I fell in love with the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro the moment I first saw it. I know that sounds dramatic but as is the natural beauty of this place, so the shoe really fits. We reached the bay driving from Albania, where we had lived the previous 3 months. The moment we crossed through the tunnel and came out just next door to Kotor Old Town, I swear my heart skipped a beat.
Turning away from Old Town, we began the short but precarious drive to Prcanj, the town that would become our home base for part of our time on the bay. Neither of us was ready for a road that hugged the water, ancient stone houses that loomed over us, and two-way traffic on a road that at times was a tight squeeze for one car, let alone the city bus that stopped for no one.
If I had been driving that day, there's a good chance we would have ended up with our rental car sinking into the bright blue sea. Everywhere I looked, unique architecture competed with breathtaking nature. The only times I even noticed the curvy road was to marvel at the fact we were still on it.
We're notorious under planners. We pick a place, book accommodation, and show up. That's the extent of how we've been traveling around the world since 2013. Sometimes that under preparation makes things sticky but most of the time we're rewarded with truly experiencing something without any expectations.
So, in the spirit of that, while I will tell you all about our 3 months living on the Bay of Kotor and all the incredibly fun and interesting things you do, I ask that you go into your time here knowing it won't be just like mine. Give yourself some leeway to experience things you stumble upon that aren't on this list; they'll most likely become the best parts of your trip.
Best Time to Visit the Bay of Kotor
The Bay of Kotor is ruled by the seasons. If you stay for an entire year anywhere on the bay, you'll get 4 distinct experiences. Each has its perks but if you're most interested in warm enough weather to swim, businesses and restaurants open, and plenty of entertainment options, you'll want to visit in the summer, especially in June.
Even in peak season, I never thought of Kotor as crowded. Compared to nearby Dubrovnik, one of the most beautiful places in Croatia, it feels quiet. You can always find an alley without any other people in Old Town and the water never gets too crowded to fully enjoy it. The exception to this is the public beach in Kotor or Risan, where a lot of people need to squeeze into a small area. The small towns have plenty of space to spread out, though.
Here's what you can expect from the 4 seasons in Kotor:
- Summer: Summer is when the bay is at its absolute peak. Everything is open, there's plenty to do, and the weather is warm and ideal for swimming. This is peak tourist season though so you can expect more crowds, bus delays due to traffic, plenty of cruise ships coming and going, and an increase in rent prices.
- Fall: In fall, the water should still be warm enough to swim, although you will have more rainy days and cooler nights. Not every day will be a beach day, especially later in the season. Early fall is a great time to visit if you want good weather and plenty still open, the closer this creeps to winter, the farther from the truth this will get.
- Winter: Of course, there are people who live here year-round but not really. Most year-round residents are in Tivat, Dobrota, and Herceg Novi, making a lot of the smaller towns turn into ghost towns. While it most likely won't snow here, you can expect wet and cold weather. Places deep in the bay, like Kotor, also get very few hours of the sun due to the position of the surrounding mountains.
- Spring: Much like fall, spring will get better and better the closer to summer it gets. Slowly you'll things start to open back up from winter and the weather getting warm enough for a refreshing dip. Just like fall, this is a good time to visit if you want to experience the best of the bay but don't mind it with a hint of quietness.
How Long to Spend on the Bay
The main thing to keep in mind when planning your trip to Montenegro is that there is Kotor and the Bay of Kotor. Kotor is a small town with a beautiful Old Town walled city in the back corner of the bay. Kotor Bay itself is comprised of a handful of small to mid-sized stunning towns. I'll dive more into the details of these towns and how to get around the bay farther down but it is important to keep in mind that there is far more to see here than just Kotor Old Town.
After spending 3 months here, I was tempted to spend more. I researched visas to see what it would take to live long-term in Kotor; that's how much I loved it here. In the end, we decided living in Montenegro might not be the best fit for what both my husband and I look for in a home (it was mainly the lack of sun and ease of transportation that pushed us out) but that living somewhere vs. visiting is a completely different experience.
If you're a digital nomad, I'd suggest using your 3 months in Montenegro. I'd at least stay 1 month anywhere along Kotor Bay but you could easily enjoy all 3. Staying in Kotor this long is only for a certain person though. If you prefer nature and outdoor activities, you'll love it as much as I did. If you'd rather have a vibrant city with endless entertainment options, not so much.
If you're a tourist, you could squeeze a lot in on a weekend here, although you'd have to cut out some of the things on your list. A day in Kotor will lead you to only have time to stroll through the walled city or hop on a boat tour. In a week you could see and do everything on your list.
Since you won't be in town long enough to try and get local health insurance, I recommend signing up for Safety Wing.
Top Things to Do on the Bay of Kotor
For such a small area, there's surprisingly a lot to do in Kotor and the surrounding towns. While most people might tell you to stay confined to Kotor's Old Town, I'd recommend just the opposite.
Enjoy aimless strolls through the alleys, great food, and welcoming bars, but otherwise, get out and explore what the entire bay has in store.
These are the best things we did while staying around the Bay of Kotor:
Visit These Incredible Towns
The Bay of Kotor is actually pretty small, making going from one town to another fairly quick and easy unless you're relying on public transportation but more on that later.
While there are a lot more towns than these, these are my favorite and ones I definitely think are worth a visit.
Kotor Old Town
The Old Town of Kotor is the shining jewel of the bay. Kotor is slightly bigger than it's Old Town but inside the walled city is where Kotor really comes to life. The best thing to do in Old Town is to aimlessly walk. You could spend hours entangling yourself through the small alleyways, stumbling across something new (and plenty of cats) at every turn.
P.S. If you're loving the cats here, there is even a cat museum you can visit. Kotor is known as the City of Cats and they really take that title seriously. Kotor is seriously a cat lovers' paradise! Be careful though, you might just end up adopting one like we did!
In Old Town, you'll most likely want to spend your time eating, drinking, and taking pictures. There's a bar, restaurant, coffee shop, and beautiful photo opp at every corner! There are plenty of shops here, too, selling a variety of souvenirs. Depending on your tastes and style, you'll either shop till you drop or wind up empty-handed.
Don't forget to visit the city walls while in Old Town. Surrounding the Old Town, it's free to go up and see the views from above. While you don't necessarily need to walk the entirety of the city walls, it's worth going up just for a different vantage point of the city.
Outside of the sea gate, or main entrance, of Old Town, there is a strip of beachfront restaurants stretching from Kotor to Dobrota, as well. These restaurants are cheaper than what you'll find in Old Town but just as delicious. Vary your mealtime views from ancient architecture to natural serenity by testing out spots in both areas.
In the other direction outside of the sea gate, or entrance to Old Town, there is a local market. This is set up outside of Old Town along the wall. It's conveniently located just across the street from the bus stop and a good place to get fruits and vegetables, although the prices are higher here.
In my opinion, Prcanj (pronounced per-chan) is the most picturesque of all the towns along the bay. While most people think that's Perast, next on my list, I beg to differ.
What sets Prcanj out in my mind is the dramatic mountain backdrop, the mountains that Kotor and Dobrota are built on. While there's not nearly as much variety in things to do and restaurants to enjoy in Prcanj as there is in Old Town, the scenery and well-preserved stone houses of the place make it so special.
Base yourself anywhere near Our Lady's Temple of Prcanj and you'll be right at the heart of the town. Don't expect a town square or anything like that; Prcanj just has one main road running along the coastline.
If you only have time for one meal here, one of the best things to do here is to visit Konoba Vila Marija. Here you'll get good food, good drinks, stunning views, and a private swimming spot for all patrons. You can dive right into the cool blue depths, instead of needing to slowly wade in over the rocks or pebbles like in other spots.
Other than the Old Town of Kotor, Perast is the most famous town on the Bay of Kotor. That's mainly due to the iconic Our Lady of the Rocks sitting right off of its shore. If you've heard of anything to see in Kotor, it's most likely been this. Enjoy both the town and Lady of the Rocks on a boat trip from Kotor.
Our Lady of the Rocks is a famous church on a small island just off the coast of Perast. It holds an important piece of history symbolic to the Roman Catholic Church but nowadays holds more meaning as a beautiful tourist spot on boat tours...at least according to the non-Catholics in the room. The island is small so a self-guided or guided tour of Our Lady of the Rocks could be as quick or as long as you'd like.
Other than visiting Our Lady of the Rocks, which you could do without actually stepping foot on Perast, the town is small and cute and worth at least grabbing a bite to eat or an ice cream cone if you have the time. Just a fraction of the size of Old Town, you can easily walk the entirety of Perast in just a few minutes. Don't let its size fool you, it's beautiful. Walk above the clock tower to the main road for a really great overhead view.
Herceg Novi is almost as close to Croatia as you can get while still being in Montenegro. Located on the northern end of the bay, it's easy to forget that this is one of the towns you can visit in the area.
Herceg Novi feels a lot younger and more vibrant than many of the other areas. It has a bigger year-round population and is much larger than Kotor, rivaled by just Tivat. Here, you won't get the dramatic mountain views but you'll still be on a pristine piece of the Adriatic Sea. There is a small old town and castle but the rest of the development feels relatively new.
To get from here to anywhere else on the bay, you'll either have to drive all the way around it from the north or you can take the ferry. This ferry is free to pedestrians and cheap for cars. It runs continuously 24/7. You can also take a boat trip from Kotor and hit a few others hot spots along the way.
Being based in Prcanj and an even smaller town, Stoliv, Tivat was where we went to get stuff done. We went there for the doctor, the vet, the grocery store, and a bigger variety of international cuisines.
Tivat is home to Porto Montenegro, otherwise known as Billionaire's Marina. The marina itself is flawless- full of designer clothing stores, mega yachts, and trendy restaurants. Outside of the marina, Tivat feels like any other small town.
This is where many long-term expats live because there is an international school and good amenities here. For a tourist though, I'd recommend a night out at the marina but otherwise would recommend you spend more time in the smaller, more unique towns.
Rent a Scooter & Zip Around the Bay
Now that you know where to go, you need to decide how to get there. One of my favorite days in Montenegro was spent driving a scooter along the entirety of Kotor Bay. We stopped at all the towns listed above and a handful more. If you know me, you know my love for a good scooter road trip started when living in Vietnam and hasn’t died off since.
We ate, we swam, and we soaked up the natural and architectural beauty of the place.
Driving around the perimeter of the area isn't too time-consuming but I'd really recommend treating this like a day trip from Kotor and accounting for an entire day on the scooter so you can take your time and stop as often as you'd like.
Hop on a Sailboat, Speedboat, or Both
Now that you've seen the area by land, it's time to see it by water. Given that the sea rules the area, you won't have a shortage of boat trips available to you. While here, we took a sailboat trip, a private speedboat trip (with wakeboarding), and a speedboat tour.
There are plenty of tour boats that'll be available to you but I recommend you shop around. There are a lot of small speed boats that offer tours for a limited group for the same price as the boats that cram 50-100 people on board. There's nothing worse than trying to explore a really small area like Our Lady of the Rocks or the Blue Cave with a large group of people.
If budget isn't an issue, you can book a private speedboat and pay by the hour. You can make up your own tour or your captain will suggest an itinerary. We found a boat that had a wakeboard and spent half of our time on the board which was seriously special. I'd only go this route if you're an experienced wakeboarder, our captain wasn't a teacher.
If you're not interested in getting on land at all, take a sailboat instead. Experiencing the bay from a sailboat truly is something special. Your captain will stop and let you swim along the way but given the space needed to dock, you most likely won't be able to make any pitstops along the way.
Take a Day Trip to Budva
If you have limited time in the area, skip this one and stick to the places to visit and things to do along Kotor Bay. If though, you're here for a few months, take a day trip to the Adriatic coast.
Budva is only about 1 hour away from Kotor making it a super easy day trip. The drive along the coast is really beautiful, making that alone with it.
Budva Old Town is relatively slow but really quaint and inviting. The area around the Old Town is more built up and home to year-round residents. If you're visiting Kotor during off-season, you might enjoy a trip here even more just for added things to do.
To make the day trip even bigger, you could also visit Sveti Stefan and Bar all in one go.
Enjoy the Sunset from Kotor Fortress
Although I already mentioned going up to the city walls while in Old Town, you shouldn't stop there. Keep on climbing up to the Kotor Fortress, built into the mountains looming above Kotor Old Town.
The Fortress itself is in ruins but the view of Kotor from above is worth it. There are two ways to go up -- one is paid and the other is free. Personally, I thought the fee was worth it because the path on that side is mainly steps, instead of slippery worn-out stones on the other side.
While you can go up to the Fortress any time of the day, the sunset is especially beautiful. Since the sun sets directly in front of you from the Fortress, you'll get to watch it slowly dip behind the mountains. Don't linger too long though after sunset as you'll want to make it back down to Old Town before it actually gets dark. There are some lights along the trail but not too many.
If you have time and like hiking, you can keep going up and get even better views of the bay from the Top of the Old Kotor Fort Trail.
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Where to Stay on the Bay of Kotor
Deciding where to is a big decision to make, especially if you'll only be in town for a few days or a week. These are my recommended places to stay in Kotor and around the Bay of Kotor:
- Kotor Old Town: Old Town is a great place to stay if you're only in town for a short period of time. This will give you easy access to a boat tour, and any day trips from Kotor you'd like to take, and you'll have the Old Town right at your fingertips to enjoy day and night. The biggest con with a stay in Kotor's Old Town in summer is at times it'll feel crowded if there are multiple cruise ships at port. Kotor Beach is one of the worst beaches I saw, so not ideal if swimming and sunbathing is was brought you here. In the winter, you'll get limited daylight, too.
- Dobrota: Dobrota is Kotor's neighbor and where most residents live. This is easily one of my favorite areas of the bay in terms of liveable. If you'd rather have some tranquility yet be able to get to Old Town in mere minutes, you'll love Dobrota. Dobrota is also home to some of the most luxurious hotels in the area.
- Stoliv or Prcanj: These are two small towns that we fell in love with. As digital nomads with pets, we prioritize tranquility and easy access to nature, making these two towns our favorite. They're located right next to each other on the bay, which is why I lumped them together. Both have a small number of amenities but have good options for home rentals. In the summer, you'll love the water here but in the winter, expect most things to be closed.
- Herceg Novi: Herceg Novi has a lot going for it. It's relatively big and has a lot of bars, restaurants, hotels, and home rentals to choose from. This is the best place to stay if you're coming from Croatia and only have limited time in Montenegro. If you'd like to explore all Kotor has to offer though, you'll be quite far away if staying in Herceg Novi.
Important Things to Know About the Bay
Before I sign off and let you enjoy an incredible vacation to Kotor, there are a few things that are important to keep in mind when here or when deciding where to stay and what to do.
Let me preface this by saying there is public transportation here. There is a bus with a couple of different lines that go all along the bay, meaning you can get anywhere you want in the area with just a bus or two.
It's cheap and on paper, it's super convenient. It's meant to come every hour. In bigger towns, there are specific bus stops but in the smaller towns, you just flag it down.
The issues with it come in practice. It's hardly on time. Given that there is just one road, any amount of traffic quickly gets it off track and once it's off track, it's hard to know if it'll stay that way or catch back up.
What this means for you: If you rely on the bus like we did, you'll spend a lot of time waiting. Sometimes it's on time, rarely it's a few minutes early, and often it's late (anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour). If you need to go anywhere from a small town, you can't do it in a rush. Bring your book and find a shady spot to wait it out. In Tivat and Kotor though, you can get a taxi if you have places to get to.
There is no Uber, Lyft, or equivalent in Montenegro, at least not in Kotor.
Driving Around Kotor
I mentioned this before but I just want to drive the point home: don't plan on driving around the bay unless you're incredibly comfortable driving in narrow spaces. The road rage is real here, which is understandable. Locals have one road and are comfortable on the roads. An uncertain tourist can create a lot of traffic just by being cautious.
The way around this is by renting a scooter or a bicycle and exploring that way.
This is mainly true on the road from Kotor to Tivat via the bay. Here is where the road is at its most narrow. It's the only road to get to Prcanj and Stoliv. From Kotor to Herceg Novi via Dobrota and Perast, the road cuts away from the water along the mountain. Here there's room for 2 real lanes.
You can also take the mountain pass from Kotor to Tivat. This is a regular highway road and easily connects the two main towns.
Seasons Make a Difference
As you probably realized when talking about the best time to visit Kotor, the seasons make a huge difference.
Montenegro gets 4 real seasons and that's even exasperated in Kotor, given the mountains blocking off the sun. Tivat and Herceg Novi don't have this same issue but they also don't get the impressive mountain views because of it. It's a double-edged sword for sure.
While you can easily plan your trip to the Bay of Kotor any time of the year, the season you choose will greatly affect your experience. If I had to pick one place at one time, I would recommend staying in Dobrota for a week in June.
Enjoy These Best Things to Do in Kotor
Kotor, Montenegro is easily one of the best places I've ever visited. With its natural beauty, Medieval architecture, and tranquility, it was the perfect place for us to unwind. If you're anything like me, I'm certain you'll enjoy your time in Kotor, Montenegro, too.
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