It was June and all of a sudden, it looked like a last minute trip to Europe was in play. We would only have a week and there was going to be four of us – me and my husband, my adult and 13 year old daughters. Now the question became, “Where should we go?” I didn’t want to go anywhere that I had been before. That kind of crossed off a lot of places. I also wanted to go somewhere that wouldn’t be drowning in summer tourists. My solution… we decided to explore Montenegro and Slovenia. I had heard about Kotor old town and really wanted to go. It was an excellent decision.
We LOVED Montenegro. I can’t recommend it enough to any of you. If you are looking for an absolutely breathtaking beautiful country that is filled with friendly locals, then look no further. It is inexpensive, authentic and in many parts of the country, untouched by tourism. I don’t know how long that will last. As Croatia becomes more and more overrun by tourists, and prices increase, I see Montenegro as becoming the next destination of choice.
In this blog, I am going to focus on why we chose to stay in Kotor, specifically Kotor old town. It would not be the perfect place for everyone, but it was ideal for us. Here’s why.
A Brief Overview of Montenegro
Montenegro is on the Adriatic Sea in Central Europe more commonly referred to as the Balkans. Montenegro used to be a part of Yugoslavia. However, in the 1990s, Yugoslavia collapsed. From there, six countries emerged – Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Montenegro.
Montenegro is a small country. It has an area of 13,812 square kilometres and a population of 640,000 people. It is filled with rugged mountains, medieval villages and small strips of beaches along the Adriatic.
Montenegro is not yet a member of the European Union. However, the euro is universally accepted everywhere. In fact, I have no idea what the local currency is. Everything was priced in euros and I never received any currency other than euros from restaurants or stores.
There are two International airports serving Montenegro. One is in Podogorica, the capital, about a 1 1/2 hour drive from Kotor. The other is in Tivat, a 20 minute drive to Kotor. As I will discuss later in this blog, traffic in and around the coast can be horrible. Accordingly, I would strongly recommend that you try and coordinate flights and accommodation that best minimizes your transfer time to and from the airports.
Kotor Old Town
It is well known for two things – the old town and the port.
Kotor Old Town
Kotor old town is a beautiful medieval city built between the 12th and 14th centuries and completely surrounded by fortified walls. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is filled with winding cobblestone paths, medieval architecture and historic monuments. Hotels, restaurants and stores are scattered throughout the city within the medieval architecture. It is a pedestrian only zone.
Kotor old town is not very big. I think that you could walk everywhere within 20-30 minutes. Of course, that would suggest that you actually know where you were going. One of the charms of the old town is that it is super easy to get lost within the winding paths. Not that it takes too long to find your way back to where you want to go. Just that nothing was built in a straight line – from north to south or east to west.
The port is found just outside the entrance to Kotor old town. Everyday during the summer, anywhere from one to four cruise ships (and counting) find there way to the port. The port isn’t that big, so many cruise ships end up anchored in the Bay of Kotor for the day. Thankfully, the landscape is not overwhelmed by these cruise ships. The Bay of Kotor is completely surrounded by enormous mountains that in many places simply dive at sheer angles into the Adriatic Sea. Where it doesn’t, beautiful little towns are perched below it. The cruise ships, even when there are a couple anchored in the Bay of Kotor, seem to easily fit into this setting.
Why We Chose To Stay in Kotor Old Town
We stayed at Hotel Vardar in Kotor Old Town and we couldn’t have been happier.
It was a lovely boutique hotel around 50 meters inside the main gate of Kotor old town. It had a huge outdoor dining area, as well as a lovely air conditioned lounge just inside. The rooms were large, well priced and very quiet at night. I liked the location and the ease in which we could hang out in the hotel, eat, drink and people watch. Or simply walk 5- 10 minutes and choose from countless terrific restaurants nearby.
However, initially, I found it very confusing trying to figure out which town we should stay when I began to research our trip. Montenegro is very mountainous, without a lot of roads or highways. Accordingly, many coastal towns are relatively isolated. They are far from the airports and popular tourist attractions.
That was not the case with Kotor old town.
1. Great Location
Kotor old town was very close to Tivat airport and we were in an ideal location to visit several tourist attractions in which we were interested. For example, we were a short boat ride from Perast and Our Lady of the Rocks. We were also ideally placed for our road trip to the north of Montenegro to see, among other things, Black Lake in Durmitor National Park and Tara Canyon, one of the deepest river canyons in the world. (If you are interested in reading about our road trip to Black Lake in Durmitor National Park and Tara Canyon, please read Exploring Montenegro: A Breathtaking Road Trip.)
2. Didn’t need a rental car or rely on taxis
We only had 4 nights/4 days in Montenegro. I didn’t want to rent a car or rely on taxis while we were there. Before arriving, I had read many negative stories about tourists being taken advantage of by taxi drivers. Uber and Lyft does not yet exist there.
3. Easy access to restaurants, bars and shops
I knew that everyday, we would be all over Montenegro sightseeing. At night, I wanted to be able to walk from our hotel to great restaurants, bars and shops without needing to plan anything. I also wanted to be some place with a little bit of hustle and bustle. Normally, I shy away from that. I prefer to be somewhere quiet and then, find my way to the action when I feel like it. However, again, we only had a few days and the purpose of the trip was to experience as much as we could of Montenegro.
4. Avoided traffic along the coast
Traffic in Montenegro is a bit tricky. For most of the coast, where the majority of the tourists go, there is only two lanes of traffic – one lane each way. And boy is there traffic. Budva, probably the most popular town in Montenegro along the Adriatic, is a much larger town than Kotor with lots of sandy beaches, hotels, and a diverse night life. It is 23 km between Budva and Kotor along a largely straight road, but travel between the two can easily take between 1 – 1 1/2 hours during the summer at all times of the day and night.
Why you Shouldn’t stay in Kotor
If you want to spend anytime at the beach, then Kotor would not be my first choice. You have easy access to the Adriatic Sea for a quick swim. However, it is a busy port. I didn’t spot any beaches while there or see anyone lounging near the water.
I would not choose Kotor if you are looking for a quiet and restful holiday, mostly hanging out near your hotel. Kotor welcomes thousands of cruise passengers a day. Many of them leave Kotor and explore other parts of Montenegro. However, many of them spend at least part of their day exploring Kotor old town. This makes the old town extremely crowded during the day. The good news is that the cruise ships all leave around dinner. By the time we returned from our day exploring Montenegro, Kotor old town had a great vibe and it was a fantastic place to walk around, have dinner and drinks.
Finally, I would not stay in Kotor if you think that your daily excursions exploring Montenegro would require you to go through Budva. As I said earlier, traffic between the two towns is very bad. Luckily, we chose excursions that limited the amount of time that we had to spend on the road between the two.
Montenegro is a absolutely stunning country. There is a lot to see and do. In order to get the most out of your trip there, you need to make sure that you book accommodation in a town that makes the most sense for the kind of holiday that you want. If you want an exciting town with beautiful medieval architecture and fantastic restaurants, then Kotor old town is the place for you. It gives you excellent access to popular tourist attractions while bypassing a lot of the traffic along the coast.
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