Albania is the underdog when it comes to holidays and individual travel in Southeast Europe. It’s not only the beautiful beaches or cultural treasures that make individual travellers or families come here, it’s the hospitality towards travellers that is still very important in this country.
Introduction to Albania
Flight time: 2 to 3 hours
Currency: Albanian lek
Time zone: CET +0
With 2.8 million inhabitants, Albania is one of the smallest countries in Europe. The beautiful beaches on the Ionian Sea in Durres, the capital Tirana and the seaside resort of Saranda with a view of the Greek island of Corfu are still an insider tip. This makes Albania a destination for individualists.
The main reason for this is the complete isolation of Albania during the communist dictatorship. That is why Albania has the nickname „land of bunkers“. There are said to be more than 200,000 of them all over the country. Add to this the later conflict in Kosovo, which also spilled over into Albania. Once upon a time. Today, the bunkers have fallen into disrepair or have been converted into cafes or exhibition halls, for example the BUNK’ART Museum in Tirana.
You can combine a trip to the capital Tirana with a few days on a sun lounger by the sea in nearby Durres, medieval castles and excursions to Albania’s most famous sights. These include Shkodra, the ancient ruins of Butrint and the city of „1001 windows“ Berat.
Due to the low wage level, Albania is also one of the cheapest countries to travel in Europe. A coffee costs the equivalent of less than €1 in an average shop. Public transport, hotels and all other expenses are also cheap in Albania.
Come with us on a trip to the up-and-coming holiday paradise in the Balkans
1 Tushemisht at the 4 million year old Lake Ohrid in Albania
Tushemisht is the first village in Albania after the border. If you have been to the monastery of St. Naum in Macedonia before, you can even walk across the border from there to here. In Tushemisht there is plenty of cheap accommodation, restaurants in a natural setting and a beautiful beach. Tip: It’s best to bring Albanian lek, as the nearest ATM is in Pogradec – about 45 minutes‘ walk away.
2 Pogradec – vibrant city on the Macedonian border
Pogradec is a vibrant town on Lake Ohrid with an extensive beach, many bars and nightclubs. Tip: A very nice and inexpensive accommodation is offered by the Hotel Enkelana, located directly on the beach. Here you can even get a double room with sea view and breakfast for a similarly low price as in the hostel, but with a much higher standard.
3 Korca – birthplace of Albanian literature
Korça or Korçë is 40 km from Pogradec and can be reached by minibus in 45 minutes for 150-200 Lek (1,12-1,50 Euro). The town is often called the cradle of Albanian culture and is particularly attractive for its many colourful cafés in the pedestrian zone, pretty parks and the Resurrection Cathedral on the large square. Tip: The centrally located and homely Hostel At Home 2 offers pleasant and light-flooded accommodation.
4. By minibus along the border river
If you want to travel from Korça to Saranda, you can take the minibus for 600 lek (about 4.50 euros). It goes through breathtaking mountain landscapes and along the border to Greece. Tip: My personal favourite section was the one halfway along the border river at the Greek border. Beware: The journey by minibus is bumpy and lengthy in places, and only something for early risers – departure is as early as 6.00 am, arrival around 1.30 pm.
5 Çorovoda – Kayaking and Rafting in the Canyons of Osum
The region around Çorovoda makes the heart of every active traveller and adventure holidaymaker beat faster. Here you will find canyons up to 100m deep, perfect for kayaking and rafting.
5 Gjirokastra – The city of a thousand steps
Gjirokastra was built as a settlement around a castle and has been a UNSECO World Heritage Site since 2005. The city is one of the most important cultural centres of Albania. It is also the birthplace of the former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxhas and the writer Ismail Kadare.
7. The blue eye – A source of unknown depths
The Blue Eye, the karst spring, Syri i Kaltër, or, in English, Blue Eye Spring, is the most abundant spring in Albania with 6 m³/s of water. The depth of the spring pot from which the water bubbles up has not yet been determined.
Tip: On the drive from Korça to Saranda, you also pass a breathtaking blue stream that flows right next to the road.
8. Saranda – Beach and culture
Saranda or Sarandë is a popular seaside resort in Albania on the Ionian Sea. From here you can make perfect excursions to the beach paradise of Ksamil or to the ruined city of Butrint. Travel tip: The best way to get there is to take the local bus for no more than 1 euro. The bus takes you first to Ksamil and then directly to the ruined city of Butrint.
9 Ksamil – Beautiful bays and sunsets
Holiday tip: Ksamil with its paradisiacal bays and idyllic sunsets was my personal highlight in Albania. You can explore all the bays and beaches in about an hour’s walk and then choose your personal favourite bay for the phenomenally beautiful sunset.
10 Butrint – flooded ruined city with traces of numerous cultures
A must-see, even for those who don’t usually have much to do with culture. The partially flooded ruined city, which once belonged to Greece and is characterised by many different cultural influences, is really worth a visit!
11 Koddra/ Saranda – By ferry to the Greek island of Corfu
While you’re here, you can also take the ferry directly to Greece. A day trip to the Greek island of Corfu is tempting, but it also has its price: a return ticket by ferry costs 40 euros. The crossing takes about 30 minutes.
12 Bay of Vlora – at the Strait of Otranto, the narrowest point of the Adriatic Sea
Vlora is a port city and the third largest city in the country. The Bay of Flora and the many city beaches are ideal for swimming. Tip: If you are travelling by car, you will also find many hidden coves and beaches in the surrounding area, such as this one.
13 Berat – The city of a thousand windows
Berat, just like Çorovoda, is located on the Osum River. It was designated a museum city in 1961 and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. Due to the many white houses, mosques and churches, new buildings were completely banned in the three old town districts of Mangalem, Gorica and Kalaja. Thus, Berat is considered one of the most important sights in Albania today.
14 Hardly any German tourists in the holiday paradise of Shkallnur and Durres
We really liked it here. Why? Because we didn’t run into a single German tourist ;-) Accommodation tip: Hotel Pama.
15 Tirana, the up-and-coming Balkan metropolis
Where to start? Ok, short and sweet: the huge newly renovated Skanderbeg Square, a free walking tour, the pyramid (Enver Hoxha Museum), Bunker Art as well as the slow food restaurant Mullixhiu with its star chef Beldar Kola – all this should be seen or visited. Oh yes, and especially at night, the party-like traffic light illumination that the young and modern mayor has introduced comes into its own. Just like the light show in front of his workplace, the city hall.
16 Lake Scutari, the largest lake on the Balkan Peninsula
A natural landscape characterised by numerous unique water landscapes and lots of nature. A paradise on earth. Café Tip in Shkodra: The café directly at the bus stop.
17 Velipoja – 10 km sandy beach lagoon and lots of nature
Velipoja is a popular seaside resort with the longest bathing beach in Albania and an adjacent, beautiful nature reserve. There are also many shellfish farms around Velipoja.
18 The Drin River and the Koman Reservoir
The Koman reservoir in the national park stretches for 34 kilometres through the gorges of the Drin River. At its narrowest point it is barely more than 50 metres wide. You can sail along here in small ferries and boats. A real insider tip here is the Shala River Valley.
19 Pure ecotourism in Teth
Not far away is the small village of Teth, where mainly ecotourists can be found sleeping in the guesthouses of the locals and enjoying the silence and natural idyll of the surroundings in the middle of the Albanian Alps.
For those who have now acquired a taste for hiking, I have two more tips. I asked seven travel bloggers about their travel experiences in Albania. The result is a wonderful travelogue about encounters with the country and its people. Due to some problems with my camera SD card, I annoyingly lost many photos. The Albanian tourism authority was kind enough to provide me with the missing photos. Many thanks at this point!
Top 10 Albania travel tips
This section covers the most frequently asked questions about travelling to Albania. This includes the most important travel tips, tricks and important advice for planning your trip.
I’ll start with the most important tips:
- Cash: Albanian Lek in cash is necessary for a trip to Albania. You can even pay with a card at tourist places with only a 50% chance. I have written more about changing money in Albania here.
- Language: You can easily get by with English in the tourist places of Albania. Albanians often speak Italian in addition in tourist places because Italians are the biggest tourist group.
- Eating out: Albanians love to eat out. There is 1 coffee house per 152 inhabitants and 17,500 restaurants for Albania’s 2.8 million inhabitants.
- Internet and phone: Your free minutes do not apply in Albania. You must therefore switch off roaming, otherwise you will incur high charges. There are cheap SIM cards available at Tirana airport, which I recommend.
- Withdraw money: ATMs often have a fee. Pay with a card if possible, it’s cheaper. Even the exchange offices in the airport are cheaper than ATMs. I have written more about withdrawing money in Albania here.
- Driving: Overtaking on a two-lane road with oncoming traffic is normal. No kidding. Be prepared for anything on Albanian roads. They may be in good condition, but they won’t protect you from unlit vehicles at night, speeders and ignored restricted lines.
- Health insurance: Statutory health insurance does not cover all costs in Albania. Insurance is available from €10 per person per year.
- Safety: Contrary to all clichés, Albania is a safe destination with few tourist traps.
Getting to Albania
- There is only one international airport, Mother Theresa Airport in the capital Tirana.
- You can also reach Albania by ferry from Italy and the Greek island of Corfu.
- There is no viable train connection to Albania.
- Therefore, the best way to get to Albania from abroady is to fly to Tirana, then drive to Albania in your own car.
- Flights: Low-cost airlines offer flights to Tirana from major airports starting at €50 per person, in August, prices tend to go up. So early booking pays off for a good price. You can find good flights with Skyscanner’s „All month“ feature.
- Ferry: There are boats from Ancona, Bari, and Brindisi to Durres and Vlora. From Corfu there is a ship to Saranda.
- Public transport: Public transport in Albania is old, slow, and poor. Tickets are bought in cash from a ticket inspector on the bus in Albanian Lek. The Albanian railway system has been in disrepair for years. There are no good train connections throughout the country.
- Long-distance bus: Travelling by bus is the best means of transport between Albanian cities. You can find routes with Rome2Rio.com.
- Car and rental car: A rental car is recommended for traveling to sights outside Tirana. The motorways are okay between the tourist towns. The price for cars is reasonable. However, you have to expect that other drivers will consider a double barrier line in a curve that is difficult to see as more of a recommendation than a fixed rule.
- Taxi: Taxis in Tirana are okay, rarely a tourist trap by international standards, and cheap. There are no taxi apps like Uber. If this changes, please let me know in the comments below.
Albanian cuisine includes food from Albania, Kosovo, western North Macedonia and the regional cuisines of Albanians in Serbia and Montenegro.
In addition, there are influences from Greek cuisine and Italian cuisine. An Albanian minority lives in both countries.
Dishes such as byrek (börek) are reminiscent of the occupation of Albania by the Ottoman Empire.
Albanians like to eat outside. There is one coffee house per 152 inhabitants and more than 17,500 restaurants throughout the country. This is the world’s top position.
Commonly used meats are lamb, goat, beef and chicken, and depending on the religion, pork. Albanian cuisine uses all parts of animals. Dishes with offal are among the typical dishes in Albanian restaurants.
Dishes with fish and seafood are reminiscent of Italian, Croatian and Greek cuisine in Albanian port cities.
Typical side dishes are inexpensive foods such as rice, potatoes and beans.
Popular spices include oregano, mint, paprika, basil and garlic.
Here is a quick list of typical recipes, ingredients and dishes in Albania:
- Byrek: You can eat the Albanian version of börek in the morning, at lunch and in the evening.
- Sarma: Stuffed vine leaves.
- Moussaka: Casserole made of aubergines, minced meat and potatoes from Greek cuisine.
- Pilaf: Casserole of rice and meat.
- Qofta: Meatballs (Köfte).
- Tave Kösi: Baked lamb or chicken with yoghurt.
- Kackavall ne Furre me Domate: Baked cheese with tomatoes.
- Raki (Ouzo): The typical aniseed liquor from Greek and Ottoman cuisine.
- Coffee: Per capita, Albania has the most coffee houses in the world.
- Fergese: Tomatoes, cream cheese, green peppers and garlic in a kind of casserole.
- Baklava: The Albanian version of the dessert made of puff pastry, nuts and sugar syrup.
When to Travel to Albania?
The best time to travel to Albania is between April and October. The best time for a beach holiday is between May and September. In summer, the Albanian coasts are warmer than 30° on average, with few rainy days and the sea warmer than 24°. There is little difference in temperature between the coast and the interior of Albania. The port city of Durres, for example, is only an hour’s drive from the capital Tirana. Only in the mountains in the interior of Albania is it significantly colder than on the coast. Sometimes there is snow on the mountains until spring. For a trip to the sights of Albania, the spring months and the end of summer from September onwards are recommended. At that time it is no longer as warm as in high summer and there is less activity.