Kotor Fortress Hike – You Can do it (not in flip flops)

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kotor fortress hike walls
The incredible Kotor Fortress (otherwise known as the San Giovanni Fortress, Fort St. Ivan or St. John’s Fortress) is a testament to the amazing mix of cultures that epitomizes the culture of Kotor, Montenegro.  

It’s absolutely worth the 1:30 -2 hours walk (up 1,350 steps) the Kotor Fortress hike to get expansive views above the Bay of Kotor and climb around the ruined fortress to get the best Boka Bay photos on the classic Kotor fortress hike.

Quick Verdict:  Short on time?  Here’s the quick details of the experience, but continue reading for local insights and my take on this adventure based on doing it myself in December and 20 years experience as a physical therapist.

  • Who is this hike for?  It’s the perfect day activity for people stepping off the cruise ships and even better for off-season travelers that want to combine the Ladder of Kotor and the Kotor Fortress hike. 
  • Read until the end where I share the secret cave trail. 
  • Who is this hike not for? People who hate stairs. Or cats. The cats will steal your cheese! 
  • If you don’t like stairs, it’s better to do the short walk along the Kotor City walls path.  It’s located near the drawbridge entrance to the town on the south side and like a mini version of the Dubrovnik wall walk (*but not 30 euros).
  • It takes about 30-40 min to reach the top of this trail and the same to return.

The Way for the Kotor Fortress Hike in Montenegro

kotor montenegro
This was in December with limited light – I can’t wait to go back in Spring!

Morgan’s Kotor Fortress Hike Youtube

The Pros and Cons of Hike to Kotor Fortress

hiking in kotor montenegro rainbow
Pros

  • Short - Takes 1.5 hours
  • Unbelievable Views
  • History

Cons

  • 1350 Steps up
  • Hot in summer
  • Crowded in summer

The currency in Montenegro is the euro, despite not being part of the Eurozone. Bring 8 euros with you to get onto this hike during summer…in winter it’s free. If you want a free walk, you can walk the Kotor City Walls (short) or go in winter to the fortress.

Kotor Hike Route Map

The trails start from the “Sea Gate” closest to the harbor.  The red trail is the standard out and back, but the blue one is my secret cave/ladder of Kotor loop which I highly recommend.  However it’s only accessible in non-summer season.

In your visit to Kotor, you will witness the convergence of various historical periods through the architecture and relics surrounding you, particularly during the hike up to the Kotor Fortress.

How to use this map: Use your computer mouse or fingers to zoom in and out. Click on the icons to get more information. Click the arrow on the top left corner for the written index. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your google maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open google maps, click the menu button, and go to “your places”/ “maps.”

Planning Your Visit

kotor fortress hike trailhead

How to Get to Kotor Montenegro Fortress Hike Trailhead

There are 3 entrances into the old town of Kotor. The seagate (west), North gate (river)  and Gurdić Gate (south).

Most people will likely be coming from the harbor and enter the seagate. However, the trailhead is an archway that is closest to the North gate.

TBH: the maze of alleys are adorable but a bit confusing. Head toward the mountain through the alleys and get to St. Mary’s church. It’s on the northeast side of the old town. It’s close to a park where you will find MANY cats and dance clubs.

The archway is between two buildings and is labeled the “Main Entrance to St. John’s Fortress”. It’s in English.

The Old Town Kotor is pretty small and people are friendly, so just ask if you get lost how to get to the Fortress and people will point you there.

Lost?
👉 Visit our friends at Montenegro Prospects and tell them Morgan sent you to learn where the hike entrance is. They helped us buy our historic stone home inside the city walls.

Best Time to Hike

kotor ladder

The best time to hike to Kotor Fortress is in the spring (April to June) and fall (September to November) when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller. Summer months can be extremely hot, making the hike more challenging, while the winter may present closure days due to inclement weather.

Entrance Fee and Cost

As of the current year, hiking to Kotor Fortress does require an entrance fee which is payable at the gate. Expect to pay approximately 8 euros, which contributes to the maintenance of the site. Budget for extra if you plan on traveling to Kotor via taxi or bus, and include a contingency for any unexpected costs.


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What to Bring

Here’s a succinct checklist for your hike:

  • Water: At least 1 liter to stay hydrated.
  • Sun protection: Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses.
  • Comfortable footwear: Proper hiking shoes or sturdy trainers.
  • Camera: For capturing the spectacular views.
  • Snacks: Replenish your energy with some light bites.
  • Cash: For entrance fees and small purchases, as credit card facilities may not be available at all points.

Remember, this trek involves numerous steps and uneven terrain, so bring a comfortable backpack to keep your hands free.

Getting to Kotor Fortress

st johns fortress

Embarking on the Kotor Fortress hike offers an enriching experience as you explore one of Montenegro’s most famed historical sites, nestled above the stunning Bay of Kotor. Your adventure begins in the atmospheric Old Town of Kotor, where cobbled streets lead you towards the ancient fortifications that have protected this Adriatic gem through centuries.

Starting Points

Old Town of Kotor: The primary gateway to the fortress is through the “Cat Square” of Kotor’s Old Town. Look for the River Gate (also known as the North Gate), one of the three entrances into the Old Town that serves as an ideal starting point for your hike.

Trailhead Access

Path to the Fortress: Once inside the Old Town, navigate towards the San Giovanni Gate where the trailhead is clearly marked. You will find signposts directing you to the path, which is a series of switchbacks leading upwards towards the fortress.

The Hike Experience

kotor fortress

The Kotor Fortress hike is a rewarding journey that offers panoramic views of the Bay of Kotor and introduces you to historical landmarks. Each step reveals a piece of Montenegro’s past, from the Venetian-influenced architecture to the ruins that whisper tales of bygone eras.

On the way up it passes through various ruins of the fortress, the Church of Our Lady of Remedy and has incredible Boka Bay views the entire way.  However you should wear decent shoes (talking to you flip-flop wearing tourists!!!) because the path is steep and stony and can be slippery when it rains.

  • It costs 8 euros in the high season to access this hike and during high season you cannot combine Kotor’s most famous 2 hikes as a guard blocks the access window to descend down the backside of the fortress walls to the Sveti Juraj cross connection. 

things to Know About Kotor

kotor church

As you meander through the Old Town at the base of the fortress, you’re walking on centuries-old cobblestone streets, encapsulated by the Walls of Kotor, which stretch up the hillside to anchor the fortress above.

Pay close attention to the bastions, each telling a unique story of Kotor’s former military prowess and standing as a symbol of resilience.

The Old Town is not just a remnant of the past; it continues to be a living, breathing part of Kotor where history meets modernity.

The Fortress Walls

Constructed by the Illyrians and expanded upon during the Byzantine era, its walls have been shaped and reshaped by the hands of time and the needs of its citizens. Additional fortifications were added during the Venetian rule, which have resulted in the extensive system of walls of Kotor that exist today.

This formidable structure permitted Kotor to defend itself against numerous invasions (it was even attacked by Ghengis Khan’s grandson) and is a major reason for the city’s enduring presence into the modern era.

Exploring Kotor Bay

After energizing with a meal, take the opportunity to explore Kotor Bay. You can take a leisurely stroll along the promenade or indulge in a sailing tour to admire the coastal landscapes. For those interested in aquatic adventures, the local marina offers boat rentals for a personal look at the bay’s hidden corners and the grandeur of the surrounding mountains.

  • Bay Excursions:
    • Boat Tours – See the bay from a different perspective on a guided tour.
    • Kayaking – Paddle at your own pace and explore secluded areas of the bay.

Cultural Attractions

Enrich your experience by delving into the cultural heritage of Old Town Kotor. This fortified town is not just a backdrop for dining and shopping, but also a treasure trove of history. Visit the maritime museum to learn about the town’s seafaring past or attend an event at one of the local churches that often host concerts and exhibitions.

  • Historical Sights:
    • Kotor’s Cathedral – Witness the architectural splendor and detailed frescoes.
    • The Maritime Museum – Delve into Kotor’s naval history through well-curated exhibits.

Practical Tips

Planning your trip?

Where to Stay

If you’re lucky enough to stay here overnight I highly recommend:
The Secluded Stone Home (Apartment), Hotel Astoria (midrange), Hotel Monte Cristo (midrange), or Hippocampus Boutique (midrange-luxury).

Additional Adventures Nearby

boka bay

After exploring the historical beauty of Kotor Fortress, you’ll find that the region offers more hiking opportunities and cultural experiences. Venture beyond the walls to discover paths laden with history and enchanting rural landscapes.

Ladder of Kotor

The Ladder of Kotor, once a vital trading route, beckons the intrepid. This path will guide you through a series of switchbacks, each turn revealing expansive views of the Bay of Kotor and the town’s terracotta rooftops. Reaching the Krstac Pass, you find yourself standing at the intersection of past and present, where merchants once tread and now hikers marvel.

Cetinje and Njegusi Village

Heading inland, the historic capital of Cetinje awaits. Here, amidst the legacy of Montenegrin kings, the Castle of San Giovanni stands as a testament to a bygone era. It’s a gateway to understanding Montenegro’s rich history. A scenic drive or hike brings you closer to Njegusi Village, celebrated for its traditional smoked hams and cheese. This village, cradled by mountains, offers a taste of the countryside that contrasts with the coastal allure of Kotor.

Perast

The microtown of Perast, Montenegro is only 30 minutes drive from Kotor and worth a visit for a meal and relaxation by the bayside.

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Final Verdict

kotor bay hike

Walking on the Kotor Fortress hike presents a rewarding adventure steeped in both natural beauty and historic significance.

Your journey begins right in the Old-town of Kotor, a well-preserved medieval settlement nestled along the Adriatic coast in Montenegro. As you follow the serpentine trail upwards, you’re tracing the same steps that have been trodden for centuries, weaving through Kotor’s storied past.

The terrain is robust, offering a steady ascent set against the dramatic backdrop of the Bay of Kotor. Your path leads you through a time-honored guard path lined with remnants of old fortifications. The higher you climb, the more expansive the vistas become, presenting a panoramic view that blends the azure waters with the verdant mountainous landscape.

Secret Path

Ok, so you’ve read this far and I’m going to reward you with the skinny.

Hiking this path in summer is pretty good, but going between November and late May is SUPER cool because you can crawl through the window near the top of the hike and actually cut across to the Ladder of Kotor.

Even better, you can walk through a cave in the mountain to see the bay! It’s VERY cool and fun.

There is a mountain hut where they serve homemade cheese and wine and it’s cheap and good. The cats will literally steal your cheese though as you’re trying to take the most magnificent photos of Boka bay.

It’s fairly easy to walk down the ladder of Kotor path after sunset, it’s a mule track and fairly wide and lit by the city lights.

Comprehensive Hiking Gear Guides from Physical Therapist

Physical Therapist Curated Gear Guides for Hikers

While the climb on the Kotor fortress hike can be challenging, the vista from the top of the fortress is a well-earned spectacle, giving you a sweeping perspective of the bay and the old town which has been a crossroad of cultures for many years.

Author profile: Morgan Fielder is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and passionate hiker who believes in exploring the world on foot with good food. Follow her journey as she shares science-based hiking tips and advocates for sustainable tourism.