This year I got to take a road trip to Montenegro for my birthday and the entire journey there was a scenic route!
With Dubrovnik, Croatia as our base for a week long vacation to the Dalmatian Coast, we rented a car and ventured outside of the city to explore other areas including Kotor, Montenegro. I figured I came this far, I might as well add another country to the list, and I’m so thankful we did!
To be honest, I knew very little about Montenegro as a whole prior to visiting but take my advice and don’t ever let the unknown of a place or thing prevent you from exploring and living your best life. A simple solution to my ignorance that I often rely on when traveling is asking the hotel concierge for some tips on what to see and do, and we did just that.
While there are plenty of day trips you can book to Montenegro through various sites, we opted to drive and go at our own pace. I highly recommend this option if you want more freedom; the drive was a straight shot south and the views were gorgeous.
The journey to Kotor, Montenegro was fairly quick, less than 2 hours. As we headed south from Dubrovnik we crossed the border into Montenegro and I got my passport stamped for country #28! From the border we continued driving around the massive Bay of Kotor or Boka Kotorska. It really felt like a never ending winding loop around the bay but it was so pretty. The scenic drive totally reminded me of Lake Tahoe, with it’s blue-green water and mountainous backdrop.
Did you know: Montenegro is named for its mountains and translates to “Black Mountain.”
How to Spend A Day in Kotor
Explore Old Town
The first thing you’ll probably want to do is meander through Kotor’s old town, an ancient walled city, which I have to say I enjoyed a little more than Dubrovnik’s old town. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this Adriatic old town is well preserved and somehow kept its authentic charm after two thousand plus years.
With medieval architecture, cobblestone alleyways, and beautiful churches in the middle of it all, there was so much to see and get lost in. Fun fact, the old town was built like a maze to keep things confusing for its own protection but it’s still small enough that “getting lost” was still pretty enjoyable. I even did an impromptu photo shoot (thanks to my friend Liz) because it was my birthday and well this place was just too cute to not capture a little twirl action!
Whether you’re looking for souvenirs, cafe’s, restaurants, or museums, you’ll find it within the ancient walls of Kotor. We sat in a plaza admiring various structures, including the beautiful Cathedral of St. Tryphon, sipped our latte’s and enjoyed a tasty lunch.
Hike up to the Church of Our Lady of Health
For the best views of Kotor, I recommend grabbing your sneakers and going on a hike up the ancient city walls which were built into steep cliffs that protected the old town below.
Clearly not prepared to hike, I was in a dress trying to be cute on my birthday but thankfully I had my Vans on. Below are my shots from our spontaneous hike up to the Church of Our Lady of Health, a Medieval Catholic Church built in 1518.
Entering from within Kotor’s Old Town, it took about 30 minutes to hike up to the church and it consisted of a lot of uneven stairs and switchbacks. Needless to say we took a lot of breaks but at every point the view just got better and better. The views of the Bay of Kotor and the mountains in the background were gorgeous.
If you’re more prepared than we were and if you have more time, I suggest continuing on to hike up to the Castle of San Giovanni. A total of 1,355 steps will bring you to this popular site but please be sure to bring water! Also, keep in mind if you’re visiting from May to September, there will be an entrance fee of €8 between 8am and 8pm. It was open/free when we went but that’s because we were visiting in the off season (March).
Lunch in the Main Square
After all that activity, it was definitely time for a break and a bite. We had a lovely lunch within the walls of Kotor’s old town at the restaurant Pescaria Dekaderon. I can’t speak to the entire menu which offered a selection of seafood and Mediterranean cuisine; I opted for a vegetarian pizza and it was pretty good in my opinion. I mean, I ate the entire thing and I’m not even a pizza girl!
Disclaimer: I’m not a cat person at all but Kotor is interestingly known for its large cat population; they’ve even dedicated a whole museum to these furry animals! Just don’t miss the sign, it’s kind of small. While the museum was closed when we were there, if you are a cat lover you might find this to be of interest when visiting Kotor.
With just the day to explore we wanted to head back to Dubrovnik before it got dark. You’ll quickly find that there aren’t many streetlights on the journey back to Croatia so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
We took a shorter route on the way back and ended up taking a ferry (by accident) to cross the narrow part of the bay. While this was unexpected as we were just following the GPS instructions, not really paying attention to the actual landscape of the bay, there was no turning back if we wanted to make it back in time. Luckily, the 2 minute ferry ride was €5 but be sure to have some cash on hand if you go that route.
I wish we had more time to explore. Montenegro might be a small country but from what I’ve read and seen, there’s so much history and natural beauty to discover!
In review, here are a few reasons to visit Kotor, Montenegro, specifically:
- Bay of Kotor
- Alpine Mountains
- UNESCO World Heritage site
- Ancient Walled City
- Adriatic Sea
- Castles and Medieval architecture
It truly was the perfect adventure for my birthday! And to make things even better, when we arrived back to our hotel in Dubrovnik they had a card and a whole birthday cake waiting for me in my room! Now that was the perfect ending to a lovely day. Shout out to the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik for the added touch!