Lovely beaches, a backdrop of dramatic mountains, a historic Old Town and a thumping nightlife – the riviera town of Budva has something for everyone.
Many dub it as the Adriatic’s very own “Miami”, and whilst I can’t see that whatsoever, it’s a magnet for vacationers that are there to lap up the sunshine and cool water.
The main attraction, undoubtedly, is that waterfront. Sun worshippers take any chance to get their kit off, lay a towel onto those gravel beaches and bake to the most delightful shade of Donatella brown.
Others meander along the promenade, slurp on ice cream, sip on Nikšićko beer and enjoy the outdoors with their families.
Along the waterfront opposite the marina you’re likely to stumble upon a pop-up seafood market; set up by a couple of guys peddling fresh fish, prawns, squid and rock oysters. They may even shuck an oyster for a sneaky sample.
To experience Budva’s proper market, you need to head to Zelena Pijaca, a small indoor set-up right by the MegaMarket supermarket. Here you can stock up on fresh seasonal produce, seafood, delicious local cheeses and cured meats, homemade wine and brandy, olives and olive oils.
Everywhere you walk you hear the word “izvolite” muttered (translates to “here you are”) from the vendors as they hope to get your attention. Many offer samples to try, two of which won us over with their excellent cheese and divine cured beef.
Armed with these, plus some sweet cherry tomatoes, raspberries, crusty bread and peppery wild arugula from other vendors, my afternoon grazing board enjoyed back on our private terrace was almost complete. All it needed was some grapes picked straight from the vines growing on the railing.
Afternoons are busy down on Slovenska Obala, a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with all things touristy. Beach dresses and accessories, t-shirts, fast food, souvenirs, gelato and waterfront nightclubs gearing up for sundown. The retro carnival-like feel to the precinct sways right into tack-o-rama territory.
Afternoon drinks for us was at Beer & Bike Club, the boozy part of Restaurant Jadran cod Krsta – a busy restaurant that stretches from the street to the waterfront. It’s a perfect place to sit in the shade, or the sun, sip on something cold and get right in the swing of things.
You can stay for food at this iconic eatery – open since 1976 – and order from the seafood-heavy menu that does all the grilled staples, some soups and schnitzels. We had the ubiquitous ćevapčići (6) and a rather insipid špageti sa morskin plodovima (spaghetti with seafood; 8). Skip the latter, should you ever make it here, as there’s plenty of other seafood options on the menu.
Restaurant Jadran kod Krsta – Slovenska Obala
Right by the bus station is a leafy escape from the tourist-heavy waterfront, and it isn’t a park. Restaurant Mercur – with its cascading water and beautiful gardens filled with rabbits, goats, deer and peacocks – specialises in local staples plus a few Euro choices.
There’s plenty to choose from that’s cooked on the Balkan char-grill, or even meat slow-baked ispod sač (“under the sač”, which is like a Dutch oven). I asked how much heat was in the mućkalica (9), a “spicy” goulash served in a small metal pot. Despite the waiter confirming it’d be ljuto (spicy), it was in fact very far from that. Still, it’s deliciously warming and rustic. They do a fab Wiener schnitzel (8), too.
Restaurant Mercur – Trg Sunca 7
Beach-goers flock to the beaches near Stari Grad – or Old Town in English – sunning themselves at Ričardova Glava by the old city walls (last photo), or further along at Mogren 1 and Mogren 2 beaches. Along this rocky walk is the famous Dancing Girl statue, a very popular photographic spot that’s become the symbol of Budva.
Mogren 1 Beach
The fortified Stari Grad – one of the oldest settlements on this part of the Adriatic – can be entered through five gates. It’s a small and compact area with a rich and turbulent history that dates back to the 4th century BC, but what we see today is mostly what the Venetians built in the 15th century.
Today it’s a quiet tangle of cobbled lanes and passages, providing you get there before the tour groups hit at 9am. Cascades of flowering vines hang from old stone walls, it’s filled with lovely piazzas, boutiques, art stores, churches and residential homes.
You can climb up to the old citadel at the seaward end of Stari Grad for €2.50. There’s a tiny museum, a library filled with maps and tomes, plus it offers great views.
There’s a generous handful of restaurants, bars and cafés, including Casper – a shaded courtyard bar and café with a great list of wines, cocktails and excellent coffee.
Bus tickets from Tirana to Budva can be purchased from the bus station on Rruga Dritan Hoxha in Tirana. Buy tickets from Office 2 at the back of the building (by the carpark) for €22 per person. The Old Town bus leaves at 8am and arrives in Budva at 1.30pm.