Montenegro, Europe

Visiting Kotor: 7 reasons this coastal city in Montenegro totally charmed my socks off

September 25, 2017

Kotor was one of the major reasons I decided to visit Montenegro in the first place.

Just looking at photos of the city’s historic fortress towering above the deepest natural fjord-like bay in the Mediterranean Sea was enough to encourage me to book a flight there.

Kotor is somewhere that successfully manages to pull out all the stops: it’s got everything you’d expect from a city – historic sights, delicious food, and vast array of nightlife options, but with the feel of a quaint little town that’s surrounded by the kind of mountains you’d expect to find in a remote rural location.

And because its Old Town was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979, development has been restricted here ever since, making the city instantly more appealing than its coastal neighbour, Budva, with its modern, unsightly apartment blocks and overcrowded beaches.

I visited Kotor as part of a 7-day road trip around Montenegro, allowing myself the equivalent of three full days with which to explore the city.

Here are seven reasons why this stunning coastal city in Montenegro totally charmed my socks off.

#1 The hike up to and views from St. John’s Fortress

If you only do one thing while you’re in Kotor, it must be the 1200-metre climb up to St. John’s Fortress (Kotor Fortress on maps), via the old fortifications.  My advice would be to set off as early as possible; by 11am it’s unbearably hot in summer and there’s hardly any shade on the ascent.  There are 1350 steps altogether (locals believe it to be nearer 1500; I didn’t count!), but because you’ll be stopping to take photos every few minutes, it doesn’t feel like too much of an arduous activity.

There are two entry points up on to the walls, either near the North Gate or behind Trg. od Salate, that carry an admission fee of €3.  There is a third, alternative route up to the fortress which won’t cost you a penny, but that is deserving of a mention all of its own (see point #2).

The beginning section of the climb up to St. John's Fortress, Kotor

We began our climb around 9am, when the air was cool and a hazy cloud lingered over the bay.

The climb up to St. John's Fortress, Kotor

A series of narrow stone steps climb steadily up the mountainside.  There’s no room for passing, which is another reason I’d recommend you start early.  If you have to jump down on to the uneven rocky terrain beside the steps, in order to give priority to those on their way down, make sure you watch your footing!

The first landmark you’ll reach (unless you count the little shrines dotted at regular intervals beside the path; there’s one in the photo above) is the Church of Our Lady of Remedy.  Built in the early 16th century, this tiny little Roman Catholic church can only be reached on foot.  Its name is derived from the fact that the church is said to have healed worshippers of the plague.  Nowadays it’s probably (along with the Church of our Lady of the Rocks in Perast) the most photographed church in Montenegro.

Kotor, Montenegro

The higher you climb the more dramatic the views become across the Bay of Kotor.

Through the old fortifications in the opposite direction you can see the old caravan trail, the Ladder of Cattaro, as it zig-zags its way up the mountain.  If the wind is blowing in the right direction you can hear the odd goat bleating in the distance, as locals herd them along these ancient tracks.

Ladder of Cattaro

Although you’ll probably be keen to reach the top of St. John’s Fortress, make sure you take the time to explore all the nooks and crannies on the way up (because you’ll probably never be able to find them again on the walk back down!)

I wonder what this was used for (other than a hiding spot!)

Exploring Kotor's Fortress

And whilst the sun never properly burned through the hazy cloud, up at the top it was every bit as special as the climb made us hope it would be.

At the top of St. John's Fortress overlooking the Bay of Kotor

St. John's Fortress, Kotor

Flowers, St. John's Fortress, Kotor

St. John's Fortress, Kotor

#2 Taking the ‘alternative’ route up to the fortress along the Ladder of Cattaro

If you want to avoid the €3 admission fee to the city walls, as well as the majority of other tourists, then either choose to climb up to the fortress before 8am or after 8pm (although I wouldn’t recommend making the climb (or descent for that matter!) in the dark), or take the alternative route.

Flowers, Ladder of Cattaro, Kotor

One of the cafes on the Ladder of Cattaro

I wonder if anyone's at home....

The ancient caravan trail – also known as the Ladder of Cattaro – starts to the right of the bridge after you exit the Old Town by Trg. od Drva and cross the river Škurda.  It zig-zags its way up the mountain, passing a couple of little cafes with incredible views of the bay, and an ancient stone church.

Just behind the church is where you’ll find the path back towards the fortress, where a short climb and scramble will take you through a window in the fortifications.

Tiny stone church, Ladder of Cattaro

These red and white target symbols marked the walking routes up the mountainside

The whole that you scramble through to get back up on to the city walls

If you’re a keen hiker, you can continue up the mountain path to join the Coastal Mountain Traversal in Lovcen National Park, close to the village of Njeguši.

Unlike the route we took up to the fortress on day one – where, even in spite of our relatively early start, there was a steady stream of other tourists doing exactly the same – the only people I encountered on the old caravan trail were locals, who would smile and wish me “dobrý den” (“good day”) as I passed.

The Ladder of Cattaro, Kotor

It was a beautiful, peaceful experience, and one that I enjoyed significantly more than the option of staying with Stu and looking at boats in the harbour.  There are times when I love to wander off alone in search of my own adventures, and this was definitely one of them.

#3 There are cats.  Lots of cats.

Kotor is actually very famous for its cats.  There’s even a shop and a museum dedicated to them.  The museum is rather odd, but worth a look for €1, and the shop contains some adorably cute, but completely unnecessary and rather expensive products that you’ll probably want to take home with you.  Much as I was very tempted, I successfully managed to resist the urge to purchase some cat chopsticks (I already have around 20 sets of chopsticks from various parts of Vietnam and Japan), a cat soap dish, and a cat umbrella.

Kotor's Cats shop, Kotor

Aside from the official cat store, a number of other establishments tempt cat-obsessed shoppers with various cat-related trinkets, as well as welcoming the cats themselves with food and shelter.

Cat, Kotor's Fortress

Cats of Kotor

Cats of Kotor

You’ll find Kotor’s cats all over the city – up at the fortress, sauntering along the walls or asleep in the long grass at the side of the path, or down in the old town, cooling themselves on shaded stone paving slabs or napping in the heat of the afternoon sun.

And Kotor’s cats aren’t fussy about where they sleep.

Kotor's cats

#4 Wandering through the streets of its old town will remind you of how charming Dubrovnik used to be before the crowds arrived

Ok, so Dubrovnik will never completely lose its charm as far as I’m concerned, but I remember returning in 2012, five years after my initial visit, and discovering how noticeably the growth of tourism had changed the city.

Although Kotor is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination, especially since budget airlines Easyjet and Ryanair introduced flights from the UK in 2013, it’s still possible to wander large parts of its old town and escape the crowds that you’ll find in Trg od Oruzja (close to the Sea Gate).

Kotor's Old Town

Old Town, Kotor

Streets of Kotor's old town

The southern parts of the old town, on route to the Gurdic Spring, are especially peaceful and largely devoid of tourists.

Streets of Kotor

#5 You’ll find the coolest cafe-bars hidden down narrow cobblestone alleyways

I didn’t find what became my favourite drinking haunt in Kotor, in a guidebook.  Or in fact on Instagram or Trip Advisor.  I stumbled upon it by letting my curiosity guide me during an aimless wander through the streets of the city’s old town.

Containing unusual artwork, mismatched furniture, and an abundance of plants and cacti, with atmospheric lighting, a chilled vibe, and a resident DJ spinning the kind of tunes I immediately wanted to add to my Spotify playlist, Letrika won me over from the moment I arrived.

Letrika, Kotor

Letrika, Kotor

Letrika, Kotor

You’ll need to get here early to find it as empty as it is in these shots; look out for this amusing sign that points you in the right direction.

Letrika Cafe Bar

#5 You can dine inside a glass box overhanging the sea with beautiful panoramic views of Kotor Bay

As you wander around the harbour just outside Kotor’s old town walls, it’s difficult to miss this contemporary structure with tinted blue glass.  It looks rather out of place – though not unattractive – surrounded by imposing rugged mountains, ancient stone churches and humble low-rise buildings with terracotta-tiled rooftops.

Galion Restaurant, Kotor Harbour

The glass box houses Kotor’s most exclusive restaurant – Galion.  If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the crisp white tablecloths and colourful hanging lampshades.

You have to cross a little moat in order to enter, and you’ll find no menus (and therefore no prices) outside.  Just bring a keen sense of curiosity and your credit card, and you’ll have an unforgettable evening in one of the most beautiful settings around.

#6 You can feed your cheese obsession

Or if you don’t have one yet, you may do by the time you leave.  Just head to The Harbour Pub and order yourself some melted cheese shapes, coated in breadcrumbs, fried, and served with a redcurrant dipping sauce.  I guarantee you it’s the best thing EVER.

Fried cheese and redcurrant sauce, The Harbour Pub, Kotor

While you’re there, and if you have room for anything else, I can also recommend the black risotto and the smoked salmon bruschetta.

The Harbour Pub, Kotor

#7 You can take a private boat tour around Kotor Bay

Whilst looking at boats in the harbour on the morning that I decided to hike up the Ladder of Cattaro, Stu struck up a conversation with one of pilots who owned a unique vessel that was part boat and part submarine.  Below deck the sides and bottom of the vessel were made of toughened glass, giving the feeling of being under water, and the ability to watch the marine life as if you were scuba diving amongst it.

For an hour-long private boat tour around Kotor Bay and a unique submarine-like experience, as well as the opportunity to pilot the boat ourselves and to swim in the warm clear waters, we paid just €12.

Totally and utterly worth every cent.

Kotor Bay

Kotor Bay

Stu swimming in the warm waters of Kotor Bay

Kotor Bay

Where we stayed in Kotor

You really couldn’t beat the location of our city apartment just steps from St. Luke’s Square.  Whilst it was on the small side and you had to watch your head as you wandered around due to it being in the attic and having sloping ceilings, it was perfectly adequate for what we needed, and the wifi worked well.

We paid €130 for three nights, which worked out at €65 (£57/$77) each.

Although we didn’t stay there due to it being full by the time we got around to booking our accommodation, we’ve also heard great things about Hostel Old Town Kotor, which offers private rooms as well as dorms.

Have you visited Kotor?  What did you love best about the city?  If not, have I persuaded you to add it to your bucket list?

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7 Things to See and Do in Kotor

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  • Reply Ania October 7, 2017 at 11:02 AM

    Really awesome overview of Kotor! I visited the city almost 2 years ago and it also to totally charmed my socks off! The abundance of cats is pretty insane, but they were a good source of entertainment while we waited for our lunch in the old town’s main square. They seemed to have formed different cliques and were trying to boss each other around.
    Ania recently posted…Piran, Slovenia: 8 Reasons Why You Need to Visit The Coastal CityMy Profile

    • Reply Kiara Gallop October 7, 2017 at 12:42 PM

      Anywhere that has cats is guaranteed to win a place in my heart ♥ Dubrovnik was the same when I visited the first time around, Istanbul, and basically the whole of Greece 🙂

  • Reply Amalia October 7, 2017 at 11:47 AM

    Amazing, amazing pictures! It makes me wanna go there! I’ve added it into my bucket list 😉

    FYI, kotor in Indonesian language means “dirty” 😀 It amuses me that it’s actually a name of place heehe…

    • Reply Kiara Gallop October 7, 2017 at 12:44 PM

      Haha that’s really funny to learn! I wonder if “Kotor” actually means anything in Slovak (the language widely spoken in Montenegro)…going off to Google that now 🙂

  • Reply Eva October 7, 2017 at 1:54 PM

    Beautiful photos. It felt like being back, I visited a couple of years ago and I was totally charmed by its architecture.

    • Reply Kiara Gallop October 7, 2017 at 7:27 PM

      It’s always so lovely reading blog posts on places you love, isn’t it? I always love hearing others’ perspectives and looking at their photos 🙂

  • Reply Frances October 7, 2017 at 4:11 PM

    I can totally see why you were charmed by the city! It’s stunning – so much nature and love the buildings. Looks like a great place to spend some summer time! One day!!

    • Reply Kiara Gallop October 7, 2017 at 7:28 PM

      I loved the mix of nature and historic architecture 🙂

  • Reply Jamie October 7, 2017 at 4:36 PM

    As a cat lady you’ve TOTALLY convinced me! Anywhere with cats is a place I want to visit, especially when it’s this gorgeous!!

    • Reply Kiara Gallop October 7, 2017 at 7:25 PM

      Ah, a girl after my own heart! ♥ I have also been known to add a city to my travel hit list based on the fact that it has a cat cafe 😀 I’m a total cat lady!

  • Reply Dannielle October 7, 2017 at 5:47 PM

    I was hoping to do a day trip to Kotor when I was in Croatia this summer but just couldn’t fit it in and reading this makes me regret that! The hike would be SO worth it for those views, it looks absolutely stunning. Hope to get there one day!

    • Reply Kiara Gallop October 7, 2017 at 7:32 PM

      You really must go! Easyjet do cheap flights from Manchester to Tivat (which is only 7kms from Kotor) 🙂

  • Reply Lynne Nieman October 7, 2017 at 6:43 PM

    Kotor has been on my list for a while. Now I have some great tips for when I go!

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