Don’t miss this day trip to Central Montenegro!
When I look back on my time in Montenegro, on the bay just outside of Kotor, I remember just how relaxed I felt, surrounded by the mountains and the calm waters of Boka Bay. Old Town Kotor is a storybook, and you simply must get lost in its winding streets. Float in the bay, surrounded by mountains. And, when you’ve thoroughly chilled out, in a way that I think only the Bay of Kotor can do, take this spectacular day trip to Central Montenegro as part of a small-group tour to Lovćen, Cetinje, and Skadar Lake National Park.
What you’ll see on your day trip to Central Montenegro
This full-day tour with 360 Monte (affiliate link with GetYourGuide) takes you to the following sites:
- The famed Kotor Serpentine
- Breakfast at the oldest restaurant in Montenegro
- The mausoleum atop Lovćen mountain (the “black mountain,” or Crno Gora, from which Montenegro got its name)
- Cetinje, the former capital of Montenegro
- Pavlova Strana, a scenic overlook
- Skadar Lake National Park (includes a riverboat ride)
- A sunset spot (this is usually Sveti Stefan, but we stopped at an overlook of Budva, as it grew dark earlier in late September)
This post includes what you need to know to take the tour (and the locations, if you dare to drive it yourself) as well as what to expect while you’re on it. You will talk about this day trip to Central Montenegro for years to come!
Day Trip to Central Montenegro Video
Book the tour!
Take a Day Trip to Central Montenegro
Montenegro has so much to see!
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it for the remainder of my days—Montenegro is a stone-cold stunner of a country. You will run out of superlatives! A sparkling sea, the ragged mountains of the Dinaric Alps, stunning lakes, rich (and complex) history, exquisite architecture (and also some unfortunate choices), and open spaces—this tiny country has everything. I found myself rubbing my eyes in disbelief. Three weeks in Montenegro had me barely scratching the surface.
Along with its varied terrain, Montenegro also has a varied history, and getting away from the coast will highlight these differences.
Montenegro isn’t just the coast
Venice controlled the coastal areas of Montenegro, including the Bay of Kotor until the end of the eighteenth century, whereas Central and North Montenegro were part of the Ottoman Empire (the cities were largely self-governed). This means that there are marked differences between how the regions developed. As you ride out of Kotor, you’ll notice changes, not just in the landscape, but also in architecture and food.
A word about driving in Montenegro
“Everything is fine on these roads . . . until we see rental plates.” Truer words, spoken by a guide on one of my small-group tours, were never spoken. Not long after he uttered them we saw a woman in a rental car pulled over on the Serpentines and crying, clearly terrified.
That could be you. The roads in this country are no joke (nor are the drivers), and some of the places are just downright dangerous if you are not familiar with the unspoken rules of the road. It’s certainly easy enough to rent a car here, but actually driving it safely is a whole other matter.
A blessing in disguise
I didn’t mean to be car-free for my trip to the Balkans, but in officially relocating to New Hampshire from Massachusetts, my permanent driver’s license did not arrive before my trip. Without that, I couldn’t obtain an International Driving Permit. While New Hampshire’s bureaucracy ticked me off (45 days to mail a piece of plastic?!), to be honest, I’m relieved to have had a very good excuse for not driving in Montenegro.
Take a small-group tour to Central Montenegro with 360 Monte
For my day trip to Central Montenegro, I took a tour with 360 Monte, which I booked through GetYourGuide (affiliate link). I’m generally not much of a tour person, as I’ve mentioned before, but I highly recommend these tours, and not just because it gets you out of having to drive or figure out alternative transportation (most of these places do not have public transportation options).
Montenegro tour specialists
Beyond just solving the transportation problem, I recommend 360 Monte because they specialize in tourism in Montenegro, and it’s obvious how much the guides love what they’re doing. 360 Monte leads tours are English (you’ll find that almost everyone in the touristed areas in Montenegro speaks at least some English), and the guides share much more than the subject matter of the tour.
You’ll learn about more than just the sites you’re visiting
I learned a great deal not just about the sites, but also about life in Montenegro thanks to these well-thought-out tours. Don’t worry about looking like a dork—there’s no following someone with a sign (I felt like a dork huffing and puffing up the stairs to the top of Lovćen, but that’s on me). Even if you don’t like tours, I think that you would love this one.
Day trip to Central Montenegro
I’m so jealous! I wish that I was going on this day trip again with you. Here’s a bit about my experience and highlights of your trip.
Meet at the 360 Monte office
You can pick up this tour from Herceg Novi, Tivat, or Budva, but I met with the group at the 360 Monte office in Old Town Kotor. I took advantage of the early start to get to Old Town early and snapped a few photos before having coffee in a little alley alongside St Trypon’s Cathedral and walking over to the office. I checked in and waited with the other guests. NOTE: This is the published meeting location, but it may vary—be sure to check your confirmation for details.
Piling into the van
Our guide Milos came out and welcomed us and shared a bit about what we would be doing before leading us out to the van just outside the city walls. A few of us were solo female travelers, and guests hailed from the US, UK, India, South Korea, Israel, France, the Netherlands, and Germany, all of us in Kotor for the first time. I sat on the passenger side of the van near the front, which meant that I had a great view the entire trip and also got to speak some with Milos.
And we were off!
Gallery: Kotor Serpentine
As the name suggests, the Serpentine, built by the Austro-Hungarians in the nineteenth century, twists and turns 16 times on its way up to Lovćen. It replaced a treacherous mountain path that was used for trade between Kotor and Cetinje (the former capital of Montenegro). You get breathtaking views and a thrill ride at the same time.
A stunning, dangerous ride
Also known as P1, this wild road is one-lane. t’s commonly included on lists of most dangerous roads (so’s the Paso de los Libertadores—the road I rode on when traveling from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina). The 16 hairpins are officially part of the Kotor Serpentine, but the road continues to Cetinje, with nine more twists in store for you.
If you are heading down the mountain and you encounter traffic on the way up, it often involves going in reverse. On a one-lane road. On a mountain. See what I mean about not wanting to drive here? You’ll pass a bit of graffiti commemorating an accident in 1999 (miraculously, they lived).
You’ll get to just take pictures
Instead of panicking as you drive up, you’ll get to look out the window and take pictures. The views of first Kotor and then the mountains are nothing short of spectacular. We stopped at a couple of different viewpoints to take it all in.
The road improved things, and marked an ending
As we gaped at the scenery (and held onto our seats as we twisted through the Serpentine), Milos began to tell us more about Montenegro’s history, and how this road came to be built. Up until the Austro-Hungarians took Montenegro, the only way to get from Kotor to Cetjene was by a mountain passage dating from the Romans. The Kotor Serpentine allowed horse and wagon traffic between the two points. While the road certainly helped farmers get things to the coast, it also served to further mark the end of the period of Venetian rule on the coast, which was the source of much of Kotor’s prosperity.
Gallery: The oldest restaurant in Montenegro
Breakfast at the oldest restaurant in Montenegro
Along the way to Lovćen, we stopped at Kod Pera na Bukovicu, the oldest restaurant in Montenegro, for breakfast. We started out with a shot of rakija, the famed spirit of the region in the smokehouse where they cure their own prosciutto (get some—it’s delicious).
But first, a shot of rakija
Rakija reminds me of grappa in terms of taste. However, any person from a Slavic country will tell you that it’s not made with the leftovers from making wine—it’s made with the fruit itself (generally grapes or plums, but also pears, other plants and sometimes nuts). Rakija is generally clear and will taste like of the fruit (sort-of), whereas grappa pretty much just tastes like alcohol. I would have a hard time telling the difference in a blind taste test, especially early in the morning.
Yes, a bit of booze for breakfast
Until relatively recently, most people in Montenegro likely started their day with a shot of rakija. It was thought to kill the germs that cause tooth decay and to provide strength. Or, you know, because sometimes your day needs to start with a kick.
“If you’re an alcoholic, don’t do the shot, but otherwise, I am going to judge you,” Milos kidded with us. I mean, how could we turn down a proud tradition before breakfast? Most of us took it and winced, laughing.
Breakfast al fresco
After our fortification, we proceeded inside the restaurant to order a lovely breakfast of their own prosciutto, olives, cheese, and tomatoes. We ate at the picnic tables outside, looking out to the fields, already so markedly different from the coast. A few locals sat nearby, and there was the cutest little puppy to play with.
Gallery: Lovćen and the Mausoleum of Njegoš
Lovćen and the Mausoleum of Njegoš
At the top of the twisting and turning road are the stairs to ascend to the Mausoleum of Njegoš and at the top of Lovćen mountain, the second highest mountain in Montenegro and the mountain (known as “black mountain” by the Venetians) that gave Montenegro (Crna Gora) its name.
Another benefit of the tour is that you don’t have to try and park your car. You just get out and start the steps.
There are a lot of stairs. 461 stairs, to be precise.
The stairs are absolutely worth it
I did not take photos of the steps, because I was too busy huffing and puffing my way up them (I can walk on flat ground forever, but as soon as you introduce an incline, I am a wheezy mess). Do take care on them, especially going down—there isn’t a handrail.
All the huffing and puffing is totally worth it, because the 360 views you have from the top of Lovćen, including Boka Bay and then five countries on a clear day: Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Albania (it’s said that you can see Italy, but I understand that’s mostly hyperbole).
If the stairs didn’t do it, the view will take your breath away.
Petar II Petrović-Njegoš
The mausoleum for Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, the beloved nineteenth-century ruler of Montenegro impresses. Njegoš was a true renaissance man—a scholar, poet, politician, and a lover of his country, making diplomatic ties with the outside world. He is absolutely revered in Montenegro, and it shows in his final resting place. Our guide, Milos, spoke of him with great respect, especially when we visited his tomb.
At the base of the steps, there’s a little center with a restaurant, restroom (free if you patronize the restaurant), and an exhibition of Montenegro’s history. If you choose not to ascend to the mausoleum, this is a good place to wait for the group.
We then continued on to Cetinje, where we saw the former capital of Montenegro (it’s now Podgorica). Along the way, Milos told us about the wars in the 1990s and his perspective on Montenegro’s role in it. This was the first of many versions I heard during my travels in the Balkans, and the first to clue me in about a couple of things.
The wars of the 1990s
People born during or after the Balkan wars of the 1990s, like Milos (he was born in the 1990s) tend to discuss the wars more than older people, I think because they need to make sense of the world they grew up in. Often the stories do not line up with what foreigners to the region have understood, sometimes factually, but more often in just the confusion of all of it. Horrible things happened during those wars, and the wounds have not healed—there’s scar tissue and peace, mostly, but the people have yet to heal.
Choosing to listen
The historian in me wanted to speak up when I heard things that I knew not to be true, but the human in me kept quiet. Part of learning about a culture is listening to stories that people tell about themselves. Many, if not most, people from Montenegro identify ethnically as Serbian, rather than as Montenegrin. Issues of identity and perspectives on the wars are both highly divisive subjects, and, as you’ll learn if you spend much time in the region, complicated, and it proved better for me to listen in silence and to ponder it later.
A friend of mine who’s in the region now talked about looking at the faces at a memorial and realizing that these people were our age when the wars took place. This weighed heavily on me as well, as it feels closer.
Religious heritage in Cetinje
We arrived in the former royal capital. While Montenegro’s former capital has lost much of its former glory (and sadly has a very high unemployment rate), it is still worth visiting for the religious heritage alone. If you have time, the city boasts several museums.
Here, we visited a nineteenth century church and the Cetinje manastir; a monastery that is said to have the right hand of from John the Baptist (it was not on display at the time of our visit) and a piece of the true cross; and wandered around the town a bit. We thought that we might be able to go into the nearby Castle Church, but, alas it was closed. We got to befriend a nice dog instead.
Contemporary clash about the church and the government
As we walked around Cetinje, we learned a bit about the contemporary clash involving the Serbian Orthodox church and the government (this article explains a bit more), and it was on display at the monastery. Milos cautioned us not to speak too openly about it, lowering his voice when others walked by. (As with politics, it’s best not to talk too openly about religion, as it, too, can be a divisive subject.)
Walking through Cetinje toward the Blue Palace (the present-day home of the president of Montenegro), someone asked about language. How I understand it, most of the language in the region (Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina) is very similar (Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia use the Cyrillic alphabet, though you will still see the Latin alphabet), and they can understand each other. It’s more like different dialects than a unique language. However, Milos told us, and the man who overheard our conversation and yelled at Milos confirmed, it’s best not to talk about that, either.
We left Cetinje and drove onward toward our last major destination, Rjeka Crnojevica at the edge of Skadar Lake National Park. On our way there, we learned a more about the shift away from the industry of the Yugoslavia era and toward tourism. While this has made trips like the one I took possible, it’s also had an impact on the economy of Montenegro. Tourism jobs simply do not pay as well and are not available everywhere in the country. Indeed, the situation made many older people nostalgic for the Yugoslavia days, even if they had problems of their own. I heard similar stories throughout my time in the region, and it made me think.
We made our way toward Crnojevica. Another somewhat dangerous, and incredibly beautiful road takes you to down to the village and past a glorious overlook of one of its bends, Pavlova Strana. This overlook is one of those places that make your jaw drop.
Late lunch on the river in view of the Stari Most (Old Bridge)
We stopped for lunch at Restoran Stari Most in Rijeka Crnojevića for a traditional meal in view of their old bridge (hence, Stari Most). I had fish soup local trout, which I very much enjoyed. We had lively conversations about where we were from and what brought us to Montenegro.
In the nineteenth century, Rijeka Crnojevica served as a royal summer residence from Cetinje. The picturesque bridge dates back to the 1850s, and the buildings along the river harken back to that earlier time. More recent buildings, alas, are not as lovely.
Riverboat ride along the Crnojevica river (Skadar Lake National Park)
This is utterly charming, and probably not something that would be easily arranged in advance without a tour. Unlike the speedboat cruise, this is a slow ride through the countryside, and we drank wine. The sun had gotten lower in the sky, and the light on the river was just beautiful.
The Crnojevica river and Skadar Lake National Park has a rich biodiverse ecosystem, with birds and fish not found anywhere else in the world, some of which you might spy while you’re riding along. If it’s warm out, you can also go swimming (though I’m not sure if I would—there are a lot of lily pads, and I suspect it might be a bit slimy). One guy from our group did and enjoyed it—though he was freezing on the way back.
We entered Skadar Lake National Park
While our boat ride didn’t take us all the way to Skadar Lake (and seeing that lake is near the top of my list for my next Montenegro trip), we did enter Skadar Lake National Park, and so we had to pull up to a landing where Milos paid our fee to enter the park.
What a relaxing end to the day
We laughed a lot on the ride, as Milos regaled us funny stories from past trips but things did eventually grow a bit quiet. Riding along, taking in the mountains and tranquil landscape as the afternoon drifted toward evening, I felt that startled, gratitude-filled, awe I often feel when I travel. Also tired. All that walking and the wine caught up with me.
Scenic overlook over Budva
While Budva itself is a bit of an overdeveloped party town, its natural setting is stunning, and I’ve certainly seen sunsets in worse places. Normally this tour includes Sveti Stefan, but, while late September meant fewer crowds, it also meant earlier sunsets.
We made our way back to Kotor, first dropping off a couple of people in Budva. We arrived back after dark, said our goodbyes and our group went our separate ways.
I slept like a rock that night and needed ibuprofen the next day, but I didn’t mind. My day trip to Central Montenegro was one of the best day trips I’ve ever taken.
Plan your day trip to Central Montenegro!
Book your tour
Book the Great Montenegro Tour with 360 Monte (affiliate link).
- In high season, this popular tour sells out fast. Book as soon as you can (you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance).
- Wear good footwear. You’ll climb a lot of stairs, walk a lot, and ride a boat. This isn’t the day for the cute shoes.
- Bring a light sweater or jacket, even if it’s blazing hot in Kotor. It can get chilly in the mountains.
- You’re going to gain a lot of elevation on the Kotor Serpentines. Gum can help with your ears.
- While you will stop throughout the day, bringing water and perhaps a snack would be helpful.
- This is a nearly 12-hour trip, so you’ll be gone the entire day.
- The 461 stairs up to the mausoleum atop of Lovćen can be a lot (I was out of breath). While I highly encourage you to do it—it doesn’t take that long, and the views are spectacular—you will still get great views at the base of the stairs.
- The tour includes the boat ride, but not the entrance fees to Lovćen (€11) or Skadar Lake National Park (€11) or food/drinks (except some wine on the boat ride, figure about another €25, to be safe). Bring CASH! The lunch restaurant takes credit cards, but the machines don’t always work in Montenegro.
- Tipping the guide is customary, CASH.
- Take care in discussing politics, religion, and especially the wars of the 1990s (this goes for the entire region). Note that many people in Montenegro describe themselves as Serbian instead of Montenegrin. If you’re in doubt about whether or not to say something, err on the side of caution.
Solo female travel
This is a great trip for the solo female traveler. You’ll likely meet other solo travelers (there were several of us on my tour). It’s a great way to meet people if you’re looking to make some friends, too.
If you have serious mobility issues, this unfortunately is not the tour for you.
What did you think?
Did you take this day trip to Central Montenegro? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.
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