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Kotor is Montenegro’s must-see fairytale town. Wander the ancient alleyways, sip coffee in the town squares and experience the magic for yourself.
Here’s the low down on the top things to see and do, and the best places to eat and sleep in Kotor.
High in the hills of Mount Sveti Ivan near Pestingrad, there’s an inaccessible cave called Vilinica. This is where the Greek fairy Alkima lives. Alkima fell out of favour with Poseidon and was exiled, so she decided to live in one of the most beautiful bays in the world, the Bay of Kotor.
One day settlers arrived in Pestingrad and decided to build a new town. But Alkima said to them “The sea shore should be your dwelling because there is no life for you without the sea. There is no port for a ship on the mount, neither can a horse play there.”
Grateful for divine advice, the settlers went down and built their town on the shore.
The town was Kotor.
And above it Alkima built a bridge, called the Fairy’s Gate.
It’s not surprising local legends say Kotor was built with the help of a fairy.
Everything about the town is fairytale-like.
The compact, triangle-shaped town is flanked on two sides by sapphire water and backed by an imposing mountain of emerald green.
Up the mountain, stone walls zig-zag their way up to the crumbling ruins of a castle.
Inside the terracotta-roofed town ornate Gothic windows adorn buildings and Baroque palaces line the cobblestone alleyways.
Kotor stands as a living witness to the history and people of the Bay of Kotor.
The best example is the town fortifications on Mount Sveti Ivan which were started by the Illyrians in the 3rd century B.C. and finally finished by the Venetians 1,700 years later.
Kotor’s churches are decorated with the artworks of its master goldsmiths from the 14th and 15th centuries, when the town was a powerful trading port on the crossroads between silver, lead and copper mines and the sea. And the winged Venetian lion, the symbol of the Venetian Republic which ruled Kotor from 1420 to 1797, looks out proudly from impregnable walls and ancient archways.
Evidence of Napoleon’s short reign remains in the 1810 town theatre. And from more recent history the words of communist Yugoslav ruler Josip Broz Tito are etched into the Sea Gate (built in 1555) along with the date Kotor was liberated from Nazi occupation:
“Tuđe Nećemo, Svoje Ne Damo” - “What belongs to others we don’t want, what is ours we will never surrender.”
From settlement to powerful to trade port to military port, today Kotor is Montenegro's top tourist attraction. And as word of this enchanting destination spreads, the cobbled streets are alive with tourists and locals alike.
Although Kotor has become very popular in the last few years, it hasn’t been overrun with tourists. It’s position in a narrow part of the bay limits the number of cruise ships that can drop anchor here, and nearby attractions like Our Lady of the Rocks, the Blue Cave and Lovćen National Park help to disperse the crowds.
Far from being a town where the locals left when the tourists arrived, Kotor has managed to strike the balance. Locals still live here, come to do business and most importantly, still come to sip coffee and catch up with friends.
In Kotor an historic Venetian prison stands side-by-side with the laundry of local families fluttering in the breeze.
The town was completely ruined in an earthquake in 1979, and while most of it was rebuilt, some parts have been left to languish which makes it, if anything, even more authentic.
Kotor is a living and breathing town with soul.
And that's why visitors continue to fall in love with this medieval walled town.
A wander through the pedestrian-only streets will have your head swivelling from side to side trying to take in the picturesque beauty of the former palaces, historic churches and intricate stonework that shows where powerful families once lived.
While exploring, you'll find dozens of interesting nooks and crannies that showcase a photo opportunity or an interesting piece of history. Brightly painted doors, wells, flower boxes and lounging cats provide plenty of Insta-fodder.
Stop at the information kiosk in front of the main gate/sea gate opposite the marina and get a map of the old town. Historic buildings and palaces are not always well marked, but they're marked on the map. It will also make navigating the alleyways much easier!
Katedrala Svetog Tripuna (St Tryphon's Cathedral) was built in 1166 and is unmistakable with its two bell-towers and backdrop of San Giovanni Fortress on the mountain behind.
The cathedral was built on the site of an older church, which was built in 809 to house the remains of St Tryphon, which were brought from Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). St Tryphon is the protector saint of Kotor and is revered by both Catholic and Orthodox faiths.
Unfortunately two devastating earthquakes, one in 1667 and another in 1979, destroyed most of the original frescoes inside the cathedral, but you can still see pieces of them around the interior. Interestingly, the bell towers were ruined in the 1667 earthquake and were rebuilt. But, due to economic hardship at the time, the left bell tower was never finished and remains two metres shorter than the right one.
Adjoining the cathedral is a treasury that was built in 1652. The treasury holds important artefacts from local and foreign artists, including a wooden crucifix which was a gift from Queen Jelena Kurtnejska to Kotor’s St Francis monastery in 1288 and St Tryphon’s relics. It’s said the relics were originally on their way to Ragusa, today’s Dubrovnik across the border in Croatia, but ended up in Kotor.
Address: Katedrala Svetog Tripuna, Trg Sv. Tripuna, Kotor 85330
Phone: +382 32 336 242
Sveti Nikola (St Nicholas) is a Serbian Orthodox church that dominates St Luke’s Square (Trg Svetog Luka). You’ll recognise it by the twin domed towers and the Serbian flag that hangs down the centre. It’s a relatively new building, completed in 1909 after a fire ruined the original church from 1543.
The church is free for anyone to enter and houses icons from the 15th to 19th centuries. As you enter the church you’ll see four huge portraits of the evangelists Mark, Luke, Matthew and John. These were gifts from the Russian Orthodox church.
Address: Crkva Svetog Nikole, Kotor 85330
Next to Sveti Tripun and Sveti Nikola, Sveti Luka is a relatively unimposing building, but it’s one of the most important in Kotor.
The church, built in the southern-Italian style, was built in 1195 and inside you’ll be able to see some of the original frescoes from the time it was built.
Originally Sveti Luka was a Catholic church, but became Orthodox in 1657. It still kept a Catholic altar until 1812 and both Catholic and Orthodox masses were performed here. Bokelj (Bay of Kotor residents) still hold Sveti Luka dear as an example of the bay’s traditional religious freedom and tolerance.
Address: Crkva Svetog Luke, Kotor 85330
Spending an hour doing a walking tour of Kotor is the best way to get to know this medieval town.
The tour takes you around Kotor’s main attractions, palaces and historical sites. Along the way you’ll hear about Kotor’s history, from its founding as Acruvium and later as Cattaro and then Kotor.
There are several group walking tour departures every day from April to October, but if you have a group of four or more you can also request a tour outside these dates at the very affordable group rate.
When you see pictures of Kotor you can’t help but notice the beautiful stone walls snaking up the mountain behind the town. This is San Giovanni Fortress.
The fortifications completely enclose Kotor and have a total length of four and a half kilometres (2.8 miles). They’re between two and 15 metres thick and up to 20m tall in places.
Started by the Illyrians in the 2nd century BC, it wasn’t until the 15th century that the Venetians finally finished the fortifications. And that’s why there’s a Venetian saying in Kotor “Tu me costi come i muri de Cattaro.” - “You cost me as much as the walls of Kotor.”
Today hiking Kotor’s walls up to San Giovanni Castle is a rite of passage and will give you incredible views of Kotor and the bay. But be warned, this 1355-step, 1.2km (0.7 mile) hike isn’t easy, especially in the heat of a Montenegrin summer. It’s well worth doing, but go prepared if you want to get that epic selfie at the top!
For those with more time, the Ladder of Kotor is a longer, but easier hike up Mount Sveti Ivan (also known as San Giovanni and Mount St John).
The old military path is a series of scenic switchbacks that lead you to ever more stunning views with every turn. The fresh mountain air is scented with wild thyme and although a spray-painted rock warns of wolves, you’re more likely to run into a herd of goats.
At the top you will get incredible, breathtaking, mind-blowing views of Kotor, the Bay of Kotor and Mount Vrmac opposite. You can even incorporate San Giovanni Fortress and the abandoned village of Špiljari on the way back to Kotor.
If the thought of hiking up either San Giovanni Fortress or the Ladder of Kotor leaves you cold, but you still want get some good views, head over to Kampana Tower and walk the outer section of the walls along the Škurda River and Riva (shore).
From here, you’ll be able to get good views of the town and the fortress meandering up the mountain behind.
Address: Kampana Tower, 420 Stari Grad, Kotor, 85330
Opening hours: 24 hours
Former Grgurina Palace is home to Kotor Maritime Museum which is well worth a visit.
Because of Kotor’s fortunate geographic position on the crossroads to silver, lead and copper mines, it became a wealthy and powerful trade port and economic centre in the 14th century. But Ottoman invasion in the north interrupted the trade routes, and by the 17th century Kotor has lost its economic power and become a military port under the Venetian Republic.
Whether a trade port or a military port, the whole Bay of Kotor has always been inextricably tied with shipping and in many ways the maritime history of Kotor is the history of the bay. There’s an old Boka (as the Bay of Kotor is known locally) saying which goes: “When one dips a finger in the sea, one is connected to the whole world.”
The museum’s three floors are filled with beautiful examples of the area's maritime history including clothing, weapons and furniture. The collection was started by the Boka Marine Fraternity in 1880 and the museum was opened to the public in 1900.
You'll be able to see reconstructed drawing rooms from local noble families, hear about local legends who circumnavigated the globe and learn about the history of the bay's most important industry - shipping.
Address: Kotor Maritime Museum, Trg Bokeljske mornarice 391, Kotor 85330
Phone: +382 32 304 720
Entrance: €4 per person with audio guide.
The official symbol of Kotor is the Venetian lion, and while you won’t find any lions in Kotor, you will find their smaller, friendlier cousins in every corner of the town.
Kotor’s thriving maritime industry meant cats were necessary to keep pests at bay on ships. And those ships brought cats from almost every corner of the globe. In town they also helped to keep the town’s rat and snake populations under control and are now part of Kotor’s main attractions.
Although cat-themed souvenirs are sold at every souvenir shop, there are two shops - Cats of Kotor, owned by Oksana Troshina, and Kotor’s Cats, owned by Daniela Knezevic - which directly help the town’s cat population. They feed, sterilise and provide medical care for the cats in Kotor. If you’re a cat lover, visit Kotor Kitties, a U.S-registered charity that started helping cats in Kotor but is now helping cats all over Montenegro.
Whether you have a day or several days in Kotor, taking a boat trip is a great way to experience the Bay of Kotor and see more of Montenegro’s top attractions, Our Lady of the Rocks and the Blue Cave.
A two-hour speed boat tour will take you to Perast and iconic Our Lady of the Rocks, a 15th century island church that’s one of two island churches that floats of Perast’s coast.
Kotor also has a hop-on hop-off bus tour that’s popular with cruise ship passengers. The tour takes you to Risan’s 2nd century BC mosaics. Before Kotor, Risan was an Illyrian settlement and the main centre of the Bay of Kotor.
After Risan the tour stops in Perast where you can get off and visit Perast and catch a boat to Our Lady of the Rocks.
It also stops at Bajova Kula beach before returning to Kotor.
Kotor’s farmers market (gradska pijaca) is a dream-come-true for self-catering visitors to Kotor. Every morning (except Sundays) from 8am to 2pm you’ll find a vast array of fresh, local produce.
In spring look for jars of tiny wild strawberries, in summer ripe, juicy figs make the perfect ingredient for a Mediterranean mezze and sun-ripened tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers can be thrown together for a quick salad to go with takeaway bbq meat from the local roštilj.
If you want to try some local specialities look for proscuitto (pršut) from Njeguši village, round wheels of fresh cheese, olives marinated in garlic and parsley, fresh-caught fish and anything labelled domači, which means grown locally.
Address: Gradska pijaca, Kotor 85330
Opening hours: 8am - 2pm Monday - Saturday
In the depths of Kotor Bay and with a marina and port along the whole front of town, Kotor isn’t known for its beaches.
But you don’t have to go far to find good places to laze on the beach.
A few minutes’ stroll along the seaside brings you to Dobrota where you’ll find small pebble beaches and a concrete promenade you can park your towel or rent loungers.
If you hire a car or jump on a local bus you’ll be able to visit beaches further afield. There are little beaches all along the Bay of Kotor coastline and you can drive along the seaside road until you see somewhere you like.
Some good spots are:
You’ll find plenty of ways to go further afield from Kotor and explore Montenegro’s rugged interior.
Hiring a car is an easy way to explore on your own. With most of the country reachable in day trips, Kotor makes an excellent base.
There are also popular group trips to help you explore:
You can also hire a local guide to show you around as much or as little Montenegro as you like.
Kotor is lively day and night, and you’ll find plenty of places to go out after dark. In the summer months you’ll find live music at the bars and restaurants around town where you can listen to traditional guitar or klapa (acapella) with a glass of Montenegrin Vranac (red wine made from vranac grapes).
Or join Old Town Hostel Kotor’s legendary pub crawl and see how many rakija shots you can do. But beware, rakija has an incredibly high alcohol content.
Maximus, buried in the town wall along the Škurda River, features regional pop and dance stars, while Lektrika is an alternative favourite with foreigners looking for pub with an international crowd.
Aside from the boutiques in the old town, you'll find Kamelia Shopping Centre just a few minutes' walk from the old town gates. Here you’ll find a supermarket, pharmacy, bank, indoor playground and various boutiques and cafes.
Kotor’s beauty, atmosphere and tourism hub make it a great place to drop your anchor for a few days. You’ll find restaurants, nightlife and plenty of tours departing from Kotor all on your doorstep.
And because the whole town is living history, you’ll find some unique places to stay:
If you're staying in the old town, take good note of where your accommodation is. It’s all too easy to get lost, especially at night... and perhaps after a few vinos.
A stay in Kotor old town can be noisy, especially during the tourist season between April and October.
If you prefer somewhere quieter or would like to wake up to sea views, there are lots of beautiful choices lining the shores of the bay.
Incredibly, you’ll also find seafront hostels a stone’s throw from the old town walls. Montenegro Hostel 4U Party and Hostel Pupa are just a few minutes’ walk from Kotor centre, while Stranger Tides Hostel is a pirate-themed hostel 3.7km from the old town.
No trip to Kotor is complete without at least one cone of refreshing gelato. Stop at Salvatore, just inside the Sea Gate on Trg od Oružja for unusual and local flavours like wild strawberry and pomegranate.
The sea is just as influential on the Bay of Kotor’s cuisine as it is on its lifestyle and Bastion Restaurant III, just across the Škurda River has excellent seafood in a vine-shaded courtyard. Try grilled sea bream with a side of dalmatinsko varivo (silverbeet and potato flavoured with garlic), a shellfish buzara (stew) or local specialty squid ink risotto.
For meat-lovers, Balkan grill is a must-try and BBQ Tanjga, just outside the city walls, is the place to go. Pick up traditional čevapi sausages or a pljeskavica pattie with traditional fries and salads. Wash it down with some local wine or a Nikšičko beer and you’ll be loosening your belt all the way home.
For special occasions, Galion, on the waterfront has upmarket dining and superb views of the old town, especially at night when the fortress walls are lit up.
More traditional specialities to try include krempita, a custard pie made with filo pastry and burek, a traditional meat, cheese, spinach or potato pie. For a really unique experience try charcoal Turkish coffee in Lektrika.
There’s always something happening in Kotor, some are regular annual events and some are one-offs.
To find out what’s happening while you’re in Kotor check Facebook events and notice boards around town, especially the one on the outer wall by Kulturni Centar Nikola Đurković.
Look out for these annual events while you’re there:
Kotor is easy to get to with three international airports within easy driving distance:
You can rent a car at any of these airports and drive to Kotor.
Airport transfers are also a convenient and cost-effective way to get to Kotor if you prefer not to hire a car.
There are three parking lots for the old town – one directly in front by the marina, one at the north end and one a little further north on the sea side. Parking is pretty cheap at about €0.80 an hour and you’ll always find a park in one of these lots.
Kotor's bus station is a 600m or 5 minute walk from the town centre. There are several buses from other Montenegrin cities and towns daily. You'll also find bus links to destinations in neighbouring countries. The best places to find bus timetables are Busticket4.me and Balkan Viator.
Kotor doesn't have a direct rail connection. You can get a train from Belgrade to Bar, on the southern coast of Montenegro and catch a bus from Bar to Kotor.
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