You'll be rewarded if you set your alarm for an early start when arriving in Kotor. Part of the fun is entering the Bay of Kotor and gliding for an hour through the mountains on a 17-mile waterway known as Europe's southernmost fjord. It's not actually a fjord -- fjords are caused by glacial activity, and the Bay of Kotor has been carved by a river running from the interior to the Adriatic Sea. Still, the views are fjord-like, with mountains rising on both sides of a long, thin bay that leads to the old walled town of Kotor. Cruise ships often begin the bay journey as early as 6:15 a.m. for an 8 a.m. arrival.
Its fortified entrance to the sea made the Old City of Kotor an ancient trade center. Now it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Montenegro's most famous town. The Old City is a well-preserved collection of buildings, churches, squares and stone streets that date to the Middle Ages. The car-free, walled town is just across the street from the city's cruise ship dock.
Kotor is full of shops and little restaurants. Pick a square, order a coffee and gaze at churches from the 12th to 15th centuries.
Looking for more great views? Put on your walking shoes for a hike. The city walls climb the mountain behind the town, and it's about 90 minutes up to the fortress at the crown (at 853 feet) and back.
If your ship is in port for just a few hours, you may want to concentrate only on exploring the Old City. If you have all day, consider excursions into the mountains for sightseeing and stops at seaside resorts on the Adriatic.
No need to; head straight to the Old City, where you'll find souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, ATMs and inexpensive Internet cafes.
The Old City: Architectural highlights include the 12th-century Romano-Gothic St. Tryphon (Sveti Tripun) Cathedral; the little Church of St. Luke (Sveti Luka), which dates from the same century and contains original medieval frescoes; the 13th-century watchtower; the ninth-century city fortifications; the 19th-century Napoleon's Theatre; and a number of imposing 17th- and 18th-century palaces.
Hiking: If you're fit enough, walk around the city walls, which ascend the mountain just behind the town. Entry costs around 2 euros, and a steep-ish walk takes you 918 feet up to the St. Ivan Fortress (known to the locals as San Djovani). About halfway up, you'll find the Church of the Healing Mother of God (Gaspe od Zdravlja), which was built in 1572 by survivors of a plague. The walk to the fortress and back takes about 90 minutes, and although you need to be fairly fit, you'll be rewarded with lovely views and a real sense of achievement.
Maritime Museum: A short walk from the Sea Gate, this museum spans three floors of the early-18th-century Grgurina Palace and contains a fine collection of paintings, photographs, uniforms, model ships and elaborately decorated weapons used by Montenegro's navy, which has defended the Bay of Kotor for more than 12 centuries. (Trg Bokeljske Mornarice; 382 32 304 720; Hours vary depending on the season, but it is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most weekdays and to noon or 1 p.m. on weekends. Hours are expanded in the warmer months.) (Trg Bokeljske Mornarice; open Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. April to October, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. November to March; Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Wine tasting: Explore Montenegro's Wine Road and pay a visit to the Plantaze vineyards, where some of Montenegro's best-known wines are produced. Head to the underground wine cellar for a tasting paired with local cheese. You'll need around seven to eight hours; the drive from Kotor to Podgorica and the Plantaze vineyards of "Cemovsko field" takes about two hours. If you'd prefer a guided tour, try Globtour Montenegro.
On Foot: Walking is the best way to get around Kotor's Old City, which is fairly small, compact and car-free. And as the streets get narrower, the shops get more interesting. If you have only a few hours in port, you'll probably want to spend them making the most of the Old City. But if you have more time, trips into the mountains or along the Adriatic coast are worth considering.
By Taxi: Local taxi drivers meet the cruise ships and will ply you with offers of countryside tours, priced from around 60 euros an hour for a car and up to four passengers. Check out the Don't Miss section for ideas, and don't be afraid to negotiate; it's a good way to check how good the driver's English is.
Kotor has many attractions, but, sadly, great beaches are not among them. There are a few pebbly beaches along the waterfront, mainly attached to hotels, where you can hire a sun bed and parasol and take a dip in the sea. And there are sand beaches at Ljuta en route to Risan, but they lie several miles from Kotor.
That said, Montenegro's reputation as an up-and-coming vacation spot prompted holiday village developer Purobeach to open a marina and beach club on the site of a former naval base on Kotor's outer bay. The development comprises a marina and a holiday village, with bars, shops, restaurants and waterfront sun loungers. Consider a taxi ride or a shore excursion there if you're looking for a lazy day by the sea.
Montenegrin food has its roots in Balkan cuisine but is also influenced by other European countries such as Italy, Turkey and even Austria.
In addition to pizza and pasta, you'll find moussaka on menus, alongside plenty of grilled fish and meat dishes, and hearty soups and stews beloved by the locals. If you want to eat as the locals do, order a plate of sarma (cabbage stuffed with spiced beef and rice), podvarak (roast meat served with sauerkraut), or rastan with kastradina (wild cabbage with smoked lamb).
Galion: This fish and steak restaurant at the Vardar Hotel is close to Kotor's Old City and has a seafront terrace with lovely views across the bay. Specialities include a monkfish carpaccio starter. (Suranj bb; 382 32 325 054/11300; open daily, noon to midnight; reservations recommended)
Stari Mlini: Set in a 300-year-old stone-built former flour mill, this restaurant offers a pretty garden with some alfresco tables and a menu based largely on what local fishermen have brought in that day. It's popular with yachties, so make a reservation if you want to be sure of a good table. (Ljuta bb, 85330; 382 32 333 555; open daily, noon to 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.)
Old Winery: This tapas bar of sorts is set in Kotor's Old City and is a great place to discover Montenegrin wines while tucking into plates of local ham, cheese and olives. It's also a great place to experience the local vibe, with lively artwork on the walls and regular performances by local jazz and blues musicians. (Stari grad, 85330; 382 68 517 417; open daily, 11 a.m. to midnight)
Ships dock and discharge passengers right onto the quayside, just across the street from the Old City's imposing 16th-century Sea Gate (about a 50-yard walk). The Old City is something of a warren, but you can wander off without fear, as any local will be able to direct you back to this gate.
Port traffic is busy along the waterfront; take care crossing the road. Be aware of loose rocks and uneven steps when walking around the city walls and up to St. Ivan's Fortress. If you decide to do this, wear sturdy shoes. Also keep an eye out for the two tiny islands at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor (if you're up early enough to enjoy the approach). One is Our Lady of the Rocks, a lush, green outcropping that's popular as a diving site. The other, St. George, is home to a 12th-century Benedictine monastery.
Montenegro's currency is the euro. (For the latest exchange rate, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.) There are plenty of ATMs dotted around the Old City.
The official language in Kotor is Montenegrin, which, like the languages of the neighboring Croats, Serbs and Bosnians, has its roots in ancient Slavic.
A few key phrases are translated below, but don't worry too much. English is widely spoken -- and even more widely understood -- in Kotor.
Hello -- Zdravo
Please -- Molim
Thank you -- Hvala
You're welcome -- Nema na cemu
Ye /No -- Da/Ne
Excuse me (to get attention) -- Izvinjavam se, ali
Do you speak English? -- Dali pricate Engleski?
I don't understand-- Ja ne razumijem
Where is the toilet? -- Dje je WC?
Quality work by local artists is widely available in the Old City's craft shops, including watercolor landscapes hand-painted on silk for less than 20 euros. Other good buys include locally made woolen goods, woodcarvings, lace, embroidery and hand-painted pottery.
Wine from Montenegro's Plantaze vineyards goes down well; ask for Perla Nera if red is your tipple, Krstac if you prefer white.