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Albania Travel Blog: Things To Do In Albania
The Balkan region is made up of several countries, all rich in culture and traditions, as well as being stunningly beautiful, with plenty of outdoor sites for visitors to enjoy. One of the most underrated Balkan nations, however, flying under many international travelers’ radar, is Albania.
That’s a real pity, as there’s a wealth of things to do in Albania, from historic castles and fascinating museums to glorious beaches and wild national parks.
Where Is Albania?
Albania is located in the west of the Balkan peninsula. It shares land borders with Macedonia, Kosovo, Greece, and Montenegro, while being lapped by both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.
As such, it is influenced by many different traditions and cultures from its neighbors, and these converge together to create a fantastic blend of Albania attractions. The vibrant capital city, Tirana, is the ideal starting point for exploring this small but fascinating country.
Things To See And Do In Albania
Let’s go through the best of Albania, and what to see in Albania!
On the central coast of Albania, you will find the ruins of an ancient town built by the Greeks in 588 BC. Initially named Gylakeia and later changed to Apollonia in honor of the god Apollo, this ancient Greek city was important to the Greeks and even had a school for philosophy at one point.
This ancient Albanian site has well-maintained ruins to explore, including temples, theaters, and libraries. The views from this beautiful Albania tourist spot are nothing short of impressive, too.
Enjoy Nature In Qafë Shtamë National Park
Named after the Qafë-Shtamë mountain pass, this national park in central Albania lies on the edge of the mountains, just north of the capital, and is stunning. Tall green trees, high peaks, valleys, and rolling hills are ideal for exploring on foot, and also great for photography enthusiasts.
The Tomb Of Sari Saltiks
Sari Saltik was a 13th-century dervish monk who was considered a saint in the Balkans. Close to Tirana, you will find his ancient tomb, which is definitely visit-worthy stop for history buffs.
Explore Krujë’s National Ethnographic Museum
It’s certainly worthwhile taking the guided tour around this traditional Ottoman house, now Museum, where you will get insight into the traditional Albanian life throughout the centuries. Built in the 18th century the Ethnographic Museum will show you how families worked and lived in Albania during this period. Inside the complex, you will find an old bakery, blacksmith, wine cellar along with many other interesting exhibits.
Take In Krujë Castle
Near the Ethnographic Museum lies beautiful Krujë Castle, famous for its very well preserved and rather imposing castle, also including the Skanderbeg Museum.
Constructed as early as the 5th or 6th century, it was the headquarters of Georg Kastriot during the Ottoman sieges, which began in 1444. From this small elliptical castle and with no more than 3,000 men, Kastriot effectively repelled multiple attacks and put a serious dent in the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into Central Europe.
His enemies, the Ottomans, called him Iskender Bey. This means as much as Lord or Leader Alexander and is thought to be a comparison to Alexander the Great himself. The English translation of his name is Skanderbeg. He justifiably became a national hero in Albania, nicknamed the “Dragon of Albania”. Nowadays, a monument dedicated to Georg Kastriot Skanderbeg dominates Skanderbeg Square in central Tirana.
Getting to Krujë Castle from Tirana as a day trip is a piece of cake. It’s quite small, too, so you should really only need a few hours to explore the area. If you’re wondering what to do in Albania, a Tirana day trip to this historically enormously significant castle is definitely a good suggestion.
Check Out UNESCO-Listed Gjirokastra
In the south of the country, Gjirokastra was voted on the UNESCO list of cultural heritage as it is a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town. As you would expect, Ottoman architecture takes up the spotlight here, many of the old houses built of stone, giving you a window to the past. It comes as no surprise that the city is also known as “city of stones.”
Haggle In The Gjirokastra Bazaar
If you want to grab a few interesting local Albanian souvenirs to take back home for loved ones, this is the ideal place to go. Vibrant, but never too busy, you can haggle for your goods, and enjoy the bright atmosphere.
Educate Yourself At The National Historical Museum
If you want to learn more about the country overall, then head to the capital and enjoy a few hours in the National Historical Museum, one of the most famous landmarks in Albania,. Ideal as cover during a rainy day, the museum is open from 10 am until 5 pm. It’s divided into many different pavilions, all focusing on a certain period in time, such as Antiquity, the Renaissance, Independence and Communist Terror.
If you’d like to get some historical context, there’s no better place to go in Albania than its National Historical Museum. After your visit, you’ll be able to look at many other landmarks in Tirana, and in Albania in general, with more understanding. It’ll also give you a better grasp of what the best places to visit in Albania are.
Walk Through Tirana’s Grand Park (Parku I Madh)
If you are seeking a little peace during your city break, the Grand Park should be your destination. The lake shimmers in the sunlight, and there are picnic tables and cafes dotted around for you to chill out. Locals often head here for a morning or afternoon stroll, and the whole pace of life here is laid-back and slow.
It’s one of the best places in Tirana to escape the crowds. This 289-hectare park features a large man-made lake and landmarks like the Presidential Palace, the St. Procopius Church, the Botanical Garden, and the Zoo. Additionally, you’ll see several memorials to notable Albanian citizens, including writers and politicians.
Enjoy Architecture At The Orthodox Autocephalous Church Of Albania
Tirana is home to this stunning example of design and architecture, both on the outside and the inside. This is quite a modern church, despite its long history, and its architecture is very different to most churches you will have seen.
Appreciate Art And Communist History At Bunk’Art
If you’re trying to figure out what to do in Tirana, a visit to the Bunk’Art Museum simply has to be a priority. Located near the Deshmoret a Kombit Boulevard, at the base of Mount Dajti, this five-floor mixed art and history museum showcases the troubling communist past of Albania.
Exhibits show what the daily life of Albanians was like under the communist regime, while other displays combine the country’s more recent history with contemporary works of art.
Cultural Importance At Skanderbeg Square
Named after national hero Georg Kastriot Skanderbeg, who helped stop the advance of the Ottoman Empire into Eastern Europe (see Krujë Castle above), the square is dominated by the Skanderbeg Monument. The monument symbolically occupies the very spot where once stood a Josef Stalin statue. The square is a main venue for celebrations in Tirana and Albania, featuring a large lawn, rows of stately trees and colorful flowerbeds.
Around Skanderbeg Square, you’ll find major Tirana attractions like the National Historical Museum, the Palace of Culture, the Et’hem Bey Mosque, the Clock Tower, the National Library and various ministries.
Visit Tirana’s Historic Clock Tower
Next door to the beautiful Et’hem Bey Mosque on Skanderbeg Square, you will find the historic Clock Tower, both designed by the same person. The tower is free to enter and gives you breathtaking views of the entire Tirana city center and beyond.
Appreciate Historic Art In The National Gallery Of Figurative Arts
Tirana is home to this wonderful gallery, which not only looks impressive from the outside but is also fantastically fascinating on the inside. There are over 4,100 different works of art by both local and international artists, which date back to the 13th century, right up until the modern day.
Visit Mother Teresa Square (Sheshi Nene Tereza)
Named after Mother Teresa, who was ethnic Albanian, this square is important in the Tirana and another fantastic place to watch the world go by, home to a small mountain and the University of Tirana.
Take A Ride On The Dajti Ekspres
Without question a major Tirana highlights and a one of the most fun Albania tourist attractions is the Dajti Ekspres. The 1-kilometer-long ride takes about 15 minutes, making this the longest cable-car ride in the Balkans. You will ascent more than 800 meters from the city center to Mount Dajti.
A tourist complex boasting restaurants and hotels lies at the top, while the views are absolutely spectacular. This is called the “Balcony of Tirana” for a good reason. If you’re afraid of heights or don’t want to ride the cable car, there’s the possibility to drive up to the top by car, which takes an hour or longer.
Go For A Hike In Mount Dajti National Park
Whatever way you choose to travel up Mount Dajti—cable car, driving or even hiking yourself—, it’ll bring you to Mount Dajti National Park. This is one of the most accessible national parks in the Balkans, if not in all of Europe. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Albania, also because its location is so exceptionally convenient.
Spend a day wandering out into the mountain range that lies just beyond the eastern edge of Tirana. Various hiking trails lead into the forests and along ridges, offering phenomenal vistas, great wildlife watching and—most of all—a great escape from the busy city life below.
Visit Butrint National Park
Butrint National Park is 9,400 hectares of stunning nature. Given its close proximity to Greece in south Albania, the park is also abundant in historical sites from the Iron Age through the Middle Ages, so it pays to take a guided tour when exploring the park. Several ancient buildings still exist here, although in ruins. There is a basilica, a Roman theater, a late-antique baptistery and even two castles.
In addition to being home to some of the most archaeologically rich places in Albania, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in fact, the park boasts a wealth of natural beauty. From salt marshes and freshwater lakes to islands and open plains, it’s an internationally significant bird area, designated under the Ramsar Convention.
So, as you can clearly see, Butrint National Park is one of the greatest places to visit in Albania for both history and nature lovers alike.
Enjoy A Cycling Tour Of Shkodra Lake
Swimming, walking, cycling, and simply enjoying nature are all possible in the Shkodra or Skadar Lake area, one of the most famous places in Albania. However, cycling is a great way to really appreciate the passing landscapes. Many companies will help you with tours, but you could also simply hire a bike and head off on your own steam.
Take In The Site Of Many Battles At Shkodra
In north Albania, you will find Shkodra, a city surrounded by countryside, but also the former site of many battles in the past, including those dating back to Ancient Rome. While Shkodra is a city in its own right nowadays, one of the main attractions is a castle named Rozafa.
Visit Cobo Winery In Berat
With over 100 years of wine-making history, using traditional production techniques, the Cobo Winery is one of the most famous and most visited in the country, located close to Berat. If you can appreciate the occasional glass of fermented grape juice, a winery visit like this is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Albania for you.
Alternatively, Head To Nurellari Winery In Berat
For natural scenery, with a wine-related twist, Nurellari Winery is the place to go. A relative newcomer, founded in 1995, the winery is only half an hour from the center of Berat and is surrounded by the beautiful Tomorri Mountain.
Hiking In Northern Albania
When you visit Albania, spending some time in nature is pretty much mandatory. The mountains are as much part of the national heritage than the cities and historic sites are.
In the north of Albania, there are more than 100 kilometers of marked hiking trails in the northern portion of the country, taking you through the rugged mountains and wild landscapes. There is a trail for everyone, though, so no need to be put off by seemingly challenging ascent. Just be sure to do your research.
Bird Spotting In Divjaka-Karavasta National Park
Birds aplenty live in this fantastic natural park, close to the Albanian Alps and the wetland areas. You can go through a tour company and enjoy a break here, or you can head off yourself, the choice is yours.
Explore Theth National Park
Situated high in the Albanian Alps in the far north of the country, Theth National Park is a remote region. Some outdoor enthusiasts consider it to be one of the most beautiful places to go in Albania, home to attractions such as the Lock-in Tower, a working watermill, and the Grunnas Waterfall.
Within the park, its namesake village of Theth is pretty much as remote as a village can get in Europe. It’s accessible only via a 25-kilometer unpaved road, which is impassable in winter. Even in summer, you might need a 4WD vehicle to get there. As a reward, you receive solitude and tranquility amid gorgeous nature.
Drive The Llogara Pass In Llogara National Park
Llogara National Park lies in the southwest of the country and is the setting of one of the greatest drives in southeastern Europe. The park’s main feature and attraction is the Llogara Pass, a road that reaches a height of 1,000 meters above sea level—quite impressive knowing that the park lies very close to the Adriatic coast.
You’ll find a collection of restaurants and other services at the top of the pass, offering you a perfect spot from which to enjoy the breathtaking views.
Swim In Lake Ohrid
Another lake in Albania that belongs on any itinerary is Lake Ohrid. This lake also lies in two countries—Albania and Macedonia—and is of similar touristic, natural and historic importance.
Lake Ohrid is among Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes, providing a habitat for a wide variety of animal and plant species, many of which are endemic to the region. Its aquatic ecosystem is extremely important, which is why the lake is protected by UNESCO as both a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve.
Tirana’s Preze Castle
In the countryside, a stone’s throw from the Tirana city center, you will find the ruins of Preze Castle, dating back several centuries. This 15th-century castle has four towers and is a trendy place to visit, with beautiful views, too.
Winter Sports At Dardha
During the winter months, when the snow falls in abundance on the high mountains, Dardha is packed with visitors, both local and international. This is a relatively small resort, but certainly, one to enjoy, with two ski lifts.
Visit One Of The Largest Mosques In Albania
Baitul Avval Mosque in the capital is one of the largest in the whole country and is unquestionably the largest in Tirana. The exterior is undoubtedly beautiful, and the neighboring Darul Falah Mission House is also worth exploring.
Explore International Nature At The Botanic Garden Of Tirana
Opened in 1964, this part covers 15 hectares and is home to countless species of international and local plants and flowers.
Shopping Fun In Tirana
The capital is full of shopping opportunities, but there are also several large malls, including the tree-lined Toptani pedestrian street and the high-end Block neighborhood.
The Best Towns To Visit In Albania
Head back in time at Berat. On the banks of the River Osum, you will find this historic city, formerly built as a vast castle, which is still possible to visit today. There are many churches and mosques within the city walls, and these are all very well preserved. For a window to the past, this is the number one place to visit in Albania, having been voted as the ‘city of museums’ back in 1961.
Enjoy Durres and its famous amphitheater. The coastal city of Durres boasts not only a very pretty harbor to enjoy, but also a very renowned amphitheater, which back in the day could house around 20,000 people. In fact, it’s the largest surviving Roman amphitheater in the Balkans.
Additionally, its coastal location also makes Durres one of the most popular Albania holiday destinations. The city’s home to many kilometers of Adriatic Sea beaches, attracting thousands of beach-goers, sunbathers and other summer enthusiasts.
Soak up the peace and quiet at Ksamil Village. On the Ionian Sea coastline, you will find this tranquil and peaceful village, with a small and quiet beach, plenty of cafes and family run restaurants, and a true Albanian way of life.
The capital is surrounded by mountains, valleys, and nearby coastline, and as such, it is a very chilled out city to visit, despite its status as the most important city in the country! There is a pavement café feel to the city, with friendly locals happy to sit and chat with you as you take in the atmosphere.
Tirana also boasts a wealth of cultural and historical heritage. If you’re wondering “is Albania worth visiting?”, a look at the sheer number of landmarks, the vibrant city life, and great culinary scene in Tirana should give you a definite “yes” as an answer.
Modern Day Spa Relaxation In Tirana
A visit to Albania’s capital should certainly encompass a few relaxing spa treatments, and if you are looking for a treat during your city break, there are several big named spas to choose from, usually based in hotels.
The Best Beaches, Lakes & Rivers In Albania
The capital has the Lana River running through it, although it is more of a stream than river. The green landscapes around its banks are ideal for taking a picnic and enjoying the sun during the summer months.
Swim in clarity at Syri Kalter (Blue Eye). Located close to Saranda, you will find this unbelievably clear lake, which is how it gets its name, Blue Eye. The surrounding landscape is fantastic, with mountains and plenty of greenery to take in, and you can swim here during the summer months.
Enjoy a peaceful beach day on the Albanian Riviera, arguably the beating heart of modern Albanian tourism, along with Tirana. In the southwest, you will find this very popular section of coastline, which despite its popularity, is still uncrowded and quiet. There are hotels here, lots of swimming and sunbathing opportunities, all backed by beautiful countryside and hills to explore.
This is one of the best beaches in Albania, and the crystal-clear waters beg you to dip your toe in! There are many bars, restaurants, and hotels to enjoy here for a few nights, and the backdrop is green and mountainous.
The village itself consists of traditional stone houses and, more recently, wooden and eco-friendly structures built to host the numerous tourists without weighing down the ecosystem. The area is also well-known for its many churches, where you can admire ancient cultural treasures. Dhërmi Beach (which is 2.5 kilometers downhill) is definitely more popular than Gjipe and other hidden bays in the area.
Dhërmi Beach can, therefore, get crowded with both locals and tourists in the high season. However, next to the main beach are many secluded bays, which you can reach by walking through beautiful olive groves, a peaceful and quiet wander along the coast.
Another awesome beach in Albania is Porto Palermo, a small peninsula topped by a stronghold built by Ali Pasha during the 19th century. This beach also served as a Soviet submarine base during the communist era and the whole place is so charming that it is often used as a film set.
Just outside the capital, you will find a fantastic place to enjoy water-based fun during the summer months, including relaxing boating and swimming.
This small and beautiful country is packed with attractions, and one visit will probably not be enough. Sill, you have to decide – what things to do in Albania will you add to your must-see list?
Grab yourself a room at one of these excellent Albania accommodations and start planning your trip!
For such a small country, Albania has a complicated climate! The weather primarily depends on where you are in the country because there are several small climate changes, mostly relating to elevation and proximity to the coast. But, now that you know where to go in Albania, let us help you figure out when to go to Albania.
To sum it up in simple terms, the best time to visit Albania is:
- Coastal regions have a typical Mediterranean climate, with warm summers, and mild, wet winters
- The interior of the country is mountainous, and the higher you are, the colder the temperatures, however, evenings are generally cool regardless
- The lowlands of Albania have mild winters and warm summers, typically Mediterranean. However, the lowlands in the south are usually around 5 degrees higher in temperature than the rest of the region
- Rainfall is quite high throughout the country, apart from the coast
Main Photo Credit: Nikos Koutoulas
Tell us below in the comments, which of these Albania sights will you tick off first?