The Kotor Fortress stands on the San Giovanni Hill (St. John Hill) at 260 meters above sea level, overlooking the Old Town of Kotor and the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.
The Kotor Fortress is part of a medieval fortification system that encircles the Kotor Old Town as well as the adjacent hillside. These fortifications consist of gates, bastions, towers, and defensive walls (ramparts).
Starting in the Old Town of Kotor, it takes 45 minutes to 1 hour to walk up the 1350 steps to the hilltop Kotor Fortress. Along the way, you’ll pass the Church of Our Lady of Remedy.
When we set out to hike to the Kotor Fortress, we were genuinely confused. Is the Kotor Fortress hike the same thing as the Kotor City Walls walk? How do you find the entrance? Can you link the Kotor Fortress with the Ladder of Kotor? Is the Kotor Fortress another name for the San Giovanni Fortress (St. John’s Fortress)?
Let’s get some answers right away.
The Kotor Fortress is also called the San Giovanni Fortress and St. John’s Fortress. Info Boards and tourist maps also refer to the fortress as St. John’s Castle, San Giovanni Fortress, and Castel St. John.
It costs 8 EUR to hike up to the Church of Our Lady of Remedy and the hilltop Kotor Fortress.
How to Hike the Ladder of Kotor in Montenegro
- Trailhead: River Gate (North Gate), Old Town of Kotor
- Distance: 2.5 km out-and-back
- Time Needed: 1:30 – 2 hours
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 254 meters
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Minimum Elevation: 6 meters
- Maximum Elevation: 260 meters
- Entrance Fee: 8 EUR per person
- Where to Stay in Kotor Old Town: Palazzo Sindik (apartment), Katareo Apartments (apartment), or Hotel Hippocampus (boutique luxury).
- Where to Stay in Kotor (Outside City Walls): Apartments Ana (budget), or Apartments Qualitas (budget)
- Where to Stay in Muo: Nikola Lux apartments (budget), House 44 SEAFRONT APARTMENTS (midrange), or Dekaderon Lux Apartments (midrange-luxury)
- Where to Stay in Dobrota: Apartman Castello (midrange), Solaris Lux Apartments (midrange), Corso Levante Luxury Suites (luxury), or Hotel Forza Terra.
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Kotor Fortress and City Walls Hiking Map
How to read this map | This guide describes the hike up to the Kotor Fortress (marked in green). We’ve embedded other nearby trails, so that you can see the differences.
- Ladder of Kotor trail: blue
- Kotor City Walls to the San Giovanni Fortress (St. John Fortress) hike (entrance fee: 8 EUR): green
- Špiljari and Catholic Chapel: yellow
- Kotor City Walls (entrance fee: free): dark gray
What’s the Difference Between the Kotor City Walls Walk and the Kotor Fortress Hike?
Most people use “Kotor Fortress hike” and “Kotor City Walls” hike interchangeably.
However, it’s a bit misleading.
The Kotor City Walls wrap around the entire Old Town and the hillside above the town. The stair pathway that leads to the Kotor Fortress zigzags up to and along the City Walls. This is the stretch that costs 8 EUR.
Part of the Kotor City Walls are accessible to the public free of charge. The free Kotor City Walls path runs along the western and northern perimeter of the Old Town: the part that borders the Scurda River and the Bay.
You can access this free stretch from the small park with the fountain near the River Gate (North Gate). Climb up the stairs to the City Walls and follow the path all the way to the Gurdić Bastion, near the South Gate.
In the map above, we marked the Kotor Fortress trail in green and the free Kotor City Walls path in dark gray.
Kotor Fortress History
The fortifications of Kotor have a long, turbulent, and complicated history, involving multiple occupations, sieges, earthquakes, and constructions.
The San Giovanni Hill was originally fortified by the Illyrians. Later, the Romans established the town of Acruvium in present-day Kotor.
In the 6th century, the Byzantine emperor Justinian I fortress rebuilt the town and reconstructed the fortress.
Between the 12th and 14th centuries, the town and its defensive system expanded under the Serbian medieval state.
Starting in the 15th century, the Venetians restructured the fortress and built the sea-facing round towers and bastions (Gurdic, Citadella, Bembo, Valier, and Korner). The Venetian Period lasted from 1420 to 1797. At this time, Kotor was called “Cattaro.”
At the end of the 18th century, the Habsburg monarchy acquired the fortifications.
In the 19th century, Kotor was occupied by the French and then the Russians.
Between 1814 (Congress of Vienna) and 1918 (end of WWI), the fortress fell under the dominion of the Austrian Empire.
During the Second World War, Kotor was occupied by the Axis forces and then liberated in 1944.
Where to Start the Kotor Fortress Hike
The Kotor Fortress hike starts in the Old Town of Kotor.
There are actually two official entry points starting in the Old Town.
There is also one unofficial entry point, accessible from the Ladder of Kotor (only feasible during the off-season), located outside of the Old Town.
Kotor Fortress North Entrance (Official)
The easiest entry point to find is located near the River Gate, or the North Gate.
Enter the Old Town via the River Gate. Maintain a straight direction, passing the restaurant Bastion.
Look for a historic archway on your left. This triumphal arch was created to celebrate the construction of the road to the fortress on the hill in 1760.
To the right of a historic-looking archway, there’s a sign that says “Main Entrance to St. John’s Fortress.”
Turn left, and walk under the archway.
Affixed to the building on the right, there’s another sign that says “Road to the Fortress on the Hill.”
Follow this cobbled passageway up to the “north” Kotor Fortress gated entry point, where you will pay the entrance fee.
Exact Location: Google Maps
Kotor Fortress South Entrance (Official)
The other official entry point is located near Pjaca Škaljarska, a romantic square lined with restaurants.
Enter the city via the South Gate, or the Gurdić Gate.
Pass the The Nitrox Pub and the Old Town Youth Hostel.
When you get to Pjaca Škaljarska square, turn right and follow the steps up to the “south” Kotor Fortress gated entry point.
Exact Location: Google Maps
Ladder of Kotor Entrance (Unofficial)
The Ladder of Kotor is a hiking trail made-up of 70 switchbacks, which links Kotor to Krstac Pass.
In the past, it was possible to hike up the Ladder of Kotor for about one hour and then cross over to the City Walls. With the help of a ladder, hikers could squeeze through a “window” entry point and thus enter the City Walls “unofficially.”
During the tourism season (May – October), a guard stands by this window and blocks this entry point.
Unless it’s the dead of winter, we recommend entering the Kotor City Walls from the official entry points.
Kotor Fortress Entrance Fee
It costs 8 EUR to walk the Kotor City Walls path to Church of Our Lady of Remedy and the Kotor Fortress.
Kotor Fortress Opening Times
The Kotor Fortress Path is open between 8 am and 10 pm.
It’s forbidden to stay on the Kotor City Walls (Ramparts) after 10 pm.
Kotor City Walls Difficulty
This 2.5 km out-and-back hike takes 1:30 – 2 hours to complete. The path of steps ascends continuously. The total elevation gain is 254 meters.
This is an easy-moderate hike, when temperatures are mild. In high summer, this hike will feel far harder than it is, because of the heat.
The best thing to do is start early in the morning.
Bring water, wear sun protection, and wear sturdy shoes.
Kotor City Walls Hike
Once you find the north, or south, entry point, the hard part is over.
Simply follow the stone-step pathway uphill.
With elevation gain, you’ll see more and more of the Old Town of Kotor, a tight cluster of Venetian-style stone buildings with terracotta roofs and shutters.
Vrmac is the long mountain flanking the opposite side of the Bay of Kotor. If you have time during your trip to Kotor, we recommend driving up to Fort Vrmac in order to hike to Sveti Ilija, the highest point along the crest.
Back to the trail…Keep ascending the stone steps. About halfway to the fort, you’ll arrive at the Church of Our Lady of Remedy (aka Church of Our Lady of Health), which was built in the 15th century.
This is the church that is most commonly depicted on Kotor souvenirs and postcards.
Continue hiking up the steps. Because the path is so narrow, you’ll have to hop off the steps to let oncoming traffic pass, from time to time. Despite how busy it was, we thought the trail etiquette was quite good.
The path leads all the way to the hilltop Fort of St. John.
There are a few people, tucked away in shady corners, who sell drinks along the walls.
The fort is a multi-level ruin. Explore at your own risk.
Return to the Old Town, following the same pathway.
Kotor Fortress Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does It Take to Climb Kotor Fortress?
It takes 45 minutes to 1 hour to hike up to the Kotor Fortress. Allow 1:30 – 2 hours for the out-and-back hike.
How Many Steps Are there in Kotor Fortress?
There are 1350 steps to the Kotor Fortress.
How High Up Is Kotor Fortress?
The Kotor Fortress is situated at an elevation of 260 meters above sea level.
Where to Stay near the Kotor Fortress
Read our guide to Where to Stay in Kotor to find out the best places to stay in Kotor Bay: top areas and accommodations.
Old Town of Kotor (Inside City Walls)
There’s something so romantic about staying within the walled city of Kotor, a tangle of narrow streets lined with historic buildings, which house humming restaurants and bars.
The entire UNESCO-protected Old Town is a pedestrian zone, so naturally, accommodations do not offer on-site parking. If you’re traveling without a car, definitely consider staying in the Old Town.
If you’re traveling with a car, I wouldn’t write it off altogether. Just ask your accommodation for clear parking instructions in advance of your stay.
Keep in mind that you’ll have to carry your luggage to your accommodation, as accommodations rarely offer a bellhop service.
If you’re sensitive to noise and loud music, don’t stay in the Old Town on Friday, or Saturday nights. There’s a midnight curfew on music, but it’s not strictly enforced.
Budget | Old Town Youth Hostel is a social hostel for the young party types with raving reviews.
Apartment | Palazzo Sindik is a lovely one-bedroom apartment in the old town of Kotor.
Apartment | Katareo Apartments offers newly renovated and spotless apartments with kitchenettes. Try to book the apartment with the terrace, if it’s available.
Luxury | Hotel Hippocampus is a stylish boutique hotel set in a 17th century building with a roof terrace and restaurant. A slow, mouthwatering breakfast is served on the rooftop, featuring local cold cuts and cheeses, freshly baked Montenegrin pastries, eggs-to-order, coffee, and orange juice. All rooms are air-conditioned.
Luxury | Boutique Hotel Astoria is a luxury hotel, housed in the UNESCO-protected 13th-century Buca Palace. The hotel’s restaurant spills outside onto the square. Rooms are spacious and feature funky, love-it-or-hate-it decor.
Luxury | Hotel Vardar is a 4-star hotel with classic rooms situated on the main square in the Old Town of Kotor, a stone’s throw from the Sea Gate. Guests have access to a gym, sauna, and steam bath.
Kotor (Outside City Walls)
Budget | Apartments Ana is located just steps away from the River Gate (North Gate) of the Old Town at the Kotor Ladder trailhead. This is a great value apartment with private parking.
Budget | Apartments Qualitas offers snug apartments at the marina, very close to the South Gate.
Dobrota is the sprawling settlement to the north of Kotor, which stretches for several kilometers from the Old Town to Ljuta.
It’s hard to know where Kotor ends and Dobrota begins, as one bleeds into the other.
However, many others are 3-4 kms away (10 minute drive), including some of the finest seafront hotels in Kotor Bay.
Far from the bustling port and city, these accommodations provide private sea access, minimal traffic, and a more peaceful environment.
Stand-out seafront accommodations: Hotel Forza Terra (5-star boutique hotel) and Hotel Forza Mare (boutique hotel), Villa Maestral (apartments), Corso Levante Luxury Suites (luxury suites), and Three Dots (private villa).
Muo is the seaside settlement to the northwest of Kotor’s Old Town, along the base of Vrmac. From Muo, it’s about a 15-25 minute walk to the Old Town.
Budget | Nikola Lux apartments are two modern and clean apartments with sea-view balconies and private parking. The price is unbeatable. 2 nights minimum stay.
More accommodations in Muo: House 44 SEAFRONT APARTMENTS (midrange apartments), Residence Portofino (midrange apartment), or Dekaderon Lux Apartments (midrange-luxury apartments), and Villa Mima (4-bedroom villa)
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Montenegro Trip Planning Essentials
Use our Montenegro Travel Guide to plan an unforgettable trip.
When to Visit Montenegro
We recommend traveling to Montenegro during shoulder seasons: spring and early fall.
For coastal exploration, May, September and October are ideal months. For hiking in the mountains, it’s best to visit in summer, or early fall, when trails are mostly snow-free.
We always rent a car when visiting Montenegro, so that we can reach trailheads and visit destinations that are not accessible by transit.
Follow our 2 Week Montenegro Road Trip Itinerary for route planning.
Use the intuitive Discovercars.com car rental reservation platform to search for and book car rentals. This easy-to-use booking platform compares car rental deals from 500+ trusted providers, so that you can choose the best option for your trip.
Places to Visit in Montenegro
Take a look at Top Places to Visit in Montenegro for a summary of the most beautiful coastal and mountainous destinations across this Balkan country, including Kotor, Lake Skadar, Durmitor National Park, and Ulcinj.
Hiking in Montenegro
Montenegro Packing List
- Day Pack: Osprey Tempest 30 Women’s Backpack / Osprey Talon 33 Men’s Backpack
- Grade B/C high-cut hiking boots: Meindl Schuhe Island Lady (Kati’s Boots), Women’s Hanwag Tatra II GTX (Sabrina’s Boots), Men’s Hanwag Tatra II GTX (men’s equivalent)
- CAT 4 Sunglasses: Julbo Shield Mountain Sunglasses
- Hiking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles
- Reusable Water Bottle: Ion Leakproof 32 oz Water Bottle