Montenegro may be small in terms of area, but it boasts stunning mountainous landscapes, dramatic coast lines, historic monuments and truly beautiful walled towns. The Montenegro coast is just as gorgeous as that of its better known neighbour, Croatia, and it is for good reason that its main tourist destinations can get crowded in summer. Nevertheless, if you can't visit at another time, don't let their popularity hold you back. Even the largest of cruise ship crowds will not stop you from enjoying this country's magnificent Riviera and Medieval coast towns, especially if you're willing to get up early and do your sightseeing ahead of the others.

Of the country's many churches and monasteries, the Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Ostrog deserves special attention. It's spectacularly located against a practically vertical background, some 15 km from Nikšić. Founded in the 17th century, it's one of the most visited pilgrimage destinations on the Balkans and boasts a magnificent view over the Bjelopavlići plain.

the riviera

The Bay of Kotor is probably one of the prettiest bays in the world. On its deepest point lies the equally stunning town of Kotor, a beautifully preserved fortified, Medieval town with a vibrant history. Wandering through its labyrinth of narrow and cobblestoned streets, you'll come across lively piazzas, many ancient churches and lots of pleasant bars and restaurants. Don't miss the 12th century St. Tryphon Cathedral, the Church of St. Luke and the Orthodox St Nicholas Church. Kotor is locked between the blue sea on one side, and a dramatically steep cliff on the other. It's a heavy walk uphill, but climbing the 1500 steps will allow you to see the old fortifications on the top as well as provide some amazing views over the bay.

Budva is the country's most popular tourist destination and boast some great beaches as well as a lovely, walled town centre. The old town centre is picturesquely located on a rather small peninsula, and its narrow, winding lanes hide a multitude of historic buildings, churches and small squares. Among the most interesting monuments here are the 7th century St. John's Church, the 8th century Santa Marija of Punta and the 12th century Church of St. Sava. The medieval town fortress is referred to as Citadela and right next to it is the colourful Church of the Holy Trinity, built in 1804. Budva's over 30 km long Riviera has been called "The Riviera of Sandy Beaches" and is dotted with lovely hamlets and a wealth of historic monuments. A strip of hotels and restaurants separates it from the impressive mountain massifs of Lovcen. From Budva, it's an easy bus ride to the unique Sveti Stefan resort.

The small but gorgeous town of Perast saw some of its best architecture arise in the 17th and 18th century, when it belonged to the Republic of Venice. That typically Venetian, baroque architecture has been wonderfully preserved, with highlights including the Bujovic, Zmajevic, Badovic and Smekja Palaces which were once owned by wealthy maritime captains. All the way in the south, Ulcinj is one of the Adriatic's oldest towns, with a delightful centre and lots of natural beauty around. It also makes a good base from where to explore the old centre of nearby Bar, Lake Skadar or even a cross border visit to Albania. Although less spectacular than nearby Kotor, Herceg Novi roughly translated as New Castle is another charming Montenegrin town with a beautiful old centre and a good number of interesting churches, squares and fortresses.

natural attractions

Although Montenegro's magnificent sea side scenery is best known among travellers, its mountainous inland has some grand panoramic views to offer, too. The country shares the large freshwater Lake Skadar with neighbouring Albania. It has National Park status and offers great opportunities for hiking, bird watching and wildlife spotting. Of the many friendly fishermen's towns around it, Virpazar is the most convenient one for travellers. A real must-see is the splendid Tara River Canyon, with its steep banks rising up to 1300 meters above the River Tara waters. It's the second longest canyon in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The canyon is located in Durmitor National Park, which is a World Heritage Site of its own and boasts a rich flora and fauna as well as snow-covered high peaks, several canyons and many glacier lakes. The most visited one is Black Lake, at walking distance of the town of Žabljak, which serves as a traveller's hub for mountain and winter tourism.