What are the top things to do in Kotor, Montenegro? This beautiful city has so much to offer visitors. Come for a day on a cruise ship, stopover on a road trip tour of the Balkans or come and stay for a while and really explore. Undoubtedly, Kotor’s a jewel in the Balkan crown which is well worth exploring.
Firstly, some history and a bit of contextual information. Kotor is not the capital of Montenegro but it is a major destination. You’ll find Montenegro just south of Croatia and although it’s not part of the EU, it’s still very accessible and easy to visit. The city sits on the southern side of Kotor Bay, one of the most stunningly beautiful stretches of coastline you’ll see anywhere.
Kotor was originally called Acruvium when it was founded by the Romans. During its long history, it’s been part of the Byzantine Empire, Venetian, part of Serbia and Hungary. It’s also been occupied by France and Austria. More recently, it was part of Yugoslavia before becoming independent. So a complex and often troubled past.
It’s no wonder then that the city was heavily fortified. It still has extensive remaining fortifications. Which is great news for us tourists?
Things to do in Kotor, Montenegro
Bay of Kotor
To begin with, let’s talk about the bay. Known locally as “Boka” which means simply “The Bay”, the Bay of Kotor is quite simply stunning. You’ll just keep gazing at it in admiration at every opportunity. Take a drive along its coastline but make sure you stop to take plenty of photos. Better still, sign up for one of the local boat tours and spend an hour or two gliding across the bay. As a result, you’ll get a completely different perspective and a close up look at this superb natural environment.
Sooner or later, you’ll arrive in the Old Town. The old town of Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built over a period of several centuries, around the 12th to 14th centuries, in fact, this is a city for wandering and exploring. It’s a surprisingly well preserved Medieval city and it’s well worth taking a guided tour if you want to find out all about the many buildings and their histories. Either way, I like to wander by myself when I first arrive in a city. Firstly, I stroll quietly around absorbing the atmosphere and getting my bearings. Then, I like to pop into a museum here or a shop there. Indeed, the Old Town’s a place where every time you turn a corner you’ll find something new to absorb you. Take your time because it’s not a place to be hurried through.
San Giovanni Fortress
So, you’re looking for the best viewpoint to view Kotor Bay and the Old Town from on high. Well, I hope you’re feeling fit. Like the Old Town, the fortifications have their own UNESCO heritage listing.
A popular thing to do is to make the climb up to San Giovanni Fortress (also known as St John Fortress or castle). There are over 1,000 steps to the top but it’s worth every single one of them. It’s not all about getting to the top though, there are interesting things to see along the way and you’ll be walking along the original walls. Literally, walking on history.
Tips for walking to the fortress
Unless you’re super fit then you’re going to find the climb to the top very tiring. Unfortunately, there is no alternative. Here are a few tips to make it bearable.
- Go early in the morning when it’s cooler especially in the summer months.
- Take plenty of water with you. I know, water’s heavy! But trust me, you’re going to need it. You can buy water along the way but take a reasonable amount just in case.
- Wear comfortable shoes that are suitable for walking over rough, uneven ground.
- Take it at your own pace. It’s quite narrow in places so if you’re climbing more slowly just move aside when you can to let faster walkers pass.
- Stop for a rest en route. Take photos and look at some of the interesting places on your way up. It’s not a race.
- Expect it to take over an hour to reach the top depending on how quickly you walk.
- If you climb later in the day take a torch as there is no lighting on the way down.
- When you finally make it to the top, give yourself a huge pat on the back. You’ll be rewarded with some awesome photos and also a real sense of satisfaction.
Our Lady of the Rocks
Look out into the bay and you’ll see two islets. The largest of these is Our lady of the rocks. My first thought was how did it get there? In fact, it’s man-made although it was created many years ago.
How to get there
You can reach the island by boat. Either take a tour from the mainland or hire a local boat to take you across. If you have a car, you can also take a boat from nearby Perast. Perast is pedestrian only so if you take your car park in one of the car parks outside the town. It’s a good opportunity to explore this lovely place as well. A boat ride across to the island costs about 5 Euros per person. They leave you there and then come back for you. You’ll probably need around 45 minutes if you do the museum and church tour.
If you don’t have transport you can take a boat tour from Kotor City Park which will allow time on the island. These boat tours are a great way to get out onto the bay.
The island is actually bigger than it looks when you get over there. You can even buy a souvenir or ice-cream in the little shop. The main attraction is the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks and there is also a museum. The entrance fee includes a guided tour of the church and entry to the museum. The tour takes about 30 minutes.
Remember that although Kotor is very relaxed in terms of dress requirements, this is a Catholic church. You’ll be expected to cover up wherever you are on the small island so no swimsuits or bikinis. Nothing fancy, a t-shirt and shorts will do.
During your exploration of the Old Town, you’ll find the 17th-century clock tower opposite the main gate. Built in a combination of Baroque and Gothic styles it’s a focal point of the lower town area. You’ll see two clock faces on the tower and a small stone pyramid stands in front of it. Apparently, local criminals were tied to the pyramid as a mark of shame.
If you’re interested in maritime history then head for this interesting little museum. The Maritime Museum is open from 8 am to 11 pm in summer so it’s a good option if you want to get out of the sun for a few hours whilst learning more of Kotor’s fascinating history. Tickets, which include an audio tour headset, are a reasonable 4 Euros and children pay just 1 Euro. Inside you’ll find interesting maps and exhibits, model ships, weapons and paintings. If it’s raining then this makes a great wet day activity.
Where to next?
We visited Kotor during our driving tour of the Balkans. Find out all about the rest of our trip by clicking on some of the links below.