Hiking Kotor’s Fortress – the Castle of San Giovanni
There are several wonderful cities and things to do in Montenegro, but the most popular city in the country that you MUST VISIT is Kotor. Kotor, Montenegro is quickly becoming one of the best travel destinations to visit in Europe. I am not surprised to hear that because it took us only one hour to fall completely in love with this charming bay city. Most visitors to Kotor are coming from a cruise ship (as we did) but because of the city’s growing popularity, people are beginning to go out of their way just to visit. Why? Because the Bay of Kotor has the most stunning landscape with towering mountains surrounding the bay. It is also very easy to explore all of Kotor in one day. Moreover, the Castle of San Giovanni or Kotor’s fortress is by far one of the best castles to visit in Europe.
We LOVE both castles and hiking, so when we heard we could hike Kotor’s fortress we were ecstatic. The hike to Kotor’s fortress remains one of our favorite hikes of all time, which says a lot because we have also hiked to Machu Picchu. When you make it to the top of Kotor’s fortress, you are gifted with the most stunning views of the Bay of Kotor which is why it is truly one of the best places to hike in Europe. Hiking to the top of Kotor’s Fortress is one of the most popular things to do in Kotor, so it can get a little crowded, especially during the summer or when a cruise is in port. So, plan accordingly because this hike is worth every step of the way up.
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A Brief History of The Castle of San Giovanni
The Castle of San Giovanni was first built during the Illyrian times. Then during the 6th century, it was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian I and has changed hands many times over while also withstanding severe earthquakes. With that said, it is no surprise the entire city of Kotor including the Castle of San Giovanni, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 because of its incredible history and preservation.
The Hike to Kotor’s Fortress
The hike to Kotor’s fortress (Castle of San Giovanni) is open to the public and costs 3€ in cash at the entrance of the city walls. Whether you are visiting Kotor from a cruise ship or on your own, you can hike Kotor’s fortress with either a guided tour or by yourself. To be honest, a guided tour is not necessary unless you need help hiking or want to hear historical information about the city. With that said, we do not typically go on group tours but found this particular hiking tour worth it. Our guide was very friendly and knowledgable – we not only had fun along the hike but learned a lot about Kotor’s historical facts, the castle, and other places in Montenegro we must see. Overall, the hike up to Kotor’s Fortress can take approximately two hours followed by time spent exploring the castle and then the hike back to Kotor’s Old Town.
What to Expect Hiking Kotor’s Fortress
I have two very important recommendations when hiking Kotor’s fortress. One is to bring plenty of WATER!!! The second is to start early to beat the heat, especially if you are visiting in the summer. The hike alone is going to be long and strenuous, approximately 1,350 stair steps to a height of around 280 meters (919 feet). So the earlier you start, the more time you will have hiking in the shade. We started our hike in July at 8 am and found it to be a perfect time because we not only hiked in the shade but also beat the crowds.
One of the main reasons why this hike to Kotor’s fortress is the most popular thing to do in Kotor is because of the views! We have traveled around the world, and the views here are some of the best we have ever seen. So as you keep hiking along the city walls to the fortress, remember to take every moment in. The higher you ascend the more beautiful the views become.
In addition to the most spectacular views of the Bay of Kotor, you can also expect to find so many CATS! We came across at least a dozen cats in Old Town Kotor on our way to the city wall. In fact, Kotor is so known for their cats around the city there is a dedicated cat museum along with several cat souvenirs available in some of the shops. Who knew?!?!
Going back to the hike… The hike itself follows
The hike to Kotor’s fortress is truly a rewarding and amazing experience. Walking along the city walls of Kotor was not only exhausting, but it was also rewarding and an amazing experience. The winding trail along the city walls leading to Kotor’s fortress looks unreal – as if it is from a medieval movie, but being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is far from anything in Hollywood. The historic trail is comprised of stonework from the 6th century which makes this hike feel surreal to be walking on a part of history.
Scenic Views Hiking to Kotor’s Fortress
Luckily there are several scenic stopping points, also known as catch your breath stops. While you are trying to catch your breath, make sure you take the time to enjoy the views and your surroundings. Every time we looked below the city walls and took in the Bay of Kotor view, we could not believe how beautiful it was.
The first scenic stopping point I recommend is at the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. The church was built in 1518 and still stands tall and beautiful to this day.
The second scenic stopping point is around the halfway point of the hike. It is a leveled stone platform that reaches out into the bay. You are going to be eager to take photos as we did because the views here are amazing. I remember thinking how could any view top this? I was very wrong.
The Top of Kotor’s Fortress
Alas, when you make it to the top of Kotor’s fortress and the ruins of Castle of San Giovanni, the views are absolutely breathtaking! Standing at a height of 1,200 meters (3,937 feet), you can see everything. With that said, the scenic views of the bay and city are just the beginning…
The ruins of Castle of San Giovanni looks like it belongs to a scene in Lord of the Rings. We seriously felt like we were in Middle Earth reenacting our fantasy roles of being knights fighting off dragons and orcs. All fun and games put aside, it’s an incredible feeling to be standing where so many had stood and fought for the city of Kotor. Moreover, we could not believe how much of the castle was still standing. Visitors can walk throughout the castle’s ruins exploring every nook and cranny.
We explored the Castle of San Giovanni for at least an hour because of the unreal experience of walking and feeling a part of its history. The architecture of the remaining castle combined with the scenic views is truly amazing. We could have stayed at the top forever, but don’t just take our word for it. Hiking to the top of Castle of San Giovanni should be on everyone’s European bucket list.
Sightseeing Kotor in One Day
As briefly stated before, since the city is so small it is very easy to explore Kotor in one day, if not less. There are quite a few amazing and quick things to do in Kotor. In addition to the Castle of San Giovanni, some of Kotor’s top attractions are walking around Old Town, visiting the Cat Museum, Tryphon’s Cathedral and the Bay of Kotor. You can easily see all of these places in one day at Kotor – even after a hike to Kotor’s fortress. If you are lucky, you might be able to come across locals doing their traditional dance in the middle of the square. As a travel-couple who loves seeing a country’s culture and lifestyle, this was a great and unique experience that I hope you get to see too.
During your one day in Kotor, you will need to eat and the BEST place to eat is at CITY Restaurant. This cute restaurant has a shaded patio with mist sprays for those hot summer days, delicious entrees, and a great bang for your buck! CITY Restaurant is known for its house special of mussels and a glass of wine for only 10 euros! With that said, some other great entrees I recommend are the sweet crepes filled with Nutella or raspberries, frittatas, sandwiches, and a meat and cheese plate.
Lastly, a day in Kotor is not complete without drinking their local beer, Niksicko Pivo, and enjoying their traditional dessert,
We completely fell in love with Kotor’s history, landscapes, cuisine, and culture so much that we could have easily stayed longer than one day. However, one day in Kotor is more than enough to hike the Castle of San Giovanni and explore the rest of the city’s sites. Spending two days in this UNESCO Heritage Site would just be the cherry on top.