The Backpacker’s Guide to Kotor, Montenegro | 2021

I’m not exaggerating when I say this, but Kotor might be the most beautiful town that I’ve ever been to. Not only is the Old Town beyond charming, but the lake and its surrounding mountains are nothing short of breathtaking. With the Balkan countries ever-growing in popularity, it’s hard not to see Kotor going the way of nearby Dubrovnik sooner rather than later. I visited Kotor in summer 2021, and while the country was fully open to travelers, the tourism numbers were still recovering after the COVID-19 pandemic. Apparently before COVID, you’d find up to three cruise ships a day in the small Bay of Kotor.

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Crazy thing is, Montenegro is still relatively under the radar when you compare it to other Mediterranean destinations. Basically, what I’m saying is you need to get yo’ booty to Kotor, and you need to do it soon. This place is nothing short of magical. It will transport you back to Medieval times. Fortresses, castles, moats, walled cities… Kotor is just special.

How To Get To Kotor

Montenegro is a small country. With Kotor being its most popular destination, it is not hard to find transportation to Kotor. There is a nearby airport, but if you’re already in the Balkans, I’d recommend traveling by land. Buses are cheap, and if you’re traveling with friends, you might even be able to find a taxi for just as cheap. From Shkoder, Albania, a taxi to Kotor was only 50 euros for the three-hour ride. Of course, that was from Albania, so I can’t speak for other countries. Transfers to Kotor from Mostar and Dubrovnik are very common. From within Montenegro, getting to Kotor is no problem. The bus station of Kotor is just a few minutes walk away from Old Town, making it easy getting in and out of the city.

The weird thing about buses in Montenegro is it feels like they go through every city. A bus from Kotor to Niksic, for example, took me through Budva and Podgorica on my way to Niksic. The route made no sense, but hey, I got to where I needed to go. If you have a bigger budget or people to split the costs with, I’d recommend renting a car for the extra freedom.

Where To Stay in Kotor

There are quite a few hostels in Kotor to choose from, and truthfully, you can’t go wrong. Of the ones that I stayed at or visited, they were all fantastic. The hostel game in Kotor is top-notch.

The one that I stayed at the longest was Old Town Hostel, located right in the walls of the old city. It has a great location to go along with a ton of other things that it does right. As far as sleeping goes, this was one of my favorite hostel dorms. The beds are cozy and have curtains and plugs at each bed. Each dorm has their own ensuite bathroom and lockers. The rooms were kept very cool, which is perfect for the sizzling Mediterranean heat in the summer. Even without the A/C, the dungeon-y feel to the rooms keeps things cool. They also have a swimming pool somewhere. I never actually went, but it is there if you want to take a dip.

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The most important thing about this hostel? The activities and events of course. There’s always something going on at Old Town Hostel. They organize tours at massively discounted rates for their guests. Montenegro is a pretty small country, so even though Kotor is on the far southwestern edge of the country, the entire country can still be reached within a day. That means you can check out Tara Canyon, Durmitor National Park, Lake Skadar, and anything else you might want to do. The hostel organizes a ton of tours, whether you want to explore Montenegro by land or by boat.

Aside from the tours, the hostel organizes events where guests can socialize and get drunk. Booze cruises and sunset barbecues are just two of the can’t-miss social gatherings organized by Old Town Hostel.

The other hostels I would recommend are Centrum Hostel and Montenegro Hostel 4U. Centrum Hostel is located right in the center of Old Town and is a straight up beautiful hostel. Montenegro Hostel 4U is located a little bit outside of Old Town and is known to throw a great party. Old Town Hostel was a good mix of both, where you could socialize if you wanted, or just hole up in your bed if you needed to rest after a long day of adventuring.

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The Best Things to do in Kotor

Most of the things to do in Kotor center around its Old Town and the Bay of Kotor. However, like I mentioned above, a lot of tours leave with Kotor as their starting point. That includes day trips to Durmitor National Park, Tara Canyon, and anywhere else in the country you could imagine. However, for this section, I’ll just focus on the stuff in and around Kotor. If you want to use Kotor as a home base to explore the rest of Montenegro, that is an excellent choice.

Hike up to St. John’s Fortress

Obviously, the must-do thing in Kotor is to hike up to the huge fortress overlooking the city. The views from St. John’s Fortress are absolutely breathtaking, and not just because it is a steep climb. It is just a short hike from the center of the Old Town. It took me about twenty minutes, but that’s because I started in the dark so I really didn’t make any stops to admire the views until the sun came up. I passed out early after day-drinking on a boat and woke up at 5 AM the next morning. Without anything else to do, I decided to make the hike up to the fortress for sunrise.

It was a 10/10 experience and I absolutely recommend it. The fortress doesn’t officially open until 8 AM, so no one’s working the gates so you don’t have to pay the steep entry fee. Plus, there will be absolutely no one else around. You will get the stunning views of Kotor Bay and the surrounding mountains all to yourself. The pinking and purpling skies as the sun continues to rise just add to the otherworldly beauty. You can also hike up for sunset, but you’ll have to pay (unless you take the long way around and sneak in through the ladder of Kotor) and there will be a lot more people.

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Roam Aimlessly Through Old Town Kotor

Walking through the gates of Old Town for the first time was when my time in Montenegro began to turn around. We had a rough start, having the most awful two days in Budva that involved an awful hostel, awful people, and multiple visits to the hospital. I literally considered heading back to Albania because I was having that shit of a time. I decided that since I was only 40 minutes away from Kotor, I’d check it out and give it a chance. Thank god I did because Kotor is one hell of a place.

Old Town Kotor is stunning. If you’ve been to Dubrovnik, it’s like a smaller, cozier version of Dubrovnik’s old city. The best thing to do is just aimlessly wander. You’ll stumble into everything you need to see because it really isn’t all that big. Find some quiet alleyways, play with Kotor’s resident stray cats, and gawk at the beautiful churches and cathedrals. Take your experience to the next level by picking up some gelato along the way.

There will be crowds throughout the day, but if you wake up early, it’s not hard to beat the crowds. After my sunrise hike up to St. John’s Fortress, I roamed through Old Town Kotor at around 7 AM. It wasn’t even that early, but there was not another person in sight. It was just me, the stray cats, and the beautiful empty streets of Kotor. Another 10/10 experience that I’d totally recommend.

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Go to the Beach

You’ll find a few beaches within walking distance from Kotor’s Old Town. These are the perfect way to cool off during Montenegro’s often punishing midday heat. I saved most of my adventuring for the cooler hours, but during the peak of the sun, the beach is the place to be. The beach itself isn’t all that spectacular, but the views definitely are. Grab a few cold beers and laze the day away.

Take a Boat trip around Kotor Bay

No trip to Kotor is complete without exploring the Bay of Kotor by boat. You’ll find a number of boat trips offered, but like I said, I did pretty much everything through Old Town Hostel. Find a boat tour that matches the itinerary you want and set sail. I’m all about boozing and cruising, but if you want something more adventurous, kayaking in the Bay of Kotor is a great activity as well.

Take a day trip to Perast

One of Montenegro’s most scenic villages is Perast. For such a small village, it has some grand views. By small, I’m talking a population of just 269 people. Perast is also located on the Bay of Kotor so you can get there either by car or by boat. It’s only a 20-minute drive away from Kotor. If you take on the Bay of Kotor by boat, you’ll undoubtedly make a stop at Perast. If the crowds of Kotor prove to be too much, Perast makes for the perfect detour for a more idyllic setting.

Catch the Sunset from the Abandoned Fort Gorazda

One of the activities organized by Old Town Hostel was a sunset barbecue at the top of Fort Gorazda. This place was unreal. The views were epic as usual, but the fort itself was worth a visit. I love visiting abandoned places, and Fort Gorazda was among my favorite abandoned spots I’ve ever visited. After everyone was nice and drunk after the sunset barbecue, we dropped down into the abandoned fortress’s rooms and had a mini-rave for a little bit.

Even if you’re not staying at Old Town Hostel, you should try to make your way up to this fort. It’s a great spot for sunset, not that there’s really a bad sunset spot anywhere in Kotor.

Other Things To Know Before Heading to Kotor

The currency of Montenegro is the euro. I found Montenegro to be more expensive than the neighboring countries of Albania and Bosnia, and just slightly cheaper than Croatia. The language of Montenegro is Montenegrin. It is similar to the languages of the neighboring countries, but it also doesn’t show up on Google translate. I got around with English just fine. Kotor is quite touristy, so you shouldn’t have any issues. I’d recommend spending at least three days in Kotor, although you could easily spend much longer.

The best time to visit Kotor would be just outside of the peak summer months. I found the entire Mediterranean and Balkan coast to be overflowing with tourists when I visited in July and August. If I were to come back, I’d definitely go outside of summer to avoid the heat and the huge tourist crowds.

Kotor was definitely the highlight of my time in Montenegro. While I loved my time in the mountains of Montenegro, Kotor is the only destination on Montenegro’s coast that I would actually recommend. I hate Budva with a passion, so just skip it and go straight to Kotor. This is where it’s at, y’all.

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