What to See and Do in Budva

Whether you just wish to spend a day in Budva to look around or whether you want to hunker down for a Budva holiday, you will find there is much to see in both the walled Old Town and around Budva, and plenty of things to do on the Budva beaches and in the clubs where you will find the social and night life appealing. 

Budva is the most visited venue in Montenegro. One of the things to see in Budva is, of course, the limestone Old Town. The historical structure of Budva Old Town is very evident including its gates, Public Square, churches, citadel, and enclosing city wall with ramparts and towers. Internally, the Old Town is a maze of pedestrian-only limestone thoroughfares that cut through what is now a commercial precinct comprising shops, cafes and restaurants.

There is also much to see and do around Budva. The beaches at Budva stretch virtually north and south along the entire length of the Montenegrin coastline. The Budva beaches are well equipped and visitors can enjoy the ocean in a variety of ways. And, of course, Budva is well known for its night-time entertainment.

Where is Budva?

The Adriatic coast of Montenegro extends for 290 kilometres from its northern border with Croatia to its southern border with Albania. Budva is situated in the northern third of Montenegro’s stretch of coast, just 25 friendly kilometres from Kotor or 30 kilometres from Cetinje across the inland plateau that rises from Montengro’s coastline. This stretch of coastline is both attractive and accessible, leading to the ‘Budva Riviera’ which is a very popular tourist and holiday destination.

Things to See in Budva

One of the major reasons why visitors come to Budva is to see and explore Budva’s historical Old Town. 

What to See in Budva Old Town

Budva Old Town, located on a low-lying coastal platform on the south-eastern perimeter of the city, is the historical core of Budva. The Old Town dates back to the third millennium and has been occupied principally by the Romans, Byzantines and the Venetians. It was the Venetians who built the ramparts during the medieval period. You can still see evidence of these occupations throughout the Old Town.

The small marina at Budva is seen adjacent to the Old Town and is a reminder of the need for the Old Town to be fortified to oppose invasion.
The attractive marina at Budva is seen in front of the Old Town against a mountain background

The City Walls of Budva Old Town

The city walls of Budva Old Town are imposing, and by a bit of street science, stand about 10 metres high at the western gate as well as being several metres thick. The walls needed to be formidable as Budva, like Kotor, had to withstand both Ottoman assaults and earthquakes.

The city walls of Budva Old Town and its fortifications were constructed from masonry derived from limestone, dolomite and tufa. The Balkan Peninsula is rich in these carbonate rocks and they were used in a range of structures throughout the region.

The 9th Century city walls of Budva Old Town were constructed during the Roman-Byzantine period. The Roman Empire fell during the Early Medieval (476 AD to 1000 AD) which led to Budva being ruled primarily by Byzantium from 476 AD (later Constantinople and Istanbul) until Serbia’s control of Budva in 1042 AD.

Budva is located within an active seismic zone due to the presence of a micro plate that lies under the Adriatic along part of the length of the Baltic peninsula. There is also a major tectonic zone that runs north from Albania along the Dinaric Alps. Therefore, earthquakes have had a significant impact on the city. The powerful Venetian Republic controlled the Adriatic in the Late Medieval Period (1250 AD to 1500 AD) and ruled Budva from 1420 to 1797 AD in the midst of Ottoman invasions. It was during those years of Venetian rule that the fortifications and city walls of the Old Town of Budva had to be strengthened. The earthquake of 1667 damaged most buildings and opened up Budva’s original 9th Century city walls in multiple places. The Venetians used the masonry remnants to rebuild. Regrettably, history was repeated in 1979 and Budva was very significantly damaged by another earthquake. The city was rebuilt using original materials but it is difficult to know how certain visitors can be as to the integrity of the restoration to original styles. Nevertheless, we can only see what is in front of us.

The Northern City Wall and North Gate at Budva Old Town

The North Gate at Budva provided direct access into the Old Town through the northern wall from the harbour
The North Gate provided access through the Northern Wall at Budva
The North Gate is one of a number of gates through the city walls into the Old Town at Budva and provided direct access into the Old Town from the harbour. The northern wall of the Old Town, or Stari Grad, is opposite the marina. It seems counter intuitive that this gate is referred to as the North gate because this part of the city wall seems to be facing in the direction of Albania which we assume to be south of Montenegro. Nevertheless, one of the gates through the northern wall is the North Gate, it being the main northern port gate also known as the Gate of The Square of Budva Painters, which is shown in the image. This gate leads inside the Old Town onto Vrzdak Street. Vrzdak Street soon crosses Njegoševa Street which is the most direct west-east route across the Old Town.

There are several smaller gates which also penetrate the north wall, leading to the marina.

Above the North Gate is a section of the Old Town’s city wall that typifies Budva’s walled defences. The ramparts were wide enough to allow defenders sufficient mobility to oppose an attempted siege. One of the bastions which were located at each corner can be seen in the image. The bastions protrude forward of the city walls. This may have been to buttress the city walls where they intersected, to ensure stability of the bastion by enlarging the surface area of its base, or perhaps to ensure that the defenders on the city walls could have a clear view of any attempts to breach the city gates.

Another thing to see on each side of the North Gate is the openings in the city walls, the embrasures. These are in the forms of arrow loops which later became gun ports, and provided a means for the defenders stationed within the Old Town to fire through Budva’s city walls onto those below them.

The Western City Wall and West Gate at Budva Old Town

What to see inside the Budva Old Town having entered through the western wall via the West Gate
Inside the Old Town at Budva having entered through the western wall via the West Gate
The main town gate, the West Gate known and known as Porta Di Terra, provides access to the Old Town through the western city wall. This gate leads directly onto Njegoševa Street, the major thoroughfare through the Old Town.

Features of the West Gate indicate Venetian influences on the the rebuilding of the city wall surrounding the Old Town. Semi-circular arches which retain the original style of the city or, at least, may suggest maintaining earlier influences such as those of the Renaissance during the rebuild.

The Southern City Wall and South Gate at Budva Old Town

The South Gate at Budva enters onto the Old Town Beach adjacent to the south city wall
The South Gate through the southern wall at Budva enters onto the Old Town Beach

The South Gate through Budva Old Town’s southern wall is a small gate located in the south-western corner that exits onto the Old Town Beach. This beach in Budva,  the Plaza Ricardo Glava, reserves some private access for paying guests. The image gives a glimpse of several things to see on the other side of the southern wall; the spire of St Ivan, the unusual spire of St Maria in Punta, the roof of St Sava, the colour variation of the façade of the Holy Trinity, and the flag atop the Budva citadel.

The South Gate leads from the beach back to Njegoseva Street and the south-eastern extremity of the town and the Public Square and Citadel. Clustered nearby are the Churches of St. Ivan (15-18th Century), Santa Maria in Punta of Budva (9th Century) and The Holy Trinity (18-19th Century).

The Eastern City Wall at Budva Old Town

The view of the eastern city wall of the Old Town from Pizana Beach shows many of the wall’s defences
Budva Old Town’s eastern city wall seen from Pizana Beach

The rebuilding of the walls around Budva Old Town incorporated many of the pre-existing defences. Evident are the strong bastions at the corners of the wall and the sentry fore-posts. These precluded adversaries from congregating at the base of the wall out of the sight of the defenders. You can climb the steps up to the top of the walls at a point along the eastern wall.

What to See Inside the City Walls of Budva Old Town

The internal arrangement inside the city walls of Budva Old Town is consistent with the design of many calcareous Old Towns along the coastline of the Balkan Peninsula. The Old Town was organised around a Public Square located in the south-eastern quarter which served as the market place and would have also set the location of the civic buildings within the view of the houses of worship. The citadel at Budva was adjacent to the Public Square because the available space facilitated organisation when the Old Town of Budva was confronted by threats. Urban living within the Old Town was served by a rectangular network of very narrow lanes. The width of these lanes has been preserved and so it is impossible to take a vehicle into the Old Town.

A slow meander along Njegoševa Street allows for the occasional exploration of lanes to the left and right if something catches the eye. And there are many things to see because it is in Njegoševa Street that Budva departs from its historicity. Although small, Budva Old Town will offer sufficient historical attractions in the forms of walls, citadel and edifices to satisfy your effort to visit. But the Old Town is no longer only an historical Old Town. It is instead a commercial precinct with many of its former residential properties refurbished as stores to sell anything that carries a designer label. A walk through the Old Town is like walking through an outside mall.

Buildings, Monuments and Architecture Inside Budva Old Town

There are a number of buildings and monuments with period architecture to see when you follow Njegoseva Street leads to the Public Square. The Square is a good vantage point to locate the Citadel and to take in some views of the coastal eastern wall and its towers.

The Citadel Inside Budva Old Town

The citadel within the Old Town reaches back to pre-Roman and was damaged by both invasion and earthquake. Its final form was consolidated during the brief Hapsburg occupation following the expulsion of the Venetians in 1797 AD. This period of dominion by the Austrians was replaced by the French in 1807 (to 1814).

Image credit: Dirgela, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Austrian barracks complemented the long section of the ramparts that faced seaward. The citadel and fortress were between the barracks and the southern wall.

Clustered nearby are the Churches of St. Ivan (15-18th Century), Santa Maria in Punta of Budva (9th Century) and The Holy Trinity (18-19th Century).

St Sava Church in foreground of Santa Maria Church in background in Budva Old Town
Churches of St Sava and Santa Maria in Punta at Budva Old Town

Image credit: Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The oldest of the churches, Santa Maria (804 AD), or more specifically, Santa Maria in Punta, is located on the intersection of the eastern and southern walls, and in this context ‘in punta’ reinforces the location as ‘the point or the tip’.

Santa Maria (or St Mary’s) is an excellent example of how Roman styles influenced the architecture of the early Christian churches.

The interior of the Church of Santa Maria continues Roman design. The use of the Roman semi-circular arch is very apparent, including the large, semi-circular arches that are built into the walls of the nave. The arches are mounted on the capitals of square columns, the columns sitting on plinths. These arches distribute the load above them. The semi-circular ceiling that spans the nave utilises the same principle as the Roman barrel vault.

Image credit: Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The façade of Santa Maria shows some inconsistencies due to the inevitable restorations that occurred over the years. The masonry is anything but uniform and some features are not consistent with the period of the original facade. The wheel window may have been a later Romanesque addition. The arched window on one side of the wheel window is consistent with the period of the church’s build but inconsistent with the rectangular architrave of the window on the other side.

The Church of St Sava (1141 AD) was completed under temporary Serbian rule from 1042 until Budva was occupied by the Byzantines in 1143. This placed the building of St Sava within the Byzantine-Romanesque period and these styles are represented in the church. The exterior of the St Sava is constructed using polychromatic masonry which was occasionally used by both Byzantine and Romanesque architects for external decoration. St Sava has a single nave and one end of the church is semi-circular. This feature was continued in the Romanesque and the rounded end was used as the apse. The small arched window at this end of the church maintains the Roman influence into both the Byzantine and Romanesque styles.

The comparative simplicity of the Holy Trinity Church (1804) is not so simple – at least not architecturally. The building of the church is linked to the fall of the Venetians to the Habsburg Monarchy in 1797. The orthodox community within Budva sought, and were successful, in gaining permission to build a church. The Holy Trinity Church was completed in 1804, just three years before France occupied the region. What is interesting about the Holy Trinity Church is its design. Europe had now moved architecturally through the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods, but Budva built a church that was structurally similar to earlier periods. Perhaps this was to ensure an architecture that was consistent with the original Old Town. The extravagant decoration of the interior in preference to decorating the exterior is also consistent with earlier styles. The architectural style of the Holy Trinity Church is quite similar to the Church of St Luke in Kotor on which we have written a separate post. St Luke’s Church

Image Credit Holy Trinity Church: Richard Mortel from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The other church in the vicinity, St Ivans (or St Johns), like so many other edifices in Montenegro, has suffered earthquake damage (1667) and some of its original features have been replaced during ongoing restoration. The facade of the church is Gothic with paired windows. Each window has a characteristic Gothic pointed arch and is separated by a mullion. The windows as a pair are situated under a pointed curved pediment. The windows along the side of the church are also in the Gothic style. The tower, erected in 1867, has rounded arches and decorative quoins along its edges contrasting with the stucco surface.

Image Credit St John’s Church: Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What to Do in Budva

One of the reasons for Budva’s popularity is because there are many things to do for both day-trippers and stayers alike. Visitors who are drawn to the venue’s history and architecture are usually happy to spend a day In Budva making their way around the Old Town. But Budva also offers facilities for families and individuals to stay much longer, particularly in the warm summer months.

What to Do on the Budva Beaches

The beaches at Budva seen from an elevated location
Panorama of Budva beaches

Budva is pretty and the beaches around Budva have been groomed for holiday makers and sun lovers. During summer days there would be no end of things to do in the water. Visitors can happily enjoy swimming, diving, catching the taxi boats, yachting, parasailing, jet skiing, kayaking, bungee jumping and tennis, just to draw on some of the activities available.  If water sports are your thing, you won’t get bored in Budva!

We have previously identified the beaches close to the Old Town as the Old Town Beach, which is near the southern wall, and Pizana Beach, which looks onto the eastern wall. A track leads away from the Old Town Beach to larger beaches along the coast, namely Mogren and Mogren 2, and Jazz Beach which is further around the headland, past the Jaz Battery and Fort Mogren, two additional places to visit in Budva. Each if these beaches is very well resourced but if you are looking for a peaceful afternoon, they may not be the place for you.

A popular Budva beach which offers plenty of things to do is Jaz Beach which is an easy drive from Budva
Jaz Beach, just one of the popular beaches at Budva

The most accessible beaches at Budva are in front of the city and sweep from the Marina to the opposite headland. Much of the space on the beaches is occupied by the ubiquitous ‘sun beds’ and rentable water craft, but there are also areas provided for public swimming.

What to Do Around Budva

You won’t want to spend all your time in Budva – there is plenty to see and do around Budva as well. Here are some proven ideas.

Take a Drive and See the Lovely Montenegrin Coast

Irrespective of whether you are travelling to Budva for a day trip or to stay longer for a sea side holiday, take the time on a beautiful day to enjoy a slow drive along the Montenegrin coast towards Albania. The lovely Montenegrin Coast is being developed as a holiday coast and one of the more interesting attractions is, of course, Sveti Stefan. This small resort island provides one of the iconic photographs used to promote Montenegrin tourism.

One thing to do is drive to the small peninsula of Sveti Stefan, a popular resort south of Budva
Sveti Stefan (St Stephen)

Take a Boat Trip Around Kotor Bay

Another thing to do while you are in Budva, if you haven’t been to Kotor, is to organise a boat trip around beautiful Kotor Bay. You get to Kotor by bus or rental vehicle if you prefer. You can read about Kotor and Kotor Bay in our post.

Spend a Day in the Peace and Tranquility of Skadar Lake National Park

When in Budva you are just one hour by car to Skadar Lake National Park. You should put aside an entire day for your visit, because Skadar Lake offers something for everyone. You can check out what there is to see and do at Skadar Lake in our post.

Visit Cetinje – the Cultural Capital of Montenegro

Still not sure of what to do around Budva? If you are on holiday in Budva and have the time then the lovely city of Cetinje is just a thirty minute drive over the coastal mountains onto the central highland. It is here you will find Cetinje. The capital of Montenegro was originally located in the Skadar Lake basin, but due to ongoing Ottoman invasion was moved to Cetinje. Consequently, it was in Cetinje that culture and diplomacy flourished. The capital of Montenegro is now Podgorica, but the vestiges of Cetinje’s history and opulence still remain.

And if you’re in Cetinje then you are also just a stone throw from Lovcen National Park, the site of a panoramic mausoleum and karst landscape.

So, the inevitable conclusion is that there is much to see and do around Budva, particularly if you are having a Budva vacation.

What to Do In Budva in the Evening – the Budva Nightlife

Budva City with its ocean foreshore and mountainous background promises much to do after sunset
Budva City

Needless to say, there is a plethora of clubs, bars, bistros, restaurants and cafes, along with a Casino, and so during summer nights there would be no end of ways of how to enjoy Budva.

When it comes to a meal recommendation, the seafood we enjoyed at the Old Fisherman’s Pub, which is adjacent to the Marina, was the most varied and highest quality we ate on the entire Balkan Peninsula. Here is what we enjoyed.

A seafood platter of grilled fish, squid and octopus, mussels and prawns in tomato sauce with a hint of chilli, grilled vegetables on rice with bread to absorb the sauce; a beverage to wash it down; hot pancakes filled with custard and ice cream on a bed of chocolate, topped with a warm fruit slurry and served in a hot fry pan followed by coffee. It was the first time since arriving in Croatia that we were enjoying a sea food meal to expectations.

Our Thoughts on What to See and Do in Budva

We chose to travel to Budva hoping to see vestiges of Montenegrin history and archaeology. We got from Budva Old Town a connection with its past and how life was lived there. It was also evident that Budva is an active summer holiday destination and much of what to see and do in Budva is based on the city’s redefinition as a vacation hot spot with an emphasis on its modern beach culture and nightlife. By all means visit Budva – and even better, stay at least a few days to enjoy, not only Budva, but all the the things you can see and do around it.