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Ulcinj Town In Montenegro
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The 9 best places to visit in Montenegro

From the beaches of the Budva Riviera to a remote royal capital, this is where to go in marvellous Montenegro

Peterjon Cresswell
John Bills
Written by
Peterjon Cresswell
Contributor
John Bills
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Dramatic best describes Montenegro. Its monastery-dotted hinterland, lofty and forbidding, a kind of Balkan Bhutan overseen by the remote royal capital of Cetinje, Montenegro, suddenly gives way to the Adriatic. Set against craggy cliffs and shaped by Venetian marble, destinations such as Budva and Kotor attract holidaymakers perhaps jaded by pricier neighbour Croatia.

Although, no resort could be more exclusive than Swiss-owned Sveti Stefan. Exploring beyond the beach umbrellas rewards the intrepid with serene lakes, rare wildlife and hiking trails traversed mainly by mules until relatively recently. Roads and rail tracks somehow follow these challenging contours – Montenegro is no easy ride, but memorable might just be as fitting a description as dramatic.

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Peterjon Cresswell is the editor at Time Out Croatia. Additional reporting and editing by John Bills, who has travelled extensively around the Balkans. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines

Where to go in Montenegro

1. Budva Riviera

Budva and its Riviera stretch way beyond the casinos, marina and thumping dance music that typify this Slavic playground. West, past the medieval towers of Budva Citadel, sandy Mogren Beach appeals to families. Sea views from the cliffs nearby justify the onerous climb, though watch your footing. To the east, convenient Bečići is popular enough to warrant showers and changing cabins but extensive enough to offer some degree of personal space. For privacy, particularly in the shoulder seasons, drive past Sveti Stefan to Drobni Pijesak, a half-moon of fine sand, a single bar and plentiful snorkelling in crystal-clear waters.

2. Cetinje

From the moment Ivan Crnojević moved his capital here in 1482, through the urban development of the 19th century under Petar II Petrović-Njegoš and the tumult thereafter, Cetinje has been the beating heart of all things Montenegro. The town is home to the nation’s best museums, most elegant architecture and most important heritage sites, including the stunning Njegoš Mausoleum that centrepieces nearby Lovćen National Park. Vlach Church is particularly arresting, as much for the names buried here as its simple style, the five-month-old baby of a 19th-century British diplomat laid to rest alongside 17th-century bandits and religious figures.

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3. Durmitor National Park

Of Montenegro’s five national parks, Durmitor is the most dramatic, no idle boast. Occupying nearly 400 square kilometres of canyons, glacial lakes and waterfalls in Montenegro’s unspoilt north, these remote heights are where Tito wisely chose to site his secret war-time bunker. A sign now marks the spot beside Durmitor’s postcard attraction, the Black Lake. Montenegro’s prime destination for skiers and snowboarders, Durmitor also welcomes hikers, rafters and climbers; its tourist infrastructure is concentrated in the main settlement of Žabljak, one of the highest towns in the Balkans. UNESCO-protected since 1980, Durmitor shelters brown bears, grey wolves, European wild cats and golden eagles. 

4. Kotor

Getting lost is what draws many to the UNESCO-protected, fortified medieval town of Kotor, its cat’s cradle of nameless streets impervious to contemporary mapping. Hidden squares and courtyard cafés thin out after the cruise ships vanish, leaving Kotor to its many cats, 13,000 residents and off-season solitude-seekers. The adventurous scale the Ladder of Kotor, a signposted zig-zag hike up a former mule track. The loftier the switchback, the lovelier the view of the bay below. Sturdy footwear is a must, water too, even if your destination is the panoramic terrace of the Nevjesta Jadrana restaurant, a calf-crunching trek towards Cetinje.

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5. Luštica Bay

Luštica Bay comprises five miles of luxurious splendour, a high-end take on traditional Montenegrin fishing villages accentuated by five-star resorts with all the trappings. Somehow, it works, banishing blandness in favour of community and interaction based around the boutique professionalism of The Chedi Hotel. While the authenticity it desires is impossible to achieve when dealing with prices this high, Luštica Bay makes up for it through sheer beauty, maximising its privileged setting to serve some of the most photogenic spots in Montenegro. It isn’t great for the wallet, but Luštica Bay works wonders for the soul. 

6. Ostrog Monastery

Montenegro’s most jaw-dropping sight? This shining-white monastery in a vertical cliff face high in the hills, believe it or not. Located ten miles or so east of Nikšić, the 17th-century Ostrog complex comprises two sites, Upper and Lower, and the views of the valley below are as grand as the monasteries are tranquil. Many pilgrims hike from the eponymous train station to the two monasteries, although there is something to be said for taking the frankly terrifying road that connects Ostrog to the outside world. Not for the faint of heart.

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7. Perast

Small but perfectly formed, Perast is everything that makes the Montenegrin coast so delightful. The village is little more than a seafront promenade and a few narrow side streets, but it harbours a lengthy history of influence as a shipbuilding centre. Today’s most important boats are the small ones that transport visitors across to its two gorgeous islands. Well, technically one, as the Island of St George is only seen from afar, but the romance-imbued magic of Our Lady of the Rocks is one of Montenegro’s great travel experiences.

8. Lake Skadar

Forming one of the world’s most serene borders, Lake Skadar is a national park in Montenegro and, as Lake Shkodër, a nature reserve in Albania. Here, the need to preserve precious birdlife – rare Dalmatian pelicans are welcome visitors – overrides any potential Balkan intrigue, though boat tours should be booked through a reliable local agency familiar with frontier distances. Cruises and lodgings can be found in Virpazar, on the train line between Bar and Podgorica, but for freshly caught fish, lose yourself amid the reeds and little eateries of Crusoesque Karuč, a secluded waterside getaway.

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9. Ulcinj

Ulcinj’s days as a hotbed of piracy are long gone, but the southern coastal town smack-bang on Montenegro’s border with Albania remains a place of action and excitement. Ulcinj (Ulqin to Albanians) is home to arguably Montenegro’s most beautiful old town, a status helped by a dramatic hilltop location in the historic centre, its winding streets stubbornly resistant to the trappings of mass tourism. Kino Cafe is one of Montenegro’s best bars, while the elegant seafront 14th-century Sailor’s Mosque predates the arrival of the Ottomans. They do things a little differently in Ulcinj.

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