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Bar is unlikely to be anyone’s favourite Montenegrin coastal town, but that isn’t to say this is a place to avoid. Bar is full of history, both charming and tragic, along with some of the finest activities on the entire Montenegrin coast. And yes, plenty of bars too.
Despite its relative size, Bar lacks the alluring charm of Kotor, the vibrant energy of Budva or the utter magic of Perast. What we find instead is a gritty charm allied with one of the most memorable old towns in the entire country. The lack of crowds is also a guaranteed winner.
King Nikola’s Palace is arguably the main cultural attraction in Bar, and it is easy to see why. This elegant charmer was built back in 1885 on the decree of King Nikola (obviously), who wanted to provide his daughter and son-in-law with a graceful home on the seafront. The happy couple are long gone (although they managed to avoid the grisly end that actually brought them to the throne), and the palace now houses a museum full of folk costumes and other authentic historical items.
Montenegro is a country full of marvellous old towns, but Bar brings something different to the table. Sat at the foot at Mount Rumija, Stari Bar is a major attraction in its own right. An earthquake in 1979 severely damaged the settlement, but people have since returned and life thrives on this steep hill once again. Every corner offers something different, from old houses and shops to ruined streets and spots now overrun by nature.
The views from up here are every bit as magnificent as you’d assume from an old settlement on a hill, although we’d say the best photo opportunities are found in the town itself. The Church of St. Nicholas is a window into a different time, and there are plenty of examples of Ottoman architecture found here as well. The Omerbasića Mosque may well be the best.
The dominant piece of architecture in the city is the imposing Church of St. Jovan Vladimir, a modern cathedral that seems particularly proud of the gold that sits on its roof. Its historic look is something of a misnomer as the church was only built towards the end of the 20th century, but its patron is one of the most historic of all Serbian saints. St. Jovan Vladimir was known as the Serbian protector of Bar, and he’d more than likely be very happy with the church that sits in his honour.
A short drive from the city centre sits the beloved Stara Maslina, one of the oldest trees on the entire planet. This olive tree has been here for well over two millennia, and while one side is badly damaged it still represents a truly tangible piece of Balkan history. The souvenir shop might be a little too much, but tranquility and history come together delightfully at the Old Olive Tree.
We’re talking about the Montenegrin coast here, and while Bar may not have the beaches of Budva and the rest there is still plenty of lazy day options here. The city beach isn’t the most engrossing, but you will certainly find heaps of energy here once the sun goes down. Nearby Šušanj is the best beach bet, although maybe try to seek out a quiet spot to get away from the crowds. Sutomore is another excellent option, albeit just as busy.
Montenegro is a paradise for adrenaline junkies, and Bar is finally stepping up to the plate. Rikavac and Medjurečje canyons are now open for business, the former offering a gentle option in comparison to the madness of the latter. Canyoning in Montenegro remains relatively affordable, although it remains to be seen for how long that will be the case. Bar’s lack of mass tourism means the prices are low, although the intensity can be quite high.
‘A spot’ might be something of an understatement here. Bar might not have a huge roster of attractions waiting for the potential tourist, but it more than makes up for that in bars, pubs and clubs. The beaches offer something a little different, but the real value is in the many haunts in and around the centre of town. Green Mill and Pub Galerija are just two of our favourites, although why not chop and change before deciding on your personal preference?
It might seem unusual to recommend leaving a town as one of the main attractions, but then not every part of the world has a train route as magnificent as the one that runs from Bar all the way to Belgrade. The 11-hour (if everything is running to plan, which it rarely is) journey is a veritable conveyor belt of eye candy, with bountiful nature exploding on both sides of the track. More than 400 bridges are traversed along the way, before the train finally trundles into the Serbian capital.
Just a half hour drive from Bar (depending on how often you stop to take photos), Lake Skadar is the largest lake in the Balkans. The entire region is full of magnificent bodies of water, and its biggest doesn’t disappoint when it comes to a fine mixture of tranquility and wildlife. It is the latter that shines (birdwatching fines will have a field day), and there are a host of fine wineries in the region for those looking for cultured refreshment.