Mala Plaža in summer

Ulcinj is a seaside town on the south coast of Montenegro, near the border with Albania. While it’s most famous in Montenegro for the 12km long stretch of sand that is Velika Plaža, I like it for the diversity of beaches, the chaotic edge, and the seafood. 

Ulcinj itself is a bit rough around the edges, and feels a bit like a Thai beach town transplanted to the Adriatic (with the same dodgy water supply and helmet-less blokes on scooters). Surprisingly, as it’s a summer destination for people from the Balkans, it’s also an easy visit for the English-speaking visitor. There’s a high population of Albanians working in bars and restaurants and they more commonly speak English than Montenegrin.

Beaches in Ulcinj

The best known beaches in Ulcinj are Mala Plaža (Small Beach) and Velika Plaza (Big Beach). Mala Plaža has the advantage of being in the middle of the town and has a rather beautiful backdrop of rocky cliffs and the old town, but is better viewed from upstairs in the cafes across the road with a cold drink, as it is both crowded and pretty dirty.

Velika Plaža

Velika Plaža stretches almost from Ulcinj to the river that marks the border with Albania. It offers a more familiar beach experience to an Australian like me, with empty stretches of sand in between the dozens of beach clubs with their stands of ležaljke (beach chairs) and sunshades. That said, I’m not a huge fan: yes, it has sand but the sand is oddly sticky, and, being dark, absorbs a ridiculous amount of heat.

The big beach is best accessed with a car. Public transport from the center of Ulcinj to the beach does exist but is rather leisurely, provided by ancient mini-vans that cost an euro each way but don’t leave until they are full.  You can find one on the main road near the green market, there’s usually a couple waiting for passengers.

Rock beach near Ulcinj

I prefer the rocky cliff beaches to the south of Ulcinj. A steep road climbs up from Mala Plaža and runs along the cliff for a kilometre or two, and is lined by restaurants, beach clubs and cafes. There are no sandy or pebbly beaches here, just ladders from rocks into the water, but the views while swimming are beautiful. There are a few treed spots where you can drop a towel for free and lie in the shade for the day, strolling down to the ladder to the water for a swim when you get hot, and to the nearest cafe for lunch and coffees.

Beach advertising may not be entirely accurate

Also in this stretch is the Ladies Beach, a clothing-optional beach only for women (fenced off with camouflage netting to foil any onlookers). The cliffs to the water are rocky and steep, but a boardwalk has been built on one side with with ležaljke and sunshades. It’s also known for the sulphur pool, where you can coat yourself in mineral-rich mud to improve your skin. 

Ulcinj’s Old Town

Ulcinj also has an old town, smaller but also far less crowded than Kotor’s (and with an interesting pirate and smuggler history). The old town is full of seafood restaurants and has some really nice places right on the walls with spectacular views over the water.

Sunset from the old town

Around sunset I like the Sunset Beach Bar if you want to be right on the water (it’s also a bar you can swim from during the day). But my favourite is Antigone for a drink and the best view in Ulcinj.

Once the sunset is done, head to Dulcinea on the other side of the old town for seafood and an excellent night view of Ulcinj from above. 

Where to Stay in Ulcinj

Beach only accessible by boat

I like staying at Pirate Hostel, which is the friendliest hostel I’ve ever been to in decades of travel. It’s walking distance from the bus station, which also makes it a fair distance from the town beaches, but the hostel organises groups for rides to beaches and other local sights. They also have a fantastic daily boat trip to an underwater cave and a tiny but beautiful private beach.

Beyond Ulcinj, head further south to Ada Bojana. There’s a nude resort on the island if that’s your thing… and if not, there’s plenty more seafood.