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Montenegro road trip

Updated on September 3rd, 2020

Are you dreaming of visiting Montenegro yet? If not, you need to be! Montenegro has been one of my all-time favourite countries. Last year was the second time I visited the country and was lucky enough to spend 7 weeks exploring. Yep, that’s right, I said 7 weeks and I know you only have 7 days. So I have picked my favourite places that are must-visits to add to your Montenegro Road Trip itinerary.

If you enjoying cheap destinations, nature, beautiful landscapes, delicious food and friendly locals then you will absolutely love Montenegro as much as I do. Montenegro is a true gem of the Balkans and combines dramatic mountains and active holidays with seaside towns where there’s not much to do but enjoy the sunshine and food.

On my last trip, I caught the bus from Croatia into Montenegro and even though the countries border each other they are so different. Upon crossing the border, the tourists disperse and the prices drop. Always a good sign for the budget traveller. Montenegro is quite a small country but has a lot to see, so use this guide to help plan your perfect 7 day Montenegro road trip.

Horseshoe bend Montenegro

Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through them, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. For more information on my disclaimer click here.

About Montenegro

Montenegro is part of the Balkans and a former country of Yugoslavia. In Durmitor National Park alone there are over 48 mountains that reach above 2,000m and more scattered throughout the country. What makes them impressive is that many of the peaks will climb dramatically from sea level or other low elevations.

The country is full of history and medieval villages. You’ll be able to explore U-boat tunnels in the Bay of Kotor, whole villages left abandoned due to earthquakes, 14th-century cities and building previously controlled by different emperors.

There are areas of Montenegro that see a lot of tourists, but the further into the country you go, the more likely you will be the only foreigners there.

One of the great things about Montenegro is it is not yet part of the Schengen. Which means it is a perfect place for long-term travellers to head to wait out their 90 days.

Fast facts

  • Population – 678,033
  • Visa’s – Many nationalities are able to enter Montenegro visa-free for 90 days. Check iVisa for your nationalities visa requirements.
  • Currency – Euro
  • Capital city – Podgorica
  • Language – Montenegrin a variation of the Serbo-Croatian language

Where is Montenegro

As you have probably already gathered Montenegro is below Croatia and a coastline along the Adriatic Sea. Montenegro also borders Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania. It is said that on a clear day, you can see all 5 countries from Mt Rumija.

Montenegro itinerary overview

  • Day 1 – Kotor
  • Day 2 – Kotor – Durmitor National Park
  • Day 3 – Durmitor National Park
  • Day 4 – Durmitor to Mrtvica Canyon to Lake Skadar
  • Day 5 – Lake Skadar
  • Day 6 – Lake Skadar to Stari Bar to Ulcinj
  • Day 7 – Ulcinj to Kotor

I am going to assume you will be arriving into either Kotor or Podgorica. We’ll start this road trip plan from Kotor but as it’s a loop you can easily change up the start location. If you are flying into Podgorica you’ll start at day 5 spending your first night in Lake Skadar.

The easiest and probably the cheapest way to get to Kotor would be by flying to Dubrovnik and taking one of the regular buses heading into Montenegro. Make sure you also have your road trip packing list sorted for the best possible journey.

Road trip destinations map

Click on the map icons to bring up their information. The red markers are locations and the yellow markers are things to do.

Day 1-2: Kotor

Kotor is the perfect place to be welcomed into Montenegro. Located on the Bay of Kotor, the scenery looks very impressive in pictures. Yet as we all know pictures don’t do a place justice and this is true for Kotor. You need to see this place for yourself.

The Bay of Kotor is almost 30km long and is hard to believe it’s part of the ocean as it is so calm. As far into the bay as you can go, you will find Kotor. From the water’s edge, the cliffs then climb up to 1000m high and Kotor makes up a small city as its base. The old town is surrounded by an intact fortification wall and towers that can be climbed.

I absolutely love Kotor but it can also get really busy. It’s often during the summer months that 1, sometimes 2 cruise ships will dock here for the day. That’s a LOT of people in a very small area. People are also coming down from Dubrovnik on day trips. Which is why you definitely need to spend the night here, actually. Once the cruise guests leave, the sun starts setting and you have the place to yourself it will seem well worth putting up with the day traffic.

View of Bay of Kotor from St John Fortress
View of the Bay of Kotor from St John Fortress

Things to do in Kotor

Explore the Old Town

As you’ll likely arrive in the afternoon, spend the first day checking in and wandering around the Old Town drinking coffee, playing with the famous cats of Kotor and enjoying the alfresco dining. Kotor is the perfect place to chill out hopping from cafe to cafe. Oh, and don’t miss the great gelato! You seriously can’t go wrong whichever stall you choose.

Hike up the St John Fortress

When it’s cool enough it’s time to hike to the top of the St John Fortress. It costs 8 Euros to enter the walls and the walk takes around 45 minutes one way. The walk is a decent workout so make sure you have plenty of water, especially when it is hot out. Unfortunately, the sun sets behind the mountains. So definitely go for sunset, but you will only get to see the colours over the water, not the sun setting.

Visit Our Lady of the Rocks

The following day, once you have your rental car take a short drive to Perast. Perast is an idyllic village 10km north and offers boat trips to the small island in the bay Our Lady of the rocks is a catholic church located on the island. I’m not really a churchgoer when travelling, but give me any excuse to get on the water and I’m there.

It would be a shame to visit this stunning bay and not get on the water at least once. Return trips will cost 5 Euros per person and you will want to spend up to 45 minutes on the island. Your driver will know this and come and get you around that time.

Where to park: The town of Perast is pedestrian-only so you will need to park in the car parks at the top of the hill. All-day parking is just 2 Euros.

Our Lady of the Rocks in the bay of Kotor
Our Lady of the Rocks

Where to stay in Kotor

Mid-range: Get in early because the Kotor Nest always sells out way ahead of time. Rated 9.5 on Booking with hundreds of reviews this guest house is in the heart of the Old Town and is under $70 night for a double room.

Budget: If you wish to be right in the Old Town there isn’t a lot of budget accommodation. Although the Nova Homestay gets good reviews.

Hostel: Kotor has plenty of options for the budget and solo traveller. Stay in or near the Old Town to be close to the major sights. Some of the most popular options in Kotor are Pupa Hostel and Montenegro Hostel B&B.

Kotor Old Town
Kotor Old Town

Pick up your rental car

Compare car rental prices on Kayak for great prices. You can get some really great deals for under $50 USD for the week but the average price is around $200. So make sure you shop around to get the best rates.

Drive to Durmitor National Park

Start your drive sometime in the afternoon on the second day, leaving enough time to visit Perast. The drive to Zabljak – the gateway town to Durmtor National Park – takes just over 2.5 hours.

For Montenegro standards, the road is a well-maintained highway and you shouldn’t have any issues driving this. Even so, I would recommend leaving enough time to reach Durmitor before dark. Part of the fun of taking a road trip is being able to see the local scenery.

Day 2, Total drive time: 3 hours / 185 km

Day 2-4: Durmitor National Park

You will arrive at the scenic Durmitor sometime in the afternoon on your second day. Durmitor National Park is in the northwest of the country and is quite the hidden gem. Many travellers miss visiting this area and for the locals, it is busier as a winter ski destination.

The area was formed by glaciers creating huge canyons, rivers, underground streams and 48 peaks over 2,000m in height. There are hikes of all durations suiting various abilities, but for the serious hikers, you have Bobotuv Kuk. Sitting at 2,525m Bobotuv Kuk is the highest peak in the country.

Over a couple of days here, you will most likely witness many of the bird and animal species that inhabit the area. If you are a bird lover the region is home to 130 types of birds. We were lucky enough to see a chamois when hiking, which is a cool looking mountain goat.

Where to park: There is plenty of free road-side parking around Zabljak and within the national park.

Black Lake Durmitor National Park
Black Lake in Durmitor

Things to do in Durmitor National Park

If you have more time to spare, I would recommend staying at least another night around Zabljak. There are many days worth of activities here, so be sure to read my full guide on visiting Durmitor National Park.

Tara Canyon Bridge

To not waste any time, I would suggest heading straight to the Tara Canyon Bridge when you arrive. This stunning arched bridge sits 172m above the Tara River and connects both sides of the canyon. You can grab a great photo opp like mine of the side closest to Zabljak or just spend a while looking around at the magical scenery.

Are you a bit of a daredevil? Then make sure you zipline over the canyon. There are a few companies, each very similar and all cost around 10 Euros.

Tara River in Montenegro
Tara River from the Tara Bridge

Visit the Black Lake (Crno Jezero)

The Black Lake is 3 km from Zabljak and can be reached by driving or by hiring bikes in town and cycling there. The lake is located within the national park boundary and there is a 3 Euro entry fee. Make sure if you plan to stay for 3 days you get the 3-day pass which is 6 Euros.

The Black Lake is a great place to spend a couple of hours and is the starting point for many of the hiking trails. In the summer months, take a refreshing dip in the icy cold glacial waters. Perfect when finishing a hike.

Visit the Black Lake after the Tara Bridge on your first day. Take a couple of drinks and watch the sunset on the grass here.

Go hiking

Spend a full day hiking in the National Park. The trails combine rocky outcrops, alpine lakes, cool, shaded forests and large open meadows. During the summer, mountain huts will be open on a handful of trails where you can stop for a cool beverage.

Behind the Black Lake, there are trails that are well signed. However, there aren’t many online resources for choosing a hike. We chose our hike by using the mapy.cz app. This app is great as it shows trails that other maps don’t show. You can also see topography lines and use offline. Check out 3 hikes I recommend in my Durmitor guide above.

Hiking in Durmitor National Park
Hiking in Durmitor NP

Where to stay in Durmitor

Mid-range: Vuk Popovic is a clean and spacious apartment sleeping up to 4 people. Located right in the heart of Zabljak.

Budget: We stayed in the Woden Apartment but it seems to have been converted into a 3-bedroom apartment now and is not in the budget traveller range. Instead, try the Organic Family Farm 10km south of the Black Lake for a place that is consistently getting 10/10 reviews.

Hostel: There’s one hostel in the Durmitor area that gets all the raving reviews, that’s the Hostel Hikers Den. Again, make sure you book this in advance because rooms fill up quickly during the summer months.

Day 4: Mrtvica Canyon to Lake Skadar

A great detour en route to Lake Skadar is the Mrtvica Canyon. We were told about this place by our hosts in Montenegro and were glad we checked it out. There is very little public information surrounding this location and yet it is so fascinating. During the Yugoslavic era, the military carved a path through the cliff-face above the canyon.

The only way to see this is by doing the hike that runs alongside the canyon. The official hike starts by the main road and takes 6 hours return. Although we parked in a different location making the hiking portion shorter and perfect for breaking up the drive.

Start at the location shown on the map above. Park the car at the bend in the road to find the trailhead. The path may not be instantly obvious, we had to turn around and park before we saw it ourselves. From here follow the path that leads down and towards the canyon. You will cross a bridge and come to a fork which is where you join the regular route. Turn left here and use one of the map apps as a guide.

Hiking the Mrtvica Canyon
The military carved tunnel

The hike

The hike follows the edge of the canyon, which in some parts is 700m high! It really is impressive. The hike took us 1.5 hours to reach the tunnel which included a few stops for photos and a longer snack break at the gate of wishes.

The gate of wishes is a natural arch along the route, you need to take a left where the path forks to find it. As there is only one trail here, and it is well marked it’s hard to get lost. Just make sure you do go left at the two forks. When you have seen the gate of wishes you will return to the main path the way you came.

Unfortunately, when we did the hike, the weather turned and we ran the to reach the tunnel and get out of the rain. We tried waiting out the worst of the storm under the cover but it didn’t subside and we decide to run back. We must have gotten back in 35 minutes, so it really isn’t a long hike.

The route shown on the map app says the elevation gain is 730m, although I’m not sure why. The hike has some up and downs, but it is no way strenuous. So just use the map as a guide.

Finally, continue on to Virpazar, the town in Lake Skadar National Park

Day 4-6: Lake Skadar National Park

Lake Skadar is a unique region in the southeast of the country. This area has so much going on and is where I was based for 7 weeks last year. Today will be a big day and after hiking Mrtvica Canyon and driving from Durmitor, it’s likely you will arrive late. Keep your first evening quiet and enjoy the beautiful sunsets from the town of Virpazar where you can have dinner and drinks overlooking the water.

Lake Skadar is divided by the Montenegro/Albania border and is one of Europe’s most important bird habitats. The lake has islands with monasteries where a community of nuns live, an old island prison, small lakeside villages with homemade produce and is surrounded by Montenegro’s best vineyards.

Where to park: As you turn off the highway into Virpazar, you will see a small supermarket on the left. Pull in here or continue further down for additional parking spots.

Day 4, Total drive time: 3 hours 22 minutes / 158 km

Virpazar riverfront restaurants
Dining in Virpazar

Things to do in Lake Skadar NP

Kayak on the lake

Lake Skadar is often glassy, which makes it perfect for kayaking. Hire a kayak at Boat Milica in Virpazar and head out early for the best conditions. If kayaking isn’t your thing they also offer boat tours starting at 25 Euros/hour (per boat, not person).

Drive to Pavlova Strana

One of the iconic images of Lake Skadar is Montenegro’s horseshoe bend. Located 30 km’s from Virpazar but along a narrow windy road, it will take you an hour to reach the viewpoint. The drive is very scenic and has multiple places you’ll want to stop at for photos along the way.

On the way have lunch st Rijeka Crnojevića. This little town is just before the horseshoe bend has is located on an inlet to the lake. There are old stones houses built by a prince in the 1800s, a lovely old bridge and a number of restaurants overlooking the river to choose from. If you have some extra time here you can continue down a trail along the river. Eventually, you will end up at a cave and some swimming holes but this might add too much time to your day.

Next, continue driving to the bend. You will see a very small pull-off area with a viewing area nearby. Stop and take a few photos here and then jump back in the car and head down the road a bit further. There is another spot that offers great views but doesn’t have the pull-off.

Pavlova Strana viewpoint
Pavlova Strana viewpoint

Have coffee in Montenegro’s most scenic cafe

When you are heading back to Virpazar, you will have to stop at the cutest little cafe I’ve ever been to. It’s not always open, so if it’s open on the way there, you had better stop just in case.

This cafe, if you can actually call it that is really just a roadside stall with a few tables and seats set up and the coffee isn’t great. So why do I recommend you stop? For the incredible view and location of the seats. Just take a look at this picture below. Instead of a coffee, try the fresh pomegranate juice.

Day 5, Total drive time: 2 hours / 57 km

My favourite cafe in Montenegro
These views!

Where to stay in Lake Skadar National Park

Mid-range: Delightful Studio Sara is exactly as it sounds: delightful. Beautiful hardwood floors, renovated bathrooms, good lighting and a balcony make this my top pick for Virpazar.

Budget: Beba’s Rooms are in the centre of Virpazar and although they are nothing special they are a good choice for budget travellers.

Hostel: Unfortunately there are no hostels in Virpazar. The closest hostel is in Podgorica 40 minutes away. If you really want to stay in a hostel try the Travel Break hostel and drive out to the lake each day.

Day 6: Stari Bar to Ulcinj

Stari Bar means Old Bar and is a centre to numerous historical events. The Venetians, Serbians, Hungarians and the Ottoman Empire all ruled the city at one point. In 1877 Montenegro claimed it back from the Turks by exploding the aqueduct and cutting off their water supply.

In 1979 the town was left abandoned after a huge earthquake tore through destroying many of the buildings and the same aqueduct. It still lies in ruins today but the surrounding area is being built up as a place to visit the historic city. The new Bar has been built as a major port area in Montenegro 5km below where the original town stood.

Aside from visiting Stari Bar for the history, you will also enjoy the very charming cafes that have popped up heading up to the ruins. The main road offers a short stretch of souvenirs shops, cafes and restaurants. The food offered is typical Montenegrin and very affordable. A couple of the restaurants don’t serve alcohol. If you like to enjoy a beer with lunch make sure you check this first.

Next, continue on the Ulcinj.

Where to park: At the base of the Stari Bar is a paid car park. I don’t remember the exact cost but its only a couple of Euros to park all day here.

Stari Bar Cafes
Cafes in Stari Bar

Day 6-7: Ulcinj

For your final stop in Montenegro, its time to hit the coast. Ulcinj (pronounced with a silent ‘j’) is full of little beach coves, more than you can explore and a big long sandy stretch. It sits at the southern tip of Montenegro and is one of the oldest towns in the Adriatic. This is the perfect place to chill out and relax after a jam-packed week of exploring Montenegro.

We drove out to Ulcinj with the hopes of spotting the wild flamingos. However, long story short we were unable to find them. It turns out they live in an area off-limits to public access and you need to be on a tour to see them.

Where to park: The streets are narrow in Ulcinj and if you have a big car you might find it hard to get a park. Although there is a car park by the sea and at the top of the Old Town.

Day 6, Total drive time: 1 hour 15 minutes / 55 km

Ulcinj
Ulcinj

Things to do in Ulcinj

Visit the nudist beaches

If you really want to get that even tan visit the famous Ada Bojana. If you are new to getting it all out in public and feeling a bit self-conscious, the ladies Beach Ulcinj is as it sounds – ladies only. For a complete rundown of all the beaches in Ulcinj check this page.

Go kitesurfing

On any given day you will see kite surfers out in the waves at Velika Plaza, meaning long beach in English. Ths 13 km stretch of beach has kite surfing companies that you can rent gear or try a lesson with.

Enjoy the beachside dining options

Each of the beach coves has it’s own dining options. As many of the beaches are located on a cliff you’re guaranteed excellent views. Sunset Beach Bar may just have the best views and Mala Plaza beach is closest to the old town. The strip behind it has multiple dining options to choose from.

Where to stay in Ulcinj

Mid-range: Renovated, ocean view rooms make the Apartmani Gusar a great choice for mid-range travellers. Two nights in a double room will set you back just over $100.

Budget: Apartments Prag is one of the best sellers in Ulcinj and personally I think its a bargain. There is private parking which is a huge plus here and just 250m away from the beach.

Hostel: Hostel Center is rated 9.6 on Hostel World and attracts all sorts of travellers. There are cosy outdoor areas and sturdy wooden bunks.

Ulcinj beaches
Looking back on the Old Town of Ulcinj

Day 7: Return to Kotor

Spend as little or as long as you like in Ulcinj before returning to Kotor. The drive along Montenegro’s coast is extremely scenic and no doubt you’ll pull over for multiple photo ops. Along the way is Sveti Stefan, an island accommodation for the rich and famous. You can check that out and other destinations that didn’t make this week-long itinerary on my top destinations in Montenegro post.

Day 7, Total drive time: 1 hour 40 minutes / 87 km

Montenegro travel tips & information

Driving in Montenegro

Driving in Montenegro is fine you just need to add some extra caution. Local drivers tend to decide overtaking on blind bends is perfectly ok. So be careful coming around bends as it’s often you need to slow down due to an oncoming vehicle in your lane. This actually happened to us so many times we couldn’t believe so many drivers take this risk.

Another thing to note is that many of the roads are very narrow and windy. You’ll likely have to pull over into the bushes to allow two cars to pass side by side. Make sure your car insurance covers scratches in case the rental company is overly pedantic about this.

Otherwise, the main roads are fairly well-maintained and you shouldn’t have any problems.

Do you need a car?

This itinerary assumes you have a car. Getting between each of the destinations would be easy enough without a car however, getting around once there wouldn’t be possible. Seeing the Tara Bridge may not have a public access bus and also the day trip around Lake Skadar relies solely on having your own vehicle.

Driving in Montenegro
Driving in Durmitor National Park

The best time to visit Montenegro

I’m always an advocate for the shoulder seasons. July and August in Montenegro will be the busiest and the hottest times of the year. If you visit during June or September expect temperatures to be a bit cooler especially overnight and in Durmitor National Park, but they should be pleasant everywhere else and makes for perfect hiking weather.

The biggest concern with those months is the chance of snowfall in the higher altitudes. Or potentially the snow hasn’t completely melted in the mountains making hiking trails impassable or more difficult (speaking from experience here).

We were there during April and May and the day time temperatures were beautiful, but the water was too cold for swimming and we found hiking in Durmitor hard due to the amount of snow coverage.

Safety in Montenegro

There was never a moment I felt unsafe in Montenegro. A lot of the older population who remember the years during the Yugoslav war are sceptical of the safety here. Although we were only ever welcomed with big smiles and generosity from locals. The only thing you’ll likely have to do against your will is have another glass of Rakija.

How to get to Montenegro

There are two major airports within the country, Podgorica and Tivat. Flights into Tivat tend to be more expensive than flying to nearby Dubrovnik. It’s very easy to fly to Dubrovnik and get the bus to Kotor (find my link in the intro on how to do this).

If you have extra time

I can highly recommend white water rafting in the Tara Canyon or the nearby Piva Canyon. Heading to the Piva Canyon is a beautiful drive and worth an extra days detour from either Kotor or Durmitor.

Spend another day hiking around Lake Skadar National Park and wine tasting at the small local tasting rooms.

Lovcen National Park is set above the clouds and makes a good day trip from Kotor.

Where to next?

Montenegro borders Albania and Croatia, two incredible destinations on their own. Read my guides on hiking Valbona to Theth in Albania and don’t miss Plitvice Lakes National Park and Krka National Park in Croatia.

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Unmissable 7 Day Montenegro Road Trip Itinerary

Hello! My name is Erin, the lady behind Curiously Erin. After more than 10 years of travelling and working abroad, I wanted to create a platform where I could share my stories and travels. My goal is to help you live the life you desire and inspire you to travel more.

Comments:

  • 6:17 am

    Loved Kotor when we went – although it’s a shame we didn’t know about Kotor Nest because it looks stunning!

    reply...

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