Kotor is a beautiful and tiny medieval town at the end of the stunning Bay of Kotor. The town itself is delightful, but what about captivating? For me, it was the sight of those fantastic defensive walls that zigzag up and down the steep mountain behind the town, totally enclosing it to protect it in medieval times from foes from land or sea. The stone walls almost disappear into the rocky landscape in the daytime, but at night they are spectacularly lit showing the fortifications up and down the mountain.
Hiking up the rough, steep path to the remains of the fort on the top is the #1 Thing To Do in Kotor and if you ever have a chance to do it, the reward is awesome views of the Bay and a view almost straight down at the little triangle of a town that is captivating Kotor.
With 5 nights we had time to spend on a hike up and around the fortifications, see some of the sights in town and go on driving excursions, returning in the evening to wander Kotor’s quiet streets – and marvel at those amazing walls.
- Hiking the Walls
- Wandering the Old Town at night
- Driving the spectacular serpentine drive
- Porto Montenegro
Kotor was busy the night we got into town, the main town square was bustling with lots of traditional dancing and singing to celebrate Montenegro’s Independence Day, May 21 – the date Montenegrins voted (by a narrow margin) to become an independent nation.
After some time enjoying the performances, and armed with a map and a self guided walking tour, we got to know our way around tiny Kotor and some of the historic sights in town.
The Main Gate
The main gate has some interesting symbols, dates and writing. The old Yugoslav national seal is at the top, underneath that is the interesting Tito quote “Tuđe nećemo svoje ne damo” (Don’t take what’s ours, and we won’t take what’s yours), and a big date under that 21 XI 1944 (November 21, 1944) – the date the area was liberated from the Nazis by Tito’s Partisan Army.
The Valier Bastion to the right of the main gate sports the Venetian lion – the Venetian Republic controlled this area for 450 years starting in the 15th century, effectively defending the region against the Ottoman Empire.
Tip: Not only can you hike to the top of the fortifications high on the mountain above, you can walk around the walls that surround the town below. The walk is on top of the bastions and directly above the main gate next to the Duke’s Palace (the building on top of the gate).
The main gate feature most interesting to visitors is the giant bench to the right of the gate – irresistible to everyone!
Scenes Around Kotor
Tiny Kotor has many charming little squares and back streets that I loved to stroll in the evenings. The last week of May was busy with cruise ship passengers in the daytime, but the evenings were calm, quiet, and the town practically empty of tourists. Perfect.
Medieval crime and punishment is always fascinating. Under the main square Clock Tower is the triangular shaped pillary where people would be chained with placards around their neck for public humiliation.
As the lights in the town come up in the evenings, so do the lights on the fantastic fortifications on the mountain and the 17th century Church of Our Lady of Health halfway up the steep slope. You can only get to the church on foot, so what’s that church doing there? The church was built in thanks to God by survivors of the devastating plague that followed the 1667 earthquake that destroyed three quarters of the town, which was followed by a raging fire, death, and…rats.
There’s quite a few wonderful palaces in Kotor, like the 17th Century Pima Palace in Trg od Brasna (Flour Square) with it’s long Baroque ornamental balconies.
A symbol of Kotor, the large ornate Cathedral of St. Tryphon was damaged in the earthquake of 1667 and there wasn’t enough money to completely reconstruct it, leaving one tower shorter than the other. Another massive earthquake devastated the coast of Montenegro in April 1979 and greatly damaged the Cathedral, fortunately recently restored.
Most of today’s Kotorians are Serbian Orthodox and pretty Saint Luke’s Square has two Orthodox churches, one of them dating from the 12th century.
Hiking the Walls
When you see the spectacular views, you’ll know why this is the #1 activity in Kotor. Hiking up the steep path is easy enough going up to the halfway point – the Church of Our Lady of Health. After this point the path gets rough and treacherous, just wear reasonable shoes that have some tread (not dainty cruise ship sandals!), take your time, and you’ll be fine.
We were up the path at 10:00 and back down 2 1/2 hours later. After plenty of time at the top (it doesn’t take long), we tried an alternative even more treacherous and steep upper path down, eventually scrambling through thorny brambles until they got so thick we had to turn back. On the way back down the main path we stopped for a bite of our picnic lunch at the Church of Our Lady of Health halfway down and finally took the middle path back to town which exits at the less used entrance to the walls on the south side of Kotor.
Driving Excursions from Kotor
With 5 nights in Kotor, we had time for 4 driving excursions to see something of the area. These excursions are in the order we did them, not by the order of my personal favorites.
Excursion #1 – Perast and Our Lady of the Rocks island
Perast has an exciting and fascinating history, but the town itself didn’t excite me. I expected lavish Venetian style mansions however with the exception of the beautiful museum building, the large and seemingly empty and shuttered buildings facing the bay didn’t impress. Maybe this was just a case of managing expectations because other people rave about Perast. But it’s not just the town that we came to see, the most famous attraction is the island of Our Lady of the Rocks with the legendary icon of the Virgin and Child and the interesting museum. The boat trip to the tiny man made island and the sights there don’t take long and were historic and fascinating in their own right and were the highlight of the trip to Perast, nonetheless this wasn’t the top excursion for me.
Timing: We had plenty of time to go to Perast after our hike up and down the Kotor Town Walls.
Excursion #2 – Sveti Stefan and the Budva Riveria
The drive to Sveti Stefan takes about an hour from Kotor. We parked at the Tourist Info office in the town and walked through shady groves and past pink, pebbly Milocer Beach (King’s Beach) to get to the approach to the tiny exclusive island of Sveti Stefan, good only for a quick look because you aren’t allowed on this private island. On the drive back we stopped at the tiny Budva Old Town for what turned out to be a very quick walk around due to the amount of visitors in the tiny pedestrian streets of the old town. I wasn’t expecting a lot from this excursion and enjoyed the lovely walk to and from Sveti Stefan, but could have done without the stop at Budva Old Town. Our last stop was a late lunch on the way back to Kotor.
Timing: We left Kotor around 10:30 and got back around 5 or 6.
Excursion #3 – Porto Montenegro
Porto Montenegro turned out to be a terrific excursion from Kotor. We made it a loop drive by driving around the Bay of Kotor and had a great time in Porto Montenegro around the Super Yachts, among them the Golden Odyssey. At 404 feet the Golden Odyssey isn’t even in the Top 10 largest yachts in the world, but it’s the biggest one I’ve seen. That, plus its “Toy Hauler” yacht, and what I like to think of as it’s overflow guest yacht the original Golden Odyssey – these three sit side by side at the end of the Marina. This was my second favorite excursion from Kotor.
Timing: We left Kotor about 11:15 and got back around 4.
Excursion #4 – The Spectacular Serpentine Drive From Kotor to Cetinje
View after view, this spectacular drive is a must do if you have a car. My favorite excursion from Kotor, the tip here is “Go Early!” Timing: We went all the way to Cetinje and back, left about 9:00 and got back about 4:30.
Last Night in Kotor
Our last night in Kotor we wandered the charming streets of the town and walked the walls of the town for the last time. With scenes like these, is it any wonder why I found Kotor captivating?
- Montenegro Map
- Guide Book for Croatia & Slovenia, including Mostar and Kotor – The Rick Steve’s guide book was terrific for Kotor, there’s a great self guided walking tour plus info on some driving excursions.
- Apartment Fiumera (Booking.com) – Loved our 5 nights here! Elegant, quiet, spectacular view and terrific host
This is one of those apartments that you just don’t want to leave. We spent 5 nights in this beautiful, elegant one bedroom apartment that had everything we needed, including a washer/dryer. We slept great in the king size bed in the quiet bedroom, our private parking spot was right outside the apartment, the kitchen and huge bathroom had plenty of everything, and we were able to watch English language programs on the big wall mounted LCDTV. And then there’s that view! The apartment has a long balcony off the living room where we could enjoy the beautiful lights on the fantastic walls on the cliffs rising behind Kotor. We loved the location, just a few minutes walk to the North Gate and into the Old Town of Kotor.
Kotor with a Car
Kotor is a tiny pedestrian medieval town at the end of the Bay of Kotor. You can drive around the town on the road that hugs the bay, but not in it. There’s a lot of traffic, and lots of cars vying for the same free parking places. On the street in front of our apartment near the shopping center on what looked like free parking one day, we saw all the cars with tickets on another day. Your best bet for piece of mind parking is staying in an apartment that comes with it’s own parking place, like the lovely Apartment Fiumera.
Arriving in Kotor
What should have been a 4 hour drive from our 2 Nights in Mostar turned into one of those navigation horror stories. Instead of driving directly from Mostar, we made an on-the-way detour to see the 16th century Dervish house/monastery in Blagaj. Although this is one of the Things To See near Mostar, this was a big waste of time for us. The fascinating thing was that there were just busloads of women here! The house itself is only a few tiny rooms, and unless you are highly Dervish religious I highly recommend skipping this site. After we were through looking around, our phone GPS navigated us to Kotor via a road that turned into a track that turned into a rut. Uh oh. Backtracking all the back to Blagaj we finally got out to the highway and 4 hours later arrived in Kotor.
Tip: My Garmin GPS City Navigator European Maps were supposed to have full coverage in Bosnia & Herzegovina and in Montenegro, but they did not work. We used Google Maps on the phone.
Next stop: Dubrovnik, Croatia, an easy 2 hour drive from Kotor.
What do you think? Are you captivated by Kotor?