Travel Guide Albania

Beyond vague recollections of its Communist past, few travellers know much about Albania. Its rippling mountains and pristine beaches, lands littered with historical Roman ruins and pretty Ottoman towns remain largely undiscovered. Most never see the alluring azure lakes or the picturesque valleys occupied by immensely hospitable locals, and instead bypass the country for its far more popular neighbours. Following decades of isolationist rule, this rugged land still doesn’t seem to fit into the grand continental jigsaw, with distinctly exotic notes emanating from its language, customs and cuisine. But it’s those idiosyncrasies that make it such an intriguing and rewarding corner of Europe, begging to be explored. 

Explore Albania: From vibrant Tirana to serene mountain towns

Most travellers make a beeline for the capital, Tirana, a buzzing city with a mishmash of garishly painted buildings, traditional restaurants and trendy bars. However, those seeking to take Albania’s true pulse should head to the mountainous hinterlands, particularly the sleepy hillside towns of Berat and Gjirokastra – both essentially open-air museums of life in Ottoman times. 

Keen hikers will want to explore the valley of Valbona, where karst limestone mountains harbour astonishing biodiversity, and as the snowcapped peaks of the interior drop down to the ocean, the immaculate beaches along the Ionian coastline are among the Mediterranean’s least developed sands.

  • Population 2,778 million
  • Area 28,748 sq km
  • Language Albanian (Shqip)
  • Currency Lekë (L)
  • Capital Tirana (population: 610 050)
  • International phone code: T355
  • Time zone GMT +1hr
Skanderbeg square with flag, Skanderbeg monument, The Et'hem Bey Mosque and Clock Tower in the center of Tirana city, Albania © AdobeStock

Skanderbeg monument, the Et'hem Bey Mosque and Clock Tower in the center of Tirana city, Albania © AdobeStock

Things to do in Albania

Albania is a place unlike any other European destination. It is not a typical holiday destination. Here you won't encounter crowded tourist centres or commercialised attractions. Instead, you'll discover unspoilt beaches, charming hilltop towns, and a vibrant mix of ancient and modern culture. And best of all: there are few tourists here.

Here's a quick overview of things to do in Albania.

Visiting vibrant Tirana

Its buildings are painted in lurid colours, a gigantic, useless pyramid rises smack in the centre, the main square is a mess, the roads are potholed, and still there’s no official bus station for this city of almost one million people, and yet for all these idiosyncrasies Tirana is undeniably a charmer

The clash of architectural styles (from Italian to Communist to postmodern) is most evident in the central Blloku area, which was off-limits to all but Party members during Communist times. A generation or so down the line, espresso-sipping, fun-loving locals and trendy bar openings are vivid proof that the city is well on its way to becoming a “regular” European capital.


Tirana, Albania @ Shutterstock

Ascending Mount Dajti

The dark, looming shape of Mount Dajti is visible from Tirana, a temptation that can prove too much for city dwellers, who head to the forested slopes in droves on sunny weekends. The mountain’s network of paths feels surprisingly remote even though you’re only 25km from the capital. 

There is no public transport to the mountain, but you can get a taxi to the base of the cable car, which takes passengers a stone's throw from the summit. There are a number of restaurants in the area, useful if you fancy refuelling before heading back down. It’s worth combining this with a visit to Bunk’Art, which is near the cable-car station in Tirana.

Exploring Kruja

Lofty Kruja, 35km from Tirana, was the focal point of national hero Skanderbeg’s resistance to the Ottoman invasions of the fifteenth century, and you’ll see his likeness all over town. Most people make a beeline for the castle, which houses a number of restaurants and an excellent History Museum, whose diverting collection of weaponry, icons and the like is augmented by an impressive modern interior. 

Also within the castle walls is the Ethnographic Museum housed in a gorgeous building with a serene outdoor courtyard. Souvenir sellers have taken over the town, and the best place to buy your Albania-flag T-shirt, Skanderbeg statuette or Mother Teresa lighter is the restored Ottoman bazaar, just below the castle access road.


Kruja, Albania @ Shutterstock

Enjoying the Valbona countryside

The picture-perfect valley of Valbona, which follows a river of the same name, is nestled among a collection of towering karst limestone peaks that reach heights of up to 2690m. Home to some of the country’s most picturesque homesteads, it offers a true taste of Albanian country living. There are well-marked trails to suit all abilities – maps are available from Rilindja restaurant, which doubles as an unofficial information and trekking hub.

Soaking up the atmosphere of Berat

There are few better places to be in Albania than standing on the footbridge in the charming, easy-going town of Berat. From this vantage point, you’ll be surrounded by huddles of Ottoman houses, their dark, rectangular windows staring from whitewashed walls like a thousand eyes. 

On the south bank is the sleepy Gorica district, kept in shadow for much of the day by a muscular backdrop of rock; to the north is the relatively sun-drenched Mangalemi district, from which steep, cobblestoned paths lead up to the hill-top Kalasa, an old citadel whose wonderful interior is up there with the best old towns in the Balkans.


Berat, Albania @ Shutterstock

A walk through the streets of Gjirokastra

Sitting proudly above the sparsely inhabited Drinos valley, Gjirokastra is one of Albania’s most attractive towns, and home to some of its friendliest people. It was once an important Ottoman trading hub and today a sprinkling of nineteenth-century Ottoman-style houses lines the maze of steep, cobbled streets. Gjiro is also etched into the nation’s conscience as the birthplace of former dictator Enver Hoxha, and more recently the world-renowned author Ismail Kadare.

Relaxing on the beaches at Saranda

Staring straight at Corfu, and even within day-trip territory of the Greek island, sunny Saranda is perhaps Albania’s most appealing entry point. A recent building boom has eroded some of the town’s original genteel atmosphere, but it’s still a great place to kick back, stroll along the promenade and watch the sun set over cocktails. There are beaches in town, but better are those in nearby Ksamil, some 20km to the south.


Saranda City port, Ionian Sea, Albania @ Shutterstock

What is the best time to visit Albania

The best time to visit Albania is during the summer months, from June to August. The weather is warm and pleasant, ideal for exploring the country's stunning beaches on the Ionian and Adriatic coasts and picturesque mountain villages. Summer is also the time of many of Albania's cultural festivals, allowing visitors to experience traditional music, dance and cuisine.

However, if you prefer a quieter experience with fewer tourists, the late spring (April-May) and early autumn (September-October) seasons are also perfect for visiting. During these months, the weather is still mild and you can enjoy Albania's natural beauty and historical sites without the summer crowds.

For those interested in winter sports and experiencing Albania's winter charm, a visit between December and February will be attractive. The mountainous areas offer opportunities for skiing and snowboarding, while the festive atmosphere in towns such as Korçe offers a glimpse into Albanian winter traditions.

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Olga Sitnitsa

written by
Olga Sitnitsa

updated 17.05.2024

Online editor at Rough Guides, specialising in travel content. Passionate about creating compelling stories and inspiring others to explore the world.

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