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.
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.