Kotor old town and the Bay of Kotor are stunning places all year around. But the beauty of visiting in winter is getting to experience the true Kotor atmosphere. Without the legions of cruise ship tourists, the town is given back to the locals. Gentle strolls through the winding alleys and long coffees in the winter sunshine with friends make up winter in Kotor. It’s also the perfect place for a quiet (maybe even romantic!) European winter getaway. And because the coast rarely gets snow, and the average daytime temperature is around 10 degrees, it’s a great base for exploring the rest of the Montenegrin coast.
Visitors in mid-February will be treated to Kotor’s winter carnival. The town comes alive with free children’s entertainment, concerts, food and wine and parades.
Herceg Novi’s due south-facing position is no accident. Known as Montenegro’s ‘City of Sun’ (and ‘City of Stairs’ to those who live there) the town at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor is perfectly positioned to catch winter sun. Herceg Novi’s Russian population, which is used to the winter cold, can be seen swimming on the beaches and enjoying the winter sun (while Montenegrins shake their heads and mutter about ‘the crazy Russians’).
Like Kotor, Herceg Novi’s annual Mimosa Festival takes place in February. With parades, marching bands, free fish and wine and a symbolic burning of last year’s ills, this three-day festival is when Montenegrins shake off winter and look forward to spring.
The Budva Riviera is truly stunning, with beaches galore, a 2,000-year-old old-town and little hamlets dotting the shore. But it’s also one of the busiest places in Montenegro in summer. The answer? Visit in winter. Like Kotor, Budva is left mostly to the locals in winter, which means there’s a buzzing local scene and plenty of space at outdoor cafes to enjoy brunch and palačinke, pancakes that can be found every cafe and restaurant in Montenegro.
Visit the old town’s Citadel for history and views of Sveti Nikola Island, learn about the history of the town in the museum or head along the Riviera to Sveti Stefan for a walk through Miločer Forest.
The undisputed darling of Montenegro’s snow scene, Kolašin is a quiet forest getaway in summer, but come winter it’s a buzzing ski resort. Kolašin 1450 is Montenegro’s largest ski resort and locals flock there on the weekends to stay in brvnare, local-style mountain huts, and ski the days away. After a day on the slopes, visitors love to warm up with a bowl of hearty pasulj, beans cooked with sausages, and maybe a shot of hot rakija, the Balkans’ favourite spirit. Those who stay in Bianca Resort & Spa or Four Points by Sheraton Kolasin can also spend their downtime swimming, relaxing in the Jacuzzi or getting massages.
On the other side of Montenegro’s mountainous interior, Durmitor National Park’s Žabljak is home to the country’s second ski field. A smaller field, Savin Kuk, is nonetheless popular with locals from the coast and visitors looking for a winter getaway.
The small ski field has just one lift, and families love it here for the relaxed atmosphere and natural beauty. More experienced riders head into Durmitor’s back country for off-piste riding.
Žabljak is not only for those who love to ski or snowboard, the Black Lake is a stunning attraction in Žabljak, and the Djurdjevica Tara Bridge offers unrivaled views of Tara Canyon. There is also a zip line across the canyon.
When the sun goes down, Žabljak has lots of cosy and modern places to warm up, like Dvorište and Or’o. For real traditional meals, Restoran Koliba is the place to get authentic Montenegrin mountain food, like kačamak and the Balkans’ all-time favourite, čevapi.
Although Žabljak is more rustic than the coast, there’s no shortage of nice places to stay. Hotel Soa is a boutique hotel close to the Black Lake’s forest, while Hotel Polar Star has rooms and bungalows ideal for families. For a real mountain experience, you can rent your own bungalow at Durmitorski Bunglovi.