Kotor is one of the most beautiful places in Montenegro, if not the world. With its combination of mountains, the sea, an ancient fortress and a labyrinthine medieval old town, there is nowhere else like it. It was my introduction to Montenegro and I meant to visit for just a week, but I fell in love and ended up staying the entire summer.
One Day in Kotor
There are three common recommendations for a visit to Kotor: explore the old town, hike up to the fortress and eat grilled meat at Tangja.
You could do them all in a day but Kotor and the surrounding bay has easily enough to do for two or three days. The old town is also a crush of cruise tourists whenever a ship is docked, so a few days will mean you have time to experience the old town at its best – early in the morning, in the evening and late at night.
Get Lost in the Old Town
Inside Kotor’s walls is a maze of small alleys, squares, shops, hotels, churches, cafes and tiny gardens. There are interesting details (and cats) everywhere you look.
Deliberately designed to be a labyrinth so invaders would get lost and couldn’t march straight from one side to the either, it also means you can wander for a good couple of hours and find new things at every corner. I have been to the old town dozens of times and still find small lanes I have never been down before.
Culturally, there are some small but interesting museums, like the Maritime Museum and the Cats Museum. The church of St Tryphon, dating back to the 1100s, is the most famous symbol of Kotor, and there are also several smaller churches to wander in and out of.
But Kotor is at its best when you are sitting at a cafe, drinking coffee and watching people go by. Avoid the Square of the Arms (the big square as you come in the main gate) and walk further back into the town for cheaper coffee, smaller cafes, and better service.
This is also the most local thing you can do while you’re here – and to be properly Montenegrin, fight with your friends over the best people-watching seats.
Hike up to the Fortress
The fortress is perched high above the town and overlooks the old town and the bay. There are two ways up: a paid entrance at the back of the town (the fee is around eight euro per person) that leads to the stairs to the fortress. You need good shoes and lungs for this climb, it’s over a thousand mostly uneven and often slick stairs.
The second way is the old town road, also known as the Ladder of Kotor. This is an old road to the villages at the top of the mountain, where people used to come down to sell produce and take wood and other items back up. To find it, walk out the north gate of the old town and turn right. This road looks like a dead end, but there is a small path along the river that goes past the old electricity station and leads onto the trail.
This route is longer as it zigzags back and forth up the mountain, but it’s less strenuous than all those stairs. You can also take on the full hike to the top of the mountain, which takes two or three hours one way. Look out for the goats and the donkeys on the way.
Worth a stop going up or down is the small cafe selling local cheese, prosciutto, and drinks about thirty minutes hike above Kotor. The view over the bay is wonderful and may tempt you to end your hike right here, especially if you decide to accept the shots of rakija – local spirits – from the proprietor. (I might have done this and then had a very wobbly hike to the summit.)
Once you’ve been to the cafe, you can explore the abandoned village of Špiljari and then climb through a hole in the back wall of the fortress to enter it for free.
Hiking the fortress is best done in the early morning or around sunset. The mountain has no trees and is punishingly hot and shadeless in the summer morning or afternoon (take twice as much water as you think you will need).
My favourite time to hike it is just as the old town goes into shade in the afternoon. Pace the shadow to the top and then race the last ten minutes up the stairs to the fortress, just in time to catch the sun going down.
Eat grilled meat at Tanjga
On every list of places to eat in Kotor is the grill restaurant of Tanjga, just outside the old town walls to the east, near the roundabout and the Idea supermarket. If you can’t find it, look for the chickens roasting outside and the grill smoke wafting down the road.
A massive, Montenegrin-sized platter of mixed meats, sauces and chips is around seven euro. They also carry a couple of varieties of craft beers (rare in Montenegro) to go with your meal. There are seats inside and a nice covered terrace at the back.
Enjoy the view from Muo
Walk out of the old town and turn left, then turn right at the roundabout, and follow the road around the bay to the small fishing village of Muo. There are only a few houses here, but the view back across the bay to Kotor is spectacular.
Buy some beers at the market on the way, and you can sit and drink on one of the benches while looking at what I think is one of the best views in the world.
When to Go to Kotor
May, June, and mid-September into October are the best times to visit Kotor. Winter is gloomy and often rainy, whereas in May and June it’s mostly sunny, still green, not too hot, not too crowded and just warm enough to get out on the water on a boat cruise (or even swim).
July and August are to be avoided unless you really have no other choice as it is very hot and VERY crowded. That said, if you enjoy crowds – there are two festivals in August. The Kotor Festival is at the end of the first week in August, with a carnival street parade down the main road, and then music in all the different squares and partying everywhere in the old town until 3am.
Bokeška Night occurs in mid-August and starts with a boat parade of floats created by locals along the waterfront and then ends with, yes, another huge and fabulous party in the old town.
And once you’re done with Kotor, there is still the rest of the of bay to explore….