Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska) is often called Europe’s most southernmost fjord. And it certainly looks like one, with towering peaks and a rocky coastline dotted with pretty waterside towns. But both the water and the climate are 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 up 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 if you’re visiting Montenegro, here are some of the best things to do in the beautiful Bay of Kotor.
Read more: Climbing Kotor city walls, Montenegro
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 was 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 it’s also wide enough to let cruise ships through, which has opened up the Bay of Kotor to a new stream of visitors.
Things to do in the Bay of Kotor
Kotor Old Town
The Bay of Kotor’s best-known town is its namesake Kotor, at the far end of the bay. Backed by dramatic peaks, the UNESCO World Heritage listed old town is surrounded by five kilometres of city walls built into the steep hillside by the Venetians to protect it from invaders. And inside the walls is a medieval town with narrow cobbled alleyways lined with honey-stone buildings.
The jumble of streets mean you’ll probably get lost but that’s part of the attraction as you never know what you might 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. Kotor isn’t exactly undiscovered and on days when cruise ships dock you might have to share the old town with a few thousand people, but you can usually find a quiet corner or a tucked-away café.
Don’t miss: Climb the 1350 steps of the city walls for a panoramic view across the bay from San Giovanni Fortress; see the frescoes at St Tryphan’s Cathedral; learn about the bay’s history at the Maritime Museum; visit the quirky Cats Museum of Kotor, a must for feline fans.
Further around the bay is the town of Perast, a mini Venice with its Italian-style churches and palaces. In its heyday it was a prosperous shipbuilding town full of rich merchants living in grand palazzos overlooking the water and with no less than 19 churches. It’s car free so park up outside and explore by foot. Some of Perast’s buildings are crumbing around the edges, but it still has a grand air and a beautiful setting with a strip of sandy beach along the edge of the bay.
Don’t miss: Climb the 55-metre-high bell tower of St Nicholas Church for views across the bay; learn about Perast’s seafaring history at the town’s museum; take a walk along the waterfront promenade and watch the world go by with a glass of local Vranac red wine.
Our Lady of the Rocks
Out in the bay from Perast are 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 500 years ago. The legend goes that sailors spotted an image of the Virgin Mary on a rock here. So each time they had a successful voyage they added another rock as an offering as they passed. Eventually so many were added that an island emerged and the church was built on top of it. The villagers here still add rocks once a year as part of a festival called fašinada.
Don’t miss: Take a boat trip to Our Lady of the Rocks (normally around €5 per person return with 45 mins on the island) for a guided tour of the church and museum.
At the entrance to the bay, Herceg Novi is the Bay of Kotor’s largest town. It was the area’s top beach destinations before the Yugoslav wars but is now one of the Bay of Kotor’s least touristy spots. The outskirts are all modern high-rises but towards the water the old town or Stari Grad has a lot more charm with its ornate churches and historic city walls. Herceg Novi is a good spot for a day on the beach, and it’s also the best place to try out more adventurous activities like kayaking across the bay, walking and mountain biking up in the hills behind the town.
Don’t miss: See the views from the Kanli fortress; visit the Savina Monastery; take a boat trip to the Blue Cave and Mamula Island; explore the beaches of the Luštica Peninsula.
Drive the Bay coast road
As you follow the winding road along the bay shoreline you pass lots of little towns and villages. Even in the smallest you’ll find something interesting to stop and see. There’s the fisherman’s village of Morinj with its sandy bay and green waters, and Risan where you can see five original Roman mosaics in a villa dating back to the second century. Or Dobrota, with its long waterfront boardwalk where you can watch the sun set behind the mountains. And Prčanj, with a rusty ship moored up which looks like it’s been there since the end of the Balkan War.
How to get to the Bay of Kotor
The nearest airport is in Tivat, only about 8km from the Bay of Kotor, or there are more flights into Dubrovnik in Croatia, 73km away. If you’re driving from Dubrovnik, the narrow windy road around the bay is beautiful but can be slow, especially in summer. To make things quicker you can take a 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).
Getting around the Bay of Kotor
The easiest way to explore the bay is by hiring a car and driving around the coast road. 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 then you can still explore using the local buses or by taking tour by bus or boat. There’s a hop-on hop-off bus stopping off in Kotor, Perast, Risan and Bajova Kula beach. Or you can visit Our Lady of the Rocks, Mamula and the Blue Cave by boat or explore the bay by kayak.
Where to stay in the Bay of Kotor
There are a few Bay of Kotor hotels in the main towns, as well as rental apartments in a mix of traditional buildings, converted palazzos and new apartment blocks. In Kotor, the Hippocampus boutique hotel is a smartly renovated 17th-century building with roof terrace and original artworks. Or the one- and two-bedroom Muo apartments are a 15-minute walk into Kotor’s old town, with view of the city walls lit up at night from the balconies and a shared pool. In Perast, the four-star Iberostar has a waterfront location and a spa with sauna and hammam.
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