Driving in Montenegro - Things You Need to Know
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Covered in the Article
- Montenegro - a Pearl of Balkan
- Traffic Rules
- Our Driving Experiences in Montenegro
- Scenic Routes and Destinations
- Practical Driving Tips
- Bottom Line
Montenegro - a Pearl of Balkan
Montenegro is a spectacular Balkan country in Southeastern Europe. It is neighboured by Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania and Croatia. Because Montenegro has plenty of sunshine in summer and the location near the Adriatic Sea is perfect, the country has become a popular summer destination. More and more Europeans fly to Tivat, a gateway to Montenegro's popular holiday towns.
We visited Tivat in 2022 and hired a car for easier exploration of beautiful Montenegro. In this article, we share our driving experiences and give car hiring and driving tips in Montenegro.
Montenegro is a small country. The majority of the roads are paved and in decent condition but they tend to get congested in peak seasons. There is one but a brand new motorway from Smokovac to Mateševo. Other regular highways have only one strip for each side. These highways may not be as good as you have got used to in Central Europe but they have more curves and varying speed limits. The total length of the road network in Montenegro is about 8,000 kilometres.
For easier driving, why not visit Montenegro outside the high season?
Driving distances in Montenegro are relatively short but driving times get long because of congested traffic and curvy roads. If you end up driving on a mountain route, passing a short distance may surprisingly take hours. That is why we recommend allotting much time for moving from one place to another - much more time than Google Maps suggests.
Roads in Montenegro are free to use except the Sozina tunnel near Skadar Lake. The Sozina tunnel is a part of the M-1 highway which is still being developed. The tunnel links Montenegro's city capital Podgorica with the Adriatic coastline. If you are coming from Podgorica, toll fees are paid at the entrance of the tunnel. You can avoid the tunnel by taking M2 which runs from Virpazar to Petrovac. The toll fee is 2.5 euros for a single trip in a car. It can be paid using cash, bank cards, and prepaid cards issued by Monteput. Discounts are available for smart cards based on the trip count.
You drive on the right side of the road and overtake from the left. Almost all roads have only a single lane. So for overtaking, you need to use the opposite lane. Priority rules are the usual and traffic signs are easy to understand. For example, you need to give space for cars already in roundabouts.
Avoid using horns. It is unfriendly and it may also be illegal in some situations.
Driving Speed Limits in Montenegro
In towns and mountains, you are allowed to drive up to 50 km/h. Outside the towns, the default speed limit is 80 km/h. On the expressways and motorways, the limit is 100 km/h. A lower limit may be set by a traffic sign. Like in every country, overspeeding is punishable by law.
Alcohol Limit While Driving
Blood alcohol limit is 0.3 per mille but we advise not to drink any alcohol while driving. Alcohol and driving is never a good combination.
You must turn dipped beam lights always on no matter how brightly the sun is shining. This is to make sure you’re always visible to other drivers and so you stay safe. For example, there are many tunnels in mountains and while having the lights always on, it is safer to enter a tunnel.
Always use dipped beam lights in Montenegro.
An EU or a UK driving license is valid in Montenegro. Remember to carry also your passport with you in case of police inspection. We advise checking if your car hire company requires additional documents to hire a car.
Our Driving Experiences in Montenegro
Hiring a Car
We compared hire car prices on Discover Cars. We decided to book a Smart from MTS Rent a Car. The hire price was inexpensive and a small car was suitable for mountain driving. It also consumed less fuel.
It is always important to confirm that the hire car has well-covering insurance. We recommend buying additional excess coverage from Discover Cars because it is not uncommon to get scratches into the car.
Our car was brought to the Tivat centre but we got permission to return it to the airport free of extra charge at the end of our holiday. Picking up the car from the airport would have been even more flexible.
We had booked an apartment from Booking.com with a free parking place. The parking space was just a tight spot in the front of the building so we were happy that we had chosen a small car for easy parking. Parking space is an important consideration when you are looking for accommodation.
Driving Culture in Montenegro
We noticed immediately that the driving culture in Montenegro is fast-paced. Some of the local drivers overspeed and their decision-making while in traffic is fast. For example, when they arrive at an intersection, drivers avoid stopping or even slowing down but they quickly choose a path fast through the intersection. During our first holiday days, the driving culture felt scary but eventually, we got used to it.
Normal priority rules are valid in Montenegro but it is even more important to confirm that your chosen driving path is free. When arriving at an intersection, you need to evaluate the priority rules well in advance. After that, plan your driving path and confirm that there are no obstacles. Be prepared that other cars may not stay in their lanes but they choose the shortest path without slowing down much. With good preparation and carefulness, driving through intersections become flexible. Even though local drivers use really small margins while driving, we recommend travellers be more careful.
It is more than likely that you need to pass mountains in Montenegro. Mountain roads are curved, steep and narrow. However, they have a good surface.
A small car, like our Smart, is the best for mountains. Because the roads are narrow, you do not have much extra space.
We drove in mountains three times. Driving uphill was easy except for steep curves. It was impossible to see behind the curves and sometimes big vans or buses were coming. It was absolutely important to go slowly into a curve, stay inside our lane and prepare to stop or even reverse if the other car needed more space. After we got up, driving there was even more relaxing than on congested highways. Only the climbing part was challenging.
Driving down from the mountains had the same challenges but we had also to be careful with braking. It is recommended to use engine braking and drive slow enough not to heat the regular brakes too much. A slow speed is a key for safe driving on mountains.
Sometimes, you need to reverse to give space for bigger cars.
Highways at Night
We came back to our apartment usually so late that we needed to drive the last hours in the dark. Even though the speed limits on highways are moderately slow, the roads get difficult to drive at night. Since the roads have also many curves, driving at night becomes challenging and more stressful. We recommend returning to your apartment before the darkness sets in. Going up to the mountains at night is not a good idea either.
Scenic Routes and Destinations
Our base in Montenegro was in Tivat, a small coastal town near Kotor. We list a few scenic destinations for a drive starting from the Kotor area.
Kotor Old Town
Kotor coastal town has one of the most preserved medieval towns in Montenegro and it is considered a Unesco World Heritage Site. Montenegro is home to numerous sights aside from the town itself, and it also hosts numerous events in the summer. Kotor is a natural place to start your exploration even though parking in Kotor may become a nightmare.
Kotor Serpentine Road
Kotor Serpentine Road is something you must experience yourself. It takes almost an hour to drive from Kotor up to the mountains and on the way, there are perhaps 50 steep turns. The road is also extremely narrow and challenging to drive. However, the scenery rewards you and now and then, you can stop to enjoy the views.
Also tourist buses use the same road. If you happen to meet them, it is your responsibility to reverse back to a wider spot and give buses space to pass you safely.
Lipa Cave and Cetinje
After you have climbed up to the mountains via Kotor Serpentine Road, we recommend continuing to Cetinje and Lipa Cave. Cetinje is an old royal capital of Montenegro and there is much heritage to explore. The mountain road to Cetinje is peaceful and in perfect condition. It was maybe the most relaxing part of our driving in Montenegro.
From Cetinje, it takes only a few minutes to reach Lipa Cave. Lipa Cave is a karst cave with a system of about 2.5 kilometres of passages and halls. It is one of the largest caves in Montenegro and the first cave in Montenegro to open for tourists. Book your visit to the cave in advance from GetYourGuide.
Skadar Lake is the largest lake on the Balkan Peninsula, with fresh water and one of the largest national parks in Montenegro. The lake is in the Skadar valley and is surrounded by mountains.
The route to Skadar Lake from the Kotor area is long but the destination rewards the visitor. At the lake, you can hire a boat to explore the lake, swim or enjoy the sunset. The water is warm and clear. Opposite the lake, you can see Albania.
To reach the lake, you need to pass the Sozina tunnel which costs you 2.50 euros. You can pay the fee with a contactless card. At the lake, avoid the same mistake we did of overpaying for a boat tour but compare prices first from other tour operators.
Lake Skadar can be explored from many locations. We did it from Virpazar which is a popular starting point for boat rides.
From Skadar Lake, we recommend driving back to Kotor via Budva village. Budva is a crowded tourist destination but it has beautiful beaches and restaurants. We would not like to stay there long but stopping at Budva is recommended. For example, you can have a sunset swim. Unfortunately, the coastal M2.4 highway is often congested.
Finding a parking place at Budva is difficult and driving is quite stressful as people are wandering everywhere.
Practical Driving Tips
Car hire prices vary a lot. We recommend booking a car as early as possible to get the best rate. Discover Cars is our favourite site to compare hire car prices. The service also sells excess insurance which we recommend to avoid extra costs in case of incidents.
Our recommendation is to hire as small a car as possible for easier mountain driving. However, take note that small cars, like Smart, do not have much space for luggage.
A small car is cheaper and more practical to drive in mountains.
Google Maps work well in Montenegro. It tends to be optimistic with driving times so reserve at least 25 per cent extra time. Then you also have time to stop by and enjoy the beautiful views along the way. It is also better to analyze routes before starting to drive. Sometimes, Google Maps leads you to very tiny roads and driving even with a small car is almost impossible.
Petrol stations in Montenegro work like elsewhere. Usually, there is service so you need to tell the staff how many litres or amount in euros you wish to be filled. You may pay directly to the staff by cash or go into their office and pay by card. Tipping is appreciated.
The fuel in Montenegro is affordable compared to the rest of Europe. One thing good to understand: There are not many petrol stations in the mountains so it is important to refuel the car before starting to drive up to the mountains. You must have enough fuel also to return. A car consumes more fuel while driving up mountains.
There is a toll fee only when passing the Sozina tunnel. Otherwise, the roads are free to use.
You need to pay a toll fee when heading to Skadar Lake via the Sozina tunnel.
Parking in Montenegro may become a nightmare.
It is important to book accommodation with free parking. When visiting towns, the only viable option is to use paid parking areas. Fees are quite low and you must pay the parking to the staff before leaving. In the countryside and rural destinations, parking is usually free.
- Do I need a car to explore Montenegro?
- No, you don't but a hire car is the most flexible way to explore this beautiful country.
- Is driving in Montenegro difficult?
- Not really. Driving is quite fast-paced but you will get used to it quickly. Even an inexperienced driver will survive well.
- Where to hire a car in Montenegro?
- We recommend comparing car hire companies on Discover Cars to find the best offers.
- Is a UK or EU driving license valid in Montenegro?
- Yes, they are.
- Are there motorways in Montenegro?
- There is only one motorway. Other roads are regular highways.
- Is parking free in Montenegro?
- Parking costs in towns. In rural areas, it is often free.
- Is traffic congested in Montenegro?
- Yes, the roads are quite busy in the peak season.
- Are there road tolls in Montenegro?
- You need to pay a road toll only when driving through the Sozina tunnel.
- What is the best season to visit Montenegro?
- We recommend early spring or late autumn.
Montenegro's tourism industry has seen rapid growth recently. The country offers much to see for its natural beauty like the Bay of Kotor, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Additionally, it has a coastline of more than 1,000 km and so going on a road trip around the country is wise. That is why a hire car is important. Always compare prices to get the best offers which we always do - we make a search and comparison at Discover Cars.
Even though the traffic culture may be slightly more demanding in Montenegro than in other destinations, you get used to it fast. It is important to follow speed limits and other traffic rules and be extra cautious all the time. By avoiding the busiest roads, driving becomes more relaxed. Even though mountain roads pose some challenges, the stunning views from above are rewarding.
Have you driven in Montenegro? Share with us your experiences.