Located between the rugged mountains and the sparkling waters of the Adriatic coast, lies the charming town of Kotor in Montenegro, a Balkan gem waiting to be discovered. With its old-world charm, medieval architecture, and picturesque scenery, Kotor is a popular destination for the Balkans and anyone looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
For such a small enchanting town, there is an array of things to do, whether it is hiking up the vast mountains to the famous fortress, or relaxing with a local wine and immersing in the atmosphere of the colorful Old Town. One thing’s for sure, Kotor ticks all the boxes for an unforgettable experience. The five things that are a must on your itinerary are detailed below and can all be squeezed in. Whether you are only on a short cruise stop or staying considerably longer, this has to be one of the lesser-known best places to travel to.
What to see in Kotor Bay
1. Feel the charm of Kotor’s Old Town.
Kotor’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a treasure trove of medieval architecture, hidden squares, and winding alleys. The Old Town is surrounded by stone walls that date back to the Venetian period in the 9th century and stretch for over 4 km. The walls are a testament to Kotor’s turbulent history, and they offer visitors a glimpse into the town’s past. It is a surreal moment as you wander around the ancient cobbles with the magnificent mountains looking down on you, making you feel insignificant amongst the beautiful Balkan nature.
The Old Town is home to several landmarks, including the Clock Tower, the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, and the Maritime Museum. Visitors can also explore the town’s many shops, cafes, and restaurants. The Old Town is a pedestrian-only and family-friendly zone, which makes it perfect for a stroll.
2. Kotor’s Clock Tower
As one of the iconic symbols of Kotor, the Clock Tower is the monument of the main square, where it has stood since 1602. It was built while the Montenegrin town was under Venetian influence, and has impressively stood strong through earthquakes, fires, and wars – a testament to the strength of the nation. It is worth a visit just to explore the town center.
3. Cathedral of Saint Tryphon
Another historical landmark in Kotor, which has stood the test of time. One of only two Catholic Churches in all of Montenegro The Cathedral is named after Saint Tryphon, a Christian martyr who was executed in the early fourth century. You will find some stunning art throughout the Romanesque-style cathedral.
Make sure you visit this architectural masterpiece and enjoy the intricate details which creatively make up the admirable building. Entrance is free and you can visit between 8 am – 8 pm. Considered one of the top attractions in the town by local guides, the second floor contains all the smaller artifacts and historical items.
4. Maritime Museum
A popular feature of cruise ship visitors’ itineraries is the Maritime Museum, located in the Old Town. This small but very informative museum can be squeezed into tight schedules to add a bit of learning and entertainment to your stay. You will find out about some of the famous seamen who have visited Kotor, along with cultural information about the bay.
The museum proudly preaches about Kotor’s dominance on the Ocean in the 18th century, as a result of its strategic location tucked away from the Adriatic Sea. This explains why it is prominent on most sightseeing tours of the Town.
If you visit the Old Town later in the evening, after the sun has gone down, the town’s nightlife has a different feel to it, a very lively atmosphere across the local pubs. You will find two or three options for pubs/clubs with live Dj’’s playing, which is where all the backpackers hang out on their nightly pub crawl.
5. Hiking the Fortress of Kotor
Overlooking the famous old town and the world-renowned bay is the Fortress of Kotor, home to the best views of Kotor’s triangular-shaped Old Town and the extensive bay (which usually harbors some extraordinary cruise ships).
The hike to the top of the fortress takes approximately 1-2 hours, depending on your fitness level, but you are rewarded with the perfect vantage point. The official trail is via the steps located at the back of the town center. The fortress dates back to the 6th century and is a testament to Kotor’s rich history. This fortification is open all year- round, and it’s best to visit early in the morning, or late in the afternoon to avoid the midday heat (especially in peak summer months).
For the more adventurous travelers, you can take the ‘secret free way’ up the grand mountain. This backpacker trail circulates the local hostels, as it presents more of a challenge, but a more fun way of reaching the fortress summit. You follow the signposted trails up the side of the mountain and then enter through the back window of the fortress via a ladder. This isn’t the best-kept secret, however, it saves you some cash and guarantees a better story from your day trip.
6. Taking a scenic boat tour of the Bay of Kotor.
The Bay of Kotor is one of the most beautiful bays in the world, and climbing aboard a scenic boat tour is the perfect way to experience its beauty. The bay is surrounded by rugged mountains and dotted with charming fishing villages. The boat tours will take you through the bay’s narrow channels and past its many islands.
During the tour, the first stop is an old World War 2 Soviet submarine base located inside the rocky terrain. You will learn about the interesting history of the bay, before visiting some blue caves, where you’ll have the opportunity to swim in the crystal-clear waters and explore secluded coves. For the more daring visitors, you can swim into the bat cave which is pitch black and only lit up by the bat’s bright eyes. The tour is a great way to experience Kotor’s unique beauty and its connection to the sea. Do not miss it!
7. Relax on the beach with dreamlike views.
Kotor is surrounded by beautiful beaches that are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing. The pristine beaches are located just a short drive from the town center and offer stunning views of the bay. The beaches are also a great place to try out water sports like kayaking, windsurfing, and paddleboarding. The local hostels and hotels offer sunset paddleboarding tours, which certainly take the top spot for experiencing the bay in all its panoramic beauty.
The beaches are also home to several beach bars and restaurants that serve delicious fresh seafood and traditional Montenegrin cuisine. The sandy beaches are a great way to unwind after a day of exploring Kotor in the baking heat which is a feature of the town’s geographical location.
8. Learn about the town’s bizarre history.
One surprising fact about Kotor is the town’s adoration towards cats, which dates back over a century. You can’t walk down one of the streets in the Old Town without seeing stray cats being lazy in the Montenegrin heat.
The old tale of the town is that sailors from all over the world would dock into Kotor Bay and bring their cats along with them. This helped to build a very diverse and unique feline community in the area. The group of stray cats is very much looked after by the community and is a symbol of Kotor, where they are said to have protected the walled Old Town from mice and rats. You will find numerous cat souvenirs in the gift shops and across the market stalls in the town’s bazaar.
As with many other towns and cities around the Bay of Kotor and Montenegro, Kotor is small in size but great in stature. Many tourists take day trips here from Dubrovnik in Croatia along with other small towns like Herceg Novi and Sveti Stefan. For there is an element of mystery surrounding the small town, as you take a step back in time and visit the fascinating fortress, old submarine bases, and famous Stari Grad (Old Town). One visit isn’t enough to get the answers you require about the famous tales of the beautiful bay of Kotor. So when you plan your trip, we suggest you set a two-day itinerary.
Kotor Need To Know
Population = 22,601
Currency = Euros
Language = Montenegrin