Berat Or Gjirokaster? How To Choose Your Destination In Albania

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Post author Drita

Written by our local expert Drita

Drita is a shy Albanian girl. Her Mom is from Kosovo, her Dad from Serbia. She loves to travel & share travel trips to help first-time travelers exploring Albania & the Balkans.

Berat Or Gjirokaster? How To Choose Your Destination In Albania

My guide will help you decide which one of these beautiful towns to see. Berat or Gjirokaster

As you explore Albania’s unique regions, you may find yourself torn between two magnificent cities: Berat and Gjirokaster. Known for their well-preserved Ottoman-era architecture, these UNESCO World Heritage Sites offer a glimpse into the country’s vibrant past that will leave you captivated. 

I’ll guide you through the charms and wonders of both cities, helping you make an informed decision about which one to visit and add to your Albanian itinerary.

Albania Travel Blog_How To Choose Between Berat Or Gjirokaster

It’s that time of year when we all start to think about where we should go on our summer vacation. If you’re thinking about heading to Albania, I don’t blame you; it’s a stunning place packed with amazing sights to see.

Over the past few years, Albania has experienced a surge in popularity among travelers seeking off-the-beaten-path destinations. This hidden gem of the Balkans has captivated adventurers with its rich history, breathtaking landscapes, and warm hospitality.

So, let’s explore both Berat and Gjirokaster—places you definitely should visit—and then regroup to decide which is best for you.

Berat – The City Of A Thousand Windows

Berat one of the places to visit in Albania

With its UNESCO World Heritage status and its well-preserved Ottoman-era architecture, Berat attracts visitors from all over the world.

Located in central Albania, Berat sits proudly on the banks of the Osum River. Its strategic position between the Adriatic Sea and the Albanian Alps contributes to its stunning landscapes and offers numerous outdoor activities for nature fans. Believe me, you’ll pack your camera roll more than once!

However, it’s about more than just its geographical significance; Berat’s feature of being an architectural gem makes it a must-visit destination for history buffs and culture lovers.

Berat is famously known as the “City of a Thousand Windows” due to its distinctive Ottoman houses with countless windows perched on the steep slopes of Mount Tomorr. This unique characteristic presents a captivating urban landscape that will take your breath away.

The city’s historical significance is apparent in the well-preserved Berat Castle, which dates back to the 4th century BC. Inside the castle walls, you’ll find Byzantine churches, Ottoman-era mosques, and the Onufri National Iconography Museum, showcasing the works of the famous Albanian artist Onufri.

Things To See And Do In Berat

Best Castles In Albania - Travel Blog - Berat Castle

1. Berat Castle

Begin your exploration by heading to Berat Castle, where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the city and surrounding landscapes. Lose yourself in history as you explore the castle’s well-preserved structures, including the Red Mosque and the medieval churches of St. Mary and St. Trinity.

2. Mangalem and Gorica Quarters

Take a leisurely stroll through Berat’s two historic neighborhoods: Mangalem and Gorica. Admire the winding cobbled streets, colorful Ottoman houses, and ancient stone bridges that connect the two quarters. These neighborhoods offer a glimpse into the city’s rich architectural heritage and charm.

3. Onufri National Iconography Museum

Step into the fascinating world of Byzantine art at the Onufri National Iconography Museum, housed within the Berat Castle. Marvel at the intricate details of the religious icons created by the legendary artist Onufri, which serve as a testament to Albania’s artistic heritage.

4. Ethnographic Museum

Immerse yourself in Albanian culture at the Ethnographic Museum, located in a traditional Ottoman house in Mangalem. Experience daily life in the past through a collection of artifacts, traditional costumes, and intricate woodwork.

5. Holy Trinity Church

A visit to Berat wouldn’t be complete without witnessing the stunning frescoes of the Holy Trinity Church. Dating back to the 18th century, the church is adorned with vibrant religious artworks that tell a captivating story.

Pros And Cons Of Visiting Berat

Cozy street cafe in Historical town Berat, ottoman architecture in Albania, Unesco World Heritage Site.

Pros:

  • Historical and cultural significance: Berat offers a rare opportunity to explore a city with centuries-old architecture and a captivating blend of Ottoman and Byzantine influences.
  • Natural beauty: Surrounded by picturesque landscapes, Berat presents excellent opportunities for nature lovers to indulge in outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and river rafting.
  • An authentic experience: Berat is still relatively untouched by mass tourism, offering visitors an authentic and immersive Albanian experience.

Cons:

  • Limited accommodation options: As Berat is a smaller city, the number of accommodation options might be limited compared to larger tourist destinations.
  • Crowds in the peak season: During the peak summer months, Berat can become crowded with tourists, especially within the castle area.
  • Limited transportation options: While Berat is well-connected by road, public transportation options to and from the city may be limited.

How To Get To Berat

A narrow street with a stone path leading to a door, in Berat Albania

By Air

Rinas International Airport in Tirana is the nearest international airport to Berat. From the airport, you can hire a taxi or take a bus to reach Berat, which is approximately a two-hour drive away.

By Road

The town of Berat is well-connected by road, and there are bus services from major cities such as Tirana, Durres, and Vlore. Shared taxis, known as furgons, are also a popular mode of transportation in Albania and offer a more flexible travel schedule.

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Gjirokastër – The City Of Stone Houses

Visit a picturesque village with many houses perched atop a stunning mountain in Albania.

Gjirokaster, also known as “The Stone City,” is located approximately 230 kilometers from Tirana, the capital of Albania. It is perched on the eastern side of the Drinos River valley, offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

The beauty of Gjirokaster lies in the harmonious fusion of nature and historic architecture. The city is built entirely with local stone, creating a captivating and picturesque landscape.

Gjirokaster is renowned for its well-preserved Ottoman-era architecture, earning it the prestigious status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This city stands as a testament to more than 2,000 years of history, with influences from Byzantine, Ottoman, and Albanian cultures. By exploring Gjirokaster’s streets, you can unravel the layers of its rich past, admiring its iconic stone houses, mosques, bazaars, and the imposing Gjirokaster Castle.

Things To See And Do

Gjirokaster Albania - UNESCO Gjirokaster Castle Clocktower

1. Gjirokaster Castle

Dominating the city’s skyline, the Gjirokaster Castle is an imposing fortress that dates back to the 12th century. Explore its vast courtyards, climb to the top of the clock tower, and take in the magnificent panoramic views of the city below.

2. Ethnographic Museum

Housed within one of the most beautiful Ottoman houses in Gjirokaster, the Ethnographic Museum offers visitors a chance to step back in time and experience traditional Albanian life. The museum showcases a collection of artifacts, costumes, and exhibits that depict the cultural heritage of the region.

3. Zekate House

Immerse yourself in the splendor of Ottoman architecture by visiting Zekate House, which is one of the most impressive Ottoman mansions in Gjirokaster. Admire its intricate woodcarvings, elegant interiors, and ethereal views from the balcony.

4. Skenduli House

Pay a visit to Skenduli House, a well-preserved example of traditional Gjirokaster architecture. This house showcases the distinctive stone construction techniques and local craftsmanship, providing an insightful glimpse into the city’s cultural heritage.

5. Gjirokaster Bazaar

Located within the castle’s complex, the Gjirokaster Bazaar offers an authentic shopping experience. Here, you can browse through a variety of shops selling traditional crafts, handmade textiles, and artisanal souvenirs.

Pros And Cons Of Visiting Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster Albania - UNESCO Gjirokaster Castle

Pros:

  • The rich history and cultural heritage: Gjirokaster is a treasure trove of historical landmarks, offering a captivating experience for history enthusiasts and culture seekers.
  • Magnificent architecture: The impressive Ottoman-era houses and ancient castles provide a remarkable backdrop for exploration and photography.
  • Authentic atmosphere: The city’s preservation of traditional architecture and way of life enables visitors to immerse themselves in an authentic Albanian experience.

Cons:

  • Limited accessibility: Gjirokaster’s remote location may pose challenges for some travelers. However, this secluded atmosphere also adds to its charm and uniqueness.
  • Limited tourist infrastructure: While Gjirokaster is well-equipped to accommodate visitors, it may offer a more authentic, off-the-beaten-path experience than more mainstream tourist destinations.
  • Hilly terrain: Gjirokaster is known for its sloping streets and hilly landscapes, so visitors should be prepared for the possibility of strenuous walking or navigating steep stairs.

How To Get To Gjirokaster

What-To-Wear-In-Albania_Gjirokastër

By Air

The nearest international airport is Tirana International Airport, which is approximately a four-hour drive from Gjirokaster. From the airport, you can hire a car or take a public bus to reach the city.

By Road

Gjirokaster is well-connected by road, with regular bus services running from Tirana, Sarande, and other major Albanian cities.

By Rail

Although Gjirokaster doesn’t have a railway station, you can take a train to the nearby city of Tepelene and then proceed by local transport to Gjirokaster.

Which Should You Choose – Berat Or Gjirokaster?

Both Berat and Gjirokaster are beautiful and unique cities in Albania, and it ultimately depends on your personal preferences.

Both cities are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Berat is famous for its well-preserved Ottoman-era architecture, while Gjirokaster boasts a stunning hilltop fortress and traditional stone houses.

Berat is known as the “City of a Thousand Windows” due to its scenic location on the hillsides alongside the Osum River. Gjirokaster, on the other hand, offers magnificent views of the valley below and has a picturesque castle dominating the skyline.

As far as culture goes, Berat is often referred to as the “Museum City of Albania” due to its rich cultural heritage, including numerous churches, mosques, and museums. Gjirokaster is renowned for its unique blend of Ottoman and Albanian traditions, with a lively bazaar and traditional craft shops.

Berat is a smaller and more intimate city, offering a quieter and more relaxed ambiance. Gjirokaster, on the other hand, has a bustling and vibrant atmosphere, especially in its historic center.

Ultimately, both cities are worth a visit, so if time allows, you might consider exploring both to fully experience the cultural and historical richness of Albania.

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Berat and Gjirokaster FAQs

BERAT AND GJIROKASTER FAQS

Where are Berat and Gjirokaster located in Albania?

Berat is located in central Albania, on the banks of the Osum River, while Gjirokaster is situated in the southern part of the country, nestled between mountains.

What makes Berat and Gjirokaster special?

Both cities are considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to their well-preserved Ottoman-era architecture. Berat is known as the “City of a Thousand Windows” for its beautiful white houses, while Gjirokaster is famous for its stone-built houses and its ancient fortress.

How can I get to Berat and Gjirokaster?

Berat is approximately 2-3 hours by car or bus from Tirana, Albania’s capital. Gjirokaster is approximately 3-4 hours by car or bus from Tirana as well. You can also take a direct bus from Tirana to either city.

What are the must-see attractions in Berat?

The main attractions in Berat include the Berat Castle, the Old Town (Mangalem and Gorica neighborhoods), the Red Mosque, the Onufri National Museum, and the Holy Trinity Church. Additionally, you can explore the Osum River and its canyon, which offer stunning views.

What are the must-see attractions in Gjirokaster?

In Gjirokaster, make sure to visit Gjirokaster Castle (also known as the Fortress of Gjirokaster), the Skenduli House (a traditional Ottoman-style house turned museum), the Ethnographic Museum, and Zekate House. Don’t miss the opportunity to wander around the charming cobblestone streets of the Old Town.

Are there any traditional dishes I should try in these cities?

Absolutely! In Berat, try the delicious “Byrek” (savory pastry), “Shish Kebabs” (grilled meat skewers), and “Qifqi” (rice and meatballs). In Gjirokaster, taste the local specialties like “Tave Kosi” (baked lamb with yogurt), “Pasha Qofte” (meatballs with eggs and potato), and “Musakë” (a layered dish with meat, potatoes, and eggplant).

Can I find accommodation in Berat and Gjirokaster?

Yes, both cities offer a range of accommodation options, including hotels, guesthouses, and traditional guesthouses located in Ottoman-style houses. It is recommended that you book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.

Is it safe to visit Berat and Gjirokaster?

Yes, both cities are considered safe for visitors. However, it is always advisable to take general precautions as you would in any unfamiliar destination. Respect local customs and traditions, take care of your belongings, and be mindful of your surroundings.

Are there any outdoor activities to do in and around Berat and Gjirokaster?

Absolutely! In Berat, you can go hiking in the nearby mountains, explore the Osum Canyon, or take a leisurely boat ride along the Osum River. In Gjirokaster, you can go hiking in the surrounding countryside, visit the Blue Eye Natural Spring, or explore the beautiful Butrint National Park.

What is the best time to visit Berat and Gjirokaster?

The best time to visit Berat and Gjirokaster is during spring (April to June) or autumn (September to November) when the weather is pleasant and the tourist crowds are fewer. However, both cities have their unique charm all year round.

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