The Bay of Kotor Montenegro, also known as Boka Kotorska, begins seemingly like any other Mediterranean bay. But it’s not; it’s something unique and special.
The first time that you lay eyes upon Kotor, it’s inevitable that you will be visibly stunned. I know I was!
I needed to visualize all of the stories she has told me over the last 20 years.
Few places in the world 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 explain 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 are two 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 rainy 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. Because of its location adjacent to the internal bay’s entrance, this small town 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.
The perfect excuse to have to go back!
Because 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 too 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 real gems of the Balkans and one of the best places to visit in spring in Eastern Europe.
Boasting a network of solid fortifications, cobbled alleyways, hidden piazzas, and stunning architecture, the Old Town of Kotor is of such cultural and historical 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 historical 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.
After your sightseeing, it’s time to grab some lunch. You have many choices to make here as there are plenty of delicious spots to eat in Kotor. A few places we liked:
- Astoria Restaurant – Located in the Old Town itself, check out this restaurant for delicious local cuisine and great prices. The staff here were very friendly with our son – and offered lots of suggestions on what to eat and what wines we should try. Easy breezy. We can recommend the steak – Mr. Chasing the Donkey loved it.
- Cesarica – A rustic choice with some incredibly delicious local cuisine to try out. Be sure to try the seafood here; it’s divine! They also have a great-priced lunch menu on offer, so you can splurge a little without worrying about the cost too much.
- Luna Rossa – Another traditional restaurant, set in a stone building with an open kitchen so you can see what is being cooked. The traditional food here is delicious, but they also have several international choices, ideal for fussy palates.
10+ Top Things To Do In Kotor Bay
There are so many things to keep you busy in Kotor – here are some more ideas for your Montenegro vacay!
Take A Boat Ride To Our Lady Of The Rocks, Perast
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 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 quickly 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. The 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. However, the main highlight is the climb of the 55-meter bell tower, which offers impressive 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 various exhibits and collections 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 an incredibly long promenade, though, but it’s gorgeous. You’ll have a great view of Our Lady of the Rocks and the rest of Kotor Bay, while several welcoming cafes are fantastic spots to watch the 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 the Venetians’ fortifications, 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 was 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 San Giovanni Fortress trail 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 Kotor Bay’s shores, some of which are 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 many 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 a precious treasury.
Step inside and see 14th-century frescoes, priceless art collections, weapons, traditional dresses, and other historical 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 dated 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.
Enter The Blue Cave
The Blue Cave is a hidden wonder located out on the Bay of Kotor. It’s a bit of a boat ride from Kotor, but the town is one of the best places to start your journey here, as to reach the cave, you will have to travel through the entirety of the breathtaking bay itself.
When you enter the concealed entrance to the cave, you will find that it is semi-submerged, part underwater, and part open. You can only reach it by boat and by swimming or kayaking through the entrance.
The atmosphere inside is vibrant, as the cave gets its name from the reflective, bright blue looking water inside.
Where Is Kotor Montenegro?
The perfectly sheltered Bay of Kotor lies on the northern coast of Montenegro, near the border with Croatia. Assuming you’re coming from Dubrovnik, the nearest major tourist town, you will pass villages such as Igalo and Herceg Novi. There’s no need to stop anywhere near the mouth of the bay. It’s what lies more inland that people come for.
After a pleasant ride along the first part of the bay, you’ll arrive at the Verige Strait. This is the entrance to what gives the Bay of Kotor its fame. Incidentally, this very entrance was pivotal in the bay’s history, a narrow bottleneck allowing access to the port towns deeper inside the bay. Because of this strategic strait, which was heavily controlled, the people living in the bay were able to thrive and live peacefully. No one was able to reach them there. Moreover, on the inland side, the sheer mountains offered another form of natural protection.
Although not more than a quarter-mile wide, the strait is deep enough to allow passage to even the largest modern cruise ships. This, of course, is very convenient nowadays, bringing loads of tourism money into the bay.
Now, you’ll have made it into the innermost part of the bay. It is nearly entirely secluded, except for the Verige Strait; this part is of such exceptional beauty that it’s almost hard to grasp. A scenic, winding road runs along the edge of the bay, allowing you to explore virtually every part of it.
How To Get To Kotor Bay Montenegro – Boka Kotorska?
There are three ways to get to the Bay of Kotor. You can choose to drive yourself, visit on a cruise, or take a bus from nearby cities.
Driving to Kotor gives you much more freedom than 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 to go 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 cruise ships.
Your third option is taking the bus. There are numerous guided bus tours to the Bay of Kotor when staying in Dubrovnik, 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. It offers all modern amenities, including free WiFi, a swimming pool, a fitness center, a tennis court, a convenience store, private parking, and a daily breakfast. It has everything you could 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 incredible interior decorations, including 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 terrace’s views, 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. This hotel’s interior 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. WiFi is free to guests.
If you ever visit Montenegro, you must put the Bay of Kotor on your itinerary. You’ll regret it if you don’t!