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Located in Bokor Kotorska (Kotor Bay), Europe's most southerly fjord, Kotor lies 50 miles (80 km) west of Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, from which it is separated by a belt of dramatic, rugged mountains. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Kotor's medieval Stari Grad (Old Town) is enclosed within well-preserved defensive walls built between the 9th and 18th centuries and presided over by a proud hilltop fortress. In the Middle Ages, as Serbia's chief port, Kotor was an important economic and cultural center with its own highl -regarded schools of stone-masonry and iconography. Later, it spent periods under the control of Venice, Austria, and France, though it was undoubtedly the Venetians who left the strongest impression on the city's architecture. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, some 70% of the stone buildings in the romantic Old Town have been snapped up by foreigners. Fast becoming a celebrity destination, it's been visited recently by such celebrities as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas.
Kotor's Old Town takes approximately half a day to explore. Plan your visit for the morning, when the main sights are open to the public and the afternoon sun has yet to reach peak force.
Crkva Sveti Luke (St. Luke's Church). Built in 1195, this delightful Romanesque church is the only building in the Old Town to have withstood all five major earthquakes that affected Kotor. Originally a Catholic church, the building later became an Orthodox place of worship. Today there are two altars, one for each faith. The church is generally closed but you can ask at the nearby Crkva Sveti Nikole, which is open daily 8-1 and 5-7, and someone will open it for you. Trg bratstvo i jedinstva.
Crkva Sveti Nikole (St. Nicholas' Church). Designed by a Russian architect and built in pseudo-Byzantine style between 1902 and 1909, this is Kotor's most important Orthodox church (the Cathedral, by definition, is Catholic). The gold used to gild the spires was a gift from Russia. Trg bratstvo i jedinstva.
Glavna Gradska Vrata. The Main Town Gate (also known as the Sea Gate because of its position on the coast), which accesses the Stari Grad (Old Town) via the western facade of the city walls, dates back to the 16th century, and comprises Renaissance and baroque details. Originally, the outer gate bore a relief of the Venetian Lion, but in Tito's time this was replaced by the socialist star and dates recording the liberation of Kotor on November 21, 1944, at the end of WWII. There are two other entrances to the Stari Grad: the Južna Vrata (South Gate) and the Sjeverna Vrata (North Gate). Jadranski put.
Gradske Zidine (Town Walls). Especially beautiful at night, when they are illuminated, the well-preserved town walls were built between the 9th and 18th centuries. They measure almost 5 km (3 miles) in length, and reach up to 66 feet in height and 52 feet in width. They form a triangular defense system around the Old Town, then rise up the hill behind it to Tvrdjava Sveti Ivana (St. John's Fortress), 853 feet above sea level. You can walk up to the fortress along the walls. Allow at least one hour to get up and back down. Wear good hiking shoes and don't forget to bring some water. Old Town, Stari Grad.
Katedrala Sveti Tripuna (St. Tryphon's Cathedral). Undoubtedly Kotor's finest building, the Romanesque cathedral dates back to 1166, though excavation work shows that there was already a smaller church here in the 9th century. Due to damage caused by a succession of disastrous earthquakes, the cathedral has been rebuilt several times-the twin baroque bell towers were added in the late 17th century. Inside, the most important feature is the 14th-century Romanesque Gothic ciborium above the main altar. Also look out for fragments of 14th-century frescoes, which would once have covered the entire interior. A collection of gold and silver reliquaries, encasing body parts of various saints and crafted by local masters between the 14th and 18th century, is on display in the treasury. Trg Ustanka Mornara. Admission charged.
Pomorski Muzej Crne Gore (Montenegrin Naval Museum). Housed within the 18th-century baroque Grgurina Palace, this museum traces Montenegro's cultural and economic ties to the sea. In the 18th century, tiny Kotor had some 400 ships sailing the world's oceans. The exhibition extends over three floors, and includes model ships; paintings of ships, ship owners, and local naval commanders; navigation equipment; and uniforms worn by Montenegrin admirals and captains. Trg Grgurina, Stari Grad. Admission charged.
Toranj za sat (Clock Tower). Built in the 17th century and considered a symbol of Kotor, the Clock Tower stands directly opposite the Main City Gate. You'll still find a watchmaker's shop at ground level (locals claim that the same family of watchmakers have worked here since the 17th century). In front of the Clock Tower, the "Pillar of Shame" was used to subject local criminals to public humiliation. Trg od Oržja, Stari Grad.
Trg od Oržja (Square of Arms). The Main Town Gate leads directly into the Square of Arms, Kotor's main square, today a large paved space animated by popular open-air cafés. Under Venice, arms were repaired and stored here, hence the name. Notable buildings on the square include the 17th-century Toranj za Sat (Clock Tower), the 19th-century Napoleonovog Pozorišta (Napoléon Theater), and the 18th-century Kneževa Palata (Duke's Palace), the latter two now forming part of the upmarket Hotel Cattaro. Trg od Oržja, Stari Grad.
Tvrdjava Sveti Ivana (St. John's Fortress). On the hill behind Kotor, 853 feet above sea level, this fortress is approached via a series of serpentines and some 1,300 steps. The fantastic view from the top makes the climb worthwhile: the terra-cotta-tile rooftops of the Old Town, the meandering fjord, and the pine-clad mountains beyond. On the way up, you will pass the tiny Crkva Gospe od Zdravlja (Church of Our Lady of Health), built in the 16th century to protect Kotor against the plague. Be sure to wear good walking shoes and take plenty of water. The route up starts from behind the east side of the city walls. Above Old Town.
Lying 8 miles (13 km) northwest of Kotor, the peaceful little town of Perast is made up of semiabandoned stone houses built by local sea captains during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the bay in front of Perast lie two charming islets, each with a church.
Gospa od Skrpjela (Our Lady of the Rock). Unlike its sibling island, St. George, this island is man-made. Folklore has it that in 1452, local sailors found an icon depicting the Virgin and Child cast upon a rock jutting up from the water. Taking this as a sign from God, they began placing stones on and around the rock, slowly building an island over it. By 1630 they had erected a church upon the new island. The original icon (which has been attributed to the 15th-century local artist Lovro Dobričević) is displayed on the altar. Over the centuries, locals have paid their respects to it by donating silver votive offerings, some 2,500 of which are now on display. To get here, hop a boat taxi from the waterfront (a five-minute trip). Kotor Bay, Perast. Admission charged.
Muzej Grad Perasta. In the 17th-century Renaissance-baroque Bujović Palace, on the water's edge, Muzej Grad Perasta (Perast Town Museum) displays paintings of local sea captains and their ships, plus a horde of objects connected to Perast's maritime past. Obala Marka Martinovića bb, Perast. Admission charged.
Sveti Djordje (St. George). This natural islet is one of Perast's famous pair of islands. It's ringed by a dozen elegant cypress trees and crowned by the Monastery of St. George, dating back to the 12th century and still inhabited by monks. In the 18th century the island became a favorite burial place for local sea captains, whose crypts remain today. The island is closed to the public, but you can snap photos from shore or neighboring Our Lady of the Rock to your heart's content. Kotor Bay, Perast.
Market. This market that sells fruit and vegetables is just outside the city walls, on the main coastal road, and is filled with colorful, local, seasonal produce: artichokes, asparagus, and cherries in spring; tomatoes, eggplants, and peaches in summer. It takes place every morning but Sunday. E65 runs all the way down the coast. The market is on the road side, immediately outside the old town walls.
The small, pebble town beach, which is close to the center, is fine for a quick swim; however, for really decent swimming, locals recommend either Jaz Beach or Plavi Horizonti, both of which are some 14 miles (23 km) south of Kotor, between Tivat and Budva.