and wind around secret alleys, museums and market places and end in plazas full of lively restaurants and restored churches. To best discover the Old Town join this free walking tour and read this ultimate backpackers guide to Kotor.
If you love a good walking tour, check out the best free walking ones in Europe.
To enjoy views of this UNESCO World Heritage site, climb the 1,355 steps along the city wall until you reach the Fortress of St John. At this vantage point 260m above sea level you will be rewarded with unobstructed views of the city and the bay below. Cost to enter the walls is €8.
Try and time it that you aren’t here when a cruise ship is in port. Prices will increase and there are thousands of people squished into the small old town.
Dubrovnik to Kotor
Kotor is about a 2-hour drive south of Dubrovnik, so it’s more than possible to do day trips here from Croatia. Just be mindful that in summertime the border crossing can get busy.
You can take this tour from Dubrovnik to Kotor and Budva and return on the same day. Just don’t forget your passport. If you’re looking to keep costs lowest its better to spend your time backpacking Montenegro than in Croatia, which is becoming very expensive.
Tivat is where you will find the exclusive Porto Montenegro. This supeyachting hub is definitely more on the expensive side of things. Although worth checking out for a day. The whole port area is newly built and features plenty of restaurants and bars overlooking the water.
I loved the time I was based here and if you have some money to spend I would recommend staying here or nearby. Splurge on a pizza with a bottle of Whispering Angel rosé at Bevanda Ristorante & Pizzeria. After dinner head to The Clubhouse for the best espresso martinis. If you’re ready for a party Platinum Nightclub stays open late.
To keep prices lower leave the main marina area. One of my favourite places to spend an afternoon was at Waikiki Beach Resort. Nope, not in Hawaii but here in Tivat. They serve delicious cocktails, reasonably priced food and if you buy a drink can lay on the sun loungers for free.
When backpacking Montenegro, Budva is worth checking out for the beautiful views from the old town walls and night-long nightlife. Although be warned this town is known for its glitz and glamour.
Try and time your trip to Budva with the Sea Dance Music Festival, usually the last weekend in August. Electronic, EDM and house music DJ’s line the beach shores for 3 nights of dancing until the sun comes up.
If you’ve always wanted to try paragliding, Budva would be a wonderful spot to do it. Combine thrills and flying with great views of the coastline. Ben and I went paragliding in Turkey which was an incredible experience. This paragliding tour will put you safely in the air with a qualified guide.
Make a note when heading south along the coast of the island Sveti Stefan. Only for the richest clientele, this fortified island village has been converted into a 5-star resort. Each building and been resorted and makes up one of the 50 rooms on the island. The website is worth having a look at for the ‘one day’ when I win the lottery thoughts.
We didn’t have a chance to explore the coastal area of Bar, but we did manage to visit Stari Bar (Old Bar). This now cute and chic area is still being restored from its eventful past. Stari Bar was first destroyed during the war between Montenegro and the Ottoman empire in the late 1800s. After being rebuilt, Montenegro was devastated by a huge earthquake in 1979. This again destroyed Stari Bar and left the town with a lot of ruined buildings.
Stari Bar is well worth a visit to explore the old fortress up on the hillside. There are views out to sea and out over the surrounding mountainside. I personally really liked the main street in town. It was full of character and each restaurant was decorated with colourful fabrics and cushions. Bedem restaurant is a two-story building which serves traditional dishes. Two meals and two drinks will cost around €15.
Nearby Montenegro claims to have the oldest tree in Europe. This olive tree is said to be over 2,000 years old. It will cost €1 to enter but you can see it well enough from behind the fence on the road.
Ulcinj is the southernmost beach town before you cross the border into Albania. One really cool fact is that historically, this town was a pirate lair. Here you can enjoy some relaxing, cheap beach days in a more traditional town. Or test yourself by learning to kitesurf.
If you have the chance you can arrange a tour to see the local flamingoes. Also, visit Bojana Island which is the southernmost point of Montenegro. You can access the island by bridge, which is actually the best part of this area. Here you could be fooled into thinking you are in Asia. Buildings are built out over the Bojana River with large fishing structures lining the waterway.
We had trouble driving down to the coast of Ulcinj old town due to the narrow lanes and large volumes of traffic, and this wasn’t during the peak summer months. If you have a car, I would advise you to leave it up higher on the hill.
Montenegro’s National Parks
Montenegro has 5 National Parks. We managed to visit 3 of them and will have to go back for the remaining two.
Lake Skadar National Park
As previously mentioned, Ben and I were based in Lake Skadar as part of our Workaway program. We seem to love lakes and always gravitate towards them. Another incredible lake we ended up at was Lake Bohinj in Slovenia.
This area alone I could write so many blog posts on. So, your takeaway from this section. You need to visit Lake Skadar when you are backpacking Montenegro! When I first looked at pictures online as to where we were heading the images just didn’t sell me. It wasn’t until we were at the Lake I was able to appreciate how beautiful it was and how many different things there were to do around the area.
Lake Skadar is divided between Montenegro and Albania and gets its name from the city Shkoder in Albania. It is home to 280 bird species. On top of this, there are so many hiking trails, some strenuous mountain climbs, like Mt Rumija and others flatter valley walks. Do you like wine? Pfft, stupid question. Who doesn’t? The Lake Skadar region is the wine centre for Montenegro.
Something you mustn’t miss when visiting Lake Skadar is a kayak trip along the lake. It’s not unusual to have completely glassy water which is just breathtaking when you’re paddling along.
Cost to enter: Free to enter the park
Durmitor National Park
This park is one of the easiest parks to reach if you are backpacking Montenegro without a car. You can get here directly from Kotor and Podgorica by bus and will take about 3 hours. Durmitor national park has multiple mountainous hiking trails and beautiful alpine lakes. Read my full Durmitor hiking and travel guide here.
The best place to stay is in the gateway town of Žabljak. From here you are central to the Black Lake and the spectacular Tara Canyon and Tara Bridge.
This area is also the adrenaline capital of Montenegro. You’ll find no shortage of white water rafting companies, jeep safaris, canyoning and zip lining over the canyon. I highly recommend a white water rafting trip. This was the first place I went white water rafting and had an absolute blast, plus you get a different vantage point being inside the canyon.
Situated in the far northeastern corner of the country, varying shades of green forests make up most of the landscape. As you start to climb higher into the mountains, forests start dispersing into large green meadows. If you are visiting in spring you will be rewarded with seeing the meadows full of brightly coloured wildflowers. One of the astounding facts about Durmitor is how many of their peaks reach over 2,000m – 48 of them! Try hiking Bobotuv Kuk which is the highest at 2,525m.
Cost: €3 per person for a daily ticket or €6 for 3 days.
Lovćen National Park
Lovćen National Park is only an hour from Kotor. However, without direct bus lines can be a bit of a hassle getting there without a car. You will either need to hire a car or take a bus to Cetinje and then find a taxi to drive you to the top. I have heard it is possible to get a taxi driver to wait for you up the top for €20.
The first things you notice when you arrive into Lovcen is just how rocky the surface is. Both large and small stones make up a large part of this landscape. The resourceful locals have used these natural resources and built their homes and walls out of them.
One of the highlights of Lovcen National Park is the Njegos Mausoleum on Jezerski peak. The pathway out to the mausoleum is along the ridgeline of Lovcen’s second-highest peak and you feel like you are walking on a platform elevated in the sky.
Also to note, Lovcen is where Montenegro (Crna Gora) received its name. King Milutin, in 1276 mentions Crna Gora meaning Black Mountain. It is said that the dense forests were so dark in Lovcen that the impression was a black mountain.
Cost: Park entry is €2 and an additional €5 to enter the mausoleum.
An easy way to visit Lovcen National Park is with this tour departing from Kotor, Tivat or Budva.
Biogradska Gora National Park
This smaller national park is in the northeast of the country and unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit.
Biogradska Gora is said to be one of Europes final remaining primeval forests. This means it is in its original state and untouched by agriculture or industry.
If you have a car there is a road running through the middle which makes it easy to explore. Stop at Lake Biograd where the forest green colour water perfectly reflects the surrounding forest.
Cost: €3 for a day ticket.
Prokletije National Park
The final Montenegrin National Park for you to visit is Prokletije. This national park is divided between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro and is where you will find the famous peaks of the Balkans hiking trail and the Accursed Mountains.
Even if you are not a big hiker, you will be amazed at the dramatic jagged peaks, deep gorges and alpine lakes. Stop by and visit Ali-Pasha’s Springs and Plav Lake for two of the must-visit destinations within Prokletije National Park.
Cost: €1 for a day ticket.
Other places to visit in Montenego
Cetinje is the location of the old Royal Capital City of Montenegro. Ben and I passed through here on our way to Lovcen quickly. We were both impressed by how beautiful and green the city was and the impressive buildings.
Having been into Podgorica numerous times and never been impressed, we couldn’t quite understand why the capital city moved from here.
You only need to spend a few hours in Cetinje wandering the streets admiring the architecture and the pre Second World War Capital.
To be honest, monastery, churches and buildings don’t excite me that much. I’ll snap a couple of pictures and move on to the next thing. So the reason I loved the Ostrog Monastery is that it’s carved into the side of a cliff!
Sitting high up on the mountain, the thoughts that often run through my mind with buildings like these are, ‘how did they build this?’.
It’s an hour northwest of Podgorica and otherwise not much around it. You are required to walk at least 10 minutes to reach the building or you can park at the lower monastery and walk 40 minutes looking out over the valley. This tour combines the Ostrog Monastery with a trip to Durmitor and Tara Canyon.
For an authentic look at how the locals live in the countryside, a drive out to Korita is well worth adding to your backpacking Montenegro itinerary. Izi Travel is an audio tour guide company who offers two tours in Montenegro which are both free. You just need to download an app and have access to the internet. From Podgorica press start in the app and as you drive the Korita loop the audio tour will play. It mentions everything from the viewpoints worth stopping at, historical moments and monuments to stories from locals. The other tour you can do is in Durmitor. We did both and found them really interesting.
Once you arrive in Korita, there is a wonderful short walk (about an hour) that leads you from the main road and up to Falcons Throat. Here you will be on top of a canyon which overlooks Albania and the Albania mountains. The weather was a bit cloudy during our trip and yet it was still incredible.
People always ask if it’s worth travelling to Podgorica. I never like telling people not to visit places because travelling is so subjective. So what I would say if you are wondering this is, don’t go out of your way to visit. Although if you have a bus or plane from the capital spend a night and see it for yourself. There are a few buildings and the Millennium Bridge which are worth checking out if you are there.
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Montenegro is a beautiful, diverse country. There is something here for everyone and it’s perfect for the budget traveller. I hope my ideas on where to go in Montenegro have inspired you and I look forward to seeing your travels here.