Stunning Kotor, Montenegro, holds treasures behind its storied walls. Here's 13 awe-inspiring things to do in Kotor when you visit! Map included.

A jewel on the bay—Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro—just writing the place name made me sigh with contentment. What an awe-inspiring beauty. If you’re lucky enough to visit when the cruise ships aren’t in port, you’ll find a medieval warren of twisty streets with so many charming buildings that you just won’t be able to stand it.  No wonder UNESCO recognizes Kotor specifically in its designation of the Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska) as a World Heritage Site. I cannot recommend this beautiful place enough—especially since it’s so easy to get there from Dubrovnik—and this post covers things to do in Kotor.

Things to Do in Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor was my first stop in a three-month journey in the Balkans

I stayed for three weeks in nearby Dobrota, walking to Old Town Kotor frequently. I’d just quit my job two months prior to explore a life of travel and writing, and this was the first stop on my three-month journey in the Balkans. I couldn’t have picked a better starting point to transition into a new life, for the Bay of Kotor is a place to chill out, surrounded by mountains and the sparkling bay.

The Bay of Kotor is a perfect place to chill out and explore

Each morning (well, when it wasn’t pouring—I was there in September), I’d head out to the terrace with my coffee and write while overlooking the water. I went swimming more than I’d gone in years, having lived in a city, my favorite time was watching the sun turn the ragged mountains red as it set. When the mood struck, I’d make my way over to Old Town Kotor and wandered about this way and that, trying to see things I hadn’t seen before until my feet hurt and I’d make myself comfortable in a café and watch the world go by.

Take your time here

Unlike larger cities, there isn’t a whole lot you have to do in Kotor—you just need to experience it. I found it absolutely magical. Still, there are a lot of fun things you can do in Kotor, and this post rounds up my favorites. I’d love to hear yours in the comments below!

A brief (and a bit dizzying) history of Kotor

Like much of the Balkan region, Kotor’s history begins with the Illyrians, here in about the third century BCE. And, like much of the region, it had a series of rulers that’s a bit dizzying to recount. The Romans established it as Acruvium and ruled there from 168 BCE–476CE. From there through the late twelfth century, Kotor was part of the Byzantine empire. Kotor then came under Medieval Serbian rule with the Nemanjid dynasty until the late fourteenth century, when there was a brief period of Hungarian rule, followed by Bosnian.

From the Austrians to Yugoslavia and independence

Control of Kotor then ping-pongs again from the Austrians to the Russians for a year, and then the French from 1807–1813. After yet more tumult, Kotor was ruled by Austria for a century until then end of World War I. It then becomes part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians before becoming part of Yugoslavia at the end of World War II. Montenegro became an independent nation in 2006.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

In 1979, the Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with Kotor and neighboring Perast mentioned in the criterion for awarding the status, noting:

“Kotor and Perast are highly characteristic and authentically preserved small cities enhanced by architecture of great quality. Their town-planning is well adapted to and integrated in the landscape.”

Devastating 1979 earthquake and recovery

Just before receiving World Heritage status, a powerful earthquake struck Kotor, damaging many of Old Town’s buildings. UNESCO immediately placed Kotor on the List of World Heritage in Danger and assisted in the restoration of Old Town Kotor. In 2003, it was removed from the Danger list.

Tiny but mighty, Kotor inspires awe. You’re going to love it.

An easy day trip or overnight from Dubrovnik

While personally I think that the way to go is to spend time on the Bay of Kotor and make Dubrovnik the side trip, it’s far more common for people to do this the other way around. There’s an easy bus ride you can take from Dubrovnik that takes you around the Bay of Kotor for a journey to remember.

Check out my post for everything you need to make the trip.

13 amazing things to do in Kotor

Without further ado, here are 13 awe-inspiring things to do in Kotor. I’ve included day trips and excursions in this list, as Montenegro’s size makes it very easy to get a taste of what the entire country has to offer.

1. Wander Old Town

The main draw of Kotor is its charming Old Town. Enter by the old Sea Gate, and you’ll see the Clock Tower that’s become synonymous with Old Town. From there, I’d pick whichever direction looks least crowded and start wandering. Make sure to duck down alleys, as there’s often little wonders to behold. The further back you go, the less likely you are to hit crowds—even on busy days, you can often find little side streets that you’ll have to yourself.

The streets are packed with history, but, as much as the history fascinated me, what I truly loved to do here was just wander aimlessly and revel in the beauty of this lovely Old Town.

Cruise Ship Schedule

Kotor gets a lot of cruise ships. Checking their schedule can help you avoid the crushing crowds as they disembark. Click for the schedule.

2. Scamper along the walls

You can climb up to the fortress for stellar views of Kotor. Personally, I didn’t do this, as it was hot and, well, honestly, the thought of climbing up 750-odd rickety stone steps did not appeal to me that much. I sometimes regret it. I’m not talking about those walls, which costs  €8 to enter (unless you do the nearby Ladder, which you aren’t supposed to do, but I won’t tell). No, I’m talking about the lower city walls immediately surrounding Old Town.

Take one of several staircases to get there

There’s several access staircases to the walls around the Sea Gate and the bastions (all facing the Bay). Just pick one and start scampering. Do note that it can be a bit dicey in spots—there were roped off areas when I did this, but people kind of ignored them.

Great views

From the walls, you’ll get a view down into Old Town, but also of the Bay and of the mountains surrounding Old Town. Atop Kampana Tower, there’s a café as well as benches if you need to sit for a bit (it’s not strenuous at all, but it can get hot in the sun).

3. Step into an old church, untouched by earthquakes

Kotor has suffered a few damaging earthquakes since its founding, but St Luke’s Church has withstood them all, making it unique in the city. This tiny twelfth-century Serbian Orthodox church features frescoes dating back to just after its construction and smells of beeswax. Personally, it was my favorite church.

4. Visit the cats

Have you ever seen so many cats? I thought that I’d seen a lot of dogs in Valparíso, Chile, but they had nothing on the cats of Kotor. HOW THE CATS GOT THERE. The cats have become an unofficial symbol of Kotor, and you’ll find a whole lot of them in the square by Church of St. Mary Collegiate. It’s actually called the Cat Park on the map.

There’s also a  Cats Museum you can visit. I happen to be wildly allergic to cats, so I didn’t go into the museum, but I hear that it’s a hoot.

Make a donation if you can to Kotor Kitties

While the cats are fed and generally cared for in Old Town, their proliferation does present problems for the cats themselves. Kotor Kitties, a nonprofit organization, helps to spay and neuter the cats to keep the population down. I also know of someone who adopted one of Kotor’s many cats.

5. Visit the Green Market

Kotor’s historic Green Market is well worth the visit, even though it’s aimed at tourists. Located just outside the city walls, the market is open daily, except for Sunday—for more local farmers and producers, visit on a Saturday morning. If you’re there during fig season, consider me jealous!

6. Have a glass of wine and watch the world go by at Bokun Wine Bar

Old Towns are famous for tourist-trap restaurants, and, while the quality in Kotor is generally better, it isn’t that much of an exception. I’d save most of my restaurant money for outside Old Town’s walls, but I very much enjoyed Bokun Wine Bar. They have lovely regional wines and have tasty, if not overly adventurous food. It’s tucked back a bit from the crowds in the squares, and it’s a fun place to sit on the terrace and watch the world go by.

7. Chill out

You’re going to miss out on Montenegro if you don’t take some time to just chill out. The people of Montenegro are super into just taking it easy. So much so that there’s a World Lazy Olympics—contestants vie to stay in bed the longest, which seems fitting for a country known for the saying, “Man is born tired and lives to rest” (what the women were doing while the men were resting is another story, but let us take the cue to chill out).

Lazy sunrise

Even the sun is a bit lazy to rise over Kotor. The steep mountains surrounding the Bay block the early sun rise, so everyone gets a little longer to sleep. I do recommend getting up at least once to watch it, preferably with a cup of coffee on a terrace. Here’s what I wrote to my newsletter subscribers at the time:

Kotor’s Magic Trick

Kotor, Montenegro, does a magic trick. I noticed it my first morning here. The day begins gray. That first morning, I thought perhaps the forecast was wrong as I sat out on the terrace with my coffee and journal, overlooking Boka Bay (aka the Bay of Kotor). The teal water of yesterday afternoon had turned a deep green. A few people were out, most of them walking dogs and babies, a fisherman laying a net on the bay. Except for the babies, everyone was silent, sleepy.

 Then, however, I noticed a small sliver of bright sunlight touch the top of one of the mountains across the narrow bay (it resembles a small lake here, one of the narrowest points). Over the next hour, the sunlight began to illuminate the mountains, starting at the top and moving down, until they reached the houses at the bottom of the mountains across the bay.

 And then, magic.

 All at once, the light broke through the mountains behind the house where I’m staying. The entire bay went from deep green to bright teal all at once, sparkling like it does in the movies. As if on cue, people emerged from their homes and into the street.

The day had begun.

All this is to say take a beat and relax while you’re here. You won’t regret it.

8. Swim in the bay

This goes without saying, but definitely make time for swimming. The water is warm and calm, and you can spend wonderful days swimming and sunning. Kotor’s beach isn’t necessarily much to speak of (I personally swam from the pont at my Airbnb), but once you’re in the water, surrounded by mountains, you’ll see what the fuss is about. A sunset swim on a hot day, watching the mountains turn red, is truly special.

9. Walk along the bay on the Dobrota Riva

Old Town Kotor faces inward, but the Bay of Kotor is a stunner. Be sure to get outside the walls and walk along the bay (take care for aggressive drivers!). The nearby Dobrota Riva is a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll. The Riva is dotted with restaurants and cafés (I only ever got a drink at the ones right on the water), but also has benches where you could sit and watch old fishermen detangle their nets as a cruise ship makes its way in or out of the harbor (alas, those things are a fact of life in Kotor).

Day trips & excursions

Kotor is a wonderful destination, but there’s so much more in Montenegro to see! Luckily, Montenegro is also a tiny country, and it’s entirely possible to see a lot of it without too much effort. Here are some great day trips and excursions you can take from Kotor.

10. Take the speedboat tour to the Blue Cave

You will not miss all the signs offering speedboat tours to the Blue Cave—indeed you might even get stopped by a particularly enthusiastic tour guide offering you a trip. I think everyone with a boat on the bay has offered one of these tours at some point. Here’s the thing—it’s totally worth it to take the trip, especially because it’s so affordable (think about €35). You’ll get to experience the bay from a boat, stop at Our Lady of the Rocks, a WWII submarine cave (with a submarine in it), and see Mamula Island before getting out onto the open Adriatic Sea and venturing into the Blue Cave.

Personally, I think the Blue Cave I saw in Split was more impressive, but this one is still magical, and the boat ride thrilling. Plus—you can swim in this Blue Cave. If you aren’t into speedboats (you will jostle a lot on the water and likely get rather wet), there are slower boat options.

11. Visit nearby Perast

Kotor’s walled city focuses inward; lovely Perast turns toward the water. Just a short distance from Kotor (if the bus doesn’t show up, the taxi fare is manageable), Perast is prettier than a postcard and definitely worth a day trip or afternoon if you’re more pressed for time. Perast has a gorgeous promenade as well as charming back streets that take you back in time. Be sure to take the ferry out to Our Lady of the Rocks and explore the Adriatic’s only human-made island.

Check out my post for details!

12. Take a day trip to Central Montenegro

Get away from the coast and into the mountains and lakes with a day trip to Central Montenegro. My suggestion is to take a day trip with 360Monte, so that you can admire the stunning views from the Kotor Serpentine and views of Skadar Lake National Park instead of gripping your steering wheel. You’ll get to the top of Lovćen, the black mountain that gave Montenegro its name. This well-organized small-group day-trip tour will have you picking your jaw up off the floor.

Check out my post!

13. Take a day trip to North Montenegro

Northern Montenegro will forever hold a piece of my heart. Durmitor National Park will leave you speechless, and Ostrag Monastery will leave you in awe (and also grateful that you aren’t behind the wheel). As with Central Montenegro, I’m recommending a 360Monte day-trip tour here. This, too, is a very well organized tour with a knowledgeable guide and skilled driver!

Check out my post!

Plan your visit to Kotor, Montenegro!

General considerations

  • You’ll need cash in Montenegro, as much of the country runs on it. As with other countries in the Eurozone, exact change is a thing, and large denominations might not be accepted. You can usually change a large bill at a bank.
  • Wear good walking shoes—those charming pavements can be treacherous.
  • English is widely spoken in the tourist areas of Montenegro, but it’s always polite to have a few phrases.
  • Just as a general note, openly discussing religion, politics, and especially the wars in the 1990s is ill advised. Also note that many people who live in Montenegro consider themselves Serbian and that using “Montenegrin” to describe people may inadvertently cause offense.

Solo Female Travel

You’ll have a great time in Kotor. Old Town’s twisting paths were made for leisurely solo wanders.

Kotor is generally very safe, and you should be fine, even walking at night (do watch out for traffic!). While my impression was that it was rare, pickpocketing can happen, especially in crowded areas, so make sure to keep your belongings secure at all times.

Accessibility

Like many Old Towns, Kotor has accessibility challenges, though the main squares are accessible and many of the attractions have wheelchair ramps. However, side streets, especially further back into Old Town would likely present challenges to those using a wheelchair.

The tourist information booth at the Sea Gate may have more information.

A few words about transportation & driving

  • Transportation around Kotor is not the most reliable, and I’d stick to my own two feet as much as possible to avoid headaches.
  • Uber does not run in Kotor, nor does any other rideshare service.
  • The Blue Bus line (it truly runs on its own schedule), but when you can catch it, it’s cheap and comfortable. Make sure to allow a lot of time for the bus to show up (and be prepared to take a taxi).
  • Taxis can also be challenging—I had a driver insist that I was staying at the local hostel, even though I gave him the address of where I was staying. He then dropped me off a fifteen-minute walk away. I still get miffed just thinking about him.
  • Speaking of transportation, drivers are very aggressive. Take care crossing roads.
  • I’ve recommended tours for day trips for a big reason—some of the most scenic roads in Montenegro are dangerous—including one-lane twisty mountain roads with two-way traffic. While you can certainly rent a car in Montenegro, if you aren’t a really good driver, I’d advise against it.

Book Tours

Speedboat tour

In high season, these can sell out. Provided that you’ve booked your ticket in advance, it would probably be a good idea to try and book this as well. I will say that I had a hard time booking Kotor Boat Tour, Submarine and Speedboat online, but there are others available through Get Your Guide. Just make sure to note the kind of boat you’ll be taking and read reviews before booking.

Book the Great Montenegro Tour to Central Montenegro

During the high season, this is likely to sell out. Prices can also fluctuate, depending on the time of year. Book directly with 360 Monte.

Book the North Montenegro Tour

During the high season, this is likely to sell out. Prices can also fluctuate, depending on the time of year. Book through GetYourGuide.

IMPORTANT: Tourist Tax

  • If you stay overnight in at an Airbnb or similar in Kotor, make sure that you know if your host will register you and pay the tourist tax (about €1 /person/day) at the tourist office or if you’re responsible for doing it yourself.
  • If you need to do this yourself, your host should provide you with the necessary information. Registration isn’t onerous, but you can get into trouble it isn’t done. See the map for location of the tourist office in Kotor.

Map of things to do in Kotor

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