Albania Destination Guide
Albania is a great place to visit all year round! The mountains and hills, that make up two thirds of Albania's total area, are a great place in both summer and winter for activities including skiing, climbing, trekking and mountain biking while the beautiful coastline and scenic beaches are great in summer. Its vast history has ensured innumerable museums, and archaeological wonders to explore.
There is never a dull moment to be had in Albania!
Our Albania Destination Guide below together with our Albania tour suggestions will tell you all you need to know about the best places to visit in Albania. Our Albania country guide has some helpful information to ensure you have a great holiday in Albania. For tips on how to get around in Albania, read our Albania Transportation guide.
Butrint, an erstwhile Hellenic centre, is today a world heritage site established by the fleeing Trojans who later established the Roman Empire. The 2,500 year old town is historically and archaeologically significant with a complex containing the ruins of public baths, Roman style houses, a church and a sundry assortment of sculptures, carvings and mosaics.
Tirana, Albania's capital, is the principal centre for major economic, political and even cultural events in the country. Its location at the centre of Albania adds to its importance. Tirana lies 113 m above sea level.
Tirana took shape under a feudal lord, Suleyman Pasha Bargjini in 1614. The first buildings in Tirana were a bakery, a mosque and a hammam (a public bathhouse). Partizani-i-Panjohur, a monument honouring the Unknown Partisan, stands at the site of these first buildings.
The Adriatic Sea, with the Durrës beach, beckons in the west. You need to travel 32 kilometres to get to the beach. On the eastern side a 26-kilometre trek will bring you to the 1612 m high Dajti Mountain.
The village of Boga is one of the most fascinating places in the Albanian Alps. You will find the mention of this place in Edith Durham's ‘The Burden of the Balkans'. Surrounded by the Alps, this is the mecca of mountain hiking, skiing and spelunking. You can go from Razma to Dedaj and then to Boga. There are many caves that are worth visiting; some that you cannot afford to miss are the Cave of Mulliri, the Akullore, the Njerëzve të lagun and the Cave of Puci. The Puci Cave is 5 km long and has many levels. Adorned with stalactites and stalagmites the cave, situated at 1087 m, is connected to the Cave of Husi.
Berat is a museum city that has been put under the UNESCO World Heritage protection. It is also one of the oldest towns in Albania. When you enter Berat you will be impressed by the typical buildings, the stone paved roads and the walls and doors of the gardens on both sides of the Osumi river. These two neighborhoods are called Gorica and Mangalem. The most impressive sight of the city is the castle on top of the mountain that is still inhabited.
Beyond Gjipe the resort town, lies Himara, with its sandy beaches, and hills planted with cypresses and olive and orange groves. Gjipe's attraction is its canyon, stretching a kilometre long and full of very old trees and stone walls. Himara is an ancient town first inhabited by Illyrian tribes and then successively by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Goths, Slavs, Saracens and Normans. Its history is evident in the fifth century BC castle now used as the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus as well as in the Castle of Ali Pahsa built by Ali Pahsa Tepelena, the Albanian king, for his wife. Ali Pahsa also used the castle, located on a peninsula and running right into the Porto Palermo bay, in the nineteenth century to host the famous English Romantic poet, Lord Byron.
Between Himara and Saranda further down the route, there are picturesque villages located between subtropical flora and the blue sea - Qeparoi, Borshi, the largest beach in the Riviera, Piqerasi, Lukova, and Saint Vasili.
The Western Alps or Alpet Perëndimore are not to be missed. This is the land of legends, from Homer to the modern period. A tour will cross the very heart of the Albanian Alps, the Gropa e Thethit. The trip starts in the city of Shkodra. Razma, which is 41 km away, is at the foothills of the Veleçik Mountain. This is one of the most beautiful places, with lush meadows and pastures. Forests of pine and birch add to the picturesque appeal. You can travel to this region even in winter, when there is heavy snow.
Llogara National park is located at a height of 900 metres above sea level at the Pass of Llogara. Most trips down the coastline begin at this point in the Pass of Llogara varying in height from 470 m to 2018 m. The park has abundant pine forests and spirited streams with conifers like Black Pine and Ash among its most prominent vegetation. In this spot, wind activity has carved out natural crown shapes of which the geologically and aesthetically most exciting is the "Pisha Flamur" or "Flag Pine," a unique creation of nature. Besides these, the park is popular for its natural beauty and some significant points. These attributes have made the park a favoured tourist spot.
This area serves as a bridge to the Ionian coast, thus providing an exciting combination of mountain and sea with a salubrious climate. It has tremendous potential for ecotourism and adventure sports such as paragliding and delta plane. No wonder this has become the ideal ground for certain European air-sports with the mountain stretching close to the sea, adding to the excitement.
As you travel south from the Llogara Pass you will come to Palasë Village. The Çika Mountain looms large on one side of the village. This is said to be the halting ground for Julius Caesar's legions on their way to the fight over Pompey. It is ninety minutes away from Vlora and the route is breathtakingly beautiful; travellers on this route can also interact with local vendors selling honey, beeswax and the locally made Raki along the way. Palasa Beach, with its smattering of houses and its position at the foot of imposing mountains, is entirely untouched.The pride of the village is a 100 year-old plane tree around which the village centre is built. The village paints a charming picture: narrow roads paved with stone lead to quaint houses painted white, with small courtyards that are a burst of colour with plenty of flowers and other shrubbery. The most interesting part of the village is its 1.5 kilometre long beach called the Palasë beach. Air sports enthusiasts who take off from the Llogara Pass use the Palasë beach as a landing strip.
Shkodra, also spelt Shkoder, is home to the legendary Rozafa castle and the myth of creation of the Illyrian and Albanian nation, but it is also the one city that can teach all the rest of the country a thing or two about "joi de vivre", cultivated arts and social events.
The fortress of Rozafa, dominating the town of Shkoder, is one of the most famous monuments in Albania. Built on a hill dominating the confluence of the rivers Buna and Kiri, it has an oval shape, a perimeter of 600 m and an area of 6 ha. The fortress and its seven towers were successively rebuilt by the Venetians and the Ottomans on the foundations of an early Illyrian fortress. Due to its geographical location and contact with the foreign countries, Shkodra has always been a main centre of the Albanian culture, especially before the foundation of the Albanian state. We offer a range of Hotels in Shkoder and Hotels in Valbona for you to discover these monuments. If you're travelling through Tirana, don't forget to check out our Tirana Hotels booking portal!
The fall of the Roman Empire in 395 ad., saw Shkoder allocated to the borders of the Eastern Empire (Byzantine Empire). In the 11th century, it was transferred to Serbian lords from Zeta (today, Montenegro), who developed the economy of the town. Shkodra was then transferred to the Albanian family of Balshaj, rulers of northern Albania and parts of Montenegro. Threatened by the Ottomans, the Balshaj sold the town to the Venetians in 1396; Shkodra became an advanced post of Christendom. The Ottomans laid the town under siege in 1474 and 1478. They eventually seized and sacked it in 1479 after the one-year siege depicted on a famous painting by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588). The fall of Shkodra caused the exile of many of its inhabitants to Italy, where they formed the Arbëresh / Arbaresh communities in Calabria, Sicily and elsewhere. If you'd like to visit Shkoder be sure to check out our full range of Hotels in Shkoder.
The historian Marin Barleti (d. 1512) lived in Shkodra during the three sieges by the Ottomans; after the defeat, he moved to Italy where he published in Latin De obsidione Scodrensis (The siege of Shkodra, Venice, 1504) and Historia de vita et gestis Skanderbegi (History of the life and acts of Skanderbeg, Rome, 1508). The latter book was translated and spread all over Europe and significantly contributed to the fame of Skanderbeg. Before visiting Shkoder or Northern Albania make sure you know the full Weather Forecast of Shkoder and Albania.
Gjon Buzuku, another writer from northern Albania with a nearly totally unknown biography, published in 1555 in Venice the Meshar (The Missal), a series of prayers and preachings made after the Gospels. This 188-page book is the oldest known book published in Albanian language.
Under the Ottoman rule, Shkoder re-emerged in the 17th-18th centuries; at that time (1767-1773) was built the Lead Mosque (xhamia e plombit), covered with lead leaves, which can be admired from the Rozafa castle. In 1756, Mehmed Pasha Plaku founded in Shkodra the Bushati dynasty, which set up his own rule and established diplomatic relationships with the other European states. Under Kara Mamoud Pasha Bushati, Shkoder had 70,000 inhabitants and was renowned for its craftsmen. In 1831, the Sultan set up a military expedition to get rid of the Bushati rule.
During the Albanian national rebirth (Rilindja), insurrections against the Ottomans broke out in Shkodra in 1876, 1880, 1910, 1911 and 1912. The Serbs and the Montenegrins besieged the town during the Balkan Wars, to no avail. During the First World War, Shkodra was placed under an international administration, then occupied by the Austrians, then by the French (1918-1920), and eventually incorporated into the new Albanian state.
The most famous writer from Shkodra is the poet and novelist Migjeni (Milosh Gjegj Nikolla, 1911-1938). Born in an Orthodox family, he studied in Bar (Montenegro) and Bitola (Macedonia). Back to Shkodra in 1932, he became a school teacher. He died from tuberculosis in an Italian sanatorium on 26 August 1938. Migjeni's only volume of verse, Vargjet e lira (Free Verses), was composed over a three-year period from 1933 to 1935. A first edition of this slender and yet revolutionary collection, a total of thirty-five poems, was printed by the Gutenberg Press in Tirana in 1936 but was immediately banned by the authorities and never circulated. The second edition was released only in 1944. The main theme of the Free Verses and of Migjeni's prose, is misery and suffering. Though he did not publish a single book during his lifetime, Migjeni's works, which circulated privately and in the press of the period, were an immediate success. Migjeni paved the way for a modern literature in Albania. His series of short stories entitled Tregimet nga qyteti i Veriut (Chronicles of a Northern City) give a vivid description of Shkodra under Zogu's feudal regime, insisting on prostitution, something that was then completely taboo in Albania.
All rulling elites have left their mark on the city's architecture and urbanistic vision. You will be able to explore and compare as you stroll around Sheshi 2 Prilli (April 2nd Square), probably the largest public square in Albania, where ottoman, austrian and communist architecture blend together in a suprising and unique manner. Follow the 13 Dhjetori Street (named after the December 1990 revolt that put an end to communist rule in Shkodra once and for all, as the socialists have never again been able to get the vote of the Shkodra people), the longest and most refine pedestrian area in Albania, and enjoy the truly unique atmosphere produced by the elegant buildings lined on both sides of this famous street, that will take you through the very heart of the city.
The Lagoon of Narta to the north of Vlora is the second largest lagoon in Albania and is home to a rich marine life consisting of water fowls and fishes. This place is heaven for nature lovers. Narta and Zvernechi villages, known for their wine, are located on the lagoon's shore.
Among the places of interest in this area are a small and inviting island opposite Zvernechi, the Museum of Independence, and the Mosque of Muradije. The island opposite Zvernechi attracts visitors with its lush Mediterranean foliage. Along with the Cape of Triporti, this island provides a veritable refuge from the worries of the world right into the lap of nature. Another place to visit on the island is the sixteenth century Byzantine Church of Saint Maria.
Museum of Independence: On 28th November 1912, Albania gained independence after a severe struggle and the Museum of Independence is a tribute to this fight for freedom, a reflection of the people's struggle to fly the Albanian flag.
The Mosque of Muradije: In 1542, Mimar Sinani, the architect well known for constructing the magnificent Suleymanie Mosque in Istanbul, built the Mosque of Muradije; today it is a place of interest for visitors and tourists in this part of the Albanian Riviera.
At the end of the day's sojourn, Kus Baba Hill provides a relaxing getaway where you can sip coffee and savour pleasant scenery.
If you travel by the Saranda-Ksamil road you can stop and sail towards the Ksamil islands. These islands have typical Mediterranean vegetation and are just 7.5-15 m above sea level. Ksamil village is dependent upon income from tourism and extends several facilities to tourists. It would be a good idea to rent an apartment and spend some quality time with your family in Ksamil village.
From Boga you can go to Thethi, which is one of the main tourist attractions. On the way, you will pass through the Qafa e Tërthores, located at 2,000 m, from where you can descend to the Gropa e Thethit. You will find some of the more popular tourist spots in this region: The Cascade of Grunas, the caves of ‘Birrat me rrathë and ‘Arapi'. There are numerous activities to entertain you - fishing, trekking, mountain biking, skiing, climbing and exploring the caves. The distinctive flora and fauna of this region never ceases to stun the visitor. The Eulfenia of Baldachi is a flower that is found only in Thethi. The Golden Eagle and the rriqebull are some of the rare fauna that you can see here.
Please click here for a photo reportage of the Thethi region.
Connecting the villages of Thethi and Boga is anarrow pathway that offers a view of the Bjeshket e Namuna (The Accursed Mountains).
Saranda is more modern and worldly, compared to other Albanian towns. For those looking forward to a memorable honeymoon or a modern watering hole, Saranda is the popular choice in Albania. It is the largest town along Albania's coast, and has a sprightly night life and a marvellous after-dark view of the bay from the Castle of Lekures. The village of Ksamil is an attractive tourist village in the charming south and is comprised of five tiny islands with diverse fauna and flora.
Saranda is still relatively hidden from the non-Balkan world's view, but it is on the brink of a major overhaul, especially after expectations regarding Albania being invited to join the EU. This town has been relatively free of the problems and pollution plaguing the northern shores of Albania and is relatively untouched by tourist and foreign presence barring a handful of foreign tourists like the Italians and Greeks. Situated on Albania's far southwest point, northeast of Corfu, Greece's "happening" tourist destination, Saranda is poised to become the next tourist hotspot.
The expected invitation into the EU has spurred a rage of investments in the area leading to the construction of spectacular hotels with a glut of supply over demand; this has given rise to another phenomenon, affordable luxury at cheap rates, making it akin to Greece as it was six decades ago - an upcoming tourist attraction but inexpensive and virginal. Added to this temptation are a first rate choice of cuisine, warm sea waters and long uninterrupted stretches of smooth sandy beaches unlike the rocky northern beaches. Evenings are ideal for a beach stroll or for a sip of the local Xhiro while night offers excitement in a wide choice of nightclubs and bars.
The ruins spread around the landscape are not legacies of the Communist junta, but have a rich and varied historical heritage to them. In the past, Albania was close to the centre of extensive Athenian and Roman empires. Standing testimony to these empires are their ruins dotting the Riviera landscape. Away towards the south from Saranda, Butrint is one such town with a history. Here you can see an ancient Roman colony with an amphitheatre, a temple and fortifications that are still well maintained.
Coupled with historic charm, the route to and from Butrint, in minibuses for daytrips, is a visual delight with mountains, delightful hamlets and historical Ottoman towns along the way. Butrint has plenty of places to see and several drivers willing to take travellers around the dirt tracks and uneven roads.
Saranda beckons with promises of thriving tourism, economic potential, friendly and hospitable people, and its yet unexplored pristine natural beauty and unexploited visibility. The Mediterranean swish set has a new place to add to their itinerary, one that few have even heard of.
This is an 8,000 hectare national park and is located in the eastern part of the Albanian Alps. It is about 25 km from Bajram Curri, a city named after the national hero of the same name. The water source of Shoshan is only 3 km from Bajram Curri and forms a 50 m deep canyon as it leads to the Valbona River. There are many villages in the valley; the first one that you come across is Dragobia. Here the valley becomes narrow. After you cross Dragobia, you will come to a point where the Valbona is joined by the Cerremi. It is here that Bajram Curri, the national hero, was killed. Valbona is also called Selimaj. The valley widens out once you reach Valbona. The traditional houses set in the picturesque natural surroundings of the valley create a beautiful picture. After Valbona, the route continues to Rragam, the last village before the source of the Valbona River. The lush green of the valley and the snow-covered peaks of the surrounding mountains showcase nature at its contrasting best.
Further down the coastline towards the south, Dhermi Village was constructed between the sea and the Cika Mountain's slopes. The ancient name for Dhermi is ‘Drimades,' a word derived from the Greek word Drymades, which means Oak Forest. Dhermi dates back to the seventh century, making it one of the oldest settlements in the area. This is a village of cliff-top houses and churches, one of the most beautiful rural outposts in the Albanian Riviera. Dhermi is known for its beaches and night life as well as for its 31 churches and monasteries, notable among which is the fourteenth century Saint Mary Church and Panais Monastery constructed in the Byzantine-style.
Other places of interest in Dhermi include the classic Albanian village of Vunoi with its sea facing houses and warm hospitality. Jala Beach at the Bay of Jala is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Albanian Riviera, and serves as the perfect destination for camping enthusiasts because of the magnificent natural surroundings it provides.
Vermosh is 95 km from Shkodra and is located in the northern most part of the country, in the Kelmend region. The name Kelmend originates from ‘Climens', a Roman word that means simple, good and gentle. On the way to Vermosh is the Qafa e Rrapshit where you can catch a glimpse of the crystal-like surface of the Cemi River. Vermosh is basically an Alpine valley, 1100 m above sea level, where you can pursue activities like skiing, mountain climbing, trekking and fishing for trout. This region specialises in making traditional dairy products, which you will find very tasty and refreshing.
The National Art Gallery is a repository of more than 4,000 pieces of art and artefacts, both by Albanian and foreign artists. As you walk along the Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard, you just cannot miss this structure with 5,300square metres of exhibit ground. Opened for public viewing in 1946, the gallery has diverse sections ranging from the National Revival, Byzantine Art, charcoal and graphite drawings, to the post 1950s era.
One of the most prized possessions of the museum is the bust of Skanderbeg, sculpted by Murat Toptani, in 1908. You can spend your day at the Gallery library, opened since 1999, going through the huge collection of albums, magazines, art critiques and literature. The gallery showcases the Albanian history and culture from the 13th century to modern times.
Address: Blv. "Dëshmorët e Kombit".
Phone: 00355 4/2233975
Visiting hours: 09.00-13.00, 17.00-20.00
The Art Gallery is closed on Mondays
Apart from Tirana the place worth visiting in Albania is the historically rich town of Kruja. You can drive down to Kruja, which is only 32km from Tirana. Kruja, the hometown of Albania's national hero Gjergj Kastrioti, better known as Skanderbeg, has some sites worth visiting. If you are in Kruja, do not miss Gjergj Kastrioti Museum, Ethnographic Museum, Kruja Castle, and Old Bazaar, which is the best place for Albanian souvenir shopping.
For those of you who have had enough of historical sites, a soccer match at the Qemal Staffa Stadium can be just the right entertainment. You can watch Tirana's best teams, spending just 300 Lek (US$ 3). This is, however, not advisable if you are a single woman, as you could end up alone in a stadium full of men!
The Drisht Castle lies at a distance of 6 km from Urae Mesit or the Mes Bridge, as it is popularly known. A little higher up from the present village is the site of archaeological excavations of the ancient settlement, Drivatium. This ancient village dates back to the Roman period and was located en route to Kosova from Shkodra. In those days the Drisht Castle was a fortress defending Shkodra. Later, in the 9th century, it was a vital link in the defence arrangement of the Zeta principality. This castle also professed allegiance to the Bar Diocese. The Drisht castle was built during the Byzantine rule in the 13th century. The 14th century was a period of prosperity for the Drisht Castle and it became independent of Shkodra during this period. Later, in 1442, it was conquered by Venetian forces and then taken over by Skanderbeg, the Albanian national hero. The latter part of the 15th century saw Turkish occupation. A hilltop 800 metres above sea level makes a scenic setting for the Drisht castle. A stroll through the castle will reveal 11 houses inside the castle walls.
The Albanian national hero, Skanderbeg started the construction of the Rodoni Castle in 1450. This was after Kruja was attacked for the first time. Skanderbeg chose to build his castle on Cape Rodon. In his time, Prince Karl Topia wished to have a shipyard at this location. But obviously Skanderbeg had his way, with the castle enabling him easy access to the sea. The castle is believed to have taken two years to take shape. 400 m long walls and towers in all the corners gave the castle an imposing look. Venetian forces occupied the castle in 1500. Continuous battering of seawater on the castle has had its effect with most of the walls under water. A few of the outer walls on one side and one tower are all that is visible of the outer structure now. The ruins of the Saint Peter's Church are a place of interest near the castle.
This castle is also known as the Castle of Sopot by the name of the hill on which it is located. It was built on the fourth century B.C., by Epirote-Illyrian tribes. The castle was heavily damaged during the barbarian invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., and it was rebuilt in the Middle Ages at which time it took its present name.
A short ride from Apollonia will take you to the Pojan Monastery, which houses the beautiful and serene St. Mary's Chapel. The west wing of this monastery has an inscription that proclaims it to be very ancient. One more inscription on the southern wall gives a date - 31 March 858. Andronicus Palaeologus the Second, the Byzantine Emperor later reconstructed this monastery. The emperor's family, attired in ceremonial dress, looks down upon visitors from a painting just below the inscription. The Byzantine style is very much in evidence with the chapel's interior carrying the stamp of this style. An iconostasis - a stand displaying icons - featuring four icons can be found here. The surrounding walls display bas-reliefs of Appollonia. There is a regional fair held on the 15th of August each year to commemorate the Assumption of Our Lady, St. Mary.