Exploring Kotor and the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro

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The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.

After rambling around Croatia for 6 weeks, Daniel and I were ready to visit a new country. We heard great things about Kotor, another fortified city and UNESCO World Heritage site, so we boarded a bus heading southbound. It was a short bus from Dubrovnik and we soon crossed the border into neighboring Montenegro.

I knew that Kotor was located in a scenic bay, but nothing prepared me for the stunning beauty of the Bay of Kotor. Mountains rise dramatically out of Adriatic Sea and frame the city in a breathtaking backdrop. I eyed the mountains as we approached the city, itching to do some hiking. The Old Town is surrounded by ancient walls that extend behind the city up to St. John’s Fortress and I couldn’t wait to climb up there as well.

Even though we visited in the off season, Kotor was bustling with locals and tourists alike. Cruise ships occasionally docked in the Bay of Kotor during the daytime, flooding the city with gawking tourists who left the town to locals at night. My advice – stay in town and hang out with the locals after the cruise ships leave for the day.

Here is a roundup of our favorite experiences in Kotor:

  1. Driving Around the Bay of Kotor
  2. Hiking the Ladder of Kotor to St. John’s Fortress
  3. Exploring Kotor’s Old Town
  4. Hanging out with Kotor’s Cats (you can also visit the Cats Museum if it is open)
  5. Walking along the Bay of Kotor
  6. Enjoying the Holiday Season in Kotor

Driving around the Bay of Kotor

Daniel and I traveled to Kotor by bus from Dubrovnik and had an amazing view of the bay as we arrived. Sometimes referred to as Europe’s southernmost “fjord”, the Bay of Kotor has an unusual butterfly shape which it gained when rising sea levels drowned an ancient river valley. There are tourist buses that drive along the bay for those that don’t have a car or arrive by cruise ship.

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The view from the bus on along the Bay of Kotor.
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Church of our Lady of the Rocks. According to legend, this island was formed by fishermen who threw rocks on this spot over centuries.
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I want to hike these mountains! Squee!

Hiking the Ladder of Kotor to St. John’s Fortress

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View of St. John’s Fortress from the Ladder of Kotor.

Kotor’s Old Town is surrounded by ancient walls that extend behind the city up to St. John’s Fortress, which is perched on a cliff overlooking the town. Climbing the 1355 steps to the fortress is a must-do when visiting Kotor – not only do you get great views of the Bay of Kotor, but you get to visit the crumbling remains of an ancient fort as well.

I was really itching to do some hiking, however, and so I combined climbing the fortress with hiking the Ladder of Kotor trail on the mountain behind the city in a single loop. The hike was my favorite experience in Kotor and I recommend exploring part or all of the trail if you have time. Note that entrance to the fortress from the trail is sometimes blocked.

You can read a full account of my hike here: Switchback Heaven: Climbing the Ladder of Kotor in Montenegro.

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Kotor Fortifications

Exploring Kotor’s Old Town

Our apartment was located in the middle of Kotor’s Old Town and we spent hours rambling around the old cobblestone streets and exploring the town on foot. It is a charming city, although it can become a bit crowded when cruise ships are docked.

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Seat Gate – the main entrance to Old Town.
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St. Luke’s Church.
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Cathedral of Saint Tryphon (Katedrala Svetog Tripuna).
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The clock tower in The Arms Square (Trg od Oružja).
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The Arms Square (Trg od Oružja) at night.

Hanging out with Kotor’s Cats

If you love cats then you’ll love Kotor. The city is home to hundreds of stray cats that are fed by the locals and cared for. We enjoyed feeding scraps of food to the cats and giving them some affectionate scratches and pets. The city even has a museum devoted to cats although it was closed for the season when we arrived.

According to local legend, cats arrived in Kotor with sailors coming to port and saved the city from disease by keeping the mice and rat population under control. This is why they are still cared for and revered to this day.

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Kotor’s Cat Museum is located in this square. Sadly, it’s closed in the off season.
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Some of Kotor’s famous cats being fed by a local butcher shop.
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Another feline napping in the sun.

Walking along the Bay of Kotor

On the advice of our AirBnB host, we spent one afternoon walking along Kotor Bay just north of town. Put I Bokeljske Brigade street runs along Kotor’s coastline in the neighboring community of Dobrota and is lined with shops and restaurants. There is also a beach for those so inclined but it was too chilly for swimming during our visit in November. We got caught in the rain during our walk had a spectacular view of a rainbow over the Bay.

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We went for a walk along the Bay of Kotor and got caught in a rainstorm. Lucky for us, we also got to see this rainbow.
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A small boat docked along the Bay of Kotor.
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The shops and restaurants along Put I Bokeljske Brigade Street.
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Cruise ship leaving the Bay of Kotor at dusk.

Kotor during the Holiday Season

We visited Kotor during the last week of November, 2019. City workers were in the process of setting up holiday decorations around town when we arrived, giving the whole city a festive air. The dominant religion in Montenegro practices Eastern Orthodox Christianity which celebrates Christmas in early January. According to our AirBnB host, most people celebrate Christmas on December 25 as well, which essentially means they have extended Christmas celebrations for weeks on end.

We were a little early for Christmas, but Daniel and I did happen to be in Kotor for American Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 28. We thought briefly about preparing some sort of traditional Thanksgiving meal in our apartment but ultimately decided that it sounded like too much work. So we went out for a lovely meal of traditional Montenegrin food instead (which turned out to be similar to the food we enjoyed in Croatia).

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Traditional hand-carved Christmas decorations.
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Christmas Decorations going up across town.
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Daniel and I celebrate Thanksgiving Dinner at a Montenegrin restaurant.

The Albanian 2019 Earthquake

During our stay in Kotor, a massive 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the nearby country of Albania killing 51 people and injuring 2000 more. The shaking started around 4:00 am local time and could be felt as far away as Belgrade. Many Kotor residents were awoken by the quake, which apparently was pretty intense, but we slept right through it.

Map of the 2019 Albania Earthquake.

Daniel and I had planned to visit the city of Shkodër in Albania next and immediately began to have second thoughts. As we contemplated what to do, a series of aftershocks rocked the region and a 6.0 earthquake struck across the Adriatic Sea near Crete. That settled it. With the country of Albania in a state of emergency, it seemed like a bad time to try and visit.

It was time for a new plan. So we headed back to Dubrovnik instead to join the Dubrovnik Winter Festival Kickoff Celebration.

Where are we now?

Location: Kotor, Montenegro
Date: Monday, November 25 to Friday, November 29, 2019
Vagabonding Journey Status: Days 56-60

We are in Kotor, Montenegro.

For more details on our vagabonding journey, see my previous posts:

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A fortified city and UNESCO World Heritage site, Kotor is located in a scenic bay. Mountains rise dramatically out of the Adriatic Sea and frame the city in a breathtaking backdrop. Discover our favorite experiences and things to do in this historic city.

7 thoughts

  1. Wow! That earthquake sounds so scary! So glad you guys were okay! Also love the Bay of Kotor! So beautiful! I can see why people call it the Southern most fjord in Europe!

  2. What a great post! Just so scary that you guys had to go through that earthquake. But so glad you’re okay. And I can see why people would refer to Kotor as the southernmost fjord in Europe!.So pretty!

  3. Hanging out with Kotor’s cats, I love this idea! 🙂 And I’ve seen in many places in Balkan that local cats are fed by village people, which I think it’s really nice 🙂

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