A small country that encapsulates a diverse landscape and is easily traversable, Montenegro is, by far, one of my favourite Balkan countries, after Croatia & Slovenia. After visiting Serbia in Spring 2021, I knew I had to go back for Bosnia & Montenegro in summer. Not only did I love how inexpensive these countries were, but also the food was amazing (oh, Cevapcici), the local wines are unique, and the people are so friendly!
In a 1-week itinerary for Montenegro, you can cover a lot of ground, especially if you drive. From the stunning Adriatic coast so the breath-taking mountains and lakes of Durmitor National Park, you will see the scenery change within a span of a few hours. This is what makes Montenegro unique- the warm, sunbathing-worthy beaches on the coast contrast drastically with the fresh cool air of the Dinaric Alps, even though the two are hardly 2 hours by road from each other. We visited in summer (July-August) and had to prepared with both summer and light winter clothing.
My 1-week itinerary for Montenegro covers everything from some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen to magnificent lakes, rivers, old towns & historical places, amazing nightlife, and great food.
There are two international airports in Montenegro and you’re likely to land in either of them – Podgorica & Tivat. Neither of the two cities have a lot to offer so whichever you’re landing at, if you have only a week, I recommend you rent a car & get yourself to Kotor. While Kotor is about 1.5 hours from Podgorica, it’s only a 30-min drive from Tivat.
Self-driving is the best way to explore Montenegro. Most roads are good, well-paved & drivers are disciplined and organized, but occasionally, you’re likely to come across narrow, gravel, windowing mountainous roads, so I recommend renting a small car that is easy to navigate. I found a very reasonably priced website, myrentacar.com from where I managed to get a car at €500 for 13 days. Not only did I find it quite cheap but also, the convenience of getting the car pick and drop location as per my choice was an added benefit. The only drawback was that we had to pay the whole amount in cash. I usually buy insurance from a third-party website, rentalcover.com at a price of $8.5 a day which is way below what you would get at the car rental desk.
1-week itinerary for Montenegro:
Day 0: Arrive in Tivat
Day 1: Kotor & Perast
Day 2: Lovcen National Park & Budva
Day 3: Sveti Stefan & Bar
Day 4: Ulcinj
Day 5 - Day 7: Podgorica & Durmitor National Park
Day 1: Kotor & Perast
Start your day by exploring Kotor Fortress. This is best done early in the morning to avoid the heat and crowds later in the day. When in Kotor, I highly recommend staying in the Old Town so that everything is close by. Right after breakfast, get ready to climb 1,400-steps to the top of the mountain where the St John’s fortress ruins can be found.
The Kotor Fortress hike begins within the Old Town. Open from 8 am – 8 pm, there is a small fee of €3 to enter the fortress which can be skipped if you manage to make it past the entry post before 8 am. Unlike commercial places which have a proper entrance gate, the Kotor fortress is mostly just ruins and the entrance is just a small table set up with some tensabarriers. Although there isn’t a real fort remaining anymore, the climb offers some extraordinary views of the Bay of Kotor and Old Town which make the slightly arduous and tiring hike totally worth it.
Kotor is a popular port for cruise ships, which begin to arrive around 10 am so before the crowds begin to pour in and the heat begins to beat down, it’s in your best interest to get over with this 2-hour journey to the top and back. There are no cafes, restaurants or even toilets on the way up so make sure to carry enough water and relieve yourself before you begin the journey. Wear comfortable shoes and be ready to climb steep steps!
After returning to Kotor Old Town, you could just walk around the cobbled stone streets, sit at a nice patio café, and enjoy some iced drinks, get lost in the meandering, narrow lanes and take photos of the lovely architecture. You will come across several palaces, museums, churches and souvenir shops. And oh, stray cats! SO MANY STRAY CATS!
Or if you wish to avoid the crowds, it’s best to wait until evening when the cruise ships have sailed away (past 4 pm) and head to Perast to spend the afternoon.
I personally liked Perast more than Kotor not only because of its more laid-back vibe and less crowd but also because of the gorgeous ocean views. Hardly a 20-min drive from Kotor Old Town, is this beautiful gem of a town, offering views of the deep blue Adriatic Sea with the red roof buildings, churches, and the looming grey-brown mountains in the backdrop. I would recommend taking a nice stroll in Perast, finding local wine-vendors selling unique pomegranate wines on the street, climbing up the stairs of Saint Nikola Church for stunning bird eye views, or simply enjoying a meal at one of the seaside platform restaurants.
One of the best things to do in Perast is to take the boat ride to the small island, Our Lady of the Rocks. And while the church itself is beautiful from the inside, it’s worth going to the island not only for the church but also for the stunning views of the Bay. Several boat operators will offer these tours for as less at 5€/return journey. Keep aside about 3-4 hours for your visit to Perast from Kotor.
In the afternoon / evening, return to Kotor. Depending on the time available, you may choose to do the Blue Cave tour. The boat trips depart from right outside Kotor Old Town, where you will see several operators selling the tours. If you take this boat trip from Kotor, the trip usually lasts 3 hours and takes you via Our Lady of the Rocks in Perast too. Alternatively, you could drive yourself to Herceg Novi and take the boat tour from there instead.
Blue Cave tours from Kotor usually depart 3 times a day, 9 am, 12 pm and 3 pm and costs about €3. While you may choose to book the tour online in advance, you may also choose to keep your schedule flexible and buy the tour on site. Remember to carry swim wear if you wish to swim inside the blue cave (it’s gorgeous so I would recommend you do) and sunscreen because the sun can really burn down upon you in summer/ fall/ spring months.
At night, you may choose to enjoy the nightlife in Kotor Old Town to head for a classy dinner at the fine dining place, Restaurant Galion, located hardly 5 min away from the Old Town. The nightlife in Kotor old town is good, so if you’re a party lover, then you will enjoy your stay in Kotor!
Tip: If you’re self-driving, then there is a huge public parking right at the entrance to Kotor Old Town. Although it’s a little pricey, it’s safer to pay and park here overnight rather than on the street. We paid about €18 for the night.
Suggested budget place to stay in Kotor Old Town: Guest House Forza Lux
Day 2: Lovcen National Park & Budva
Due to shortage of time, I skipped Lovcen National Park but it’s one of my regrets. Hardly 30 kms into the mountains from Kotor, driving to the top of the granite cliffs could be slightly challenging but offers iconic views of the fortified city of Kotor below. One popular place to visit here is the circular viewing platform of Njegos Mausoleum. Montenegrins often visit this place to pay respect to the poet prince, Petar II Petrović-Njegoš but the place makes for a great tourist destination for those looking for a peaceful getaway from the crowds amidst nature, and amazing views from a vantage point.
If you skip Lovcen, Budva is about 30-min drive from Kotor, while it’s an hour from the Njegos Mausoleum. If you’re driving from Lovcen, consider a pit top at Cetinje to visit the Cetinje monastery & a stroll on Njegoseva ulica. When arriving in Budva, you will cross a restaurant called Restoran Vista Vidikovac. The place offers unparalleled views of the Adriatic coast and Budva Old Town below. I highly recommend stopping for a coffee or a meal here.
From here, head to Budva Old Town (another 10 min drive) and find yourself a parking right outside, as the old town is a cobbled-stone pedestrian street only. Take a ticket (€2) to walk the walls of the Citadela Fortress, an experience that reminded me of Dubrovnik. Offering 360-vistas of the stunning blue waters of the ocean below, the monument is ancient and holds historical as well as cultural significance for the city. There is a restaurant as well as a museum on the fortress terrace.
Later in the afternoon, visit one (or all) of the prettiest beaches Montenegro boasts of – Mogren, Kalipso or Jaz beach. The best way to get to these beaches is to walk the path from the Old Town, along the platform created at the edge of the cliffs, which offers a great stroll along the coast. This is also where you will come across the famous bronze sculpture of a girl, frozen in a graceful pose (the dancing girl statue).
For dinner, head to Budva Riviera. You will find ample restaurants offering fresh seafood and local cuisine here. You haven’t been to the Balkans if you haven’t eaten a meal of Cevapi, with chips and ajvar on the side, and a glass of local Montenegrin wine!
Suggested place to stay in the heart of Old Town, Budva: Sailor House
(Beware, the old town can get very crowded and loud until late hours.)
Day 3: Sveti Stefan & Bar
If you feel you haven’t had enough time in Budva, you can start your day by visiting one of the beaches or strolling the cobbled stone streets of Old Town.
Thereafter, head to Sveti Stefan, one of the highlights of my 1-week itinerary for Montenegro. Hardly a 20 min drive from Budva along the Adriatic coast lies this gorgeous island in the middle of the ocean. Sveti Stefan currently is home to a 5-star luxury resort that was unfortunately closed when we visited during the pandemic. However, even if you’re not able to enter the island itself (only those staying or dining in the resort can enter; so if you wish to go, I highly recommend making a reservation at one of their restaurants, Taverna being a good one), you can still enjoy lovely views from several other places. One of these is Adrovic Restaurant located at the terrace of Hotel Adrovic.
The waters of the Adriatic Sea are really inviting for a swim so you could spend a few hours lounging or sunbathing at the South Beach, which is free to enter. Several bars, cafes, and restaurants with a relaxed vibe, chilled out music and cool cocktails line the entire beach. If you’re into viewpoints and vantage points that offer 360-degree views from a height, then head to Church of St Sava, located about 25-min drive from the beach or just 15 min from the Adrovic Restaurant. Many people choose to hike up to the church, but you can also drive there, if you are okay to drive a part of the distance on an unpaved, muddy road. The views, once you’re up there, are absolutely worth it!
Bar is yet another coastal town located about 45 min away from Sveti Stefan. However, it is Stari Bar (the old town) that I recommend you visit, up in the hills in the interiors of Bar. Way less touristy than the rest of Montenegro that you would have seen so far, Stari Bar is quaint & charming. Enjoy a coffee and a stroll along the cobbled stone streets, along the ruins of what would have once been a magnificent fortress. Lined with restaurants, shops selling local delicacies & handicrafts, this is also a good place to shop for souvenirs. You could visit the Stari Bar Fortress where you will find ancient arches & towers, now in ruins but standing tall, amidst bush and flowers growing all over them. There is a very small fee to enter the fortress (€2) which is like an open air museum.
You may choose to spend the night either in Bar (along the coast, where its likely to be more lively) or drive ahead to Ulcinj, where you can spend the next day relaxing by the beaches or indulging in watersports.
Day 4: Ulcinj
To be honest, Ulcinj was my least favourite town and in a 1-week itinerary for Montenegro, you may choose to skip it altogether and head to Podgorica & Durmitor National Park instead. However, if you want a short break, to relax by the beaches or take up some water sports, then Ulcinj is a nice place to do that. Several beachside lounges and restaurants line the 13-km stretch of the white sand Long Beach, the longest on Adriatic Sea. Enjoy SUP, kayaking, paragliding or jet skiing, or simply lay on a recliner sipping on cool cocktails and listening to party beats in one of the lounges.
You may also head to Ada Bojana, a cute town located on the Bojana river which is also home to a nudist beach. If you like a quieter experience, hidden far away from the raucous city, amidst nature, then this is the place to be! There’s also a restaurant where you can enjoy a nice meal or drinks.
If you have the time and the energy, head to Mala Plaza (or the Small Beach, closer to Ulcinj city centre), where you can go for a pine forest walk amidst the tall pine wood trees. During the summer months when it can get very hot, a walk in this forest can be a refreshing break!
The area near Small Beach is really lively but also really crowded. In the evening, you can head to Ulcinj Stari Grad (or old town) up the hill, from where you can catch excellent sunset views, stroll the cobbled stone streets & find yourself a restaurant offering stunning views of the coast and the city of Ulcinj below. Ulcinj Old Town is quite small but has amazing places to indulge in some Montenegrin cuisine, local wines & patio/terrace seating with views.
Recommendation: Located in the pine forest near Small Beach is a restaurant called Higo: delightful setting, lovely views and excellent food, especially for seafood lovers.
Recommended place to stay: You could choose to stay near the Small Beach which is a lot more lively, active & has a great nightlife. Hotel Senator is a great budget option in this area.
If you like some peace and quiet, and proximity to the Long Beach with easy access, Adriatic Apartments are an excellent choice. The view, the location, the setting of the apartments with a massive terrace overlooking the beach, make it a really good budget option for this area.
Days 5 - 7: Durmitor National Park
Prepare for a long but beautiful drive towards the mountains. In a 1-week itinerary for Montenegro, Durmitor National Park deserves at least 3 days. Stunning lakes, unmissable hikes/ drives & adventurous activities such as rafting, ziplining, canyoning, ATV rides are what make the mountains in Montengero worth spending time in.
Click here for a detailed itinerary for Durmitor National Park.