The historic city of Kotor lies at the end of the mountainous Gulf of Kotor in western Montenegro. It is a popular destination for both domestic and international tourists.
Surrounded by towering limestone mountains, Kotor boasts a stunning location with jaw dropping views for the approaching visitor arriving by road or by water. There are lots of things to do in Kotor whether you are visiting Kotor on a day trip or for a longer holiday.
Things to do in Kotor
Kotor Old Town
Kotors’ main attraction is the UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town; a quaint, enclosed town, a maze of narrow streets and pretty squares, loomed over by impossibly thick medieval walls zig zagging up the Lovocen mountains.
Entering the imposing South Gate into Kotors’ Old Town is a step back in time; with its winding alleyways and hidden palaces Kotor is a town made for wandering and exploring.
Kotor is small, compact and easily explored in a few hours. Arrive as early as you can to avoid the large crowds that spill out from the goliath sized crusie ships that dock daily at Kotor harbour.
Kotor was ruled by the Venetians for over 400 years, evident in the ornate and intricate architecture everywhere you look. The attractive buildings, constructed of honey coloured stone or white limestone from the surrounding mountains, glow in the sunshine.
Any walking route will lead you past palaces dating from between the 15th and 18th centuries. The modest palaces can be easily missed – look carefully for small, identifying plaques on the front doors!
One palace, the Grgurin, is now the Maritime Museum. Explore the three floors of this impressive museum with an audio tour describing the history behind the varied exhibits.
Other museums include the Cat Museumdedicated to Kotors most famous residents, which are everywhere! For a small entrance fee, you can discover a comprehensive collection of posters, stamps and postcards, all about cats!
Visit the imposing Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Tryphon built in 1166.
The cathedral houses relics of St Tryphon, the patron saint of Kotor.
Most churches in Kotor require an entrance fee except for the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas which is easily identified by the huge Serbian flag draped across its front exterior. Go inside the church to admire the beautifully painted altar screen or iconostasis. Directly opposite the Church Of St. Nicholas, don’t miss the tiny but perfect St Lukes Church built in 1195.
Stop for a rest on one of Kotors pretty squares and watch the world go by. The Arms Square (Trg od Oružja) is the largest town square in Kotor. The name derives from Venetian times when weapons and ammunition were stored here. Napoleon’s Theatre, the Rector’s Palace and the famous 17th Century Clock Tower are all found in Arms Square.
There are several walking tours on offer in Kotor Old Town which are worth doing if you want an insight into the history and culture of the city. But you do not need a guide or a map to explore Kotor. Revel in getting lost and discovering quieter, hidden corners of this living city.
TIP – Before visiting the Old Town, check an online Kotor Bay cruise ship timetable to find out which cruise ships are due in on which day and at what time. It is impressively accurate on timings!
It is well worth planning your sightseeing around this timetable. I was very underwhelmed on our first visit to Kotor when the compact Old Town was so packed with people that we ended up shuffling along the narrow streets rather than walking.
After checking the cruise ship timetable, we returned at an earlier hour on another day before any ships arrived. Kotor was transformed.
Outside the Old Town
You cannot walk all the way round Kotors’ City Walls as you can in Dubrovnik. Most visitors enter the Old Town by the South Gate as it is the entrance nearest to the harbour but try to visit the quieter 16th Century NorthGate. There is a fantastic view here of the impenetrable city walls bordering the Skurda River against a mountainous backdrop.
Explore the Farmers Market outside the South Gate and enjoy sampling the fruit, meat and cheeses including an unusual grass green cheese.
Enviously admire the impressive yachts and boats in the harbour opposite the market. Follow the harbourfront to reach a small playground and just beyond it, Kotor beach.
At the end of a long hike or day spent exploring the old town, there is no better way to cool off than a swim in the glorious Bay of Kotor.
The pretty Bay of Kotor is not a fjord, despite The Bay of Kotors’ nickname as ‘Europes southern most fjord.’ It is a ‘ria’, a submerged river canyon caused by tectonic movement. The water is cool and clear but gets deep very quickly.
The further away from Old Town you walk, the quieter the swimming spot you will find. Unless gated, you can swim from any pier or dock (we were advised to avoid any docks that had recliners on). It is a unique experience to swim with such a stunning backdrop especially at sunrise or sunset.
No trip to Kotor is complete without a visit to the famous walls of the Old Town. These 3 miles long Venetian fortifications also consist of 1,350 steps rising steeply from Old Town, culminating at Sveti Ivan, the Fortress of St. John, 280 metres above sea level.
The walls are best accessed from the North Gate and the start of the stepped climb is well signposted and easy to find. The well worn steps wind their way steadily upwards by a series of hairpin bends.
Climb slowly and steadily; the walls are an easy climb but the shiny, worn steps can be very slippery in places – flips flops and sandals are not advisable!
Bring plenty of water whatever time of year you visit.
In some sections the low walls adjacent to the steps have crumbled away. There is a steep drop on the other side so watch your step!
After 15 minutes of steady uphill walking from the Old Town, you arrive at the tiny church of Our Lady of Health.
The views from here are lovely but if you can climb higher to San Giovanni Castel/St. Johns Fortress you will be rewarded with stunning, expansive views that incorporate the encircled Old Town, the city suburbs and the beautiful Bay Of Kotor beyond.
It costs 8 Euro to climb the walls (2018) but entrance is free before 8am.
Depart as early as you can; the walls will be quieter and the walk cooler. In the summer months, the steps are in the shade until mid morning making it a much more pleasurable and bearable walk.
Climbing the walls also gives you a different sense of perspective of the imposing mountains that surround Kotor plus a realisation of just how huge the Bay Of Kotor actually is! Even if you cannot get to the top, just a short time climbing up the mountain side will be worth it for the views.
There are no toilets and no facilities on the trek though a few local people trudge up the mountainside each day to sell water and snacks to forgetful, unprepared tourists.
The town beach is on the Dobrota suburb side of Kotor. Exiting Old Town, turn right out of South Gate and walk along the harbour front opposite and you will soon reach Kotor beach.
The beach is a clean, narrow strip of shingle with a couple of basic changing cubicles. There is a cordoned off area for swimming with a gentle incline into the water. It is ideal for children.
There is no natural shade here but you can hire umbrellas. There are also kiosks for hiring kayaks, canoes or stand up paddle boards. The beach is undeniably pretty but we found it very crowded in high season.
Day trips from Kotor
There are many options for a day trip from Kotor; some are accessible by bus or boat such as Perast or Port of Montenegro, whilst others (such as Lovocen National Park) require joining a tour or hiring a car. There are several tour companies within the Old Town organising tours and car hire. Self driving – or travelling as a passenger – will need stamina, patience and nerves of steel with winding, preciptious mountain roads.
Catch a bus to Budva or simply ride the bus along the Bay to find a quieter place to sunbathe and swim.
For a boat trip, visit the harbour to buy your tickets. You can go to Perast, Port of Montenegro, or the Blue Cave and submarine tunnels as well as just a trip around the Bay.
You can book tickets in advance online but due to competition at the harbour, you will be offered significant discounts on trips. By NOT booking online we save around 50 Euros on our trip to Perast.
Boat trips range from ten minutes to all day tours. Some like the Blue Cave, are weather dependent.
Boats vary from small, bumpy speedboats with little or no shade to larger, sedate, fully covered boats. We saw tranquil slow boats chugging alongside music blaring party boats carrying hundreds of tourists.
Make sure you know exactly what you are getting for your money before booking!
Where To Stay In Kotor
Kotor offers many accommodation options ranging from hotels, hostels and privately rented apartments.
Staying in the old town is atmospheric but can be expensive, and depending on location, potentially noisy both day and night. However, it does give you the advantage of experiencing the Old Town when it is less busy.
Outside the wall, adjacent to Old Town there is the popular, busy suburb of Dobrota. Lined with a pleasant promenade and the city’s most accessible and largest beach area, it is an area popular with backpackers.
On the opposite side of the bay to Dobrota is Muo, a half hour walk from the Old Town. Quiet Muo has a local feel and as it is opposite the Old Town rather than adjacent to it, the area has great views of the city of Kotor. There are fantastic views at night when the city walls are illuminated.
Both Muo and Dobrota have many piers and docks from which you can swim.
For budget travellers like us, check out the citys principal hostels especially Old Town Kotor Hostel located inside the city walls. This gorgeous hostel organises tours and offers direct transfers to neighbouring countries.
We stayed in a gorgeous Airbnb family apartment in Muo and after hearing the thumping night time music echoing across the Bay from Dobrota and the Old Town, we were glad we had chosen a quieter location! Our two bedroom appartment was immaculate, well stocked and had incredible views from the balcony.
How to get to Kotor
Kotor is two hours by bus from Podgorica and just half an hour from Budva.
The journey from Dubrovnik to Kotor by bus ranges from 2 to 4 hours depending on which bus you catch. Extra time will be added to your journey by the border crossing, particularly in the summer.
There are a number of tour companies in Dubrovnik offering long day trips to Kotor. Check the timings and itinerary carefully – a delayed border crossing may drastically reduce your time in Kotor.
If you are travelling in a group, it may be cost and time effective to travel in a taxi or private minibus.
As we travelled from Cavtat, travelling to Kotor on public transport meant catching a bus to Dubrovnik first, only to double back on ourselves to pass Cavtat to get to Kotor.
With the help of our Airbnb host in Kotor, we took a taxi from Cavtat to Kotor, saving around four hours on our journey. It also meant we could leave early and cross the border before long queues formed. Our journey took around 1 1/2 hours.
Factoring in the cost of two buses, plus a taxi from Kotor city centre to our accommdation in Muo, the taxi for five of us amounted to not much more than travelling by public transport.
Kotor to Mostar is a complicated mix of buses! The simplest route is to return to Dubrovnik and travel from there to Mostar. However, a couple of hostels in Montenegro offer very reasonable direct transfers from Kotor to Mostar.
We did not want to double back on ourselves to Dubrovnik so we used the minibus shuttle from Old Town Kotor Hostel.
Unfortunately, there was no discount for children but the trip was direct and very scenic. We got to see more of Montenegro and Herzegovina!
The shuttle stops at a supermarket en route, picks up from the Old Town gate in Kotor and drops you in the centre of Mostar. The climb out of the Bay of Kotor was stunning but nail biting! The journey took around five hours.
My top tip for visiting Kotor (if you are not on a cruise ship) is to check the online timetable for cruise ships! In high season two or three huge ships disgorge thousands of extra tourists into tiny Kotor. If you can avoid particularly busy day, your experience and enjoyment of Kotor will be all the better for it!
People in Kotor speak Montenegrin as well as other neighbouring dialects and many people speak English. Signs and menus are multilingual. It is an easy place to visit.
The currency is the Euro.
Driving is on the right. Roads are well maintained and well signposted but often steep, winding and precipitous. Travelling by road in Montenegro is not for the faint hearted! Many drivers use their phones whilst driving around hairpin bends with one hand on the wheel. Try to avoid driving at night!!!
Be careful as a pedestrian. Road pedestrians have to do a lot of side hopping to avoid weaving traffic! If you are going to be out late and walking home in the dark on roads without pavements, use a torch or phone light to alert drivers to your presence.
Taxis are cheap but due to the consistently heavy traffic around the Old Town, some drivers in Kotor prefer to accept longer journeys rather than short hops to the suburbs. Don’t rely on being able to get a taxi when you want one.
Public buses are frequent, cheap and usually very busy. Finding a timetable on a bus stop is not easy! Check online or ask at the tourist information by the South Gate.
Public toilets are fee paying and not cheap! We found it more cost effective to buy a drink in a bar, use their toilet and enjoy their fans and air conditioning! No one refused service due to not ordering food – unlike other neighbouring countries.
There are stray cats everywhere. Generally, they leave you alone and I would advise doing the same to them!
The further away from the Old Town you go, the fewer tourists you will see. Walking a little bit further to find somewhere sunny and quiet to swim and relax will be worth it for a bit of peace and quiet!
Local bakeries are cheap, open early till late and offer filling hot food and sweet treats for every meal.
Check online reviews before booking a boat trip. Choose a company with good reviews for punctuality and reliability. You want to be able to get back again!
The biggest festival in Kotor is Boka night, usually held in the middle of August. Local people decorate boats and crafts with different characters and models to create an aquatic parade. The crafts sail in a colourful flotilla along the Bay, all hoping to win first prize for the best boat. Night time music concerts and outdoor culinary events culminate in a spectacular firework display. Check local websites for the next scheduled date.
Kotor With Kids
See all of the above tips – particularly the ones about toilets and cats!
Do your sightseeing as early in the day as you can. You will avoid crowds and excessive heat. During our August visit, we were out by 8 am, returned to our accommodation for the afternoon, going out again at dusk.
There are several ice cream shops and mobile carts selling cheap, delicious ice cream in a dizzying array of colours and flavours. You won’t be able to resist.
Carry your swimmers with you. On a hot sightseeing day, the ever-present lure of the Bay will make you wish you had brought them. A quick dip to cool off will work wonders for overheated children.
Bring beach shoes if visiting Kotor beach. Remember there is no shade and no toilet facilities.
Hold onto little hands when walking Kotors city walls. The walls are very low or non existant in places.
Montenegro is a beautiful country that we would like to return to and explore in greater depth. I would love to hear your experiences of travelling here and any other places you recommend to visit.