Take this breathtaking day trip to North Montenegro to see Durmitor National Park, Tara Canyon, and Ostrag monastery.

Some day trips stick with you

Some day trips, as I’ve written before, just stick with you. My day trip to North Montenegro came at exactly the right time, I will carry the stunning landscape and architecture I saw that day with me. As I walked along the shores of Crno Jezero and wandered Ostrag Monastery, carved into a mountain, I knew in my heart that the decision I’d made to uproot my life and build a new one was exactly the right decision.

You might not be in the same place in your life, and you certainly do not have to be to have an incredible time on this small-group day tour of North Montenegro.

What you’ll see on your day trip to North Montenegro

This full-day tour with 360 Monte takes you to the following sites:

  • An overlook of Perast and Our Lady of the Rocks
  • Slano Lake (Salty Lake) overlook
  • Traditional northern Montenegrin breakfast
  • Crno Jezero (the Black Lake) and Durmitor National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Tara Canyon and Đurđevića Tara Bridge
  • Ostrog Monastery

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.

Day Trip to North Montenegro Video

Take a Day Trip to North Montenegro

Montenegro packs everything into a tiny country!

If you’ve read along with my Montenegro posts, you will have heard this before—Montenegro is a stone-cold stunner of a country. Most of us who travel there stay on the coast, and for excellent reason, but do not miss the interior of the country! It will make your jaw drop. As Montenegro is such a tiny country, you can at least see most of it with a couple of well-planned day trips. Be forewarned, though—these trips will make you realize that however much time you’re spending in Montenegro on this trip, it’s not enough.

Marked differences between the coast and the rest of Montenegro

While Montenegro is tiny, its history is almost as varied as its landscape. Venice controlled the coastal areas for much of the Middle Ages through the end of the eighteenth century, which you can see in the architecture, especially in Perast and Kotor. The Ottomans held sway in the rest of the country, and you’ll notice differences in the architecture almost as soon as you leave the Bay of Kotor.

A Hairpin turn on the road to Ostrag Monastery in Montenegro
The road to Ostrag. The hairpins get more intense toward the top

A word about driving in Montenegro

“You should know,” our guide Luka told us just as we piled into the van, “we have our best driver today. He’s going to take very good care of you.” As we drove along another serpentine highway and then took the terrifying road up to Ostrag, I found myself absolutely grateful for his experience.

I signed up for this tour, because I really wanted to see Ostrog (admittedly, I didn’t know that much about Durmitor, which took a piece of my heart that day), the monastery carved into a mountain. The road up there, as you’ll see, is absolutely terrifying. I’ve been on some wild rides, and had just taken the Kotor Serpentine a couple of days before this trip, but the road to Ostrag made my heart stop. Unless you are an excellent driver, and I mean elite, I strongly suggest not driving up that road yourself.

Take a small-group tour to North Montenegro with 360 Monte

For my day trip to North Montenegro, I took a tour with 360 Monte, which I booked through GetYourGuide. 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 (note: public transportation is not really an option for much of this trip).

Unique tours from Montenegro specialists

More than just a ride, 360 Monte opens up Montenegro to travelers. Guides with 360 Monte know their stuff, and their love of their country shows. Whereas the guide on my day trip to Central Montenegro focused a lot on telling us about contemporary Montenegro and chatted with us a lot along the way, Luka talked less, allowing the landscape to speak for itself, but provided guidance and context where we needed it. I appreciated both approaches, and this demonstrated to me that the guides hadn’t just memorized a script. We got to see Montenegro through their eyes.

Boats on Crno Jezero with mountains and clouds in the backdrop on a day trip to North Montenegro

Meeting at the 360 Monte office for my day trip to North Montenegro

As with my trip with 360 Monte, the morning began by meeting up at their office. Public transportation isn’t all that reliable on the Bay of Kotor, so I walked the 25 minutes to Old Town from where I was staying in Dobrota.

I took this day trip in late September, and much of Kotor had quieted down from the summer frenzy. At 6:30 in the morning, I had Old Town almost entirely to myself, save for a couple who stole away early in the morning for a proposal just inside the Sea Gate (she said yes).

The cathedral bells chimed.

Finding coffee and meeting our guide

While I very much loved the opportunity to explore Old Town Kotor without the crowds, the cafés had yet to open, and I was not sure where my coffee was going to come from. I asked at the desk, as I was a bit early, and the receptionist pointed me to a convenience store. I stumbled through my coffee order (both tired and linguistically challenged), and a guy looked over at me and asked if I was going on the tour. I said yes, and he introduced himself as Luka, our guide for the day. He got his coffee, and we walked back to the office, where other people had gathered.

A familiar face on this day trip to North Montenegro

It turns out that one of the people from my Central Montenegro tour had signed up for this one, too. She was from Germany on a quick trip to Kotor, and we hung out for much of the day together. Other people in our group included another person from the US, a few from the UK, a woman from Finland, and two people from Denmark. We headed to the van, and we were off.

Gallery: Our Lady of the Rocks and Boka Kotorska Observation Platform

Perast and Our Lady of the Rocks

We headed out of Kotor, toward our first stop, a viewpoint of Perast and Our Lady of the Rocks (see what I mean about this being the #1 site everyone tells you about?), where we would pick up two more guests. Luka shared about the founding of the island and the belief that the icon found in that location was there by a miracle.

The viewpoint offered the best view of both Our Lady of the Rocks and St. George’s Island (Sveti Đorđe)  that I saw, though we didn’t see too much of Perast itself.

Shooting the rooster

Luka shared with us a couple of interesting anecdotes—the first a tradition marking a victory over the Turks in the mid-seventeenth century known as “shooting the rooster” (the rooster stands in for the Turks). Each May, a rooster is placed on a float off the shores of Perast. Participants take turns attempting to shoot the rooster from the shore. The winner has to buy wine for everyone and there is a rooster soup.

World Lazy Olympics

He also told us about the World Lazy Olympics, a more contemporary and less violent “sport” that pokes gentle fun at the stereotypical Montenegrin laziness. Basically, you stay in bed for as long as possible. The most recent winner stayed in bed for nearly 117 hours (apparently the rules had changed allowing for bathroom breaks). Perhaps those of us from hustle cultures could learn a thing or two.

Boka Kotorska Observation Platform

We also made a quick stop at the Boka Kotorska (Bay of Kotor) Observation Platform, where you will get an even greater appreciation of its improbable wonder.

Gallery Slano Jezero

Slano Lake (Salty Lake)

In order to support hydroelectric power, Yugoslavia created a  lake known as Slano (Salty) Lake. While not natural, it certainly is lovely, and we stopped at a popular lookout point to admire it. Stocked with fish, the lake is a popular fishing spot. By this point in the morning, the sun had soared up into the sky, making photos difficult, but it’s definitely worth a stop.

Gallery: Breakfast at Floyd Food Factory

Traditional North Montenegrin breakfast at Floyd’s Food Factory

Floyd’s Food Factory might sound like something you’d find at a hipster food truck festival in the States, but they serve traditional mountain breakfast here. This charming little A-frame spot with a woodstove specializes not in American grub, but in traditional mountain food from Montenegro.

Salty and sweet—breaking tradition

We had a breakfast of priganice, traditional fritters with cheese or honey (and yet more rakija!). It was delicious, but here I learned that it’s unheard of to mix salty and sweet in Montenegro. My German friend from the Central Montenegro tour ordered the honey with her priganice, and I ordered the cheese. We enjoyed them both, but we also traded. I then tried the honey and cheese together. We had a clear winner.

Dear Reader, I scandalized our poor guide when I mentioned that I’d done this, and I mostly felt bad about it. Locals know their food, and I am 99.999% of the time with them on what’s best, but salty-sweet is one of life’s pleasures, and I do not yield on this point.

Super cute dog

At Floyd’s Food Factory, we met the friendliest dog. Ollie would have been incredibly jealous, had he seen me fawning all over this sweet, sweet pooch. Only the promise of mountains got me back in the van.

Gallery: The road to Durmitor

The road to Durmitor and some context

Our stomachs filled and dogs greeted, we set off toward Durmitor. We passed farmlands of yesteryear, and learned more about agriculture and farming in Montenegro. Luka explained that farmers took a somewhat relaxed approach to farming, letting their cows wander free. The farmer gets to relax (a stereotypical saying that’s mostly meant in humor is that in Montenegro, “Man is born tired and lives to rest”) and the cows are so well fed that the milk they produce helps make men in Montenegro some of the tallest in Europe.

Farming, however, has fallen off considerably following the break up of the former Yugoslavia. The government offers grants and beekeeping supplies to encourage people back to farming. Most new construction in the area are small cabins aimed at tourists visiting Durmitor.

Does anyone get carsick?

About twenty-five minutes into the drive on P5, Luka casually asked, “Does anybody get carsick?” Cue the puzzled looks.

“I ask, because we’re about to go on a serpentine, and it can be a little much for those with weak stomachs.”

No one raised their hands, and off we twisted and turned around 9 hairpin turns over the next thirty minutes or so. While not as thrilling as the Kotor Serpentine, watching the landscape transform as we traveled was amazing.

Invica Tunnel

Finally, we entered the Invica Tunnel, which opened in 2010 and cut the time to travel to Durmitor National Park considerably. It wasn’t as strange as that time that I sat in a car in a container and traveled through the Chunnel to Calais, France, and it wasn’t the longest tunnel I traveled through in my time in the Balkans, but the dark certainly got my attention.

Passing through Žabljak on our way to Crno Jezero

We drove through the small mountain town of Žabljak, and Luka pointed out where we would eat lunch. Žabljak is the town with the highest elevation in the Balkans, and from when we left Kotor, we’d experienced an elevation gain of over 1,400 meters (~4,595 feet).

On our way to Crno Jezero, Luka told us about how the people in this region still believe in magic and fairies. Given the landscape, I understood how, and even caught myself looking for them.

Gallery: Crno Jezero

Crno Jezero—the highlight of my day trip to North Montenegro

We then drove the short distance to the entrance to Crno Jezero (the Black Lake), a highlight of Durmitor National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Photos do not do this stunning glacial lake, surrounded by the Dinaric Alps, justice. Dear Reader, I think I left a bit of my soul there.

Walking toward the lake

We bought our tickets at the entrance and then walked the ten minutes or so down a charming path lined occasionally with souvenir huts and little woodland-themed items and then arrived at the lake.

Inspiring

It’s called the Black Lake, but it’s not black. It’s glacial green, and it’s one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have ever beheld. In late September, the crowds had thinned, and it had grown cold (I was grateful that I’d worn jeans and packed my turtleneck sweater, because I most definitely needed it). The air was so incredibly clean.

Surrounded by mountains

The Međed Peak dominates the backdrop of the lake, along with Savin Kuk Peak. While not the tallest mountains in this part of the Dinaric Alps, they are breathtaking, one of the mountains is almost flat. Dense, dark, tall pine forest, the kind that makes you understand why people in this place still believe in magic and faries, surrounds the lake.

One of those travel moments

While not desolate, the lake shore was quiet, and I found myself tearing up that I got to see this incredible sight. Travel can do that to us, and it’s these moments of wonder that sustain us long after we leave.

More than that, however, this was the moment that it hit me that in leaving my old life behind, I’d chosen to follow my own inner voice. This path that I’m on doesn’t always make sense, but it leads me to places like Crno Jezero.

I wish I could have stayed

Alas, we only had an hour or so in this stunning place, and so I made my way back to the meeting point, stopping along the way at one of the old-timey stands to pick up a souvenir bottle of rakija (I have yet to work up the courage to drink it). The little stands are incredibly charming—bring cash if you want to pick up a little something for yourself.

As we waited for the others to join us, I chatted with some of the other members of the tour about where we were from and what we were doing in Montenegro. We all agreed that Crno Jezero was one of those places we would remember. Indeed, this entire day trip to North Montenegro was one for the books.

Gallery: Tara Canyon and the Đurđevića Tara Bridge

Tara Canyon and the Đurđevića Tara Bridge

Tara Canyon is the deepest canyon in Europe at 1,300 meters (4,300 feet) and second only to the Grand Canyon. Formed by the Tara River, the 158 km (98 miles) long “tear of Europe” river flows through Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzogovina. I wish that I had been able to explore it more, but the view from the Đurđevića Tara Bridge was certainly impressive!

Đurđevića Tara Bridge

This bridge over Tara Canyon allows you to look way down into the canyon, but don’t miss checking out the bridge itself. Originally built in the 1930s, at the time it was the highest bridge in Europe. It has five beautiful arched spans and stretches 365 meters (1179 feet) across and is 172 meters (564 feet) above the river. During World War II, in order to prevent the Italian fascists from capturing the region, the bridge was blown up. It was reconstructed in 1946.

Things to do

If you want to, you can do a zipline across the canyon (I didn’t, but, judging from the screams, it was a lot of fun). I also think I spied some rafters in the river—one of the most popular activities in Durmitor.

My advice is to check out the cute little kiosks near the bridge and get yourself some black honey, made from filtering honey through pine needles. Luka told us about it, and I decided that I simply had to try it. The taste is certainly unique—I found it delicious. It’s said to have medicinal properties and help with breathing (appropriate for me, then, with my asthma). I only ever saw it again in Bosnia and Herzegovina at a natural foods stand. Make sure to bring cash if you want to make a purchase.

Gallery: A rustic lunch

Lunch

We ate well on our tours with 360 Monte, and I think that this simple rustic lunch at Restaurant Or’O might have been my favorite. I got the Durmitor Lamb with potatoes, and, Dear Reader, it was delicious. The only drawback is that we still had more sightseeing to do, and this might make you need a nap. The restaurant accepts credit cards.

I ate with my German friend, and we talked about differences in our country (and about the travesty of US healthcare and the student loan situation—SIGH). She’d just become a project manager (I’d been one myself), and we talked about the highs and lows of the profession. We had several solo female travelers on the tour (or people taking a day to travel by themselves), so if you’re at all nervous about joining one of these as a solo traveler, don’t be. You’ll fit right in.

A choice

Following lunch, we gathered outside the restaurant, and Luka presented us with an option. We could continue to Ostrag, which is a long drive, or we could do a road around Durmitor and see more of the National Park. This day trip is 13 hours, and you’re in the car most of the day, and a good part of it involves doubling back from Durmitor to get to Ostrag. Luka wanted us to have an option. The trip back to Kotor from Ostrag takes around two hours.

Personally, I voted to continue to Ostrag, as I booked the tour specifically to see it (in hindsight, I’d also definitely book it for Crno Jezero and Durmitor). A majority felt the same, so onto Ostrag we drove.

Gallery: En route to Ostrag

Driving to Ostrag

We doubled back on P5. At one point we passed a tractor. I took advantage of a decent signal for a bit to text some photos of Durmitor with my friends with captions like “!!!”. I looked out the window with the craggy landscape and just couldn’t believe that I was really there and that my adventure had only just begun.

Run, I wanted to text my friends. Listen to your life and run toward it. It won’t call you forever. I can’t explain exactly why this hit me in this moment, but I felt such gratitude for my life in that moment. I still shake my head just thinking about it.

Gallery: The serpentines up to Ostrag

Hold onto your seat—the serpentines to Ostrag

“Remember when I told you that we had our best driver?” Luka asked us. “Well, here’s where you’re really going to appreciate him.”

Dear Reader, Ostrag monastery, carved straight into the face of a mountain centuries ago, inspires awe. You simply must see it while in Montenegro. I’m not at all religious and am largely unfamiliar with the Serbian Orthodox tradition, but I found this site deeply moving.

Yikes! This is why you take a tour!

To get there, however, you take one of the most dangerous roads I have ever ridden on. Honestly, it made my ride over the Paso de los Libertadores—the road I rode on when traveling from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina, not to mention the Kotor Serpentine—feel like leisurely Sunday drive.

If, for no other reason, the road to Ostrag is a reason to book a tour to see this part of Montenegro. The 13 hairpin turns along the steep 2.4 km (1.5 mile) road. Did I mention that you’re taking those hairpin turns right, and I mean RIGHT on the edge of the mountain? It’s thrilling, but I would have required a miracle from Saint Basil of Ostrog to make it up there and then back down driving by myself.

The road can get crowded

Oh, and, while we were incredibly lucky to get to Ostrag on a quiet day (it is often incredibly crowded, with a million visitors a year, mostly religious pilgrims), I should mention that this road is often crowded with traffic going up and down the one-lane road.

It’s one of those roads that keeps you at attention, and Luka lightened the mood and told us when we were driving around the most dangerous turn. I was laughing like a fool, I’m embarrassed to say. It’s what I do when I’m nervous. In retrospect, it was thrilling fun, but at the time, I was terrified.

Gallery: Ostrag viewpoint

Ostrag viewpoint and some context

We stopped at a viewpoint about halfway up, for pictures and to stabilize our shaking knees, but also for Luka to take a few minutes to explain what we were about to see. Would you believe that no really knows how Ostrag was built? Luka explained that St Basil (Sv Vaslije), who in life had been a bishop from Hercegovina, had come to this area following the destruction of another monastery by the Ottomans. St Basil felt called to build a monastery there, and the monastery was constructed in 1665 in two caves. How? No one really knows for sure.

That wild road? The faithful Orthodox pilgrims walk up it, and some of them to this day do not wear shoes. They go to visit the shrine to Saint Basil, which contains his relics, wrapped in fabric.

What to expect at Ostrag

Luka looked around at the group, noting approvingly that at that time of year, no one risked violating the dress code. “You do not need to be Orthodox to enter the shrine,” explaining that he himself was not particularly religious.

However, he continued to tell us that will see pilgrims in the shrine. They are going to be kissing surfaces and the hand of the priest in there. They pray for healing, and you may see people crying. If you are not Orthodox, simply go in with your arms behind your back, Luka said, and when you leave, walk out backwards.

This is a holy site

Luka stressed that this is a holy site and dear to the people of Montenegro. Showing respect is paramount. He also told us how to wind our way through the old building to get to some incredible views of the landscape. We then piled back into the van for the last of the scary drive. Our driver, whose name I somehow forgot to write down, deserves all of the praise for his skill.

Gallery: Ostrag

St Basil’s shrine

Once at the monastery, we had time to explore on our own. Others went in search of the view first. I went to the shrine. To enter, you queue in and wait for a priest to motion for you to enter. It’s a tiny shrine, smelling heavily of incense. Another member of the religious order stands in front of the saint’s bones. He held out his hand for me to kiss it, I had my hands behind my back and he nodded. I looked around.

Others in there kissed the hands and the doorways. Tears streamed down their faces, as they prayed, their lips moving. I don’t know what they were praying for, and I am not religious, but I could feel a solemn power in the place. I backed out behind the pilgrims.

Exploring Ostrag

I caught up with some others from the group and explored the rest of the main monastery, finding the frescos and taking in the truly stunning golden-hour vistas. We then explored the other open areas of the newer buildings, including a prayer area thick with beeswax and where pilgrims wrote of their miracles.

With a few minutes before it was time to head to the van for the long drive back to Kotor, I talked with some others about the expected rains (the nice thing about visiting Kotor in September is that it quiets down—the downside is that it rains a lot). This incredible day would sustain me, I thought. Indeed, it continues to do so.

Journey’s end

We piled back into the van and drove back down the terrifying road as the sun set. Unlike much of the day, where we were more quiet in the van, we talked for the two hours back, and chatted a bit more once we returned to Kotor before heading our separate ways.

I have a snapshot of Durmitor as my lock screen, and I think back to that moment on the shores of Crno Jezero, utterly amazed by where my life had taken me.

Plan your day trip to North Montenegro!

Book this day trip with 360 Monte through GetYourGuide

General considerations

  • In high season, this popular tour sells out fast. Book as soon as you can (you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance).
  • Check your confirmation, but the tour did not include meals, entrance to Crno Jezero, or ziplining at Tara Canyon (if you want to do that). Bring cash as instructed.
  • Wear good footwear. While you do not have to go on the hike around the lake, you don’t want your shoes to be the reason why you don’t.
  • If you want to do the zipline, dress appropriately.
  • Bring a light sweater or jacket, even when it’s hot in Kotor. It can be considerably colder in the mountains.
  • While you will stop along the way, bringing water and perhaps a snack is a good idea.
  • You will be gone from morning to night, much of it in the van. Do note that the route has you going back and forth the same way for a good part of the trip.
  • Ostrag is a religious site, and while you are not required to share in the beliefs of the pilgrims there, it is important to show respect. The dress code is the same as other religious sites (no bare shoulders or shorts/short skirts).
  • 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.
  • Tipping the guide is customary, in cash.

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.

Accessibility

If you have serious mobility issues, this likely isn’t the tour for you. Check with 360 Monte for more information.

Map

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What did you think?

Did you take this day trip to North Montenegro? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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