Nestled up against the brilliant blue Adriatic Sea, Montenegro is one of the most picturesque countries on Europe’s Balkan Peninsula. Whether your visit is part of a day trip during a weekend excursion from Dubrovnik, a Mediterranean cruise with Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., or a week exploring the entire country, there are a number of exciting things to do in Kotor Montenegro.
Kotor at a Glance
Also known as “the new Dubrovnik,” Kotor is a fortified coastal town beneath the limestone cliffs of Mt. Lovćen. The medieval UNESCO’s World Heritage Site old town is a labyrinth of winding streets and charming public piazzas, It’s also home to the Maritime Museum, which explores local seafaring history. Kotor is located on the Bay of Kotor which has been called the southern-most fjord in Europe, but in reality, it is a submerged river canyon.
- Area: 129.3 mi²
- Currency: Euro
- Language: Montenegrin
- Population: 13,510
History of Montenegro
Kotor was first mentioned in 168 BC. The Goths, Arabs, Roman Empire, Byzantium, the Goths, Serbs, Napoleon, Austro-Hungarian Empire and even the grandson of Genghis Khan invaded this city.
The city was part of the Venetian Republic from 1420 to 179, then later besieged by the Ottomans in 1538 and 1657.
Four centuries of Venetian domination contributed to the city’s traditional Venetian architecture, which helped to make Kotor a UNESCO world heritage site.
Between 1941 and 1943, Italy annexed the area of Kotor which became one of three provinces of the Italian Governorate of Dalmatia.
Having gained independence just 13 years ago in 2006 after the Yugoslavian War, Montenegro is one of the youngest countries in Europe. It’s is part of the UN, but not part of the European Union.
When to Visit Kotor
Kary and I visited Kotor in August. It was hot, which I didn’t mind, and very crowded, which was not optimal. If you don’t like crowds or heat, I would suggest visiting during the shoulder seasons, May-June or September-October which have perfect sunny Mediterranean weather, and while there will still be tourists, they won’t be elbow-to-elbow. The only thing to be aware of is that not all shops and restaurants will be open outside of the high season.
I want to state here that I unexpectedly LOVED Kotor! I consider Dubrovnik to be my favorite European city, and Kotor displays many of the same charming characteristics. Once virtually unknown to Americans, since being named by Lonely Planet in 2016 as one of the best places to travel, Kotor’s tourism has flourished while still maintaining its rustic allure.
Here are my top 10 things to do in Kotor Montenegro:
1 Bay of Kotor
Kotor is a popular port for Mediterranean cruises, so if you’re arriving by ship, you’ll enter the fortified old town through the Sea Gate. If you explore the labyrinth of streets uphill, you’ll get magnificent views of the butterfly-shaped Bay of Kotor (aka Boka). Be aware, though, if you need to get back to a cruise ship that it’s easy to get disoriented and lost in the medieval town so leave yourself plenty of time to make the cruise departure.
Taking a small boat tour around the Bay of Kotor is one of the most popular activities. You can visit some of the beautiful beaches along the coast, the Blue Cave, an old secret naval base, Mamula Island, Our Lady of the Rocks Island and Perast.
2 Old Town
Built between the 12th and 14th centuries, the pedestrian-only old town has an aesthetically pleasing mix of Venetian, Austrian and Baroque architecture. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most beautiful towns, not just in Montenegro, but in the Balkans. This medieval settlement of narrow cobblestone alleys is considered one of the best-preserved towns in the Mediterranean and is like stepping into a past filled with beautiful churches and fortresses. Old Kotor was built like a maze for protective purposes and it is very easy to get lost here.
3 City Walls
Kotor’s old town is surrounded by thick 1000-year-old Venetian fortress walls that run around three miles long. As you enter through the Sea Gate of Kotor Old Town there are stairs to the left that lead up to the walls. While they aren’t as impressive as Dubrovnik’s ancient walls, they’re still well worth exploring Walking along the 66-foot-high walls around the perimeter of the old town offers some incredible views of the mountains behind Kotor.
4 Piazza of the Arms
We loved just strolling around the old town and stopping in the main square, the marbled Piazza of the Arms. Staked by the recognizable landmark, the old stone clock tower, the square is framed by shops, restaurants, and cafes where you can take a break and people-watch if that’s your thing. At night, most of the restaurants have live music.
5 St. John’s Fortress
A climb up Kotor’s craggy cliff to reach St. John’s Fortress (aka Castle of San Giovanni) is a must-do if you are in good physical shape. There are some 1350 steps (entrance fee of €8,) to get to the top which stands 850 feet above the town, but once there you will be rewarded with one of the most spectacular panoramic fjords in Europe.
There’s also an alternative (free) route that ambles along an old road, but it takes more time. If you are really pressed for time and don’t have time to go to the top, you can also just climb the stairs to the first viewing platform which still offers some great views.
Note: sections of the path and steps are uneven and slippery when wet, so proper footwear is recommended. Flip flops can be hazardous, but you can still get cute-but-sturdy sandals.
6 Almara Beach Club
If you’re looking to include a bit of beach time during your visit to Kotor, Almara Beach Club is just outside of the old town walls. Lounge chairs and umbrellas look out onto the brilliant blue and calm Adriatic Sea.
7 City Market
For a nice and colorful selection of fresh produce, meats, delicious local goat cheese, and fresh-baked bread, visit the city market in front of the fortified walls. Farmers and other vendors from all over the country sell their homemade goods here.
One of our favorite things to do in Kotor Montenegro was a day trip was a visit to the tiny fishing village of Perast. The city flourished during the 18th century when it had four shipyards and a fleet of around one hundred ships.
All the activity in Perast is located along the main street, flanked with pristine white stone Baroque buildings, a clock tower, and the beautiful 15th-century Orthodox cathedral.
We meandered through the narrow cobblestone alleys with towering medieval-aged buildings on each side. Perast is much smaller and calmer than Kotor, and you can get a sense of local life here.
During our exploration, we found a set of narrow stairs that led to a tiny platform with a spectacular view overlooking the red tile roofs of Perast and the blue Adriatic beyond.
Perast certainly earns my vote as the most “Instagrammable” place in Montenegro! We could not stop taking photos as we strolled along the promenade.
Perast can be reached via an hour-long picturesque boat ride from Kotor or by car.
9 Our Lady of the Rocks
Our Lady of the Rocks is an artificial island in the Bay of Kotor, just across from Perast. According to legend, sailors from the nearby town of Perast found an icon of the Madonna and Child on the rock in the sea. They made an oath and would lay a rock in the same spot after every successful voyage. After centuries, the islet gradually emerged from the sea.
Our Lady of the Rocks is home to a monastery and the Gospa and Skrpela church which contains 68 paintings by Trippo Kokolja, a famous 17th-century artist.
Just a short 30-minute drive from Kotor, the coastal city of Budva is an easy day trip. It’s one of the last Venetian outposts to be established which makes it one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic coast. Budva has a more relaxed vibe than Kotor, with more locals than tourists. There are lots of things to do in Budva, including exploring the old town (Stari Most), climb ingthe fortress walls, strolling along the seaside promenade, chilling out on the beaches, or partaking in the active nightlife.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.