24 Hours in Kotor: Best Things To Do
After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Montenegro became one of Europe's very youngest nations, only becoming a country in 2006. Kotor, its gorgeous medieval city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, is arguably the young country's biggest draw, and for good reason. The fortified city boasts dramatic scenery of mountains and sea, plus a labyrinth of perfectly preserved quaint, narrow streets that transport you back several centuries in the past.
The small city makes for a perfect quick trip, whether you're visiting on the cruise ships that frequent the port or stopping by on your Balkans itinerary. Here are the best Kotor things to do with 24 hours, plus some day trip ideas from Kotor if you're staying here longer!
Brief historical background of Kotor
The town was first mentioned in 168 BC (!!!) when it was settled by Ancient Romans. Then came the early Middle Ages, and the old town was fortified due to its very strategic position along the Adriatic Sea - you can still see these very walls today.
From this time until now, Kotor has been under rule by a handful of groups, like the Saracens, Illyrians, Serbs, Venetians, Austrians, Ottomans, Byzantines, and the French. The Venetian domination period is what gave Kotor its classic Venetian architecture that you can find all over the Old Town today. The town that you'll walk upon on your trip is filled with diverse, rich history because of these different occupation periods.
Due to this rich history, the town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It didn't really take off as a major tourist hub until the 2000's, and still today it's not visited nearly as frequently as some of it's Balkan neighbor cities.
How to get to Kotor:
Once you're in the Balkans region, Kotor is very easy to get to overland on bus. It's only about a 3-hour cheap bus ride journey away from the region's famous Dubrovnik, 1 hour away from Montenegro's capital Podgorica, and a longer but do-able 7-hour bus ride from Albania's capital, Tirana. I arrived there by going south through the Balkans from Dubrovnik.
If you're flying into Kotor by air, the closest airport is Tivat Airport, only a 4.6 km (~3 miles) drive away. Both Podgorica Airport and Dubrovnik Airport are around 40 km away from Kotor (25 miles).
Kotor is also a popular port for Mediterranean cruises - the majority of its summertime visitors are cruise shippers. It's an ideal port of call city because it's small enough to see most of what it has to offer in one day.
Where to stay in Kotor:
If you spend a night or two in Kotor, you're in for a real treat - because once all the cruise passengers leave, you'll be able to see Kotor town in all its charm without the throngs of cruise ship passengers in the daytime.
Whether you're going for a budget trip or luxury, it's best to base yourself near Kotor's Old Town, the charming heart of the city. You'll be well-positioned to see all of what Kotor has to offer right outside your doorstep.
Recommended hostels in Kotor: Montenegro Hostel 4U, Old Town Hostel West Wing, and Stranger Tides hostels, all in the range of $10-15 per night for a dorm bed.
Recommended budget hotels in Kotor: Hotel Cattaro and Palazzo Drusko Deluxe Rooms, both around the $50 mark.
Recommended mid / high-range hotels in Kotor: Hotel Villa Duomo, Hotel Hippocampus, and The Astoria Hotel Kotor, ranging from $115-$200 per night.
How to get around Kotor
Old Town Kotor is compact enough that you can see it completely on foot! No need to fuss about getting taxis or what metro line to take here, you can just walk outside of your accommodation and start exploring the city.
If you want to venture away from the walkable old town (like taking a day trip to another city - more on that later), there are taxis always lined up right outside the fortified walls.
The best time to visit Kotor
Kotor is at her beautiful best during the sunshiney summer months from May to August, but this also makes it crowded with other tourists.
Shoulder seasons of late spring and early autumn will have almost just as lovely weather, but much fewer tourists around. If you come during the winter months, keep in mind that some restaurants and hotels close for the season, so the city won't have the same lively vibe.
Kotor things to do
1). The top attraction that makes Kotor so lovely to visit is hands down its Old Town aka Stari Grad.
On a long, leisurely stroll through the cobblestone streets, you can pop in and out of cute shops, pet the kind stray cats, people watch in the wide-open plazas with a local beer, contemplate the centuries of history that happened right beneath your feet... what's not to love? I recommend spending at least two hours or so with no agenda but to fully enjoy the ancient streets around you.
During your stroll around Old Town's labyrinth, don't miss the Main Square (Trg od Oružja in Montenegrin) and the Clock Tower looming over it, dating back to 1602.
2). Walk under any of the city's 3 fortified gates
The three Old City gates are the River Gate (from 1540), the South Gate (from the 13th-18th century) and the main Sea Gate (from 1555). You can easily navigate to these by entering the name into Google maps - or just ask a local. A trip to Kotor wouldn't be complete without this!
3). Visit a Cathedral
Even though Kotor's Old Town is small, there are still about a dozen churches/monasteries located here. The most popular to visit in Kotor is the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon aka the Kotor Cathedral from 1166. It's an impressive Roman Catholic cathedral with classic Romanesque architecture coupled with the Baroque bell towers outside that were added 500 years later in 1667.
Entrance to the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon costs €2, and it's open for visitors from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. in the high tourist season.
Want to see more religious structures? head to the Church of Saint Nicholas next, a Serbian orthodox church with impressive frescoes covering the interior walls.
4). Hike up to the Castle of San Giovanni aka Saint John's Fortress
Seeing a photo of the beautiful view of Kotor Bay from this hike was my main motivation for coming here! Ask around in town for where to go to enter the hike, but I just kept walking back, deeper in the town towards the mountains (away from the sea) and eventually hit the entrance. The good thing about the maze of Kotor streets is that they all eventually converge, so if you just head back towards the mountains from anywhere, you should be able to find the hike entrance.
It's more of a stair master than a conventional hike, though. After the €8 entrance fee, you will begin to ascend 1,300 stairs up to a height of 1,200 meters at the top of the castle walls. It's difficult! Roughly 45 minutes of challenging climbing later and you will reach a birds-eye view of Old Town Kotor with surrounding Bay of Kotor and limestone mountains as a backdrop. One look at the views around you and the muscle pain from that tough journey up melts away. Well, maybe figuratively. I was sore for a few days after!
5). Visit the Cat Museum
The Old Town itself can practically be considered a borderline cat museum because they're everywhere - and I mean everywhere - just chilling in the streets. They are super friendly and accept all the pats from passersby. They seem to be really valued by the city - I've never seen a stray cat population that looked so well-cared for.
The museum consists of paintings and souvenirs about cats, which isn't all the interesting. BUT, your small entrance fee of €1 goes to supporting the local feline community, which makes it worthy of a visit in and of itself in my opinion.
6). Walk on top of the Old Town walls and Bastions
Kotor's Old Town walls have weathered earthquakes and invasions in the past, so they are crumbling in many sections. For that reason, you can't walk atop the walls like you can in nearby Dubrovnik, for example.
However, worthy of a spot on your 24 hours in Kotor is visiting the accessible wall sections. This includes Gurdić Bastion and Kampana Tower and Citadel (among others, but these are the best sections in my opinion). Both are a nice spot for photos and taking in the atmosphere, but you don't have to spend long here.
7). Eat a Montenegrin specialty
For such a small country, Montenegro really packs in the flavor in its cuisine. Some of the most popular dishes are Njegusi Proscuitto (cured ham), Njeguski Steak (a dish that won a Montenegrin chef a global cooking award), and Buzara, a mix of seafood cooked in a red or white wine sauce. If you're feeling adventurous, there's also Black Risotto - which gets its color from cuttlefish ink.
I can personally recommend the restaurant Bastion I for enjoying local Montenegrin specialties.
8). Visit Kotor Beach
Kotor isn't famous for its beaches, but if you're really keen to spend a day relaxing in the pebbles (because it's more of a pebbly beach than a sandy beach), there's a cozy beach just a 10-minute walk away from the Old Town. In Google Maps, navigate yourself to "Kotor Beach" to find it.
9). Cruise the Bay of Kotor on a boat tour
If you thought walking around Kotor's Old Town was beautiful, wait until you see it from a scenic boat tour around the bay. The standard tour (available from a variety of agencies with tickets for sale throughout the Old Town) is 3 hours long and costs around $30 USD.
10) Take a day trip
Kotor is super well-situated to visit surrounding areas as a day trip. Here are some of the best day trips from Kotor:
Perast: This is like Kotor's pretty sister - it has a lot of similarities with a charming old town and mountain backdrop. It's only a 20-minute drive away, so you can easily visit it with a half-day trip. You can either take a taxi there for around €20 euros, or a Blue Line bus from the station up the road for €1.
Budva: What Kotor lacks in beaches, Budva delivers. This is a very popular little beach city famous for its old town and modern-day party atmosphere. It honestly deserves a few days there by itself, but if your time in Montenegro is limited, it can be done as a day trip. The bus to Budva takes around 45 minutes and costs around €11. Sveti Stefan is a resort island just a few kilometers down the road from Budva that deserves a visit while you're there, too!
Whitewater rafting in Tara River Canyon: An adventurous excursion option for adrenaline-seeking travelers is whitewater rafting in Tara River Canyon. I recommend booking it online in advance - I didn't see anything advertised about it within the city tour agencies and would have gone if I knew about it beforehand! To my knowledge, it's only available to do in the summer months from May until September.
Dubrovnik: Last but not least, Croatia's gem Dubrovnik is a great day trip option if you're willing to spend a bit of time on the bus - it takes about 2.5-3 hours each way to get between the cities. It's a gorgeous Medieval city to spend the day, but just be aware that the crowds there can be overwhelming. Head to the bus station and purchase a ticket for 15€ one-way.
Thanks for reading if you've made it this far, and I hope I've helped you plan what to do in Kotor! It's a small, beautiful city that hasn't quite blown up on the tourist radar yet, so see it while it's still relatively quiet!