The fortified, coastal town of Kotor, Montenegro is guaranteed to leave quite an impression, whether you’re making a quick pit stop during a Balkans road trip, visiting for the day as part of a cruise, or are lucky enough to have a few days to properly explore. Easily one of the most beautiful spots in the Adriatic, its medieval old town is picture-perfect from all angles thanks to the cluster of orange terracotta rooftops nestled at the bottom of a lush green hill, framed by dramatic cliff sides and the sparkling, smooth-as-glass Bay of Kotor.
Kotor dates back to the Middle Ages, and its preserved centre has earned it a spot on UNESCO’s World Natural and Historical Heritage Site list. Visitors love ambling through the maze of cobblestone streets and hidden passageways that wind past stone churches, restaurants and boutiques, gazing out at the nearby islands from a rooftop perch, tackling the steep trail to get up to the fortress or simply people watching at an outdoor cafe. Sure it can get busy when the cruise crowds show up, and summer traffic on the outskirts is nothing to scoff at, but it’s still remarkably easy to find peace and quiet by simply wandering a block or two off the main streets and suddenly finding yourself in a place that feels like time has stood still.
Here are some incredible things to do in Kotor that are well worth adding to your Montenegro itinerary.
Wander Through Stari Grad (Old Town)
Kick off your Kotor walking tour by passing through the historic gates and heading into Stari Grad, which is the old town. The epicenter of activity around these parts, it’s easy to spend an entire day soaking up the atmosphere found within the walls. The large tour groups can be a force to be reckoned with, particularly during the summer months, but duck into the Gothic-style Drago Palace or the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas for some welcome respite from the action.
One thing you’re sure to notice early on is Kotor’s fascination with cats. At first glance it might seem like there are hundreds of strays, but take a closer look and you’ll realize they’re all well cared for and fed–both by locals and tourists, who leave out bowls of food and water and give out plenty of pets. While it’s not completely clear how the feline fascination started, some say that the cats were brought in centuries ago as a way to keep mice out of the old town, while others say it happened in the early 1900s when sailors returned from overseas with plenty kittens in tow. Regardless, Kotor is the ultimate place for cat lovers, with plenty of stores and even a museum dedicated to the cuddly creatures.
Climb up to the Castle of San Giovanni
It’s only 1,350 steps to the top…easy, right? Not so much, but while the climb up to one of the most popular Kotor attractions isn’t for the faint of heart it’s definitely worth the effort. The imposing Castle of San Giovanni (also known as St. John’s Fortress) is perched 280 metres above Stari Grad, serving up mind-blowing, panoramic views of the stunning bay below. First built during Illyrian times, it has been rebuilt throughout the centuries, withstood multiple earthquakes and scared off many a would-be intruder. Today, visitors are welcome to wander among its grass-covered ruins and marvel at the scene below, making the fortress one of the top things to see in Kotor.
Of course getting to this vantage point is an arduous exercise, as travellers need to scale the steep sets of concrete staircases that hug the stone fortifications all the way up the cliff. However, there are plenty of scenic spots to rest along the way, and once you make it to the top the reward is the best view of Kotor and the opportunity to explore this hilltop site, making it one of the most beautiful places in Montenegro.
Globe Guide tip: The entrance fee to climb up to the Castle of San Giovanni is 3 euros. Be sure to bring plenty of water and wear shoes with a good sole–this hike is no joke!
Tour the Bay of Kotor
If you can manage to tear yourself away from the picturesque old town, another way to visit Kotor is touring around the serene Bay of Kotor. Also known as ‘Boka’, there are a handful of adorable villages along the waterfront easily accessed by car or on a guided excursion, including Perast which looks like something straight off a postcard and is often compared to Venice thanks to its pretty facade.
The tiny town has a main street lined with vibrant bougainvilleas, bountiful fig trees and seaside restaurants, and despite Perast’s small size it’s home to an astounding 16 churches. From there, you can take a quick boat ride out to Our Lady of the Rocks, a church situated on a nearby island built to honour the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that two brothers returning from a long day of fishing saw a light on a small ridge, and when they got closer they saw an icon of Madonna and the Child and brought it back to their church. However, when they awoke in the morning the image had disappeared, and when they went back out to the water they saw the icon was once again sitting on the ridge they had taken it from, completely unscathed. That prompted the villagers to build an artificial island and church on the same spot, and from that point on when a ship would sail out from Perast each sailor was sure to throw a rock at the ridge to ensure safe passage.
Those with extra time to spare will want to book one of the Kotor tours that operates paddleboarding or kayaking adventures in the bay’s azure waters, or arrange a boat ride around Boka Bay making stops at swimming spots like the (sometimes packed) Blue Caves which are famed for the iridescent blue hue reflected throughout, and the island of Mamula, a former Austro Hungarian prison island which is like Montenegro’s version of Alcatraz. Most tours make a lunch stop at the pebbled-covered Dobrec cove, before heading back to Kotor. Click here to book
Click below to book a tour around the Bay of Kotor:
Take a day trip from Kotor
Budva and Sveti Stefan: Budva’s glistening bay is lined with 17 golden, sandy beaches, some of which are just steps away from the quaint old town. Explore the enchanting walled city which is just a half hour drive from Kotor, then head another 15 minutes down the road for a great view of Sveti Stefan. In this former fishing village, a cluster of stone villas dating back to the 15th century are framed by the shores of the Adriatic. Only accessed by a narrow causeway, it’s home to the exclusive, luxurious Aman Sveti Stefan resort on a rose-hued beach frequented by celebrities, making this one of the most photographed Montenegro destinations. Click here to book
Durmitor, Tara & Ostrog Monastery: Need a nature fix? Then head to Durmitor which is known for its rocky peaks, the glacial Black Lake, dense pine forests, the Ostrog Monastery and the Tara River. Those without a fear of heights will want to walk across the 172 metre high Đurđevića Tara Bridge, which stretches 365 metres above the expansive canyon floor. For an adrenaline rush, book a rafting trip down the Tara River, or take a ride down Montenegro’s longest zip line. Click here to book
Lovcen National Park: The dramatic scenery found in this national park is absolutely breathtaking, and chances are you’ll have the vast landscape found just one hour from Kotor all to yourself. Lovcen is one of the best places to visit in Montenegro for hikers, who can scale the “Black Mountain” or explore the 6,000 acre park which is home to 20 different habitats. Most day tours from Kotor or Budva include a stop in Njegusi village, where 461 steps lead up to a mausoleum complete with an ornate ceiling decorated with more than 200-thousand gilded tiles. Click here to book
Tirana, Albania: Earn another passport stamp by spending a day in the colourful Albanian capital, which is easily walkable thanks to its compact size. Take the gondola 800 metres up the mountainside to get the lay of the land, then head back down to see the soviet-era buildings like the Clock Tower and Et’hem Bey Mosque in Skanderbeg Square. Click here to book
Dubrovnik, Croatia: If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll want to make a trip over to the walled city of Dubrovnik where much of the popular series was filmed. With a pretty perch on the Dalmatian Coast, laneways that wind through the old town and ridiculously scenic viewpoints at seemingly every turn, it’s no wonder the historic city is Croatia’s most-visited spot. It only takes two hours to drive from Kotor to Dubrovnik, and with a full day you’ll have time to wander the length of the walls, go sea kayaking, head out to lush Lokrum island, and catch a sunset from the top of the Dubrovnik cable car route. Click here to book
How to get to Kotor:
Most visitors end up in Kotor during a one-day stop on a cruise itinerary, on a road trip through the Balkans, or make it a base for holidays in Montenegro. The highways are easy to navigate for those renting a car (provided you don’t mind narrow, winding roads), and travellers arriving by air would typically fly into either Dubrovnik or Podgorica airport and drive to Kotor from there.
Where to stay in Kotor:
Hotel Astoria: This four-star boutique hotel is memorable thanks to its location right inside the 13th century Buca Palace next to the old town, which is guaranteed to make you feel like royalty. The Astoria boasts gorgeous, custom-designed interiors, spacious suites, fabulous food, and gorgeous views over the Kotor Bay. Click here to book
Hotel Vardar: Perfectly nestled within the medieval walls of the old town which makes it a great base for exploring, Hotel Vardar is quintessentially Montenegro. Rooms are elegantly furnished, and amenities include an on-site fitness centre and complimentary breakfast. Be sure to grab a drink at the outdoor seating area, which overlooks the main square. Click here to book
Apartments Ivardic: Ivardic is run by a sweet couple who live on site, and is a great option for those who want to enjoy Kotor but stay away from the crowds. Located just a short drive from the old town, it’s perched in a serene spot along the waterfront and has a large outdoor patio which is perfect for watching the sunset. While rooms are slightly dated, they’re very large and some include full kitchens for self-catering. Click here to book
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