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How to hike to Kotor fortress for free

by Kat

Hiking the path up to the fortress in Kotor is one of the most popular things to do in all of Montenegro. If you’re all about getting a great view (which I definitely am) then this is an absolute must for your Balkans bucketlist. Unfortunately, as the hike has become more popular there has been an ‘entrance fee’ imposed on the main path up to the fortress. What some people do not realise is that there is another way to get up there for free, which is super easy if you know where to go.

July 2023 update: Please note at the time of writing, I’ve been told this entrance has been blocked off and the only way to now enter the fortress is the ‘official’ way and to pay eight euros.

Why you shouldn’t pay to hike to Kotor fortress

Firstly, I feel like it’s necessary to say here that I wouldn’t always advocate not paying a fee to enter a tourist site, but this is a bit of a unique situation. The ‘entrance fee’ of 8 euros to get up to Kotor fortress seems to have sprung up out of nowhere.  From information I’ve seen online from a few years back it seems that at first there were just people sitting there asking money from tourists in order for them to pass.  When I visited (September 2019) there was a permanent booth and turnstile and so there’s no way to get around paying if you use that path.

It is not clear who the money you pay is going to because the site is not maintained or owned by a person or company as far as I could tell.* The alternative route where you can walk for free, which I am about to detail, is a very old historic trail that is common knowledge to the people of Montenegro. They know that a number of people use it to hike up to the Kotor fortress for free but they do nothing to stop it, which makes me question how legitimate the ‘entrance fee’ at the start of the other trail is.

*If anyone does have information about this please let me know so I can update this post.

Finding the start of the trail

To find the start of the Ladder of Cattaro hiking trail up to Kotor fortress you need to exit Kotor’s city walls first. if you exit through the main front entrance, turn right and walk down the main road, cross the river and take the first right into the road with the big shopping mall. If you keep walking straight you should see the path, which allows you to come off the road before it turns left and continue straight ahead.

Alternatively, you can find the stone stairs path entrance using the well signposted directions. There is an exit from the city walls close to there, which will take you across the river twice and then you’ll end up in the same road as described in the directions above. The unmarked path is actually on google maps (see where I have marked above) so you can use your phone to navigate there easily.

The Ladder of Cattaro hiking route

Aside from saving yourself some money, there are a number of other reasons that I’d recommend choosing this route for your hike up to the Kotor fortress.

Firstly, it’s easier. I did not hike up the other path with the stone stairs but I did hike down it and there’s a real difference. The hike up the ladder trail might take you a bit longer but it’s a very gentle slope all of the way up, which means it’s not at all strenuous. At no point did I have to stop to catch my breath – although I did stop to take many photos. Compare this with 1355 stone stairs to climb on the other path and it’s really a no-brainer.

All advice recommends that you climb to the fortress as early as possible to avoid the hottest part of the day and in the summer this route keeps you in the shade all of the way up in the morning because it’s sheltered in between the mountains on either side.

Another advantage is obviously that there are far fewer people that take this route and there’s definitely no queuing involved, you just walk right onto the path and get going.

One thing to note if you choose to follow this trail though it that it is very gravelly, which could be a bit slippy if you’re not wearing the appropriate footwear. I’m not saying you need hiking boots though – I wore trainers and was absolutely fine! At the top you also have to climb into the fortress through a window in the wall but it’s not as precarious as it sounds.

Exploring the Castle of San Giovanni

This trail actually continues up much further than the fortress so you need to make sure you take the right turning. It is well marked when you reach the little house (pictured below). From there you take the path a little further up and then enter the fortress through the wall. It’s easy to see where as you can just follow the other people.

Now the hard part is over and you’re in the fortress, or Castle of San Giovanni, as it is officially known. The castle is not anything to see particularly in and of itself because all that’s left is ruins. It’s where it’s situated that makes it so special. By climbing higher on the ruins you can get some amazing views of the surrounding mountains (you might even spot some mountain goats!) and the bay of Kotor below.

Be careful to watch your step when exploring the ruins and if you choose to enter any of the small rooms because the site is not monitored or maintained. In fact, the introduction of the entrance fee on the ‘official’ pathway does not seem to be going towards preservation of the site in any way, which is why I recommend you don’t pay it.

Getting back to the city of Kotor

On your way back down, I recommend taking the stairs route. It is pretty clear why this is the designated tourist route because it takes you directly back inside the city walls of Kotor. The views are also slightly better because they’re panoramic, and during the hike down is the best way to enjoy them in a leisurely manner.

You will bypass the Church of Our Lady of Remedy on this path and vendors selling bottled water and souvenirs outside – it’s evident that this is the way designed for tourists!

Just before you reach the bottom where the path enter the city walls is where the turnstile is set up charging people an €8.00 fee just to get onto the hiking path. It’s a one way turnstile so there’s normally a huge queue to get in and a sizable one just for people exiting because you have to wait for the ticket man to let you out (but don’t worry you don’t need to show a ticket).

Want to know more about travelling the Balkans on a budget?

The hike to Kotor fortress is one of the best things to do in Montenegro and, if you're on a budget, this is how you can bypass the expensive entrance fee.

 

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27 comments

Bethany 22/09/2019 - 12:47

Hey! Lovely post, just wanted to let you know they’ve now clocked onto this route and a man guards the hole in the wall. Still such a beautiful walk though!

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Kat 22/09/2019 - 13:13

Oh thanks for letting me know, I will update the info in this post. That is a shame!

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Melanie Davies 13/12/2020 - 11:17

Completely off topic, but one of the men who took the money for the fortress walk in 2019 is actually a very caring man. He messaged the charity I volunteer for, Kotor Kitties about a sick cat that was near the gates. The majority of Kotor (despite what they say) are unconcerned about poorly cats (largely as they are overwhelmed as there are so many) – but this man (Ninoslav Radonjic) actually took the time to find us and message us.

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Kat 26/06/2021 - 23:01

I’m glad the cats have volunteers like you to look out for them – and the kind man you mentioned. It’s a shame that most people are unconcerned 🙁

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Jessica 25/09/2019 - 08:48

We tried the walk yesterday, it was absolutely beautiful but Bethany is right, there was a guard manning the hole in the wall. He was very angry and wouldn’t even accept payment to the fortress at the hole in the wall – such a shame. On our way down we passed a couple with a guide who had bought a ticket from the ticket office and were walking up the ladder route, the guide told us that with a ticket the guard would let them through the hole in the wall, however I can’t confirm whether they were allowed into the fortress or not.

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Kat 25/09/2019 - 22:26

Hi Jessica, thanks for confirming. This is such a shame, especially because I’m not even sure the cost to hike the fortress is ‘official’. If it is, it’s unclear where the money is going as it certainly isn’t to maintain the path or fortress!

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Vince Mueser 25/09/2019 - 17:17

That’s too bad! We are going in November and was really hoping to sneak in through the back.

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Kat 25/09/2019 - 22:28

It is a shame as it’s a much easier route to take as well!

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Ernst Stolk 07/10/2019 - 13:33

Been there today (7-10-2019) guard is still there): nontheless, a beautifull walk and there is a nice old house where you can get a cold drink

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Kat 07/10/2019 - 21:12

Thanks for the update!

Yes, it’s still a lovely walk.

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Kari 10/10/2019 - 17:31

Didn’t see any guards there today. Only a sign forbidding the entrance. I actually took the route from the south gate and exited through the window and went on climbing the mountain. The route from the south gate is free but not maintained. It would say it’s more adventurous but still safe. And you get all the same views as from the main path.

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Kat 13/10/2019 - 12:09

Interesting… I wonder whether it was a temporary measure due to a safety incident. Or did you go particularly early/late in the day? There never used to even be a sign though.

i didn’t know there was another route so thanks for the heads up! Maybe it will become more popular if they’re going to stop people going this way from now on.

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John 16/11/2019 - 11:07

I took the hike Oct 22. On the way up a guy who was coming down said there was a guard at the window who wouldn’t let him through. When we got there at the same time as another older couple like us we asked the guard if we could come through. He called someone who gave the OK. He charged us 8 euro each and did give us an official ticket . I asked if they guarded it in the winter and he said thru Nov so if you go in the winter no problem. So there is uncertainty as to if he will let everyone through. If not still a very good hike but it its clearly a better hike if you can get in the fortress.

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Kat 24/11/2019 - 11:32

Thanks for the update. It’s a shame that they seem to be charging people now for this route too. I’m very sceptical about the cost as it’s not clear where the money goes and there’s nothing ‘official’ looking about the turnstile on the main path. It also makes no sense that they let some people through and not others. I suspect they’re just got wise to the increasing number of people using the free route!

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FEDERICA BRUNIERA 16/07/2020 - 11:38

Hiked this today. Probably due to COVID19, at the moment there’s no fee to be paid to enter for the fortress. At the entrances in the old town it still says that the price is 8 euros, but there’s nobody selling tickets at the gates. 😉

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Kat 02/08/2020 - 15:18

Thanks for the update!

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Peter 08/07/2021 - 05:09

As for july 2021, there was no guard anywhere, but it is better to start pretty early in the morning (due to the warm weather). I also notice the “guard” is at the official entrance to the fortress (ticket is for 8€) is there from 8 am to 8 pm, but before that and after that the gate being still open. Although there is a sign “forbidden acces” concerning the window to the fortress, a lot of people were passing through even with children. Its quite easy. I would recommend good boots, a lot of water and some snacks (better not to rely on the local “cheese shop” on the trail”). One more thing- there was a lovely local lady at the church (Of Virgin Mary) just bellow the fortress probably selling just magnets, crosses and rosaries, I didnt notice any bottles of water or limonade.

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Kat 12/07/2021 - 23:03

Thanks for the update Peter, good to know what the current situation is.

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Susan 04/08/2022 - 11:20

Hello! I’m happy to report that today, August 4, 2022, the trail is still intact, along with the ladder entrance – no guard, no one asking for money! I took the stairs down, it was crazy busy. Highly recommend the trail! Note – the path forks right at the beginning – stay right. Stay on the path that passes the little house and chairs about halfway up. And do stop for homemade pomegranate juice at the little shop! Their house and path leads to the little old church, the way to the ladder is very near – just pass the church and stay right.

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Kat 10/08/2022 - 11:13

That’s great news, sounds like it’s pretty much back to normal then!
Thanks for the update 🙂

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A Glimpse of Kotor's Castle of San Giovanni - BIG tiny World Travel 13/08/2022 - 00:41

[…] they do not charge for entry. We also know there are ways to avoid the entry fee even during the high-season with a bit of creativity. […]

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Maddie 17/06/2023 - 21:03

Hello! This is no longer accurate. They have removed the ladder and added an iron door blocking the entryway. Not possible to enter this way anymore…

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Kat 19/07/2023 - 14:14

This is such a shame, thank you for letting me know.

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Kara M 24/06/2023 - 11:38

The free hole in the wall was blocked off as early June 2023 and the wooden ladder removed. So you now need to pay 8 Euro sadly if you wish to see the Fortress.

I hope it is free again soon!

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Kat 19/07/2023 - 14:14

Thanks Kara. I guess it was only a matter of time before they found out people were going this way! Thanks for the update

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danocan 28/12/2023 - 00:31

It is clear this is an ever-changing situation. We hiked up the Ladder of Kotor on December 7, 2023. The gate blocking the window to enter the fortress was nowhere to be seen but the wooden ladder had been removed but the rocks were piled up high enough that even a fat guy like me could crawl in through the window. We came down the castle stairs and there was no one collecting money at any point along the trail. I think I read something about the funds are collected between May and October, but I don’t remember where I saw that. Either way, it was a great hike! Video of our experience is here: https://youtu.be/DwVHqnGb6Fc

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Kat 21/02/2024 - 19:03

Thanks for the update Dan, it does appear that the money is only collected on the main trail during peak season.
Glad you were able to get in through the window and enjoyed the hike!

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