Found at the end of a breath-takingly beautiful emerald-and sapphire-hued fjord along the Adriatic coast, Kotor sits behind grandiose and perfectly preserved medieval walls. These ancient fortifications weave their seemingly impossible way up the dramatic slopes and guard within one of the most stunning towns you will find anywhere on Earth. Ruled by the Venetian Empire for almost four centuries, Kotor has sensational leftovers of the wealth and grandeur of these former days everywhere you look.
Once inside the imposing walls you can explore an almost fairytale-like cobblestone maze of living history made up of Venetian palaces, Baroque churches, ornate arches, tiny tucked away courtyards filled with flowers and squares where cafes spill their tables onto the sunny pavements. The whole is so exceptional it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Kotor surrounds are also liberally sprinkled with exceptional jewels such as the tiny islets off the shore of Perast which are home to a church and a monastery or a mausoleum set atop a mountain with views that take in over half of Montenegro. Otherwise you can visit olive oil farms, head into the mountains to sample some regional delicacies or take in a royal palace at Cetinje.Kotor, simply put, is stunning and within five minutes of arriving you will be left in no doubt as to why it has been named as the world’s number one city to visit.
A Morning in Kotor
This historically rich corner of Europe has a plentiful supply of beautifully preserved old towns but Kotor almost certainly scoops itself the prize for being the most magical of all. Begin your morning wandering the enchanting Old Town and then continue your adventures after a coffee break with a visit to the Maritime Museum.
The Old Town
So special that its entire area has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status, this sensational collection of ancient Baroque palaces, Romanesque churches and medieval architectural features is almost straight from the pages of a fairytale book. Every stone oozes history; as you explore the romantic cobblestone streets, weaving alleys and centuries-old stairways, passing beneath ornate balconies and arches, you may suddenly arrive at a gorgeous plant-filled courtyard, the portal of an ancient church or an enchanting square. Exploring here is like one great treasure hunt with ancient ornate detailing adorning both humble homes and grand buildings alike. Kotor’s Old Town is so fantastically preserved in fact that at times it can feel like you have arrived at a moment frozen straight from the medieval age.
Historical gem of a town it may be but Kotor is also a living one where people reside, friends head to the local bar to share a coffee or beer and you can see locals going about their everyday Montenegrin life,all elements which give the whole a truly authentic air.
The most obvious of Kotor’s medieval history is represented by the town walls. Totally surrounding the town these 20m high relics of the past run for about 5km and continue high above Kotor and into the cliff which looms overhead. These magnificent fortified defenses have roots which stretch back to at least the 6th century however, their present appearance is almost entirely the work of the Venetians. This rich empire ruled here from the early 1400s and continued adding bastions, towers and citadels until the mid 1700s. Over the centuries these mighty defenses have suffered attack, shellings and earthquakes but still stand firm and represent a perfectly preserved example of medieval military architecture.
Kotor’s three old gateways are still the only way to pass into the town with the main entrance that of the Sea Gate which was built during the Venetian era in 1555. Set into the gate you can see the symbol of Venice –the winged lion –along with a communist star which was added when Kotor, then part of Yugoslavia, was freed from the Nazi and Italian occupations of World War II.
Kotor has an impressive collection of churches, most of which are worthy of a visit for one reason or another. However,it is the iconic and twin-towered Saint Tryphon’s Cathedral with its pastel pink facade which takes center stage. Honoring the protector saint of the town, the Romanesque 12th century St Tryphon’s is one of the country’s only two Roman Catholic cathedrals. The bell towers which flank its frontage are 17th century, constructed following an earthquake which destroyed much of the original facade of the basilica.
There is a small entry charge to explore the cathedral’s interior which features some lovely Romanesque architecture, a vaulted roof supported by elegant columns and some centuries-faded frescoes. The upper level is home to a small museum which has a collection of arms and artifacts while the balcony affords some lovely views of the Old Town. Relics of the patron saint are also housed within this church although they were originally intended for Dubrovnik when they set off from Constantinople centuries ago.
While Saint Tryphon’s represents the oldest of the town’s religious buildings the elegant Saint Nicholas’ Church represents its newest. Constructed in 1909 in a style reminiscent of the Byzantine architecture of centuries long gone, this twin-domed and ornate gem has a Serbian flag draped above its door as it is a Serbian Orthodox church.
Free to enter, the interior of this incense-filled church is especially atmospheric, lit by candles and with sunlight passing through the domes and stained glass reflecting off the rich paintings, metalwork and silver-adorned iconostasis.
Another of the town’s ancient churches worthy of a visit is the much smaller sized Saint Luke’s which like the cathedral dates from the 12th century. Very simple and mostly unadorned inside, this little church is most remarkable for its unusual history of unification. Originally St Luke’s was a Catholic church but in the 17th century and until the early 19th century it had twin altars and held ceremonies which represented both the Catholic and the Orthodox church.
Besides its churches the Old Town has many significant historical sights to see such as its 17th century clock tower at the foot of which you can see the medieval Pillar of Shame –an old pillory in which those accused of minor crimes would be locked as a public punishment. You will also pass a series of palaces which range in construction from the 14th to the 17th century, with architectural styles including Gothic and Baroque and complete with grand facades to gaze upon.However, the Old Town’s real joy lies in simply wandering and getting a little lost amid its many treasures and tracking down hidden corners which are not listed in any guide book or tourist literature.
Morning Coffee in Kotor
Kotor is home to several highly scenic squares, including the main Square of Arms, which surround you in glorious history and often come with a street cafe or two to take a morning pause. These are the places –one of which is the Vardar Hotel’s umbrella-shaded terrace -where you can watch the world go by as you sip on your coffee.
The most atmospheric places however are those hidden away such as the O’Clock cafe which nestles amid the Old Town backstreets. This little white-painted brick cave-like sanctuary is the epitome of calm and also serves good quality coffee –according to many the best to be found in town. An incredibly warm welcome comes via the Korean lady owner who is passionate about the standard of service and goods which include drip coffee, green teas, home-made ginger ale, iced chocolate and an array of scones and cookies.
Another Old Town option for those who want to escape the more frenetic pace of the main areas is Lektrika. Come sundown this lovely little coffee shop morphs into a nightlife hotspot where things can get a little rowdy but during the day it is a sleepy back-alley gem. Cloaked in cooling shade, Lektrika is a sweet little courtyard with alfresco tables without and an art-filled space within –both of which surround you with history as you take a morning pause.
Located just outside of the Old Town’s main gate can be found Cukar which is typically swamped by rave reviews wherever you find them. This option has a lovely little terrace right by the waterside and great mountain views while its welcoming staff are known as some of the warmest in town. If you have a fancy for something sweet to slot into your morning Cukar has some great desserts which include some melt-in-the-mouth crepes.
The Maritime Museum
As part of a region with a rich maritime history and a prosperity which grew from its shipping and trade, Kotor’s Old Town is home to an excellent museum which recounts every aspect of this story. The people’s connection to the sea is as old as time here and perhaps best summed up by a regional saying which declares ‘‘when one dips a finger in the sea, one is connected to the whole world”. The building in which the museum is found is as much history as the exhibits themselves. Once home to the noble Grurina family, the Maritime Museum is housed in one of the town’s Baroque palaces, this one dating from the 1700s. Restored to its former glory, you can wander beautifully decorated rooms, some of them furnished as they would have been in their heyday. Covering three floors, the museum isn’t just a celebration of all things sea-related such as the stories of famous sailors, the history of ship building, displays of naval weaponry, models of ships and beautiful antique navigation charts but also has exhibits of coins, traditional costume, artifacts and accounts of both the World War I and II years in Kotor and its wider surrounds.
The museum has two main exhibition halls on both the first and second floor along with several other gallery spaces. Some highlights include the beautiful old maps hung along the stairway, the pirate wars exhibitions in the central hall,a copy of the oldest Kotor maritime-related document dating from the 12th century, the displays of antique ship’s instruments on the second floor and the entire drawing room of the Ivelic Family.
Marko Ivelic was a Russian diplomat of the early 1800s and this opulent room contains, among other things, gifts presented to him by the Russian royal court and weapons seized during the Napoleonic wars in which other members of this same family were involved.
Lunch in Kotor
Once you have finished exploring the Maritime Museum you won’t have to wander far to find a lunch spot. The cobble-stoned alleys of this beautiful area have a diversity of options ranging from the enchantingly rustic konobas to those offering the opportunity for an elegant dining experience.
One charming choice which fits the former category is the small but gorgeous Cesarica which is housed inside a stone-walled and vaulted-ceiling grotto. Little visited by the tourist crowds unless they stumble across it accidentally whilst exploring the back alleys, Cesarica is an oasis of calm and for now something of a secret. For those who want an alfresco lunch the restaurant also has outside tables too.
Cesarica is a seafood lover’s dream, not just because you can sample sea bass, squid, mussels, shrimp, octopus, sardines and more here but because freshness is guaranteed, The restaurant is run by a fisherman who catches himself whatever will end up on your plate and as a result the menu changes every day according to what the boat brought in. This tucked away konoba gives you the opportunity to sample some authentic regional specialties too such as the fish soups and stews. In addition to the excellent food and charming setting, family-run Cesarica is also known for its generous portions, reasonable prices and incredibly warm staff.
If you’re looking for something more refined and want a sensational view head to the roof top of the Royal Restaurant. Here, as you feast on your tuna steak, charcoal grilled beef dish, octopus salad or other Adriatic-inspired creation you are right in the fortress walls; the Royal -part of the Cattaro Hotel complex -was in centuries past actually a Venetian palace. The lovely terrace allows you an immediate look-out over the main square so you don’t have to take your eyes off Kotor’s medieval beauty for one minute.
For no less lovely views but of a very different kind head along the coast a little to the relaxed Cafe del Mare which offers a gorgeous water view setting, outdoor seating and excellent service. The menu here has a seafood focus but there are other choices too including pizza.
Another option set outside of the Old Town is the Bastion–another seafood focused gem which also offers a plentiful supply of meat dishes too. Bastion has more than one location but that known as Bastion 3 is a great choice for those who want a quiet seafood lunch which is as authentic and as budget-friendly as it gets. The no-frills appearance of this stone house venue, which has been a long-established part of the Kotor dining scene, tends to mean the tourists walk right on by leaving the many locals to enjoy the high quality bargain-priced local food from an open-air terrace flanked by the historic town walls.An Afternoon in Kotor
With lunch out of the way you can now start deciding which further adventures to slot into your day and you have an incredible menu of choice.
For some heart-achingly magnificent views make the trek to the castle ruins of San Giovanni above the Old Town which mark the highest point of Kotor’s fortifications. Spectacular views are also the reward if you choose to visit the Njegoš Mausoleum perched high on a mountain top in the lovely Mount Lovćen National Park while another highlight of this area is the tiny village of Njeguši. A delight for the food-passionate, this charming destination offers a plentiful feast of local delicacies including smoked hams and cheeses. Alternatively you can explore gorgeous little Perast and its tiny islet church or the magnificent Palace of King Nikola in Cetinje.
The San Giovanni Fortress
Also known as Sveti Ivan and St John’s Fortress, this stunning medieval castle site sits high above Kotor’s Old Town at the end of its fortified walls which in former times protected the town from hillside attack.
As such a strategically-advantaged position, the history of defensive posts on this spot stretches back way into the mists of time, probably originally dating from the 4th century. The current appearance however is down to the Venetians during the 15th century with the last action seen during World War I when the Austrian army held the post for a while.
The climb to the top is a long one –taking in 1355 steps, known as the serpentines -which weave their way back and forth across the hillside to a height of 280m. However, any energy you have to exert is more than rewarded with a plentiful supply of sights and views along the way and what awaits at the top.
As you make your ascent you will pass various military ruins while about halfway you’ll arrive at Our Lady of Remedy also known as Our Lady of Health. This small but highly picturesque 15th century church makes for exceptional photographs with the most often seen shot capturing the churches bell tower, bay and mountains all together.
On arriving at the fortress which rises from the very rock itself you will find the castle’s picturesque ruins but it is really the views which people climb for and those are as sensational as you could hope to find anywhere. Often touted as the finest view in Montenegro, your high vantage perch –level with the peaks across the fjord -allows you take in the red roofs of the Old Town with the whole sweeping glory of the bay laid out beneath; if this majestic panorama doesn’t take your breath away then it is almost certain nothing will.
If you decide to follow the ramparts all the way to the fortress –a journey of just over 4km -it is unlikely you will have time (or perhaps the energy) for anything else in your afternoon. However, some choose to walk just part way to get a taste of those sensational views and if so you can mix and match your after-lunch hours with another of the attractions in the area around Kotor.
Perast and Our Lady of the Rocks
Located just 12km from Kotor can be found the gorgeous Baroque seaside village of Perast. Only possible to explore on foot, this tiny place is unbelievably packed with 16 churches and 15 grand palaces, all leftovers from the three and a half centuries when Venice ruled here. During this era Perast was a hub of splendor and wealth while today it is a community of just 350 people and many of the once magnificent dwellings which line the waterfront now stand empty and abandoned. Most are extremely well preserved and some –such as the beautiful Smekja Palace –have found modern day uses as hotels or museums such as the Renaissance-Baroque-styled Bujovic Palace. Sleepy and hushed, Perast is a very unique destination and its architecture a true feast for the eyes.
Of its many churches one of the most notable is the large 17th century and still unfinished St Nicholas Church whose bell tower can be climbed for some lovely views. Once you get tired of exploring the magnificent medieval architecture you can pick a waterside cafe to drink in the beautiful bay views as you take a refreshment pause.
Despite the idyllic village’s evident charm Perast is really famous for the two small islets which lie just off its coast. Home to a church and a monastery apiece, one of these –Our Lady of the Rocks (Gospa od Skrpjela)–is indeed the only reason most visit here at all. This tiny island and the even tinier church it houses have a great deal of folklore and stories of origin attached and although versions differ there is no doubt the island is man-made.
One version of how the island came to be and its most told relates how two sailors in 1452 on returning home spotted an unexplained Virgin Mary icon resting on a small sea-surrounded rock in the Perast harbor. Taking the sign as a miracle the sailors gradually added stones to transform a single jutting rock into an islet. In time a diminutive Orthodox church was added which was replaced by a Catholic church by the Venetians in 1630. To this day it is customary for sailors and fishermen on setting out to drop rocks when passing the island and annually an event –know as Fasinada –is held on July 22 to mark the very first beginnings of the island’s existence, as put in motion by the brother sailors in the 15th century.
Attached to the Baroque-style church which is full of magnificent 17th century artwork is a small museum which relates something of the region’s history and is home to a fine tapestry which took more than two decades to complete. Not surprisingly views from the island are gorgeous no matter which way you cast your eyes.
One of the loveliest ways to arrive in Perast and to visit Our Lady of the Rocks is to hop on a motor-boat from Kotor. The ride –which takes just 15 minutes -allows you to take in a plentiful supply of the fjord-like bay’s natural magnificence.
An Alternative Afternoon in Kotor and Its Surrounds
While the San Giovanni Fortress and Our Lady of the Rocks are two of the area’s most popular attractions, and for good reason, they are not its only possibilities.
A short drive from Kotor brings you to the stunning Mount Lovćen National Park which besides its natural magnificence and highly panoramic drives complete with serpentine climbs has several real treasures. Perhaps best known of these is the Njegoš Mausoleum-a monument set high on a mountaintop to honor Petar II Petrović Njegoš, a beloved Montenegrin son who was a poet, philosopher, prince and bishop. In his political and cultural roles he achieved so much that he is widely considered the state’s greatest ever leader.
The mausoleum is reached through a stone staircase tunnel from which you arrive into the open air and a view you are unlikely to forget for your entire lifetime. The mausoleum –at 1,660m the highest in the world -can be entered to find a statue dedicated to this great man and the crypt containing his body.
A short stroll behind the mausoleum brings you to a circular area enclosed within low stone walls and from which you may feel you have just arrived at the top of the world. With spectacular unobstructed views in every direction encompassing coast, lake and mountains it is possible to take in a large portion of what represents the entire country and at times allows you to see as far as Albania and Croatia.
Also visible is the lovely little village of Njeguši –the birthplace of Njegoš -which despite its tiny size registers on the radar of foodies. No more than a cluster of old stone houses, this settlement is well-known for the range of traditional delicacies it produces and sees a steady stream of visitors arriving to sample those culinary treats from a choice of restaurants and homes and also view some of the production processes.
Njeguši’s most famous specialties are Negushki prosciutto ham, a variety of cheeses, mountain honey and medovina –a type of ages-old mead which is produced from the wild honey. Other produce includes distinctively flavored smoked mutton and sausages, homemade bread and wine.
The cottage which was the childhood home of Njegošis today a small museum which you might like to include in your visit to this unique little place.
Just 13km from Njeguši is Cetinje–an historic city which is a destination in its own right. Among its many attractions which include ancient monasteries, churches and other architectural gems one major highlight is the Palace of King Nikola. Most of the city’s museums come under the umbrella of the National Museum of Montenegro and the King Nikola Palace which has now been a museum for almost 100 years is one such. Built in the mid 19thcentury, this plum and white building served as home to the Montenegrin royals and features lovely interiors full of opulent furnishings, artwork, photographs, weapons and regal artifacts. Immediately on entering you will discover the museum’s number one attraction –the fantastic crown jewel collection.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner in Kotor
Bars and restaurants are plentiful in Kotor’s scenic Old Town and during your morning explorations you may already have earmarked something you chanced upon for a return to later in the day.
Cocktails, craft beers, wines and the full range of spirits are all found here so it really comes down to the kind of ambiance you are looking for. Wine lovers keen to sample some of the local choices and who might enjoy a little live jazz, soul or samba should head to the Bokun Wine Bar. With a few outdoor tables and an atmospheric interior, Bokun also offers some cold meat and cheese plates for pairing with the wines if you are in need of a small appetizer.
For a wine bar with a dash of sophistication head to the Old Winery which tends to be extremely tranquil and typically only frequented by locals as it is well-tucked away in the Old Town. Grab an outside table to experience the whole Old Town magical-back-alley-at-night atmosphere and take your pick from one of the premium wines produced right here in Montenegro.
Jazz fans who want to enjoy relaxing sundowners surrounded by music can make their way to the Evergreen Jazz Club who always have some smooth tunes as a backtrack and occasionally live performers. Like many bars in this area there are a scattering of outside tables to enjoy your Old Town surrounds –this time in a tiny square -while the atmospherically-lit interior is filled with music memorabilia.
From tiny and traditional to sophisticated fine dining Kotor’s Old Town has a huge diversity of restaurant choices. If you have a special occasion to celebrate or simply want to enjoy a memorable dining experience and don’t mind splurging a little the Galion has to be a contender for the town’s top choice. From its exquisite seafood and steak cuisine to its impeccable service the Galion is definitely an upmarket choice but it is the location which really takes it from simply memorable to utterly magical. With a deck which juts over the water, Galion’s setting is instantly romantic and at night the scene becomes especially enchanting. That is because it is located a short walk from the Old Town which means after dark the restaurant offers incredible views of the historic forts and walls beautifully illuminated.
The outdoor section is understandably the most popular but the walls of the interior dining area are all glass so you don’t miss out on the views here either.
For another restaurant choice which sings romance at the top of its voice jump in a taxi and head to the family-run and almost impossibly enchanting Stari Mlini. The setting is a flour mill from the 1700s with its historic mill wheel still turning right beside the river. The gorgeous paved terrace overhung with trees and beside a scenic bridge is like something from a fairytale while the interior offers a no less magical but different atmosphere strung about with tiny lights. The caliber of the cuisine at this casual fine dining choice matches the lovely setting in every way with fresh fish and mussels arriving straight from the on-site hatcheries and water-farm.
For something a little more casual try the characterful and quaintly rustic Scala Santa where the focus is traditional home-cooking and includes a few regional specialties to try such as fish soups and stews. Open since the 1930s, Scala Santa is Kotor’s longest running restaurant and as you dine you are surrounded by wooden beams, historical artifacts and a distinct air of charm. Alternatively you can opt for alfresco dining at the little tables set in one of the Old Town’s tucked away squares but either way this is definitely one for a romantic dinner for two.
An Evening in Kotor
During the day Kotor can be packed with visitors who have arrived from a variety of resort locations in the area to explore the town’s obvious charms. However, once cocktail hour arrives these same visitors head back to their own corners and the streets of Kotor empty out and become especially tranquil. This is when the locals emerge, heading to their favorite watering hole to enjoy an evening drink with family or friends in the warm night air. For those visitors still left in town at this hour finding a perfect, atmospherically-infused spot with a glass of wine or beer is also something of a popular way to see out their Kotor day. Wander until you find something which matches your own personal idea of idyllic.
If you prefer to continue your explorations rather than just simply relaxing with a drink head off for an evening walk. After dark every ancient church, monument and square is lit, creating an air ofunquestionable magic which makes strolling the Old Town especially lovely. The walls and forts are all illuminated too and the best way to get a fantastic view of these is to walk around the bay so you can look back at this beautiful sight in all its glory. It isn’t hard to find music in Kotor in the evenings in the summer months with a plentiful supply of live performances at bars and restaurants. Additionally some of the museums and churches stage concerts with the gorgeous cathedral having a regular calendar of events. The whole year is also liberally punctuated with all kinds of annual festivals, carnivals and fiestas full of color, folklore and culture and during the summer it seems there is something almost every week. Ask at the tourist office or head to the official websites to see what is on while you are in town.
Are you ready to explore Kotor in person? Contact one of our vacation planners today!