Montenegro: 3 Day Itinerary
Stunning coastlines, seemingly endless mountains, majestic bays with pristine waters, historical architecture, and of course, wine. All of this contributes to making Montenegro a dream destination for the #Winetraveler. Breathtaking views are offered from nearly anywhere you venture in this small mountainous country located on the Balkan Peninsula along the Adriatic Sea.
Getting To and Around Montenegro
Montenegro’s Podgorica and Tivat international airports, and Dubrovnik Airport, in neighboring Croatia, are your closest international airports. You can search for deals on flights here. By car, Kotor is ~10 minutes from Tivat Airport, or ~1.5 hours from either Podgorica or Dubrovnik airports.
Once in Montenegro, renting a car or arranging private transfers will be your most convenient option. Daytrip offers flexible customizable private transfers with local drivers with the option of adding side trips.
You can enhance your stay in Montenegro with the knowledge of a local guide. We had the pleasure of spending one day in Montenegro with Montenegro M Tours and highly recommend touring with this company. The tour was entirely personalized. We quickly felt like we were touring Montenegro with an old friend while being provided with an abundance of fascinating information about Montenegro and the surrounding countries.
The train network connects Bar and Podgorica all the way to Belgrade in Serbia with routes to Bijelo Polje and Nikšić, but doesn’t link coastal cities. The bus network is more extensive linking places such as Herceg Novi, Kotor, Budva, Cetinje, Bar, Podgorica, Žabljak, and will get you close to almost anywhere you want to visit in Montenegro. Rome2rio is a convenient site to help you plan public transportation whether by train, bus, or plane.
Things to Know Before You Go
The official language is Montenegrin, the currency is the Euro even though not a member of the EU (at least not yet), and driving is on the right side of the road.
First Stop: Kotor
Kotor lies along the edge of the majestic Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska). The turquoise bay appears to slice apart the dramatic grayish-colored mountains with speckled shrubbery encircling the city. Medieval city walls extending for nearly 3 miles surround Kotor’s Stari Grad (Old Town) and up into the mountain above the city forming a loop. The grayish-colored stone walls blend into the mountain slopes during the day. At night, the weaving walls are illuminated showcasing the perimeters of the defensive structure. Kotor’s Old Town and the surrounding fortifications and inner bay have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where to Stay in Kotor
If you love historic hotels located in the heart of the old town and within walking distance to the top sites, the family friendly Hotel Cattaro has it all. The hotel is a member of the Historic Hotels of Europe and shares a portion of the town’s old walls located in Armory Square. Our room overlooked the Clock Tower with imposing mountains and fortifications in the backdrop. The decor was tasteful, and the room had all the modern comforts while still maintaining historic elegance and charm. For families traveling with babies, we were able to reserve a crib.
Another hotel option just 2.2 miles away from Kotor’s old town boasting exquisite water views is HUMA Kotor Bay.
Things to See in Kotor
Impressive fortifications built into the mountain slopes, beautiful cathedrals, palaces, monasteries, stone buildings with red roofs and green wooden shutters, open squares, shops, restaurants, and an abundance of roaming cats surround you as you leisurely stroll through the narrow cobbled alleyways of Kotor’s Old Town.
The main sites to see in Kotor include Saint Tryphon’s Cathedral, a Roman Catholic Cathedral with two beautiful twin bell towers built in 1166; Church of Saint Nicholas, a Serbian Orthodox church completed in 1909; Saint Luke’s Church, an Orthodox church that was originally a Catholic church; the Clock Tower, which was the first site to catch our eye as we entered the main Sea Gate; and many palaces, such as Pima, Buća, Bizanti, and Beskuća. There are so many cats in Kotor, many shops sell cat-related souvenirs.
Winetraveler Tip: Exit the city walls to admire the view of the outer section of the walls along the Škurda River and stroll along the majestic bay. For parents traveling with young kids, there’s a playground right along the bay close to the Sea Gate.
Climb Kotor’s Walls up to San Giovanni Castle
Climb up the old city walls that snake up the mountainside to the Castle of San Giovanni. The winding pathway weaving upwards is shared by ~1,350 uneven narrow stone stairs connecting to the centuries’ old wall and a rugged gravel trail sloping up the mountain. You pass by stone forts and the Church of Our Lady of Remedy (Health), a church built by survivors of the plague in 1518. The church is about the halfway point. Your efforts up to the fortress will be rewarded with postcard picture perfect views of Kotor and the fjord-like Bay of Kotor with the Montenegrin flag, perched on the ruins of the fortress, swaying in the wind.
A reasonable degree of physical fitness is required to make it to the top. We accessed the start of the climb toward the back of the old town near the North River Gate after paying an entrance fee of €8. Reserve at least 2-3 hours, bring water, a snack, and wear comfy shoes if you intend to climb all the way to the top. It took us 3 hours roundtrip while accompanied by our 3 year old and 1 year old. We allotted ample time for our children to play in the forts along the way, and again once we made it to the top. Special care must be taken, especially if you are traveling with young children, as the castle is crumbling in parts. There was a big hole in the ground inside the remains of the castle and there were ledges that dropped straight down.
If you don’t have the time or are unable to make it all the way up, the views from about half way are still pretty spectacular.
Dine and Wine in Kotor’s Old Town
As you meander through the cobbled streets in the Old Town, there is a wide selection of places to dine and wine. The seafood restaurant, Galion, was recommended to us for their fish dishes and views. If you’re looking for something quick with a prime location, Pizzeria Sara offers pizza and pasta dishes while sitting in the old town right next to the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon. You can taste wines from Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro at the Old Winery Wine Bar. Cesare Old Town Restaurant has a cozy atmosphere with a nice selection of Montenegrin wines.
Second Stop: Perast
The charming small town of Perast, with a population of less than 400 people, is only a ~16 minute picturesque drive along the bay from Kotor. Perast looks out toward the narrowest part of the bay, Verige Strait, and two islets: the small island of St. George, and the artificial man-made island of Our Lady of the Rocks with a small Roman Catholic Church resting on top. Legend claims the latter was built by residents of Perast piling rocks and sinking ships around the spot fishermen found an icon of the Virgin Mary until the islet was formed.
Our Lady of the Rocks is easily accessible by boat if you traveled to Perast by vehicle. Another popular option is traveling to Perast from Kotor by boat. Some boat tours to Perast include the opportunity to swim in the well-known Blue Cave.
Taste quality wines at the quaint family owned Savina Winery while soaking in dazzling bay and mountain views. Savina Winery, in Herceg Novi, is only about an hour drive from either Dubrovnik or Kotor, and is a perfect stop if you’re traveling between those two popular cities. The setting up on a hill is pleasant and calming, and the captivating views are visible from the tasting terrace, tasting room, and the vineyards slanted up the slope.
Advanced reservations are required. During our visit, the tasting was €35 per person, and included a 90 minute tour, generously poured glasses of 4 wines (Rosé Grenache, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Merlot), 2 spirits (Loza and Travarica), and an assortment of delicious snacks paired with the wines/spirits.
The passion and love for winemaking was felt as we were told the story of how the winery started as a hobby and only recently started selling their wines on a small scale.
Lovćen National Park and Njegos Mausoleum
Njegos Mausoleum is a must-see monument in Lovćen National Park for epic views and fascinating history. It’s just over an hour drive from Kotor. The beauty of Lovćen surrounded by expansive mountains covered in thick forests of black pine trees inspired the naming of “Montenegro” translating to mean “black mountain.”
Climb ~461 stairs to the mausoleum resting on Lovćen’s second-highest peak, Jezerski vrh, built for Prince-Bishop Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, a renowned poet and considered to be Montenegro’s greatest hero. It is said he wished the highest peak to be left for the future and for a man greater than he was.
Continue walking along a pathway to a circular terrace offering 360 degree views. If you have clear skies during your visit, the incredible views are worth every step. As we slowly twirled around the terrace, we saw every border of Montenegro. The Bay of Kotor, Perast, Our Lady of the Rocks, the old capital city of Cetinje, the current capital city of Podgorica, and the borders of Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania, were all visible.
Skadar Lake National Park
Skadar Lake, the largest lake on the Balkan Peninsula, is a freshwater lake shared by Montenegro and Albania and surrounded by mountains and plentiful birdlife. The view from Pavlona Strana is the iconic viewpoint of Skadar Lake’s famous horseshoe bend. Nature lovers will have plenty to do at Skadar Lake. You can go kayaking, hiking, bird watching, and/or go on a boat ride.
The small town of Rijeka Crnojevića along Skadar Lake is a great place to stop for lunch. There are a few restaurants overlooking a beautiful old stone bridge crossing the lake. Rijeka Gostiona and Stari Most are two options. We enjoyed a delicious traditional fish lunch at the former. Trying the tasty carp soup is a must.
Wineries near Skadar Lake
Wine has been a part of Montenegro’s history for centuries. Extend your stay to Skadar Lake National Park by visiting nearby wineries. Below are a few options.
At Vinarija Ivan, we had a great experience touring the vineyards and tasting delicious wines along with delicious homemade snacks in a beautiful stone room in the company of the winemaker and his family. Their wines are made from grape varieties Vranac and Kratošija. We tasted Ivan’s dry red wine, sweet red wine, white wine, and rosé. Sweet wines typically aren’t a personal favorite of ours, but Vinarija Ivan’s sweet red wine was an exception. We loved it. It was thick and smooth, and was especially perfect on a cool day. Their property is beautiful and there was a spacious outdoor terrace that would be perfect for tasting wines on warmer days.
Next door to Ivan Winery is their uncle winery, Vinarija Mrkan (that wasn’t open during our visit in late November).
Vinarija Vukmirović is a small less refined winery with an authentic local family feel offering tastings of their wines produced in the traditional process since 1912, brandy, liqueurs, and honey products, and homemade Montenegrin meals. We tasted their wines made from grape varieties Vranac and Kratošija with the family in a small room with brick and stone walls with old winemaking tools on display. We tasted their Vranac Barrique, Vranac, Bijelo Vino, Ceklinski Rosé, and Liker Od Maline.
Vinarija Mašonović has a long tradition of making wine and rakija (a popular fruit brandy in the Balkans) over ten generations. Grapes grown at the winery include Vranac, Marselan, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese. Seven types of fruit rakijas are offered: grape, pear, plum, kiwi, apple, pomegranate, and quince. Reservations are required. While we didn’t have the pleasure of visiting this winery, we received prompt and thorough responses to our email inquiries.
More Things To Do Around Montenegro
If you have additional time in Montenegro, there’s plenty more to see and do in this small country that you can drive from the northernmost to southernmost parts or the eastern to westernmost parts in ~4 hours. Additional options include exploring the Lipa Cave near Cetinje, the medieval old town in Budva, beaches in and near Budva, Durmitor National Park and rafting Tara Canyon, Biogradska Gora National Park, Mrtvica Canyon, and Ostrog Monastery.