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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.
Where is Albania?
Albania is located in the Balkans and 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 Albanian blend. The capital city, Tirana which is vibrant and is the ideal starting point for exploring this small but fascinating country.
For such a small country, Albania has a complicated climate! The weather you will experience 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. To sum it up in simple terms:
- 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
Things to See and Do in Albania
On the central coast of Albania, you will find the ruins of an ancient town which was built by the Greeks in 588BC. 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. The ancient site has well-maintained ruins to explore, including temples, theatres, and libraries. The views are also impressive.
Enjoy Nature in Qafe Shtama
This national park 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 the capital you will find the ancient tomb, which is worth visiting for history buffs.
Explore Kruje’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 theis Museum will show you both how familes 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.
Check out the 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 on show here with many of the houses built of stone, giving you a window to the past – the city is also known as ‘city of stones.’
Educate Yourself at The National History Museum
If you want to learn more about the country overall, then head to the capital and enjoy a few hours in the National History Museum. Ideal as cover during a rainy day, the museum is open from 10 am until 5 pm.
Walk Through Tirana’s Grand Park (Parku I Madh)
If you are seeking a little peace during your city break, the Grand Park is your setting. 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.
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.
Take in The Castle of Kruja
A short distance away from the capital you will find Kurja, famous for its very well preserved and rather beautiful castle, also including the Skanderberg museum. It is effortless to head to Kruja from the capital as a day trip, and it is quite small so should really only need a few hours to explore.
Appreciate Art and Communist History at Bunk Art
The capital is home to Bunk Art, a former anti-nuclear bunker which dates back to the cold war and originally built for Albania’s political elite. Here you can explore an underground palace spanning five floors, as well as a large hall which is now dedicated to art. Combining history with art gives the attraction a fantastic feel, and you can learn more about the politics from this period in Albania’s history.
Cultural Importance at Skanderbeg Monument
The Skanderbeg statue is located in the center of the Tirana in Skandebeg square. This is no surprise given he is Albania’s national hero for resisting the Ottomans.
Take a Ride on Dajti Ekspres
In the capital, you will be able to enjoy not only nature but a thrill ride too! This is a cable car which takes you high into nature, with fantastic views from the top. Once you reach the top of the mountain, you can explore a little, or simply take in the views.
Visit Butrint National Park
Butrint National Park is 9400 hectares of stunning nature. Given its close proximity to Greece, the park is also abundant in historical sites from the Bronze through to the middle ages so it pays to take a guided tour when exploring the park.
Visit Tirana’s Historic Clock Tower
Next door to the beautiful Et’hem Bey mosque you will find the historic clock tower, which is free to enter and gives you breathtaking views of the entire capital city and beyond.
Haggle in the Gjirokastra Bazaar
If you want to grab a few interesting local 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.
People Watch at Skanderbeg Square
We have mentioned the monument in the capital, but the square is ideal for watching the world go by and taking in real, authentic Albanian life. You will find many of the city’s most historic monuments here, including the clock tower.
Enjoy a Cycling Tour of Shkodra Lake
Swimming, walking, cycling, and simply enjoying nature are all possible around the Shkodra or Skadar Lake area. However, cycling is a great way to really appreciate the passing landscapes. Many companies will help you with tours, but you could simply hire a bike and head off on your own steam.
Appreciate Historic Art in the National Gallery of Figurative Arts
Tirana is home to this gallery which not only looks impressive from the outside but is also fantastically fascinating on the inside too. There are over 4100 different works of art by both local and international artists, which date back to the 13th century, right up until the modern day.
Take in The Site of Many a Battle at Shkodra
In the north of 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, the main attractions, are a castle named Rozafa.
Visit Cobo Winery in Berat
With over 100 years of winemaking history, using traditional production techniques, the Cobo Winery is one of the most famous and most visited in the country, located close to Berat.
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.
A Snowy Walk at Mount Dajt
Mount Dajt is the highest peak in Albania, and it is within easy reach of Tirana. The mountain experiences snow during the winter months, and this is a great place to enjoy a winter walk or even a camping holiday for a few nights.
Visit Mother Teresa Square (Sheshi Nene Tereza)
Named Mother Teresa, who was ethnic Albanian, this square is important in the capital city and another fantastic place to watch the world go by, with a small mountain and the University of Tirana.
Hiking in Northern Albania
There are more than 100km of marked hiking trails in the northern portion of the country, taking you through the mountains and rugged landscapes. There is a trail for everyone, so be sure to do your research.
Bird Spotting in the Divjaka-Karavasta National Park
Birds aplenty live in this fantastically 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.
Tirana’s Preze Castle
In the countryside, a stone’s throw from the city center, you will find the ruins of Preze Castle, dating back to the time of antiquity. This 15th-century castle has four towers and is a trendy place to visit, with beautiful views too.
Shopping Fun in Tirana
The capital is full of shopping opportunities, but there are also several large malls, including Toptani Shopping Centre and Albania Shopping.
Winter Skiing 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.
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.
Soak up the peace and quiet at Ksamil Village. On the Ionian 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.
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 landscape 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. 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.
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?
Main Photo Credit: Nikos Koutoulas