Montenegro is a super popular summer-holiday destination, especially for eastern Europeans, and it’s not hard to see why. Located in the middle of the Balkan area of southern/central Europe it has great weather in the summer season and an extensive coastline with loads of beach cities, plus good food, reasonable prices, historical sights, beautiful old towns and much more. Unlike many other countries, the highlight of Montenegro isn’t, in fact, its capital city (Podgorica), but rather its famous seaside towns like the party-capital Budva or the UNESCO world heritage site Kotor. However, if you ask me, the best way to get the absolute most out of a trip to Montenegro isn’t to fly directly to one spot such as Budva and lie on the beach there for a week (although nothing against that if that’s what you feel like doing!), but to jump in a car and make a road trip around as many different spots as possible. Of course one of the major attractions of a road trip is to build your own personal itinerary with exactly the right amount of time in the right places, but if you’ve never been to the country before it can also be hard to know what exactly to put on the schedule and what to leave off. Below is my suggested itinerary for a roughly one-week road trip around the country that hits a number of major destinations. Of course the time in each place can be cut or extended as needed. I wouldn’t recommend much less time than a week to explore the country, but you could really stay longer in some places and make it a more slow-paced visit. However overall around 7-9 days is pretty ideal to enjoy visiting several popular tourist areas in one visit.
Starting point: Podgorica (2 nights)
Now I did say above that Podgorica isn’t the biggest highlight of Montenegro, and that’s definitely true. However it does have the country’s biggest airport and unless you drive in from across the border, chances are that you will fly into Podgorica airport and therefore begin your trip from the capital.
Podgorica is a very small capital city with only approximately 200,000 inhabitants. It’s also not got a large number of major tourist sites to visit. Nonetheless there are a number of nice places to eat and walk around, so I wouldn’t want to skip it completely. Depending on your time of arrival and departure I suggest 1-3 nights here. While in Podgorica you should probably visit the Clock Tower, the ruined Medieval Fortress by the river and the Hristovog Vaskresenja cathedral.
I also recommend eating at either Pod Volat or Konoba ‘Lanterna’ – two traditional-style restaurants in the center serving local cuisine in a really nice atmosphere and setting, and getting coffee at Kafoteka, a hipster-style coffee place next to the stadium.
If your preferred style of travel is ticking off a large number of ‘sights’ during your stay, you may not be very into Podgorica. However if you like to just relax and enjoy the vibe of the city with coffee places, restaurants with outdoor dining, the park, river etc, then I actually think it’s a nice place to stay. After the initial 2 nights I spent in Podgorica I came back later and spent an entire week (working during the day), and also enjoyed that.
Don’t miss: Niagara waterfall
During your time in Podgorica you should definitely also visit ‘Vodopad Niagara’ – a beautiful area just 10 minutes outside Podgorica by car with an amazingly clean river and waterfall, plus a restaurant located by the waterside. In fact even in the city itself the river is clean enough to swim – I haven’t seen such clean water in a long time!
Stop-off: Cetinje (2-3 hours)
On the way from Podgorica to Budva you will pass right by the old capital of the country, Cetinje. This is a good point on your route to stop for lunch and to explore a little more! Cetinje is small but quite interesting, with an attractive center with lots of restaurants/cafes etc with outdoor seating and a beautiful old monastery that’s really worth stopping to see. It would be a shame not to include this stop and spend a few hours sightseeing here.
Budva (3 nights, 1 hour from Podgorica)
Next we’re going to head from the inland capital straight to the sea, to what is probably Montenegro’s biggest tourist resort, Budva. I don’t tend to really enjoy seaside ‘resort’ cities, but although Budva is crowded with tourists in summer it’s worth a visit for the beaches, beachside restaurants and bars and the old town.
There are several beaches in and around Budva where you can swim, sunbathe or chill out. They do tend to be busy in summer but not so packed that you can’t find a spot to sit or swim. Along the seafront there’s an endless parade of eateries and bars etc. They are marked up in price a little during the summer season but still not unaffordable and there are many really nice places to choose from (especially if you eat seafood).
The old town is really a must-see with the old walls, fortress and maze of narrow streets where you can buy coffee, ice cream or souvenirs.
Optional day-trip: Petrovac (5-6 hours)
If you find Budva a little too bustling or noisy and want to try a (somewhat) less touristy spot, you might want to head out and explore another of the seaside towns along the coast such as Petrovac. Note that although it’s less of a tourist hotspot it’s still busy with locals going to the beach in summer and parking near the sea can be tricky. It’s usually best to park a little further out of town or away from the sea and just walk down.
In Petrovac you’ll find a beach with stunning clean, blue water, a picturesque stone monastery and a castle with sea views.
Tivat (1 night, 45 minutes from Budva)
Next on the itinerary is Tivat, which is actually by far my favourite place in Montenegro. Instead of the souvenir kiosks, jet skis, inflatable rubber rings and beach bars that you’ll find in touristy places like Budva, here you’ll find luxury mega yachts, classy wine bars and generally a more well-heeled clientele. In short it could be compared to Montecarlo or St. Tropez in vibe. Whether or not that’s your thing, I strongly recommend stopping here for a night and at least strolling along the harbourfront at night to marvel at the insane array of incredible yachts. I also recommend having a glass of wine outside at Crush wine bar and pretending for a few short hours that you too are about to step onto your own yacht and sail off into the sunset, instead of just heading back to your Airbnb.
Optional but highly-recommended: Drive the coast road from Tivat to Kotor
If you follow Google maps you can drive from Tivat to Kotor in just 22 minutes, but I don’t recommend doing that! Why? Because if you in fact go in the opposite direction you can take the scenic route all the way around the coastal road that loops the small peninsula that Tivat is located to the south of. In summer this road is simply stunning with blue water surrounding you all the way. If you’ve got time you can even stop at one of the beaches along the way or stop for a coffee by the water.
Kotor, 2 nights (35 minutes from Tivat via coastal road)
Finally we’ll head off to the UNESCO heritage site, Kotor for our last stop. Kotor is rather unique in that its main touristic area, the old town, is entirely located inside the city walls and not accessible by car. This is great news when wandering about as the whole city center is completely pedestrianised. It’s less good news for parking your car, of course. You should either book a hotel/apartment that has parking, or you’ll have to park either in the paid carpark outside the old town, or further out of town on a road.
Kotor old town is a wonderful place to wander around on foot and you can spend hours walking among the narrow streets and alleyways discovering the beautiful stone buildings, fountains, statues and cafes. It’s also usually a little cooler in here due to all the shade provided by the tall stone buildings.
If you’re feeling active you can also take a hike up to the fortress further up the hill (I didn’t because it was simply too hot!)
Optional day-trip: Perast (4-5 hours)
If you didn’t figure it out by now, Montenegro has a huge number of seaside towns and villages, and if you stop at almost any of them you probably won’t be disappointed. My recommendation for a day or half-day trip outside of Kotor (if you have time) is the small town of Perast. This is yet another idyllic little seaside town with the usual sea-views and promenade that you will probably be used to by now. However it also has some unique points – the St. Nicola church which is set on the hillside above the water and the two small islands out in the bay – one natural, one manmade. It wasn’t possible to visit the smaller island (which is home to a church) when I visited, but there are regular boat trips out to the larger, manmade island where there is yet another church and a stone promenade. Beware that in summer the island can get pretty crowded so you might want to pick your moment to visit it. There isn’t much else on the island, but there are plenty of shuttle boats to take you back again when you’re done.
You can also take a boat trip around Kotor Bay for a little more money, and they will usually go past or stop at the islands as well.
Optional stop-off on the way back to Podgorica: ‘National Restaurant Belveder’ (2 hours)
If you happen to get hungry en-route back to Podgorica, I have a suggestion for you, especially if you love the mountains like I do! While driving through the mountains in between cities you can take a short detour and head to ‘Restaurant Belveder’, a lovely traditional restaurant with amazing views, fresh mountain air and the scent of pine trees all around you. I definitely recommend to make some time for it.
Back to Podgorica
You can drive all the way back to the starting point, Podgorica, in around 1.5 hours from Kotor, possibly with an hour or so stop for lunch as mentioned above.
And that’s it! I hope you liked my suggested road trip itinerary. Have you been to any of these places? Do you have any other stops to add? Comment below!