Buckle up for fairy-tale views.

Montenegro will have you feeling like you slipped out of reality and into the middle of a fantasy novel. From the mountain-wreathed Boka Bay, with its legends of buried treasure, to the white stone medieval villages tucked up on hillsides, and the powder-soft sand of the sprawling, southern beaches, Montenegro’s coastline is so many worlds in one. 

Long dominated by the Venetians and Austro-Hungarians, there’s still a regal glamour to Montenegro, from its storybook architecture to the majesty of its raw, rugged, and untamed nature. And with a coastline that's only 183 miles long, you can find yourself changing from one world to the next in a matter of hours.

Travel, for me, is not about small doses. It's about diving in head first and gobbling it all up. So, when I decided to go to Montenegro, I didn’t want to just go to Montenegro. I needed to drive the entire coast from Croatia to Albania, stopping at every possible beach I could along the way. What resulted was a magical road trip discovering the pocket-sized country that packs a punch in both history and natural beauty.

How to Prepare for a Montenegro Road Trip

Driving in Montenegro is easy for someone from North America. Cars drive on the right-hand side, roads are well-maintained, and signage is clear. As is common in Europe, most rental cars are manual, so it’s necessary to know how to drive stick shift. 

If you’re planning on crossing any borders, check with the agency first to make sure your car is registered — Border Protection will check your paperwork. I rented our car in Croatia and confirmed it was authorized to go into Montenegro.

Most places I stopped at along the way accepted major credit cards, but it’s always a good idea to carry some cash. (In Montenegro, they use the euro.)

For most travelers embarking on a coastal road trip in Montenegro, it’s easiest to fly into Dubrovnik. The border with Montenegro is less than 20 minutes from the Dubrovnik airport. 

Related: 10 of the Best Road Trips in Europe

Montenegro Coastal Road Trip Itinerary

Boka Bay

Few places are as intoxicating as Montenegro’s Boka Bay. You may see it listed on maps as the Bay of Kotor, but most people in Montenegro call it Boka Bay. This massive, bow-shaped bay is made up of two broad bodies of water separated by a skinny channel. There's a ferry crossing at the channel for those who want to get from one end of the bay to the other quickly, but for first-timers to Montenegro, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not driving the entire perimeter of the bay.

Brace yourself for misty limestone mountains carpeted with a fuzzy coating of green brush. The towering mountains loom silently around the emerald and turquoise waters. Around every ridge and tucked into quiet coves are white-and-pink stone medieval villages. If you weren’t driving a rental car, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think you had stumbled back in time.

The first stop for us was in the town of Herceg Novi, which is quickly transforming into a hub for the evolving Montenegrin Riviera. Shielded by the watchful Mount Orjen, this coastal medieval village is fostering a reputation for being a luxury and wellness hot spot in Montenegro. 

Here, I checked into the One&Only Portonovi — the brand's first property in Europe — with beautiful lakefront villas, palatial pools, manicured gardens, and its own private beachfront on the bay. Rooms here are massive, each one with a soaking tub and cozy fireplace. Don’t miss an alfresco lunch at Italian-inspired Sabia, or evening cocktails and sushi at the lounge-like Tapasake. The hotel can arrange a private boat tour of the bay, stopping at nearby villages like Perast as well as Our Lady of the Rocks, a 15th-century church set on a small island in the middle of the bay. Of course, you’ll want to experience a treatment at the Ottoman-inspired spa, too.


From Herceg Novi, it’s an hour's drive along the perimeter of the bay to reach Kotor, which sits snugly in the crook of the easternmost corner of the bay. Surrounded by mountains, the old port city was one of the most protected in Montenegro from outside invaders. In fact, the walls surrounding Old Town are so important, they are one of the only UNESCO cultural sites in Montenegro.

Stepping through the gates and into the walled maze of Kotor’s Old Town is another piercing of the veil between past and present. The only thing jolting us back to modern day was the unnatural echo of our suitcase wheels clacking over the cobblestone streets as we made our way to our Airbnb.

I could have spent weeks in Kotor exploring all the alleys, slipping in and out of historic shops and churches, and climbing the fortifications for the most beautiful views of the rooftops, mountains, and bay. When no cruise ships were docked in the port, it felt like we had the place to ourselves, save for the hundreds of cats roaming the streets. Speaking of, Kotor is a cat lover’s paradise — so much so that the felines are a protected part of the city’s heritage and have free reign. The story goes that during the plagues that swept across Europe in the Middle Ages, Kotor brought a handful of cats into the walled city to kill the infected rats. Centuries later, the rats are gone, but hundreds of cats remain, all cared for and loved by the residents of Old Town.  


Modernity creeps in once you arrive in Budva, arguably the beach capital of Montenegro. This coastal town sits directly on the Adriatic Sea, evoking that quintessential riviera vibe. It started in its medieval Old Town, which dates back a couple of thousand years. Today, however, the action in Budva takes place in the newer parts along its beaches.

A glance at the shoreline reveals hundreds of lounge chairs lined along the pebbly beach backed by umbrella-shaded bars and restaurants. Inland are massive shopping centers, high-rise condos, and glamorous restaurants. Budva is a place of convenience, and a clear beach vacation destination. 

You can spend time here hopping from beach club to beach club, but arguably the best beaches of Montenegro await further south. 

Sveti Stefan

If you have the time and budget, Sveti Stefan is a must-visit. You’ll see the island village from the highway, sticking out of the sparkling blues of the Adriatic, with its red roofs and rim of pink-sand beaches. Upon further inspection, you’ll notice the facades of Sveti Stefan seem much more preserved and modern than other medieval villages in Montenegro. That’s because Sveti Stefan is a former medieval village that has been transformed into a five-star Aman resort. 

Aman Sveti Stefan has taken over the entire 1.2-square-mile town and transformed it into one of the most glamorous and exclusive resorts in the world. Only guests are permitted within the walls of the resort, and those select few enter a 15th-century aesthetic, with breathtaking Adriatic views and the highest of creature comforts.

For the rest of us, the white, pebbly beaches in front of the island are open to the public, where it’s easy to perch up on a lounge chair and order a drink.


We cruised down the coastline for another hour before reaching Ulcinj. Perched on a clifftop, dramatically overlooking the sea, this is one of the oldest towns on the Adriatic, founded around the fifth century B.C.E. During the course of its centuries-long history, it has flown many flags, including Roman, Illyrian, Byzantine, Serbian, Venetian, and Ottoman. Don't miss the Ulcinj Castle here, which dates back more than 2,000 years.

Donji Stoj

The beaches of southern Montenegro are arguably the best in the country. Long Beach, just outside of Ulcinj and Donji Stoj, was the pièce de résistance to cap off this coastal Montenegrin road trip. The seemingly endless stretch of sand was a welcome change from the smaller, crescent-shaped, pebbly beaches in the north. 

Driving as far south as you can in Montenegro, so close you can touch the border with Albania, will put you at Ada Bojana Beach. Along the banks here, you'll find stilted wooden houses and a string of bohemian beach bars. Expect Southeast Asian island vibes, minus the throngs of backpacking tourists. 

Grab a seat on the shabby-chic outdoor sofas at Restaurant Barbana, a funky beach bar with a menu of fresh seafood and cocktails. At night, strings of glowing fairy lights create an ethereal atmosphere that, once again, suspends reality. It doesn’t matter here that Dubrovnik is only 3.5 hours away. Montenegro has this way about it that allows you to push pause on reality and live somewhere in between.

Related: This European Country Was Just Named the Best Place to Road Trip

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