Although Montenegro is one of the youngest countries in Europe, historically it has been around for millenniums under various rulers. In the more recent past, it was a part of Yugoslavia and then joined with Serbia for a few years until it finally gained independence in 2006. Kotor and the Bay of Kotor are 2 of the most popular destinations in Montenegro. This area of the country is absolutely stunning with fjord like mountains rolling down to the Adriatic sea as churches with Venetian influence (one of the groups that ruled Montenegro) dot the coastline. This post covers how to spend one day in Kotor and the Bay of Kotor. Although Montenegro deserves some more time, consider this a sampler for a longer visit later on.
Quick Guide to Kotor
Orientation to Kotor and the Bay
Kotor is on the west side of Montenegro on the Adriatic sea. While Montenegro borders 5 countries, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are probably the 2 closest to Kotor. The Bay of Kotor mostly runs to the North of the city of Kotor.
Arriving in Kotor
Give the proximity to Croatia and Bosnia, the 2 popular places for tourists to arrive in Kotor from are Dubrovnik and Mostar. It takes about 1 hour 45 minutes to get to Kotor from Dubrovnik and about 3 hours to get to Kotor from Mostar. Don’t forget to keep allowance for the border crossing.
You need to have minimum insurance called a “green card” to drive your vehicle to Montenegro. If you are renting, your rental car provider can arrange this for you. You absolutely have to tell your rental car agency that you are planning on crossing borders in advance.
How Much Time to Spend in Kotor
All the activities and places I am mentioning below can be experienced and viewed in a day. That being said, if you have more time then you can take it easier and either go at a slower pace or add more places to your itinerary.
How to Plan Your Day
Regardless of where you are coming from, my advice would be to start the day early, especially if you are only going to spend one day in Kotor. You can do this itinerary 2 ways.
- Start visiting towns on the Bay of Kotor and then go to Kotor OR
- Start your day in Kotor and then visit the towns on the Bay of Kotor
You will pass the bay regardless of whether you cross the border to Montenegro in Croatia or in Bosnia. Chances are you will also pass it on your way out regardless of whether you are going back to the country you came from or going to the other country (i.e., Croatia to Bosnia via Kotor or Bosnia to Croatia via Kotor)
I stopped along the bay first and then went to Kotor but in retrospect I think the other way would have been better and I’ll tell you why below.
Although not a member of the EU, Montenegro uses the euro as their currency. Credit cards are also accepted in most places.
If you are only spending a day in Kotor, then you probably don’t need a local sim card. If you don’t have roaming or don’t want to use roaming, Offline maps on Google worked great for me. Just download a wide enough area that captures not just Kotor but also where you are coming from, where you are going and the border crossings.
Itinerary for One Day in Kotor & The Bay of Kotor
Bay of Kotor
Take your time and drive around the Bay of Kotor. There are several lookout spots through out the bay to stop and enjoy the views.
With only one day in Montenegro, you probably won’t have time to explore more than a couple of towns on the Bay of Kotor. I stopped at Risan and Perast. you can add Herceg Novi if you have more time. I think Perast is probably where most people spend time along the bay. It’s also the place to catch a boat to go to the Island on the Bay of Kotor.
Risan is considered a resort town. I stopped in Risan to stretch my legs as I was driving from Mostar, in Bosnia. The most striking thing about Risan is the abundance of palm trees. Which is very unique I thought juxtaposed with the towering mountains. Or at least I had not seen that combination before!
The tiny town of Perast is super cute and worth spending some time in. Parking can be a bit of a challenge during high season. There are two main spots. One at the bottom of the road (you will see it clearly) and another further up the hill as you keep driving. I found a free spot on the side of the road between the these 2 sites and parked there.
Church of St. Nicholas
The main attraction in town itself is the church of St. Nicholas, dedicated to the patron saint of fishermen. The church is free to visit but check out the bell tower for some amazing views of the city with the mountains in the background. You will also have a clear view of the 2 islands from here as well. It’s 1 euro to enter and is worth it for the views.
Our Lady of the Rocks
As mentioned just above, there are 2 islands in Perast on the Bay of Kotor. One is the island of St. George which is closed to visitors and the other, with the blue domed church is Our Lady of the Rocks. This church was built on an artificial island made by dropping in rocks. It all started when 2 fisherman found an icon of Our lady. They tried to bring it back ashore but it kept washing back. Local fishermen returning from the sea started dropping rocks here and this island was eventually formed.
You can get to the island by catching a boat near St. Nicholas. The return ride is about 5 euros. Expect to spend about 30 minutes on the island before hopping on the boat to get back. Don’t forget to look back at Perast on your way to the island for a great view of the town.
I had lunch at Conte, a restaurant by the sea and the meal was delicious. They have outdoor seating under a canopy and attentive service.
The Old Town is where all the action is in Kotor. Be aware that Kotor is a cruise port. There were 2 ships docked when I visited but the town wasn’t busy. However, I would imagine it may have been busier mid-morning as that is usually when people on cruises get off their ships. Kotor is relatively small and there is not a lot of sight seeing in the Old Town but it is very pretty nevertheless.
If you park outside Old Town and walk your way in to town, the first thing you may notice are the fortifications and bastions. Kotor is said to be one of the most impressive walled cities in Europe. The walls were built in parts starting from the 9th century and is almost 3 miles long, climbing up and up above the Old Town.
Main Town Gate
Step into the Old Town through the main town gate. The gate itself dates back to the 1500s. The date on the gate commemorates the date this area was liberated from the Nazis by Tito’s army.
Walking through the gate you come to the clock tower that’s one of the famous landmarks of Old Town.
Square of Arms
Today, this square is full of cafes and restuarants but back in the day the building to the left was the Palace of the Rector, who ruled Kotor for Venice. The triangle shaped structure is where wrongdoers were paraded and ridiculed as a form of punishment.
This main catholic cathedral goes by a few names. The back story here is that in 809 Venetian merchants were sailing with the relics of St. Tryphon when they were met with bad weather and had to shelter in Kotor. The weather worsened every time they tried to leave and the merchants look that as a sign that the relics should be kept here.
Interestingly, the 2 towers are different to each other. Some say it’s because they ran out of money trying to restore it after one of the many earth quakes that hit Kotor. Visit the reliquary inside to see relics of St. Tryphon, You will also see some paintings (a Madonna and child from the 15th century) and other religion artifacts.
Wander Around Old Town
Get lost wandering around the maze like streets in the Old Town. It’s small enough that you will never actually get lost. If you don’t have google maps on your phone but still want to get help with navigation, there is a tourist kiosk just outside the town gate that will give you a map for free.
Kotor has a Martine museum that you may find interesting. I skipped in the interest of time. One thing you will notice in abundance in Kotor are cats! Kotor even has a museum dedicated to cats that you can visit if you like cats!
The old town well is where all the gossip was spilled back in the day!
St. Luke’s Square
This little square is home to 2 Serbian Orthodox churches. The smaller church is St. Luke’s. While it is definitely orthodox today, it also served as a catholic church back in Venetian times. The bigger church is the church of St. Nicholas. Step inside and observe the beautiful interior.
Hike up to St. Giovanni Fortress via the Walls
So, I saved the best for almost last! Hike up the Walls of Kotor to St. Giovanni’s for some stunning views of the city and bay. In my opinion, this entire itinerary should revolve around this activity. Although I saved this for almost last on this post, this was actually the first thing I did when I got to Kotor. As mentioned before, if you get to this area at a decent time, consider coming to Kotor and doing this first thing in the AM.
This hike has almost 1400 steps one way with a 700 feet elevation gain. You are exposed to the elements almost all the way up. The path can be narrow, uneven and rocky, so watch your step, especially on the way down. The person in front of me fell down near the church. Bring lots of water, a hat and wear good shoes (I wore my running shoes’ which worked for me).
You can start the hike near St. Mary’s church. There is an 8 euro entry fee that you can pay by card or cash. They say the hike takes about 1.5 hours but it took me about 1 hour. I did the way up in about 25 minutes because I almost ran up! Why? Because I thought it was going to rain which it didn’t..ah well, cardio day 🙂
The half way mark is at the Church of Our Lady of Health. Some people stop here (views from here are pretty decent) but you can continue all the way up to the fortress and enjoy nice views of the bay in front and the mountains behind.
Enjoy a Montenegrin Sunset
Before heading out of Montenegro and the bay area, consider staying for a beautiful sunset peaking between the fjords. Although one of the best places to see the sunset is from St. Giovanni’s fortress, it can be a little tricky as you will descend down in complete darkness. A more safe way of viewing the sunset is actually along the Bay of Kotor. I didn’t get the exact location of where this was but it was a little passed the town of Kotor.
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I visited Montenegro as a part of a 12 day road trip around the Balkans! Check out this trip HERE or below!
Driving in Montenegro and other surrounding Balkan countries? Check out my detailed post HERE or below!