Even well-traveled people would be hard-pressed to show you where Montenegro is on a map or explain why you should visit. Most people over 30 probably remember the Bosnian conflict and that this was one of the countries involved in the break-up of Yugoslavia. It’s got adventure activities and mountains in the west though, some coastal areas and the medieval UNESCO World Heritage city of Kotor to the east. It’ s bordered by much more expensive Croatia to the north and similarly priced Albania to the south.
Montenegro has a very different feel than the countries around it though, mostly due to the people themselves and their close ties to Moscow. They’re more like Russians than Europeans, thanks in part to a shared religion, shared alphabet, and visa-free entry for that country’s citizens. Russians are the main investors in the country and make up a large percentage of the summer vacationers. They and the locals share a few key traits, especially when it comes to gruff unfriendliness and questionable fashion sense. Unlike the Bosnians or Albanians, the vast majority also seem to be significantly overweight (which doesn’t stop 100% of the women from wearing a bikini at the beach…)
Perhaps that last trait comes from the local food, which is filling and served in large portions. The beer and wine are also a bargain. There’s a limited amount of food here you won’t find elsewhere though: expect some Turkish and Hungarian influences, plus a lot of pasta, sandwiches, and seafood. You’ll have to go upscale to find much refinement. The best meal is often the breakfast buffet at your hotel, so if it’s included, load up.
Come for the history, come for the Adriatic Sea, or come for the adventure. On that last note, the best site I’ve found for the whole regions is BalkanVibe, which lets you zero in on fun tours.
Food & Drink Prices in Montenegro
I’m putting this first because it’s the best deal among the things you’ll spend money on. Even in the seaside tourist places, it’s easy to find a filling meal for under €5 and groceries are very cheap across the board. That photo above is what I got for €2 in a supermarket: a bottle of wine and a loaf of whole wheat bread (the loaf was twice that big.) The photo after the list below you might be able to see the price: meat-stuffed burek and a yogurt for €1.30. Keep in mind too that when you get away from the tourist areas, prices plummet even more for eating out. You’ll be able to stuff yourself and keep the local wine flowing for prices on par with Southeast Asia.
Carrots, squash, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, seasonal fruit: €0.5 per kilo or less
Large package of cookies: €0.40 – €1
Drinkable bottle of wine: €1.50 – €7
Local beer in store 0.5 liter: €0.60 – €0.9
Local beer in a bar 0.5 liter: €1.5 – €2.5
Glass of wine in a restaurant: €1.25 – €4
Shot of brandy (plum, grape, or cherry): €0.30 – €0.75
Liter of milk: €0.65 – €1.25
Kilo of flour or sugar – €0.40 – €0.85
Coffee in a cafe: €0.50 – €1.5
Scoop of gelato: €0.50 – €1
Chocolate bar: €0.20 – €0.75
Basic restaurant meal: €3 – €6 (Goulash, personal pizza, pasta dish, or kebabs)
Lodging Prices in Montenegro
Overall, lodging is reasonable here, but during summer the coastal spots fill up with domestic travelers, Russians, and occasional Europeans bringing a whole family. The sweet spot for lodging in Montenegro is cheap guesthouse apartments where you get a private room with a bath and maybe a kitchenette. I got a place for €14 in Ulcinj, with a small kitchen and a nice balcony with a view.
The most choices, however, are in the mid-range area of €30 – 100, so if you search on Trivago that’s where you’ll see the most for the popular coastal spots. If you sort by price though and don’t mind a “serviced apartment” instead of a hotel with lots of facilities, you can usually find something between €18 and €30 double. In Herceg Novi alone there are 550 places to stay listed on Trivago, probably another 100 or more that just have a sign up out front. Here’s where my bike tour group stayed there, Hotel Xanadu listed on Booking.com for US$86 per night:
As with food, when you get into the interior, prices drop quite a bit. In Niksik the top-rated hotel (4 stars) goes for less than €50 per night double, with free breakfast. There are several under €15.
In tourist parts of Montenegro, traveling alone is going to cost you. Hostel dorm beds in Kotor or Herceg Novi cost as much as a guesthouse room, so if you can travel with someone else, your lodging costs will likely drop by half. In other areas you can expect to pay €10 – €15 for a dorm bed, which is more bearable.
Getting Around in Montenegro
There are train lines here and there in the Balkans, but not in Montenegro. Which means unless you rent a car, you’re going to be taking a bus from point to point. The good news is, they’re usually nice between the main routes and are not very expensive. Very few routes are more than 100 kilometers. Bus companies may charge up to one euro per bag for luggage, so be prepared with some change after buying your ticket. The best buses look like the one below inside and are air conditioned. Why is that one so empty? I was the last one on the bus for the last stretch to Ulcinj—a private ride! (Imagine that happening anywhere in Asia.) For schedules, the best site I found was BalkanAviator.
Kotor to Podgorica bus: €5 – 7
Kotor to Ulsinj bus: €4 – 7
Ulcinj to Tirana, Albania bus: €11
Bay of Kotor ferry: €1
Car rental: can easily be €40 – 60 for a small manual car
Bike rental: €10 a day, less for multiple days.
Taxi: usually €1 to start and then €0.60 – 0.80 per km
Other Travel Prices in Montenegro
Hop-on, Hop-off Boat Tour in Bay of Kotor – €15
Round-trip boat excursion from Kotor: €2 – €6
Sim card with data: €3 – 6
Museum admissions: €2 – 6
First-run movie ticket: €4
Gas/petrol – on par with Europe, twice as much as the USA
As in much of Europe, you’re limited to a 90-day stay unless you obtain a visa extension, which could grant you up to 180 days in a one-year period.
Since 2015 though, Montenegro has allowed you to buy into temporary residency if you a) buy property here and b) have the equivalent of 10 euros a day for a year in a bank account. Plus the usual “no criminal record” stipulation. So I didn’t feature this country in A Better Life for Half the Price, but it definitely qualifies if you’re willing to invest in real estate. This is certainly one of the cheapest places to live in Europe.