Driving around Montenegro – from the sparkling Bay of Kotor into the mountains – is an unforgettable travel experience. Here are 35 useful things to know before you rent a car in Podgorica plus my best advice for driving in Montenegro.
When we recently spent 6-plus months overlanding in the Balkans, the only place we decided to hire a car instead of using local buses and trains was Montenegro. We made the right choice: In my opinion, Montenegro is the best country in the Balkans for a road trip.
Our self-drive adventure took us through some of Montenegro’s most awe-inspiring landscapes – around the entire Bay of Kotor, through Lovcen National Park, to Lake Skadar, along part of the southern coast, and inland to Podgorica (see our full road trip itinerary here). As is customary in our relationship, I did 100% of the driving.
We had no idea what to expect when we set out to hire a car in Podgorica as most of the information and trip reports we found online were outdated. In the end, we found driving in Montenegro an easy, safe and pleasurable experience. Along with Oman and Spain, it will go down as one of my favourite road trips of all time!
Yes, a driving holiday in Montenegro is different from Western European countries and you do need some driving experience under your belt to do it safely and confidently. For the most part though, the road conditions are good and the local driving style is not too bad.
All things considered, I believe that self driving is absolutely the best way to experience this beautiful country. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the basics of renting a car in Montenegro.
- Don’t miss my general Montenegro travel tips
- Start planning your trip with my Montenegro Travel Guide
This post contains all my top tips for renting a car and driving in Montenegro. A big thanks to Rhino Car Hire for providing us with our wheels. As always, all opinions and recommendations are 100% my own.
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Driving in Montenegro: FAQ
Do you need a car in Montenegro?
Montenegro is a small country by any measure – but it’s also one of the most diverse countries in the region. If you’re set on having a wide range of experiences and delving deeper into the landscape, then you might not be able to rely on public transport alone.
Montenegro’s major tourist attractions, especially along the Adriatic Coast, are linked by buses. If you only have a short time in the country and you’re happy to stick with the highlights, you can use public transport to get around.
But even then, it’s worth considering that most spectacular views of Kotor Bay, the loveliest swimming coves on the Adriatic Sea, and the most spectacular national parks are well beyond the tourist zones.
Is it safe to drive in Montenegro?
There are some horror stories online about Montenegro’s ‘potholed, precarious roads’ – but rest assured these are mostly outdated. A lot of the country’s major highways were completely redone in the mid-2000s. Overall, we thought the roads were in great condition, especially compared to other countries in the region.
Most roads in urban areas are sealed, single-lane highways. Smaller roads around Lake Skadar are a bit rougher, but that’s to be expected in rural areas.
The one road I struggled with was the main highway around the Bay of Kotor. It was by far the busiest road we encountered, and although in good condition, the sheer volume of cars and speed of oncoming traffic did spook me a bit. Read on for my tips on how to avoid this road.
The main thing to watch out for in Montenegro is other drivers. Speeding is an issue, and on narrow mountain roads with tight turns, it can be a bit scary. My best advice is to drive defensively and take your time while being hyper aware of other drivers.
Will my car get stolen!?
Have you heard the urban legend about David Beckham’s car getting stolen in the UK and ending up in Montenegro? (OK, it may actually be true.) Someone told me this as a way of warning me of the dangers of driving in Montenegro. You’d think it’s a land of car thieves!
Honestly, we didn’t encounter anything of the sort. Lock your doors, park in places that have a lot of foot traffic and look safe, and make sure your accommodation has secure parking. Theft insurance comes standard with most rental companies.
What side of the road do you drive on in Montenegro?
In Montenegro, you drive on the right hand side of the road.
If you’re driving around the Bay of Kotor, you might want to consider driving north to south if you want clear views of the water.
Do you need an International Driving Permit for Montenegro?
If your driver’s license is written in Roman alphabet, you do not need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to hire a car in Montenegro. If not, you will need to present an official translation and/or an international driving license.
Personally, I was not asked for an IDP when hiring the car – my Australian driving license was enough.
Policies may differ from agent to agent. Local Rent, for example, only requires a foreign passport and driving license. If you’re unsure, I suggest emailing or calling your rental car company to double-check.
Top tip: This goes without saying, but you should carry your license and passport with you at all times. You will need to show both if you get pulled over by the police, of if you’re passing through a checkpoint.
Do you need a GPS in Montenegro?
No, Google Maps works perfectly fine in Montenegro. I recommend picking up a local sim card with data in Podgorica and using that instead of forking out for an expensive GPS rental. We went with Telenor, which gives you 10GB of data with 15 days validity for €10 (more information here).
Use of a mobile phone while driving is strictly prohibited in Montenegro, so remember to bring your hands-free dashboard mount to use for navigation.
General road & traffic rules
Who has right of way?
Normal road rules apply at traffic lights and when turning. On roundabouts, you must give way to any drivers already on the roundabout.
Are seatbelts mandatory?
Yes, seat belts are mandatory in Montenegro for all passengers. It is compulsory to wear a seatbelt at all times, regardless of whether you’re in the front or rear seat.
Children under 12 years old are not permitted to sit in the front seat. Children under 5 must use a fitted car seat. Local Rent provides both child and booster seats free of charge – just be sure to select these add-ons when you book.
What is the speed limit in Montenegro?
The speed limit in cities and towns is 50km/hour. On highways, it goes up to 80km/hour. One thing I noticed was that speed limits change quickly and often, dropping from 80km to as slow as 30km in some places.
Speed limits are strictly enforced in Montenegro. We didn’t really encounter too many speeding vehicles, apart from on the highway around the bay. If you’re caught going just 10km over the limit, you risk a fine of up to €6,000. At the very worst, your passport could be confiscated.
Speed signs – and other roads signs – in Montenegro are standardise and easy to follow. Note that all speeds are displayed in kilometres.
It’s mandatory to drive with dipped headlights
When we started off on our first day of driving, I noticed that every car had it’s headlamps on – even though it was a bright and clear morning. I just assumed drivers were extra-prepared for the tunnels, until I found out that it’s the law in Montenegro to drive with dipped headlights on at all times.
As soon as you get into your rental car, the first thing you should do is figure out how the headlamps work. Always have your low beams on – and always remember to turn them off when you park.
And to carry certain items in your boot
All cars must carry a collapsable warning triangle and a reflective jacket to use in case of breakdown. If you get pulled over by a police officer for any reason, they will likely check that you have these items on board.
Rental car companies must provide the essentials, so always double check you have yours before setting off.
Hiring a car in Montenegro
Use an aggregator website to find the best deal
There are dozens of hire car companies operating in Montenegro, including all the big international names (Europcar, Avis, Hertz, Sixt, etc.).
An aggregator site such as Local Rent (a good budget choice for hiring through local agents) or Discover Cars (if you prefer a big-name rental company) will search dozens of different agencies to find you the best price.
Travel outside peak summer for the best prices
When is the best time for a Montenegro road trip? The answer depends on many factors, including what you plan on doing (hiking, swimming) and how much you’re willing to spend on a rental car.
High season in Montenegro is the summer months of July and August. True the weather is usually good and the days are long, meaning you can fit more in – but one major downside to consider is that prices skyrocket.
For example, the average price of a rental is 44.83€ per day in July compared with 24€ per day in May. Local Rent has a handy graph on their website that you can use to compare prices throughout the year.
If you’re looking for the best deal on a car, you might need to compromise and travel in shoulder season. Spring and autumn are ideal.
Book well in advance
I recommend you reserve your car at least 3 months in advance if you are planning to visit Montenegro during the busy tourist season. Availability is drastically reduced in the peak period and you might have trouble getting the car you want.
Prices go up the closer to the date you book, so you can save a lot of money by booking in advance, too.
A sedan might be better than a 4WD
You don’t need a 4WD in Montenegro if you’re sticking to the main roads. In fact, it’s more advantageous to have a smaller car that can better negotiate narrow mountain lanes and is easier to park in built-up areas (parking is a major consideration – more on that later).
Our car was a compact Ford Fiesta. We found it was an ideal size. Auto and manual transmission are in equal supply in Montenegro.
If you plan on visiting more remote mountain regions or travelling on unsealed roads, then obviously a 4×4 is the best car for you.
Get your head around any extra fees
As well as standard extras such as one-way fee (if you want to return the car to a different branch) there are a few other charges you’ll need to consider.
If you’re aged 21-25, you might need to pay a young driver’s fee. (Local Rent requires the driver to be 22 years old with at least 2 years of driving experience.) There is also an additional driver fee in Montenegro of between €15-30 per day depending on the company you use.
Winter tires start from €8 on Local Rent, while child seats are provided free of charge.
Note that Montenegro’s environmental tax, previously payable on all cars, was abolished in 2012.
Credit card deposit or insurance upgrade?
Most companies require you to leave a credit card deposit when you collect the car. This ranges from €150-1,000 depending on the agent. If no damage or theft occurs, the deposit is released when you return the car (it usually takes a couple of days).
Most big companies only accept credit card, not debit card. If, like us, you don’t have a credit card or you just want to avoid paying the deposit, a way to get around it is by upgrading your insurance. Full insurance typically costs around €10/day, which we absolutely thought was worthwhile for extra peace of mind.
Collision Damage Waiver and Theft Protection are usually included with the rental. Remember to check the excess amount.
Local Rent works a bit differently – final payment is made in cash, so you don’t have to worry about the credit card issue. TPL comes standard, while personal accident insurance and theft protection are optional add-ons. You can also opt-out of the cash deposit by paying an extra fee up front (typically around €40).
Tell your agent if you plan on crossing any borders
This is one of the most important things to remember when driving in the Balkans. It can be tempting to nip across to Bosnia and Herzegovina for the afternoon – but you might not be allowed back into Montenegro if you do.
If you want to cross an international border in your rental car, you must give your rental agent advanced warning. This will allow them to prepare the necessary documents and organise the insurance.
It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the Green Card Insurance scheme before you start planning. Note that there will likely be an extra cost for a border crossing (with Local Rent, it’s around 30 Euro). There are some international borders you can’t cross in a rental car. This article provides a good overview.
Planning your Montenegro road trip route
Pick your car up in Podgorica, not on the Bay
When renting a car in Montenegro from a big-name brand company, you have a choice between four main pick up points: Podgorica Airport (the capital city), the Bay of Kotor (Kotor or Tivat), the coast (Budva), or Zabljak (Durmitor National Park). Unless you’re flying into Tivat, I highly recommend picking your car up in Podgorica.
Most rental companies have their offices on the road out of the airport (and offer either meet-and-greet or transfer shuttle services). Traffic in the area is very light and the roads are good, so you can get a feel for the car before you hit the highway. In Tivat, by contrast, you’re thrown straight into the thick of it.
Starting and ending your road trip in Podgorica also means you can see Lake Skadar, Cetinj, Ostrog Monastery, and other points of interest away from the bay.
Top tip: Local Rent has more than 25 pick-up and drop-off locations around Montenegro so you can start and finish your road trip wherever you want.
Avoid driving at night (and during peak hour)
Some mountain roads don’t have street lamps, which can make for a nail-biting drive after dark. Driving on the highways around the bay at night was an anxiety inducing experience for the opposite reason – too many lights.
I found it overwhelming and after our first night out, resigned to drive only during daylight hours.
You should also try to avoid driving during peak hour, especially on the Kotor Highway. The stretches of road between Budva and Kotor, and Kotor and Tivat are notoriously busy between 1pm and 5pm.
Add a bit of extra time to each leg
In between unexpected road works, monastery detours and stopping for photos, we ended up needing at least an extra 20-30 minutes for every leg of our journey. Factor this in when you’re planning – especially on the last day when you have to be back on time to return your rental car.
Watch out for those wineries
There are some gorgeous cellar doors dotted around the countryside outside Podgorica. But if you’re self-driving, remember that Montenegro has quite strict blood alcohol limits (0.03% for most drivers).
There is a heavy police presence on Montenegro’s roads, so I wouldn’t risk it.
You can easily avoid Montenegro’s only toll road
The only tollway in Montenegro is the Sozina Tunnel, which runs between Lake Skadar and the the coast. The fee is €2.50.
You can easily avoid this toll road by taking the M2, which runs from Virpazar to Petrovac. This is exactly the road we took on our Montenegro road trip. The views are spectacular too – much better than being stuck in an underground tunnel!
Consider using the Lepetani car ferry
The highway that curls around the Bay of Kotor is an extremely scenic road – but as I mentioned, it’s also one of the busiest stretches of highway and most hair-raising driving experiences.
If you’re trying to get from Tivat or Budva to Herceg Novi at the opposite end of the bay, there is an option to take the car ferry across the Veriga Straight between the villages of Kemanari and Lepetani. It costs 4.5€ for a passenger car, and the crossing takes around 10 minutes.
This will save you around 40 minutes of driving on the busy highway. But it means missing out on the lovely small towns around the bay, which I don’t necessarily recommend.
Roads in Montenegro
The roads in Montenegro are good overall
The majority of the roads we travelled on in Montenegro were sealed, two-lane roads with overtaking lanes that open and close periodically. Dual carriageways are only found in urban areas, while in the mountains, some roads are more narrow. Apart from the occasional pothole, we thought the roads were very well maintained overall.
Rock fall can be a hazard in mountainous areas, so keep an eye out for debris. Along the coast and Bay in particular, the highway hugs the cliff. There are crash barriers in place, and the roads tend to widen to accommodate curves.
In the quieter areas such as the shore of Lake Skadar between Rijeka and Virpazar, the roads were rougher and more narrow. At the same time, these back roads are far, far quieter. We encountered lots of road works around the bay, so it seems like it’s a continual process of upgrades.
There are a lot of tunnels
Short tunnels, long tunnels – they are everywhere along the bay and into the interior. There will always be signage to warn you a tunnel is coming up. Keep your fingers close to the headlight switch to avoid getting caught out.
Watch out for tight bends
Since Montenegro is so mountainous, the majority of roads are mountain roads. Some are quite narrow and almost all routes have at least a couple of tight turns.
The roads that track up from the bay to the mountains are particularly windy, not least of all the (in)famous Kotor Serpentine, with its 16 hairpin bends.
It’s a fun drive and the views are unbeatable. Just be on high alert when driving in areas where there are tight bends.
Stick to designated viewpoints rather than pulling over on the road
When driving on narrow roads especially, only stop where there’s a designated zone. Stopping in the middle of the road or on a narrow shoulder is dangerous. No view or Instagram shot is worth risking an accident over.
Take extra care when driving in winter
Snow chains might be necessary for some mountain roads are usually available to hire from the car rental agency for an additional fee (around €30). Winter tires are usually provided free of charge.
Needless to say, you should take extra precautions when driving in snow or inclement weather. Use common sense.
Parking in Montenegro
Parking in the cities
One of the best things about having a car in Montenegro is the freedom to drop into a town for a few hours. But finding a car park can be really difficult – it’s the one thing I hated about self-driving.
Technically you can park your car anywhere for free as long as you’re not blocking traffic there is no paid or no parking sign. This is great in rural areas and in the mountains where traffic is sparse (and in quiet Podgorica, too!).
But on the coast and the bay, it’s much more challenging. In summer, you can forget about finding a street park in Kotor or Budva. For day trips, I recommend focusing on smaller towns such as Sveti Stefan, Perast and Rise. But even then, finding a free park can be tricky.
In the bigger towns and cities you will probably have to pay for parking. There is a mix of car parks with boom barriers and metered street parking in Montenegro. The system is fairly easy to navigate: For lots, take a ticket from the operator. For meters, you can either use coins to pay and display the ticket on your windshield, or you can pay by SMS by sending your license plate to the phone number specified (in this case, the fee for one hour’s worth of parking will be debited from your phone balance).
Hourly fees typically range from €1-2.50 in paces such as Tivat and Budva, while prices are a little lower in Bar, Kotor and Herceg Novi (max €1 per hour).
Tow trucks certainly earn their keep, especially during summer, so always pay your way and be careful not to accidentally park illegally.
Always choose accommodations with onsite parking
In Kotor, Budva and Herceg Novi, it’s absolutely imperative to choose accommodation with on-site parking spaces. Otherwise, you might get stuck having to feed a meter (yes, that happened to us on one occasion!).
Here is a quick list of the hotels and guesthouses and apartments with free onsite parking:
- Podgorica: Modern, Bright and Cozy Apartment
- Rijeka Crnojevica: Apartman Jovicevic Pavle (unfortunately the apartment we stayed at is no longer available, but this one is a nice alternative)
- Sveti Stefan: Apartments Lazar
- Kotor: Apartments Nancy
- Perast: Apartments Jovanovic
- Herceg Novi: Hedera Residences – Kumbor
- Zabljak (Durmitor National Park): Boskovica Brvnare
- Ulcinj: Apartments Bogojevic
Other quirks to be aware of
Petrol stations in Montenegro
Actually this isn’t much of a quirk at all, because petrol stations in Montenegro work much the same way as elsewhere in Europe or abroad.
Fuel pumps are plentiful, even in remote mountain areas. On the Adriatic Highway you will see stations every 10km or so. More rural towns such as Zabljak always have at least one petrol station on the way in. Because Montenegro is such a small country, you never have to worry about getting stranded – just don’t let your tank run too low and you will be fine.
All stations sell unleaded gasoline, diesel and petrol. Check the fuel specifications for your car – it should be clearly stated on the paperwork. You don’t need to get out of the car, the attendant will do the work for you. Payment can be made either in cash or by card (Visa/Mastercard).
You must always return your rental car with the same level of fuel as when you collected it. It’s a good idea to photograph the initial reading on the fuel gauge just to be sure.
The ‘no honking’ rule
If a car stops right in front of you to pick up a passenger, it’s polite just to wait and let them do their thing. Montenegrin drivers are easy going in this respect, and it can be seen as very rude to lean on your horn for something so minor.
This doesn’t apply when you’re driving on the highway, though. If you’re taking it slow, you will get beeped – don’t let it bother you though, just let people overtake you.
As I mentioned, there are a lot of tunnels in mountainous Montenegro. Sometimes they appear out of nowhere. If a tunnel is backed up for some reason, you’ll see cars flashing their hazard lights as a warning to other cars that they need to slow down.
Do not overtake in tunnels.
The art of overtaking
Most single-lane highways in Montenegro have shoulder lanes that open up for a few kilometres before filtering back in. It’s common for drivers to overtake outside of these lanes by veering onto the wrong side of the highway.
This freaked me out at first, but I got used to it eventually. If you’re passing someone, it’s courteous to sound your horn, as long as you’re outside a built-up area.
Should you rent a car in Podgorica? Final thoughts…
If you’re in the process of researching about driving in Montenegro, I hope you’ve found these tips useful. If you’re still on the fence about whether or not you should rent a car in Podgorica, I hope I’ve brought some clarity to your decision-making.
Overall, I absolutely loved driving around Montenegro and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Parking was a nightmare, but the roads are in good nick and other drivers really aren’t as bad as their reputation suggests.
We packed so much into our one week Montenegro itinerary, and I know we wouldn’t have seen nearly as much if we didn’t have the car. One of my biggest tips to other travellers is to hire a car and explore the backroads.
I’m a confident driver, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend self-driving in Montenegro provided you are experienced, follow the rules, and take these suggestions into consideration.
Have you driven a car in Montenegro? What are your top tips? If you have any questions about renting a car in Podgorica, leave them below and I’ll do my best to help out.
More Montenegro resources
- 15 best places to visit in Montenegro
- My suggested Montenegro road trip itinerary
- 21 essential things to know before you visit Montenegro
- Best things to do in Kotor
- Best things to do in Perast
- Travelling by train from Podgorica to Stari Bar
- More Balkans road trip ideas
Tips for Driving in Montenegro: Pin it!
Here are my favourite resources to help you organise your visit to Montenegro.
FLIGHTS: Find affordable flights to Montenegro on Skyscanner.
TRAVEL INSURANCE: Insure your trip with HeyMondo, my preferred provider for single-trip and annual travel insurance.
ACCOMMODATION: Find the best hotel and apartment deals on Booking.com, the most popular booking platform in Montenegro.
TOP-RATED MONTENEGRO DAY TRIP: Durmitor, Tara & Ostrog Monastery (from $60/person).
MORE TRAVEL TIPS: Check out this post – 21 things to know before you visit Montenegro.