Backed by imposing mountains, tiny Kotor lies hidden from the open sea, tucked into the deepest channel of the Bokor Kotorska (Kotor Bay), which is Europe's most southerly fjord. 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 is presided over by a proud hilltop fortress. Within the walls, a labyrinth of winding cobbled streets leads through a series of splendid paved piazzas, rimmed by centuries-old stone buildings, many of which now house trendy cafés and chic boutiques at ground level. In the Middle Ages, as Serbia's chief port, Kotor was an important economic and cultural center with its own highly regarded schools of stonemasonry and iconography. Later, it spent periods under Venetian, Austrian, and French rule, 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, mostly Brits and Russians. Porto Montenegro, a new marina designed to accommodate some of the world's largest super yachts, opened in nearby Tivat in 2011. And even Hollywood is taking notice of this soon-to-be-trendy town: recent visitors include actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. 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.
A five-minute walk along the coast from the Old Town, this sophisticated seafood restaurant occupies an old stone building with a glass-and-steel extension overlooking the bay, offering views of Kotor's medieval walls. Expect funky modern furniture and chill-out music, and a menu featuring favorites such as octopus salad, homemade gnocchi, and barbecued fresh fish.
Locals swear by this friendly, down-to-earth eatery in the Old Town, on a small piazza near the Montenegrin Naval Museum. The menu features a choice of seafood and meat dishes, but ask the waiter to recommend the day's special, which could be anything from gulaš (Hungarian goulash) to sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and minced meat). Get a table outside in summer and soak in the Old Town atmosphere, though note that service can be slow when they're busy. The restaurant is open year-round.
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.
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 Sv 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.
Trg od Oržja
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 Theatre), and the 18th-century Kneževa Palata (Duke's Palace), the latter two now forming part of the upmarket Hotel Cattaro.
Tvrdjava Sv Ivana
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.
Zgrada Napoleonovog pozorišta
Standing in the north corner of the Square of Arms, this building was turned into a public theater, one of the first of its kind in the Balkans, by the French in 1810. Today, following extensive renovation work, it is part of the upmarket Cattaro Hotel & Casino.
Crkva Sv Nikole
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.
Katedrala Sv Tripuna
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.
Crkva Sv Luke
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 Sv Nikole, which is open daily 8–1 and 5–7, and someone will open it for you.
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).
Toranj za sat
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.
Built in the 18th century, the Duke's Palace comprises almost the entire west side of the Old Town. Originally it was the official seat of the Venetian governor. Like the Napoléon Theatre, it is now part of the Cattaro Hotel & Casino.
Pomorski Muzej Crne Gore
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.