Kotor is an interesting port stop, rich in history and certainly less expensive than other nearby places on the cruise line circuits. To get to Kotor, your ship must sail into lovely Kotor Bay and I strongly recommend that if the day is clear, you watch both your port entry and sail away. If you do not have a balcony, or want a more panoramic view, go to an upper deck of your cruise ship and enjoy the beautiful vista.
The historic town of Kotor is located on the picturesque Adriatic coastline. The town is specifically situated at the base of Lovćen mountain, which rises to 1,749 metres (5,738 feet). I often refer to Kotor as the “all uphill port stop” but in truth, there are flat areas to be found in the cobbled streets nearer the water. Whether you want to climb the mountain or walk the streets of old town, be prepared to navigate some uneven surfaces and challenges for those who use wheelchairs or require mobility aids.
Kotor started life as a Roman town called Acruvium. Being a seaport, the town was attractive as a trade base and subject to changes in rule over various periods of time. Although it was controlled by the Byzantine empire immediately following the Roman occupation, it was subsequently subject to rule by the Venetians and later the Hungarians.
By the 12th century, the town was part of Serbia and the medieval fortifications started to take shape using the base of the former Roman buildings. Today, you can find areas of the wall where the original Roman construction is still visible and you can also see places where the remains of Roman buildings have been incorporated into structures constructed in latter periods.
From 1395 to 1420, the town enjoyed a brief 25-year stint as an independent republic, before once again falling under the rule of the Venetians. The French occupied Kotor for 7 years in the early 1800s but they left in 1814 and we then see a short 11-year period of Austrian domination.
In 1878, Montenegro was recognized as being independent at the Congress of Berlin and in 1910, it subsequently became a kingdom which then became part of Yugoslavia in 1929. As you can see, lots of changes over the years which translates into blended customs and laws.
From 1929 to 2003, it was a part of the former Yugoslavia and it was about the time of its independence that I first became familiar with Kotor. Attracted to places where there are well preserved medieval fortifications, and drawn by the great cathedrals of each country, Kotor was a magnet to me. I had to visit and see what was on offer and I incorporated a stop there while on a land tour of the area. It did not disappoint, with the old medieval walls stretching just under 5 km and employing varying thickness throughout. The average height is 15 meters (49 feet) and the width is around 2 – 16 meters (around 7 - 52 feet).
Do you need to book a shore Excursion?
As mentioned, my first visit to Kotor was not on a cruise but when I next visited, it was via a cruise ship, and my knowledge of the old town led me to believe that I could easily navigate the sights of interest on my own without spending money on a shore excursion. This was indeed the case. The tender boats brought us to the Kotor cruise ship terminal which is very close to the old town. I did not measure the distance between the terminal and the gates of old town, but I would guesstimate that it was only a few hundred feet and easily walkable for most people. Just prior to entering the old town, I was able to pick up a free map that had buildings of interest within the walled area, clearly marked. It made navigating the old town easy.
What is there to see and do in Kotor?
The simple answer to the question of what to do is easy; walk the old town and explore the buildings and the walls. The walls are impressive, with the building of these defensive fortifications started in the 9th century. The Kotor City Walls encompass the entire Old Town and part of the mountain above. There is a stretch of the wall that costs 8 euros to walk but I will address that section a little later in this blog. At this point, I cover only the section of the wall that is accessible to people free of charge. If you want to walk a portion of the wall, proceed to the River Gate (aka: North Gate), which is located along the Skurda River. Near the gate, you will find stairs leading to the top of the wall. Walk the wall to the south gate which is located by the Gurdić Bastion.
In addition to the wall, you within the old town, you will enjoy buildings which were also constructed in the 9th century with improvements to those buildings continuing over the next ten centuries. It is fairly easy and safe to explore the streets and alleys of this historic place which was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979.
How do you get to Old Town?
If arriving from the dock area, you will enter through the Sea Gate and maps are available and free from a kiosk just before you enter. Just as an aside, for those who arrive without water, there were water vendors visible as soon as you arrive but I am not sure if they are there year-round. A bottle of water was 2€ but if you waited until you got inside the walls, you could easily find it for sale at 1.50€.
For those who follow my blogs, you know I love to visit old cathedrals and churches as that is where the money went in medieval times. Consequently, the church had the funds to employ the best builders, woodworkers and artists to design, construct and decorate their buildings. Churches were usually maintained over the centuries, whereas many castles fell into ruin and did not survive into the 21st century.
I quickly headed to St. Tryphon Cathedral which was built in 1166 and is the largest of the two cathedrals in the town. I was struck by the look of the cathedral as it did not fit into any specific period (i.e. gothic etc.), but I learned that it was the victim of earthquake damage over the years. For example, in 1667, the entire front of the cathedral was destroyed and subsequently rebuilt in the style of the day. A Baroque bell tower was added and plans for a second one were made. That second bell tower was started but the top portion was never completed. Consequently, when you stand facing the cathedral, you will notice the tower on the left is shorter and the top has no tower area for the bell.
Inside the cathedral you will find Romanesque architecture with vaulted ceilings. I spent some time looking at the arches that feature the remnants of early Byzantine style frescos. Although not as well preserved or clear as those found in Skopje, in North Macedonia, you can still see a bit of the artwork. It is my understanding that the creation of these frescos were part of the original construction. At the time of the initial building of the cathedral, mosaics were labour intensive and more expensive. Builders had begun to employ other options in decorating and enhancing the overall look of the interiors. The frescos were created when artists applied coloured pigments to wet plaster and the fresco became part of the wall itself. The alter is gilded-silver and is considered to be Kotor’s most valuable treasure. There was more damage caused by an earthquake in 1979 and although restoration work has taken place, the cathedral has not been fully restored to its previous state.
Next up I offer the small church of St. Luke which was built around 1195 by the Catholic church and converted to a joint Catholic/Orthodox church in the 17th century. Specifically, around 1657, the two religions started to share the church and did so until 1812. Each religion took turns holding services and it still has the two altars. It is currently a Serbian Orthodox church. Two things to look for are the icons around the interior and the floor which consists of tomb panels.
St. Mary of the Sea was built in 1221 and I really enjoyed visiting this church. Built on the ruins of a 6th century structure this church is pretty and has lots of architectural gems hidden throughout it’s interior. The church is dedicated to St. Osanna, a Catholic monk and as such, it is often referred to as the Church of St. Osanna. You will find it located on the northern part of the old town and easy to find. This place is well worth a visit and close to the North Gate where you can access the wall if you want to enjoy a full or partial wall walk. It costs 8 EUR to walk the Kotor City Walls that encompass the path to the Church of Our Lady of Remedy and the Kotor Fortress
It took me a couple of visits to the town before I dropped into the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. Completed in 1518, the church was built on the ruins of a 6th century Christian basilica. The reason it took me a while to visit this church was the 650 steps one has to climb to get to it. The church is located on the slope of St. John Mountain and very close to the main gate. Climbing the steps is the only way to access the building. It has great historical value but in my opinion, it is not one of the more beautiful or noteworthy churches in Kotor. If you want to bump up your daily step count, this is a good place to assist you in meeting your goal.
Moving away from the churches, I want to note that this port stop is also well known for the San Giovanni Fortress (aka: St John's Castle), which is perched above Kotor. As already noted, there is a fee to access the walls that will lead you to the fortress and that covers full access. Offering an outstanding view of the old town and the harbour, to get to this site you must climb. I did not mind making the trek up the mountain but now, having done it twice, and taken my pictures, I have crossed it off my list and consider it done. However, for those of you considering making this trip, please note that although the view at the top is outstanding, the climb can be taxing and the ground uneven. There are steps in certain areas and those are not always level or in one piece. There are places where only one person can walk and if you have people going up and down at the same time, it can be a bit challenging. However, as you climb, you will come to small rest areas so you can stop, take a breather and appreciate the view.
If you are into walking trails and climbing, you can hike the Ladder of Kotor. It is a 6.4km trail that will offer up views of Boka Bay and the surrounding area. Described as “strenuous”, I found the 12.8km (8 miles), round trip walk was not as challenging as I had anticipated (more of an easy to moderate walk), but it is another place I can cross off my list as having been done but not to be repeated. Unless you are into hiking, and have previously visited Kotor, it is not a recommended port activity due to time constraints and the number of sights to see within Kotor itself.
Shopping and Eating in Old Town
There are a lot of little tourist shops in old town and I think I may have visited most, if not all of them. Convenient to those on shore excursions, you will find them scattered around old town and offering up a variety of items. I bought lace, Christmas decorations, and an antique icon. My husband bought a kapa (round, black and red cap) and Rakija which is similar to brandy. Some of the people in our group purchased handbags and clothing.
Although most tourist shops stay open all day, shops catering to locals tend to close for lunch from 1-4pm so if you are going to shop at local stores, make sure you do so in the morning hours. You should also note that if your cruise ship arrives in Kotor on a Sunday, shopping options may be limited as stores are often closed.
There are also little restaurants and bars in the old town and in fact many of the older buildings are now converted to shops, restaurants and bars so there is a variety of choices. Explore the streets and little alleys.
There are a few other things that you can do at the port stop of Kotor and the following are a few suggestions:
· Visit the neighbouring town of Tivat;
· Take a boat trip around Boka Bay;
· Visit the Maritime Museum (4 euro admission cost);
· Take a bus or rent a car and drive to Perast; and
· Boat around the small island that has the church called Our Lady of the Rocks.
Languages and Money
The languages spoken in Kotor are Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian and Croatian. I found English was spoken in several shops, bars and restaurants.
Montenegro uses the euro as its currency. If you need cash, use one of the ATMs associated with a bank. There are number of banks within old town (PRVA Bank, Hipotekama Banka, Societe Generale Banka Montenegro, and the NLB Banka).
Authorities may request to see your ID at any time.
· Carry valid identification or a photocopy of it at all times;
· Keep a photocopy of your passport in case it’s lost or seized; and
· Keep a digital copy of your ID and travel documents.
There are restrictions on photographing military or police installations, vehicles, and personnel.
· Do not photograph military installations or personnel even if no prohibition signs are visible; and
· Comply with all requests from local authorities.
The Canadian government advises that cybercrime occurs in Montenegro. Perpetrators may compromise public Wi-Fi networks to steal credit card or personal information. Use caution if using the free wi fi at the cruise port.
In summary, there is enough to see and do in Kotor to keep you busy on shore and you do not have to book an excursion. Simply walk off the ship (or tender if your ship is tendering at this port stop), and easily make your way around the town.
Remember to enjoy the outstanding scenery as your ship leaves this port stop. If you are sailing in autumn when darkness falls early, and your ship departs at dusk or after darkness falls, you will be able to see the lighted pathway of the walls which appear as a circle going up the mountain.
If you have any questions or comments about Kotor, please feel free to contact me or leave your comments at the bottom of this blog posting.
 Some records spell the name as Ascivium while others spell it Ascrivium.
 Historians appear divided as to the function of the earlier structure.