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Budva Old Town: All you really need to know

The Budva Riviera is one of the shining lights of Montenegro, a gorgeous stretch of coastline that attracts more and more people with every passing year. Budva’s Old Town (Stari Grad) is the jewel in that crown, a gorgeous medieval walled city that has seen everything that history has thrown at Montenegro and come out on the other side stronger and more confident for it.

Budva views
Budva Views

The beaches and resorts of the Riviera offer a fabulous range of luxury experiences, but there is something about strolling around the Old Town that hits differently. It has always been the main reason to visit Budva, and it is fair to say that it will always be so. This is everything you need to know to make the most of a trip to Budva’s Old Town, from its beginnings to its future.

History

Budva is one of the oldest settlements in the region, with evidence of human inhabitation stretching over two millennia, but it isn’t exactly accurate to say that the Old Town is that old. It is, in some form, but the aesthetics that attract so many loving eyes annually are from more recent times. Much of what we know and love in the Old Town traces its origins to medieval times, when the Republic of Venice ruled the land, and Budva was known as Budua. The walls were fortified in defence against Ottoman attacks, scuffles that were as frequent as they were violent, but the Old Town managed to repel most of what was thrown at it. 

The Bell at Budva
The Bell at Budva

Venetian rule ended in 1797 when Budva was transferred into Habsburg hands, and the years since have followed a fairly well-trodden path. There were flirtations with Russia and Napoleon’s France, a longer stint in the Austro-Hungarian sphere of influence, and a 20th century as part of Yugoslavia. A brutal earthquake in 1979 damaged much of the Old Town (it is said that only eight buildings escaped without damage), but a landmark as arresting as this can’t stay down for long. Today, Budva’s Old Town is one of Montenegro’s most desirable attractions, a warren of history and heritage that is every bit the equal of other old towns around the region.

How to get to Budva Old Town

Budva is one of the most visited places in Montenegro, so it isn’t a great shock to hear that it is relatively well-connected to the rest of the country. The bus station is a mile or so north of the Old Town, a 20-minute walk that gives visitors a glimpse of modern Budva before embracing its medieval side. The bus station has a cafe and a restaurant (and inconsistent WiFi), although don’t expect the staff to be amiable. There are always taxis outside the station, but there’s not much point in using them to get to the Old Town unless you are weighed down with all the bags in the world.

What to see and do

As with all the medieval old towns in the region, the best thing to do in Budva Old Town is to wander around aimlessly, letting the charm of stone structures wash over you as church bells sound in the distance before stopping to take in the exceptional sea views. Expect cats, lots of cats, and the occasional sleeping dog. Wandering around old towns is a rite of passage in this part of the world, although be aware that Budva can be very crowded in the summer months. You can’t blame the people; you are one of them, but the mass of bodies makes the old town’s narrow streets a challenge. Head here first thing in the morning to see Budva Old Town at its very best as the sun rises over the tranquil sea and showers the medieval buildings in shimmering light.

Of course, there is more to this place than aimless wandering and gazing at the sea. A small collection of churches punctuate the streets, and it isn’t surprising that the Christians of Budva’s history would choose these spots for worship, praise and repose. The Church of St John and the Church of the Holy Trinity are the main houses of worship, the former being the largest church in town. The charming striped design of the latter helps it stand out, although it can be argued that both churches shine brightest in the same shot. The Church of Santa Maria in Punta and the Church of St Sava round out the sacral offer in Budva’s Old Town, although both are generally closed. Cute, but closed.

Budva Old Town
Budva Old Town

The Citadel (constructed in the 19th century, but almost certainly older) acts as a museum, restaurant and viewpoint all in one, with old documents and maps offering context to its position. The views are incredible. Elsewhere, the City Walls walkway continues the buffet of vistas, the City Museum is a must for anyone looking to dive a little deeper into the history of Budva, and Jovo Ivanović Modern Gallery is a small but charming spot for temporary exhibitions.

Where to eat and drink

As you might expect from a major tourist centre in a popular town, Budva’s Old Town has plenty of food and drink options for hungry (or thirsty) visitors. Fish fans will find plenty to enjoy, but the ever-increasing number of international tourists here makes for an international buffet of options, from pizza and pasta to traditional Montenegrin and beyond. There is also a Chinese restaurant, creatively named Shanghai, although its complete moniker (Shanghai Asian Food and Sushi) gives a little indication of its aims. The idea isn’t to present traditional food from across China but to tap into a one-size-fits-all image of cuisine from the Far East. It ticks a box, but Konoba Stari Grad and Astoria are much better options.

Casper Budva
Casper, Budva Old Town

On the liquid side of the deal, Budva’s Old Town is much more satisfying. Coffee lovers are in for a treat, whether they stop on the charming terrace of Casper Coffee and Bar or pick up a delicious espresso from the fabulously named Polako Coffee Shop. The Old Fisherman’s Pub touches on all the above, with hearty dishes, a range of drinks and gorgeous views-a-plenty. There isn’t much in the way of swarthy old trawler decor, but maybe that is a positive.

Read Also: Top Vegan Places to eat in Budva

Where to stay

Avala resort and Villas
Avala resort and Villas

Budva’s Old Town has a handful of decent accommodation options, with Freedom Hostel doing its best to bring back the glory days of backpacker hostels in the Balkans. Miss you, Hippo Hostel. While there are options in the old town, the best bet is undoubtedly staying at nearby Avala Resort and Villas, which combines history and service with unbeatable town views. Sure, you need to pay for that privilege, but you’ll thank us as you watch the sun setting over the horizon from the comfort of your balcony. 

Our opinion

Budva Sunset
Budva Sunset

The Old Town in Budva is one of Montenegro’s must-sees. While it might not quite make it onto the Mount Rushmore of Montenegrin sightseeing (a future article if ever there was one), it remains one of the most delightful areas in the country. The history alone makes it a mandatory stop, but the airy nature of its narrow streets, embellished by the magnificence of the sea and the continued development of tourist infrastructure, make it a delightful way to while away the day. Sure, the restaurant offer could be a little better, but beggars can’t be choosers. After all, what is there to complain about as you gaze out to the sea from medieval walls with a delicious ice cream in hand or sit in the leafy surroundings of Casper with a good book in hand? Budva is a charming destination, and the Old Town is undoubtedly its most marvellous attraction.

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