Kotor is a coastal town in Montenegro with a population of about 13,500. It is well-known for its World heritage medieval structures (including churches and fortifications) and its stunning natural setting at the very edge of the mountain-rimmed Kotor Bay.
Kotor is situated in a most secluded tip of Boka Kotorska bay, in the northern part of the Montenegro coast on the Adriatic Sea. Kotor has developed around Stari Grad (local language for “old town”), the city’s old town and best known landmark, which is listed with UNESCO World heritage sites. Kotor Bay is the deepest natural fjord-like bay in the Mediterranean Sea, and the scenery around it (including the steep mountains which come almost straight down to the waters edge) is spectacular.
Kotor is also unique because it is the only town on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea to be located by name in historic and strategic maps. Old Kotor was built like a maze for protective purposes and it is very easy to get lost here. In fact, even the locals get lost. Take a wrong turn and you will wind up far from your destination. This can happen even with a town map in hand. However, looking for landmarks, such as the 12th century St. Tryphon Cathedral, will help—and these landmarks are listed on nearly every tourist map.
The population of Kotor is multi-ethnic: less than half are Montenegrins, less than a third are Serbians, and a tenth are Croatians. Kotor is still the seat of the Catholic Bishopric of Kotor, which covers the entire area surrounding the gulf of Kotor.
It is currently not known when Kotor was exactly founded, but archaeologists do know it was before the time of Homer and that the city was Greek (IV-VII century BCE) and was home to them as well as the Illyrains and the Romans. It was destroyed by the Visigoths in V century CE, but following that it was ruled by many foreigners. First in 476 CE by the Byzantines, Boka in the VII century, Slovenians in the X and XI centuries, then by the Serbians in 1185 to 1371, the Venetians from 1420 to 1797, Austrians in 1797, Russians in 1806, France in 1808 to 1813 then Austria again. In the beginning of the 20th century they became part of Yugoslavia and then Serbia, but they finally became independent in 2006.
The medieval walled Old Town is shaped roughly like a triangle. The side facing Kotor Bay and the north side fronting the Skurda River are both heavily fortified with a thick wall. The third (east) side backs into the cliff face with a meandering defensive upper town wall (a short version of the Great Wall) climbing the mountainside. There are three entrances to the Old Town, including the western Sea Gate of 1555, which serves as the main door. The southern gate is at the south apex of the triangle, on the road to Budva. The northern gate leads to a bridge that crosses the Skurda River.
The main Tourist info center is in the area outside the Sea Gate of 1555 (facing Kotor Bay) to the Old Town. This should be one of your first stops. Open daily 8:00 – 17:00. Pick up a free map. Free wifi hot spot TO KOTOR.
The best way to get around is on foot inside the compact old town, especially since cars cannot get into the old town. There are some golfcarts that are used as taxis and/or city tour.
What to see
- Old Town. The Old Town is the most famous part of Kotor, where the Kotor history, culture, and tradition are being preserved. The old town of Kotor has a great number of monuments of the medieval architecture: churches, cathedrals, palaces, and museums. They are complemented with the multitude of narrow streets, squares, and markets. The main and the biggest square is Trg od oruzja (Square of arms). That square was and remained the main place for gathering. In addition, there are some significant cultural monuments like: Tower watch (VIII century), Cathedral of Sveti Tripun (XIII century), Church of Sveti Luka (XIII century), Prince’s palace (XVII century), Church of Sveta Marija (XII century), Church of Our Lady of Health (Gospe od Zdravlja) (XV century), and Napoleon’s Theater (XIX century). Old Kotor has also numerous palaces like: Bizanti, Buca, Pima, and Grgurin (which houses the Maritime museum). The old town of Kotor today is considered to be the best preserved medieval urban entity in the Mediterranean. There are three entrances to the Old Town, the main one is the Sea Gate of 1555. Free.
- St Tryphon’s Cathedral, (Old Town). First built in the 11th century, reconstructed after earthquakes. Romanesque-Gothic architecture. Chapel holds the remains of St. Tryphon, the patron saint of Kotor. €2.
- St Nicolas Church. The biggest Orthodox church in the Old Town.
- Maritime Museum, (Old Town), M-Sa: 8am-8pm; Sundays: 9am-1pm. The memories on those long gone sailing days and years, the successes of the famous Kotor seaman, artists, ship builders, crafts man, states man, and diplomats, intermediaries between west and east, are kept in the Maritime museum, which is housed in the baroque palace Grgurin. In the museum, one can find three floors of portraits of the famous captains, models of old galleys and sail boats, navigational instruments, photographs, uniforms, weapons, paintings, and model ships. €4.
- The Island Gospa od Skrpjela (Our Lady of the Rock). The Island Gospa od Skrpjela is one of two gorgeous islands in Kotor Bay, which are situated in the bay across from Perast (in the Kotor municipality). The other island, which also should be visited, is the Island Sveti Djordje (St. George). That island is also called “the island of the dead captains”, because according to a legend one French soldier, by shooting from cannon towards Perast, hit a house of his beloved girl and killed her. That legend was a motive for the master piece “The Island of the Dead” by the Switzerland painter Beklin. The Island Gospa od Skrpjela is an artificial island, made by seaman from Perast and Kotor, who on their big sail boats brought in large boulders. According to stories, fisherman from Perast, after a shipwreck near the island, found an icon of the Holy Mother of God with the Christ on a sea rock, so they vowed to build a church on the island. They built the church in 1630. As the island had to be maintained, seaman continued to bring in stones, so that tradition is alive even today. It is called Fasinada from Perast (July 22).
What to do
- Climb up the Upper Town Walls. Daily 8:00-20:00. Stretching some 4.5 km directly above and east of the Old Town, on almost vertical cliffs, is the meandering upper town walls. It looks a little like a short version of the Great Wall. Climbing up the 1350 steps will be rewarded by an excellent view of Kotor and the bay from the Church of Our Lady of Health (half way up) and the St John’s fortress on top. Only advisable for physically fit people, furthermore on some sections the steps are broken up. Choose your footwear wisely (sturdy shoes preferable over sneakers and definitely no flipflops). If you walk early in the morning (e.g. between 7:30 and 9:30), the steps and Fortress is less crowded and you will be walking in the shadow (which is advisable in the summer). The 1200ft ascent may take an hour. There are two access points to the Upper Town Walls, one near the northern gate by St. Mary’s Church, and one closer to the southern gate to the Old Town. €3 May-Oct, otherwise free.
- Paragliding from the top of the high surrounding cliffs. An amazing experience with a stunning view!
- Hike to Krstac. Leave from the north gate of the old city and walk right until you see the path. If you continue straight, the path takes you to a small waterfall with crystal-clear water. (Note: In the summer the waterfall runs dry, but the sturdy rocks make for some nice mountaineering!) If you veer right, the path takes you past mountain goats and up rocky switchbacks with commanding views over the old fort and the bay. After you reach the top (in about 2 hours), the hike takes you through dense forest where you eventually reach Krstac (total time 3.5 hours). There is a restaurant here where you can refuel for the trip back.
- Visit the Austro-Hungarian Fortresses. There are many stunning old fortresses lying abandoned in the hills and mountains within a few kms of the Bay of Kotor. Each one is worth visiting and makes a wonderful hike. Fort Vrmac is particularly interesting and the start of the hiking trail is easily accessible from the old town. From the bus station, head towards the sea and turn left at the Mini roundabout at Roda market. Follow the road for 300m and turn left at the police station before following the red and white markers to the fortress at the top. Co-ordinates are 42.421053 N 18.749236 E.