When Lonely Planet names their top destination for a year, you know that place is special. In 2016, they named Kotor, Montenegro as the place to visit.
The whole world collectively asked “where?” and then the tourism came rushing in.
While living in Dubrovnik last year, Mr. Valise and I took a weekend trip to Kotor. How could we not – so close to this coveted ‘top’ destination in the world? Our weekend was a highlight of our time in the Balkans. We regularly talk about Montenegro, look back on pictures, or try to plan our ‘escape’ back for a more lengthy exploration of Kotor and the surrounding region.
I don’t know that I could name a single ‘top’ destination, but if you twisted my arm, Kotor would certainly be on the list. If you’re planning to visit, here’s a guide for how to make it happen – and what to see and do while you’re there.
Why Visit Kotor, Montenegro
If you’re not familiar with it, Kotor is an amazing destination for history and culture lovers. The small town has only 13,000 residents – mostly spread along the shoreline of the Bay of Kotor. This ria (submerged river valley) is reminiscent of Norway, with towering mountains and a deep, healthy waterway. Unsurprisingly, it draws hundreds of cruise ships to port each year and nearly a million tourists (based on my rough guess of the ship size) visit the town, usually for less than a day.
Itinerary: How to Spend 3 Days in Kotor
Two days might not seem like enough time to see Kotor, but it’s perfectly sufficient to hit most of the best sights. It’s also far more than most cruise tourists spend (typically 4-8 hours in port). If my two days in Kotor taught me anything, it’s a small town with plenty to explore. Two days is sufficient – but you’ll want to stay longer or come back again!
I’ve written this as a weekend trip (Friday to Sunday), but you could easily adapt this for other days of the week. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Kotor.
Friday Evening – Arrive in Kotor
There are two main ways to arrive in Kotor when you’re not arriving by cruise ship. You can fly into a nearby airport (such as Dubrovnik or Tivat) from another European destination, or arrive by bus (again from Dubrovnik or perhaps Tirana, Albania). What I’m getting at is that to get to Kotor, you’re going to have to travel a bit.
Mr. Valise and I arrived in Kotor on a bus from Dubrovnik. Bus timetables and tickets can be booked through GetByBus. The bus ride is approximately ~2.5 hours from Dubrovnik to Kotor, and tickets start at €15.
After arriving, make your way to your accommodation for the duration of your trip. Need some tips?
- You should stay within the Old Town walls. Don’t be swayed by cheaper accommodation outside the city walls, as the quality will most likely be less acceptable. Additionally, there are some pockets of poverty and homelessness outside the Old Town walls, and it’s much harder to gauge your proximity to these issues.
- Mr. Valise and I stayed at Janko’s apartment, which we found on Airbnb. It’s officially called the San Francis Accommodation, and it was perfect. Honestly, I would gladly live there! The apartment starts from $54 per night and is perfect for two people.
- If you want options, I like the look of this Old Town Square apartment (from $55 per night) and this Old Town HomeStay (from $43 per night). The HomeStay apartment is pretty new on Airbnb though, so I would wait to see how it does once there are a few reviews.
- There are a handful of hotels in the Old Town, including the hip and moody Hotel Hippocampus from $137 per night) and the luxe-looking Hotel Vardar (from $111 per night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com). I haven’t stayed at either of these, but all seem to include breakfast in the total price.
Save up to $40 off your first Airbnb booking by using this link to search for a place to stay in Kotor.
Friday Night – Dinner
Once you’re settled into your accommodations, strike out for dinner. This first evening, enjoy your dinner within the Old Town. Here are some good options:
- Cesarica – This was the #1 restaurant from our Airbnb host Janko, and it was a top-notch recommendation. We enjoyed a cheese plate with champagne, followed by a cheesy risotto (for me) and a fresh tuna steak (for Mr. Valise). Seriously, five stars.
- Luna Rossa – A cozy casual spot with delicious food and plenty of options. The cheese, meat, and olive appetizer looks amazing.
- Old Winery – A place we missed but were eager to try. As the name suggests, your experience is wine-centric with food options to back it up.
A note on addresses: I haven’t included any, as all of Old Town Kotor is numbered – each and every address is a number, and you just ask which number and which way to go to find it. The concept of street names is a little unnecessary in such a small town.
Saturday Morning – Leisurely Breakfast
It’s interesting waking up in a town where you can’t see the sunrise or sunset very well, but Kotor is such a town. Instead of rising early to catch a view of the sun coming up, sleep in and rouse yourself for breakfast.
There are two breakfast options:
- Head to one of the hotels and buy the breakfast buffet for a fixed price. Mr. Valise and I ate breakfast at the Hotel Vardar one morning, looking out over the main square of the Old Town. It was a conglomeration of fruits, cheeses, sausages (sliced and links), and pastries, with orange juice.
- Find a cafe and sit down for a coffee and pastry. There are some options like Forza and Siempre right inside the main gates to the Old Town. This is good if you want to grab a quick bite and get straight to exploring.
Saturday Morning – Sightseeing in Old Town Kotor
The area of the Old Town is quite small, so my best advice is just to set out and explore. You won’t get lost, and you won’t run out of things to see.
Like Dubrovnik, you can explore part of the city walls in Kotor too. These are free to access and give you a good vantage point for the rest of Kotor. I recommend accessing from the northwest-most point inside the old town; there’s a stairwell and a public bathroom there.
There’s a market on the outside of the Old Town walls where you can see locals shopping for fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and seafood. You can also walk along the waterfront and enjoy the ships that have tied up. There are plenty of small alleyways, restaurants, and shops to explore too; let your sense of adventure guide you.
In the northern corner of town, you can find a large number of cats. Kotor is an unofficial top destination for feline tourism, and there are many strays you can say hello (or ‘meow’) too. There’s also a Cats Museum, where you can learn about cats and see a collection of art that displays cats doing human things (like courtship and teaching). It’s certainly a unique experience!
One last thing: if you are staying in an Airbnb or vacation rental, at some point you will need to stop and register with the Kotor Residence Registration Office. All visitors who stay in Montenegro overnight must pay a small tax (€0.70 per person per night). It takes less than ten minutes to fill out the paperwork, but it protects both you and your host.
Saturday Afternoon – A Trip to Our Lady of the Rocks and Perast
In the afternoon, head to the waterfront and look for signs that will give you a 2-3 hour trip to the town of Perast and the island church of Our Lady of the Rocks. These are two of the main tourist sights near Kotor and are a good way to pass the afternoon.
Once you pay (usually €15-20 per person) and board your boat, you’ll spend 45-60 minutes sailing to the island church. Our Lady of the Rocks is a famous church for its beautiful interior artwork, including paintings from a famous Baroque artist from nearby Perast. Additionally, the interior is almost entirely covered by small tin plates which sailors have long affixed to the walls before and after setting out on voyages.
A five-minute ride will lead you to Perast, where you can walk around the small town. Street vendors offer various souvenirs and ice cream treats if you’re looking for a way to spend any extra coins in your pocket. Additionally, you can climb the bell town of Saint Nicholas church. It’s only 150 steps, but takes you above the entire city and has great views of the Bay of Kotor.
Saturday Evening – Dinner and Night Lights
After returning to Kotor by boat from Perast, opt for an earlier dinner outside the Old Town walls.
The best sit-down restaurant in town is Restaurant Galion, with stunning panoramic views of the Old Town and Bay. The restaurant is gourmet, on par with most restaurants of a similar caliber in other European cities, and is heavy on seafood.
Mr. Valise and I had dinner al fresco at nearby Restoran Galerija. We arrived before the majority of diners and had the place mostly to ourselves. After splitting bruschetta, I enjoyed fresh prawns in a tomato sauce and Mr. Valise had fresh fish.
Another more casual option is Tanjga, which holds the #3 spot for restaurants in Kotor according to TripAdvisor. It’s a barbecue restaurant, with roast meat and veggie options – reviews say it’s great food at an affordable price.
After dinner, take a stroll along the outer boundary of the Old Town. At night, the lights along the walls are lit up – including all the way up the mountain. Here’s a stunning picture from Pete and Dalene at Hecktic Travels. It’s a mesmerizing view, and reminds you of the historic importance of this small, fortified city; the Venetians built these walls in the 13th and 14th centuries, and they still stand.
Sunday Morning – Climbing the Walls
A leisurely evening and restful night should have you full of energy to climb the fortified walls to the top of the Mountain of St. John.
If you arrive early enough, there may not be someone monitoring the entrance to the stairs; otherwise, expect to pay €2-3 per person for access to climb the walls. Get ready – it’s a long climb! The climb is 1355 steps – more or less – that take you from the town to almost 1000 feet above sea level. From many points along the climb, you’ll have stunning views of the Old Town and whole countryside surrounding Kotor.
Plan to spend about 45-60 minutes climbing the stairs – and the same amount of time to come back down. Be sure to bring water too, there are no facilities along the fortified walls.
Sunday Afternoon – Kayaking, Snorkeling, and Caving
After a quick lunch, it’s time to set out and explore more of Montenegro.
I recommend booking the kayaking, snorkeling and caving tour from Montenegro+, which takes you out to the Adriatic coast. Jeffrey and his team made Mr. Valise and I feel very welcome despite a last-minute booking, and we had an amazing time on the tour. We drove out to the coast, spend several hours kayaking, and got to jump in and out of our kayaks to snorkel and explore caving systems all along the rocky coastline.
The tour ended by dropping us back off in Kotor, just in time to catch the bus back to Dubrovnik. In the late afternoon, you can make your way on to Dubrovnik, or fly out from Tivat to your next destination.
Ready to visit Kotor? Ask questions in the comments and I’ll help you make your trip to Kotor a memorable one!