Travel tales

Climbing Kotor’s city walls

The fortified city walls of Kotor, Montenegro

High above the town of Kotor are some of the best vantage points across the bay – the city walls. The walls date back to medieval times, started in the 9th century to protect Kotor from invaders. They were added to over the years by whoever ran the city at the time – from the Byzantines to the Venetians – until the 15th century when they finally formed a full loop up into the hillside. There’s a mixture of ramparts, gates, churches, forts and bastions built along them, and despite time, invasion and earthquakes over the years they’re still remarkably well-preserved. In the daytime their grey stone blends in with the greyish-green colour of the mountains behind and it can be hard to pick them out. But at night they’re all lit up and we had a perfect view of them from our apartment across the bay in Muo. When the bay was calm, the lights reflected in the water of the fjord below almost make it look like the walls formed a circle.

Kotor city walls lit up at night, Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor’s city walls lit up at night as seen from our apartment across the bay

We started our walk up the walls near Kotor’s North Gate and St Mary’s Church. As you go into the depths of the old town the passageways get narrower, draped with telegraph wires and lines of drying washing. Through an archway at the bottom of the hill you’ll know you’re in the right place when you spot the girl who sits under an umbrella collecting the entry fee, and from there you just follow the walls upwards. A long way upwards – the climb to the fortress at the top is 1200 metres, or 1400ish in steps. It was a cloudy cool day so perfect for walking, but in summer it can be a tough and thirsty slog to the very top.

The fortified city walls of Kotor, Montenegro

The start of the walk up the city walls

There was a Spanish cruise ship docked in Kotor on the day we went up so we followed a stream of Spaniards on their way up to the top. The walls vary in width as they zig-zag on their way up the hill – in some places they are just a couple of metres wide and in others the path widens out into a terrace. The path is made up of rough cobbles so the easiest place to walk is along the steps at the side. In late spring the banks were dotted with poppies and other wildflowers, the perfect excuse for me to stop and take some photos when my legs started protesting about the climb.

The fortified city walls of Kotor, Montenegro

The views down onto Kotor from the walls

Our first destination was the Church of Our Lady of Remedy, up at 100 metres high. Built in the 15th century, it supposedly healed people of the plague (though I’d expect the climb finished a few off before they got here…). Now 100 metres up doesn’t sound all that much, but it definitely started to feel it when my trudging pace got overtaken by a Japanese pensioner and a Spanish woman doing the climb in three-inch heels. Once we made it to the church we stopped to catch our breath and to take in the views down onto the red roofs of Kotor below, the cruise ship in the harbour and across the whole Bay of Kotor.

The fortified city walls of Kotor, Montenegro

The Church of Our Lady of Remedy

From the church you’ve got another 155 metres of climbing to do to get to the very top – the Fortress of Sveti Ivan, or St John. The original fortress was built in Illyrian times but the one there now is a medieval replacement that where guards would watch over Kotor below. You can see why when you emerge at the top – the impenetrable mountains and panoramic views for miles around means there’s no way any invaders could creep up on you. The fortress is crumbling and ruined now but you can’t help but be impressed by the amount of manpower it must’ve taken to build it up here. And from here the only way is down, to a much-deserved beer and sit down back in the old town.

The fortified city walls of Kotor, Montenegro

The Fortress of St John

The details

Admission to the city walls costs €3 between 8am and 8pm, May to September (technically they’re open 24 hours so you can go up before or after that for free). The main entrance is near Kotor’s North Gate. It takes about 90 minutes to two hours to do the journey up and back. Take lots of water – though there are a few enterprising guys with coolboxes who’ll sell you cold drinks and beers on the route up.

View from Kotor city walls, Montenegro

A panorama of the view from the fortress

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Climbing the city walls in Kotor, Montenegro

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44 Comments

  • Reply
    Andrew Petcher
    June 27, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Nice post. It was too hot for me to attempt the climb when I visited.
    I hate those cruise ships, they spoil everywhere that they drop anchor!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      I couldn’t imagine doing the climb in the height of summer! The cruise ships weren’t too disruptive while we were there as they weren’t in port every day, but I remember being in the Bahamas and some days there were five or six in at one time and it really overwhelmed the place.

  • Reply
    Ashley Yu
    June 27, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    A reblogué ceci sur invitango.

  • Reply
    Darlene
    June 27, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    What a great post. Love the pictures and the description of your walk. I lenjoy visiting old castles, churches and fortresses. Will put this one on my list for sure.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 28, 2013 at 4:32 pm

      Thanks, me too, I always get such a great sense of history in these places, you can really feel all the people that have been there over the years before you.

  • Reply
    aBitofCulture
    June 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    €3 seems good value. Walking the walls in Dubrovnik comes to about £11.50 each!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 28, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      Wow that’s pricey – I don’t suppose you can go in late for free either?

      • Reply
        aBitofCulture
        June 28, 2013 at 7:20 pm

        No chance – nothing’s free in this town!

  • Reply
    Bold Wandering
    June 27, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    Is it safe to climb the wall at night to avoid the heat? Loved the photo from your hotel with the lights in the evening.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 28, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      It’s quite uneven underfoot and I’m not sure how bright the lighting is on the paths so I’d be a bit cautious about going up in the dark – though in summer you can go up quite late and still have some light in the sky.

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    June 27, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    I am definitely falling in love with this place, Luce. I saw some photos of Kotor on another blog during the week and it looked superb. Great information in here. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 28, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      It was lovely Jo, it’s definitely started me off on wanting to see more of the region too.

  • Reply
    The Travelbunny
    June 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    I’m impressed – the walls are so steep! Are you up for a climb up the Asinelli Tower in Bologna – nerly 500 steps – might help burn of a gelato!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      June 29, 2013 at 6:40 pm

      I climbed that tower about 10 years ago when I was in Bologna briefly for the Grand Prix at Imola, it was wonky then so wonder if it’s got worse since!

  • Reply
    h0tchocolate
    June 30, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Wow beautiful! Btw, Kotor means dirty in Bahasa Indonesia 🙂 but this Kotor is so beautiful 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm

      How funny! No this Kotor was not dirty and very pretty!

  • Reply
    The Bay of Kotor: Where the fjords meet the Mediterranean | On the Luce
    July 1, 2013 at 10:29 am

    […] It looks like a normal waterside town until you get up close and see that it’s surrounded by city walls, built by the Venetians to protect it from invaders. These five-kilometre-long stone walls run […]

  • Reply
    westiedad
    July 9, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Wow – looks spectacular. The latest addition to my list!

  • Reply
    Arianwen
    July 10, 2013 at 2:28 am

    What a beautiful place. I love cities made entirely from brick. I saw some of the most beautiful ones in Colombia last year.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 14, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      It was such a gorgeous place – loved looking out over the fjord with a glass or two of wine in the evening!

  • Reply
    Tricia A. Mitchell
    July 14, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Looks like you had a wonderful time in Kotor after all, Lucy! I found the walk across the ‘plank’ to the fortress to be a bit scary, but loved the views from the platform up near the Montenegrin flag.

    I really like your nighttime shot of Kotor’s ring-like wall. Since we stayed inside the ring we never got to appreciate it from that vantage point.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 14, 2013 at 9:36 pm

      That view from our apartment was what really sold it to me – as soon as I saw that I could really imagine myself sitting on the balcony overlooking it in the evening. It was a really nice spot to be in, not too far a walk from the old town.

  • Reply
    Christine R.
    July 21, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Great post. It was raining when we arrived there so we couldn’t attempt the climb. I would have loved to though but at least I can live the experience through your post 😉

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 21, 2013 at 10:23 pm

      Thank you – we almost didn’t make it either, the first few days it was really hot and sunny so we put it off til later in the week, but it poured for two days! Luckily the last day the rain held off just long enough to do the climb.

  • Reply
    tommyshaw
    August 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Great post, you have inspired me to go to Montenegro!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      August 14, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      That’s great – it’s a fantastic country and really good value at the moment so get in there quick!

  • Reply
    BlondeBrunetteTravel
    August 15, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    My sister and I are plotting to go to Montenegro next year and this is only going to make us want to go more, although she has dreadful asthma and could never do the climb. I love the Spanish woman doing it in 3 inch heels – what a hoot – I can see it in my mind!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      August 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm

      It’s a great place so hope you do make it out there! Hopefully your sister will be able to make at least part of the climb, there are great views even from just a little way up.

  • Reply
    thriftytravelmama
    July 31, 2014 at 11:28 am

    We climbed the fortress on our trip to Croatia this past April. I’m linking to your post because I love the shot you were able to get of the walls all lit up at night. Wow!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      July 31, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks so much – that was actually the view from the balcony of the apartment we rented just outside Kotor, such a fantastic place for a glass of wine at sunset!

  • Reply
    skates1418
    February 22, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    Wow it looks beautiful! Montenegro has been at the top of my travel list for awhile, this makes me desire going there even more! Were you able to visit any other cities in the country?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 24, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Montenegro was fantastic! We spent most of our time in Kotor but did explore a few of the other towns around the fjord and spent a day on the coast too. I’d like to go and do a longer trip around the region sometime though and see a bit more.

  • Reply
    Rick
    May 9, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Hi is this doable for someone scared of heights?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 13, 2016 at 11:22 pm

      There is a low wall most of the way and it’s not too narrow, but it is pretty steep so might not be ideal if you have a bad fear of heights.

  • Reply
    L Patterson
    September 2, 2016 at 5:08 am

    I know one of those that commented really disliked the cruisers, and I understand his thoughts. But as one of those cruisers, I am glad to be able to get to Kotor, a place I would not normally be likely to get to otherwise. We are going in November. Unfortunately the ship gets in not long before sunset. I’m bringing a flashlight and hoping to climb at least part of if not all of the way to the top. Your post was insp!iring. Loved your picture of the ring of light. Hopefully we can get that from the ship as it departs. Thank you

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 2, 2016 at 8:34 pm

      I wasn’t a cruiser in Kotor but I have been elsewhere and it’s been a great chance to see places I might not have visited otherwise. Hope you get to do the city walk – I’ve seen photos of the view of the Kotor fjords from the ships as they come in and out too and it looks beautiful. Have a lovely trip!

  • Reply
    Joy O'Neill
    January 3, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Thanks for your wonderful website – I really enjoy it. I hope to visit Kotor in April, during a cruise ship visit. My husband is elderly and has Parkinson’s, and I know he would not be able to climb to the top of the walls. Is there any other access via car, bus, tram, etc?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 4, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      Thanks so much! I’m afraid the path is the only way up to the top of the walls (and it’s quite rough at times), but there is an amazing viewpoint looking down onto the Kotor fjord which you can access by road on the way to Lovcen National Park which might be a good alternative. Hope you have a great trip.

      • Reply
        Joy O'Neill
        January 4, 2017 at 9:27 pm

        Thank you!

  • Reply
    Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad
    February 6, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    Montenegro looks so beautiful!! It’s been on my list for a while, fingers crossed this year is the year! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 7, 2017 at 9:44 am

      It is such a gorgeous country – hope you manage to make it out there!

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