Kotor Old Town is one of the most beautiful medieval towns you will ever see. It deserves its spot on UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. Both the landscape and the historical town of Kotor under strict protection.
It has just the right mix for our ideal kind of destination: Venetian-style architecture, the warmth of the Balkan people, the charm of the Adriatic Sea and Italian cuisine. Both the historical town and the bay it is in are dazzlingly beautiful. It is one of those rare places where human touch has enhanced nature’s beauty instead of stealing away from it. Even though the city was destroyed in two major earthquakes, they were able to rebuild and maintain the area’s dazzling sites.
Before moving on with Kotor Old Town, we should clear up a common confusion on where and what “Kotor” is. Kotor can refer to 3 things: Kotor old town (Kotor Stari Grad), the name of the region the old town is located, and the name of the bay.
Don’t be misled! Some people think once they have seen Kotor Old Town, they have seen it all. Indeed, anyone planning only a visit to Kotor old town will be missing out on A LOT. There are other magnificent places in Kotor Bay that you just must see during your trip.
If you haven’t yet read our post on all the must-see places in Kotor Bay, then we recommend first reading our Top Things To Do In Kotor Bay article. It will give you the essential information about the broader region you will need to have to plan your trip. In this article, we will only focus on Kotor Old Town (Kotor Stari Grad), or the historical city center.
Most cruisers just stop here for a day trip. But we just don’t think that’s the best way to experience the village, simply because you would miss out on so much. The ideal trip would be 4-5 days in Montenegro, with 2-3 set aside for the Kotor region. You would need half a day for the Kotor Old Town itself.
The best time to do this is in June or September. It is better to avoid the months of July and August because these are in the peak season. If you are some kind of insanely patient and loaded traveler who is OK with bigger crowds and higher prices, July and August are fine too.
[column size=one_half position=first ]1. St. Nicholas Church 2. Hotel Hippocampus 3. Army Square 4. Clock Tower 5. Evergreen Jazz Bar 6. Pizzeria Pronto 7. Grad City Restaurant[/column][column size=one_half position=last ]8. Boutique Hotel Astoria 9. Cathedral of Saint Tryphon 10. Hostel Old Town Kotor 11. Authentic pub “Bandiera” 12. Castle Of San Giovanni 13. Tanjga Family Restaurant 14. Galion[/column]
1. Walk The Medieval Streets
Some types of architecture have the power to make people fall in love with a place – and Kotor Old Town has just that. The buildings here, which were built during the Middle Ages, have been wonderfully protected and will make you feel like you’re walking back in time.
We have the Venetians to thank for this. They controlled the city for nearly 400 years and built the houses and churches in Kotor. To this day, you can still feel the strong Italian presence here. Narrow cobblestoned streets lead to tiny squares with fountains in the middle – like in Venice – where you can sit at a cafe and sip on some Italian-style coffee. The feeling is not quite European, and not quite Balkan either.
2. Trek up San Giovanni Fortress on Kotor Hill
Why yes, the photo that decided you on traveling to Kotor was taken from Kotor Castle. It offers the most beautiful view of the village and bay below. The castle is located at the highest point of the walls that surround the city. In order to get to the castle, you’ll have to walk up 1,300 steps. It’s not as bad as it sounds, because the steps themselves aren’t that steep.
Besides, you can easily use taking photos as a reason to stop and catch your breath – you’re going to want to take lots of photos to remember this day. Hiking up and back down will take about two hours. If you don’t want to go up all 1,300 steps, then there’s a church about halfway up (see photo above). Don’t fret if you give up on reaching the top, the church has the most photogenic spot. 🙂
While the steps may not be that hard to climb up, the sun will suck all the energy out of you. Kotor Old Town can be very hot. So, we suggest that you begin going up to the castle by 8am. And that doesn’t mean setting your alarm for 8, ya lazybones. Plan to be at the entrance by then.
Going out during the evening is another option, but the stairs fall under the shadow of the mountain in the morning hours, so they are exposed to the sun in the evening. And you don’t want to be stuck at the top of the unlit steps after sundown.
Some people sell water along the way, but it’s more expensive than what you’ll find at the market. The entrance fee is €8 per person, but here’s another reason to drag yourself out of bed when we suggested: There might not be anyone at the door that early. 😉 Click here for the location.
2. Travel through Kotor with a Guide
You can join in on a 1-hour tour of Kotor Old Town run by Kotour. They organize three tours in the morning at 8 am, 10 am and 12 pm. Click herefor the location. The one at 8 am often gets canceled, so it’s good to check with them the night before.
They meet in front of the tourist info desk at the front door of the castle. The price in 2018 was €10 per person or €40 for a private group. You don’t have to make a reservation or anything special to join the tour. Just show up at the meeting point on time!
If you want to communicate directly with a guide for a private tour give our rec, Sofija, a ring: +382 67 373 246.
3. Most Important Places to Visit (for those who won’t take the tour)
You’ll probably come through the main gate on the on coastal road. When you look up, you’ll see Tito’s words inscribed into the gate: “Don’t ask for what is not yours, and don’t give up on what is yours.” Tito was the founder of Yugoslavia and continues to be remembered with love and admiration in Montenegro.
Piazza of the Arms (Army Square)
It’s the square you’ll find yourself in as soon as you enter the city walls. Click here for the location.
The Clock Tower
You’ll also see the clock tower as soon as you enter Kotor Old Town through the city gate. The same Austrian family has been looking after the clock for 300 years! Click here for the location.
The Pillar of Shame
You’ll see a pillar with a triangle on top under the clock tower. In old Kotor, dignity was very important. And since there was no prison in the city, when someone was charged with crime they would be brought before this pillar and embarrassed in front of everyone. Click here for the location.
The Ottomans tried very hard to take Kotor, with Ottoman admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa making 17 stops in the bay yet never able to conquer the city. He took it twice in 1538 and 1657, but couldn’t keep a hold. The people built this gate to celebrate their resistance against the Ottoman Empire.
St. Tryphon Cathedral
Kotor is one place in the country that has a higher density of Croatians than Montenegrins. This church is a Croatian Catholic church. The bones of St. Tryphon are displayed here, since having objects or bones that belonged to saints was a great honor for any city.
That’s why the Venetians went to buy the bones of St. Tryphon from the Byzantine Empire. When they were coming back from what is today modern Turkey, they were caught in a big storm, and they had to take shelter in Kotor. When the storm passed and they were ready to set sail for Venice, another storm broke out. They interpreted this as a sign that the bones should stay in Kotor. So they did. Clickherefor the location the church.
St. Nicholas Church
Montenegro has a multicultural identity. The Montenegrins, Serbs, Bosnians, Croats and Albanians all live together. St. Nicholas is the church of the Orthodox people living in Kotor Old Town. The majority of people here are Orthodox. Click here for the location.
This is referred to as the Kotor Maritime Museum, but there are also artifacts on display that show the culture of the region, such as local costumes, crafted decorative weapons and furnishings, among other things. The entrance of the museum has four metal reliefs that describe the history of Kotor made by a local artist. One of the most important memories in their collective history is being able to defeat the Ottoman army from advancing and taking the city. Click here for the location.
4. Drink a Beer in Bandiera to Cool Down
You won’t wonder for long why the Bandiera pub is No. 4 on our list of things to see in Kotor when the afternoon heat starts boiling under your skin. It’s best that you don’t make too many plans to roam the city between 1 pm to 4 or 5. But if you’re out and about in the afternoon, take shelter at Bandiera. You’ll thank us. It’s the coolest corner in all of Kotor. There’s also a coffee shop next door for an afternoon pick-me-up. Click here for the location.
5. Walk on the City Walls
Many tourists mistakenly opt out of this activity. If you think of Kotor Old Town as a triangle, then you can walk on the walls that form two of its sides. There are two places where you can get on. The most obvious is the one by Maximus disco. There’s even a cafe there.
As you’re walking, you’ll see signs, and you might think that the road is closed and it’s private property. However, the signs are only meant for the properties’ terraces, so keep going! Click here for the location of Maximus Disco.
6. Sign Up for Boat Tours
We wrote extensively about how and where to go in Kotor Bay by boat, as well as how much it costs (this is the article that we said you needed to read before reading this one!). So, I won’t go into detail here. Briefly: You will find some boats in front of the parking lot across from Kotor Old Town. They go on various types of tour, including to Perast.
7. Kotor’s Traditional Charcoal Coffee
Here’s a new recipe for you: Set a piece of charcoal alight, then dump it into a cup of coffee. Wait for 3-5 minutes for the charcoal to dissolve. Sip. Share to Instagram and let comments about the health benefits of activated charcoal roll in! (A few healthcare workers commented that they use activated charcoal to cleanse the body of toxins but we weren’t convinced so do your own research)
We tasted a bit of it at Letrika Cafe, and if you decide this “treat” is not for you, we can assure you that you’re not missing out on much. It just tastes like very strong coffee.
8. Concerts, Shows and Other Activities
Kotor Old Town is small, but it is the cultural capital of the region, which extends up to Budva. There’s always something like a concert or a show going on, and the events are typically free to get into.
In the summer, the shows are outside. We recommend seeing a symphony in the square if your trip happens to coincide with a performance, like ours did. You can ask Tourist Info at the entrance of Stari Grad if anything is happening during your trip.
9. Something Else the Venetians Left Behind: Carnaval
Not to keep going on about (but we will), the Venetians left quite a bit here in terms of language and architecture – but they also left a place for the wonderful celebration of Carnaval. The tradition began in the 1960s and is held twice throughout the year. The first in February and the second in July.
There’s another festival that can be connect with the Venetians: “Boka Night.” This festival is 200 years old, and is sort of a costume party – for boats! Boat owners dress their rigs up in pegasus-like costumes. At the end of the festival, the best-dressed ship is chosen.
10. Namfleg Watch Workshop & Jewelry Shop
If you’re in the market for a €3,000 watch instead of your typical€3 magnet souvenir, then we have a recommendation for you. 😉 Even if you’re not looking to drop 3Gs, it is worth it to check this shop out just for the craftsmanship. The motifs you see in the watches are made from natural stones. They also have some more reasonably priced jewelry made of glass. The chain has a few shops around the world. Website. Address: Stari Grad 368. Click here for the location.
Though this is where our recommendations for Kotor Old Town end, we’re not done yet!
Other Stunning Places in Kotor Bay
Yes, we realize that we are being a bit insistent, but we think it’s important that you enjoy all the places to see in Kotor Bay, much of which we talked about in our Kotor Bay post. If you have not yet read it, then check it out ⇨ KOTOR BAY ⇦
Where to Stay in Kotor Old Town
We recommend staying in Dobrota (which again, we talk about in our Kotor Bay article), especially for those of you who can set aside two days for the region. But here are some lovely hotels in Kotor’s old town, nonetheless:
Hippocampus is the best hotel if you decide to stay in the Kotor Old Town. It’s a small, quality boutique hotel with an excellent restaurant. Details & Reservation
Hostel Old Town Kotor
This is the most budget-friendly option and a nice place to stay in historical Kotor. There are rooms for 2-3 people as well as dormitory-type accommodation options. The atmosphere itself is very entertaining. They organize various tours that anyone can join, and you can also arrange airport transportation with them. Details & Reservation.
Nightlife in Kotor
Ever Green Jazz Bar is the place to hang out at night. Click here for the location.
Maximus is one of the biggest disco clubs in the country. Local youth flock here. We were just surprised to hear that discos still existed. Click herefor the location.
What to Eat in Kotor
The Italians made their mark on Kotor through cuisine. Here, you’ll be able to find carpaccio, pizza, risotto, spaghetti and other Italian classics that are just as good if you were going to dine in Italy. We liked the black seafood risotto – but you can eat anything at any of the places we recommend below knowing that you’ll get a good meal.
This area is famous for seafood. People usually order risotto with seafood.
For those of you who have heard of a Palatschinke – we tried it and aren’t sure what’s the difference between it and any other crepe…
Where to Eat
If you want to eat amongst the beautiful ambiance of the the old city, we have a few suggestions for you. But frankly, all restaurants in the old town are quite touristy and mediocre in taste. You will see no locals eating in the old town. That’s always an important tell when it comes to finding good food.
The portions are huge. The meal sizes are fit for a bear. We often shared one plate of food.
If you’re on a budget, then we can recommend the Grad City Restaurant (but not for its taste). There are selections on their menu like soup + seafood + wine for €12-14. It’s very close to the square with the cathedral. Click here for the location.
Restaurants We Recommend in Kotor Old Town
This is one of the best places to eat inside the castle. Their menu is made up mostly of Italian dishes. You can check the menu out here. Click here for the location.
This is the only eatery locals frequent in the old town, mostly to take a breather after drinking. You can buy a ready slice or a made-to-order pizza. A standard slice will have ham, cheese and mushrooms, but you’ll have more options if you buy a whole pizza. This is the most budget-friendly option in Kotor. A huge slice of pizza is €2. Click here for the location.
Two other great options that are not within the castle walls but perhaps 5 minutes from the old town on foot:
This is a great place to spoil yourself while on holiday. Galion has a great view of the city of Kotor as well as the Kotor Bay. The main thing you’ll be able to find here is seafood. It’s one of the nicest restaurants in the bay. The prices are quite high, but they’re not ridiculous. Click here for the location.
This is a place favored by locals, and the food here is delicious. The ambiance might not be what you’re expecting, but the prices are great. We bet that you’ll go back again. It mainly serves meat and has a secret garden out back. Click herefor the location.
Last but not absolutely not least, if you walk half an hour more, or take a taxi, you will arrive at the most beautiful restaurant of the whole bay area…
This excellent venue hits the trifecta: ambiance, taste and price. It is by far our favorite. The location is also great, as it’s located right on the sea. We recommend that you grab a spot before the sun goes down. Try the truffle tuna carpaccio, as it’s the perfect dish. The only problem is that this place is in Dobrota, so you’ll either have to catch a cab or walk 40 minutes. Because we loved it so much, we wanted to make sure to include it here. Click here for the location.
If you need one, next to Kotor Stari Grad there is a small shopping center called Kamelija. If you want to purchase a telephone line, you’ll be able to find Telenor (local GSM), a supermarket and a bank. It’s open until 11 pm.
If you have a car, you’ll want to know where the parking lots are. There’s a parking lot that we’ve been talking about right in front of Kotor Stari Grad on the seaside. It’s the most expensive parking lot in the city, and it’s full most of the time. There’s another car park behind Kamelija.
Understanding the “old” in Kotor Old Town: A Quick History
2 BC – 1185 AD – Roman & Byzantine Period – First records show that the area was under Roman control. Later, the Byzantines became rulers here. The name of the area is thought to come from Dekatera/Dekaderon, from the Byzantine time. Although the Bulgarians ruled Kotor for 140 years during this time, it came back under Byzantine rule until 1185.
1185 – 1371 – Serbian Empire – Kotor is taken by the Serbs, but remained somewhat autonomous. Kotor became the most important port city for the Serbs for 200 years.
1371 – 1384 – Venetian and Croatian Wars – With the collapse of the Serbian Empire in 1371, Venetians and Croatians began to fight for the city. The city changed hands for 10 years.
1384 – 1391 – Bosniak period – The Bosniaks ruled here for 7 years.
1391 – Independence – The city became independent with the death of the Bosniak king.
1420 – 1797 – Venetian Period – The people of Kotor feared the Ottomans and sought protection from the Venetians, who ruled Kotor. During this period, the Ottomans took Kotor twice, from 1538-1571 and 1657-1699.
1797 – 1805 – Austro-Hungarian Empire – The city changed hands to the Habsburg monarchy in 1791.
1805 – 1814 – Napoleonic Period – In 1805, the city was given to Napoleon through an agreement, and it fell under French rule.
Into the 20th Century
1814 – 1918 – Austro-Hungarian Empire (again)- In 1814, a British fleet succeeded in taking Kotor, and the French fled. Kotor fell back under the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918.
1918 – World War I – The Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved after the war, and Kotor became part of the newly formed Yugoslavia.
1941 – 1943 – Italian Period – During World War II, the Italians took Kotor.
1945 – 1992 – Kotor rejoined Yugoslavia.
1992 – 2006 – Serbian Montenegro – After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro continued down the road to becoming a state.
2006 – Independence – In 2006, Montenegro became an independent state.