24 Hours in Kotor
After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Montenegro became one of Europe's very youngest nations, only becoming a country in its own right in 2006. Kotor, its gorgeous medieval city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, is arguably the young country's biggest draw. The fortified city boats dramatic scenery of mountains and sea, plus perfectly preserved quaint, narrow streets that transport you back several centuries in the past.
How to get there: Once you're in the Balkans region, Kotor is very easy to get to. It's only about a 3-hour, cheap bus ride journey away from the region's famous Dubrovnik, 1 hour away from Montenegro's capital Podgorica, and a longer but do-able 7-hour bus ride from Tirana, Albania's capital. I arrived there by going south through the Balkans from Dubrovnik.
What to do: Once there, you'll likely be immediately taken with its charming old-town atmosphere. I spent a couple hours wandering the ancient streets, popping in and out of cute shops, petting stray cats, chatting with locals and other travelers alike about how underrated Kotor is in the context of it's nearby neighbors like Croatia and Greece. There's several impressive cathedrals scattered around the town, located in big, wide-open plazas that are perfect for people watching with a local beer.
The main attraction of Kotor is the hike up to the Castle of San Giovanni. Ask around in town for where to go to enter the hike, but if I remember correctly I just kept walking back, deeper in the town towards the mountains and eventually hit the entrance. It's more of a stair master than a conventional hike, though. After the 2 euro entrance fee, you will begin to ascend 1,300 stairs up to a height of 1,200 meters at the top of the castle walls. It's difficult! Roughly 45 minutes of challenging climbing later and you will reach a birds-eye view of Old Town Kotor with surrounding Bay of Kotor and limestone mountains as a backdrop. One look at the views around you and the muscle pain from that tough journey up melts away. Well, maybe figuratively. I was sore for a few days after!
I took my time hiking back down to enjoy the sweet views. Kotor was the perfect mix of that classic old-town European atmosphere mixed with scenic hikes, basically the ideal city to me!