Driving along lush green mountain, looking at a scenery of forever changing coastline with clear a blue sky joining with the deep blue ocean at the horizon. We have arrived at our Mediterranean getaway in Montenegro. Hiring a car may be a costly way to travel during a long term holiday, but is definitely a better and relaxing way to see all the coastal sceneries and cities by driving in Montenegro coastline.
We were planning to visit Dubrovnik on this same road trip but we were deterred by the amount of tourists in the middle of summer. Especially after “Game of Thrones” had being filmed in Dubrovnik recently. The following is the story of our 6 days adventure driving in Montenegro.
Our Itinerary in Montenegro Mediterranean Paradise
The meaning of Montenegro means “Black Mountain” and surely the coastal area is packed with mountains and is extremely beautiful. The main part of our drive in Montenegro is around the Bay of Kotor where we saw extremely beautiful landscapes of high mountains, coves and beautiful sea mixed in with beautiful historical cities.
The roads are quite windy at most parts during this drive and many parts of the mountain roads are only wide enough to fit one car on a two way road. It takes a bit of courage and being extra careful at some parts to navigate these coastal roads but the reward is definitely worth while.
DAY 1 Driving in Montenegro- Skadar Lake and Lovcen National Park
We started out trip form Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, which we have stayed for a few days before we started our road trip to the coastline. Podgorica only has a population of 200,000 people but it is already one third of the total population of Montenegro (600,000 people). It was quite a simple city without much to do so we mainly rested and prepared for our driving in Montenegro trip. Driving to Kotor would have been easy on the highway and the total drive would have been under two hours, however there were a few places we wanted to see on our way.
After picking up our car in from Podgorica down town, We headed to Skadar Lake National Park. Skadar Lake is the largest lake on the Balkan Peninsula and beauty of the region is regarded as the heart and soul by many Montenegrins. There are so much history in this land, the Turks tried to conquer it, former royal family spend their summer in this region and it was place the Partisan uprising occurred in WWII. The scenery was definitely different to any other lakes we have seen before. The olden towns and fortresses built along the lake shores and churches built on island in the middle of the lake. There are not many tourists around this lake as most tours only reach the town of Virpazar. After Virpazar, the beauty of the lake is left exclusively for people who are driving in Montenegro.
However driving along this lake proved to be the hardest part of the drive in our trip in Montenegro. The road was extremely narrow and was a two way street. I had to drop the speed to a crawl around every corner or risk colliding into a car driving the opposite way. Some of the sceneries were absolutely stunning, however we couldn’t drive too far due to our slow travelling speed. We only drove through a few towns after Virpazar before we head back towards Lovcen National Park. We did some of the most amazing views of the Lake during our drive and stop at many scenic lookouts.
The drive in Lovcen National Park was windy but significantly easier than driving around Lake Skadar. The main attraction in this national park is the highest mausoleum in the world, Njegoš Mausoleum. Njegoš was a Prince-Bishop of Montenegro who was also a poet and philosopher who made some of the most important Montenegrin and Serbian literature. After Njegoš death in 1851 he was buried in a small chapel on this hill top, however it was significantly damaged during a war. In 1974 the Montenegrin authorities replaced Njegoš’ burial chapel with an impressive mausoleum.
After a long drive to the top of the mountain, we had to walk 400 steps before we could reach the top of the Mausoleum. the Mausoleum was built on a peak that is higher than all it’s surrounding and we had a 360 degree view from the top. Here we could see some small towns surrounding the impressive hills in the National Park. The mausoleum costs 3 Euros to enter (1.5 Euros for students) and we could see a extremely beautiful statue of Njegoš carved out of black stone and his tomb built in a cold stone chamber. The place was quite picturistic and we enjoyed the scenery from this place.
From the national park we could descend down to Kotor. By then we could see the extremely beautiful overview of Bay of Kotor. In Kotor we stayed at an AirBnB for two nights for €85 which includes a parking spot. The accommodation is only a comfortable 10 minute scenic walk to the old town. We could have visited the old town on this day but we have seen so much already so we decided to rest and see the place properly on the next day.
DAY 2 Driving in Montenegro – Kotor Old Town and Kotor Fortress
We decided to wake up early to see the Old town of Kotor, Stari Grad, before the summer sun begins to scorch and the tourist crowds begin to flood in. Because Kotor is now listed under UNESCO and it’s one of the most popular destinations in the Mediterranean, this place was packed with tourists during summer time.
Although the Old town still retained most of it’s historical look, it’s definitely touristy and filled with only shops or restaurants. It wasn’t a place where you can quietly enjoy. Cruise ship full of people pack this small place during the day so it was best to explore the old town in the early morning or late afternoon. The old fortifications against the huge mountain next to the Kotor Bay is what makes this place unique.
As Kotor was built strategically as a defensive town, the streets inside turns and twists like a maze. However the place isn’t hard to navigate as the old town is quite small and by following the big land marks, we found it hard to get lost. The buildings in the old town are quite beautiful but it isn’t overly different to other old towns in Europe.
What is truly amazing about this place is to be able to see the old town and the Bay of Kotor from the fortress walls on top of the mountain. The old town of Kotor is built next to the sea on a natural cove and behind the city is a mountain range. The fortress walls are built stretching almost all the way to the top of this mountain.
The Kotor fortress walls are around 4.5 km in total length and it looks like a miniature version of the Great Wall of China. The wall is built on extremely steep slopes of the mountain that almost look vertical and it looks amazing. During high season (May to October) there is a €3 per person charge to climb the Kotor fortress wall.
There is a total of 1350 steps reaching a total of 365 meters in altitude. The climb isn’t overly difficult but the summer heat is the real killer. The best time climb these steps is during the early morning or close to sunset times. Also the stone steps are quite worn and not well maintained, so best climb these steps with proper sports or hiking shoes.
We came back to the Old town of Kotor after our dinner at 6:30pm climb the fortress walls. By this time the sun has set behind the tall mountains in the distant but we will still have day light till 9:00pm. The temperature was a lot cooler but there was no wind at all and before we even reach the first bend, we were already soaked in sweat.
With each step we took, we could see more and more of the Bay of Kotor. The old town was merging into the new parts of the city. The scenery was different at every step and every turn we made, especially when the color of the sky is constantly changing during sunset. The heat and the climb was uncomfortable but this scenery was definitely worth our trouble.
In the middle of these 1350 steps is church built on the steep slopes called the Church of Our Lady of Health. It was a good place to sit and rest to break up the tedious climb. There were a group of young kids resting and drinking at this place and they were still there even when past the church on our way down. The view was already amazing at this place and is definitely a good place to sit and watch the sunset if we weren’t too keen to climb all the way to the top.
The paths were even less maintained on the top and the fortress looked like a ruin but that’s the beauty of this place. There were many photo opportunities around this deteriorating stone fortress with beautiful color from the sunset.
There were some holes along the fortress structures which we could climb in and out and adventure a little and at one point we couldn’t find the path because it was covered in grass. The level in altitude here isn’t as high as the Lovcen National Park but is at a perfect height to admire at the beautiful view of Bay of Kotor.
Right at the top of the Kotor Fortress wall is the St John’s fortress with the Montenegro flag. The fortress itself is not impressive but the scenery there was. We stood there until it was getting dark and we had to make our way down, otherwise it would have been painful walking in the dark.
There are lighting along the the fortress walls and sitting here would have been a romantic thing to do, but we weren’t that keen when we saw bugs flying around. By the time we reached the bottom, the money collecting lady had already left and a few men stinking with the smell of alcohol were beginning their free climb up these steps.
Old town of Kotor at night was truly different to day time. There were romantic tables filling the streets and ladies dressed in their Mediterranean dresses. The olden streets were lit up was warm colored lights. It would have been a great place to spend the night if we had more budget on our year long trip and classier clothes to wear.
DAY 3 Driving in Montenegro – Herceg Novi
On the third day we left Kotor to follow the shore line and head towards a town called Herceg Novi. Herceg Novi is a small town that is only 60km away from the popular Croatian city of Dubrovnik. At first we were prepared to drive all the way to Dubrovnik but was deterred after we visited Kotor. We were not keen to squeeze into a city so packed full of tourists. We would also needed to pay an extra €40 for our rented car to cross this boarder for this short day trip.
The building style of Herceg Novie is very similar to the style of Dubrovnik but not as grand. The accommodation is significantly cheaper than Dubrovnik being only €28 for a big apartment. Spending a night in Dubrovnik during high season would easily cost €100 or more a night.
Although, Herceg Novi is just outside of Bay of Kotor, the temperature here is significantly cooler. Probably due to the high mountains in Bay of Kotor blocking all the wind. We were quite surprised that in Herceg Novie, there were so little amount of tourists.
There were almost no one in the old town area at 5:30 pm, although most tourists here were crowding around the stony beaches. We realized that most European tourists are more fascinated with the beach than any old castle ruins.
Herceg Novi has three Fortresses which all costs €2 per person to enter. The most worth while fortress is the Kanli Kula Fortress, but it was closed by the time we arrived in the afternoon so we visited in the next morning.
Kanli Kula fortress has a stage in the middle and they seldom have small musical performance here. As this fortress is well maintained, it did not have the same abandoned feeling as Kotor fortress. For the Kanli Kula fotress we could see the beautiful seaside and the old town.
In Herceg Novi, ahround 2 kilometers away from the old town is the Savina Monastery. It is quite grand and quite peaceful to walk around in the evening. Is a good place to have a view of the bay around Herceg Novie.
If we had a little more time, we would have gone to a popular place in Herceg Novi called the Blue Grotto. In the grotto, the sunlight, passes through an underwater cavity creating a blue reflection that illuminates the cavern. It’s quite a beautiful place to spend an afternoon and swim. The best way to get to Blue Grotto is to pay for a small boat €30 per person to swim in the Grotto for half an hour.
DAY 4 Driving in Montenegro – Bay of Kotor
There were many small towns in the Bay of Kotor and the drive between these towns is only takes around 10 to 15 minutes. It would have been impossible to stop and see these places if we weren’t driving in Montenegro. The scenery around this bay is extremely beautiful and is quite easy to drive around. The most note worthy place to visit in the Bay of Kotor is the historical sailor’s town of Perast.
Perast used to be a vibrant town which flourished under the Venetian rule in the 18th century. It used to have a fleet of 100 ships with 4 active shipyards and over 1600 residence. Today we only have 360 permanent residence in this town. The town itself features many Venetian styles and it’s an extremely beautiful historical port to walk around. The town itself is fairly quiet until bus loads of tourists arrives.
Perast is also famous for the two beautiful island not far from the town sitting in the middle of Bay of Kotor. From Perast you can board ships to these island. Most people would know the more famous island of the two which is Our Lady of the Rocks. Legend said that the island is formed by local seaman who laid a rock in the Bay from each successful voyage. There is a beautiful church built with blue dome roof built on the man made island. The first Church was built on the island in 1452 and was rebuilt by the roman catholic church in 1632. On this island people could enter this church to see the beautiful interior.
The other island is the Island of Saint George which is a real island. There is a beautiful monastery built on top in the 12th century. We quite like the look of this island more because it is surrounded by tall trees.
From Kotor you can take a boat tour for €30 which also includes visiting these islands. Since we are driving in Montenegro, we could stop the car whenever we wanted to take pictures and enjoy the views. The town of Perast could be easily reached from Kotor by car and a car park is not hard to find. Best advise for people driving to Perast is to park the car next to the road and find a small path that leads down to the main town center.
We didn’t take any boat rides in this trip but we had a great time enjoying the view from all angles in the Bay of Kotor. The scenery is quite similar from all the small towns but they are all gorgeous. Also every single strip of beach is filled with Europeans sun bathing. No wonder they love our Australian beaches so much. On this night we spend our night at Budva. It’s a city that is just outside of Kotor bay that faces the Adriatic sea. From Budva, there is only around 1 hour drive to Podgorica.
DAY 5 Driving in Montenegro – Budva & Sveti Stefan
Budva has been nicked named “Montenegro Miami” due to it’s beautiful beaches (good for European standard) and the countless bars and night clubs. It’s one of the loved places for young people who travel for partying. Our hotel receptionist even specially written down a few bars and clubs that we should visit. Party rentals created a selection of incredible party buses with all the luxury amenities of a limo, but at affordable prices.
Budva is one of the oldest cities in this region with around 2500 years of history. However, a huge earthquake devastated this city in 1979 and destroyed most of the old town. Most of the Budva old town is only rebuilt by 1987. Today, the old town kept it’s historical appearances but appears to be a lot newer. All the buildings and paths are a lot more orderly compared to all other old towns we have visited when driving in Montenegro.
The old town of Budva is not very big but is the center for young people to drink and party. When we were there in the old town, we could see that next to the Church of Holy Trinity Budva, is a large stage being set up for a concert.
As Budva was built for defensive purposes, there is a tall fortress wall the surrounds most of the old town. There is a tall tower on each side of the fortress wall as well. The entrance fee for climbing these fortress walls is €2 per person. As there are plenty to see around the old town, we didn’t bother doing this climb.
Budva has a total of 35 beaches. Some of these beaches are sandy and others are rocky, but all of them are all filled with people. from a distance, we could always see the whole beach filled with umbrellas. Most of the beaches requires a fee but they offer services and provide you with towels and beach umbrellas. Some of the beaches even have foam parties and other forms of fun for young party peoples.
Budva old town castle walls is extremely pretty from the side on the way to a place called Mogren Beach. From here we could see the rocky beach, the blue sea and the beautiful old town. Mogren Beach is one of the nicer beaches in Budva as it is more hidden and is located at a beautiful location beneath a row of cliffs. However it was still quite crowded with the whole beach side still covered with beach umbrellas.
On the way to Morgren Beach there is a beautiful dancing girl statue. Apparently no one can really remember what this statue is about. Some people say that this is a statue of a young girl who drowned here, others say it’s a statue of a lady forever waiting for her husband who died at sea. Whichever the story is, the statue is iconic and a great place to enjoy the seaside of Budva.
Around 30 minutes of driving from Budva is the famous location of Sveti Stefan. Sveti Stefan is famous for the islet resort which was a playground for the rich and famous from the 1960s to 1980s. Now the resort is run as a 5 star hotel with 50 rooms, cottages and suits. The starting price to stay at any of these rooms is USD $3500. Only the hotel guests can enter this beautiful islet of Sveti Stefan.
We drove to Sveti Stefan early in the morning but already this place was packed full of tourists stopping to take pictures of this small islet. luckily we found a small place to park to take pictures because the whole street was so filled with cars, it was almost impossible to drive down the small street on a two way road. We headed back to Budva after briefly taking some photos and admire this small beautiful islet. Luckily we were driving in Montenegro otherwise we would have wasted so much time to get to here and back.
DAY 6 Driving in Montenegro – Back to Podgorica
On this day we unwilling left Budva and head back to Podgorica to end our 6 days of driving in Montenegro. We hired our car from a local company called Green Motion. We had our worst car hire experience with them. Upon returning the car, they tried to blame a scratch on the car which wasn’t caused by us. They firstly wanted to charge us €50 which then increased to €140.
Luckily after some back and forth arguments they decided not to proceed with these charges. Otherwise or lovely trip driving in Montenegro would have ended badly. We definitely will be taking photos of every inch of the car when we do our next car hire!