You do not have too much time to spare, but do you still want to make the best of your time in Montenegro? Then keep reading. This blog post is about the most famous sights and hidden gems you can visit on a short trip to Montenegro.
This short stay in Montenegro is part of a longer 15 days trip in the Balkans, which includes visiting North Macedonia and Kosovo too. The entire itinerary can be used as a source of inspiration for your next trip to the Balkans. For shorter trips, you can focus on one country at a time. This itinerary has been planned to fit both longer and shorter trips in the Balkans.
Why is Montenegro so popular?
In recent years, Montenegro has become a must-visit destination among tourists visiting the Balkans. This small country with only 628,152 inhabitants, attracts over 2.51 million tourists yearly ( data for 2019). This is an incredible achievement for such a small country.
These figures should not come as a surprise to anyone. Tourists have so many reasons to visit Montenegro. The country is cheap compared to the rest of Europe. Also, Montenegro has good weather, good food and so many sights to visit.
The country welcomes all types of tourists: families, solo travellers, backpackers and luxury tourists. From gorgeous beaches, stunning national parks, bustling cities to medieval towns, there is always something to do for everyone. So that no one can ever complain of getting bored in Montenegro.
Is Podgorica Montenegro’s hidden gem?
Podgorica is the capital city of Montenegro. Maybe not the most touristy place in the country, Podgorica is definitely calmer and more authentic than the busy Kotor. The capital city is served by one international airport, although I would argue that this airport is not that well connected to Europe as is Tivat Airport (this airport is located near Kotor). During my tour of the Balkans, I crossed the border into Montenegro by bus from Kosovo. The journey takes around 4h30. At the end of my stay in Montenegro, I used Tivad Airport to fly out of the country. The entire process of crossing borders and flying out of Montenegro has been smooth. Therefore, my experience with public transport and flights in Montenegro was positive.
I often try a mix of things and experiences in my travels, so I was happy to choose Podgorica over other more touristy attractions in Montenegro. During my time in the city, I could experience a nice meal in local restaurants surrounded by locals. If you are looking to experience what life really is in Montenegro, I would recommend spending a few days in Podgorica. It’s true that these types of experiences are not everyone’s cup of tea, but they seem to gain more and more fans as tourists are more than ever focused on authentic travel experiences.
These are one of the things you can do and visit in Podgorica. In order to see everything, give yourself around 2-3 days.
- Petar I Petrović Njegoš Statue. Petar I Petrović Njegoš was an important ruler and head of church who modernised the country in the 18th and 19th centuries. The statue is close to the University of Montenegro. After admiring the statue, you can go for a stroll in the nearby park or enjoy a drink at one of the nearby pubs. The area has a chilled vibe thanks to the students. Bokeska Street is particularily famous for going out for a drink.
- Go shopping! With over 5 shopping centres, Podgorica is definitely heaven for any shopaholic. Capital Plaza shopping centre is one of the biggest foreign investments Montenegro received. You will be able to find all the famous brands in the shopping centre, as well as a large variety of food and other fashion items.
- King Nicola’s Residency. For a more relaxing activity, I encourage you to visit the former residence of a local noble. Nowadays, the palace hosts the Contemporary Art Museum. If you are not that much into art, you can at least check out the park. It’s a lovely place to go for a stroll in Podgorica.
- For a panoramic view, you should definitely check out the Suma Ljubovic park. There is quite a good walk from the city centre to the highest point of the park. However, this is all worth it because the view is indeed nice one.
- You must not miss out on the old town. Ancient city walls and bridges can in spotted in Podgorica. They are testimony of the country’s ancient history. The old town represents quite a big part of the modern Podgorica. The old town is delimitated by the Union and Millenium Bridge on one side, and the Kralja Nikole street and Srđana Aleksića boulevard on the other side.
Old Town-Podgorica Fortified Walls-Podgorica
- If you were wondering whether any worship places were included in this list, well, yes we did include some. Otherwise, what would be a trip in the Balkans without visiting an Orthodox Church or a Mosque? Osmanagic Mosque is one of few Mosques in Podgorica and is located in the old town. An interesting and rather small Orthodox Church can be found in Gorica Park. The park is also a good spot for another panoramic view of Podgorica.
- Podgorica is very much a walkable city. This is something worth mentioning. You can walk pretty much everywhere. This is why you should definitely not miss out on the walk between the two most popular bridges in the city: the Union and Millenium Bridge. The view is indeed beautiful.
These are the things you can do and visit in Podgorica. For those of you with extra time to spare in the region, there are a few places you can explore outside Podgorica too. You can arrange to have day trips from Podgorica to these places. My top 3 recommendations for day trips outside Podgorica are:
- Zabljak Crnojevica Fortress
- Niagara Falls
- Lake Skadar
As you can see, although not very popular, Podgorica can easily be one of Montenegro’s hidden gems. We can all agree that the capital city might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, Podgorica is perfect for a more authentic travel experience in Montenegro.
The Most Iconic Sights in Kotor, Montenegro’s famous tourist attraction
Moving on to Kotor, arguably the most famous place for tourism in Montenegro, we will explore the most iconic sights you can visit on a short trip here. Leaving behind Potgorica and spending the final days of my 15 days trip in the Balkans, in Kotor felt crowded. There are significantly more tourists in Kotor than in Podgorica. The town is a stop for cruise ships, meaning that more people flock to the little, medieval town throughout the day.
Kotor is a small, medieval town that’s only 1,30h away from Podgorica. Kotor is the typical fortified town with access to a beach and plenty of nearby hiking choices. With so many options to choose from, one can easily understand why Kotor is so popular among tourists. Kotor is also more expensive than Podgorica, however, it’s still reasonable for the Balkans region.
Almost everything is inside the town’s walls. You can choose from a variety of restaurants, hotels, churches, museums, local markets, souvenir shops etc. A shopping centre is located outside the medieval town, giving more options for food and other things you might need buying.
Top attractions in Kotor:
- St. Tryphon Cathedral-is Kotor’s main church and as you can imagine is one of the most visited sights
- St. Nicola Church-one of the most impressive churches in Kotor, which is nearly as visited as the cathdral
- The Clock Tower-is strategically located in the biggest square in Kotor and is one of the must-visit sights in Kotor
- Piazza of the Arms-is the biggest square in Kotor and the place where most of the restaurants are. One piece of advice for budget travellers. I would actually avoid eating there because the food is way too expensive for what they offer.
- Church of St. Luke-another piece of arhitecural beauty if you feel you haven’t seen enough churces yet
- The city walls-you can walk along the city walls inside Kotor and outside it. I would recommend the walk from Piaza of the Arms to the Gurdich Gate (as you can walk on the walls). Another beautiful view of the city walls is by the Northern Gate.
- The 3 gates: The Sea Gate, The Northen Gate and the Gurdich Gate-you can access Kotor via 3 main gates. If you come from the station, you will probably access Kotor via the Sea Gate. As you exit the town, on your way to the shopping centre or even for a hike to the foretress, you will probably exit Kotor through the Northern Gate. The Gurdish Gate is the closest to Piazza of the Arms.
Once you’ve finished visiting the medieval town of Kotor, take a walk to the beach. The entire bay area is lovely for walks. You can also swim or simply sunbathe.
A more demanding physical activity is the hike up to St. George Church and the Fortress. However, the hike is definitely worthing because the view is simply gorgeous. The panoramic view of the bay and the medieval town of Kotor is what attracts everyone in the first place.
For a 1 day away from Kotor, take the bus to Budva, another popular beach town for tourists. The town can be quite a good alternative for swimming lovers. In September, the weather is still hot enough for a swim. There were many people at the beach the day I went to Budva.
Budva is similar to Kotor. It has a fortified town and a promenade area that stretches from one side to the other of the town. It was a bit quieter the day I visited, however, I’m not sure it is like this all the time. The location is beautiful and is definitely worth a visit if you have extra time.
I think everyone who visited Kotor noticed the same thing, Kotor is the cats’ paradise. There is even a cats museum dedicate to these lovely animals. I would say cat lovers should definitely consider Kotor for their next holiday.
For a visit to Kotor, including the extra day in Budva I mentioned above, I would say a 3-4 days stay is enough.
Judging by the number of tourists I saw in Kotor during my time there, I can definitely say that this area is one of the most popular places to visit in Montenegro. Even in mid-September when I was in Kotor, there were still many tourists there, and several cruise ships were stopping every single day. I can only imagine that July and August would bring even more visitors, so if you want to avoid the crowds, trying to travel to Kotor towards the end of the high season in Europe.
Budget & Safety in Montenegro
Overall, Montenegro is a budget-friendly destination. The country is in fact, a preferred destination for backpackers and other low budget travellers. I even met remote workers while I was in Kotor.
Kotor is definitely more pricey than Podgorica. However, I would argue Kotor is still affordable for being such a popular place for tourism in Montenegro. The hostel I stayed at was reasonably priced for being placed in the heart of Kotor. I was surprised to find out that the hostel was run by a Vietnamese family who has moved to Kotor many years before.
If you are on a tight budget, I would avoid the restaurants in Kotor. Instead, you can opt for food choices along the bay area. The more you go away from Kotor town centre, the cheaper it gets. Exit Kotor through the Northern Gate, pass the shopping centre and walk along the beach. There will be plenty of food choices as well as some nice restaurants by the beach you can try out.
Another trick to reduce your costs is to travel towards the end of the summer season. I travelled to Montenegro in mid-September and the weather was still lovely. That much so that people were still swimming and sunbathing because the day temperature was as high as 30 degrees celsius. If you are interested in the topic, check out my strategy on saving money while travelling during peak season.
In terms of safety, my stay in Montenegro was completely trouble-free. From this point of view, I can recommend Montenegro to solo travellers and female travellers alike. Like always I stayed in hostels, and have not had any issues with any of the places I stayed at.
If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, thank you! For those of you with only a few days to spare in Montenegro, these are some of the most famous places and hidden gems I would recommend visiting. I found Montenegro lovely and cannot recommend it enough to anyone interested in visiting the Balkans.
Have you ever visited Montenegro? What surprised you the most about this country?
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