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Montenegro’s showpiece, Kotor is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations on the Adriatic coastline. Often referred to as a mini-Dubrovnik, there is more than enough in the city and its surroundings to enthral even the most cynical visitor over a 48-hour period.
Let’s get down to brass tacks – you’ve got 48 hours in Kotor and not a moment more. What to do? What to see? What to eat? What to drink? The answer to the latter is almost always rakija, but the plethora of options make the other questions trickier to answer. Where better to start than the main attraction?
Morning: Explore the old town
Even the most enthusiastic of visitors isn’t going to describe Kotor as a large town (just over 13,000 people call it home), but it packs a punch that can be lethal. The town centre is the best place to start, a wildly romantic collection of narrow cobblestone streets that seems to offer something new around every corner. This part of the world is famous for its idyllic old towns, and Kotor’s might just be the finest. Enter through the Sea Gate for the full ‘Welcome to Paradise’ experience.
Kotor’s most iconic building is undoubtedly the Cathedral of St. Tryphon, a magnificent 12th-century church that has seen its fair share of problems over the years. A succession of earthquakes came close to flattening it, but the cathedral has since been lovingly restored to its current shape. There are a number of churches dotted around Kotor, but this is one to actively seek out. If you’re more into cats than churches and felines than faith, be sure to nip into the nearby Cats Museum.
Afternoon: Get your hiking boots on
The thought of hiking some 1,350 steps into the sky might not appeal to everyone, but we can’t recommend this enough. There is plenty of wine, rakija and food waiting back in the old town, so start strolling and earn that decadence.
Kotor is defined by its fortifications, and those defensive walls lead all the way up the town’s protective hill before opening up with one of the most incredible views in all of Montenegro. The Castle of San Giovanni awaits at the top, and while this may be little more than a ruin it still provides a scenic spot from which to take in the entire scene. The hike up may take a while, so don’t forget to pack plenty of fluids. There are a few spots at which to stop on the way up, although we recommend heading straight up and enjoying the stops on the way down.
Evening: Relaxation and food in the old town
When you’ve had enough of the incredible view from the castle (you probably won’t, but you get the point), head back down to Kotor’s old town to relax and refuel. The narrow streets of the old town are full of gastronomic options, so it really does come down to personal taste or whatever you’re after at the time. The majority of options tick the usual Mediterranean boxes, but there are a number of decent traditional Balkan options as well.
Night: A Balkan bash with a difference
The seaside towns of Montenegro offer a unique mix of Venetian and Balkan culture, and nothing displays this clearer than the energy once the sun has gone down. The chaos of Belgrade is allied with the elegance of Venice to create a nightlife that is simultaneously jarring and familiar. Kotor might not be as heady as nearby Budva when it comes to the party scene, but there are more than enough bars, pubs and clubs to entertain for the evening. The phrase ‘something for everyone’is a little overused at this point, but it certainly applies to Kotor.
Morning: Pick your poison – up and down the bay or into the mountains?
After exploring the length and breath of Kotor on day one, visitors are faced with an extremely difficult choice on day two. On the one hand, the entire Bay of Kotor is within touching distance and immensely accessible. The other option is to head into the mountains that protect the city and explore one of the most important national parks in the region.
If the enchanting bay is your choice, make the 12km journey to Perast first thing in the morning. Montenegro is full of beautiful seaside villages, but few strike visitors in the heart as forcefully as idyllic Perast. Serenely set along the waves of the sea, this one-street charmer is teeming with once-magnificent palaces and a romantic charm that is impossible to do justice on paper.
Mount Lovćen is the mountain alternative, and much of the charm here comes from the incredible views that can seem never-ending. Make the little village of Njeguši your first port of call, the town in which Njegoš and the Montenegrin Royal Dynasty was born as well as the home of the country’s finest delicacy – njeguški pršut (special dried ham).
Afternoon: Border towns and mausoleums
If you have plumped for Lovćen National Park over the Bay of Kotor, you will spend most of your day traversing the park before arriving at the spectacular Njegoš Mausoleum. The poet prince who dragged Montenegro into the modern age, Petar II Petrović-Njegoš is regarded as the greatest leader in the history of the state by all and sundry. He chose Lovćen as his final resting point, and it’s easy to see why. Memorials don’t come much more dramatic, graves don’t come much more poignant. Mount Lovćen gave Montenegro its name, so it’s only right that the country’s favourite son spend eternity up here.
Those sticking to lower altitudes should continue north to the city of Herceg Novi, located less than 20km from the border with Croatia. Often overlooked in favour of the more fashionable towns to the south, Herceg Novi is a magnificent getaway in its own right and one that deserves more time than a simple afternoon. The seaside is brimming with activity, whether that’s conversation and coffee in the cafés or swimming and splashing in the sea.
Evening: Boisterous Budva
Regardless whether you chose the Bay of Kotor or Lovćen National Park, make a beeline for bustling Budva once the sun starts to dip below the horizon. This is Montenegrin seaside tourism on steroids, a hugely popular getaway for hundreds of thousands of tourists from east and west. It is home to many great restaurants and the most energetic nightlife in the country, although all night beach parties might not be appeal to everyone.
The old town has a number of excellent restaurants waiting for your hard-earned euros, but the romantic setting of Konoba Portun gets our vote. This is as local and authentic as eating gets in Budva, and the mix of homely ambience and lovingly prepared food will never fail to impress.
Night: One last glance at the Bay
Staying in Budva for the insanity of the night might tickle the tastebuds of many, but we wholeheartedly recommend heading back to Kotor for one last relaxing evening in the city. This is a special place after all, and it is better to enjoy a tranquil glass of wine in the centre of Montenegrin romance as opposed to pummelling the liver once again. Take a slow stroll around the old streets and take it all in, before jumping onto the internet and booking a return trip before the year is up.