The historic city of Kotor, Montenegro is tucked into the southern end of the Bay of Kotor under towering, majestic mountain peaks. Walking through the gates of the thick defensive walls that extend to the hill-topping fortress feels a bit like walking back in time. The originations of the seaside city can be traced to Ancient Roman times, but throughout the centuries, the city was conquered by various rulers. Today, visitors to the city will find many things to do in Kotor, Montenegro – and we’ve compiled a list of our top six to help tourists experience the best of the city and region.
6 Things to Do in Kotor, Montenegro
#1 Wander the maze of the old town streets
When visiting Kotor, it’s essential to wander the maze of narrow, cobblestone lanes that weave through the old town. The seemingly chaotic street plan was created quite purposefully; it was intended to confuse intruders who came to plunder the town. While wandering through alleys and into odd-shaped squares, take note of the old stone buildings and churches – many of which have small plaques providing dates of construction and original use. The tourist office outside Sea Gate (the pink, main gate) provides free maps to help you find your way.
Tip: Want a guided introduction to Kotor? Join the top-rated Kotor Walking Tour.
Read more about Historic Kotor, Montenegro
#2 Hike the ramparts to the hilltop St. John’s Fortress
A trip to Kotor wouldn’t be complete without hiking the ramparts to the hilltop fortress. San Giovanni Castle (St. John’s Fortress) sits high above the town overlooking the city – as it has since the 6th century. Today, it’s nothing more than a shell, but it is accessible by a foot path (and 1,355 steps!). From the fortress, take in the stunning views and vibrant colors of the Bay of Kotor and the old town rooftops.
Tip: More advanced hikers (and viewpoint seekers) should check out hiking down to Kotor from Krstac Pass.
Read more about Hiking in Kotor, Montenegro
#3 Walk along the water
Leave the walled city and explore the shoreline of the Bay of Kotor. Walk north along the wide, pedestrian promenade past waterfront cafes and restaurants. Rest on a bench or at a café with a coffee and watch the local fishermen in their boats. Also explore to the south end of the bay to the far side of the marina (and beyond) and look back toward the city and hillside walls.
Tip: The city of Kotor is particularly beautiful from across the bay at sunset and at night when the city lights reflect off the Bay of Kotor.
#4 Explore the historic churches
Exploring the many churches in Kotor, Montenegro helps visitors to gain a better understanding of the history of the city and its people. Although only a small fraction of the population is Catholic, the St. Tryphon Catholic Cathedral remains a strong symbol of the city. It was built in 1166 and houses the relics of St. Tryphon, Kotor’s patron saint and protector. Another must-see church located in the old city center is St. Nicholas. Built in 1909, the Orthodox church is beautifully decorated with an ornate iconostasis.
Tip: Two other churches we highly recommend visiting are the Church of Our Lady of Remedy, built on the hillside within the ramparts in 1518, and St. George’s, a small stone church built in the 11th century on the back side of St. John’s Hill.
Read about the 10 Churches to Visit in Kotor, Montenegro
#5 Take a day trip
Although there are many things to do in Kotor, Montenegro, seeing some of the surrounding area is worth a quick trip – even if for only a couple of hours. North of the city on the Bay of Kotor is picturesque Perast. The small fishing village consists of a cluster of dwellings stacked on the hillside and marked by a soaring church bell tower. Just off-shore are two islands, one of which features an intriguing legend and a church; it can be visited via a short boat ride. South of the city on the Adriatic Sea is the walled city of Budva. Much bigger – and touristy – than Kotor, Budva is often referred to as the Riviera on the Adriatic Sea. In addition to the historic center and shoreline paths, Budva is known for its sandy beaches, boutique shops and upscale restaurants.
#6 Attend a festival
Throughout the year, Kotor hosts several events that attract locals and visitors alike. Celebrations and festivals in Kotor are highlighted by parades, music, dancing and food. We have been fortunate enough to attend the St. Tryphon’s Day Festival and Winter Karneval.
St. Tryphon’s Day, in honor of Kotor’s patron saint, protector and the cathedral’s namesake. Crowds, five and six people deep, made a semi-circle around the entrance to the church. On the church steps were several religious dignitaries, including the Archbishop in bright colorful robes. The Boka Navy Brass Band played as men, dressed in uniform, performed a dance and women dressed in traditional costume looked on. The music and dancing went on for well over a half an hour, with a grand finale of fireworks shot into the sky from the church balcony and firecrackers set off inside the bell towers.
After the performance, the crowds flowed into the church for a special St. Tryphon’s Day mass. Even though the mass stretched on for almost two hours in a language we couldn’t understand, we were content listening to the familiar cadence of the prayers and were in awe of the voices and melodies of the magnificent choir.
After mass, the St. Tryphon’s Day celebration continued in the way of a procession, led by the marching band, which made its way through town. It seemed that the entire population of Kotor joined in the march and we were initially bringing up the rear; but we wanted to observe the scene more than be in it. We cut across a few streets and found a place to watch as the band, altar boys, nuns, priests and bishops – along with the relics of St. Tryphon – made their way back to the church.
Kotor Winter Karneval, similar to the many traditional Carnival celebrations around the world, the festivities in Kotor last for several weeks in February and include masked balls and parades. A list of the events is posted at the main gate and flags and banners are strung outside the gates and across the main square.
When we visited The Kotor Winter Karneval, it began with a masked ball at the local night club followed by a mid-week open market that included the town’s marching band, majorettes, local cuisine and homemade brandy. We ran into our Airbnb host and her friends, who were able to explain more about the Kotor Winter Karneval and this event in particular. The tables were all set up with dishes of traditional, local cuisine made by locals…and it was all free. Many of her friends had cooked and baked for the event and she pointed out which tables we should visit for the best food and pastries. As we stood in front of each table covered in steaming platters, the cooks heaped piles of pasta, rice casseroles, bite-size appetizers, homemade breads and desserts onto our thin, plastic plates. The rich, savory flavors were balanced with the light and flaky sweets and every single bite was delicious. Local wine was free-flowing – but gone in a flash – and then bottles of liquor emerged and tastes distributed.
In the meantime, a five-person band took the stage, performing traditional Montenegrin seaside songs as well as a few local favorites. The first song rolled into the next and then another, with the lead singer hardly taking a breath between tunes. Locals were singing along and a few people started to dance: couples took center stage, while groups of women danced on the steps off to the side and younger kids bopped up and down to the beat. There was no entrance fee, no tickets or lines. It was a community gathering; a spectacular celebration of food and music. It might be the only event we attend for the Kotor Winter Karneval, but for us, the one definitely not to miss!
Tip: Check the Kotor event calendar to find out if any events are planned during your visit to Kotor.
Our top tips for your trip to Kotor, Montenegro
Where To Stay
During our visit to Kotor, we stayed in this awesome Airbnb Apartment. (Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create an account and save money on your first stay!) We have found that staying in apartments is often less expensive than hotel rooms – with the added benefit of a kitchen and, usually, more space. Kotor holiday apartments can also be searched on FlipKey (which is part of TripAdvisor) or on VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner.
However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many Kotor hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center. Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip: Porto in Hotel, Hotel Hippocampus and Astoria Hotel. Or, find a deal on a hotel room by bidding on Priceline.
Kotor can be reached by plane, cruise, bus or car. Our preferred method of getting anywhere is by flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!) and when we do need to purchase plane tickets, we start our search for the best deals on airline tickets on Skyscanner or Flight Hub.
To get around Kotor we used our own two feet or public buses. We aren’t keen on driving abroad, but renting a car can often save time and money (especially when traveling with more than two people) – and it allows for greater discovery.
Before You Go
- Kotor is a walkable city…but only if you have the right shoes! Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- Be sure to have a good guidebook prior to arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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