The old town of Kotor, Montenegro offers the perfect mix of historical sights, great food, beautiful mountains, and beach all in one place. This destination had been on my list for a while so I made it a stop on my way from Albania to Croatia to meet Stan, my adventure partner, during my fortieth birthday trip.
During my short stay, I spent the majority of my time exploring every nook and cranny of the old town of Kotor. Though Kotor isn’t widely popular, yet, it has received more attention as nearby Dubrovnik has risen in popularity. This destination offers a wonderful opportunity to explore a well-preserved medieval walled city without the masses you find in Croatia. Overall, the old town of Kotor is worth a day or two of your travels through the Western Balkans.
This Kotor Travel Guide is for indie travelers who want to plan their own trip and discover unique spots within the city walls. You’ll learn how to get to the city, what to do while you’re there, how to avoid the crowds that throng the streets when the cruise ships are in port, where to stay, and where to eat (the most important, of course!).
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Montenegro is a small European country sandwiched between Croatia and Albania along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The old town of Kotor is located at the end of an inlet in the Bay of Kotor and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site for the Region of Kotor.
Getting to Kotor
Kotor is fairly popular in the Balkans and is easily accessible from many points in the region. Kotor doesn’t have its own international airport so the easiest way to get there is to fly into either Dubrovnik, Croatia or Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, and take a bus from there.
Buses are the best option for getting around the Balkans, if you don’t have a rental car. You will likely pass through Podgorica or Dubrovnik on the way, depending on where you’re beginning your journey.
There’s no parking within the city walls so if you’ve rented a car, you’ll need to park elsewhere. Paid parking lots are plentiful, though you may be able to find free street parking in other parts of the town and for the cost of a further walk into the old town of Kotor.
When is the best time to visit Kotor?
Spring and Fall are the best times for indie travelers to visit the old town of Kotor. During May, September, and October the average temperatures are still above 70º F (20º C) and the rain is expected less than ten days per month. For more climate information, check this site.
Summer is the high season when the most cruise ships visit, along with tourists from around the world. The temperatures are warmer but prices are high and the old town of Kotor is much more crowded.Winter is low season with few visitors and much of the town may be closed. These are the coldest, rainiest months but there can be a cozy charm to experiencing a town like this in its quiet time. I was able to do that in Durmitor National Park in the mountains and loved it!
What is there to do in the old town of Kotor?
The old town of Kotor is pretty small but it's full of charming winding alleyways to get lost in. You know me, after a stroll through the main squares, I wanted to get off the tourist track. I headed for those gorgeous little side streets which were delightful! Now let’s talk about the best things to do in Kotor!
Hike to San Giovanni (St. John) Fortress
The hike to San Giovanni Fortress is no joke, but the views are absolutely incredible and totally worth the effort. You’ll climb more than 1,000 stairs to get to the top so be sure to give yourself plenty of time and bring lots of water!
While there’s a sneaky way onto the trail, I’m all about supporting the local economy and don’t mind paying to access their sights. The cost was €8 at the turnstile at the northeast part of town. Look for signs along the walls that point the way.
This hike is a great option for getting away from the crowds when there’s a cruise ship in port. Though some of the cruisers will make the trek, most of them stay inside the city walls.
The Church of Our Lady of Remedy is a great place to give yourself a break on the way up. The interior frescos are stunning and make you forget about all the work it took to get there! You’ll find placards inside that share information about the church in a variety of languages.
Once you reach the ruined fortress at the top, spend some time admiring the views of the Bay of Kotor below. I’m pretty sure I took at least fifty photos from every possible angle in an attempt to capture the beauty, which photos never quite do.
Get Lost in the Alleyways
Honestly, you really can’t get lost. As long as you’re inside the city walls, you’ll always find your way back to one of the main squares. That makes it fun to wander every potential alley to see what there is to see.
During your wanderings you’ll see plenty of cats, pubs, cafes, and other random surprises. Letrika was one of my favorite little back alley bars. Stop in for a beer or coffee and enjoy the art!
The old town of Kotor is like a smaller, less crowded version of Dubrovnik. The Mediterranean architecture and feel are similar but without the masses of tourists. I don’t usually like comparing one place to another but because I went to Dubrovnik immediately after Kotor, it was impossible not to notice the similarities.
Walk Along the City Walls
One of my favorite experiences was walking along the stone walls that surround the old town of Kotor. The stairs on the north side of the old town offer easy access to the walls. Looking down into the main squares gives you a bird’s eye view! You can stroll the entire length of the old town along the walls in less than twenty minutes.
Make sure you watch for signs as you go along. Residents live near the walls and it’s easy to accidentally wander into their courtyard if you’re not paying attention. The walls also offer a lovely view of the harbor with more detail than you can see from the fortress.
Visit the Historical Palaces and Churches
The old town of Kotor is full of historical spots! It seems like you can’t walk through any of the squares without seeing a church that’s hundreds of years old. The Cathedral of St. Tryphon, which dates back to 1166, is the most famous. There is a small fee to enter, unless you want to go to mass on Sunday. You’ll find a handful of other churches scattered through the winding alleys.
One of the other things you’ll notice as you stroll through the alleys in the old town of Kotor are the gorgeous palaces where nobility once lived. The Pima Palace was my personal favorite to sit and admire while drinking a local brew. Some of these have been turned into accommodations while others are now museums.
You can easily spend a delightful afternoon making your own personal scavenger hunt to find them all. You can also find a spot at one of the many cafes inside the city walls where you can admire the architecture. Cafe culture is a way of life in the Balkans so act like a local and spend an hour lingering over a tiny cup of coffee and soak in all the beauty!
Get to Know the City Cats
Once you’re inside the city walls, it won’t take long before you start wondering, “What’s with all the cats?” You’ll see them lazing about in cafes and peering at you from their perches in the alleys. At the north end of the old town, near the stairs to the walls, you’ll find a number of feline friends hanging out in the park waiting for visitors to love on them.
In fact, cats are such an integral part of Kotor’s history that there’s a whole museum dedicated to them. There are legends about how cats saved the city and they’re seen as a symbol of good luck. You can find all sorts of feline-themed souvenirs and paraphernalia, if you’re looking for a fun and unique trinket to take home with you.
Tips for Avoiding Crowds in the Old Town of Kotor
If you want to stay inside the old town of Kotor when the ships are in port, head out of the main squares. There are a lot of little cafes tucked in the back alleys where most of the crowds don’t go.
Plan to take your hike up to the fort during the main part of the day when day trippers from Dubrovnik and cruise ship tours are exploring the old town. Sure, some of them will make the hike up but most don’t.
You can also head out of the old town and check out the beach! Most people who are just there for the day will spend the majority of their time inside the city walls. After about 5 or 6 PM, they’ll all move on and life will be much quieter. Then you can wander at will without getting stuck in the masses.
Where to Stay in the Old Town of Kotor
Because I was there during shoulder season, it was really affordable (less than $30 per night) to get my own studio apartment just inside the city walls. There are plenty of other options if you’re looking for a place to meet people or even something more luxurious.
This little spot was absolutely perfect for me! It was only about a five minute walk from the bus station and the host met me quickly. The place was clean and comfortable, though it didn't have many frills. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t even a wine opener so I made sure to buy a screw top bottle at the grocery store!
When you’re booking an apartment in the Balkans, be sure to message your host in advance to make arrangements for your arrival. Most of them use either WhatsApp or Viber to communicate. It makes the check-in process much smoother!
Budget Accommodations: $25 or less per night
Here are a handful of others that I considered as I was doing my research. If I do say so myself, I’m usually pretty on point with the places I pick!
This place has great reviews and is in the perfect location. It’s inside the old town of Kotor but in the back alleys away from all the noise. It sounds like a great spot if you want your own space on a budget.
If you want to meet other travelers and save money at the same time, this looks like a great hostel! It’s not far from the main gate into the city. This would be shared spaces though. If you want your own private room, go with one of the other two options.
Mid-Range Accommodations: $25 - $75 per night
This place looks incredible and has wonderful reviews! If you’re looking for a spot where you can feel at home, this seems perfect. The views are lovely and you’re right in the heart of old town.
If you prefer a traditional hotel experience, this looks like the perfect mix of a little bit of luxury without breaking the bank. The reviews are great, the location excellent, and the decor lovely. It would be hard to beat this place, especially within the city walls.
A Little Bit of Luxe: $75 - $150 per night
If you want next-level luxe while still having your own apartment, this looks like just the place for you. The reviews are great and the decor would make you feel like royalty! It’s a great location inside the city walls and would be a unique experience, for sure.
This boutique hotel sold me with the tree sculpture in the lobby! It also has wonderful reviews and is right in the heart of old town. I’m all about the unique experiences and this would top my list if I were looking for a traditional hotel.
Where to Eat in the Old Town of Kotor
Typically, I’m not a fan of eating right in the center of a tourist area. The food is usually much better a few blocks away so we’ll look at options for both!
If you look at the Google reviews, they’re pretty terrible, which took me by surprise! It’s a pizzeria, so I went with the pizza, which seems the obvious choice. It was delightful! The crust was crispy and toppings just what I hoped for. Even with a glass of wine it was less than €10. Bonus: the wifi was great while I was there. Maybe I caught them on a good day, but it was my favorite meal inside the city walls, by far!
This spot is just outside the city walls. Though I didn’t get a chance to eat here, it was next on my list and I pride myself in being a boss at finding good eats. There’s a lovely patio right next to the river and the menu looks delicious too.
I’m always a fan of hitting up the open-air markets and having food on hand for breakfast or a picnic dinner. Just outside the city walls, you’ll find the Kotor Food Market where you can get fresh produce, olives, and local treats.
Outside the city walls and a block north is the Voli grocery story where you can pick up everything you need for a picnic. They also have beer and wine available. This is a great way to save a few bucks and try the local flavors at the same time!
The old town of Kotor is becoming more popular as a destination, and it’s easy to see why! While I like to get off the beaten path, you can’t keep the good things hidden forever. Yes, it can get crowded when there’s a cruise ship in port, but it’s easy enough to find quiet little spots away from the crowds.
If you’re traveling through the Western Balkans, this seaside town is worth a stop. This article is just about the old town of Kotor, but there are a lot of other lovely places to visit nearby if you want to spend more time -- Perast and Our Lady of the Rocks spring to mind first.
Here are a few other articles that will help you plan an incredible trip to the region:
- How to Plan Your Holidays in the Balkans: The Ultimate Guide
- Balkan Tips: 6 Important Things to Know Before You Go
- The Best Places to Visit in the Balkans: 9 Destinations for History, Nature, and Food
If you’d like to learn all the steps for planning your own indie travels abroad, check out the How to Plan an Epic International Trip course! This is where you learn about all the pieces that go into planning an indie trip and how to customize them to what you want! It’s a culmination of my own experience and insights I’ve gained from working one-on-one with clients.
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Now get out there. The world is waiting for you!
What would you do first with your time in Kotor? Have you been and have other places you loved?
Share your thoughts in the comments!
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