Want a tip for a hidden gem? Kotor Montenegro, a picture-perfect little medieval walled town, is one of the most beautiful less-known travel destinations in Europe. The town of Kotor sits at the head of the stunningly picturesque Bay of Kotor. We rank is not only one of the loveliest places for holidays in the Balkan but one of the high points of our seven-month tour of South-Eastern Europe.
Despite being a tiny place, Kotor has a harbour large enough to take a cruise ship. Its proximity to the Croatian border also makes this town ideal for a day trip from Dubrovnik (Croatia). We spent one day in the old town of Kotor and loved it so much we diverted our itinerary to come back for more a couple of weeks later, and we weren’t disappointed. However, we found plenty of things to do in Kotor offseason, and we almost had the place to ourselves.
Historical Context of Kotor
The history of Kotor goes way back to Roman times, with its earliest mention dating back to 168 BC. Since the Middle Ages, the town has been fortified and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Old Town Kotor has been occupied by Serbians, Illyrians, Hungarians, Austrians, Venetians, and the French. The main attraction in Kotor is its old town, of narrow cobblestone streets, stone churches, and several Venetian palaces. It has lovely open-air bars, cafes, and great art shops with really delightful genuine local art in media ranging from fabrics through paintings to pottery and metalwork. There is plenty to do and lots of things to see.
The most striking feature of the old town is its city walls. Kotor sits on the waterfront at the bottom of vertiginous crags, which would have made it prey to attack from above – so the walls climb up the mountains on both sides of the city. This arrangement not only makes for a fascinating view of the town from the waterside but also makes for a wonderful trek for anyone brave enough to try the ascent.
Montenegro is one of the youngest countries in the world, having gained its independence from Serbia in 2006. Over the centuries, Kotor has been hit by devastating earthquakes in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries and most recently in 1979. However, plenty remains in very good shape to be explored and enjoyed today.
The Best time to visit Kotor
Just like many Montenegro destinations, Kotor is usually fairly crowded in the summer, with hot weather that may not be ideal for sightseeing. We visited Kotor in spring, and it was a great time to explore the town. So, we also recommend you schedule your visit around this period – late spring to early summer or early autumn are ideal. The weather was great when we visited in spring; though there were showers, they didn’t spoil the beauty of the place.
Top Things to Do in Kotor
Hike up to the San Giovanni Fortress
The views of Kotor town and the Bay are magnificent from Giovanni Fortress, which commands the top of the mountain behind the old town. Also, the fortress itself is fascinating.
This day trip will need a little bit of preparation. So be sure to pack your sunscreen, picnic, and lots of drinking water. The journey itself shouldn’t take long, but trust me, every time you stop for breath on the climb, you will take out your camera for another breathtaking photo since almost everything along the way is picture-perfect. There is a pretty little chapel halfway up the hill, which is a favourite selfie spot. Hiking to Giovanni Fortress can be difficult in the summer due to the hot weather.
Explore the Old Town
If you were to do just one thing in Kotor, let that thing be getting lost in the Old Town. Well, it is quite small in size, so it is not possible to get completely lost, but with so much to see in the narrow winding streets, you cannot rule out losing track of where you are.
Kotor’s Old Town is a fascinating place to just wander around, as it seems as if every corner you turn reveals even more fascinations, all liberally sprinkled with eateries and bars.
Play with Cats and Visit the Cat Museum
The Balkan countries are known for some of the quirkiest museums you will ever come across. Kotor itself seems to be filled with affectionate felines. And, as you might imagine, its Cat Museum is appropriately filled with numerous cat-inspired artworks to enjoy. And at a price of just one Euro, the Cat Museum should be on your list.
Check the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon
The Cathedral is one of two remaining Roman Catholic churches in Montenegro – otherwise an Orthodox Christian area. It was constructed in honor of the city’s patron, Saint Tryphon.
This ancient church features a beautiful Romanesque interior and a pair of Baroque bell towers built after the 1667 earthquake. Although damaged by another earthquake in 1979, they were repaired in 2016.
Visit the Church of Saint Nicholas
The Serbian Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas was built in the seventeenth century, and you can find it in the northwestern corner of Kotor Old Town.
The church’s west front is topped with a pair of bell towers with golden crosses and black domes and a large Serbian flag. The walls are adorned with huge frescoes, and the entire church exudes a wonderful mystical atmosphere.
Kotor Farmers’ Market
Kotor Farmers’ Market takes place just outside the city walls. It is sheltered under a structure connected to the outside face of the city walls on the right side from the main entrance gate. If it’s raining when you visit Kotor Old Town, you could miss it, as stalls are not outside, but don’t walk past, make sure to spend some time there.
Like all local farmers’ markets, it is brimming with colourful fresh fruits and vegetables. But look a little deeper, and you will find here local wine (pomegranate, blackberry, raspberry). If you fancy stronger liquor, you can buy rakija or pomegranate beer. All of this goes well with olives, fish, prosciutto, and varieties of cured meats or a selection of cheeses. We bought dried figs threaded on a ring of string, which the kids loved to snack on for days afterwards.
Kotor Maritime Museum
The Maritime Museum in Kotor has a great collection of more than maritime stuff. You can learn here about Kotor’s fascinating history. And it always delights me to rediscover how my kids never seem to tire of discovering things like different old coins and odds and ends of past ages.
Making a section of the Old Town wall, nestled between Saint Nicholas and Saint Claire Church, Kotor Bazaar is packed with a wide collection of souvenirs. The sixteenth century Dominican Monastery ruins are located at the back of the bazaar and are also well worth checking out.
As well as cafes and bars, the city of Kotor are lined with countless tourist-oriented fine restaurants featuring shaded outdoor seating in its small lanes and many squares. The menu features Montenegrin and Italian, but mainly seafood. All food is affordable by European standards.
On warm summer evenings, Kotor’s restaurants create a warm romantic atmosphere against the backdrop of the old town and the mountain behind. Although the high season is crowded, most restaurants stay open all through the winter offseason, too and may keep their outdoor seating areas available for sunny days and clear evenings.
If you visit Kotor with kids, find a gelato stall and enjoy treats at a much lower price than you would pay in Dubrovnik.
The main beach in Kotor is about five minutes walk north of the Old Town after the Port of Kotor and Park Slobode.
The beach is beautiful and clean. Pebbles cover it, and you can choose between premium sun loungers or play on the free section. Swimming is lovely in the Bay’s clear waters, and barriers protect swimming areas from any boats and ships that are making for the harbour.
Booka Boka Cruise – Kotor Bay Cruise
One of the most memorable things to do in Kotor is a boat tour on Boka bay of Kotor. Boka is the local word for Bay, but the term Boka is so common that you find people referring to it as the Boka Bay, which I suppose means Bay-Bay! Either way, it is beautiful from every angle, whether from the shore or the water.
Cruising the Bay of Kotor is one of the best things to do in Montenegro. The cruise can take you to Our Lady of the Rocks and Perast, or Blue Cave, where you can enjoy swimming.
Swim in the Blue Cave
Especially good for kids are the half-submarine cruises with underwater windows. The waters are beautifully clear, and plenty of colourful sea life is there. We lost count of starfish.
Day trips out of Kotor Montenegro
Perast is a small town on the Bay of Kotor. It approximately takes 20 minutes by car from Kotor. There are three things to see in Perast: The Our Lady of the Rocks Church, the Town Museum, and the Saint Nicholas Monastery.
Visit Lady of the Rocks
Our Lady of the Rocks is the only island on the Adriatic Sea that is man-made.
According to legend, two brothers from Perast found an icon of the Virgin with Christ on a sea cliff and took it home. The next morning, it was gone – but reappeared at the same place.
The brothers vowed to build a church dedicated to this icon, and people from Perast started throwing rocks around the cliff until an island was made.
The church was built on the island and consecrated in 1630. It is now a popular pilgrimage site
The island is now home to a Baroque basilica, which you can visit. The church is significant because of numerous artifacts, including 68 paintings by Tripo Kokolja and Jacinta Kunic’s embroidered tapestry of the Holy Virgin.
Dubrovnik is a beautiful city that is well worth visiting. It is located about an hour and a half away from Kotor, making it the perfect day trip destination. There are plenty of things to see and do in Dubrovnik – Unesco World Heritage Site old town, City Walls, Rector’s Palace, Dominican Monastery, Franciscan Monastery, and much more!
Lake Skadar National Park
Lake Skadar National Park is a beautiful park that is home to a variety of wildlife. It is located about an hour and a half away from Kotor, making it the perfect day trip destination. There are plenty of things to see and do in Lake Skadar National Park – bird watching, hiking, fishing, and much more!