Unlike many countries in Europe, Montenegro is not the place to stoke your city-slicker fantasies. While there are a handful of truly charming historic towns, like romantic little Kotor which should not be missed, what really surprised us were the slew of unique experiences awaiting us in the great outdoors.
With a common thread of iridescent blue water caressing every mountain, valley and beach, Montenegro has so much to offer in the way of stunning scenery and outdoor adventure that you’ll be pulling your hair out just trying to fit it all into your itinerary.
In our four weeks here we hiked the highest of peaks, rafted through rapids of icy blue and found the best sunsets between the mountain tops and the sun-kissed Adriatic.
Here are our favourite outdoor experiences from Montenegro that can all be had on a budget.
We discovered Mrtvica Canyon quite by accident. While doing a little research about this country we were in we stumbled upon a photo of an enchanting archway made of rock and trees leading onto a turquoise pool in the jungle.
It wasn’t in our guide book and we could barely find it on our map but, through more detective work than we have had to do in a long while, we finally found the trail to take us there. And it was well worth the effort.
With dramatic canyon walls, many a bridge to frolic across and a turquoise blue river gurgling through the valley, this is a hike that should not be missed in Montenegro.
Follow our guide to find out everything you need to know before exploring Mrtvica Canyon.
Depending on the time of year, this rafting trip can vary from a fun but relatively mellow cruise down the blue Tara River, to an adrenaline pumping, white-water washing machine experience where you will most likely end up in the icy water on more than one occasion as you travel down the raging river.
Whenever you visit, be it for the maximum adrenaline rush in April or for the more easy-going adventure in July, you will be given a new perspective on the area. Often we seek to get the best view from the highest possible point, but here, in the deepest canyon in Europe, the best way to experience it is from depths of the valley.
Choose a multi-day trip covering the full length of the canyon, passing through the deepest section of the valley and under the famous Tara Bridge, or keep the experience to just a few hours on the most rapid-heavy parts of the river. This has become one of the most popular activities in the country with new rafting centres popping up every year.
We went with Rafting Centre Drina-Tara which has a well established camp and rafting operation. They deal with large numbers of guests so it can be a little crowded at times – especially on weekends when it becomes the resident party place along the river – but even on the mellowest sections of the rivers they made it a fun experience without compromising on safety.
Biogradska Gora and the wilderness around Kolašin is full of beautiful, rarely hiked trails. What we saw barely scratched the surface.
Within the park there is a lovely 3 km walk around the lake and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see a snake or five breaking the water’s surface. This is the most visited area of the park where wooden boats and kayaks can be hired by the hour. Park entry is €3 per person.
If you have the time there are also several well marked trails leading into the surrounding mountains that give views over the lake. The tourist information centre in Kolašin also offers several tours to mountain villages and golden prairies, although with some research these can often be done independently.
If you are looking for a challenge after gorging on too many ice creams and sunning yourself on the Adriatic, the strenuous hike up Bobotov Kuk is the one to do. This is by the far the most arduous hike we have attempted in a long time, but it was also the most rewarding.
The trail is steep and a little sketchy in parts but when you reach the top on a clear day you will have 360 degree views over the mountains for hundreds of miles around you across three different countries.
For more leisurely walks there are 18 different lakes to explore, with Crno Jezero, the Black Lake, being the most visited. Wherever you end up, the landscapes are beautiful and the mountains dramatic, although the weather has a habit of dampening the mood – come prepared.
If you are planning on an outdoor holiday, Durmitor probably offers the most options. There are a multitude of hiking trails in summer and in winter it turns into the premier ski spot in the country.
If you’ve been following our posts on Montenegro, you probably already know that we can’t say enough good things about Lovćen. It was the place we nearly skipped over, but in the end, we didn’t want to leave.
After driving the long and winding hairpin road to the top of the mountain, stumbling out of the car feeling a little worse-for-wear and climbing the 461 steps to the mausoleum, the vistas we saw on the other side, bathed in golden light as the sun caressed the mountain tops, literally took our breath away (cheesy but so true). We could have sat there for hours as the light danced between the mountains but, annoyingly, the grumpy guard shooed us all out a few minutes before the sun melted away entirely. Yes, we are still a little bitter.
This is probably the most accessible of all Montenegro’s beautiful outdoor experiences. Don’t Miss It! Hire a car to take your time and explore it independently – definitely around sunset – or join one of the many organised tours heading up from Kotor (although these are probably done earlier in the day).
This little detour was a complete surprise and at one point had us exchanging worried glances wandering where on earth our taxi driver was taking us.
We were heading between Foča and Žabljak when he turned off the main rain onto a tiny track that hugged, a little too tightly, the side of a cliff where loose rocks were crumbling away before our eyes. Up and up we wound before he pulled over and jumped out, gesturing enthusiastically, to the view before us over the brilliant blue Piva River.
As we crossed over the pass we found ourselves in the mountain farmlands marked by white blobs of wool with stubby legs waiting patiently to greet us in the middle of the road. Tiny mountain huts, just triangles of corrugated iron, speckled the hilly greenery and the incessant bleating of sheep echoed back and forth.
If you are looking for little peace and quiet, or just want to relax your nerves after a spine-tingling bus ride or two, sitting on the edge of the expansive Lake Skadar is the place to go.
Not much goes on here aside from the movements of tiny boats, off to discover the array of birdlife and explore the smallest of rivers peeling off from the lake.
Have lunch alongside the river in sleepy Rijeka Crnojevica and take in the astounding lake views from Virpazar.
We stayed at Draga’s Rooms which is a budget-friendly option with a charming outdoor terrace area and views across to the mountains on the Albania side of the lake. The perfect place to relax in solitude with a glass of delicious Montenegrin wine.
Normally we find pebbled beaches a little, shall we say, annoying. There’s always that pointy rock jutting out just so and no matter how much you try to wiggle into a comfortable pebble groove, it never quite fits. Then there’s the awkward walk you have to do to and from the water as where your feet, that were so happy with normal sand, try to contort their way around the slippery stones that give way beneath you.
But once you make it into the luscious water, all your pebble frustration will be forgotten. It’s deep blue and so clear you can still see the seabed even though you can’t dive deep enough to touch it. The sunsets aren’t bad either
We thought we should also mention that after reading so much about Ostrog Monastery and seeing it recommended wholeheartedly online and by local tour operators, we expected this to be a highlight. How often to do see a monastery built into a cave on the side of mountain anyway?
Honestly though, this was probably the only thing in Montenegro that we found a little disappointing. As people who are not at all religious, the significance of the symbology and the religious acts that accompany them were somewhat lost on us. The entire visit is very ritualistic with devout visitors (which is almost everyone) kissing archways and mosaicked walls, bowing and crossing themselves through every doorway and muttering an emotional few words before dipping into the holy water. For this reason we felt the iconic monastery was very much a place of pilgrimage rather than the tourist attraction which it is made out to be.