Today’s blog is a guest post by Sara Berberi our GenM Apprentice, who is originally from Albania and is here to share her knowledge of this fascinating country.
If you’ve been looking for a country with a lot of culture and history, beautiful landscapes, full of adventure, serene beaches, affordability, perfect weather, and welcoming locals, you’ve found it! This country is truly Europe’s hidden paradise; it checks all the travel boxes and you’re guaranteed to leave wanting more. So, here’s the ultimate guide to Albania travel.
Albania is a Balkan country located in southeast Europe, bordering Greece and across Italy (knowing English, Italian, or Greek can be useful for communicating if you don’t know Albanian). Though it’s one of the least developed countries in Europe because of its history, you will soon discover its true beauty and I promise you, you won’t find anything else like it. So, here’s an Albania travel guide on what to know before you go and the best places to see, stay in and eat at around the country.
What to Know Before You Travel to Albania
Albanian Local Customs
Before you travel to Albania, here are some local customs to be aware of. Communication can be a challenge if you don’t know the local language, but here are tips that will help you. Unlike the rest of the world, in Albania shaking your head from side to side means “yes” and up and down means “no.” To avoid any confusion with locals, say ‘po’ (yes) or ‘jo’ (no). As a general rule, try to learn some basic words before you travel to Albania. If you need any help while you’re there, ask the younger people because they will most likely speak some English.
Respect is also important to the culture, especially when interacting with the older generation. For example, when using public transportation giving up your seat for the elderly is very common, or when meeting someone, get up to shake their hand. In conversations, avoid religion and politics as topics of discussion (unless you’re trying to learn about Albania and its history). Another important cultural custom that you will see often is that time and schedules are loosely followed. In social situations time is flexible and being a little late is very common and typically preferred.
Transportation in Albania
Because Albania’s transportation infrastructure is lacking, you’ll want to know how to get around from city to city. In each city, there’s a station full of buses and minibuses, or “furgons” as the locals call them, and this is how many Albanians travel. If you’re traveling from Tirana, the capital of Albania located in the center of the country, here’s what you should know:
- “Regional Bus Terminal – South Albania” – As the station name indicates, these buses will take you to south Albania
- “Northern Albania Regional Bus Terminal” – These buses travel to north Albania
- “Southeastern Albania Regional Bus Terminal” – These buses take you to Elbasan, Korçë, Pogradec
The first two stations are on “Rruga Dritan Hoxha” and are a 17-minute walk from each other. The buses tend to leave early in the morning but don’t rely on the time schedules posted online or at the station. The buses loosely follow them and the minibuses/furgons leave once they’re full, so make sure you’re at the right station early.
Once you get to the station, the drivers are typically yelling which places they’re going to but if you don’t hear your destination, ask the drivers if they’re going towards it. Most minibuses try to be full before they leave, so don’t hop on an empty bus because you may be waiting for some time. Tell the driver where you want to get off or to pull over by saying “Do zbres këtu.” For more information about public transportation, GoodAlbania is a useful resource.
If you ever find yourself stuck in a place without transportation, you can hitchhike. This is a personal decision, but I will say that past travelers have hitchhiked around Albania with no problem. Lastly, I do not recommend renting a car because navigating the traffic in Tirana is tricky, and infrastructure is lacking in some areas which can be difficult to drive through for foreigners. Look into Drive Albania if you decide to rent a car or let them drive while you enjoy your private or group tour.
Also, a side note – cash is way more common than cards all over Albania, so make sure you always have cash on you. When you’re exchanging money, wherever you are in Albania, do your research or ask around on which kiosks have the best exchange rates. Before you leave, exchange your remaining Lek (Albanian currency) because you won’t find many places outside of Albania that will take them. So now that you’re familiar with these aspects, let’s talk about where to spend your time and your money when you travel to Albania.
Travel Guide to Albania
Tirana Travel Guide
Let’s start with the diverse capital Tirana. Tirana has a thriving and bustling city life which is complemented by its calming and breathtaking nature spots. Here are some highlights around the city:
Skanderbeg Square or “Sheshi Skënderbej” – Named after the national hero, this square is a chill place to people watch and hang out. Near here you will find the National Museum, Bunk’Art 2, the Clock Tower, Et’hem Bey Mosque, and the Pyramid.
- A free 2-hour walking tour is available to see the sights mentioned above and more.
- If you like to cover more ground at a faster speed, the city provides bikes to rent.
- Blloku – (right outside the Skanderbeg Square) A trendy area with lively nightlife, restaurants and clubs. Definitely check out the Sky Tower during sunset for a surreal 360-degree view.
- Grand Park and the Artificial Lake – (right outside the Blloku area) A popular nature spot to get away from the city and enjoy a walk (or a run) among locals.
- Dajti – If you want to get away from the city and be surrounded by nature, you can access this 1613-meter-high (5292 ft) mountain via a cable car. Click here for more information on how to get there. When you’re there, go to Dajti Tower, which has a balcony at the top for a 360-degree view and a rotating bar with glass windows.
- Castles of Petrela and Preza – Both are hilltop 15th century castles offering a view and restaurants with local cuisine. They’re close to the center, so take a taxi because there are no direct bus lines from Tirana. I would skip these if you’re planning to visit Shkodër, Berat, Krujë, or Gjirokastër. Cost for Admission: Free
- Pëllumbas Cave – An hour hike outside the village of Pëllumbas leading to a 360 meter (1181 ft) deep cave. Take an early morning trip using the Tirana Southeastern bus station to Pëllumbas village and return in the afternoon. Go to their visitor center and ask for a guide if you’re inexperienced because you could easily get lost in the dark cave. You can bring your own gear (headlamp/helmet/flashlight) or buy them at the center. I would skip this if you’re going to the Karaburun Peninsula. Cost for Admission: Free
- Holta’s Canyon and Sotira’s Waterfall – If you want to discover some natural landscapes and beauties, check out these spots in Gramsh. To get there from Tirana, take a bus from the Southeastern bus station and stop in Gramsh. From Gramsh, go to Sotire for the Waterfall, and to Poroçan for the Canyon.
Accommodation – If you’re spending the night in Tirana, I recommend you stay in or near the Blloku area because it’s so close to everything. Here are some options from low to high price range:
- Trip’n’Hostel – Near the city center, Private and shared rooms, Lockers, Free Wi-Fi – Book it on Agoda.com
- Vila Ada Hotel – Near the center, Airport transportation, Breakfast included Bar/Restaurant, Free Wi-Fi – Book it on Agoda.com
- Hotel Mondial – Near the center, Airport transportation, Breakfast included Bar/Restaurant, Free Wi-Fi, Pool, Sauna – Book it on Agoda.com
- Gjelbër Resto-Lounge– Plant-based restaurant (extremely hard to find anywhere in Albania)
- Ejona or Artigiano – Mediterranean restaurants
- Era Vila – Local and traditional cuisine
- Cioccolatitaliani – Great for breakfast or dessert
Now for travel outside of the Tirana region.
If you’re interested in exploring cultural and historic sites around Albania
- Apollonia – Temple of Apollonia is an UNESCO archaeological site of the ancient Illyrian city of Apollonia located in Fier. A lot of locals have picnics here, but you can also eat at the restaurants near the park. To get there, take a bus from the South Albanian bus station in Tirana to Fier. In Fier, take a bus or take a taxi to the village “Pojan” since it’s only a 15-minute drive. Cost for Admission: Free
Rozafa Castle – Located in Shkodër, this castle is a symbolic structure of Albania that holds centuries of history (look up the legend about the three brothers before you go there!). Take a bus from the North Albania station to get there. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Lake of Shkodra, the rivers, the mountain ranges, and the historic ruins from the Castle. Cost for Admission: 200 Lek / 1.64 Euro/ 1.86 USD
Accommodation – I recommend this as a day trip but if you’re staying overnight here are some options:
- Hostel Legjenda (also camping nearby at Camping Legjenda) – 30 min walk to the Castle
- Hotel “Luani A” – Has a bar and a restaurant, 24 min walk to the Castle – Book it on Agoda.com
Food – For your convenience, these are local restaurants near the Castle:
- Bar Restorant Liceri Rozafa – on the site
- Bar Restaurant Shqiponja – 18 min walk from the castle with water views
- Accommodation – I recommend this as a day trip but if you’re staying overnight here are some options:
- Berat Castle – A 13th century fortress protected by UNESCO and overlooks the historic town of Berat, known as “The City of a Thousand Windows.” To get here, go to the South Albania bus station and once you’re in Berat, walk or get a taxi for a 7-minute drive to the Castle. Within the castle walls, you’ll find restaurants, museums, churches and more. You can climb the Red Mosque’s minaret for a 360-degree stunning view of the town. Cost for Admission: 100 lek/ 0.82 Euro/ 0.93 USD
- When in Berat, check out the Osum Canyon, which is perfect for water sports like canoeing, rafting, and kayaking.
- Accommodation – Hostel Mangalem, or Kris Guest House, or Hotel Rezidenca Desaret – Book your stay at Agoda.com
- Food – Homemade Food Lili, or Piccolo Grande Amore
- Gjirokastër – This city began as a 4th-century castle, dubbed as the “City of Stone” and it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Visit the Gjirokastër Castle which houses historic relics of World War resistance to the Western occupation. You can get there from Tirana’s South Albania bus station. Cost for Admission: 200 lek/ 1.64 Euro/ 1.86 USD
- When in Gjirokastër, check out the Bënja Thermal Pools and the Langarica Canyon in Përmet municipality. For some mountain views and hiking, visit Progonat and Këndrevicë.
- Accommodation – Stone City Hostel, or Bed and Breakfast Kotoni – Book your stay at Agoda.com
- Food – Restaurant Tradicional Odaja, or Taverna Kuka
Krujë – This town embraces the Krujë Castle, the center of the national hero Skanderbeg’s rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Visit the nearby museums (Historical & Ethnographic) for a thorough history of old Albania. The Castle offers stunning views of the city and at the base you’ll find traditional Albanian tchotchkes at the Old Bazaar, along with some lunch spots. To get there, take a bus from the North Albania bus station in Tirana to Krujë, then walk to the Castle. Cost for Admission: Free admission to the Castle but the museums cost about 200 Lek / 1.64 Euro/ 1.86 USD
Accommodation – Though I recommend this for a day trip, here are some lodging options:
- Hotel Panorama Krujë, or Rooms Emiliano – Book your accommodation on Agoda.com
- Food – Bar Restorant Merlika, or Bar Restorant Bardhi Agroturizëm
- Accommodation – Though I recommend this for a day trip, here are some lodging options:
- Butrint – An UNESCO World Heritage Site, Butrint is the largest archaeological park in the Balkan Peninsula and it was inhabited since prehistoric times. To get there, go to the South Albania bus station and find a bus for Saranda. Once in Saranda, catch a local bus from the center of Saranda (Mother Teresa Square) to Butrint. Cost for Admission: 700 lek/ 5.74 euro
- Butrint is also conveniently located in the Albanian Riviera, so that makes it easy to see historical sites and spend time at the beautiful beaches all in one region. Look at Ksamil below for accommodation and food recommendations.
For all historical sites, I do recommend a guide, so you can learn more about each place and appreciate the history behind it. Look at the resources at the end of the article to hire a private tour guide or join a group.
If you’re interested in charming towns that have a lot to offer (besides what’s already mentioned above)
This wouldn’t be a complete guide if I didn’t include my hometown, Pogradec, truly a charming postcard town. The town is small, so everything is within walking distance. To get here from Tirana, take a bus from the Southeastern bus station and tell the driver this is your destination. Here’s what you should do once you’re here:
- Visit Ohrid Lake for a swim or a boat ride in the summer. Beside the Lake, there’s a path for an evening stroll, a morning run, or biking around.
- Hike Kalaja for a beautiful panoramic view of the town. Go to “Rruga e Kalasë” and hike it all the way up.
- Bike to the National Park of Drilon surrounded by beautiful greenery, a river, swans and taste some traditional Albanian food. If you like seafood, the trout (Koran) is a local favorite, along with raki Perla, and lakror. For dessert, available at most cafes, try my favorites: zup or paste koke (Greek kok).
- Spend a day at Camping Beach ERLIN in Lin. You can camp, enjoy the beach, eat at their restaurant, or take a boat ride around Lin. Hike up Lin village (where the Lin Mosaic is) for a beautiful view of the coastline.
Accommodation – If you spend the night in Pogradec, here are some options:
- Hostel Chill Out, or Pogradeci Hotel, or Camping Beach ERLIN – Book your stay at Agoda.com
Food – Restaurant Rosa E Tymosur, or Pizza Kupa
- In Drilon – Vila ART, or Restorant Piceri Dante
- Accommodation – If you spend the night in Pogradec, here are some options:
Neighbouring Pogradec is another charming and relaxing city to explore – Korça, known as “Little Paris” for its French-style villas and coffee culture. Korça holds a lot of cultural history so here are some spots I recommend:
- The Old Bazaar – Wander around the area, stop at a coffee shop or eat some local food.
- The Cathedral of Christ – A modern, grand Cathedral in the city center.
- The Boulevard Shën Gjergji – Take a stroll in this lively, social area surrounded by cafes, restaurants, and modern buildings.
- The First Albanian School – An important site that holds the history of Albanian education.
Voskopojë – A quiet village 30 min away from Korçë with beautiful 17th and 18th century churches, nature and mountain views.
- Accommodation in Korçë – Guest House Bujtina Leon, or Hotel Vila Mano – Reserve it on Agoda.com
- Food – Antik Restaurant and Pizza, or FindFour
If you’re interested in beaches and springs, travel to the Albanian Riviera
Ksamil – This is one of the most popular destinations for locals in the summer because of the white sand and crystal-clear turquoise water. There are also 3 islands near the mainland and you can get there by boat (or swim if you’re close). If you’re coming from Butrint, you’re about a 10-minute drive away from the beach and the hotels. From Tirana, take a bus from the South Albania bus station to Saranda, then catch a local bus from the center of Saranda to Ksamil.
- Accommodation – Zace Studios, or Villa Ideal, or Hotel Castle – Book your accommodation on Agoda.com
- Food – Bar Restorant Korali Ksamil, or Guvat Bar Restorant, or Bella Vista Ksamil
- Other beautiful beaches: Dhërmi, Gjipë, Himarë, Jal, Kakome (all 5 are in the city of Vlorë)
- If you’re in north or central Albania and want some beach time without going to the Riviera, here are some options:
- North Albania Beaches – Velipojë, Rana e Hedhun, Shëngjin
- Central Albania Beaches – Cape of Rodon, Spille, Divjakë
- Syri i Kaltër – Also known as The Blue Eye, it is a natural water spring located in Sarandë (46 min away from Ksamil). Beware the water is freezing, and the spring is at least 50 meters deep. However, the water is crystal clear and an unreal saturated blue. To get there from Tirana, take a bus from the South Albania station going to Sarandë and tell the driver your destination.
- Karaburun Peninsula – Explore the Karaburun-Sazan National Marine Park coastline by boat from Vlorë. I recommend Aquamarine Adventure because they take you around the coast to explore the beaches, you can dive off the boat, enjoy snorkeling and swim among the crystal blue waters, and enjoy on-the-boat amenities, like sunbeds, the bar and the restaurant.
- If you want to see a different side to the Riviera, I highly recommend visiting (or driving through) the Llogara National Park for a spectacular view of the mountains, the coastline, and the sea.
If you’re interested in nature, mountains, or hiking/trekking, travel to north Albania
- North Albania is covered by the Alps and the Accursed Mountains, which includes Theth National Park, Valbona, Shala River, Lake Koman, the Grunasi Waterfall, and the Blue Eye Theth. North Albania offers breathtaking sights, beautiful nature, fresh air and an authentic Albanian experience. Because all of these areas are interconnected, I highly recommend a guide, so you can explore all of the sights and do some hiking too. There are many agencies offering a guide to the Alps, but Komani Lake Ferry is one of the best ones. If you’d like to go on a longer trip, check out Zbulo Discover Albania. Additionally, ask your hostel/hotel if they have any arranged trips to the Alps, so you can join directly through them. If you’d like to go there on your own, do your research, be prepared, and of course, be safe. Overall, if you’re in Albania, you certainly don’t want to miss out on this trip.
- Another option is Mount Korab, located in northeast Albania and borders with Macedonia. This is the highest mountain in Albania standing at 2,764 meters (9,068 ft) with 7 climbing routes to reach the peak. I recommend getting a guide to lead you through a safe path because it’s a challenging hike, but worth it for the panoramic landscapes. As for lodging, you can camp or stay at Hotel Radomira in the closest village to the mountain, Radomirë.
- Because Albania is one of the most mountainous regions in the world, here’s the full list of all the mountains in the country.
Note: The best time to trek/hike mountains in Albania is in Spring, early Summer, and Fall so it’s not too hot and not dangerous either.
If you have any questions about where to go when you’re there, do not be afraid to ask anyone! Albanians are extremely helpful people and want the tourists to enjoy their time in Albania. Ask the hotel/hostel staff, locals at a grocery store, or people on the street, anyone really. Traveling to Albania will leave you with wonderful memories, new friends, amazing adventures, and a newfound love for the country.
Because there are so many amazing things to explore around Albania, I recommend looking into tours and guides in your language. This can also be an opportunity to meet locals and travelers and even plan future adventures together or simply get some tips from them!
Here are some of the best Albanian travel tours
Komani Lake Ferry (North Albania/Albanian Alps)
Here are some more resources for guides to travel Albania
Albania.al is Albania’s official tourism site.
Merr Taxi for when you can’t find a taxi when traveling Albania, or need help calculating a taxi fare.
Gjirafa is an online bus schedule for Albania’s public transportation (however online timetables aren’t very reliable but use it to have an idea).
GoodAlbania is a useful resource for the routes and the timing public transportation operates in Albania.
Zbulo! Discover Albania provides group or self-guided tours to hike the best trails and visit fascinating cultural heritage sights.
Get Your Guide has a variety of tours and activities, such as walking tours and day trips, throughout Albania.
Viator is another resource with tours and activities for Albania travel.
Viator Guide connects you with Albanian private tour guides, who know multiple languages and will show you around, based on what you want to see.
Outdoor Albania is a tour company that specializes in diverse experiences, such as cultural travel, sea-kayaking, food and wine, etc.
Active Albania is another resource for short and long activity trips in Albania.
Drive Albania provides you with a small group or private guided tours or self-drive tours to travel Albania.
Matinic Albania is a sourcebook for travelers in Albania which covers transportation, language, and guides/maps.
Lastly, I do want to address a safety concern for travelers. Just like with any country, there are negative stereotypes and news stories linked to Albania but if you’re aware of your surroundings, as you should be wherever you go, you have nothing to worry about. Many travelers, solo and groups, have expressed that they feel safe in Albania. Now go explore Albania and all the beauty it has to offer!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read more about Plovdiv in Bulgaria.
Travel insurance is so important as it will help you with emergencies and unexpected costs on your trip. Make sure that you declare any pre-existing health conditions so that you are covered for those. Check your cover for accidents and medical care and also lost baggage or getting things stolen. Remember to report as soon as something goes wrong on your trip because some travel insurance companies require you to report something that you want to claim for within 24 hours. Read the fine print carefully when you sign up. I always recommend World Nomads. You can get a free quote here: