This blog post isn’t to put you off visiting Montenegro, it’s to help you avoid the mistakes I made.
Montenegro is a beautiful country located in the Balkans. As it’s small with a population of only 622,781 you can explore the whole country in less than a week. You’ll find the Adriatic coast, many national parks and rugged mountains pack into this small area, making it a nature lover’s dream. It doesn’t have the huge number of tourists like its neighbour Croatia has but it is heading that way. So visit soon before the prices rise.
Below is a list of thing not to do in Montenegro if you want to make the most out of your trip.
I arrived in Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital city. I flew here from Belgrade, Serbia. It’s a quick 40 minute flight that runs several times a day and costs around €70-€100 one way. Alternatively there is a slow train from Belgrade that costs €20 and takes 11.5 hours. If you’re coming from Albania, Croatia or Bosnia, then you’ll most likely arrive by bus. But if you do fly in…..
1) Don’t expect a bus from the airport
A quick Google search told me that there was a bus running from Podgorica Airport to the central bus station called the L21 but this bus stopped running 2 years ago as it was too old and expensive. The only two ways to get to the city are hiring a car or taking a taxi. If you take a taxi, take an official one Taxi Royale and make sure you get a fixed price up front. €12 is the standard price.
2) Don’t stay in Podgorica
Podgorica is the most boring capital city I’ve ever stayed in. I can’t think of anything there I would recommend seeing. Maybe if you’re into urban exploring you can find some abandoned buildings to investigate.
Podgorica is grey and poorly kept, it’s completely different from the nature, lakes and animals you visit Montenegro for.
Even the protests in Podgorica are boring.
The only reasons to stay here are to use it as a base to visit other places, if you have a car, or if you’re on your way to Albania – Podgorica is only 3 hours from Tirana, Albania’s capital.
There were no interesting sites to photograph so I took pictures of the cats and dogs:
3) Don’t be surprised by the euro
Even though Montenegro isn’t in the EU they use the euro currency. While it’s handy because the euro can be used in many countries it’s also very strong at the moment and makes Montenegro more expensive than Albania (Albanian Lek) and Macedonia (Macedonian Denar).
4) Don’t be fooled by tour adverts
Before going to Montenegro I had a list of place I wanted to visit:
Lake Skadar and its famous “bend”, Ostrog Monastery, Durmitor National Park, Black Lake, Budva, Bay of Kotor, Tara River Canyon and Lovcen National Park.
I’m very ambitious when I travel.
As I didn’t hire a car I planned on booking tours to see all these places. Most of the above places can’t be reached by public transport. I booked Montenegro Hostel – Rooms and Tours in Podgorica, but unfortunately they only run tours when there are enough people who want to go and during the off season there aren’t any. I tried to find other tours to join but had no luck. Montenegro isn’t set up for mass tourism yet – it’s not Croatia!
If you don’t want to hire a car but do tours, make sure you research well and book in advance, but even then they aren’t guaranteed.
5) Don’t go to Montenegro without a car
Before talking about taxis and tours, I should have mentioned that it’s nearly impossible to travel around Montenegro without a car. Actually, don’t go to Montenegro without hiring a car if you want to see more of the country than just the city you’re staying in.
I never usually plan on hiring cars but the more I travel outside Western Europe, the more I realise hiring a car is a necessity.
I’ve read blog posts by female bloggers claiming it’s easy to explore Montenegro using public transport. But it’s not and it’s actually impossible to reach things. For example the famous Lake Skadar horseshoe bend can only be seen from the road side.
And Ostrog Monastery is located high up in the mountains and needs a car to reach it.
Without a car I would have missed all these unique sights.
Tip – there aren’t many gas stations outside the cities. There’s one in Sutomore near the tunnel in Budav but there isn’t one between there and Podgorica. There are 11 gas stations in Podgorica so fill up in the cities.
6) Don’t always trust Google Maps
While Google maps suggests routes, it doesn’t take into account the road conditions.
Anything that isn’t one of the few motorways is most likely an unkept road full of obstacles. At points you’ll have to drive on cliff edges, dodge hitch hikers, avoid grazing animals and go up roads full of sharp U-bends.
7) Don’t rely on getting around by train
If you don’t hire a car then you’ll be traveling by bus most of the time. There is a train system but it’s limited and slow.
In other Balkan countries, Romania and Bulgaria, I used trains to move between cities quite easily. But they are a lot bigger than Montenegro and Montenegro’s train system isn’t anywhere near as extensive. I used the train between Podgorica and Virpazar. Downside – it only came a few times a day and was 40 minutes late. Upside – it cost €1. Either way it’s not reliable.
8) Don’t get the wrong bus, some take a lot longer than others
When getting buses to different cities in Montenegro always check online first here- busticket4.me/ and aim for mini bus services as they are quicker.
For example, from Podgorica to Kotor, buses leaving at almost the same time can take an hour longer than others. See picture below.
If you buy tickets online in advance you MUST PRINT them off. Showing a copy on your phone isn’t always good enough and they often need to take a physical copy.
Buses also leave early. I noticed this in Croatia too. Only 5 to 10 minutes early but that’s a lot if you’re running later.
9) Don’t trust weather forecasts
When I visited in September, the weather forecast was wrong every day. The weather changed drastically, I had rain and storms one day and clear skies and sun the next. The month before my visit there was an epic heat wave with temperatures over 40°C.
Chance of Rain 10% – and there was a thunder storm!
10) Don’t expect good weather – summer storms happen
Montenegro has a lot of lush greenery and away from the coast, due to the mountains, there can be some fierce summer storms. These storms pass quickly but the thunder is intense and will make you get out of the water ASAP. Speaking of which….
11) Don’t go to Lake Skadar in the rain
One of Montenegro’s main attractions is Lake Skadar. It lies on the border of Montenegro and Albania. When looking at it you’d think it was more of a sea than a lake – it’s the largest lake in Southern Europe.
Virpazar – nicknamed the gateway to Lake Skadar, is a small town on the lake and the easiest place to get a boat ride.
I took the train from Podgorica to Virpazar, unfortunately it’s a 15 minute walk to Virpazar consisting of 10 minutes of walking along the railway tracks…
Virpazar leaves a lot to be desired. It’s rundown and is only a tourist hotspot because of its location to the lake. All the “tourist information” centres are actually just tour shops trying to sell you a boat trip. There are plenty of boat tours to choose from. I paid €14 for what was meant to be a 2 hour tour… €10 for the trip and €4 national park fee (Lake Skadar is a national park and you have to pay an entrance fee to many of the national parks in Montenegro).
The highlights of the boat trip are the beautiful water lilies and wide variety of birds, but when it’s raining you don’t see any of these. The lake generates huge waves. The video below sums up the experience. Only go on a hot sunny day.
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12) Don’t expect the beaches to be clean
During my Montenegro adventure I went on road trip around Lake Skadar. I was with keen swimmers and we read about Donji Murici having a beach on the lake. The descent from the upper road, down the mountain to Donji Murici is steep and extreme.
On the beach we were met by several stray dogs, a donkey and a few roaming goats. I love animals but I don’t love animal poo which is what the beach was covered in. Unfortunately, like many other Balkan countries, unless it’s a popular tourist site, there will be lots of litter and the area won’t be taken care of. So keep this in mind if you want to head off the beaten track.
13) Don’t think Kotor is just a day trip
Kotor, located on the Adriatic coast, is very different than Podgorica. It has a beautiful lively old town, quaint cobbled streets, hundreds of cats, and plenty of bars and restaurant to choose from.
There’s lots to do here and just one day isn’t enough. And if you want to explore more of the Adriatic coast you’ll need at least 4 days.
The main attraction in Kotor is the old city which includes the city walls which you can walk for €3.
WARNING – Walking the City Walls is difficult.
I was not prepared for how hard this walk would be. It’s more of a climb up disjointed steps and ruined buildings. It took me 45 minute to reach the top and I went through 3 bottles of water. It’s definitely more challenging than advertised.
I saw a lot of people, mainly older or in flip flops, give up a third of the way, where there’s a church and a decent view of the bay.
The rest of the walk is all steep steps.
Yes – the climb is worth it for the views.
I was recommended a boat tour of Kotor Bay but it was too much to pack into one day. Also, Lovcen National Park is right next to Kotor if you wish to explore the mountains and do some hiking.
14) Don’t be surprised by the high prices in Kotor
Many cruises stop off in Kotor which means they have an endless supply of tourists. This pushes up the prices compared to other cities in Montenegro.
It’s €5 for a cocktail or small glass of wine or a 1.5 litre bottle of water!
Watch out – everything closes at 1am. If you want to drink the night away then start early.
15) Don’t fall for the Tara River Canyon hype
If you make it north to Durmitor National Park, which I highly recommend, then swinging by Tara River Canyon makes sense as they’re close. The canyon is the deepest in Europe and the second deepest in the world. If you’re into water rafting it’s the place to go, but as a casual tourist visiting, it’s a bit of a let down. It’s just a bridge over a canyon.
The zip line over the canyon looks fun, it claims to be the longest in Europe but having been on the longest in Europe which is in Wales, I know that’s not true.
Take some photos but spend most of your time at Durmitor and Black Lake.
These are my 15 mistakes to avoid in Montenegro. If you have anymore or any questions please comment on the post below.
What’s worth seeing in Montenegro:
Durmitor National Park
Horseshoe bend lake Skadar
What to skip:
Podgorica – unless you like urban exploring
Tara River Canyon Bridge – unless you’re really into Canyons
Vipazar – skip on anything but a sunny day