A seemingly mysterious little country nestled just south of Croatia and hugging the Adriatic coast, Montenegro is finally getting some of the international recognition it deserves. But the good news for you is that Montenegro’s still a little off the beaten path, and whereas hordes flock to Croatia’s beautiful Dalmatian shores, this little slice of paradise is still surprisingly less busy than its more famous neighbor.
So, now that you’ve added it to your Mediterranean summer holiday list, let’s walk through some of its gems in this guide to the top 10 must-visit places in Montenegro.
Kick things off in the capital of the country, Podgorica. A city that isn’t going to ever win any beauty pageants but, if you just chip away at that slightly unappealing exterior, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant city with a bustling café culture and brilliant nightlife.
Add to that a few beautiful churches to visit (most notably the Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus) the quaint old town (Stara Varoš), the impressive Millennium Bridge and the Ribnica River and you’ll suddenly find yourself filling your Montenegro itinerary.
Podgorica is also the perfect place to base yourself for a couple of days, as it sits between the Lake Skadar National Park and the rolling foothills of the Dinaric Alps. So, whether you want some relaxation or hiking, both are perched right on your doorstep.
A mere 50km ‘down the road’ from Montenegro’s capital is one of the most unique landmarks in the country, and another must-visit location.
The Ostrog Monastery is a striking brilliant white Orthodox Church, set back into a sheer cliff. It was first built back in the 17th century, although the white façade was a little more recent addition, having been rebuilt in the 1920s after a catastrophic fire.
The monastery contains both an upper and lower section, and it’s common to witness people making the 3km pilgrimage between the two barefoot, to visit the remains of Saint Basil of Ostrog (the former Bishop who founded the church here).
Although already mentioned as a smashing day trip from the nation’s capital, Skadar Lake National Park deserves its own spot on the countdown of must-visit places in Montenegro.
Crossing both Montenegro and Albania, the lake is the largest in southern Europe, and provides one of the best spots to visit if you are a nature enthusiast. You can do multi-day kayaking and camping trips and visit charming small churches and forts on little islands in the lake.
Located in the Gulf of Kotor, the old town of Kotor is probably the most famous spot in Montenegro, and it’s easy to see why this UNESCO World Heritage site makes it on nearly everyone’s must-visit list when visiting the country.
Some of the best attractions in Kotor are the old city walls, Saint Nicholas’ Church, Saint Tryphon’s Cathedral and the very cute St. Luke’s Church.
And of course, you can’t visit Kotor without a hike up to the San Giovanni Fortress. This has to provide some of the best views in the country, but note that it’s a decent walk, comprising 1355 steps. Best to try and set off in the early morning as it can get brutally hot on the walk!
Pro tip: Looking to up the ante? A short drive from Kotor is the gorgeous seaside town of Tivat; a spot marked by super-yachts and high-end hotels that wouldn’t be out of place in Monaco or St. Tropez!
Another postcard-perfect town on the Adriatic, Budva is potentially the most breath-taking of all the old towns in Montenegro.
This small Adriatic town made it onto the traveler’s map since it boasts some of the best beaches in the country and, given the diminutive size of the town, a rousing nightlife scene.
Part of the Roman Empire from the 2nd century BC, then held by the Byzantines, Saracens, Ottomans and Venetians, there is a lot of history to the whole area. But it really was the Republic of Venice, during their 400-year rule, that created the spectacular old town.
Almost a stone’s throw away from Budva is the acclaimed Sveti Stefan. While it could have been lumped into the Budva section, this camera-friendly landmark is just so special it deserves a little corner of this article all to itself.
The Island of Saint Stephen was initially a small village, before becoming the summer residence of the Queen of Yugoslavia. Nowadays the island has been swallowed up by an award-winning resort, the Aman Sveti Stefan.
If you’re looking for something special, then surely it’s worth staying here for a night (or two).
A very small town, with a tiny population in the hundreds, Perast is not only a tourist draw since it’s an easy trip from nearby Dubrovnik, but it’s a must-visit simply because it’s the easiest starting point to reach one of Montenegro’s most famous monuments: the Our Lady of the Rocks islet.
Sitting a few hundred meters off Perast town, Our Lady of the Rocks is one of two islets, (the other being Sveti Juraj Island) with the church of the same name being one of the most important sites in the region.
According to legend, the island was formed by local fishermen returning to the safety of the bay who would cast a rock after each voyage. These rocks were said to pool together, slowly forming this distinctive island over time.
Pro tip: If you are in Montenegro or surrounds around 22 July each year, venture to Perast. The city hosts a curious event; an annual festival held at sunset where locals toss small rocks, in a bid to keep expanding the island.
Tara River Canyon
Calling all adrenaline junkies (and nature lovers), this one is definitely the must-visit place in Montenegro for you. Whether it’s white water rafting, canyoning, zip lining or even hiking, Tara River Canyon has to be one of the best kept, adventure-fueled secrets in Southern Europe.
With great day trips available from both Budva and Kotor, it’s another easy (and exciting) day out to add to your holiday bucket list. That said, even if you can’t spend a full day in the area, or you’re not that a hiking or adventure fan, it’s still worth heading to Tara River Canyon just to visit the mighty Djurdjevica Tara bridge.
Probably the most off the beaten track location in a country known for being a treasure of its own, the Black Lake or Crno Jezero is another stunning natural landmark in the land of the Black Mountain.
This glacial lake in northern Montenegro is located in the equally glorious Durmitor National Park. If you’re looking for untouched, jaw-dropping natural beauty, then there aren’t many places left in Europe as perfect as this. Just make sure it’s on your must-visit list!
And last, but by no means least, is the Mausoleum of Njegos which sits atop Mount Lovcen in the Lovcen National Park.
Not too far from Kotor, and accessible via the P1, a road up the back of Kotor that offers fantastic views back over the bay, Lovcen National Park and particularly Mount Lovcen offers a plethora of picturesque hiking routes.
The Mausoleum is a more modern addition, having been built in 1974 to replace the damaged Njegoš Testament Church which was originally constructed back in 1845 and perched on the top of the mountain.
Don’t miss out on this little gem, the views are out of this world.
Whether you’re looking for brilliant beaches, heavy helpings of nature, a dose of history or just want to get off the tourist trail, then Montenegro provides you amazing options in spades. The only issue you’ll face? Working out which of these must-visit places in Montenegro you’ll be frequenting first!