Located in one of the most scenic settings imaginable, Kotor in Montenegro lies nestled in a breathtaking bay with impressive mountains rising all around it. The Gulf of Kotor is found along the country’s northern coastline, not all that far away from Dubrovnik in neighboring Croatia. The spectacular natural fjord is just part of what makes Kotor so alluring.
Besides the dramatic scenery, the city itself is just as attractive. The Old Town’s walls enclose elegant Venetian palaces, centuries-old churches, and cafe-lined cobbled piazzas. Its maze of winding streets is mesmerizing to explore. Tiny restaurants, unique boutiques, and quaint bed and breakfasts lie alongside ancient historical sights and interesting museums.
In addition to this, you’ll also come across quite a lot of cats wandering around or basking in the sun; they have become something of a symbol of the city. Heart-achingly beautiful to gaze upon, visitors will find it hard to tear themselves away from Kotor’s architecture and gorgeous natural setting.
12. Gurdic Gate
Lying at the southern end of the Old Town, the sturdy-looking Gurdic Gate has long played a vital role in the city’s defenses and was constructed in 1470. Due to its strategic location, it was reinforced into a bastion to guard the narrow strip of land lying between the steep mountain to one side and the dark blue waters of the bay to the other.
Entering over its wooden drawbridge and passing through its narrow and heavily fortified passage serves as an amazing introduction to Kotor. Afterward, you immerge into a charming and welcoming piazza.
11. Church of St. Luke
Set in a picturesque square with the rugged mountains looming in the background, the tiny Church of St. Luke was built all the way back in 1195. It is one of the oldest churches in the country. Exhibiting some fabulous Romanesque and Byzantine features, St. Luke’s rather plain interior hosts some lovely iconostases, as well as a few fragments of frescoes from when it was first painted.
Besides miraculously surviving numerous earthquakes, which have plagued Kotor over the centuries, the church is also noteworthy for having been shared by both Catholic and Orthodox practitioners for almost two hundred years.
10. Sea Gate
Built in 1555 during Venetian times, the Sea Gate is the main entrance to Kotor and is set in the side of the city walls facing the waterfront. As the Gurdic Gate and bastion were located in a much more important spot, however, the Sea Gate is less daunting to face and much smaller in size.
Passing beneath its low stone arch, you’ll find that the city walls are deceptively thick. The passage through them displays some delightful brickwork, as well as a fantastic stone carving of the Madonna and Child.
Besides the wonderful architecture, there are a couple of symbols and carvings for you to spot along the wall and above the entrance of the Sea Gate. The winged lion of St Mark’s, for example, can be found alongside a communist star, as well as a quote from Tito, which commemorates when Kotor was liberated from the Nazis.
9. Clock Tower
After entering through the Sea Gate, you’ll find yourself in the Old Town’s main square, with a magnificent Clock Tower backed by mountains rising before you. One of the symbols of the city, it was erected in 1602. Despite now leaning slightly to one side, it has survived numerous earthquakes over the centuries.
The sturdy-looking square tower exhibits both Baroque and Gothic features, while a reconstructed medieval pillory lies before it. With lots of elegant buildings and cafes lying around it, the Clock Tower is one of the most photographed monuments in Kotor.
8. St. Nikola Church
The largest Orthodox church in town, St. Nikola dominates the square in which it lies. Its simple facade is flanked by two twin domes, with the Serbian flag hanging down between them. Despite having only been built in 1909, its Byzantine-looking features fit in perfectly amongst the Venetian buildings all around it.
The inside, however, is its real showstopper: a marvelous iconostasis lies before you, and colorful sunbeams shine through the stained glass windows.
7. Northern Gate
Also known as the ‘River Gate,’ the Old Town’s Northern Gate is the quietest of its three entrances and is tucked away in a slightly secluded part of the city. Set in Kotor’s northern wall, it borders the Skurda River that gushes down from the mountain. Only a narrow stone bridge connects it to the other side.
Built in 1540 in a Renaissance style, the Northern Gate is quite small and unimposing, with the moat-like river before the wall being its main defense. The small streets in the Old Town that snake their way to the Northern Gate are very peaceful and pleasant to stroll around. As you approach, you’ll almost certainly come across a number of the city’s famous cats lying in the sun.
6. Piazza of the Arms
Kotor’s main square, the Piazza of the Arms – or Trg od Oruzja, as it is called in Montenegrin – is where you can find a number of the city’s most impressive and important historical monuments. Lying alongside the city walls in the west of the Old Town, you can enter the spacious square through the magnificent Sea Gate, which has stood there for centuries.
Lined by beautiful buildings, the piazza is home to a number of souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, and bakeries, and is usually quite busy at any time of day with people strolling about. Besides the Clock Tower and Sea Gate, the most distinctive buildings on show are the incredible Rector’s Palace and Napoleon’s Theater; both of which date to the 17th century and are now part of the luxury Hotel Cattaro.
5. Lovćen National Park
Rising high above Kotor, the mountainous Lovcen National Park is the perfect place to head if you want to immerse yourself in nature while enjoying some stunning scenery and astounding views. Named after Mount Lovcen – the black mountain that gave the country its name – the park is quite rocky and barren in nature, although there are still over 1,100 different types of plant life on show.
A site of national importance known to all Montenegrins, Lovcen and its surrounding slopes were, for centuries, the only bastion against Ottoman rule in the region. Atop of one of its loftiest peaks, for instance, is the mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic Njegos, a Montenegrin Prince-Bishop who was an early spiritual and political leader of the country.
Stretching away from this historic sight is an incredible view as the mountainside plunges away below you. On a good day, you can see right across the Adriatic Sea all the way to Italy. With lots of great hiking paths for you to explore, Lovcen National Park is well worth visiting if you have the chance.
4. Climb up to St John Fortress
One of the most fun – and tiring – but ultimately rewarding things to do in Kotor is to climb up to the St John Fortress that lies perched high up the mountainside, far above the city. As you navigate the steep and winding paths, passing old fortifications and centuries-old chapels as you go, the view only gets better and better. It’s almost impossible not to stop time and time again to take photos.
While it is quite tough going in places, especially if the sun is blazing above you, the climb is well worth the effort, and it should only take around an hour to the top. After completing the 1,300 or so steps, the ruins of the San Giovanni fortress (as it is also known) are loads of fun to explore. The main reason people undertake the climb, however, is for the awe-inspiring panoramas it offers up. The views of the red rooftops of the Old Town and the glimmering Gulf of Kotor below are simply staggering.
3. Take a Boat Trip on the Bay of Kotor
With so much stunning scenery to be enjoyed in and around Kotor, taking a boat trip around the surrounding waters is a fantastic way to see more of what the area has to offer. The charming village of Perast, for instance, is just a 20-minute boat ride away. Just offshore are two picturesque little islands for you to visit, each with its own beautiful church.
Skipping across the water with the wind in your hair is a liberating feeling, and the scenery you pass is incredible wherever you go. Returning to Kotor is just as visually rewarding as you see the Old Town backed by the mountains looming above it.
With other places, such as the magical Blue Cave and the former WWII prison island of Mamula, lying slightly further away, not to mention the coast’s many enticing beaches, taking a boat trip is a great way to see more of the nearby attractions.
2. St. Tryphon Cathedral
Undoubtedly the most impressive building in the city, St. Tryphon Cathedral boasts two marvelous Baroque bell towers. These lie either side of a delightful rose window and entrance arch. One of just two Roman Catholic cathedrals in the whole country, it was built all the way back in 1166, although various earthquakes have meant that from time to time it has had to be repaired and reconstructed.
Set in a lovely piazza with a mountain looming behind it, the cathedral certainly paints a pretty picture, and its elegant interior is no less alluring. Besides the fabulous columns and vaulted ceilings, there is the beautiful Sacral Art Museum for you to visit. Its collection of artifacts, paintings, and local costumes is fascinating to peruse.
1. City Walls
Enveloping the Old Town in their protective embrace, Kotor’s City Walls have been around since the ninth century. Since then, everyone from the Byzantines to the Venetians have reinforced and added to them. Stretching around 4.5 kilometers in length, the fortifications remarkably continue their way up the steep mountainside, seeming to defy gravity, right to the St John Fortress perched high up above the city.
With gates, bastions, and even churches found in the walls, the ancient fortifications are incredible to explore. From their ramparts, you can enjoy impressive views of the Old Town and the Gulf of Kotor. Passing through either Sea Gate or Gurdic Gate into the city for the first time is an unforgettable experience. The walls are astonishingly well preserved, considering how old they are. One of Kotor’s main attractions and defining features, the city walls are not to be missed out on when visiting the city.