Driving around Montenegro, from the sparkling Bay of Kotor to the mountains, is an unforgettable travel experience. Here are 27 incredibly useful things to know before you rent a car in Podgorica, plus my best advice for driving in Montenegro.
When we recently spent 8 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 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). 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to expect when we set out to hire a car in Podgorica – most of the information and trip reports we found online were outdated.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!
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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Incredibly useful things to know before you rent a car in Montenegro
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are some horror stories online about Montenegro’s ‘potholed, precarious roads’ – but rest assured these are mostly outdated.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 renovated in the mid-2000s. Overall, we thought the roads were in great condition, especially compared to other countries in the region.
Most roads are sealed, single-lane highways. Smaller roads around Lake Skadar are a bit rougher, but that’s to be expected from rural areas.
Won’t 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 are busy and look safe, and make sure your accommodation has secure parking. Theft insurance comes standard with most rental companies.
What side of the road does Montenegro drive on?
In Montenegro, you drive on the right hand side of the road.
If you’re driving along the Bay of Kotor, you might want to consider driving north to south if you want clear views of the water.
How old do you have to be to rent a car in Montenegro?
Most rental car companies in Montenegro have an age limitation of 21 to 75 years. Young drivers (21-25 years) and senior drivers (70-75 years) are typically required to pay an additional fee that works on a sliding scale. If you’re younger than 21 or older than 75, you might not be able to hire a car in Montenegro.
If you’re aged between 25 and 70 years, you won’t have to pay any additional fees.
Do you need an International Driving Permit for Montenegro?
If your driver’s license is written in Roman alphabet, you do not need an IDP to hire a car in Montenegro. If not, you will need to present an official translation and/or an IDP.
Personally, I was not asked for an IDP – my Australian driving license was enough.
Policies may differ from agent to agent. If you’re unsure, I suggest emailing or calling your rental car company to double-check.
Choosing a hire car
Use a search aggregator to find the best price
There are dozens of hire car companies operating in Montenegro, including all the big international names (Europcar, Avis, Sixt, etc.). An aggregator site such as Rhino Car Hire will search dozens of different agencies to find you the best price.
Their interface is user-friendly, and using a third-party booking site does give you peace of mind. On Rhino Car Hire, you can find deals for as little as $5 a day.
If possible, choose an eco-friendly hire company
Our rental car in Montenegro was provided by Green Motion. One of the few rental car companies proactively working to lower their carbon footprint, Green Motion is the only UK rental firm that is certified Carbon Neutral.
Depending on the location, you can find high fuel efficiency vehicles (including electric and hybrid cars) as part of the rental fleet. They also offset all CO2 emissions.
It’s a good idea to pick up your car in Podgorica, not on the Bay
When renting a car in Montenegro, you have a choice between four main pick up points: Podgorica (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.
A sedan is better than a 4WD
You don’t need a 4WD in Montenegro. In fact, it’s more advantageous to have a smaller car that can better negotiate narrow mountain roads, and is easier to park in built-up areas (parking is a major factor – more on that later).
Our car was a compact Ford Fiesta – we found it an ideal size. Auto and manual transmission are in equal supply in Montenegro.
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’ll need to pay a young driver’s fee. There is also an additional driver fee in Montenegro of between €6-18 per day depending on the company.
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).
Many 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. Extra insurance typically costs around €10/day, which we thought was worthwhile for peace of mind.
Collision Damage Waiver and Theft Protection are usually included with the rental. Remember to check the excess amount.
Planning your Montenegro road trip route
Tell your agent first 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 charge incurred for crossing borders, and there are some international borders you can’t cross in a rental car.
This article offers a good overview.
You don’t need a GPS in Montenegro
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).
Montenegro only has one 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 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 – much better than being stuck in an underground tunnel!
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.
Choose accommodation with parking
One of the best things about having a car in Montenegro is the freedom to drop into a town for a few hours. But parking is really difficult – it’s the one thing I hated about self-driving.
In summer, you can forget about finding a street park in Kotor or Budva. I recommend focusing on smaller towns such as Sveti Stefan and Perast – but even then, finding a park can be tricky.
In Kotor, Budva and Herceg Novi, it’s absolutely imperative to choose accommodation with on-site parking. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck having to refill a metre.
Road conditions & safety
The roads in Montenegro are good overall
The majority of the roads we travelled on in Montenegro were sealed, two-lane highways with overtaking lanes that open and close periodically. Apart from the occasional pothole, we thought the roads were very well-maintained.
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
Some roads that track from the Bay to the mountains are very 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 is worth risking an accident over.
Avoid driving at night
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.
Seatbelts are mandatory in Montenegro for all passengers (backseat as well). If you’re travelling with kids, I highly recommend bringing a car seat from home as not all rental agencies offer them.
Note that speed limits are strictly enforced
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 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 seized.
Speed signs – and other roads signs – in Montenegro are standardise and easy to follow. Note that all speeds are displayed in kilometres.
Driving in winter
Snow chains may be necessary on some roads in winter and are usually available to hire from the car rental agency for an additional fee (around €30). Snow tires are usually free.
Needless to say, you should take extra precautions when driving in snow or inclement weather. Use common sense.
Driving 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 exactly how the headlamps work.
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 in 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 – I know we wouldn’t have seen nearly as much if we didn’t have the car. 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.