A Guide to Cetinje: The Historic Heart of Montenegro

Last Updated on: 16th October 2022, 12:25 am

Cetinje, Montenegro’s old royal capital, might not exactly take your breath away. But on the contrary, it’s one of the best places in Montenegro to take a breather, especially for those coming from packed beach towns like Budva. Even during the peak summer tourist season, this town of about 15,000 people remains calm and quiet.

But that’s not to say there’s nothing to see. Cetinje is home to a plethora of museums, churches and old embassy buildings. In the following Cetinje guide, we’ll be going over the best things to do and see in town which you can see within a single day or, ideally, over the course of a laidback weekend.

Cetinje Guide
Cetinje is such a sleepy town that its main pedestrian avenue, Ulica Njegoševa, is often largely empty

Cetinje was founded in 1482 and remained the Montenegrin capital until its absorption into Yugoslavia in the 20th century. Not only was it the political heart of the country, but also the spiritual one, long serving as the seat of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty, a line of hereditary prince bishops. 

Despite its historical importance, Cetinje never became much larger than a town. And nowadays, Podgorica is the country’s capital, while Kotor and Budva draw most of the tourists. But Cetinje remains an excellent place to appreciate centuries worth of architecture and history in a bite-sized package.

Cetinje's Ticketing System

Cetinje is home to numerous museums, most of which require a ticket. For those who want to see it all while saving a bit of cash, you can purchase a combination ticket for €12 (as of 2021). Here’s the list of attractions included in the combo ticket, along with the cost to visit each individually:

  • King Nikola’s Museum (€5)
  • Njegoš Museum – Billiard Palace (€3)
  • Historical Museum (€3)
  • Fine Art Museum (€4)
  • Ethnographic Museum (€3)
  • Relief of Montenegro (€2)

As you can see, the combination ticket can save you €8 if you’d like to see everything. But if you’re only in Cetinje for a day, you could easily get ‘museumed out.’ 

If you just want to focus on the highlights while saving your cash, consider buying individual tickets for King Nikola’s Museum and the Njegoš Museum. After that, you can go on to visit the various free attractions which you can learn more about in the Cetinje guide below.

Cetinje's Paid Attractions

The following list of paid attractions in Cetinje is ordered from most to least essential (at least according to the opinion of the author). But if you have more than a full day in town, you can easily visit them all with the combo ticket.

Further below in this Cetinje guide, you can read more about the town’s free attractions.

King Nikola’s Museum

Cetinje Guide King Nikola's Museum

Nikola I was the last ruler of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty, a Serbian family that ruled Montenegro from 1697 to 1916. For centuries, the country had been ruled by Prince Bishops called vladikas. But as these bishops were celibate, their heirs always had to be nephews.

That changed with Prince Danilo I, however, who converted Montenegro from a theocratic to a secular nation.

Then, his successor Nikola I, who ruled Montenegro from 1860-1918, would make Montenegro an official kingdom.

This two-story house was originally intended for Princess Darinka, Danilo I’s widow. But after her departure from the country, Nikola I took it for himself.

Construction began in 1863, while it was later reconstructed in 1910 to coincide with the proclamation of the Kingdom of Montenegro.

While it doesn’t look like much from the outside, the palace is entirely filled with gorgeous artwork and furniture, all of which exudes luxury. The displays, however, are largely recreations, with the collections of furniture and costumes coming from various other buildings once inhabited by the royal family.

Highlights include the dining room, Diplomatic Room and the room of Princess Vjera. Another especially interesting room is the ‘Indonesian sitting room,’ complete with Southeast Asian furniture and a traditional Balinese painting!

As for King Nikola I? He died in exile in France, but his remains are now kept in the nearby Court Church (see below).

Note that while there is a sign out front stating that no photography is allowed, the staff member at the front desk granted me permission. If you’d like to take photos, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Njegoš Museum - Billiard Palace

This castle-like palace is one of Cetinje’s most noteworthy structures. Built in 1838 with financial assistance from Russia, it was established by Petar II, a renowned poet and the second-last Prince-Bishop of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty.

Oddly enough, it’s most known for, of all things, its billiard table. The reason it’s considered a big deal – to the point that the building was nicknamed after it – is because it was country’s very first.

The billiard table was originally brought to Montenegro from Austria in 1940. And after arriving in Kotor, it was carried dozens of kilometers by a group of men on foot!

The visiting experience is quite similar to that of King Nikola’s Museum. Walking around, you’ll find various portraits of royals, religious artifacts and costumes. 

One could argue, however, that the Billiard Palace is more impressive from the outside than from within.

Ethnographic Museum

Cetinje Guide Ethnographic Museum

Most cities around the Balkans have ethnographic museums, and Cetinje is no exception. Situated right across from King Nikola’s Museum, the two-story museum houses an impressive collection of elaborate costumes, tableware, hunting tools and more. 

You’ll learn about the different traditional customs and dress of the various regions of Montenegro. For such a tiny country, it’s surprisingly diverse.

The collection consists of over 4,000 artifacts, but only several hundred or so are on display at any given time.

Situated within the former Serbian Embassy, the well-lit museum features detailed and informative bilingual information.

Historical / Fine Art Museum

Cetinje Guide Historical Museum

The Historical Museum is easily one of Cetinje’s most impressive buildings from the outside. The way the museum presents its artifacts, however, leaves much to be desired.

A visit begins with the Neolithic and other early prehistoric eras, followed by a small collection of Roman-era artifacts. Visitors are then led through exhibitions highlighting the Middle Ages and the creation of Montenegro.

Unfortunately, details surrounding these historical eras are largely lacking, and context is also missing for many of the artifacts. Things do pick up, at least, from the section on the 20th century.

Ironically, the best place to learn about Montenegro’s history is not at the Historical Museum but at the Museum of Money, accessible for free. Read below to learn why.

Within the same building complex as the Historical Museum is the Fine Art Museum, where photography is not allowed. It features a sizable collection of both traditional and modern art by artists from Montenegro and other parts of former Yugoslavia.

Relief of Montenegro

Cetinje Guide Historical Museum

Situated in a side area of the Billiard Palace complex, the Relief of Montenegro is indeed a large three-dimensional map of the country. It was impressively created by the Austrians in 1917 during their brief occupation of Montenegro.

For those doing extensive travels throughout Montenegro, it can be fun to spot the places you’re going or have already been. But all in all, you’re unlikely to spend more than several minutes within the glass pavilion.

Cetinje's Free Attractions

The next part of this Cetinje guide focuses on the town’s free attractions. Travelers on a budget shouldn’t feel like they’re missing it out, as many of Cetinje’s most significant landmarks cost nothing to see.

Museum of Money

Cetinje Guide

Housed within the former Central Bank of Montenegro, the Museum of Money is one of Cetinje’s most pleasant surprises. Even if you’re not particularly interested in economics, it should not be missed. 

As a small country that has used other nations’ currency for much of its existence, the history of money in Montenegro is the history of the nation itself.

Following an overview of the development of money in ancient times, the museum puts a large focus on medieval times and the early mints that were established in places like Bar and Ulcinj.

Next, we learn how the various dynasties to control the region introduced their own coins until the eventual takeover by the Ottomans.

A coin minting machine from 1849

Following Ottoman rule, Venetian money and various other European currencies were in circulation for a while. And then, very briefly, Montenegro issued its own currency called the perper from 1906-18.

But the country would soon adopt the Yugoslav dinner, which would remain in use until the 90s. Rather than create a new currency, Montenegro decided to adopt the Deutschmark following Yugoslavia’s demise. 

But once Germany transitioned to the euro in 1999, Montenegro followed suit, despite not being part of the European Union.

Speaking of money, the museum was free to enter at the time of my visit, though they apparently once charged a couple of euro in the past.

Cetinje Monastery

Cetinje Guide

Cetinje Monastery was first erected in the early 18th century on the site of a demolished palace. And following its construction, the monastery, which long served as Montenegro’s spiritual center, was burnt down no less than three times by the Ottomans.

It was finally reconstructed in 1786 and its extant buildings largely date from that time. 

While photos are forbidden inside, the interior features an ornate wooden iconostasis and some highly significant relics. 

Among them are a supposed fragment of the crucifixion cross and even the right hand of Saint John the Baptist himself! Unfortunately, however, the hand is rarely displayed to the public.

Cetinje Guide
Cetinje Guide

Also on site is the grave of Prince Danilo, the country’s first secular ruler who was assassinated in Kotor. The monastery also contains a treasury, but it’s sadly only open for groups.

Court Church

Before the establishment of Cetinje Monastery, this area was once home to the Monastery of Crnojevići. It was named after Ivan Crnojević, the man who founded Cetinje back in 1482. 

And the monastery served as the religious heart of Montenegro until it was ultimately burned down by the Ottomans in 1692. 

Much later, in 1886, Nikola I built a new church here as a memorial to the original. Ivan Crnojević is buried within, while the church now serves as the tomb of Nikola himself together with his wife. 

Interestingly, surrounding the church are the remains of foundations from much earlier construction phases.

Cetinje Guide

More Around Cetinje

As the former capital, Cetinje is home to a myriad of former embassies and other administrative buildings built in the 19th to early 20th centuries. And walking down Ulica Njegoševa, the main pedestrian avenue, you’ll encounter a slew of other unique architectural gems.

While not covered in this Cetinje guide, the town also serves as a great base for the nearby Lovćen National Park. And within the park, the most well-known landmark is the Mausoleum of Njegoš which inters Petar II Petrović-Njegoš (founder of the Billiard Palace).

The views are said to be remarkable, but at 21 km from Cetinje, getting there is not easy. Without your own car, public transport is not an option, while a taxi ride should cost at least €20. Furthermore, the mausoleum itself requires an entry ticket.

With that in mind, a tour like this one for around $57 USD is a great value, as it also includes numerous other sites throughout the country.

Another popular side trip from Cetinje is the Lipa Cave which costs €11 for entry and also requires a car or taxi to reach.

Additional Info

Montenegro in summer can get expensive – at least by Balkan standards. But even during the peak tourism season, you can still find a private room in Cetinje for as little as €10.

The major downside, of course, is that you won’t be by the beach. But from Cetinje, one can easily make day trips to places like Budva and other landmarks like Ostrog Monastery.

I found that staying for several nights in Cetinje and then several more in Kotor was a great way to explore the country.

I stayed at Hostel Holiday Cetinje, where I paid €10 for a private room with a shared bathroom. While not right in the center, the town is small enough that everything in the Cetinje guide above is walkable. Overall, I had a good stay.

The negative points are that the manager speaks no English (not uncommon in the Balkans). Furthermore, the place is really tricky to find for the first time, as it’s not visible from the street. You’ll have to walk through an alley between two buildings to reach it.

Despite many people addressing this in reviews, management has not yet made an effort to send clear maps or check-in instructions to guests. Expect to have to call or message someone upon your arrival to find the place.

Even for such a small city, those on a larger budget will have plenty of good options to choose from.


Cetinje is best reached by bus. It’s just about a 45-minute journey from either Budva or Podgorica.

While Cetinje is also technically a 45-minute ride from Kotor, many of the bus routes pass through Budva first, doubling the length of the journey.

Therefore, if you’d like to visit Cetinje from Kotor as a day trip, be sure to confirm the route the bus will take in advance. Otherwise, they will just sell you the ticket for whatever bus is departing next.

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