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The Truth About Montenegro

The Truth About Montenegro

Is Montenegro worth visiting? I’ll be frank: I’m not sure it is, unless you already happen to be the the Balkans with a couple of free days on your hand.

I say this as someone who, when I first traveled to Montenegro, was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about the prospect. You might even say I expected it to be a highlight of a trip that also included Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia (and that would’ve seen me continue to Kosovo, had my time in Montenegro not been such a hot mess).

I’m getting ahead of myself, however—let’s stay on topic. I’ve written this post not to air my grievances, but to minimize your chances of having any travel regrets.

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Why I Visited Montenegro

Before I get into why I do or don’t find Montenegro worth visiting, allow me to explain why I traveled there in the first place. It was my first trip into the Balkans, in 2016, and I had finished up exploring Croatia and Bosnia. However, in spite of how amazing those two countries were, I was actually more excited for my maiden voyage to Montenegro. And yes, in particularly the Bay of Kotor and the charming town around it.

Indeed, although I had planned to base myself in Kotor, I also fully intended to rent a car and go elsewhere in Montenegro. Or maybe take the bus—I wasn’t sure. I was convinced, in either case, the Montenegro would mark the real beginning of my trip to the Balkans. Certainly, it wouldn’t be a low point, or a 3-4 day period that would make me question why I’d come to this part of the world in the first place.

5 Reasons I Found Montenegro Overrated

Kotor quickly reveals its hand

With cobbled streets, ancient church towers and panoramic views of coastal town square over water and under mountain peaks, Kotor is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, very little distinguishes Kotor from dozens of other European cities, apart from its relatively small footprint, and the speed with which you will invariably see it all.

Getting out of Kotor is tedious

Part of the reason I thought Montenegro was worth visiting is because I planned to see other destinations—namely, the beach town of Budva. Unfortunately, I found help neither in terms of inconvenient local bus schedules, nor at any Kotor rental car shops. “We’re sold out today,” they all told me, “and tomorrow doesn’t look good, either.”

The cruise shippers

After Covid-19, I’m reticent to even mention the “overtourism” trope, let alone to give credence to the elitist who use it as a rallying cry to make tourism a luxury of the rich. On the other hand, it’s difficult to characterize the feeling that arises seeing a cruise ship full of passengers disembark in Kotor as anything other than stressful.

The day trippers

Ditto when it comes to people who come to Kotor on a day trip, most often from Dubrovnik or Split. Turns out, just because you believe that Montenegro is worth visiting, doesn’t mean you actually think it’s necessary to spend a night or two in a hotel there.

Neighboring countries are more interesting

At the end of the day, destinations exist in context, not in a vacuum. If Montenegro was the only country in the Balkans, I might be willing to sing its praises more vociferously. Unfortunately, it simple can’t compare to Croatia, Bosnia or even Serbia, on any level.

 
 
 
 
 

Should You Visit Montenegro?

This is really up to you. I’d say as a general rule, if you plan to be in the Balkans anyway, and have some time between your visits to Croatia/Bosnia and Kosovo/Serbia or Macedonia, there are few downsides to spending a night or two in Kotor. The worst thing that can happen, realistically, is that you come away from your time here feeling the same as I did: Glad I visited; determined never to return.

On the other hand, it could be that you do legitimately find Montenegro worth visiting, and instead come back to this page and scold me for ever having sown doubts in you. “You didn’t spend enough time here, Robert,” you may insist, angrily adding that I didn’t visit X or Y or Z destination, and that if I had I might’ve been as smitten as you were, in the end, before your smug conclusion. “It’s your life.”

Other FAQ About Visiting Montenegro

How many days should I spend in Montenegro?

Assuming you want to visit many destinations in Montenegro and not simply Kotor, I’d recommend spending at least 3-5 days in Montenegro. This might seem excessive, until you keep in mind that bus schedules are paltry, and stocks of rental cars can be the same.

Is Montenegro good for tourists?

Montenegro is very good for tourists who visit via cruise ship or on a group tour; I’m not sure it’s an excellent place for travelers who want to take a more meaningful and in-depth journey. Certainly, the small size of the country makes it more challenging to enjoy the eclecticism of larger countries like Bosnia and Croatia.

What is Montenegro like to visit?

Kotor feels at once like any other European city—maybe, an alternate-universe version of Venice?—and like somewhere else entirely, since it’s the tourist hub of self-contained Montenegro. The experience of visiting Montenegro is not disappointing in and of itself, although when combined with the effort it takes to get there, can seem so.

The Bottom Line

If you’re asking yourself “is Montenegro worth visiting?”, chances are you already have your doubts. I’m sad to say that you are justified for having them. While Montenegro is a perfectly fine place to visit on your trip through the Balkans, I’m not sure a trip there justifies the time and energy it takes. This is especially true if you also plan to visit nearby countries such as Croatia and Bosnia, which are pound-for-pound more interesting than Montenegro, particularly if it’s your first time in the Balkans. Regardless how many times you’ve been to this part of the world, hire me to plan your Balkan trip to make sure it’s one for the record books.

 

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