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10 Best Things to do in Albania

Albania

Albania. A south-eastern European country, located in the Balkan peninsula, quietly known for its stunning natural landscapes, rich history, and unique culture. For many people, Albania is not the first country that comes to mind when they think of a ‘European holiday’, but a trip to Albania is one that will have everyone envious of your Albanian holiday snaps! 

Here’s 10 of the best things to do in Albania. 

Starting with the obvious…

1. Visit Tirana

The vibrant capital of Albania, Tirana has a unique blend of history, culture, and modernity that intrigues all first time visitors. Tirana boasts a diverse architectural landscape that reflects its history. You can find historic buildings from the days of the Ottoman Empire with brightly painted colourful facades, Italian-influenced architecture from the Mussolini era, and buildings with contemporary designs, a blend of styles that tells the story of Albania’s past.

If you’re not familiar with the communist history of Albania, there are plenty of museums you can explore to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of this city and all it has to offer! A great starting point is Skanderbeg Square right in the heart of Tirana. It is home to important landmarks like the National History Museum, the Skanderbeg Monument, and the Et’hem Bey Mosque. While you’re here, do not miss the vibrant Blloku neighbourhood – a trendy area filled with cafes, bars, and restaurants.

City center of Tirana in Albania

Image source:TTC

2. Tirana Castle

A UNESCO world heritage site, Tirana Castle delights travellers with a fusion of modernity and tradition. Tirana Castle is more than just a fortress; it’s a captivating journey through time. The castle is not just a relic of the past; it’s a living, breathing testament to Tirana’s evolution. As you step inside, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a delightful blend of old and new.

The ancient stone walls provide a dramatic backdrop for the bustling life that thrives within. Street vendors sell mouthwatering Albanian delicacies, and artisans display their crafts, creating a lively atmosphere that’s nothing short of magical. Don’t forget to explore the castle’s towers, where panoramic views of the city and the Dajti Mountain will take your breath away.

Whether you’re a history buff or a modern-day adventurer, Tirana Castle allows you to lose yourself in the stories of the past while sipping a cappuccino at a quirky café.

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3. Dajti Ekspres Cable Car in Tirana

If you get a chance to visit the Dajti Mountain National Park, the Cable Car is a must! Prepare to embark on a thrilling journey that will elevate your spirits—both literally and figuratively! The cable car is a modern marvel that will whisk you away to the heights of adventure and breathtaking views. Upon reaching the summit, you’ll find yourself in a world above the clouds.

The Dajti Ekspres Cable Car delivers you to a mountaintop paradise, where you can explore hiking trails, dine at panoramic restaurants, or simply breathe in the crisp mountain air. It’s a haven for nature enthusiasts, photographers, and anyone seeking a taste of Alpine wonder without leaving the city too far behind.

4. Bunk Art

As I said, Albania is not a country that pops to the forefront of many travellers’ minds as a hotspot travel destination, and many people are not aware of Albania’s tumultuous, communist history. From 1944 to 1985, Albania pursued a policy of self-reliance and isolationism as it was under rule by a dictator named Enver Hoxha which led to the construction of numerous bunkers throughout the country. These bunkers, known as “Hoxha’s Bunkers,” are a unique and enduring feature of Albania’s landscape. The very architecture of the bunkers themselves is an attraction, but today have been transformed into what locals refer to as ‘BunkArt’. BunkArt is a museum; much like a canvas that paints the story of Albania’s evolution. As you enter, you’ll be greeted by a fusion of contemporary art and historical artefacts. It is like stepping into a time capsule that takes you on a journey through Albania’s tumultuous history, offering you a unique blend of art, culture, and the country’s intriguing past. 

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5. Day Trip from Tirana

Tirana is a great base for exploring beyond the country’s capital to experience its diverse landscapes, historical sites, and cultural attractions. There are several day trips you can make from Tirana to nearby destinations. These are my personal favourites!

Durrës: This coastal city is located an hour west of Tirana, known for its Roman amphitheatre (one of the largest in the Balkans), but most importantly… its beautiful beaches! You can visit the amphitheatre, explore the historic city centre, and relax by the sea.

Berat: Known as the “City of a Thousand Windows,” Berat is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed town located approximately 2.5 hours south of Tirana. It’s famous for its well-preserved Ottoman architecture, including picturesque, white houses and iconic, identical windows.. The Berat Castle, (the pride and joy of the people of Berat) should also be added to your list when visiting this city! With its churches and museums, and idyllic views atop the city, it is well worth the trek!

Pogradec: Pogradec is a charming town on the shores of Lake Ohrid, situated 2.5 hours south-east of Tirana. The town is known for its scenic lake views, clean beaches, and the Drilon National Park. If you visit, definitely take the opportunity to indulge in the budget-friendly food. My favourite is a little ice-cream stand run by an Albanian man on the water’s edge… you’ll get a delicious dessert for €2 AND some entertainment as he serves it to you… go and you will see what I mean! If time permits, you can also explore the nearby Tushemisht village and enjoy their local fish dishes.

6. Albanian Riviera 

The Albanian Riviera along the Ionian Sea offers some of the most beautiful overlooked beaches in Europe. Coastal towns including Dhërmi, Ksamil, and Jale offer crystal-clear waters, sandy beaches, and a relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere, without loads of tourists!.

Saranda is a charming coastal town in southern Albania that is becoming increasingly popular with tourists in recent years and this is why…

Saranda boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in Albania. Clear, turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea lap against Saranda’s shores, a paradise for beach lovers. Some popular beaches include Ksamil Beach, Mirror Beach, and Dhermi Beach. You can visit all of these by boat for around €10-€15, just walk to the Saranda coast and you can choose a boat based on the destinations you wish to visit!

Saranda’s waterfront promenade is a vibrant hub of hustle, bustle and fun! Lined with cafes, bars, restaurants, and shops, here you can enjoy a leisurely stroll, dine by the sea, enjoy a cocktail and view from the rooftops or simply soak up the atmosphere.

The town is also surrounded by ancient ruins and historical sites. Just a short bus ride away you can visit Butrint National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Mediterranean, it must be visited to gain a glimpse into the history of the region. Here you can capture snaps of its well-preserved Greek and Roman ruins, including a theatre and a Roman villa.

Perched on a hill above Saranda, a must see is Lekursi Castle! It offers panoramic views of the town, the bay, and the Greek island of Corfu in the distance! It’s a great spot to visit in the evening for a romantic dinner with a view or to get your Insta-worthy photos.

Another short drive away is Albania’s Blue Eye Spring. This natural spring is known for its incredibly clear blue water and is a popular spot for swimming and picnicking. If you visit, go early to avoid crowds, take cash and check the opening hours to ensure you can actually visit when you go! 

One of the best ways to see and check all of these activities and destinations off your bucket list, is to book a guided-tour that takes you to all of them! Saranda is relatively affordable compared to many other Mediterranean destinations, so you can maximise your time and experiences if you have someone else organise it all for you!  

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7. Raft the Vjosa River

Experience adrenaline-pumping white-water rafting on the Vjosa River, one of Europe’s last wild rivers. Unlike many other rivers in Europe, the Vjosa remains largely undeveloped, preserving its natural state. You’ll get a chance to immerse yourself in the unspoiled environment and witness a diverse range of wildlife, including birds, fish, and other aquatic creatures.

Rafting the Vjosa River can also offer opportunities to interact with local Albanian communities. You may have the chance to meet friendly villagers along the way, learn about their traditions, and enjoy traditional Albanian cuisine.

Vjosa River in Albania

Image source:Nicolas Jehly

8. Hike in Valbona Valley 

Like something out of a fairy tale, Albania’s Valbona Valley is a hidden gem. Renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, the landscape is a paradise for nature lovers, hiking enthusiasts and photographers with its towering peaks, lush forests, pristine rivers, and alpine meadows.

The beauty of Valbona lies in the fact it is relatively undiscovered by mass tourism, leaving it unspoiled and untouched, a perfect escape for hikers seeking serenity and solitude. While crossing paths with people might be a rare occurrence here, if you visit, keep your eyes peeled for the rich biodiversity that grace the area. If you’re lucky, you may encounter various bird species, butterflies, and even larger mammals like bears or lynx! 

The crystal-clear water of the Valbona River provides hikers with opportunities to cool off and refresh during their treks. Don’t forget your towel so you can dip your feet or take a swim in the pristine river!

9. Try Albanian Cuisine

No travel experience is complete without… food! Albanian cuisine reflects the country’s diverse cultural influences, including flavours from the Mediterranean, Balkan and its Turkish Ottoman influence. Traditional Albanian dishes are known for their use of fresh and locally sourced ingredients. When you visit you must try:

Tavë Kosi: This beloved Albanian dish consists of baked lamb or beef with rice, yoghurt, and eggs. It is seasoned with herbs and often served with a side of fresh vegetables. Perfect for cooler weather!

Byrek: This is a pastry made with thin layers of dough and filled with various savoury ingredients, commonly spinach and cheese or minced meat. It’s baked until golden and crispy. This one is a must try, and if not, its brother ‘pite’ is a similar type of Albanian pie made with layers of thin dough filled with ingredients, such as vegetables, cheese, or meat, just in a different shape!

Baklava: You’ve heard of this before, but Albanian baklava is unbeatable! Extremely popular in Albania, their baklava consists of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with honey or syrup.

Albanians are known for their warm hospitality. Definitely consider staying with a local family in a guesthouse or enjoying a traditional meal in a local restaurant, where you’ll be treated to Albanian dishes and genuine hospitality. 

10. Albania Festivals

Albaians know how to throw a party. If you’re around, every year on March the 14th they host their Summer Day Festival, known as “Dita e Verës”. It is one of the most eagerly awaited events in Albania. It signifies the end of winter and the beginning of the spring season when nature starts to awaken from its winter slumber, one not to be missed by tourists to experience the crux of Albanian culture!

One of the most riveting customs of the Summer Day festival surrounds the lighting of bonfires. People gather around bonfires in the evening, but a wild Albanian tradition is jumping over the bonfires. Wild, I know! But jumping over the fire is believed to purify and renew the spirit of those who daringly jump over! This act is believed to cleanse people of their sins and bad luck, bringing good fortune in the coming year.

This festival will also allow visitors to indulge in traditional food and drinks. Special dishes are prepared, including a type of cornbread known as “ballokume,” as well as other sweets and pastries. These foods are often shared with family and friends, and will give you an opportunity to mingle with Albanian locals. 

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The festival’s folk music and dancing will give you more opportunities to bond with the locals. Albanian people love to get involved and join in the festivities by dancing to lively folk tunes, and they’ll happily encourage you to join!

And yes… there’ll be plenty of ‘grammable’ opportunities, from the dancing, to the food, to the music, and even the spectacular flower arrangements that embellish the festival. Flower wreaths and bouquets add a splash of colour to the festivities, but keep your eye out for the children who exchange flowers as tokens of friendship – a heartwarming spectacle that showcases the spirit, heritage and traditions of Albanian people!

The Summer Day brings communities together and is an unmissable event for visitors who want to truly experience Albanian culture. People gather in public spaces, parks, and town squares to participate in communal celebrations. It’s a time for socialising, reconnecting with friends and neighbours, and making new acquaintances.

It’s a vibrant and lively festival that embodies the spirit of hope, renewal, and the beauty of spring. It brings communities together, whether in public spaces, parks or town squares, it is a cherished cultural tradition that allows both locals and visitors to immerse themselves in the country’s culture and tradition. 

As you can see, there is so much to see and do in Albania, that you could plan a multi-week itinerary and still experience all that Albania has to offer. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, nature lover, or simply seeking a new and authentic travel experience, Albania is a country to add to your next travel itinerary because I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed (and neither will your bank account).

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