The Bay of Kotor Montenegro, known locally as Boka Kotorska or simply Boka, is one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve seen. The stark grey of the Balkan mountains daubed with splotches of green, plummet down to join multiple shades of blue in the bay and at times stunning mirror reflections. This post explores the different ways and routes of getting from Dubrovnik to Kotor Montenegro as well as things to do in Kotor on arrival.
Often described as fiords, these inlets of the bay were formed when the river system was destroyed by karst and volcanic actions. Boka Kotorska is inescapably beautiful, especially when seen from above.
How to Get from Dubrovnik to Kotor Montenegro
Dubrovnik is the shining jewell of the Adriatic, but Kotor Montenegro at only 100 km to the south-east, is tantalisingly close and well worth a day visit or more. While Dubrovnik is a polished tourist destination, Boka is charmingly less so, although it does get it’s fair share of cruise ships.
The most popular way to get from Dubrovnik to Kotor is to hire a vehicle and drive the Coastal Route.
We recommend arriving by the inland mountain route (P11) from Bosnia returning to Dubrovnik via the coastal route (E65). This is the road less travelled, going through the lovely Bosnian town of Trebinje and idyllic mountain scenery on the way to a much less visited border crossing. The road on both sides of the Bosnian/Montenegrin border is in good condition and most importantly, arriving via this route provides heart stopping views of the bay from above. Read our account of it here.
On the return journey take the more direct coastal route back.
Using the coastal route both ways is more direct but in summer there can be delays at the border crossings. By using the alternate route you can also visit Bosnia and who can resist adding another country to the trip!
Green Card Note: When hiring a car in Europe, you don’t need to pay extra for a green card (Insurance) for Bosnia or Montenegro. Some rental companies charge a lot extra saying that these two countries are not included on the European Green Card, but this is just not correct. Every vehicle needs a Green Card.
Shop around until you find a car rental company that doesn’t charge this bogus fee.
We used Last Minute Car Rentals from Split who didn’t charge extra – they are also in Dubrovnik. As more and more customers become aware, I hope all rental companies drop this charge.
Where to begin in the Bay of Kotor
As most people arrive from Dubrovnik, our What to do in Kotor tips begin at the town of Lipci, situated on the E65 from Dubrovnik in the east or on the P11 from Grahovac in the north.
This handy Kotor map which follows the inner bay.
What to do in Kotor, Boka Kotorska or Simply Boka
Lipci is known for it’s 8th Century BC cave paintings of horses and deer, people and designs. When driving toward Risan turn left immediately after the Lipci roundabout and take the single lane road to a parking area. A 5 minutes walk uphill leads to a dead end and the rock drawings. We didn’t visit these drawings, revealed in a rock fall, but the way is now sign-posted when coming from Risan and there is a fence around the drawings with an interpretive sign. Times are a-changing.
At ground level the limited space between mountain and water is mostly swallowed by a road that circles the bay. Avenues of palm trees grow road-side while flowering Oleanders pose beguilingly beside stone buildings.
Descending the spectacular high road from Bosnia the P11 is a jaw dropping experience. It wasn’t until we’d passed through Lipci, that I managed to speak the words pull over!
I was struck dumb by the views.
Looking down from the mountains, we’d noticed the town of Risan wedged in a green space beside the bay. The mountains above Risan have the highest annual rainfall in Europe, a whopping 5000mm.
Risan has a ruined Roman Villa complete with mosaics which can be visited for a small fee.
Risan in the Bay of Kotor.
Risan bakery, directly on the bayside road is a good place to stop for a snack, access the ATM next door for currency and take photos of the water views before hitting the road again.
Perast clings to the rocky shoreline, making parking spaces as scarce as water views are prolific. This town paints a pretty picture and it knows it.
Order a coffee at a waterfront cafe with sublime views of cute boats ferrying passengers (5 Euro) to nearby Our Lady of the Rocks (church) on a man-made island of the same name. The island was built by dropping rocks into the ocean and there is a commemorative Fašinada sailing regatta at sunset each July 22 when boats bedecked with garlands drop stones around the island.
The natural island of St. George Island only 100 metres away is home to the 12th century Benedictine Monastery of Saint Goerge and graveyard.
Afterward there will be just enough time to take a short stroll through the stone streets, lined with stone houses and stone churches, before returning to collect your car before the allotted parking time expires.
We didn’t have trouble parking, but if you are visiting in Summer it might be easier to catch the public bus from in front of the Old Town Walls in Kotor for 1 Euro and spend as much time as you like in Perast. The Bujovic Palace (1694) with it’s octagonal Belfry is a Perast Landmark now housing a museum.
Next up is the Kotor Old Town – the star of the show.
Kotor Old Town
The 1979 earthquake damaged Kotor’s walls and churches but thankfully they were soon repaired under Unesco guidance. The old walled town attracts the majority of day visitors to the bay and is full of restaurants, bars, churches and museums – like the Cat Museum displaying feline artworks.
Life imitating art?
Picturesque lanes lead toward the back of the old city where 1350 steps ascend St. Johns Mountain to a ruined hilltop fortress of the same name.
We took our time pottering around before the climb and came upon this quiet spot.
In case you’re wondering, the return climb takes two hours to complete, with many stops.
Climb to St. Johns Fortress
St. Johns Fortress offers stunning views down to the Bay and up to another mountain with a crazy zig zag trail and an even higher summit. Keep watch for goats prancing along the track.
There were about twenty people at the ruined fortress, but the area is spacious and peaceful and just a little bit awe-inspiring.
Visit the tiny Church of our Lady of Remedy
Some climbers stop when they reach the Church of our Lady of Remedy and if you choose to do so, be assured that the views, although not as spectacular as from the fortress at the top, are beautiful.
It is hard going, especially in hot weather and I’d had enough by the time we reached the Church. After a rest and some camera time I’d recovered enough to continue.
The higher we went, the more stops I took.
The Church of Our Lady of the Remedy can be reached on a slight diversion about half way along the St. Johns Mountain trail.
Inside the Church.
I love intimate churches like this.
And I did make it to the top.
Kotor New Town – Outside the walls
The old town does not have water frontage, so venture outside the walls for afternoon drinks and a romantic dinner with the moon rising across the water.
In season, bayside restaurants open al fresco dining areas along the promenade.
We based ourselves in Kotor spending two nights in different family run establishments outside of the walls, sourced through the tourist information booth outside the walls of the old town.
The owners of the two places were related and the transition happened seamlessly. The ascent to the parking spot on the first night was scary and the booking agent (and owner’s daughter) admitted that most people change their minds when they see the driveway. I guess crazy driveways are inevitable when your home backs onto a steep mountain.
We weren’t in a position to be choosey, so I closed my eyes and crossed my fingers. With stone walls either side of the vehicle, a steep gradient and midway curve, I wished I’d had the foresight to hop out at the bottom.
Marty as always nailed it, but on our return from Budva, I for one was relieved to find the driveway of our new lodgings was quite tame by comparison.
Immediately in front of the old walled town lies Kotor’s boat harbour.
From here the inlet takes a sharp turn to a village whose name means Piers.
Muo, Montenegro – The Village on the Pier
After searching Airbnb I have chosen Muo as the village we will stay on our next visit to Kotor.
The pace is more relaxed on this side of the inlet, with gorgeous views across the bay. At night the illuminated defensive walls provide a halo of fire effect above the old town.
It would be an easy 20 minute stroll back to Kotor for dinner, or a short walk further on to Konoba Ferri, the highly rated seafood waterfront restaurant.
Donji Stoliv, Montenegro
Fish farms grow bream and mussels for the local market at Donji Stoliv. We’ve come full circle and you can now see the islands and church in the middle of the bay and Perast on the other side.
Car and passenger ferries dock here from Kamenari. Arriving via the coastal route from Dubrovnik you can choose either to cross the water to Lepetane, or follow the road around the shoreline through Lipci to Kotor.
After Lepetane the road gradually leaves the water and traffic steps up a notch. From the admittedly little I saw, the outer bay didn’t have the same charm as the inner. Continuing along this road will take you to the seaside tourist town of Budva.
Other Ways of Getting from Dubrovnik to Kotor
For those who don’t wish to drive, the most popular way to arrive in the Bay is on a day tour which will take care of your things to do in Kotor.
Travel Smarter – Take a Day Tour Dubrovnik to Kotor
When considering a day trip from Dubrovnik to Kotor there are several things to consider.
- Hiring a vehicle for just one day can be tiresome
- Driving through traffic on unknown roads can be stressful
- Locating the sights to visit takes time and effort
- Finding a carpark and paying for it takes time and detracts from sight-seeing
It is true that we drove ourselves, but we had been driving in Croatia for several weeks and were familiar with our vehicle and there is a certain familiarity between driving in Montenegro and driving in Croatia. We felt relaxed and enjoyed driving from Dubrovnik to Kotor Montenegro.
If we were looking at renting a car for a one-off day trip from Dubronvik to Kotor, we would have booked a tour to ensure a relaxing and trouble-free day. With two or more days up your sleeve, hiring a vehicle makes more sense.
Some Dubrovnik to Kotor day trips might be listed as Dubrovnik to Montenegro or Dubrovnik to Bay of Kotor and may include the town of Budva. Read the fine print to see where exactly the tour goes, how much time it spends in Kotor old town and look for options including:
- Our Lady of the Rocks Kotor Bay (one of two islands off-shore from Perast Montenegro in Kotor Bay)
- SUP from Perast
- Kotor Old Town (guided tour)
- Kotor Old Town (free time to climb the mountain to St. John Fortress)
Get Your Guide is a budget tour company with a highly rated day tour leaving from Dubrovnik, including everything apart from lunch and drinks. It visits Perast, Kotor (tour of old town plus free time), Budva (explore Budva old town by yourself) and St. Stefan Peninsula with the opportunity to take a boat trip from Perast to Our Lady of the Rocks Island (as an extra) – Read All About It here.
Get Your Guide also offer a highly-rated speed boat trip from Perast to Our Lady of the Rocks. – Read About it here.
We didn’t take the boat across to Our Lady of the Rocks, but I kind of wish we had. Number One reason is because I love boats and Two, because it would give a view of Perast from the water and Three, we would have seen the church!!!
Note: The Slow timber boats that leave from Perast are cheaper that the Speed Boats but can’t be booked in advance.
Known as Gospa od Skrpjelawas in the Montenegrin language, Our Lady of the Rocks was built in 1630 on a man-made island (one of two islands side by side).
There are many buses plying the picturesque coastal route with a cheapest Adult return ticket price of 24 Euro. Sometimes buses are over-sold so don’t leave it till the last minute to arrive. Read more about Buses.
Ferries DO NOT RUN between these two destinations. The distance is too great anyway to take a day trip on a ferry. I feel the only boat option would be by private and expensive speed boat trip.
Now that you’ve seen snippets of Boka, where do you think you would like to stay?