Sometimes on your travels you stumple upon hidden gems, almost entirely by accident. That was the case when we paid a visit to Nikšić (Nik-shik), for no other reason then our bus to Kotor stopped there. Although its charms weren’t immediately apparent, we were soon pretty enamoured by Montenegro’s second largest town. Here’s why
Tom and I arrived late into Nikšić, after a four hour bus ride from Sarajevo punctuated with a brief border stop. Honestly, we’d told ourselves Nikšić was a “roll of the dice” – a stop on our way through to Kotor, that might turn out to be cool – or truly awful.
First impressions were not good. We stepped off the bus after a hair-raising ride, featuring a bus driver who considered himself quite the Formula One superstar, with a tiny road on the side of the mountain his racetrack. Sadly, he did not have the skills of a racing diver and misstep after misstep had my life flashing before my eyes. Honestly, just arriving at the station alive came as a surprise to me.
A questionable-looking nightclub appeared on our left as we left the bus station (who goes to a nightclub in a bus station?). We walked a bit further, and Tom was pretty sure he saw a couple of kids stealing a bike (note: said kids are innocent until proven guilty. They may have been cleaning it.)
We finally arrived, bags in tow out the front of our apartment. It had seen better days. The inside, I must say, could probably have been described a ‘ghoulish’. Even our host chuckled and told us it looked a bit scary on the outside.
It was awhile before our host arrived to let us into his apartment, and I must admit my nerves were wearing thin when I saw him approach in the distance. Nonetheless, his big grin and warm handshake made me realise I was being rather unreasonable, and we got chatting.
“Normally I’d tell you about Nikšić,” he said, looking somewhat crestfallen. “But since you’re here only one night…” he trailed off.
Desperate to mend the heart I’d inadvertently broken, I interrupted. “No, no, we’d love to hear about Nikšić! We have tomorrow, maybe we can see some things?”
The mood seemed to improve immediately, and our host took out a folder he’d carefully prepared on the highlights of Nikšić. The mention of a Roman Fort intrigued me. Then he said some magic words: “Nikšić is a town of beer and rock ‘n’ roll.”
With that, my mind was made up. Romans, rock ‘n’ roll and beer? Ah, this was deserving of more than one night.
He left, and I checked my plan with my husband Tom. He readily agreed and we emailed our host asking if we could stay an extra night.
“Good choice!” He declared triumphantly by return email. “Of course you can. Just leave the extra money on the desk and the keys under the doormat when you leave.”
With that, our time in Nikšić began. And what a time it would turn out to be. In fact, I’ve become quite the Nikšić evangelist – trying to convert all those I meet in Montenegro to swing by the city. Here’s why you too should visit Nikšić.
You may just be the only tourists there
I’ve written about how I didn’t really enjoy Kotor due to the overwhelming crowds. The polar opposite of this is Nikšić.
Now, to be fair, a big reason for this is because Nikšić lacks the in-your-face charm of Kotor. There’s no walled Old Town, and it’s not on the sea. Nikšić is not Kotor’s little brother; it’s not even a member of the same family. If you’re looking for a picturesque Old Town, unfortunately Nikšić is not it.
It does, however, have its own attractions (more on that soon). However, absolutely no-one seems to know about them. The Roman fort that first piqued my interest was totally visitor-less when we arrived, and we got to watch the sun set all on our lonesome.
If you want to see a regular Montenegrin town that’s for locals, not for tourists – visit Nikšić. It has a great vibe, and everyone is just going about their regular day.
Plus, since tourists are quite the oddity in the town (and my Aussie accent is unmistakably foreign), everyone was super nice to us and interested to chat. It’s a far cry from the tourist havens of Split or Kotor, and I loved it.
There’s plenty to do
Lonely Planet says that Nikšić lacks notable attractions. This is perhaps true if you compare it to somewhere like Split or Zadar – but I think you’re a pretty dull person if you can’t find anything to do in Nikšić. At least for a day or two.
My favourite part of the city was the Roman fortress which is just a five to ten minute walk from the central square. It’s an amazing piece of history that would be crawling with visitors, were it in a more well-known spot.
There are also two man-made lakes near Nikšić, as well as the world-famous Ostrog Monastery that is one of Montenegro’s most well-known attractions. Plus, the city itself has a few interesting hotspots including a cathedral and a Medieval cemetery.
Sure, Nikšić is not a place where you’ll find activities to fill days and days – but that’s kind of why I loved it. There’s enough to see, while also offering you the chance to just slow down and enjoy life like a local.
If there was one misstep, it was making Nikšić our first stop in Montenegro. Our price radar became irretrievably broken.
Nikšić is a student town that receives almost no tourists – as a result, prices are pretty damn fabulous. A coffee will give you change from 1 euro, while a Nikšićko beer (unmissable) was just 1.50 – for a large and strong one.
Compared to tourist hotspots like Kotor, things are way more affordable in Nikšić. That makes the next reason to visit Nikšić even better.
It has fabulous beer and nightlife
When our host told us that Nikšić is about beer and rock and roll, he wasn’t wrong – especially on the beer front. Montenegro’s most popular beer, Nikšićko, is produced in the town and you’ll find it on every menu.
It’s delicious – although, be warned, it’s on the strong side. Like the proud Aussie I am, I chose the combination of “strong” and “large” for my first Nikšićko. Half an hour later, I was kind of day drunk. An hour and a half later, I was napping.
As a student town, Nikšić has great nightlife, especially at places like the Propaganda Bar. There’s the amazing beer, as well as great cocktails and good Montenegrin wine as well. If you want to sink a couple of cheap drinks, there are way worse places to do it than Nikšić.
It’s central for everywhere else in Montenegro
We arrived in Nikšić as it was a convenient stopover between Sarajevo and Kotor (which I didn’t really like in the end). As Montenegro’s second largest city, it has great transport links with other places all over the country and abroad.
Located roughly in the northern part of central Montenegro, pretty much everything is a couple of hours away. You could go north to Zabljak for Tara Mountains, Kotor for the coast or even south towards the lake. In that way, it’s an ideal base for exploring more of Montenegro and a good stopover point.
There are great day trips from Nikšić
On a related note, Nikšić offers several great day trips. I liked the city itself, but if you want to see more then you can easily head out to see other parts of the country. Perhaps most famously, the Ostrog Monastery is located just 15 kilometres from Nikšić, while the lakes are also close by.
As Nikšić doesn’t have the massive tourism of Kotor, prices for the day trips are super reasonable. A trip to Ostrog Monastery was just 15 euro – a total bargain!
It just has a good vibe
“It’s just the vibe!”
Aaand all the Australians are full of nostalgia; everyone else is confused. (It’s a famous quote from the Aussie classic, The Castle.)
When it comes down to it, some places just have a good feeling. Maybe it’s the students, maybe it was the beer – or maybe it was just dumb luck. Or perhaps my joy at having survived the drive from Sarajevo. But whatever it was, I just loved the atmosphere of Nikšić.
There’s a good variety of things to eat and drink, without being overwhelming. People are friendly, enjoying themselves sat out on tables lining the streets. The city is modern, if not glitzy, with a few historic highlights.
All in all, there was just something I loved about Nikšić, and it was one of my highlights of visiting Montenegro.