Back in 2013, when I first visited Montenegro, I wrote a story on my blog about how I thought Kotor would be Europe’s next summer hotspot.
It’s not that this gorgeous little part of Montenegro was unknown – but it wasn’t receiving the sort of mass tourism that Croatia’s coast, for example, was experiencing.
Fast forward to today and I think it’s turned out that I was correct. (I’m not looking for too much applause, though – it was pretty obvious.)
Montenegro has seen a boom in tourism as flight routes opened up with Western Europe and visitors looked for less-crowded alternatives.
And it’s Kotor, as one of the best things to do in Montenegro, that has become the centre of attention for much of this increased tourism.
A good way to get your bearings and see Kotor’s highlights is with this one-hour tour of the Old Town.
A stunning small town on a bay, with sweeping views across the water and mountains, it has a wonderful mix of heritage and nature.
When it comes to the history, Kotor has been an important town since the early Middle Ages because of its strategic location on a bay where ships can shelter.
Over the centuries, the town expanded and the buildings were influenced by the various empires that controlled it – Dalmatians, Bulgarians, Serbians, Hungarians. But it was under the Venetians that it took most of its current form.
Kotor was part of the Republic of Venice from 1420 to 1797. So it’s no great surprise that, when you walk through the Old Town of Kotor, most of the architecture is in the Venetian style.
The Kotor Cathedral is one of the highlights. As you explore, though, you’ll find lots of little gems in the streets that are tightly enclosed by the city walls.
But seeing the historic buildings is just one of the things to do in Kotor. There are also the Kotor Walls, nearby hikes, beaches, the bay, small towns and villages, and lots of day trips from Kotor.
Is Kotor worth visiting?
Kotor is one the best things to see in Montenegro. This stunning coastal city is full of things to see and do, and there are gorgeous views from every direction. It’s not a question of whether Kotor is worth visiting, but how long you can stay here!
How long should I spend in Kotor?
I would recommend spending at least two full days in Kotor and, if you can, consider basing yourself here for a whole week to explore and relax.
If you only have one day, you”ll still be able to see the main sights, but there’s more to be explored around Kotor Bay and in the region’s smaller towns.
What is Kotor known for?
Kotor is known as the most beautiful town on the coast of Montenegro (well, technically its in a bay, but close enough). In particular, Kotor is known for the Medieval Old Town and the 16th-century fortifications that rise up the hill to protect it.
What is there to do in Kotor on a cruise?
If you arrive in Kotor on a cruise, your time may be limited but there are still lots of things you can do. Wander through the Old Town, climb up some of the fortifications, and head along the coast to Perast.
I find Montenegro to be a very relaxing place, where nothing is ever too rushed and part of the charm of visiting is slowing down and appreciating each moment.
Having said that, it is worth having a think in advance about what to do in Kotor so you can have some form of a plan before you arrive. (Some of the boat tours need to be booked ahead of time, for instance.)
Regardless of how long you have in Kotor, I am sure you’ll be able to fill your time. After you’ve seen the obvious sites in town, you can explore a bit further around the bay.
Then slow down even more and discover that relaxing by the water makes for a pretty decent holiday. Then when you get a bit bored, there are plenty of day trip options.
Here are my tips for some of the best things to do in Kotor.
Old Town of Kotor
The modern part of Kotor spreads out along the coast of the bay, but the Old Town of Kotor is actually very compact. The area within the city walls is only a few hundred metres in each direction.
It won’t take long for you to walk through it all but there are plenty of details to explore – so don’t rush through.
There are the city walls themselves to walk along and there’s the main Square of the Arms. Other than the main cathedral, you’ll spot quite a few churches, but take particular note of the orthodox Church of St Nicholas and the 12th-century Church of Saint Luke.
The most important building the Old Town of Kotor is Kotor Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of St Tryphon.
Although it was consecrated in 1166, it’s been damaged a few times over the years from earthquakes and was reconstructed slightly differently with new additions each time.
The exterior is quite striking but make sure you go inside to see the wonderful interior architecture. There’s also a small museum inside with important local treasures.
Kotor Maritime Museum
Although it’s only small, the Kotor Maritime Museum represents a long history of maritime heritage in the region. As a safe harbour, Kotor Bay was a critical location for many empires.
The collection in the museum has models of ships, along with photos, paintings, uniforms, and other artefacts. It’s spread across three levels of a small baroque palace.
The Old Town of Kotor is compact and, as I mentioned, you won’t need too long to wander through it. But you will get a lot more out of your time here if you take a walking tour with a local guide.
For a quick tour to get your bearings and learn a bit more about the town, I would recommend this hour-long tour.
If you would like to go a bit deeper, then I would suggest this private tour which finishes with local wine and snacks and a chance to chat more with your guide.
Even when you’re in town, you’ll be well aware that there’s much more to Kotor than just the urban centre, with the large mountains hard to miss as they cradle the bay.
So put on your walking shoes (you won’t want flip-flops for these first couple of suggestions) and get ready to explore.
Rising up above the Old Town, on the steep slope to the east, are the Kotor Walls (also known as the Fortifications of Kotor).
Much like the buildings they protect, the fortifications have been expanded and modified by the various empires that have controlled the city.
But it’s the Venetians who get much of the credit for how they look now (and the fortifications are part of a separate World Heritage Site called ‘Venetian Works of Defence between the 16th and 17th Centuries’).
I think climbing the walls is one of the best things to do in Kotor. It puts you right into the history of the city, as you walk along the ramparts. As you climb higher, you get incredible views across the city and the bay.
Because of the way they’re designed, you can go up one side and then done the other, creating a loop with different vistas and elements of the fortifications.
When you’re up on the fortifications, you’l find the Kotor Fortress, also known as St John’s Fortress or the Castle of San Giovanni.
It’s about 280 metres above the town and there are about 1350 steps to get there. But it’s worth it for both the view and the fortress itself.
Kotor Fortress was built over hundreds of years, starting in about the 9th century. It is part of the fortifications and blends into the walls, but is certainly one of the most important sites in the city.
Just to the north of the Old Town, near the small marina, is Kotor Beach. This short stretch on the coast is an easy spot to head for a swim or some sunbaking.
But Kotor Beach and the other beaches nearby tend to be quite rocky and they are also not particularly secluded or quiet. Although nice for a quick dip, there are better ones to head to if you want to relax for a while.
Head into Budva for big sandy beaches or, if you would prefer to stay in the bay, there are nice ones at Perast or Orahovac.
On the water
Although you’ll be able to see the bay from most parts of town, the water isn’t just for decoration – it also hosts some of the best activities in Kotor.
To make the most of your visit to Kotor, I would definitely recommend having a swim… and then considering some of these things to do that will show you the best of the region.
The water of the bay offers heaps of activities to fill your time and I think heading out on the water is one of the best things you can do in Kotor (too many people just concentrate on the Old Town and the fortifications).
You’ll find quite a few places to rent equipment to use in the bay, like paddle boards, kayaks, and snorkelling. But there are also some fun tours where you’ll get a local insight to special places.
Kotor boat tour
Of course, the problem with something like kayaking is that you have to do all the work. If you were on a boat, you could just sit back and relax.
So, luckily there are quite a few awesome boat tours of Kotor Bay where you can see the natural landscapes, learn a bit about the region, and just generally have a fantastic time.
I would suggest this boat tour, which takes you to a few of the best sights near Kotor. But there are a few other different options to consider as well:
Our Lady of the Rocks
One of the places that most boat tours of Kotor Bay will take you is to Our Lady of Rocks. But, even if you don’t go on a boat tour, it’s worth visiting anyway.
Our Lady of the Rocks is a small island in the bay that was built in the 15th century for the church that sits on it. There’s also a museum and a shop now.
From a distance, it’s a pretty sight, with the spire and the orange brick buildings catching the sun’s reflections off the water. But there’s lots to see inside – including some impressive artwork – that makes a visit worthwhile.
Boat tours like this one will take you to the island, or you can usually find a ride from someone in Perast.
Kotor is not the only town along the coastline of the bay and it’s worth visiting some of the other ones because they are each unique.
I’m going to to mention Perast in particular because it’s the closest and also one of the most charming. It’s very small but it certainly doesn’t feel like a fishing village.
There are about 16 palaces and 16 churches, a reminder of when it was quite a busy base for wealthy sailors. It almost feels a bit abandoned these days, except it’s usually busy with lots of tourists.
What is there to do in Kotor on a cruise?
These days, lots of people visit Kotor on a cruise and it’s common to see at least one ship moored in the bay.
If you’re wondering what you should do in Kotor on a cruise, I would suggest taking the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour. It includes a short walking tour of the Old Town and then heads along the coast to see some of the highlights of the bay.
With the extra time you have, you can explore the fortifications and any of my other suggestions above that have taken your fancy.
Everything I’ve suggest so far is within easy travel distance from the Old Town of Kotor, but there are lots of other things to do around Kotor that make great day trips.
One of great delights of Montenegro is how quickly you can get from the coast, to the inland heritage sites, to national parks, and into the mountains.
So here are a few quick ideas for day trips from Kotor that I would recommend if you’re staying in the area for a few days.
Blue Cave Tour
The Blue Cave is a very popular natural sight which is on the main coastline just outside the Bay of Kotor. It gets its name because it glows a blue colour when the light bounces off the bottom of the water and back onto the rocks.
You can really only get to the cave by boat and it’s a great place for a swim.
Not far from Kotor is Mount Lovcen, which is a very important site for Montenegro. At the top is a shrine to one of the country’s most important historical figures, and there are also some incredible lookouts on the peak.
The old capital of Montenegro is a small city full of sights. There are lots of things to see in Cetinje and it’s worth a visit.
Founded in the 15th century, it became the centre of Montenegrin culture and much of that legacy remains.
You can get to Cetinje quite easily by bus, but it’s also included in the same Mount Lovcen tour I mentioned earlier, which is a great way to see a lot on a big day trip.
Further down the coast past Budva (which is, of course, a day trip option in itself), you’ll find the ruins of Stari Bar. This old city, built high up on a slope, was abandoned after an earthquake in 1979.
There are lots of things to see at Stari Bar and it’s a nice way to explore this part of the coast, which often isn’t as visited as the area around Kotor.
Montenegro is a beautiful country and I hope you’re able to spend a bit of time here, more than just a cruise stop or cheap weekend away.
But however you explore, using Kotor as a base to see the coastline, bay, and surrounding sights is a great way to experience this part of the Balkans.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN KOTOR
You can choose between a hotel in the Kotor Old Town or something a bit more relaxed around the bay.
Cheap and fun, Montenegro Hostel 4U is a great option for a backpacker atmosphere.
You’ll save money by not being in the Old Town, but Hotel Galia still has great views of the bay.
With a very cool design inside, Boutique Hotel Hippocampus is right in the heart of the Old Town.
And for some luxury, Hotel Forza Terra is a beautiful five-star hotel with an incredible location.