Albania is incredibly diverse and has everything you may want in a destination. From pristine lakes, mountain ranges and national parks, coffee culture, UNESCO World Heritage villages, and even its own slice of Maldivian paradise.
Albania was closed off for most of the 20th century. But it doesn’t shy away from its past. Instead, it accepts all of its remains and transforms them into something beautiful, like art galleries and museums.
While Albania is still an off-the-beaten-track destination, its mountains and beaches get busy during summer. Of course, the crowds cannot be compared to Greece or Italy, for example. But we expect the trickle of tourists will grow as the word spreads, so there is no better time to visit Albania than now! Albanian people are incredibly welcoming and accepting, and we hope our recommendations inspire you to experience their hospitality for yourself and help plan your trip.
Observe the City from Dajti Express
To get acquainted with the lay of the land and see Tirana from up high, ascend to the Dajti Adventure Park on a gondola. We, on the other hand, arrived just before this storm rolled in. This gondola was the last ride of the day. Unfortunately, we had to race back down the hill to beat the rain, and believe it or not, a city bus stopped us halfway down and asked if we wanted to ride! Of course we jumped on, one more example of Albanian hospitality!
Walk Through the Vibrant Blloku
The colorful Blloku neighborhood was home to Enver Hoxha, and during his rule, the area was occupied exclusively by key members of Albania’s communist party. As a result, the public was prohibited from accessing this neighborhood, which was also the case with certain beaches on the Albanian Riviera. But more on that in the post from Berat (link), our next destination in Albania.
Since the fall of communism, the neighborhood was reclaimed and transformed with colorful street art and boutique dining venues. Take your time exploring the nooks and crannies of this charming district.
Skanderbeg Square in Tirana, Albania
Skanderbeg square is the biggest public plaza in Tirana. The most important buildings and historical points are located around. The stone for the square has been sourced from all over Albania, and its pink hues equate the square to Tirana’s heart.
The square takes its name after the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg, who was a military commander and led the rebellion against the Ottoman Empire.
Learn about the History at BunkArt Museums
These museums are former concrete bunkers, thousands of which were built during the communist regime under the orders of Enver Hoxha all over the country. Therefore, it is the perfect place to learn about Albania’s communist history. In Tirana, there are two – BunkArt 1 and BunkArt 2.
BunkArt 1 is the original, located on mountain Dajti and accessible via a scenic cable car ride. And BunkArt 2 is smaller, located in the center of Tirana, Albania. So if you have to choose between the two, stick with visiting BunkArt 2 for its convenient central location, but do not miss out on this emotional and educational experience.
Take a Stroll Down Toptani Street
Albanians have a similar tradition to Kosovans, taking long leisurely walks in the evenings. It is their time to socialize and, for you, the perfect opportunity to mingle and people-watch as you join the stroll along Toptani street, the main pedestrian street in Tirana, Albania.
You may notice that Tirana, Albania is bursting with creativity, hence the number of art installations you can spot throughout the city. Reja is a popular one you will come across on your walk. It is located in front of the National Art Gallery and looks like delicate hollow bleachers from afar but is supposed to resemble a cloud once you enter the structure.
Explore the Shore of Lake Ohrid
We visited Lake Ohrid during our stay in North Macedonia but couldn’t resist seeing it from Albania’s perspective. You can see Lake Ohrid from Pogradec, a bigger city on the shore of the lake. But seeing the local village life is more intimate, in our opinion, so we explored Lake Ohrid from the village Lin, which is just 20 km from Pogradec.
Take a Ferry on Lake Komani
Lake Komani offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in Albania. The towering mountains are jaw-dropping, and you can enjoy them on a long ferry ride, which is a scenic way to get closer to Valbona village, where you can start your alpine hike to Theth village.
Hike the Accursed Mountains: Valbona to Theth
We briefly introduced the Accursed mountains when visiting Peja in Kosovo. Unfortunately, this time, we were unable to explore the Albanian Alps, but other visitors shared their knowledge. The trek is open from June to September. The weather conditions were perfect in August and we were sad to miss this experience. August is peak season, and we recommend booking your transportation to Valbona and out of Theth in advance. And if you plan to spend a night in Theth, you should book your accommodation in advance, too. Staying in Theth a little longer is worth doing to explore the village and do other hikes in the area. Especially the trail to one of Albania’s Blue Eyes – a turquoise swimming hole resembling cenotes found in Mexico.
Start your hike in the village of Valbona and make your way through meadows and forests to the Theth village. The trek is moderate and can take only 5 to 8 hours or longer if you stop to smell the flowers! You can also reverse the route, but there is much more to enjoy in Theth.
Taste Albanian Cuisine
Trying Albanian cuisine, you might find many similarities with other Balkan cuisines and Turkish, Greek, and Italian influences. However, Albanian food is less focused on meat and fish instead. Seafood connoisseurs will be pleased with options in Albania, especially along the coast. And the coffee scene in Tirana is as prolific as in Pristina, Kosovo because of its close ties with Italy. This is also why you’ll find many pizzerias all over Tirana.
Here are some local delicacies to try:
Fëgesë – a slow-cooked stew with vegetables, spices, and cottage cheese.
Tavë Kosi – a dish prepared with lamb and rice baked with yogurt and eggs.
Speca me gjize – peppers cooked in cottage cheese.
Baklava for dessert – a sweet layered pastry covered in syrup.
Now that you know what to order, these are our top restaurant recommendations in Tirana.
Mullixhiu restaurant is one of the most beautiful spots in Tirana, offering a modern and sophisticated take on traditional cuisine and is positioned in front of Tirana’s artificial lake. It is Slow Food Certified because the ingredients are all locally sourced, including the wine! We loved this little restaurant!
Komiteti is a café and museum perfect for breakfast or a quick pick-me-up. The space is filled with memorabilia from Albania’s communist era. We met these wonderful Americans who were traveling, too!
Ballkoni Dajtit restaurant offers a spectacular view over Tirana. It is located at the top of Dajti Mountain and is accessible by cable cars.
Moncafe Boutique Hotel & Spa
We had a great stay at the Moncafe and enjoyed a lovely breakfast every morning. The staff went above and beyond to make our stay perfect. We wanted to give them a shout-out and when you visit, we’re sure you’ll enjoy your stay, too.
Although Albania, the land of the eagles, is experiencing tourism growth and the word is spreading fast of its beauty, stereotypes still taint it. Anyone who’s seen Taken or the blood-red Albanian flag may have reservations about coming here. But in our two-week travel experience through Albania, we discovered that these stereotypes are false. It’s a safe country, incredibly diverse and affordable, and most importantly, it is the home to some of the friendliest, genuinely kind, and hospitable people. Hospitality is one of the four pillars of Albanian customary laws called Kanun. It calls for every Albanian to be ready to welcome a guest day and night with food, a bed, and a helping hand.
We travel to underestimated destinations like Tirana, Albania to challenge the stereotypes, share the treasures and hope to inspire you to try it for yourself too.
Uncover the Maldivian paradise of the Albanian Riviera and UNESCO World Heritage villages in our post about Berat. Please let us know in the comments if you have questions we didn’t answer in this post, and thank you for joining us on this adventure!
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