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  • Writer's pictureDanae Bianco

Ultimate guide to Kotor, Montenegro: what to do, where to stay, when to go, and much more

Updated: Mar 7

Imagine walking through medieval cobblestone streets in a village surrounded by mountains reminiscent of a fairy tale fjord, sailing the Adriatic Sea, exploring turquoise water caves and islands steeped in legends of miracles and hauntings, climbing a lookout in a 9th-century fortress, stoping here and there to enjoy excellent restaurants, cafes, and bars, all of this in the company of cute cats, many cats.


Does that sound funny to you?  Then come with me to discover Kotor, a European gem still waiting to be discovered by many.


In our 19-day road trip through the Balkans, we spent 3 days in Kotor, one of the most enjoyable stops of the entire journey.


Vista de uma baia, no meio de montanhas majestosas, com a vila de Perast a esquerda e a ilha Sveti Djordje a direita, Baia de Kotor, Montenegro
Perast e ilha Sveti Djordje

Where is Kotor and how to get there?


Kotor is situated on the shores of the homonymous Bay of Kotor, in Montenegro, one of the countries resulting from the dismantling of the former Yugoslavia. After the dissolution of this country in 1991-1992, Kotor became part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia and Montenegro.


It wasn't until 2006 that Montenegro gained its independence, becoming one of the youngest countries on the planet - my daughters were impressed to learn that the country is practically their age 😍.


Kotor is located about 90 km from the capital of the country, Podgorica, the same distance that separates it from Dubrovnik, in southern Croatia, which makes access to the city very easy, whether by land or by air - the nearest airports are in Podgorica and Tivat.


The old town of Kotor has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.



When to go to Kotor?


We went to Kotor in winter! In early January, we experienced temperatures ranging from 7º to 18ºC, with cloudy weather but no rain. The city was very calm, with few tourists and no crowds. If you don't mind a quieter atmosphere, winter is a great choice. The only downside is that you can't enjoy the beaches.


Summer is the high season in the region, and it gets VERY crowded, with lots of activity and parties, and tourists from all over the world, especially Europeans, flock there to enjoy the beaches of the Adriatic Sea and the country's affordable prices (compared to other European options). But be prepared: besides the crowds, the heat can be unbearable, and prices tend to be higher.


Spring and autumn can be great times to visit: the weather is still favorable for enjoying the water, the town isn't as crowded but there's still some liveliness, and the mild temperatures won't make you feel like you're in a branch of hell.



What is it like to drive in Montenegro?


Don't worry, driving in Montenegro is smooth sailing. The roads we traveled on in Montenegro are single-lane, well-maintained, and well-signposted. Driving is on the right side (same as in the US). We didn't encounter any toll booths, police checkpoints, or problems along the way.


We entered Montenegro from the border with Serbia, at a place called Jabuka (Serbian side) and Ranče (Montenegrin side), and it was very straightforward, with the usual passport check and no questions asked.


We exited towards Croatia, through Debeli Brijeg (Montenegrin side) and Karasovići (Croatian side). The line to enter Croatia was long, with a wait of nearly 1 hour. Passports were checked, there were few questions asked, and then we continued our journey.


Kotor is the southernmost fjord in Europe - True or False?


We often hear references to the Bay of Kotor as the southernmost fjord in Europe, or "the only fjord in the Mediterranean," but geologically speaking, the formation of the bay does not fit the definition of a fjord. Fjords are characterized by deep, narrow valleys carved by glaciers during the last Ice Age.


The Bay of Kotor developed due to tectonic processes, seismic activity, and subsidence of the ground.


But you'll find that it doesn't make any difference whether it's a fjord or not; you can call it whatever you want. What matters is that the place is spectacularly beautiful!




Is it expensive to travel to Kotor, Montenegro?


Although not part of the European Union, the official currency of Montenegro is the Euro, which makes life easier for travelers.


We didn't find the cost of traveling in the country expensive when compared to eurozone countries. We had been in Italy a few days before, and the costs in Montenegro were significantly lower. Obviously, it's not a cheap destination, but it seemed more budget friendly than traveling within the European Union.


Where to stay in Kotor


There are various accommodation options in Kotor, as well as in other cities along the Bay of Kotor.


We chose to stay near the historic center (Old Town) of Kotor, in a location called Dobrota.


We selected Stone Home Kotor, an apartment by the bay, for its easy access, free parking, and larger space for our group of 7 people. The house was great for a large group like ours, the host was very attentive, and the location was excellent; it was quiet and quick to walk to the old town.


In the same area, there are several other apartments for rent. I had pre-selected Apartments Marilu (also by the bay) and Solaris Lux Apartments - I always choose 3 or 4 options before making a decision ;-)


Staying in Kotor Old Town must be fantastic! There are plenty of options, both hotels and apartments, and it's perfect for enjoying the city's nightlife. It would have been my choice if we hadn't been with a rental car. The options I had selected are Casa Antica Druško and Hotel Marija.


Confira aqui disponibilidade e valores:



It's also possible to stay in other cities along the bay; Perast is a great option, with its incredibly beautiful historic center and plenty of restaurant, café, and bar options. Palace Jelena, overlooking the bay, seems excellent and highly rated; whereas Hotel Conte, next to the main square and church of the city, seems like something out of a dream.


What to do in Kotor, Montenegro


Getting lost in the cobblestone streets of the Old Town (Stari Grad), enjoying lots of cappuccinos, ice creams, and drinks.


One of my favorite activities to do in Europe is to wander through cobblestone streets surrounded by medieval walls, getting lost in picturesque squares and historic churches, and stopping for a coffee (or a glass of wine) while trying to navigate the medieval labyrinth 😅


If you're also into that, Kotor won't disappoint you. The town is beautiful, with plenty of small churches, each with its own history, and palaces that evoke the period when Kotor was part of the Republic of Venice.


One of the main attractions of the old town is the St. Tryphon's Cathedral, consecrated in 1166 but destroyed by several earthquakes and rebuilt several times.


As you wander through the alleys, you will eventually come across the Church of St. Nicholas, the tiny Church of St. Luke (my favorite), and the Maritime Museum of Montenegro. All are worth a visit.



Cidade de Kotor vista do alto da Fortaleza de Kotor. É possível avistar a baia e montanhas ao redor
View from the top of the Fortress of Kotor

Climbing to the Fortress of Kotor


Let's be honest: it's not easy. It's quite a climb, but it's manageable, taking a little over 1 hour to ascend, and the reward is incredible! It's definitely worth it. When in Kotor, set laziness aside, think about the ice cream (or drinks) you'll enjoy when you return, and go for it.


1,350 steps take you up to 260 meters in altitude, with amazing views of the Old Town and the Bay of Kotor . There are two entrance points: looking from the old town towards the fortress, one entrance is on the left side (behind the Church of St. Mary Collegiate - close to River Gate) and the other on the right side (in the direction of the Cathedral of St. Tryphon - Square Od Salate). Finding the path is quite easy. The two trails meet at about 1/4 of the way up, and the total distance traveled is basically the same.


The walls around Kotor began to be built in the 9th century, and by the 14th century, they encircled the entire city. Upon reaching the Fortress, there are some informational signs about the history of the site.


Things to do around Kotor


Bay of Kotor Boat Tour


One of the must-do activities in the region is a boat tour of the Bay of Kotor.


There are two types of boat tours: the short one and the full one.


On the short tour, you'll visit Perast (usually without stopping), Our Lady of the Rocks Island (with a stop), and Sveti Djordje Island (without stopping).


The long tour covers the same points and adds the Blue Cave (where you can take a dive in the turquoise waters), Mamula Fortress (without stopping) and the submarine hideout.


You can book the tour in advance through websites like Civitatis or Get Your Guide, or you can go there and hire one directly from the booths near the pier.




Boat tour to Perast and Our Lady of the Rocks Island


Perast is a village from the time when the entire region of Kotor (and Dubrovnik) was ruled by Venice, and since then, it has hardly changed. Like Kotor, it is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The small town has only one street, but boasts 16 churches and 17 palaces (some in ruins, but still beautiful). In the main square of the town, by the bay, stands the Church of St. Nicholas, which began construction in the 17th century and is still not completed to this day. It is possible to climb the tower, and the views from there must be incredible.


Ilha Nossa Senhora das Rochas e igreja, Baia de Kotot
Island and church of Our Lady of the Rocks

Island and church of Our Lady of the Rocks


The Island of Our Lady of the Rocks was artificially created over centuries and has a fascinating history (or would it be a legend?):


It is said that two brothers everyday went out fishing together. On July 22, 1452, passing by a small rock in the Bay of Kotor, near the town of Perast, they noticed something shining; as they approached, they realized it was an image of Our Lady with the baby Jesus in her arms. At that moment, a miracle occurred: one of the brothers was cured of an illness he had been carrying for a long time.


Upon learning of the miraculous powers of the location, the fishermen of the region, when setting out to sea, would throw a small stone there, to ask for safety and success in their daily venture. Upon returning, they would deposit a large stone there, in gratitude for the successful journey.

(text written by me based on what our guide told us. In researching official tourism sites in Kotor, I found no reference to miracles, however, the rest of the story finds support)



Over time, what was a small rock turned into an island. A chapel was built in the early 15th century, housing the image found by the fishermen. The church we see today is the result of reconstructions and expansions over time, with its main structure dating back to 1630. It's free to visit it, but the small museum next to it costs €1.50.


In summer, there are several boats that make the journey between the island and Perast.


Annually, on July 22nd, at sunset, a procession of decorated boats, filled with stones and crewed only by men, sets off from Perast, throwing the stones around the island to strengthen its structure, in an event called Fašinada.


Island of Sveti Djordje


The small island of Sveti Djordje is natural and houses a Benedictine monastery, which is practically hidden amidst huge cypress trees, and a cemetery, earning it a legend about hauntings and the nickname "Island of the Dead".


Unfortunately, it is not possible to visit it, but at the back of the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks, you will see it, in what is one of Montenegro's postcard-perfect photos.




Full boat tour: Blue Cave, Mamula Fortress, Submarine Hideout, Perast, and Our Lady of the Rocks Island


In addition to Perast and its two islands, the full boat tour takes you to the Adriatic Sea, with the following stops:


Blue Cave


Along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, there are rocks that form the so-called "Blue Cave" or "Blue Grotto". The color of the water is stunningly turquoise blue, a shade of blue that no photo can faithfully reproduce. As our guide explained to us, the color is the result of sunlight reflecting off the damp walls inside the cave.


The only way to reach the cave is by sea, aboard small boats. Upon arrival, the boats briefly pause inside the cave, offering the opportunity to swim in the turquoise waters. However, given the chilly 8ºC temperature during our visit in early January, none of us in the group even contemplated taking the plunge.


During our visit, we shared the cave with only one other boat. However, our guide mentioned that in summer, the cave gets crowded, with boats bumping into each other, and that it can be stressful to swim in the water.


After leaving the Blue Cave, our boatman passed by other small caves (or grottos) formed by rocks, equally beautiful, but not accessible by boat.


Mamula fortress


Located on a small island at the entrance of the Bay of Kotor, Mamula Fortress was built in 1853 when the region was under the command of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The fortress is round (quite unusual), with a single tower, and occupies almost the entire island. It was used as a prison during World War I and as a concentration camp in World War II.


After being abandoned for a long time, it was transformed into a sophisticated and exclusive high-end hotel, the Mamula Island - therefore I don't even need to say that boat tours don't stop on the island, we only see it from a distance.



Submarine Hideouts


Returning to the Bay of Kotor, the boat will pass by old submarine hideouts used during the time of f Yugoslavia.


These are large tunnels, with entrances camouflaged by artificial rocks and foliage, which were used by the former communist Yugoslavia to hide ships and submarines. The entrance to the tunnels had an articulated structure, allowing it to be closed, and when viewed from above, it looked like a rocky wall.


There were several tunnels in the region, interconnected by land passages, also in the form of tunnels. The one we visited, in the region of the village of Rose, was unknown to the local residents until the time of its deactivation.




Budva


About 25 km south of Kotor, Budva is famous for its well-preserved old town, beaches, and lively nightlife. Traveling in winter and with children, we could only appreciate the first attraction of the place 😉


Budva offers great accommodation options, and in summer, this is where you will find the best beaches in Montenegro.


Check availability and prices here:





Sveti Stefan


Just 6 km from Budva is one of the country's postcards, the island of Sveti Stefan.


Connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, the island is entirely walled and currently fully occupied by the Aman Sveti Stefan Hotel, one of those hotels that we just dream about but could never afford to put our feet at the door.


The island's history is very interesting. Initially a fishing village, the walls were built in the 15th century as a defense against the Turks, which made the place an oasis for Adriatic pirates. Initially, 12 families lived there, reaching about 400 people in the 19th century. However, in the early 20th century, the population began to decline, leaving only 20 residents in 1954. The government of the then Yugoslavia bought the island and turned it into a luxury resort, frequented by politicians and celebrities of the highest caliber. With the dismantling of the country, the resort declined and in 2007 it was granted to Aman Resorts, which opened the hotel that exists today in 2009.


Only hotel guests have access to the island, which is a shame given the historical value of the place.




Lovćen National Park


It was in our plans to make a day trip from Kotor to Lovćen National Park, but you know, plans are made to be changed.


The park is dominated by Mt. Lovćen, which, with its 1,749m altitude, is where the name of the country originated: Crna Gora - Black Mountain. There are several hikes in the park, and a mausoleum - Njegos Mausoleum, dedicated to Petar II Petrovic Njegos, a Montenegrin poet-philosopher-prince who lived in the 19th century. There are 461 steps to climb to the mausoleum, which promises views that reach from Croatia to Albania.


Since we had already visited Durmitor National Park, also in Montenegro, we put aside this day trip and enjoyed the old town of Kotor more calmly.


If you don't have time to go to Durmitor, take the opportunity to visit Lovćen, it seems amazing.


Família (2 adultos e 2 crianças) em frente a um lago, com montanhas nevadas e florestas de pinheiros ao fundo. É inverno e todos vestem ccasacos e gorros. Black Lake, Parque Nacional Durmitor, Montenegro.
Black Lake, Durmitor, Montenegro

Complete itinerary of our Balkans trip, in Eastern Europe


Here is the Google map with our detailed itinerary through the Balkans - Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, just click and save it to your Google account. When you plan your next trip to Eastern Europe, you already know where to start ;-)


In this post, I explain how to use Google MyMaps to plan a trip, go have a look!



How to Use This Map: Simply click on the tab located in the upper left-hand corner of the map to access various layers, including points of interest and driving routes. You can toggle the visibility of layers by clicking on the check marks. For additional details about specific points of interest, click on the corresponding icons on the map.


To save this map to your Google Maps account for later reference, click on the star icon next to the map title. To access it on your phone or computer, launch Google Maps, tap the menu button, navigate to "Your Places," select "Maps," and you'll find this map listed among your saved maps.


Other posts about travel in Europe



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