Tirana, Albania’s capital, is a popular tourist destination, mostly because it has the only international airport, but above that because it’s a lively city filled with art, culture and glorious food. In stark contrast to the country’s grim communist past, Tirana is vibrant and filled with color, literally. The previous mayor, Edi Rama, believed that the city’s safety and local pride could be improved by painting it in bright colors. Therefore, you can see buildings covered in rainbows at Wilson Square, massive murals and even small street art covering the electrical boxes. Visit some of the country’s oldest constructions like the Ottoman Mosque in Skanderbeg Square and then make your way to Bunk’Art 1 and Bunk’Art 2 to learn more about Albania’s history.
Vlore is located on a beautiful bay of the Albanian Riviera. You can witness some amazing sunsets, with vistas of the port where ferries connect Vlore to Brindisi in Italy. Inside the city are various monuments to Albania’s independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, which was signed in Vlore. Another important sight is the 500-year-old Muradie mosque. Outside the high season, it’s a budget destination as accommodation is quite affordable and eating out delicious Albanian, Balkan, and Mediterranean specialties always come at a good price.
Saranda is a hotspot along the Albanian Riveria and one that shouldn’t be missed during your trip to Albania. There’s a lot of great things to do in Saranda including hiking up to the Monastery of the 40 Saints, which is on the opposite hill from Lëkurësi Castle. Here you gain a magnificent view of Saranda and it’s a spot which many still don’t even know about. Another high recommendation is to explore the beaches to the north of the city (near the mosque on the hill). On this side of Saranda, you can visit totally secluded and wild beaches. Also, just above the mosque is an epic sunset spot too!
One of the best jumping off places for visiting the beaches of Albania’s Riviera is Himara, a small beachside town about 1.5 hours north of Saranda. While it has its own beach in town, there is a hidden beach accessible by boat (or terrifying hike which involves edging down a cliff holding a rope) that is one of Albania’s most beautiful and isolated beaches. It’s also a great base for visiting Albania’s other gorgeous beaches such as Gjipe and Jala as well as stunning abandoned castles and fortresses like Porto Palermo Castle and Borsh Castle.
Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque areas of Albania is the Albanian Alps. Stretching across the north of the country they are home to the Valbona National Park and offer incredible hiking opportunities. The town of Theth is a peaceful unassuming mountain village which is slowly gaining popularity as the base for trips to the northern Blue Eye (there is also one in the south) and the stunning Theth to Valbona hike.
The town of Shkodra in northern Albania is close to the border of Montenegro and is a natural stopping off point between the two countries as buses often will not connect between the two without a stop in Shkodra. It’s also the jumping off point for the Valbona to Theth hike (above) that any hiking-loving tourist makes a focal point of their Albania itinerary. But beyond being a natural stopover on longer Albania trips, Shkodra is well worth visiting for its own merits. The town is very bike-friendly which gives it a much different, more pedestrianized vibe to other cities in Albania – especially Tirana! It’s quite laidback and an easy place to while away a few days.
Krujë is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Albania. Located 600 meters high in Albanian mountains, it attracts travelers with its remarkable history and beautiful views. Krujë is one of the oldest places in Albania – its beginnings start in 3rd century! This town also used to be first historical capital of Albania. The most important landmark of Krujë is the characteristic yellow castle – Kalaja e Krujës. In the castle, there is the Skanderbeg Museum. All history lovers should visit this museum. There are many antiques and relics connected with the history of the region: original documents, bibliographies, maps, reproductions depicting life in the 15th century, mosaics, icons, sculptures and furniture.
8. Lake Komani
Komani Lake in northern Albania is actually a reservoir, created by a hydroelectric dam in the village of Koman. Komani has some of the best scenery in Albania. The gem-colored lake is surrounded by the sheer cliffs of the Albanian Alps. You will marvel at the occasional remote farms – it’s unbelievable that anyone could live there. There are several options to visit Komani Lake. From the middle of April to the end of October, you can take the ferry both ways from Koman village to Fierze and back (possible in one day or possible to stay overnight with a visit to Theth National Park).
Twinned with Berat (later in the article) as one of Albania’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Gjirokastra is a unique city well worth seeing while in Albania. Its unique stone architecture is unparalleled in the region, earning it the nickname “Stone City”. It’s incredibly beautiful and is famous for being home to the Gjirokastër National Folklore Festival which is one of the most famous cultural events in Albania each year. It hosts polyphonic singing which is one of Albania’s intangible cultural heritage designations from UNESCO.
10. The Blue Eye
Not far from Gjirokastra, you can’t miss one of southern Albania’s most beautiful natural landmarks, Syri I Kalter, when you’re traveling between Saranda and Gjirokastra as it’s right on the road between the two! A public bus (furgon) between the two cities will drop you off here. The Blue Eye is the nickname of this natural cold water spring which bubbles from an unknown depth – at least 50 meters deep but likely way more. It’s the source of the Bistricë River, which goes all the way to the Ionian Sea and empties out near Saranda.