Explore Kotor, Montenegro
Sweat rolled down my back as I climbed the 10,000th stair. My legs burned, and I desperately tried not to suck in air like a dying woman. I glanced at the sun sinking behind the mountains on the opposite end of the Bay of Kotor and pushed myself to move faster. Finally, I cleared the last step. I settled onto an ancient stone wall and watched the sun finish it’s journey below the edge of the mountain.
The bay was bathed in a soft golden glow. An ancient stone town huddled against the base of the mountain below me. Soaring peaks cut jagged black shadows on the opposite side of the water. I smiled into the cool breeze that pushed my hair off my shoulders and soaked in that view. I had just climbed to the fortress over the ancient town of Kotor, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be.
Exploring Kotor, Montenegro
I don’t recall exactly when Montenegro made it’s way onto my radar. All I know is that at some point, it became a must-visit. So I built the European leg of my travels around this tiny Balkan country, with a start in Kotor. Within moments of arriving, I knew I had chosen the best place to break into the country. It was like a town from a fairy tale — old stone walls, imposing churches, charming squares, and narrow alleyways full of secret shops.
Kotor, like much of the Balkans, is a hotspot for backpackers. Lower costs for traveling and placement outside of the Schengen Area means many budget travelers can stretch their dollars to the max and won’t be booted out of country after 90 days. Fortunately, Kotor willingly and deftly caters to budget travelers. Here’s a guide to the best of the best.
Montenegro Hostel4U: This hostel is on the waterfront just outside the walls of Old Town. It gets points for location, excellent hosts, and a fun atmosphere. The emphasis is on a good time more than a clean and noise-free sleeping experience, though. The sheets are always clean, but the kitchen and bathrooms will leave a little to be desired. But Boban and Marko, the guys who run the place, will make sure you have a a super fun time while you’re in Kotor, so letting go of the little things is a little easier.
Old Town Hostel: This top-rated hostel has two locations, both in Old Town Kotor. Guests rave about the staff, the amenities (ensuite bathrooms — score!), and the €5 dinner as a way to meet other guests. Staying directly inside the old stone walls of town has a charm that the other hostel lacks, as well. This one books up early, so plan ahead or expect to stay somewhere else!
Galion: If you’re like me, you’ll blow your budget on a good meal. Galion is the place to do it in Kotor. Perched on the edge of the water with views of Old Town and an ambiance that will blow your mind, this is the place to forget you’re sleeping in a hostel for a few hours. What to order? Their seafood.
Papalada: This caravan burger joint is hard to beat for value… only €2 for a cheeseburger! They’re not the best burgers I’ve ever had, but I’m a bit of a burger fanatic and my standards are pretty dang high. They’re still pretty good! And to fill your belly cheaply, you can’t go wrong. It’s just outside the Old Town walls near the beach parking.
Dojmi: This little cafe is a good spot to park out for a few hours with a coffee, a pastry and your laptop. They have free wifi and good java, and it’s airy and bright. The huge windows will almost make you feel like you’re still outside exploring while you get some work done.
Odds are good that you’ll be spending time on a hostel-organized pub crawl (yet another reason to stay in a hostel instead of a hotel), but visit the below spots if you’d prefer to explore on your own.
Old Winery: Balkan wine? Yup! You can taste your way through a flight of vino from these lesser-known wine producing regions at the Old Winery. I love learning about obscure wines, and the bartenders here are knowledgeable and happy to share that knowledge. Word on the street is the food is good, too.
Citadela: It’s a pretty busy spot, but the views are an excellent reason to brave the crowds. It’s decent value for money as well — not budget prices but affordable and the food is great. If you don’t want to get spendy just enjoy a sunset drink here.
Havana: This is a stop on almost every hostel pub crawl in town, so if you’re staying on your own head here to meet other travelers. It’s a lively scene with drink specials and a fun vibe.
Maximus: If you like partying late-night, Maximus is the dance club that everyone heads to when the bars close around 1 a.m. This place will keep the party rocking until 4 a.m., so if you’re feeling the beat, put it on your list. Some pretty famous European DJs have been known to make appearances from time to time, so check their website.
Climb the Fortress
This is the no-brainer if you visit Kotor. Zig-zagging up the mountainside behind Old Town, a series of stone steps soar up the mountainside and end in a stunning view of the town and the Bay of Kotor. During the day there is a cost to access the pathway, so budget travelers will brave it at night. Be cautious if you do this and bring a good flashlight, as it will be dark! If you’re willing to get up super early, you can skip hiking in the heat and enjoy the cool morning air while watching the sun light up the mountainside on the opposite side of the bay.
Explore Old Town
Getting lost down the narrow, twisting alleyways of Kotor’s Old Town might be the best (and cheapest!) way to spend an afternoon. You’ll find art galleries, souvenir shops, ancient churches and chapels, and squares dotted with tables and umbrellas. The photo opportunities are endless, and you can pretend you’re a Medieval princess wandering the stone streets.
Day Trip to Lovcen National Park
Getting here isn’t exactly easy, but you can rent a car or band together with other travelers to organize transport to this stunning spot an hour away from Kotor. There are plenty of excellent hikes through the mountains worth checking out. But be sure not to miss Njegos’ Mausoleum, a visually stunning monument to the legendary Montenegrin poet. It’s the closest you can get to walking in the clouds.
Have you been to Kotor? What do you think shouldn’t be missed? Let me know in the comments!