Explore the best things to do in the Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska) in Montenegro with this guide to the region with its rocky coastline and historic waterside towns including Kotor, Perast and Herceg Novi.
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Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska) is often referred to as Europe’s most southernmost fjord. And it certainly looks like one with its towering mountain peaks, clear waters and rocky coastline dotted with pretty waterside towns. But the climate and culture in the Bay of Kotor is much more Mediterranean than Scandinavian.
The bay’s not actually a fjord either, but rather a ria – a submerged river valley made up of four connected bays making a butterfly shape which stretches inland from the coast. But the scenery is as stunning as any ‘proper’ fjord, and when you add in bags of history and culture then you can see why Kotor has been made a UNESCO World Heritage site.
So here’s our guide to the best things to do in the Bay of Kotor, with a rundown of its best-known and most beautiful destinations, including Kotor, Perast and Herceg Novi.
Where is the Bay of Kotor?
The Bay of Kotor is located in the northern part of Montenegro, close to the border with Croatia and open to the Adriatic Sea. The quarter-of-a-mile-wide Verige Strait is the gateway to the bay. It’s narrow enough to act as protection against invaders during the bay’s history, with a string of fortified cities built inside the bay by the Venetians.
But the Strait is also wide enough to let cruise ships through, which has opened up the Bay of Kotor and helped it become a hugely popular destination. But if you get away from the hotstpots of Kotor and Perast and follow the winding road around the bay, you’ll pass a string of small towns, each with something interesting to stop and see.
Things to do in the Bay of Kotor
The Bay of Kotor’s best-known town is its namesake Kotor, located at the southern end of the bay. Kotor’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed medieval old town is surrounded by five kilometres of city walls. These were built into the steep hillsides behind the town by the Byzantines and Venetians from the 9th–12th centuries to protect it from invaders.
Inside the walls the town’s jumble of narrow cobbled alleyways mean you’ll probably get lost, but that’s part of the attraction as you never know what you’ll come across – a Venetian-style church, a piazza full of restaurants, a flight of stairs leading into the hills, a doorway surrounded by colourful pots of flowers, and a sleeping cat or two.
Kotor is the most popular spot in the bay, and on days when cruise ships are in port you’ll have to share the old town with a few thousand extra people. But you can usually find a quiet corner or a tucked-away café to hide away from the crowds in.
The best things to do in Kotor
- Climb the 1350 steps of the city walls for panoramic views across the Bay of Kotor from the fortress of St John (San Giovanni).
- See the frescoes at St Tryphan’s Cathedral.
- Learn about the bay’s history at the Maritime Museum.
- Visit the quirky Kotor Cats Museum, a must for feline fans.
- Sunbathe or swim from Kotor’s pebbly beach, just north of the old town.
- Shop for local produce at the daily farmers’ market on the seafront, below the city walls.
- Try Montenegrin wine at the Old Winery Wine Bar.
Perast lies opposite the Verige Strait and is 12km or 20 minutes’ drive north of Kotor. Arguably the bay’s most beautiful town, it’s a mini Venice with its Italian-style palazzos and churches. Perast flourished under Venetian rule thanks to its strategic position, making it a rich and important naval base with waterside palaces built to match its status.
Perast is quieter than Kotor, avoiding some of the cruise ship crowds. It’s car-free, so park up outside and explore on foot. Some of Perast’s buildings are crumbing around the edges and others undergoing renovation, but it still has a grand air and beautiful setting.
The best things to do in Perast
- Climb the 55-metre-high bell tower of St Nicholas Church for views over the bay.
- Learn about Perast’s seafaring history at the town museum inside the Bujović Palace.
- Admire Baroque and Renaissance palaces, 18 of the town’s original 20 are still standing.
- Take a walk along the 1.5km-long waterfront promenade.
- Try a slice of traditional Perast cake, made with almond flour.
- Sip cocktails and sunbathe by the water at the Pirate Bar.
- Watch the sun set over the bay with a glass of local Vranac red wine.
Our Lady of the Rocks
In the bay in front of Perast you can see the twin islands of St George and Our Lady of the Rocks. Both are religious pilgrimage sites, but Our Lady of the Rocks is a man-made island founded over 600 years ago. According to the legend, two sailor brothers, one who had an injured leg, spotted an icon of the Virgin Mary on a rock close to Perast.
The next day the brother’s leg was healed, and they vowed to build a church on the site. Sailors added rocks as they passed until an island emerged and the church was built on top. The current church was rebuilt by the Venetians in 1630 after pirate attacks.
A boat trip to Our Lady of the Rocks is one of the top things to do in the Bay of Kotor. A return boat trip costs around €5 per person, and you get 45 minutes to spend on the island, which is enough time to take a guided tour of the church and museum.
You can also take a two-hour speedboat tour* which departs from Kotor and gives you time to do the tour at Our Lady of the Rocks followed by some free time in Perast.
Unspoilt Risan, 5.6km north of Perast, is the oldest settlement in the Bay of Kotor. It was originally known as Rhizon when it was part of the Illyrian kingdom in the fourth century BC, and was later occupied by the Romans. Now it’s an emerging tourist destination, with a few hotels and pebbly beaches and swimming spots dotted along Risan Bay.
Things to do in Risan
- See Roman mosaics in a villa dating from the second century.
- Admire the views from the 12th-century Banjia Monastery.
- Visit the Orthodox Church of St Peter and Paul.
- Walk along Gabela Street with its crumbling historic buildings.
- Hike up into the hills to the Gradina Fortress for panoramic views.
The fisherman’s village of Morinj is 7km west of Risan, on the road towards Herceg Novi. It’s lush and green, and was planted with olive groves, vineyards and orchards under Venetian rule. There’s also a network of natural springs and streams in an area called Little Venice. It’s a peaceful spot, with some new accommodation built recently.
Things to do in Morinj
- Eat in one of the last remaining olive mills, which is now the venue for the popular Ćatovića Mlini seafood restaurant.
- Climb up to Upper Morinj for fantastic views.
- Swim from the pebble beach.
Prčanj is just 5km from Kotor, on the opposite side of the Bay of Kotor to Perast. It’s a quiet place without many tourists, but is known for its impressive Catholic Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the seafront, which took 120 years to build.
- Look around the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and admire the views over the town and the bay from its terrace.
- Eat local fish and seafood on the waterfront.
- Take a kayaking tour* to Galebova Stijena beach.
Located at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor, Herceg Novi is the bay’s largest town. It was a popular beach destination before the Yugoslav wars, but is now one of the area’s less touristy spots. It’s around 29km to travel from Kotor to Herceg Novi, using the small ferry that runs between Kamenari and Lepetane, which only takes five minutes.
The outskirts of Herceg Novi are made up of modern high-rises, but towards the water the old town or Stari Grad has a lot more charm, with the ornate churches, paved streets and city walls you find in the bay’s other towns. It’s also a good place to try out activities like kayaking, walking and mountain biking around Mount Orjen.
Things to do in Herceg Novi
- See the views from the Kanli-Kula (‘bloody tower’), which hosts open-air events.
- Visit Forte Mare, a waterside fortress dating back to 1382.
- Take a look around Savina Monastery with its three churches.
- Stroll along the Šetalište Pet Danica, a 5km pedestrian waterfront promenade.
- Hit the beach – or head further afield and explore the beaches of the Luštica Peninsula.
- Take a boat trip or kayak* to the Blue Cave and Mamula Island.
How to get to the Bay of Kotor
The nearest airport to the Bay of Kotor is in Tivat. It’s only 8km away from Kotor so is convenient if you don’t want to hire a car, but there are limited flight destinations. You can pre-book an airport transfer to Kotor with Welcome Pickups*, which takes 15 minutes.
There are more flights into Dubrovnik, across the border in Croatia. From there you can hire a car and drive around the Bay of Kotor – it’s 61km to Perast or 73km to Kotor. The narrow winding road around the bay is beautiful but can be slow, especially in summer.
If you’re travelling to Kotor, you can cut the journey down to 56km by taking the car ferry between Lepetane and Kamenari across the narrow Verige Straits – it only takes around five minutes and runs every 15–30 minutes (or whenever it’s full).
Or if you don’t want to hire a car, you can also take a bus from Dubrovnik bus station (which is 3km outside the old town) to Kotor. The journey takes around two hours of driving, plus the time it takes to pass through immigration checks at the border.
Getting around the Bay of Kotor
The easiest way to explore the Bay of Kotor is by hiring a car and driving along the coast road, which means you can stop off at some of the smaller towns and villages. There are car hire offices in Kotor and Herceg Novi as well as at the region’s airports.
If you don’t want to drive you can still explore using local buses or by taking a tour by bus or boat. Blue Line local buses run between Kotor and Kostanjica around once an hour, calling at Perast, Risan and Morinj. There’s also a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus around the bay which calls at Kotor, Risan, Perast, Bajova Kula beach then back to Kotor.
Where to stay in the Bay of Kotor
There are a few hotels in the Bay of Kotor main towns, as well as rental apartments in a mix of traditional buildings, converted palazzos and new apartment blocks.
Kotor: The four-star Boutique Hotel Hippocampus* is a smartly renovated 17th-century building in the old town with plenty of character features. They have a mix of double rooms and suites, decorated with artworks, plus a roof terrace and restaurant.
Perast: The Heritage Grand Perast* is a five-star luxury hotel in a converted Venetian palazzo with 130 rooms. The hotel comes with three sea-view terraces, indoor and outdoor pools, a spa with hamman and sauna, panoramic restaurant and private beach club.
Morinj: Keystone Apartments* are a new development right on the beach in Morinj. Their one- and two-bedrooom apartments also have sofa beds so sleep 4–6. Each has a terrace overlooking the sea, and there’s also a communal pool with sunbeds.