The Best Places to Visit in Albania

The Best Places to Visit in Albania

Albania is located in Southeastern Europe in the Balkan Peninsula, adjacent to Greece, Northern Macedonia, Kosovo, and both the Adriatic and Ionian seas. For much of the twentieth century, the country was isolated from the rest of the world and existed under a communist government. It wasn´t until the mid-1980s to early 1990s that Albania opened itself up to foreign influence.  

In recent years, Albania has made its way onto my “must-visit” list. Its mix of crystalline beaches and picturesque hiking trails, plus the fact that it isn’t a very popular travel destination, sparked my interest.   

Prior to booking last year’s summer vacation, my Instagram account was flooded with Reels on everything and anything to do with Albania. I figured the time was now to check this spot off of my list before it became overcrowded and pricey. I booked a ticket, planned my route, and spent two wonderful weeks in this up-and-coming travel hotspot.

Albania has a lot to offer and it would be easy to spend months discovering every nook and cranny. But if your time is limited, here are five of the best places to visit in Albania.

Tirana

When I arrived in Tirana, I started with a free walking tour of the city to get my bearings. We strolled past notable sights such as Skanderbeg Square (the main town square), the National Historical Museum, and the House of Leaves, a museum that offers a timeline of events of communist-era Albania. It’s adjacent to the old residence of Enver Hoxha, who governed from 1944 to 1985. I did not enter the home, but you can observe the simplistic nature of the construction, as Hoxha appears not to have surrounded himself in opulence. 

I´m not going to lie, the walking tour might leave you thinking (as it left me) that Tirana is not the most aesthetically appealing capital city. It gives off a vibe of a work-in-progress, with construction everywhere. Yet what the city lacks in visual appeal, it makes up for in interesting places to visit. An intriguing structure in the city centre takes the form of an abandoned pyramid. It was built as a museum for Enver Hoxha. But due to the end of communism in 1991, it never served its purpose. It is an architectural structure that makes no sense within the cityscape, but somehow invites tourists to reflect upon recent Albanian history.

Explore Museums and Dine on Local Cuisine

The capital city is full of many museums dedicated to retelling what transpired during the communist era. My favourites, hands down, are Bunk Art 1 and Bunk Art 2. Bunkers are a dime a dozen in Albania. During the communist period, there were over 173,000 scattered throughout the entire country. Bunk Art 1 and 2 were converted into museums. They allow visitors to understand the daily lives of those who lived, and perished, under the communist mandate. Inside the walls of both you will see military attire (helmets, gas masks, and artillery), sleeping and eating quarters, latrines, and various communication stations (with the old equipment used on display). You’ll be able to read the stories of those who sheltered themselves inside of the structure. 

Most tourists will visit Bunk Art 2, which is in the centre of the city. But personally, if you only have time to visit one, I suggest making the trek outside the city centre and spending a morning or afternoon meandering through the corridors of Bunk Art 1. Its sheer size, coupled with the stories within its walls, are guaranteed to leave you mystified.   

If history is not your thing, be sure to visit the Blloku area and Rruga Murat Toptani. Both are full of bars, restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs. Restaurant-wise, I recommend Oda Traditional Cuisine. They serve local cuisine on a beautiful outdoor patio and your meal will be accompanied by live music. Also, try raki, the traditional alcohol of Albania (it’s VERY strong, so be careful!) at Komiteti. This cool bar has almost every single raki flavour in existence.

Day Trip to Kruja

From Tirana, I took a day trip to the city of Kruja. The town is in the north of Albania, accessible by bus, and can easily be visited in half a day. I chose Kruja with the intention of visiting its bazaar and castle.    

A walk down the cobblestone streets of the old bazaar will immerse you in Albania’s medieval heritage. The market has maintained its old-world charm. If you’re looking to purchase souvenirs, you will find many stalls and items to choose from. The main street of the bazaar will take you to Kruja Castle. The castle is perched on a hill and the view from the top alone makes visiting it worthwhile. The original castle structure is mostly in ruins. But there is also a museum dedicated to the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg, who valiantly fought off the Ottoman Empire. 

Berat

Berat is one of two UNESCO historical centres (the other being Gjiokastra) in Albania. The city is full of excellent examples of Ottoman architecture and is definitely one of the best places to visit in Albania.

See the Berat Castle

For me, the centrepiece of Berat is its castle, the biggest and best preserved in Albania. I suggest following the mapped-out route so that you don’t miss any of the architectural gems the site has to offer. Within its walls is a water cistern, various Byzantine-style churches, and the ruins of a mosque.

If ruins are not your thing, the castle grounds also have various artisan souvenir shops, museums, cafes, and restaurants that you can enjoy as you stroll through its streets. I recommend Temi Albanian Restaurant. It is a family-run establishment serving traditional dishes. Lastly, enjoy the spectacular views of Berat from high upon the castle hill. 

Explore the Mangalem and Gorica Quarters

After experiencing all that the castle has to offer, wander the streets of the Mangalem and Gorica quarters. Separated by the river valley, these two areas make up Berat old town and were the ancient dwellings of the Ottoman Muslims and Christians. The Mangalem quarter is known for its “1,000 windows.” The Ottoman-style houses all have large symmetrical windows and make up Berat’s emblematic picturesque setting. Throughout the area, you can visit some of these traditional houses, like Halveti Tekke and Berat’s Dervish house. There are also various mosques. On the other side of the river in Gorica, you can observe how the architecture of the houses differs from that of Mangalem and truly appreciate the view of the castle from below.  

Lastly, in Gorica is a restaurant that you cannot miss: Eni Traditional Food. One of the best meals I had during my two-week stay in Albania was at this place. I highly recommend it!

Butrint National Park

Before I take you to the north of Albania, let’s travel all the way south to Butrint National Park, one of the best places to visit in Albania. It is a UNESCO Heritage site and is an international wetland of importance. The park is easily accessible by car and public transport from the beach city of Ksamil.

The park is in a beautiful nature reserve and has many ancient archeological sites dating all the way back to the Bronze Age. Grab a free brochure on entry and follow the marked route to see all that the park has to offer.  

In my opinion, one of the top sites is the Lion Gate, which served as the main entrance to the Acropolis. You can spot a lion on the entrance to the ruins. Other must-sees are the Roman theatre and the Roman forum. Both served in ancient times as entertainment venues. What I liked most about visiting the park was its natural setting. Lake Butrint and the Vivari Channel are beautiful, as are the marshes that surround the park. It’s a wonderful spot to visit if you are staying in Saranda or Ksamil and need a break from the beach.

Shkoder

The next stop on our tour of the best places to visit in Albania is the northern city of Shkoder. It has a quaint city centre which is worth a visit for its shops, cafes, and bars. You can also climb to Rozafa Castle to watch the sunset.  

In Shkoder is the Site of Witness and Memory. Along with Bunk Art 1 and 2, this was one of my favourite museums in Albania. It is the only place that commemorates the victims of the communist era in Shkoder. It tells the story of many who were persecuted for their beliefs. The contents of the exhibits are fascinating. But perhaps the most interesting part is that the building served as the local branch of the Ministry of the Interior and still has the holding cells of prisoners who were interrogated by this government body. These holding cells give off an eerie feel, but allow you to understand a big piece of Albanian history.

From Shkoder you can take a day trip to the Shala River. I reserved an excursion through the hostel I was staying at. It included transportation to the dock, a peaceful and enjoyable boat ride down the Shala River, a delicious lunch, and some sunbathing along the river bed. It’s a good way to relax after intense sightseeing or a long bus or car journey during your Albanian itinerary.

Worth mentioning are two excellent (and cheap!) restaurants that I ate in while in Shkoder.  Don’t miss Fisi Restaurant, where the meat dishes are delectable, and Puri Restaurant.

Theth

Of all the places I visited during my two weeks in Albania, Theth was by far my favourite. If I could re-plan my trip, I would have spent a few more days here. Before going to Theth, it is worth noting that there are no ATMs in the small mountain village. Make sure you bring enough cash for the duration of your stay. Furthermore, there are no hotels or hostels. All accommodations are quaint guest houses run by locals. If you love nature and want to disconnect, Theth is a must-visit when in Albania.

The village is small so there are few spots to visit, but worth seeing is the Church of Theth. It consists of the small chapel in the centre of the village and the lock-in tower. This is where those threatened in the village’s blood feud during the Middle Ages would seek refuge until any reconciliation was achieved. 

After strolling through the town, head to the edge of town to hike up to the Blue Eye of Theth. It is a deep water spring fed by a small waterfall, with beautiful crystal clear blue water. The freezing temperature (no exaggeration!) was much appreciated in the 40-degree-plus heat that I experienced on the day I visited.  It is about an 11 km hike from the town of Theth.  Along the way, you can take a small detour (marked by signs) to see the Grunas waterfall; a government-protected waterfall whose main source is mountain snow.

Hike Theth-Valbona Pass

Most people, including myself, visit Theth for the sole reason of hiking the Theth-Valbona Pass. This hike can be started in either Valbona or Theth, is 17 km long, and takes about seven to eight hours to complete depending on your level of physical fitness. The hike is not difficult but to reach the Theth-Valbona Pass (the highest point on the route), there is a steep, almost 1,800-meter climb. 

The hike requires staying a night in either Theth or Valbona and then arranging transport back to your starting point if you need to pick up luggage. If you don’t want to complete the entire hike you can do what I did, which is hike up to the pass and back. Reaching the summit is worth the personal physical satisfaction and the stunning views. Once on top, you can climb the Valbona Peak—a rock face that jets out over the landscape. But if you have vertigo, I would advise against it.

After your hikes around Theth, you can enjoy delicious home-cooked meals at any of the guesthouses scattered throughout the town. I stayed at Bujtina Zici and would highly recommend it.

See the Best Places to Visit in Albania for Yourself

Albania is well worth a visit if you are looking for a country that offers quaint little towns, beautiful beaches, lush mountains, and a fascinating recent history. Not to mention, you can get a lot of bang for your buck here, as it is still relatively cheap compared to other European countries. Lastly, I have to say that Albanians are some of the friendliest and most welcoming individuals that I have ever had the pleasure to encounter. Their hospitality and the sense of community that exists between them is remarkable.

Interested in learning more about Eastern Europe’s coast? Check out this article to explore Croatia next!

17 thoughts on “The Best Places to Visit in Albania

  1. Albania has a rich history and definitely is a great place to visit. I love historical locations, so I may actually get there one day.

  2. I’ve heard a lot about Albania but never visited it, well, NOT YET!!! This is such a beautiful country and I would love to stay there for a few weeks.

  3. The hike you went on looks so pretty. It looks like a very old country, with lots of historic buildings. It is often these less popular countries that offer the most.

  4. Albania is so beautiful and so close to me. I was planning to go the their seeside, which you missed to show btw. But in total in total a great country with a very interesting culture.

  5. My friend is from Albania but now lives in the UK, but they go back often to see family. Her pictures always look amazing. There is so much to see there. Theth really does sound like somewhere that I would love too!

  6. I have not thought of Albania as a place to visit, but the areas you’ve highlighted look really interesting and the idea of getting a lot for your money is always great. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Albania is a wonderful place. And this place is on my bucket list, thank you for giving us tips on where to go.

  8. Exploring Albania is definitely on my bucket list! Your list has given me even more reasons to look forward to visiting. Thank you for sharing!

  9. There are so many amazing places to explore! One that particularly caught my interest is a museum that sounds fascinating, and I would definitely love to visit a castle too.

  10. This was an amazing trip! I would love to try the National park you recommended! We love trying new parks and outdoor activities. Saving this post so we can visit here one day soon!

  11. Such beautiful pictures above and Albania looks like n incredible place to visit! I will have to add it to my travel bucket list!

  12. This is amazing! I had no idea there is so much to see and do in Albania. I am particularly interested to see the Butrint National Park and see architectural sites up close. Happy to know that it’s easily accessible by public transport.

  13. We are planning our trip in September, which will include a week in Albania. Can we get around by public transport or do we need to rent a car?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.