If you’re wondering how to spend Christmas in Montenegro, take a look at this full article, written by Andrej – our Balkans writer!
Ancient tradition, family gatherings and on-street celebrations combine during Montenegro at Christmas.
The Balkan country in Southeastern Europe is predominantly Orthodox Christian, so the main family celebration is on 7th January.
However, if you’re visiting Montenegro in December, you’ll still witness fun celebrations and Orthodox churches glowing for the festive season.
In fact, Catholics in the country celebrate at the end of December, so we recommend spending the entire period in Montenegro and celebrating Christmas twice!
Here’s all you need to know about Christmas in Montenegro.
What’s Montenegro like at Christmas?
Montenegro: it’s a warm, summer destination, right?
Wrong! it’s an excellent Christmas holiday spot as well.
Its rich history of traditions and population of Orthodox Christians makes it perfect for anyone who wants to experience an Eastern Christmas!
Due to Montenegro’s religion, locals celebrate Christmas on 7th January – it’s a religious holiday filled with many traditions before and during the celebration.
Some include the 40-day fast before Christmas, the use of “Badnjak” as well as the church gatherings on Christmas Eve.
All of these traditions have been passed down through generations, and make Christmas in Montenegro warm and friendly – there’s a big focus on family dinners, but it’s welcoming for tourists too!
Things to do in Montenegro at Christmas
Here are all of the best things to do in Montenegro at Christmastime!
1. Feel the atmosphere of the Kotor Christmas Market
There’s no better and more beautiful place to enjoy the festive holiday spirit than at the Christmas Market in Kotor.
While other bigger towns along the coastline also have their own Christmas markets, the one in Kotor definitely takes the cake for being the best one and offering the most magnificent views and the tastiest food.
Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its charm and history, so, understandably, adding a Christmas Market filled with lights and holiday decorations only enhances the experience!
Walk along the city streets and enjoy the Christmas spirit and tradition combined.
Try all sorts of traditional food and drinks here, such as smoked ham and cheese, njeguški steak, and of course the famous brandy.
You can also buy various souvenirs and Christmas-inspired homemade ornaments.
2. Get active at the Podgorica Ice Skating Rink
Head to the capital city of Montenegro, Podgorica, for one of the best ice rinks in the Balkans.
Located in the city’s Njegoš’s Park, it spans around 600 square meters and is great for both beginners and more experienced skaters.
There’s an ice skating instructor at the entrance who’s happy to give you all the necessary advice if it’s your first time!
You can bring your own skates, but the facility also has equipment in all sizes so you can have a try regardless.
It’s located close to two popular shopping locations – the Delta City and City Mall, so you can do some festive shopping in the same trip.
The ice skating rink’s open throughout the whole winter, from December to February, and works from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
3. Explore the Christmas Piazzetta in Budva
Budva decided to take its own spin on Europe’s Christmas markets and turn it into a whole festival!
The Christmas Piazzetta combines everything we love about Christmas – the vibrant music, the food and drinks, and all sorts of Christmas handicrafts!
Evenings are also filled with different programs for everyone, including entertainment programs for children, as well as cocktail master nights for adults.
4. Take a ski trip in Montenegro’s mountains
Although Montenegro isn’t particularly known as a winter sports destination, it still has a few fantastic ski trip options.
Choose from Žabljak and Kolašin Mountains.
Kolašin has more slopes than Žabljak – plus it has a more modern ski centre with better equipment.
Žabljak on the other hand has the higher run of the two, coming in at around 2,200 meters, but it’s also in a much better location – in the Durmitor National Park and near the Tara River canyon.
It’s ideal for mixed groups when some aren’t skiing.
5. Experience Balkan Music at New Year’s Eve
The Balkans like to start the year with a bang, with incredible New Year’s Eve celebrations!
Almost all of the bigger cities in Montenegro organize public concerts with many famous Balkan musicians and singers.
The main you should aim for is in Budva.
There, one of the most legendary Balkan singers, Zdravko Čolić, usually performs.
His songs are known throughout the whole region and it’s a rare opportunity to experience his live performance (especially as he’s getting older and performing less frequently).
Montenegro Christmas Traditions
Being an Orthodox country, Montenegro has many traditions associated with Christmas.
The main one is, of course, the Christmas Eve meal, where the whole family comes together for a festive dinner filled with delicious food.
As it’s the last day of the 40-day fast, it includes meat-free and dairy-free food such as fish and beans – but it’s still very tasty!
Another tradition that takes place on Christmas Eve is when male members of the family go and cut “Badnjak” (Yule Log) from the woods and bring it back to the house.
It’s supposed to be brought in on Christmas Eve evening and burnt through the night.
Some churches do this as well, as they organize a big gathering where anyone can come and spend Christmas Eve there.
During the Christmas Eve meal, a special type of bread is made called “česnica”. The mother or the grandmother of the family usually makes it and puts a single coin in it.
Then, during the meal, the bread is split into pieces for every guest at the table, as well as leaving one extra piece “for the house”.
Whoever finds the coin in their piece is believed to be blessed with luck and money throughout the following year!
Another less common tradition is the apple tradition, where guys who have a crush on a girl offer an apple to her, and if she accepts it, they will end up together sometime in the next year!
What to eat in Montenegro at Christmas
Visiting a Balkan country often revolves around two things: food and drinks (often together!).
It’s no secret that Montenegro offers some of the best traditional food in the region – but it’s even better during Christmas.
As some of the dishes are seasonal and prepared only during the holiday season, here you’ll find specialities that aren’t available throughout the year.
The Christmas Eve feast is different from others as all of the dishes are meat-free and dairy-free, but don’t let that fool you, it still has some amazing dishes.
On the dinner table, you’ll find roasted fish and potatoes, which make a great-tasting and healthy duo, followed by “prignice” which are fried dough balls filled with lemon zest and sweetened with honey.
We also can’t forget “česnica” (Christmas bread) which completes the meal!
After Christmas Eve, during Christmas Day, another family meal is organized, but as the fast is over, this one includes all types of other food and typically an abundance of meat dishes.
Common dishes include roast pork – Montenegrins especially love it after a long fast!
Another dish you can find often is “sarme”, which is cabbage stuffed with ground meat, rice, and other ingredients.
Their salad of choice is the Russian salad.
As for the drinks, it’s not a surprise that their drink of choice is “rakija”, a popular alcoholic beverage in the Balkans, but you can also find some great beers.
And for the finishing touches of the meal, sweeten your tastebuds with a baklava or a strudel.
Tips for visiting Montenegro at Christmas
While Montenegro is primarily an Orthodox country, there are still Catholic churches, as well as some smaller manifestations, so you can organize your trip to cover both Christmases and really get the feel of the whole country!
Come by car or rent a car. Montenegro is a relatively small country and it can be easily explored with a car during a two week trip.
This is especially true for the coastal cities such as Tivat, Kotor, and Budva, which are all really close to each other and can be visited together as a part of a longer trip.
These coastal cities are also the main ones for many cultural activities.
Even though roads aren’t crowded during Christmas as much as in the summer, many roads in Montenegro are narrow and require great focus while driving.
So go a bit slower and locate your destination before heading out on the road.
Are you ready for Christmas in Montenegro?
Whether you’re enjoying some roasted pork with Montegrin friends or are searching for a public celebration with city dwellers in Podgorica, there’s so much on offer when it comes to Montenegrin Christmas celebrations.
So, book a trip to this underrated Southeastern European country and see what the fuss is all about!