A Family Foray to Kotor, Montenegro
Although Kotor is no longer Europe's best kept secret, its timeless charm remains firmly intact despite the arrival of cruise ships and tour buses. Seems like the best time to explore is late afternoon when the tourist influx disappears. Suddenly, the Old Town's twisting, cobbled streets and tucked away piazzas take you back to a lost era. Uniquely overlooked by steep mountains, Kotor is the ultimate place for culinary discovery at a secluded café or family adventure racing up the cliff for a stunning bay view. Further development is almost inevitable and, like many popular spots in Europe, Kotor might lose some its appeal in future years. Go there now before the influx grows larger!
Towards KotorOur family journey through the Balkans had begun a few days earlier in Budapest, where we caught the overnight train to Belgrade. From there, we picked up tickets for Europe's most spectacular train ride: Belgrade to Bar. While budget airlines fly direct to Montenegro and to neighbouring Croatia, you should definitely consider taking the train. Edging towards Kotor on a romantic 12-hour train ride beats waiting around airports any day. Indeed, for us, the incredible introduction to Montenegro suspended high above the mountains en route Bar was one of the highlights of our travelling lives.
After one night in a friendly apartment in Bar, our taxi driver from the night before returned to deliver us to Kotor. Fifty Euros seemed like a tiny price to pay for a comfortable ride down the Montenegro coastline. The road hugged the winding, beautiful coast for more than half of the 60 kilometre trip. While the entire stretch was surprisingly well-developed with huge hotels, apartments and other infrustructure everywhere, Budva simply had too many modern, concrete buildings. Inevitably, we wondered whether Kotor was like this too, but our fears would quickly disappear. Soon after Budva the road swung inland, and within thirty minutes the secluded bay of Kotor came into view. Awestruck by the unbelievably high mountains, we felt blessed to arrive in this special place. Unable to access the old town itself, the taxi offloaded us at the main entrance. Fifteen minutes later we located our hotel by foot, dropped our belongings and headed out to explore the delights of Kotor Bay.
Where to stay in KotorHotel Rendez Vous (see room picture above), which cost just fifty pounds ($65) per night including breakfast. Although the breakfast itself was slightly disappointing, the ideal location, comfortable room and cheap price made up for it. If you prefer independence and cooking yourself, then check Airbnb's Kotor apartments. Alternatively, for a really romantic night or two, we'd recommend the fantastic Boutique Hotel Hippocampus. Offering just eight wonderfully furnished rooms with authentic Balkan stone walls, it really is the ultimate place to stay for a couple. Kindly, the hotel allowed us to check their rooms and have a drink at their beautiful rooftop terrace (see picture below). After what we saw, we promised ourselves this is where we would sleep on a future trip.
Five Awesome Things to Do in Kotor
1. Exploring Kotor Old TownHome to many churches, cathedrals and ancient buildings, Kotor’s old town has been influenced by numerous civilizations across the centuries. While it is quite similar to Dubrovnik’s old town, it's significantly smaller. A hour or two is more than enough to see the entire old town even with young children in tow. We loved discovering hidden cafes and narrow corridors away from the main drag of souvenir and ice cream shops. Like most instagram-popular old towns, the tourist numbers grow to almost intolerable levels during the day, especially if a cruise ship pulls into port. If possible, wander these wonderful, cobbled streets early in the morning, or late in the evening after the crowds have disappeared.
2. Hiking to the top of Kotor FortressA definite highlight of any visit to Kotor is the 1355-stair hike up to the Castle of San Giovanni. The remarkably well preserved fortress walls date back to medieval times, and provide striking views across the ocean, old town and towering fjords. To find the first steps you should follow the signs near the back of the old town. If you start really early in the morning, you can avoid the heat and entrance fee of €3. It takes around two hours round trip, which makes it a challenging hike for young children (or parents carrying them). Bring some cash as there are people selling water (€1.5) and beer (€3) along the path from around 8am. We loved the walk so much we made it up twice across our days in Kotor; the spectacular scenery truly blew us away!
3. Kotor beach activitiesWhile Kotor isn't famous for beaches, if you feel like swimming or sunbathing walk towards the sea from the northern edge of the old town. You will find a series of pebble beaches with plenty of opportunity to get wet by either wading in or jumping off concrete outcrops. Alternatively, rent a comfortable sun bed or get energetic and rent a stand up paddle board or canoe from Montenegro Hotel 4U, which is situated in front of the nicest stretch of pebble beach in Kotor. My wife Miras paddled her rental SUP all the way to the other side of the bay and enjoyed the freedom of independent exploration. Meanwhile, our son Raf kept himself amused searching for pretty rocks along the seashore and jumping into the sea.
4. Speedboat TourNumerous operators, including Kotor Speed Boat Tours and Montenegro Submarine, offer a variety of shared and private tours across Kotor Bay. You can pre-book online or arrange one when you get to Kotor. While we had not intended to hire a boat, at the last minute we decided to have a splurge after being approached by a Kotor Speed Boat Tour captain. Probably the highlight of our time in Kotor, we cruised across the bay at high speed past Pevast and stopping for a swim outside a tunnel used in a James Bond movie. Although the two-hour cruise cost 200 Euro, it was definitely worth it to feel super rich for a short while.
If your budget won't extend to a speedboat tour, why not take a taxi down to Pevast? It is an extemely picturesque village perched at the edge of a steep mountain. From Pevast you can ride in a public boat for just 3 Euro to the man-made island offshore, which contains Our Lady of the Rocks Catholic Church and a small museum. The island is the perfect spot to take photographs and feel the full magnificence of Kotor Bay since you'll be standing right in the middle of it.
1. TanjgaA Kotor institution, Tanjga is the go-to restaurant for anyone seeking quality meats, sandwiches, and salads at very affordable prices. Located just outside of the old town, the friendly staff ask you to point at whatever meat you want them to grill. Soft drinks, water and wine (€2.50) are also available. We ate here two times and preferred steak and extensive side salad (€10 each) rather than the mixed platter for two (€15) which we ordered the first night. Raf delighted in the gigantic size of the beef burger (€6) and skipped all salad options. Although it was a bit dark, we found their garden at the back an ideal spot to relax, sip white wine and revel in the deliciousness of it all.
3. Pizzeria ProntoEveryone loves a great pizza restaurant and Pizzeria Pronto, in the heart of the old town, ticks all the boxes. It offers an excellent range of pizzas, swift and friendly service, and a laid back vibe, which makes it the ideal lunchtime spot for a family or couple looking for a break from wandering around. A whole pizza costs around €10 and beer and wine is €3. Conveniently just around the corner from our hotel, Pizzeria Pronto proved a real hit with our son Raf. He adored their pepperoni special and we ate here three times to satisfy his desire for more pizza.
Follow in our footsteps– To get to Montenegro in the first place, start with skyscanner to find the cheapest international flight options. You can fly to Tivat and Podgorica direct from many European capitals. Tivat is much closer to Kotor than the capital Podgorica.
– Alternatively, fly to Dubrovnik in Croatia and take a bus (€15-€20 one way, multiple times a day) or taxi (taxis charge at least €100 from Dubrovinik Airport direct to Kotor). Although Kotor is an easy day trip from Dubrovinik, you might not really appreciate the full beauty of the old town if you only spend a few hours at the peak time of the day. In addition, you probably won't have enough time to hike up to the fortress and revel in the breathtaking views of the bay.
– The best way to reach Kotor is to ride from Belgrade, Serbia to Bar, Montenegro on Europe's most spectacular railway line. The train ride offers easily some of the best scenery in the world and costs just €24 one way. Get off at Podgorica or Bar in Montenegro and take a taxi for €50 to Kotor.
– Check booking.com and Airbnb for accommodation options in Belgrade, Bar, Podgorica and Kotor. It makes sense to book ahead using booking.com (using free cancellation option if plans change) to ensure you get the right place for the right price.