The Non-Hiker’s Guide to Climbing Kotor Castle for Sunset

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Standing on the walls of old town Kotor, I eyed the pathway from town to the top of the nearby hill and San Giovanni Castle, aka Kotor Castle on top . Towering over the bay it promised beautiful panoramic views and, if I left in about an hour, I knew I could be up there for sunset. I was exhausted after a full day of travel and was debating a nap, but sunset over Boka Bay with Kotor below and mountains all around sounded pretty magical. Deciding that this is how I would spend the next couple of hours I climbed back down to street level and headed to my hostel to switch my flip-flops for runners and grab what I’m sure would be my much needed water bottle.

San Giovanni, also called St. John’s Castle or Kotor Castle, is perched 1200m high on the hill of St. John. The fortifications date back as far as 532 when Byzantine Emperor Justinian I had the fort built. Since it’s creation, the fort has under seen plenty of changes and battles under Venetian, Russian, and French rule. It’s been bombed by British Naval armies, occupied during World War II, and even survived three separate earthquakes. Without a doubt the fortifications of San Giovanni have seen their fare share of action throughout time. And with all that history, there was no way this wanna-be Indiana Jones was going to leave Montenegro without seeing it for herself.

Looking up to San Giovanni Castle; Part of the Old Fort

Equipped with better shoes and a water bottle I set out to conquer the 1350+ stairs to the top of Kotor Castle. I headed to the entrance I saw earlier and after waiting around about 10 minutes for the gate keeper to come give me my ticket (he was in a nearby cafe/bar) I began what would quickly become a very hot and tricky ascent. 

From below, the climb didn’t look too bad. Yes, 1350+ stairs was a lot but although I may not be the fittest person around I walk everywhere so didn’t think too much of it. What I didn’t account for is that as old as the Kotor Castle is, so are the stairs. While some were in good shape, most were crumbling apart; pock-marked and missing corners. A couple of stairs actually slid and shifted as I stood on them. Not to mention their unevenness; some so tiny they couldn’t fit your entire foot, some as high as two normal stairs. On top of the difficult stairs, I was climbing the hill in full sunlight on a 36C degree day. Hot and sweaty, I quickly understood why my hostel suggested I climb to the fort early in the morning.

Oh and those teeny steps are a 1 person at a time kinda thing. So if you meet someone on the way...

I reached the top of Kotor Castle about 1.5 hours after I started. Originally I figured it would take me an hour with photo stops, but was glad I had allowed for extra time. Even then I made it just in time to grab a seat on one of the walls and watch the sunset, which was as amazing as I thought it would be.

Definitely worth the sweat

I sat on the walls for about an hour; cooling down and watching the sun sink below the mountains across the bay. The sky changed from orangey-pink to purple to navy blue as the light faded and Old Town Kotor lit up below. It was as I watched all those lights twinkle on that I realized another reason why my hostel told me to climb up to Kotor Castle during the morning; there was no lighting on the way down.

Not good.

I quickly jumped up and headed for the path down, making the most of the disappearing light before it was gone. But it was too late and what was a demanding climb up quickly turned into treacherous climb down. I used my cell phone as a flashlight for both myself and some other climbers as we slowly and carefully maneuvered our way downhill. There were a few slips on my part and one women fell, but after nearly two hours we made it. Which meant it was finally time for a shower, food, and some much needed sleep.


Tips for Climbing to Kotor Fortress

-Consider going in the morning, as is suggested. Although the sunset was amazing, getting down sucked. Also, if you are a photographer, lighting is much better earlier in the day.
-If you do go for sunset, bring a flashlight.
-Wear good shoes, and bring plenty of water. There is water for sale along the way if needed.
-You do need to pay in advance (3 euro in September 2015)
-There are some paths that are dangerous or unsafe; ask your accommodation ahead of time which areas to avoid. They may be able to provide you with a map.
-There’s plenty of interesting things to see along the way, consider doing a bit of research on the fort ahead of time to get the most from this experience.

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  1. Alice Teacake on February 4, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Goddamit old men always beat me too haha! They’ve got secret Indiana Jones powers themselves I reckon. Well done for sweating your ass off to get the top, it looks beautiful 🙂 A well-deserved view for sure!

    • Hannah Logan on February 4, 2016 at 10:55 am

      Right? I secretly hope when I’m an old lady I beat all the youngsters. Although I highly doubt it haha

  2. Mary on February 7, 2016 at 2:00 am

    Incredible photos, especially the panoramic shot of the sunset! I’ll have to add this to my list of hikes and walks.

  3. TheSterlingTraveler on February 7, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    Beautiful pictures! I can totally relate trying to hike up a hill and have people run past you on the way up & down.

    • Hannah Logan on February 7, 2016 at 11:03 pm

      Thank you! And yeah… I couldn’t help but laugh. At least I wasn’t the only one he passed!

  4. Tina on February 16, 2016 at 1:16 am

    Stunning ang breathtaking panaorama view…..

    • Hannah Logan on February 16, 2016 at 12:18 pm

      It’s a beautiful view up there!

  5. Julie Harris on May 21, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    Hi, I enjoyed reading your experience of the Giovanni fortress trek… just done ours today! feeling proud of myself, although it was a challenge to say the least, I am 60 years old, and not the fittest of 60 year olds I might add, but I suppose I’m quite strong,… my other half is 57, he finds everything easier than me, cycling, trekking, you name it! ?
    It took us exactly 2 hrs from start to finish, and that was with plenty of photo stops along the way, so anyone reading this who is wondering weather to give it a go, I say absolutely!! make sure it’s early morn or early eve, comfy walking shoe, plenty of water, you’re good to go! Enjoy ?

    • Hannah Logan on May 22, 2017 at 1:03 pm

      Good for you! Its definitely worth it, though those crumbling and uneven stairs do make it tricky! I’m glad you enjoyed

  6. Michelle | michwanderlust on August 8, 2017 at 2:53 am

    This sounds like a fairly dangerous climb with the shifting stairs, disappearing light and all! I’ve climbed Monserrate in Bogota which took about an hour but the stairs were in good condition, thank goodness. Still, climbs like these are unforgettable! I’d definitely attempt this. Thanks for the tips!

    • Hannah Logan on August 8, 2017 at 3:31 am

      Enjoy! And if you go at sunset
      bring a flashlight!

  7. Jossus Travelpics on March 7, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    Montenegro, never been to a country with so many stairs and cats.

  8. […] that I don’t hike at all- I do and have in places like Vietnam, Banff, some spots in Europe (like the 1300 crumbling steps to the fort in Kotor, Montenegro), as well as the Monastery Hike in Petra. But I’m not a hiking enthusiast and I’m definitely […]

  9. Sallie Williams on September 14, 2019 at 6:37 pm

    We did this hike two days ago and did start early in the day. I didn’t find it very hard. I’m not young, 64 in fact, but have reached the summit of Kilimanjaro and have been a runner for 20+ years. Your post got me interested in going up again for the sunset, but the lure of a good bottle of wine and a nice meal in the Old Town won. I loved reading your post – well done!

    • Hannah Logan on September 16, 2019 at 6:41 pm

      I think you chose well with the bottle of wine and dinner. Climbing in the dark was pretty nerve-wracking!

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