Montenegro is a pretty easy country to travel in.
There is an extensive bus network to shuttle you to the farthest corners of the country, you can finally forego the mind-bending currency conversions because, hoorah, they use the Euro, and the countrymen are incredibly friendly welcoming you to guesthouse and hostel with a beaming smile and, more often than not, a tot of grandma’s homemade rakija.
Despite the lack of hardship involved in travelling through this part of Eastern Europe there were a few things we wished we had known that would have made our trip even better, plus a few little idiosyncrasies that made us smile, or cringe, along the way.
These are the things to know before you visit Montenegro.
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Montenegro is basically a country of mountains and valleys which makes for some seriously spectacular scenery – some of the best we have seen in Europe.
When travelling long-term its easy to fall into a pattern where sure, things are beautiful, but often, it feels like you’ve seen it all before. A kind of impressive mountain, an underwhelming trickle of a waterfall or a sought of deep valley.
Then there are those rare ‘wow’ moments that define your entire trip. The moments that you can look back on at the end of an adventure and still hold dear. Montenegro gave us a few of these. It blew us away. Just driving along the winding countryside roads had us gasping and peering out the window in awe as every bend in the road brought about even more impressive landscapes.
Unlike most countries in Europe, Montenegro is all about the outdoors rather than the cities – with the exception of Kotor which should not be missed.
Between overtaking at speed on blind corners, driving in the middle of the road just for kicks and having overweight trucks hurtling along narrow mountain passes, driving in Montenegro can be a little (or a lot) hair raising. Despite the religious paraphernalia dangling from most rear view mirrors, it seems almost everyone with a car has a death wish.
After one particularly terrifying hitch-hiking experience where the tiny car we were getting a lift in was nearly mowed down by a truck while our driver raced uphill to overtake two other cars, we decided driving the ‘local way’ just wasn’t worth it.
If you are hiring a car know that locals have a slightly looser interpretation of the road rules than you may find in other parts of Europe.
In most parts of the world smoking seems to be a dying trend, as much because of the health risks as because it has become so darn right inconvenient these days. You have to leave the cosy bar to stand out in the cold and rain or walk hundreds of metres to ensure you are not within breathing distance of a cafe, bus stop or school, and rightly so.
In Montenegro, however, there is a slightly different approach. Feel like a smoke while driving the bus with all the windows wound up? No worries. Serving customers at the supermarket checkout and just need that nicotine kick? Light on up.
Those smoke infused cafes with blackened ceilings and forever full ashtrays that we now associate with decades past are the norm in this part of the world. As a pair of non-smokers, being assaulted by wafts of smoke in almost every confined and unventilated space you pass through, be it for hours on a bus or while having a quiet dinner out, can be pretty unbearable.
Alongside rivers, atop mountains, next to lakes and in country fields, camping is allowed almost anywhere in Montenegro.
If you want to get way off the beaten path and enjoy the wilderness on your own, pack a tent for your trip. There are freshwater springs in most places but be prepared for some chilly nights in the mountains.
Rijeka Crnojevića. Bare Kraljske. Trešnjevik. Žabljak.
Yeah… those places.
Even words that seemed deceptively simple had us stumbling over what seemed like far too many consonants and sounds that our tongues just didn’t know how to produce. Between the ever-changing tones of the Montenegrin dialect we were never quite sure if the places we asked for in our butchered accents were the same ones being repeated back to us.
Our attempts returned many raised eyebrows, knowing smiles and a giggle here and there, but, we managed to get by.
When travelling to foreign lands we never expect that people speak any form of English – if we can’t speak their language why should they speak ours – but, in Montenegro we found very few people who spoke any English at all. German, surprisingly, was far more common.
The train line runs from Bar on the coast, through Virpazar on Lake Skadar, up to Podgorica through Kolašin, further towards the border with Serbia and up to Belgrade. You can cross half the country – from the beach to the mountains or ski fields – in one day and for just a couple of Euros.
Aside the price we found the train the far more desirable mode of transport. For one you can lounge in a comfy, if a little old-school, red velvet chair without the driver filling the carriage with smoke while chatting loudly on his phone, fumbling for a bit of paper he dropped and trying to overtake three cars before reaching the fast approaching tunnel – something we experienced on almost every bus trip.
Although the train network isn’t as widespread as the bus and may not access everywhere you want to visit, if there is the option to take the train, take it!
Meat platters, lamb stew, sausages, smoked ham, roast lamb, pork rashers… throw in a few more pieces of sheep, pig and chook and you might land somewhere in the vicinity of the typical Montenegrin fare.
If you are looking for a little bit of greenery, don’t worry, your pile of meat will almost certainly come with an obligatory sliver of capsicum and if you are really lucky a wedge of potato or two and maybe even some onion.
In all seriousness though, vegetarians may struggle just a little when it comes to dining out and will probably be entirely reliant on side salads and table bread.
Montenegro has some excellent hiking spots with well marked trails and many a valley and mountain peak to climb.
Durmitor National Park is the premier hiking spot in summer although, come winter, the snowfall will make most trails impassable. Excellent hiking can also be found in Biogradska Gora and around Kolašin, through the Mrtvica Canyon and in Lovćen National Park.
We spent one month travelling Montenegro by bus, train and thumb but some of the best things we saw could only be reached by car. When trying to stick to our budget car rental was something we deliberated over for a while, but in the end, it was worth every penny.
There are some amazing back roads in the country that should not be missed. Our favourite was the country trip between Pluzine and Zabljak which was one of the highlights and can simply not be seen without your own wheels.
Even for a day or two, a car rental can mean you see the places you just can’t reach on public transport.
We went with MTL Car Rental who are a local company with offices in Podgorica near to the train and bus stations. They offer competitive rates and a clear insurance policy. Otherwise, compare the best car rental deals in Montenegro here.
Montenegro literally has it all, particularly if you prefer your travels with a side of outdoor adventure.
Chill out in quiet beachside villages with Turkish charm or dance the night away in tourist-heavy beach resorts. Climb the soaring peaks of Durmitor in summer and ski down its snowy passes come winter. Hike through the countryside of Biogradska Gora and hold on to your helmet on a rafting trip through Tara Canyon. Brace yourself for an icy dip in one of the many mountain lakes and get your blood boiling walking the fortress walls above Kotor.
Get ready for a wild ride!
Accommodation | From cosy guesthouses in the mountains to lavish beachside hotels, there’s plenty of accommodation options in Montenegro to suit every style of traveller and budget.
Flights | Few airlines fly direct to Montenegro from other parts of Europe, but over summer your options greatly increase.
Car Rental | If you’re short on time, exploring Montenegro by car is a great way to cover a lot of ground quickly.