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Things To Do In Bay Of Kotor, Montenegro
The first time that you lay eyes upon Kotor, it’s inevitable that you will be visibly stunned. I know I was!
I have just come back from a trip with my Mother-in-law who was born there (it’s an easy trip to make from Croatia). I took her, and the boys and set off to reconnect with family and see where she was from.
I needed to put a visual to all of the stories she has told me over the last 20 years.
There are few places in the world that are quite as impressive as this Montenegrin area – no doubt you’ll also be as dazed at the sheer beauty of Kotor Bay – like I was.
Virtually unknown to North American and Western European—with some exceptions, of course—tourists, the Bay of Kotor Montenegro has the potential to exceed everyone’s expectations.
Located within an easy driving distance from Dubrovnik, Croatia’s star attraction, it is sometimes described as the only fjord in the Mediterranean. While that is technically not true, it does effectively describe what the landscape looks like. A visit to this unique bay is one of the best things to do in Montenegro and the Balkans in general.
The Bay of Kotor Montenegro, also known as Boka Kotorska Montenegro, begins seemingly like any other Mediterranean bay. It’s simple and rocky, not really invoking any awe or causing any jaws to drop.
But as you continue further into the bay, swinging around bends and meandering along its many folds, the landscape becomes increasingly spectacular. The coastal mountains get steeper, the scenery more rugged.
Main Bay Of Kotor Towns
There are several villages and towns in the Bay of Kotor to explore, yet there’s two that are head and shoulders above the rest. Especially if you have limited time at your disposal, these are the ones you should really focus on.
We spent one raining day exploring both of them, and even in the rain they were ah-may-zing
It’s here in Perast; we met our knowledgeable and down-to-earth guide Tomislav to start our perfect Kotor day trip.
Perast lies almost directly across the water from the Verige Strait and is the first thing you’ll see when entering the inner bay. This small town, because of its location adjacent to the internal bay’s entrance, was an essential part of the bay’s fortifications.
Formerly under Venetian control, Perast was granted tax-free status by Venice, just because of its essential role in the bay. This eventually made it an extremely wealthy town. Prestigious mansions dotted the townscape in the 1600s and 1700s. When you stand back and look at the old buildings, it’s hard not to think about the wealthy naval offers and their families who lived there.
And, even now you can still see the traces of that prosperous time—there are sixteen churches and no fewer than seventeen grand palaces. One of those former palaces and houses is the Perast Museum, which is worth visiting. It displays Perast’s seafaring history.
Tomislav gave us a guided tour through the museum instead of taking the boat across The Island of St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks. Due to bad weather (rain and wind), we had to reschedule the week’s plans several times, and we were leaving Montenegro the following day – so we sorrowfully never made it to the islands.
Totally good excuse to have to go back!
Because of the fact that it used to be part of Venice, Perast is often referred to as “the Pearl of Venetian Baroque.” Many Venetian-style buildings make up the heart of the town. Even the main church, St. Nicholas Church, reminds people of Venice. You can climb the tall bell tower for amazing views of the town and the Bay of Kotor.
Just offshore from Perast lie the two small islands we could not access that day – but you can for 5 Euro per person. Both are fascinating places – well the stories I heard were – and so to were the photos I saw.
The Island of St. George is the smallest one. Its larger neighbor, Our Lady of the Rocks, is the larger one.
Set at the foot of a sheer cliff, surrounded by rugged coastal mountains and with the bay’s water lapping gently against its shores, Kotor is the star attraction and namesake of the Bay of Kotor. Set in the far southeastern corner of the inner bay, this marvelous historic town is one of the true gems of the Balkans, and one of the best places to visit in spring in Eastern Europe.
Boasting a network of strong fortifications, cobbled alleyways, hidden piazzas, and stunning architecture, the Old Town of Kotor is of such cultural and historic significance it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Unique in its history, setting, and picturesqueness, Kotor is a must-visit destination if you’re in the Adriatic. It’s to Montenegro what Dubrovnik is to Croatia, what Venice is to Italy, what Mostar is to Bosnia-Herzegovina and what Lake Bled is to Slovenia.
Kotor is filled with historic attractions. While it’s possible to “do” the entire Bay of Kotor in just one day, you’re strongly encouraged to take your time and spend at least one night in Kotor Town if you can.
Main Kotor tourist attractions include the Town Walls, the Sea Gate, the St. Tryphon Cathedral, St. Luke’s Square and the Maritime Museum of Montenegro. The real beauty of Kotor, though, is its overwhelming historic charm. Oh yeah, and the views of the mountains behind it are nothing short of world-class.
Perast is home to not one, but two island churches. The island of St. George, home to the St. George Benedictine Monastery, is not accessible to tourists, but the other one is. Our Lady of the Rocks is an artificial island created by sinking old ships that were filled with rocks. The main attraction here is the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks, which houses a museum. There’s also a small gift shop on the island, as well as a tiny lighthouse.
You can easily get to the island with boat tours that depart from Kotor Town, one of the absolute top Bay of Kotor activities to do.
Climb The Tower Of St. Nicholas Church, Perast
There are no fewer than 19 churches in Perast, but perhaps the most recognizable is the St. Nicholas Church. Construction of this church started in the 17th century but was never completed. You can visit the treasury to see graves of various saints as well as wonderfully embroidered clothes. The main highlight, however, is the climb of the 55-meter bell tower, which offers amazing views of the town below and the bay beyond.
Visit The Perast Museum, Perast
If you’d like some more information on the history of Perast and the Bay of Kotor, a visit to the Perast Museum is highly recommended. Established in 1937, this museum features a variety of exhibits and collections, which were gathered mainly from Perast residents. Inside, you’ll find everything from weaponry and portraits of famous seafarers to historic archival materials.
Stroll The Promenade, Perast
When spending time in Perast, a wander along the waterfront promenade is the ultimate icing on the cake. It’s not a particularly long promenade, though, but it’s absolutely beautiful. You’ll have a great view of Our Lady of the Rocks and the rest of Kotor Bay, while a number of welcoming cafes are awesome spots to watch to world go by for a while. There may be many things to see in Kotor Bay, but remember to slow down, too. Take a seat and take it all in. You’re in a gorgeous place, after all!
Explore The UNESCO World Heritage-Listed Old Town, Kotor Town
Surrounded by fortifications built by the Venetians, the Kotor Old Town dates from between the 12th and 14th centuries. This is a just gorgeous historic town, characterized by numerous stone buildings and houses, several churches, winding alleys and stairways, and a backdrop of steep hillsides.
If you’re trying to figure out what to do in Kotor for a day, exploring the Old Town is it. You can spend several hours wandering this incredible history-oozing maze. And if you’re up for it, you can follow that up with one of the two thigh-burning hikes below.
Hike The Ladder Of Kotor, Kotor Town
If you’re feeling like a workout, there are few things to do in Kotor that are better than a hike up the Ladder of Kotor. This former transportation route used to connect Kotor Town and Bay with Cetinje and the rest of Montenegro. It consists of countless switchbacks and, as such, snakes its way up the cliffs right behind the Old Town. It’s an exhilarating hike, especially when you reach a certain elevation and can admire a truly spectacular view.
Enjoy Panoramic Views From The San Giovanni Fortress, Kotor Town
A slightly shorter hike that starts just outside the Old Town leads to the San Giovanni Fortress, once part of the extensive Venetian fortifications that surround Kotor. Also known as St. John Fortress and Sveti Ivan, the fortress lies 1,355 steps up from the Old Town below. Here, too, await sensational views of the Bay of Kotor. On the way, you’ll pass the remains of other military buildings and a 15th-century church.
The trail to the San Giovanni Fortress also connects to the Ladder of Kotor, which gives you the possibility to combine both trails and create a fantastic loop hike. If you only have one day in Kotor and would like some exercise, this is where you should go.
Visit The Maritime Museum, Kotor Town
Seafaring has always been an important industry in Kotor. Some might even say that it’s the Kotor way of life. Backed by huge cliffs and situated at the end of a narrow bay, Kotor’s only easy connection with the outside world used to be the sea. Therefore, a thriving trade and boating industry brought wealth and prosperity to the shores of Kotor Bay, some of which is still visible in the opulent palaces along its shores, especially in Perast.
The best place to learn about this fascinating history is the Kotor Maritime Museum. It houses wonderful exhibits about the Bay of Kotor and its general history. Although there are a bunch of maritime-related collections and artifacts, you can also see traditional furniture, weaponry, coins, and clothing. A visit to the Maritime Museum is one of the best things to do in Kotor Montenegro.
See The St. Tryphon Cathedral, Kotor Town
There are only two Roman Catholic cathedrals in Montenegro and Kotor’s St. Tryphon Cathedral is one of them. It’s the seat of Bishop of Kotor, whose bishopric spans the whole Gulf of Kotor. Dedicated to Saint Tryphon (Sveti Tripun in Montenegrin), the town’s patron saint, the cathedral is older than many other, more famous, churches and cathedrals in Europe and houses an immensely valuable treasury.
Step inside and see 14th-century frescoes, priceless art collections, weapons, traditional dresses, and other historic artifacts. Make sure to step outside onto the upper balcony for a fine view of Kotor Town. If you’re making a list of what to see in Kotor, the St. Tryphon Cathedral should be in your top 3.
Burn A Candle In St. Nicholas Church, Kotor Town
Located in the northern part of the Old Town of Kotor, the St. Nicholas Church is the most important Serbian Orthodox Church in Kotor. The current building dates from the early-1900s when it was built to replace the previous 19th-century church, which burned down in 1896. You can easily distinguish this church by its two symmetrical domes and, especially, by the Serbian flag that hangs down above the main entrance door.
The church is open to the public, and it’s customary for visitors to burn a candle upon entering, both honoring living family members and commemorating loved ones who’ve passed away.
Learn About Kotor’s Cats At The Cats Museum, Kotor Town
One of the “weirdest” Kotor attractions is not a building, historic site or landscape. It’s cats. There are so many cats in Kotor! This is the result of centuries of marine trading: cats that sneaked their way onto ships were left behind in Kotor. You’ll see these furry felines all over the Old Town, adding even charm to an already-picture-perfect town.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Kotor’s cats, you should definitely visit the Cats Museum. This tiny museum has a quirky collection of all things related to the local cats, including coins, art, literature and other historical artifacts. Also, the gift shop sells small bags of cat food. Get one and spend some time feeding and getting to know the Kotor cat population a bit better.
Driving to Kotor gives you much more freedom that the other transportation options. No matter where you’re coming from, you’ll be able to choose your own itinerary, stop wherever you like and stay as long as you want.
Most people travel to Kotor from Dubrovnik, a drive of about 95 kilometers. Remember that you’ll cross a border, though, so make sure you have the necessary travel document and verify that you’re allowed to take your Dubrovnik rental car across the border. Driving from Dubrovnik to Kotor takes 2 hours or more, depending on how often you stop on the way.
From Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, it’s about 85 kilometers or 1.5 hours to Kotor Town. Another common starting point for Kotor day trips is Bar. This coastal town has ferry connections to Bari, Italy and has the nearest train station to Kotor.
Although there are no ferries that connect Kotor with the rest of the Adriatic, you can, as mentioned above, get to Bar by ferry from Bari, Italy. From there, you can continue by car or bus (see below). If you do like to visit Kotor on a boat, your only option is going on a cruise. The Bay of Kotor is one of the most popular cruise destinations in this part of the Mediterranean, the bay deep enough to allow passage to even the largest of cruise ships.
Your third option is taking the bus. When staying in Dubrovnik, there are numerous guided bus tours to the Bay of Kotor, day trips that offer you a taste of the bay’s beauty. Alternatively, there are even more public buses that commute between Kotor and other towns in the region. You can get there by bus from places like Dubrovnik, Split, Mostar, Sarajevo, Skopje, Podgorica and Bar. Note that the towns in Montenegro have the best and most frequent connections.
Day Trip From Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is less than two hours away by road, so why not hire a car and get exploring on your own steam?
The capital city is 1.5 hours away, and you can drive or jump on the public bus network with ease.
Tivat is less than half an hour away from Kotor, so no excuse not to go! Again, the public bus is ultra-easy to use.
Where To Stay In Kotor Bay?
Hotel Monte Cristo – 4 Stars
The 4-star Hotel Monte Cristo lies right next to the Maritime Museum and only a few streets from major Kotor attractions, such as the St. Tryphon Cathedral, the Cats Museum and the start of the trail up to San Giovanni Fortress. You can stay in well-appointed rooms that come with a mini-bar, kitchenette, work desk, private bathroom, and sofa. A daily breakfast is served in the morning, and there are also free parking, free WiFi, sports facilities, and a restaurant and bar.
Boutique Hotel Astoria – 4 Stars
Located in the heart of the Kotor Old Town, 4-star Boutique Hotel Astoria is one of the best hotels in Kotor. It’s housed in a renovated stone building and offers all modern amenities, including free WiFi, a swimming pool, a fitness center and tennis court, a convenience store, private parking, and a daily breakfast. It has everything you could possibly need to make your time in Kotor as enjoyable and comfortable as possible.
Historic Boutique Hotel Cattaro Montenegro – 4 Stars
Previous guests rave about the location of the Historic Boutique Hotel Cattaro, hidden within the centuries-old streets of the Old Town of Kotor. This elegant and beautifully furnished hotel stands out because of its wonderful interior decorations, which include portraits, carpeted floors, tiled bathrooms and inviting color choices. Accommodation is available in standard rooms, deluxe rooms, and deluxe suites, while amenities range from free WiFi to an on-site restaurant, bar, an airport shuttle and event spaces.
Hotel Vardar – 4 Stars
Located mere steps from the Cats Museum and other things to do in Kotor, Hotel Vardar is a 4-star accommodation in a superb location. Guests can enjoy the views from the terrace, relax in the on-site sauna or Turkish bath, and indulge in local food at the restaurant. There’s also a bar and fitness center, as well as free WiFi. The rooms feature beautiful decorations, ambient lighting, and plush couches.
Guest House Forza Lux – 3 Stars
Another great hotel in Kotor is Guest House, Forza Lux. This particular accommodation has three stars and rooms with private bathrooms and a flat-screen satellite TV. Some rooms come with a seating area. The interior of this hotel is simply beautiful and tasteful, with tiled walls and floors, wooden cupboards and furniture, atmospheric lighting and a relaxing color palette. Additionally, there is also a shared kitchen on the property, while bicycle and car rentals can be arranged, too. WiFi is free to guests.
If you ever visit Montenegro, you simply must put the Bay of Kotor on your itinerary. You’ll regret it if you don’t!