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The Best Things to Do in One Day in Kotor, Montenegro

Partially hidden from the wide, blue Adriatic by towering limestone cliffs, Kotor is a treat for the eyes. Actually, it's one of the most beautiful places on the Mediterranean, and the best way to approach its shores is through its ancient bay. Try to spend a day there. Or more; it's worth it.

If you're approaching from the Adriatic Sea, it feels almost as though you are cruising through a Mediterranean fjord.

A small town across the Bay from Kotor, taken from cruise ship. In our opinion, photography is one of the best things to do in kotor montenegró
Morning mist had settled over everything as we sailed into the Bay of Kotor

TIP: If you are lucky enough to arrive by cruise ship, wake up early so you can enjoy the remarkable scenery on the way in. It will take at least an hour for the ship to navigate there from the open Adriatic. If you like to shoot landscapes, be sure to keep your camera handy as well.

Easy day trip from Dubrovnik

Kotor is no “little Dubrovnik” by any stretch of the imagination, which is why so many visitors opt to take a day trip from Dubrovnik to Kotor. This town feels more lived-in and authentic, and it also lacks Dubrovnik's prettified-for-tourists vibe.

Too, thanks to the picturesque Balkan mountains and mirrorlike waters of Boka Kotorska—what the locals call the Bay of Kotor—this destination has a special appeal Dubrovnik will never have: raw, natural beauty.

Whether you're visiting Kotor as part of a cruise or arriving by land, it won't take long to see why Kotor's medieval city and picturesque landscape were awarded World Heritage Site status. The town and its surroundings are stunning.

Gorgeous.

Amazing, even.

I can't find the words to adequately describe a place with this much beauty. I don't know who said it, but if “a picture is worth a thousand words,” this article is our essay.

The view from St. John's Fortress

The most stunning view of Kotor is from St John’s Fortress, up on the hillside. Or at least, that's what we heard from fellow passengers who did the hike. To be honest, we didn't have the stamina or desire to endure the steep, 1350-step climb to the top, so we chose to see the fortress from Old Town Kotor, down at water level.

If you're fit, the hike takes around 45 minutes. If you’re unfit, there are plenty of places to stop and rest as you go up, but it will take a lot longer. You'll have to determine if that's how you want to spend a large chunk of your one day in Kotor.

It costs €3 to enter. (The entrance is manned at 8 am; if you arrive before then, you can enter free.)

Open-top tour of Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor has an open top hop-on/hop-off tour bus. It doesn't drive through the walled city but it does drive all the way down the coastal road. Get your cameras ready for some amazing views!

The mist and early morning light were perfect for photography, so we immediately jumped on for a ride to the far end. We wanted to see the landscape and hear the guide's narration about the area and its history.

TIP: If you are leaving from Kotor, sit on the left to get unobstructed views of the bay.

 

Mist over the water in the bay of Kotor.
The early morning mist that had welcomed us into the bay still hovered over the water. We passed a lot of fish farms along the way.
Aquaculture is a major industry, which is why so many of our photos have floats in them.
Mountains reflected in the smooth water of the bay. There are more fish farm floats in the foreground.

TIP: If you prefer something more customized or aren't fond of buses, a private tour of Perast, Budva & Kotor is another option.

 

Risan, Montenegro: Ancient Roman ruins

When the bus reached the hamlet of Risan, our driver got out to chat with some of his friends. He told us he would be on break for a few minutes, so we could either wait or visit a small excavation site to see some Roman mosaics. As fans of ancient history and unknown sites, there was no way we would miss this! We followed the rest of the passengers inside and bought a ticket.

Inside, we were met by a young, knowledgeable guide who explained that our meager admission fee went to pay for upkeep and further work. (As a new country, Montenegro doesn't have the budget to support excavations like this.) She took us through the site to show us the remains of a Roman house dating from the 2nd century A.D. and explained about how they had lived and what we were looking at.

Not much remains of the home's walls, but there are some intricate and fairly well-preserved mosaic floors. Unlike the way things are done in many places we had no problem getting close enough to really see the details and take pictures.

Perast

When the bus reached Perast, we hopped off to look around. We were curious to see what a coastal Montenegrin town might be like.

Aside from a few guest houses and restaurants, there didn't seem to be a whole lot to the sleepy waterfront. Perast is pedestrian-only and it only takes about ten minutes to walk from one end to the other.

Walking through the town, we found the small Perast Museum, housed in an old palazzo that dates from the Venetian empire. The previous owner had been a Montenegrin sea captain, obviously, because the inside was full of wonderful old furniture as well as detailed ship models. It also contained exceptional paintings and old weapons that gave an idea of how the well-to-do lived its heyday. I thought the highlight was the second floor balcony. It offers a remarkable view of Kotor Bay and its two islands.

Lion of St. Mark statue holds a coat of arms in one paw, Perast, near Kotor, Montenegro

TIP: After our day in Kotor, we learned that we'd missed a ton of stuff in Perast: 16 Baroque palaces, 17 Catholic churches, several important Orthodox structures, and a series of nine defensive towers. We probably could have found enough to do to fill a second day.

 

Cruising on the Bay of Kotor

Kotor Bay is so beautiful that you will likely want to spend a good bit of time just enjoying the views.

Many companies offer scenic boat trips on the bay. You can find one at the last minute; the tourist office near the city gate has a list of providers. Or you can plan ahead and research and book your ideal tour before you arrive. (You might like this one.) 

If you take the open-top bus, we suggest hopping off in Perast to catch a boat out to the islands. The first of these islands is called Sveti Dorde (Island of Saint George), and it is the only natural island on the Bay of Kotor. Its most striking features are the Benedictine monastery of Saint George, which dates from the 12th century, a 9th century abbey, and an old graveyard for the old nobility of Perast.

Sadly, Sveti Dorde is closed to visitors and you can only see the buildings from the water. However, there is a second island nearby, and this one can be visited. The island is called Our Lady of the Rocks and even though it was man-made years ago, the scenery made us glad we had decided to pay for the boat ride. The views were beyond incredible.

Legend of Our Lady of the Rocks

Legend has it that the island began on July 22, 1452, when two sailors passed the Monastery of St. George as they returned from a difficult voyage. As the story goes, they discovered an icon of the Madonna and Child resting on a rock in a shallow area near the island. They considered this a sign that the Almighty had guided them home, and so they pledged an oath to build a church on the spot.

After every successful voyage, local sailors and fishermen would lay a rock in this very spot in gratitude for a safe return. This tradition continued down the centuries and eventually the many rocks grew into this islet. As is typical in Catholicism, they built a church on the spot.

The custom of throwing rocks into the sea is alive even today. Every year on the sunset of July 22, local residents celebrate an event called fašinada by taking their boats out to the island and throwing rocks in.

The view from the upstairs ruin was stunning.

Window on the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Inside the small Roman Catholic church are many historic paintings that were donated by the area's devout, including a 17th century baroque masterpiece from Perast. The rest of the church is beautiful as well.

But we didn't want to sit on the island all day … we still hadn't seen Kotor!

Waiting for the boat … time to see Kotor.

Kotor Old Town

Back in Kotor we walk through its gate and found plenty of natural beauty, Venetian architecture, and ancient history.

Kotor was settled during ancient Roman times (168 BC) and historical sites abound. Two outstanding ones are Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, which was built in 1166, and Kotor's ancient walls. The walls, which stretch for 4.5 km (3 mi) directly above the city, were built for protection by the Republic of Venice.

Those Venetians went everywhere along the Adriatic!

Main gate of Kotor

This is the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, Kotor's most impressive building. This Catholic cathedral dates from the 12th century.

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Kotor’s main square

Kotor’s main square, Piazza of the Arms, has a beautiful old stone clock tower and offers a variety of excellent restaurants, cafés and shops that will keep you busy for quite a while.

TIP: The less touristed side streets offer better prices, more attentive service and more authentic local dishes.

 

Piazza of the Arms, Kotor

Kotor's old clock tower in Piazza of the Arms

We also discovered a tasting room for a local winery that produced absolutely amazing local wines at unbelievably low prices. Montenegrin wine is a treasure and the world is missing out. (Sorry, no photos. We were preoccupied, lol.)

Venetian architecture

Many of Kotor's buildings have its typical arches and balconies, which stands to reason considering how well preserved it is—and how long Venice was there.

Kotor's churches

Here are a few photos from churches we visited in Kotor.



Kotor church

Getting to Kotor by land

Thanks to a thoughtful reader, I now know that Kotor has an airport (code ZKQ), but if you are nearby, it is easy to drive there. The roads are well maintained and hug the coast at times.

If you're in Dubrovnik, plenty of companies offer day trips to Kotor, as it's only 94 km/58 mi away (here's a popular one). Or you can do it yourself and take a bus. Either way, relax and enjoy some beautiful views.

TIP: If traveling by land, don't forget to bring your passport.

 

Inspired?
Here are some resources to help you plan your trip.

Plan:

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Collage from our day in Montenegro. Top to bottom: Lion of St. Mark statue overlooking Bay of Kotor, white bar with the word Kotor, and people eating at a waterfront cafe

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages has inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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30 thoughts on “The Best Things to Do in One Day in Kotor, Montenegro

  1. Is Montenegro worth a week? If not what would you suggest to add? We have been to Croatia twice and Mostar, but have never been to Albania.

    1. You’re asking someone who was there for a week, as part of an ocean cruise. But we were considering a one-week stay in Montenegro a few years ago and I believe Montenegro has enough for a week, especially if you enjoy hiking and historical sites. Durmitor National Park is a UNESCO site, and the Tara River Canyon there is the second-largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon. It’s a popular whitewater rafting spot. There’s also the Monastery of Ostrog, impossibly carved into a cliff.

      Other popular options include swimming in the Blue Cave and the towns of Budva, St. Stefan, and Cetinje. If I were planning an itinerary, I’d begin with a search for “one week tour of Montenegro” and also see what tours are popular on Get Your Guide. Both will give you a good idea of how much you can fit into a day.

    1. It’s not far, just a few blocks along the waterfront. You buy your tickets in front of Kotor’s main gate and the bus is nearby. You can find more information about Kotor Open Tour here.

  2. The Bay of Kotor is one of the loveliest places I have ever visited. We went on a road trip through the Balkans last spring and Montenegro was part of our itinerary. We spent 3 days there and also visited Budva and Sveti Stefan. We also hiked up the the Fortress of St.John in Kotor, which was pretty tiring but very rewarding. We were pretty lucky with the weather. Although it was early spring, when it usually rains a lot in Europe, we only had a few drops in Kotor. Lovely pictures!

  3. Great photos. My family will be on tour in Croatia later this month, and we will go on this optional tour to Kotor to enjoy the beautiful sights and enjoy the local cuisine

    Come by Singapore to enjoy our unique sights, sounds and a wide variety of great intrnational food. Mind you, Singapore can be pretty warm and humid, so dress in Ts and shorts for comfort. Also take a side trip up to Malacca in Malaysia. Its a very lovely old historical town. And if you still have time, visit other lovely states in Malaysia, and even take a trip further north to Thailand. Enjoy

    1. We’re glad you like Dan’s Kotor photos. It’s such a pretty place. Had we had more stamina we would have liked to climb up to see it from above…perhaps you’ll come back with photos that will show what we missed.

      Singapore is one of our favorite destinations. We’ve been there three times so far and never feel we’ve stayed long enough. As it happens, we have just relocated to Kuala Lumpur with the goal of exploring Asia more. Your suggestion of visiting Malacca is an excellent idea. Thanks for the tip. You probably would be able to give us a long list of things to see in Singapore too. For such a small country there’s a lot to do. It’s hard to know where to begin.

  4. Your photos are gorgeous, Dan! I saved your post for later, Kotor is HIGH on my wish list right now and I’m hoping to visit it next year 🙂

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Vlad. The camera got a workout, that’s for sure!

      It’s great to hear you are hoping to get to Kotor next year. If you do go, come back and share your opinion…though we can probably guess what it will be. 😉

    1. Hi Bunny, thanks for your question. As far as I know you can, but I’d recommend you email them ahead of time to be sure. If you’re planning to visit Kotor, you can find the list of excursion providers at Montenegro Pulse. We took the Kotor Open Tour bus; they seemed pretty accommodating.

    1. Hi Crystal, I shoot with a Sony a77 and the Sony DT 16-50mm f2.8 lens. Great package for walking around, but still a but heavy. Looking to move to the Sony a7r II very shortly.

  5. Fantastic post. We’re in Split now and will be doing a trip down south in a couple of weeks which will include 3 days in Kotor. Looks absolutely gorgeous. One of the things I guess you didn’t do was the hike up to Kotor Fortress? Its high on my list. But I didn’t know about the hop on, hop off and that sounds like a good recommendation as well.
    Really helpful post.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. I’m glad it helped you. We did want to hike up to the fortress but decided not to do it. It’s a pretty hefty hike. Our legs weren’t used to that sort of exercise and we feared they would hurt for the rest of our cruise. However, that is high on our list for our next visit. Let us know how it goes, okay?

  6. I heard Montenegro was beautiful, but after reading your post and seeing this glorious pictures I would say is to die for! It was so close to me when I lived in Romania and couldn’t go visit it. Now I’ll have to cross the Atlantic to go there, but it’s totally worth it.

  7. Every single photo of your day in Kotor was incredible – every time I saw another Picture I was like “Oh thats my favorite pic” and then another pic would replace my favorite!
    The view from the window – the one under the words “Finally our guide pointed to the second floor balcony where we got a phenomenal view of the Bay” – OH my gosh, what a view!
    Gee you sure did see a lot in one day, love your trip! Thanks for sharing it 🙂
    And yep pictures are “worth a thousand words”

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed Dan’s photos. As you can tell by the length of the post I had a hard time selecting which ones to use. I’m encouraged; maybe I should do more photo posts like this one.

      1. We are currently on the Queen Victoria – In Monte Carlo…and your BLOG is amazing!!!! THANK YOU! My husbands birthday is the day we will be in KOTOR and you just helped my itinerary!!!! fantastic JOB

        1. Omigosh, Britt, somehow your message got routed to spam and I’m so glad I found it. THANK YOU for your kind words, they really gave me a needed boost. Did you guys have a good trip? What was your favorite part?

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