Visiting Kotor, Montenegro

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We picked Kotor as the base for our week in Montenegro based on photos we’d come across online. It looked amazing – a huge natural bay surrounded by picturesque mountains, with well-positioned holiday apartments around the bay and the promise of virtually guaranteed hot sunny weather. Here’s our advice on visiting Kotor on your family holiday…

One of the best things about visiting Kotor – the views of Kotor Bay at sunset, taken from the top of the old fortress walls

We liked the idea of Montenegro for a summer holiday because it seemed a bit of a different type of destination from the usual European family holiday locations but still within easy reach of the UK and reasonably priced.

Montenegro’s main airport is at Tivat, which is close to Kotor, but we found cheaper and more convenient flights for us were from Gatwick to Dubrovnik in Croatia, from where we hired a car and drove down to Kotor.

Montenegro has developed considerably over the last few years as a tourist destination but not so much yet as to spoil the natural beauty and local charm of the region.

There are tourist hot-spots, particularly around Budva, which are starting to resemble the mass-market destinations, but these are still relatively few and far between.

There are also areas of incredible natural beauty, some beautiful historical towns and, between all these, some areas that are still pretty undeveloped and derelict.

Kotor falls well and truly in to the category of incredible natural beauty and with a beautiful historical town.

The island of St George in the middle of Kotor Bay, Montenegro

Visiting Kotor – and having seen many of the other sights further afield around Montenegro, it feels to us that Kotor has the absolute best of everything the country has to offer and is the best place to stay and visit in Montenegro.

The central attraction is the mind-blowingly spectacular sight of Kotor Bay – a huge bay reminiscent of Norwegian Fjords, surrounded by mountains.

It’s a popular destination for cruise ships, which make for an impressive sight as they float silently up and down the still, clear waters.

The view of Kotor Bay from our apartment balcony

At the far end of the bay is the ‘Old Town‘ of Kotor, built in medieval times and surrounded by the high stone walls of the fortress, which borders the town and stretches high up the side of the mountain above.

The fortress wall around the town is a landmark itself which, at night-time is illuminated to reveal the shape of a lion sitting on the mountainside.

The lights illuminating the fortress walls around Kotor Old Town

From inside the old town, you can walk up to the top of the fortress (a pretty tough but well worth the effort climb) to take in one of Montenegro’s most iconic views across the entire town and bay beyond.

If there’s one thing we really recommend anyone visiting Kotor doing, it’s the walk right up to the top of the fortress. It starts at the back of the Old Town and follows a rocky staircase all the way up (the tourist information point at the entrance of the town will direct you to the start of the climb).

The long, tough climb up to the top of the fortress is rewarded with one of the best photo opportunities in Montenegro!

It’s a tough walk, especially in the heat of the day so be sure to take plenty of water – but when you reach the top and see that view, you’ll be glad you made the effort!

The town itself has a real buzz of activity about it. It’s becoming an extremely popular tourist destination – and rightly so. Small, unique shops line the maze of narrow cobbled streets.

The streets of Old Town Kotor

There are tons of pavement-side restaurants and cafes leading from the main central square, which, when we were there, had street musicians performing.

The language of Montenegro is officially known as ‘Montenegrin’, which is basically a version of Serbian. Thankfully most people working in and around the town and tourist resorts speak good English and there are generally English translations on things like restaurant menus.

Classical musicians play in Kotor Old Town’s central square

It’s just as well, as the likelihood of anyone visiting Kotor being able to pick up even a few basic Serbian words and phrases is pretty slim, with their impossible-looking letters and pronunciations!

There’s a very stylish, up-market feel to the Kotor Old Town area. Opposite the town, over the other side of the road is the marina with ¬£multi-million yachts sat on the clear water of the bay.

The whole Old Town has an expensive feel to it – and indeed prices of many things are higher around here than they might be elsewhere in Montenegro, but still not excessive and a family meal in one of the picturesque restaurants isn’t much different in cost to the average meal out somewhere in the UK.

Dinner in one of Kotor’s many open air restaurants

The week we were visiting Kotor, there seemed to be events happening most evenings. One night we could hear the sounds of an open air piano concert. Another night there was some kind of laser light show beaming multi-colored lights across the sky and surrounding mountains.

Outside the walls of the Old Town there’s a variety of shops including local corner shops and a larger supermarket (with an even bigger hyper-market just a couple of miles outside town through the tunnel on the road towards Budva).

There are also plenty of restaurants in Kotor, including one we found very close to our apartment – called Ladovina – which was by far the best place we ate at during the whole holiday.

From the marina there are numerous boat tour operators offering a range of excursions in and around the bay – from public tours to private hire boats.

Views of Kotor Bay from the boat tour we took

Having spent days admiring the incredibly inviting water of Kotor Bay it was impossible to resist the idea of heading out on to it by boat and we had an amazing day cruising from Kotor down to the other end of the bay and stopping at the town and beach of Perast.

There aren’t any actual real beaches around Kotor itself – but you will see a number of small areas people use for sunbathing and swimming, which are basically just concrete jetties or small rocky outcrops in to the sea.

For real beaches you need to venture a bit further afield, though not too far. The ‘Budva Riviera’ is a string of very popular beaches within about 40-minutes’ drive from Kotor. Closer to the town though is the sandy beach of Plavi Horizont, around 20-minutes away by car.

Venture a bit further out of Kotor and there are loads of great beaches along the ‘Budva Riviera’, like this one – Jaz Beach

To really enjoy everything Kotor has to offer though, you’ll definitely need a car and we’d strongly recommend you hiring one – otherwise you’re missing out on so much more to see and do beyond the immediate region of Kotor town, but still all within very easy driving distance.

Whether you’re coming to stay here for a holiday or are visiting Kotor for the day, it is well worth the visit. It has a perfect combination of amazing scenery, lots to see and do around the town and perfect Mediterranean summer weather.

With a hire car, you can travel from Kotor and see virtually all the other major destinations in Montenegro. All in all, a brilliant, cost-effective, impressive and different destination for a family holiday.