Because I am who I am, I couldn’t just book a 10 day trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Montenegro is right there, just south of Bosnia’s border, and I still hadn’t made it there. So why not keep traveling for a few more days and see some of another country? That’s often about as little as it takes for me to go somewhere new. So off I went for 4 days in Montenegro. Here’s a look at some things to do in Montenegro.
Things to do in Kotor, Montenegro: Exploring Old Town
While doing my pre-trip research, I learned that Kotor is one of the best places to visit in Montenegro. Kotor’s old town is small, but I knew almost nothing about it, so I figured a tour would be a good way to get a crash course. The hostel I booked my Mostar to Kotor transfer with also runs tours, so I looked at their website and found a this free walking tour of Kotor.
The town was packed from about mid morning to late afternoon because Kotor is a popular cruise ship destination. But somehow I was the only person booked on the free walking tour that day, so I got my own personal tour of the old town. (Note: Always tip your guide, especially if it’s a free tour! I gave him 20 euros.)
The guide told me about the city’s history and showed me around. I got to see squares and buildings I probably would’ve missed on my own. He also showed me where to go to walk parts of the remaining city walls and where to start hiking up the mountain to the castle.
Walking the walls in Kotor
Always searching for interesting ways to see a place from above, I was happy to learn that some of the old city walls were still in tact and free to explore. The part you can walk on runs along the coast side of town, and I kept going until I reached a point where I felt like I was in someone’s backyard. It’s not too high, but enough to offer some nice views. This was one of my favorite things to do in Kotor, Montenegro.
Conquering the castle in Kotor…sort of
One of the things Kotor is famous for is its impressive castle sitting high on the mountain behind the old town. You can see it, and the walls that run up to it, from just about everywhere in town. Before I got to Kotor, I read that it was over 1300 stairs to get up there. Not only that, but it’s actually a rocky, steep path, and the steps next to the path are made out of stones and not 100% stable in places.
I thought, there’s no way I’m even attempting this thing. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Kotor, Montenegro, and I love castles and views from high places, but I’m not sure I’ve ever climbed anything higher than 400-500 stairs.
But that castle haunted me. It loomed over me everywhere I went while exploring the city. When I stopped for dinner on my second (and final) night in Kotor, I asked my waiter about the climb. He said he did it several times a year and that it takes him about 45 minutes, and that it’s really worth it.
So the next morning, I got up early. Anyone who knows me knows that alone is a big feat. But I knew I had to beat the heat (it was 90-100F at the hottest point of the day) and I had to be back to my room in time to shower before checking out.
I started from the north entrance, which I think is the more common starting point, paid my 3 euro entrance fee, and began to climb. I stopped often to take pictures and catch my breath. And even though those stone steps weren’t perfect, they were better than the uneven pathway.
I didn’t make it to the top, to the castle. But I didn’t expect to. I stopped at the church, which is about a third of the way up the hill. So maybe something like 450 steps. But it took me 45 minutes to get there with all my stops, and not only were my legs burning, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to push the rest of the way and get that much-needed shower.
I easily could’ve skipped this, knowing it would be super hard, if not impossible for me to do. I could’ve decided the early wake up wasn’t something I wanted to deal with. But I pushed myself to do what I could. I’m super proud of myself for going for it and making it as far as I did. It reminded me how even though solo travel sometimes sucks, it’s worth doing anyway. Maybe someday I’ll return and finish that climb.
Where to stay in Kotor
I ended up with an apartment type place in Kotor, mostly because the pictures looked gorgeous. The bed was comfortable enough, the location was in the old town and close enough to anything I needed. The church bells were a bit annoying, but you can hear them from anywhere in the old town, so there’s no avoiding it. The guy who ran the place was friendly and helpful. And even though I didn’t make use of the kitchen, it was nice to have a little more space than a normal hotel room. Przun Apartments was a nice place to stay in Kotor, and I’d stay there again.
Things to do in Kotor in one day
If you only have one day in Kotor, you can still see a lot and enjoy the town.
I suggest climbing up to the castle early in the morning before it gets too hot and before there are a lot of other people clogging up the paths up the hill. This is a good start to your day in Kotor since you’ll get some fantastic views of the city from above. Even if, like me, you don’t make it all the way to the top.
Then once you’re back down the hill, wander through Kotor old town and enjoy the quaint stone buildings. Walk along the remaining old city walls. Take the free walking tour I mentioned above if the timing works out.
You can easily explore the old town of Kotor in a day and get a good feel for the town and see the main sights. A day in Kotor doesn’t give you enough time to do any day trips, but I had 2 days in Kotor on my 4 day Montenegro itinerary and didn’t do any, and I still enjoyed my time there.
How to get from Kotor to Budva
Kotor and Budva aren’t too far away from each other, and I found the local bus to be very easy to use. From Kotor’s old town, walk south, so if you’re standing at the port where all the cruise ships dock and facing the water, go to the left. Follow the main road until you get to a roundabout, and turn left. The main bus station will be just a little farther on the left. You can see the station on Google maps here.
At the bus station, you can buy a ticket to Budva, and they’ll tell you where the bus will be. The Kotor to Budva bus only took about 45 minutes, and at the time, the ticket cost me 3.50 euros.
Arriving in Budva
My time in Budva did not start off well.
From Kotor, I took a local bus to Budva. It was a hot day, but the Budva bus station wasn’t too far of a walk from my hotel, so I started walking instead of getting a taxi. But when I got to where Google said the hotel was, there definitely was no hotel. Rather than wander around too much and get lost, I called the hotel and tried to explain where I was.
Once they thought they understood, they said they’d send someone to meet me. But no one came. So I called again. Clearly they thought I was somewhere completely different, despite my telling them I’m sure I’m super close and explaining the distinct building under construction at the busy intersection where I was standing. But no, still nothing.
Eventually I handed my phone to a taxi driver at the taxi stand where I was, and he figured out where the hotel was. At that point, I was so hot and so frustrated, I figured it would be better to just have the taxi take me, when I should’ve actually had him tell the hotel where I was.
But into the taxi I went, and less than five minutes later, he deposited me at the back door of the hotel and charged me 9 euros for it.
I was livid.
I’m normally a much better traveler than this. I normally never get into a taxi without first asking how much it’ll be to get where I’m going. But I had no choice once he had already brought me to my destination.
The people working the front desk at the hotel had to figure out where I was, come find me and let me in, since the taxi didn’t even bring me to the front door. And then, once I dropped off my bag in my room, they showed me the front of the building and how to get into the old town.
It turns out I was a block away from the hotel when I called them lost. Even that 5 minute taxi ride was the driver taking an extremely long way around. It also turns out that lots of taxis in Budva rip people off all the time.
Things to do in Budva, Montenegro – Exploring Old Town
Budva’s old town is a walled in area near the sea. Tons of narrow alleyways wind through, lined with souvenir shops, cafes, pizzerias, etc. I was told you could walk on top of the walls and that it’s one of the best things to do in Budva, so that was my top priority.
Eventually I found a fort, and the woman selling tickets told me the walls were closed because of the weather. Apparently when it’s extremely hot and/or windy, they don’t let people up there, and it happens quite frequently.
Still, the fort was interesting and provided some nice views of Budva from above.
How not to visit Sveti Stefan
One of the most famous pictures from Montenegro is of a tiny village called Sveti Stefan, which is an easy day trip from Budva. It’s a tiny little island connected to the coast by a foot bridge, and it’s extremely exclusive. Understandably it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Montenegro. The pictures looked gorgeous, and I wanted that picture.
I found the local bus that goes out there and squeezed on with a few dozen other tourists and a handful of unfortunate locals who needed that bus to get home. We passed by resorts on the outskirts of Budva and eventually came to the Sveti Stefan stop. I piled off with most everyone else, took a few pictures, and went in search of a better view and a restaurant for lunch.
Now when I said this place was tiny, I meant it. There was a little cafe that, despite having a menu with sandwiches and a few other things that could pass as a meal, was not serving lunch when I was there at 12:30. The only other restaurant I could find was a fancy place where I spent 18 euros on a bottle of water and chicken with some sides. It was tasty and way more than I could eat, but not worth 18 euros.
There were a couple of beaches, but some seemed to be for hotel guests only, and I saw a sign stating beach sets (chairs and umbrella) were 100 euros to rent. As for the island itself, you couldn’t actually get onto it unless you were staying there, or maybe lived there…if anyone lives there.
Eventually I got back on the bus, disappointed by how little there actually is to see or do in Sveti Stefan. As the bus continued on its route, curving around and through little villages, I noticed the island come back into view. This time it was on my left, instead of the right. And then the bus made a stop to pick up a few people, and I realized, this is where I should’ve come for that photo.
I can’t tell you the name of the stop, because I don’t know what it was. But if all you want is THE photo of Sveti Stefan, you need to be on higher ground, above the village, not in it. So take the bus passed the actual Sveti Stefan stop, and once the bus goes around the curve and the sea is at your left instead of your right, keep an eye out for the view. It was maybe 5-10 minutes after the Sveti Stefan stop.
I think the spot might be here, so if you can keep an eye on where you are with a map app, you might have an easier time of finding it.
Where to stay in Budva
Despite my difficulties getting to the hotel, it really shouldn’t have been hard to find. Google just pinned their address to the wrong side of the intersection. But it was an easy, quick walk to the old town, right down the street from a big bus stop, and the hotel itself was fantastic. The staff were really friendly and helpful and gave me a cafe recommendation I loved so much. The bed was the best I had on the entire 2 week trip. I definitely recommend Hotel Arka in Budva.
Kotor or Budva?
If you only have time for either Kotor or Budva in Montenegro, I’d recommend Kotor. They both have cute old towns, and they both have pretty coastal views. But I thought Kotor was more charming than Budva. Kotor’s old town was nicer and felt like someplace where locals might still live. They might not, but maybe. Whereas Budva’s old town felt much more like a tourist attraction where I wouldn’t expect locals to live anymore. Kotor also has the stunning mountain backdrop and the hike up to the castle, and Budva has nothing to compare with this.
If you want to base yourself in Kotor, you could still take a day trip from Kotor to Budva. But make sure you have enough time to enjoy both towns if you decide to do this.
I think 4 days in Montenegro was a nice amount of time to experience some of the things to do in Montenegro. But certainly there are lots of other towns and cities I didn’t make it to that would be great to add to a Montenegro itinerary. It’s not a big country, but it packs in a lot of beauty. Luckily it’s close to Croatia and Bosnia, making it a great addition to a Balkans itinerary. Montenegro is also the 10th smallest country in Europe, which means I’ve now been to all 10 of them!
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