Kotor, with its unspoiled charm, is undeniably the most beautiful town in Montenegro.
At the end of the bay of the same name, which is the deepest gulf of the Adriatic, Kotor stands out like an impeccably preserved time capsule. The beautiful walled Old Town, with its unpretentious beauty, manages to maintain its charm despite the thousands of tourists who visit it every year. Both the town and the nearby region are unique historical monuments surrounded by nature’s impressive beauty.
The history of Kotor
It is unknown when Kotor was actually founded. Both the Illyrians and the Greeks lived there, and under Roman rule it began to grow into a prominent metropolis. Then it developed into a significant city within the Byzantine Empire, and in the Middle Ages, Serbs and Bulgarians took control of it. However, Kotor only attained its real splendour and the distinctive architecture that we still adore during the Venetian era (1420–1797).
Later, it joined the Habsburg Empire until being taken over by Napoleon. It carried on with its recent history as a part of the Yugoslavian state and is now a town in the independent nation of Montenegro.
Kotor has one of the best preserved mediaeval old towns in the Adriatic and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is part of the Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor.
A walk in the Old Town
The Old Town of Kotor is surrounded by walls and has three entrances: the central Sea Gate, the northern River Gate, and the southern Gurdic Gate. Thus, starting from the Sea Gate, we will take a tour of the town. This is the best way to admire the most important sights and discover its hidden treasures, with four squares as reference points.
Square of Weapons
The Square of Weapons, the largest square in the Old Town, is accessible through the Sea Gate. The Rector’s Palace on the western side of the square and the renowned 17th-century Clock Tower in the middle stand out on the square. The Pillar of Shame, which was employed as a form of punishment during the mediaeval era, is located beneath the tower. The defendants were put in front of the pillar so that all citizens could know of their delinquency.
Square of Flour
On the east side of the Square of Weapons, a narrow alley leads to the Square of Flour and some of Kotor’s most beautiful houses, including Beskuka Palace, Buca Palace (with its peculiar Gothic elements), and Pima Palace. One of the three houses, Beskuka Palace, has a fascinating tale. The owner’s name, “Beskuka,” translates to “homeless.” The owner conceived a plan to build 100 houses in the town after being enraged by the insults the locals were making about his name. However, he only succeeded in finishing 68 of them.
St. Tryphon’s Square
From this point, another narrow, picturesque alley leads to the next square, which is dominated by St. Tryphon’s Cathedral, the most important ecclesiastical building in Kotor. The church was completed in 1166 and was constructed on a 9th-century rotunda. St. Tryphon became Kotor’s patron saint in 890 when a merchant offered the head of the saint to the town. The interior of the cathedral is also very impressive, with marble columns, Gothic-style windows, and bas-reliefs depicting the life of the saint. A few more narrow passages and alleys lead to the Square of Boka Marine, a little square with a number of lively restaurants and bars. On this square is also the Gregorin Palace, which houses the Maritime Museum.
Square of Wood
From here, if you move towards the north walls, you end up in the greenery-filled Square of the Wood and the Church of St. Maria with its characteristic dome. The church was built in honour of the nun who inspired the citizens of Kotor to defend the city against the Turkish admiral Barbarossa in the 16th century. From this square, the North Gate leads to a footbridge over the Skurda River.
However, beyond the important sights and impressive buildings, the magic of Kotor is hidden in the town itself. A narrow alley that you don’t know where it will lead you, a smaller church that you haven’t seen on a map, a spread-out laundry, an old mailbox, and an impressive house entrance are among the many unforgettable images that you come across. The magic of the city becomes even more intense in the evening, when the shadows add to its primaeval beauty.
The walls of Kotor
The best way to get a better perspective of the Old Town is to take a walk along the old stone walls. They are almost 4.5 km long and were completed in the 15th century. The walls of Kotor are stretched all around the town and San Giovanni Hill. You can easily climb the city walls that are along the river Skurda by following the steps that start at the edge of the Square of Weapons. However, if you want to wander the entire length of the walls along the hill, then you need to stock up on patience and water.
The path starts near the Church of St. Maria. After 520 steps and an ascent of one hundred metres, you will reach the church of Our Lady of Health. From there, you will continue to the Old Castle of St. Ivan. At this point, the old city spreads out in front of you and the view leaves you breathless. Immediately after starts the descent back to the town. Information about the route can be found at the tourist kiosk outside the Sea Gate. There is also an 8-euro ticket to enter the walls on the hill (price 2023).
However, no trip to Kotor would be complete without visiting the nearby, equally distinctive Perast (12km from Kotor). Perast is a small Venetian jewel, spread out on a narrow stretch of land between the main road and the sea. The remarkable Venetian-Gothic structures are evidence of its illustrious past. Perast had a significant impact on the Adriatic’s marine history and housed a famous naval school for 500 years. Even Peter the Great of Russia attended this prominent school. It is no wonder that during its height in the 18th century, the town had four shipyards and a thousand ships.
Although small in size, the beauty of the place and the view towards the Bay of Kotor are enough to make for some unforgettable hours. You definitely must see the Bujovic Palace and the Church of St. Nicholas with its towering bell tower. Perast is also the ideal place to start a boat trip to the bay.
During our visit, we took a short cruise and were completely satisfied with the Pulena Boats (pulenaboats.com). Their boats are new, the staff is courteous, and they have their own free parking if you come with your car. Overall, it was a pleasant and stress-free experience.
Our Lady of the Rocks
From Perast, the most famous and recognisable place you can visit by boat is the artificial island of Our Lady of the Rocks. It is undoubtedly one of Montenegro’s landmarks. There are many myths about the creation of the island and the building of the church. According to the most famous myth, a sailor shipwrecked on a rock and vowed to build a church for the Virgin Mary. After his rescue, he began to throw stones and rocks in order to create an island. And on the island, he built the church with the help of the citizens of Perast.
The church has been restored numerous times, but many of its baroque features are still there, both inside and out. An exquisite Murano chandelier hangs from the church’s ceiling, and the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary sits atop a marble altar. A modest, intriguing museum with numerous artefacts from Perast’s past is located right next to the church. There is a 3-euro ticket for the church and the museum (price 2023).
However, the journey to the small island is even more spectacular and amazing. As you leave Perast behind and take in its distinctive architecture, you are encircled by the bay’s deep blue waters. The surrounding mountains, tall and green, slope sharply to the water. The blue and green colours create an amazing contrast that is completed by the dozens of boats that traverse the bay. All these elements make a vibrant and colourful mosaic with images that will hang in your memory for a long time.
The cats of Kotor
One last note that makes Kotor even more special is the town’s love for cats. Cats are everywhere in Kotor. They are well-kept, healthy, and clean. Also, there are containers with food and water for them in certain parts of the town. Although, according to tradition, the inhabitants of Kotor love cats because they once saved the city, it is more likely that the sympathy is due to the sailors. Kotor had many people who worked as sailors, and on their big trips, they had cats as company. When they returned home, they brought the cats with them, and the population of cats grew, coming from different parts of the world. Today, you will find shops selling cat-related items, and there is also a Cats Museum.
Where to eat
The Old Town of Kotor is also a special gastronomic destination. It is difficult to single out the best among the dozens of places that exist in the narrow streets and squares. Nevertheless, we will recommend five places that we really think are worth visiting.
Przun Restaurant: It was definitely the best dining experience we had in Kotor. It is located in a small, picturesque square and housed in a beautiful old house. Its menu offers modern dishes as well as traditional Montenegrin recipes. The risotto with wild mushrooms stands out, as does the excellent seafood soup, which we would say is its specialty. Its list of local wines is also excellent.
Konoba Santa Scala: It is listed as Kotor’s oldest restaurant. Its menu focuses mainly on seafood from the region. One of the dishes that stands out is the black risotto made with cuttlefish cooked with its ink. The restaurant also has a cosy interior with a fireplace.
La Catedral Pasta Bar: This is the best place in Kotor that specialises in pasta dishes. Its menu is long but the tables are very few, so there is usually a queue at peak hours waiting to be seated.
Pronto Pizza: It is impossible to take a walk in Kotor and not notice many people holding huge slices of pizza. Pronto is something of an institution, and everyone will stop by to try the pizza that comes out constantly freshly baked from its oven. There are also a few tables, but most people take the pizza in hand.
Marshall’s Gelato: There are several ice cream shops in the city, but Marshall is the one you must go to. It stands out for the excellent quality of its always fresh flavour combinations and ingredients.
Where to stay
During our visit to Kotor we stayed at the D & Sons Apartments. It is housed in a renovated mansion in the Old Town. The apartments are spacious and clean with all the necessary amenities. It made the perfect base for exploring the old town.
The unspoiled beauty…
Although Kotor has developed into a popular destination with thousands of tourists, many of whom come from cruise ships, it manages to maintain its charm and beauty. It is not only the buildings of the Old Town or the magical nature that surrounds them. It is also the calm energy and the unique atmosphere that make it special. You will not understand Kotor in a few hours. You will love Kotor if you spend the night there and experience the whole cycle of its everyday life. From the morning hours when the shops slowly open, then noon and the afternoon when it is overwhelmed by visitors, until the evening when the city acquires a mystical atmosphere. Kotor is a place to experience, not just to visit.