Hiking Ladder of Kotor

Hiking the Ladder of Kotor in Montenegro

Julie Montenegro 19 Comments

There are plenty of great things to do in Kotor, such as touring the Old Town, walking the medieval walls, or going on a scenic drive around the Bay of Kotor. For those looking for a little more adventure, how about hiking the Ladder of Kotor? This hike takes you high up into the mountains behind Kotor for one of the best views of the area.

We can’t turn down a unique hiking experience and the Ladder of Kotor looked amazing. With over 70 switchbacks on a trail with a long history, this hike was one of the things we looked forward to most in Montenegro.

Hiking the Ladder of Kotor

History of the Trail

The Ladder of Kotor is also known as the Ladder of Cattaro. This hiking trail is what remains from the legendary route that connected Kotor with Njegusi village and Cetinje. For centuries, this was the only path connecting Kotor and Cetinje.

From Kotor, the trail climbs up the mountains to Krstac Pass. Those who climb all of the way to the top (940 meters) will be rewarded by phenomenal views of the Bay of Kotor and beyond.

Our Experience

We visited Kotor in mid-April on a ten-day road trip through Montenegro, Croatia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

We arrived in Kotor in the early afternoon. Earlier in the day, we drove from Dubrovnik, stopping at Herceg Novi, Perast, and Our Lady of the Rocks, before arriving in Kotor. Tim and I contemplated the wisdom of starting a long, arduous hike so late in the day. But clouds and rain were in the forecast for tomorrow, so we figured that today was our best bet.

After filling Tim’s backpack with bottles of water and snacks bought in the Old Town, our hike began. It was 4 pm and we had only three and half hours of daylight left in the day.

The Trailhead

The trailhead is outside of the Old Town. To get there, walk down the road just west of the two channels of water (depending on the season this could be a dry riverbed) that sit to the west of the Old Town. The road is lined with old buildings, but you should be able to see the trail zig-zagging up the mountain in front of you.

Start of the Trail

Here are the Google coordinates for the trailhead: 42.427211, 18.773356

The Switchbacks of the Ladder of Kotor

The trail doesn’t waste any time gaining elevation. Back and forth it zigzags up the mountain. As little as ten minutes into the hike you will start to see those first amazing views over the Bay of Kotor.

First Switchbacks

Karas View of Kotor

Kotor from the Trail

The trail is very easy to follow. There are red and white blazes painted on the rocks along the trail.

The trail

Trail and Castle Walls

The trail is very rocky and sometimes uneven. We constantly had to watch where to step so we wouldn’t twist an ankle. The higher you go, the rockier the trail seems to get.

There are at least 70 switchbacks on the trail. I read somewhere that there are exactly 72, but since we never counted them, I cannot give a definite answer of how many there really are. But it’s a lot. With so much constant climbing while zigzagging up the mountain, this hike can feel monotonous.

Hiking Montenegro

However, the views were spectacular. The main reason why you should do this hike is because of the view. However, since we hiked the Ladder of Kotor in the late afternoon, we were constantly looking into the setting sun as we looked out over Kotor and the bay. If you are doing this hike and want to capture the best photographs, start in the morning for the best experience.

About 30 to 45 minutes into the climb, a second trail breaks off to the right, heading over to the Chapel of St Ivan (this small church is labeled on Google Maps as Saint John; signage in Kotor refers to it as the Chapel of St Ivan) and Castle of San Giovanni. At this point, you can end your hike up the Ladder of Kotor and hike down via the castle walls. Or, continue up the mountain. The views do continue to get better.

Once you reach this house, you can choose to continue climbing up the Ladder of Kotor or take the trail to the Castle of San Giovanni.

House on the Trail

Ladder of Kotor Trail

We hiked the majority of the Ladder of Kotor. An hour and a half into the hike, just past the last of the main switchbacks, we decided to turn around. The dwindling sunlight forced us to end our hike early. We did not think it would be wise to hike down this rocky trail in darkness.

Ladder of Kotor

Hiking Kotor

Chapel of St. Ivan

To return to Kotor, take the trail towards the Castle of San Giovanni so you can hike down via the walls of Kotor, ending directly in the Old Town. Walking the fortress walls is a must-have experience while in Kotor and it’s very convenient that you can add it on at the end of this hike.

Note: One of our awesome readers recently notified us that the entrance from the Ladder of Kotor onto the walls of the Castle of San Giovanni has been closed. If this is true, you will have to hike down the Ladder of Kotor into town and then hike the walls of the Castle of San Giovanni separately.

If you have recently done this hike and can confirm if the entrance is closed, please comment below!

After you descend down roughly half of the switchbacks of the Ladder of Kotor, turn left on the trail leading towards the castle. There are a few small houses (and one very loud dog) here.

In a shady valley sits the Chapel of St. Ivan. This old, Catholic church is worth a peek.

St John Chapel

Castle of San Giovanni

Continue on the trail to the fortress. You literally have to climb through a window on the wall to get onto the fortress.

Note: This entrance may be closed. If so, you will have to hike back into town and then enter the Castle from Kotor.

Through the Doorway

Once the sun sets behind the far mountain, it gets dark fast in Kotor. We had limited time to climb up to the castle and then down into town.

Once on the fortress walls you will need to climb several long, narrow staircases that lead up to the Castle of San Giovanni. The view from up here really is spectacular. Especially at sunset. And somehow we timed this perfectly. This is one of the best spots in Kotor to watch the sunset.

Kotor Sunset

Tim Tyler Kara Kotor

From the Castle of San Giovanni, it takes about 30 minutes to descend a series of stone staircases into town. Along the way, there are still plenty of great places for photos. This shot, with the bell tower of the Church of Our Lady of Health and the Bay of Kotor, is my favorite.

Kotor Montenegro

Kotor Walls

The trail ends in the Old Town, very close to the Cathedral of St. Tryphon.

Our Route, in Summary

From Kotor, we hiked up the Ladder of Kotor for 3.1 miles, climbing 1925 feet. We turned around after the switchbacks ended, then took the detour to the fortress. We hiked up to the Castle of San Giovanni and then down into the Old Town. Our total distance was 6.3 miles and it took us 3 hours to do this hike.

Ladder of Kotor Map

Hiking the Entire Ladder of Kotor

Distance: 4 miles (one way); 8 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 940 meters
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 5 hours

The trail starts next to the Old Town of Kotor. The trail ends on P1 very close to Restaurant Nevjesta Jadrana.

We hiked all but 1 km of the hike. The final part of the hike travels through a pine forest and heads uphill to the road P1.

On our second day in Kotor, we drove to this point. This is the view from the end of the trail.

Final View of Kotor

Alternative Routes to the Ladder of Kotor

Hiking the Ladder of Kotor Top Down

If an 8 mile hike does not sound interesting, how about hiking it one way? I am not sure how much it would cost, but if you can arrange transportation to the trailhead on P1, you could walk downhill the entire way to Kotor. You will have to decide whether to hike down via the switchbacks or the fortress.

Hike Just a Portion of the Ladder of Kotor

Hike up the first part of the switchbacks. When you reach the trail that heads towards the fortress, take it. See the Chapel of St. Ivan and the Castle of San Giovanni, and enjoy the view over Kotor.

How to Have the Best Experience

In the summertime it can get hot. Start this hike in the morning to beat the heat.

If you want the best photographs, the lighting is better in the morning. In the afternoon, you will be shooting directly into the setting sun.

Hiking shoes are ideal but good supportive shoes such as running shoes work well. Tyler, Kara, and I all wore running shoes and we did not have any issues.

Post updated August 2018.

Does this look like something you would want to do? If you have any questions, comment below!

Comments 19

  1. Awesome post! I’m going to do this! By the way – what were you shooting with? (most interested in your lens as I’m debating which focal lengths to get for my trip.

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      I use a Canon 5D Mark iv with a 24-70mm 2.8 lens, also Canon. You can learn all about our photographic gear by clicking here. Have fun in Montenegro! I recently heard that you can’t get on the medieval walls from the hiking trail anymore. Hopefully this is not true. If this is true (or not true!) feel free to leave another comment to help out our future readers. Cheers, Julie

  2. Thanks for your fine and usefull description of the trail. But sorry to tell: the access to the fortress through the window has just been closed.

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  3. Great write-up!

    Question: if I hike up the ladder then return via the town walls, will they hit me up for 8 Euro to descend back into Old Town?

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      When we did this, we did not have to pay the 8 euro fee. But we also got to the walls right before sunset. I think (but I’m not absolutely sure) you only have to pay the fee at the bottom, in Kotor. Bring some euros just in case! Cheers, Julie

  4. We did this hike two weeks ago and the views are absolutely stunning. Having read a short description of the hike elsewhere a few months back, I then went looking for further information and found this page. Your vivid description and photo’s confirmed that we wanted to go! So thanks for that.

    What might be good to know for others planning to hike the ladder, is that the house halfway up the switchbacks is actually a cafe! It’s rather surprising to be able to sit down and enjoy the views from a chair with a cold drink in your hand, which we did both on the way up and on the way down before we went on to the castle. I guess there are no official opening times, so it’s probably best to not count on refreshments being available on the way…. but if you’re in luck they are.

    Against your advice, we did end up doing the hike on the hottest part of the day though, and thus also not getting the best light for photo’s. And at one point we were stopped in our tracks by a snake….eek!

    Interestingly, most of the locals we met assumed hiking ‘The Ladder of Kotor’ meant just taking the steps up to the castle and then back…. very few seemed to know about the switchback route. The Lonely Planet only mentions the Ladder very briefly without going into much detail. But for me, it’s one of the highlights of Montenegro! Thanks again for all the useful information.

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      Thank you for sharing your experience! When we walked by the house, there wasn’t much activity, since it was so late in the day. That’s so cool that it’s a cafe! I’m glad you have a good time. 🙂 Cheers, Julie

  5. Completed the first part of this tour. It was a 5 minute walk from where the Viking Star was docked to the star of the trailhead. We walked 21 switchbacks before we came across the first path which cuts across to the chapel of St Ivan which is set in a very beautiful location. We were lucky to have a nice day but also snow on the tops of the mountains. From here follow the obvious trail across to the castle where there is a hole in the castle wall which you clamber through onto the walls.
    It is another 10/15 minute walk up to the castle San Giovanni. Health and safety is not an is not an issue here so there are very few restrictions. The circular tour was a great walk and took us just over 2 hours. Highly recommended.
    Some of the locals go up early with donkeys and take water up the trail which they sell at 3 euro each and there is no entrance fee.

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  6. Hi, I just love your post! (also good tip about the shortcut to mount Lovcen from Kotor, namely the road that doesn’t exist on Google…)

    We are in Kotor for 5 days. Would you recommend going the ladder of Kotor all the way up ànd back down in one day?

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      Yes, since you have the time, go all of the way to the top. The view is amazing. We were able to get this view by car the following day but there’s just something about getting there on your own two feet. We weren’t far from the top when we turned around…just didn’t want to get stuck out in the dark. If you can time your descent to end at the castle and sunset it’s a beautiful experience. Cheers, Julie

  7. Can’t agree, the views improve with height and the sense of achievement comes without saying the feeling of summiting is tremendous and the walk down takes forever as you HAVE to stop every other step to take in the view again!
    Hike starts 500 yds from port ,good luck KMI

  8. Thanks for the great information and beautiful pictures. We plan to be arriving on a cruise ship and will be in Kotor for 6 hours. Do you know how far the trailhead is from where the cruise ships port. I am thinking of doing your exact hike 6.3 miles for the limited time we will be there.

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      I am fairly certain that the cruise ship docks right in the Kotor harbor. There was no cruise ship in town while we were in Kotor, but if you use the street view on Google Maps I believe you can see the cruise ship docked right outside of the Old Town. From the harbor it’s just a 5 to 10 minute walk to the trailhead. Cheers, Julie

  9. Hi, thanks for this very useful information. I’ll be hiking the ladder later this year so this makes great reading. I was intending to start at the top and just hike down. In your opinion, is it best to head into Kotor via the switchbacks or the fortress walls? I’m guessing the walls as I like the photo with the bell tower, but would I be missing out not going the other way? As I’m in Kotor area a week I might just do the first part of switch back path another day to make sure I don’t miss out! Thanks, Tom

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      Hiking via the fortress walls is the way to go. Walking the fortress walls is so much fun and this is where you get to take the photo with the bell tower. All you miss by not completing the Ladder of Kotor trail (from going top down) is roughly 35 monotonous switchbacks. Have fun!

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