Albania was selected as our number one, must see destination for 2018. So it’s only right that we do a follow up article going into more detail about this fantastic country. From Tirana to Apollonia, here are our Top Ten Places to Visit in Albania.
10 – Tirana
We start our list off with the charming capital city, Tirana. This is the place most visitors arrive in Albania due to the airport. Although not as interesting to travelers as some of Albania’s other towns and cities, it is still worth spending a couple of days discovering Tirana. It is a friendly, welcoming place with a relaxed vibe, some good restaurants and some nice independent shops and markets. There is a revolving bar at Sky Tower which offers good drinks at a good price and offers fine views of the city.
Places to visit in Tirana include Et’hem Bay Mosque, the Clock Tower and Blokku which during the communist era was reserved solely for government officials. As a bonus check out the stunningly ugly piramida which was built during the communist era. The main sight in Tirana is Mount Dajti. You can get here by hiking or via cable car. The top presents a fantastic view of Tirana.
9 – Gjirokaster
Gjirokaster is one of a number of ancient cities in Albania. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is accessible via bus from all of Albania’s major cities. The main reason to visit Gjirokaster is to explore the historical places within. These include the Old Bazaar, historical Ottoman Homes, a number of old churches and mosques and Gjirokaster Castle. The castle is well worth a visit as included on the grounds is the Armaments Museum and it’s excellent display of post WW2 weapons.
For history buffs, a trip to Gjirokaster isn’t complete without a visit to the Cold War Museum. This is located in an underground bunker which was built to keep the Communist government safe in the event of a war. Whilst in Gjirokasterm, you can’t leave without trying the traditional dish, Qifqi. This is a baked dish made from egg, rice and seasonings.
8 – Apollonia
Apollonia is a stunningly beautiful, ancient Greek ruin. It was founded in 588 BCE and is in very good condition for it’s age. Apollonia is located on a hill 12KM from the city of Fier. There is 4km of ruined walls in Apollonia. The ruins include a church, monastery and a theatre. Although there aren’t many information posts in the ruins itself, there is an excellent museum nearby.
7 – Vlore
Vlore is one of Albania’s most famous coastal towns and is an extremely popular destinations. The main reason to come to Vlore is to soak up the sun on one of the many fine beaches nearby. The fabulous beaches stretch for several kilometers along the coast and are some of the finest in the Balkans. Vlore isn’t just about beaches however. The city also has a number of historical sites to see. Kanina Castle, the Monastery of Saint Mary and Orikum Ancient Theatre are all must see locations. Vlore is also famous for it’s food. The seafood here is considered to be the best in Albania.
6 – Berat
Berat is one of Albania’s oldest towns and is one of the finest examples of an Ottoman town in Europe. It is a small town and is easily explored by foot. It is simply amazing to have a walk around the fine old streets of Berat and soak in the vibe and atmosphere of this relaxing, ancient town. Although small, Berat is home to a number of important historical sites. The most well known is Kala Castle, dating from the 13th century. Other places to see include a number of 13th century churches and Ottoman Era mosques. For those looking for adventure, rafting tours are available through the canyons of the nearby Osumi River.
5 – Lure National Park
Halfway through our list of Top Ten Places to Visit in Albania. Next stop on our journey is Lure National Park. This fantastic place is home to some outstanding natural beauty. Set on the slopes of the Lure Mountains, the park is famous for it’s twelve glacial lakes. If you visit in the summer, the “Lake of Flowers” is full of beautiful, white water lilies. The park is host to a number of rare animals such as European Brown Bears, Eurasian Lynx and even Eurasian Wolfs. There are a number of different ways to explore the park. Hiking is always a popular option as is horse riding.
4 – Durres
An historical city and one of the gateways to Albania via ferries to Italy. Durres is lovely city to walk around with a relaxing vibe and a number of historical sites to see. Well known attractions to visit in Durres include the biggest amphitheater in the Balkans, the ancient city wall and the 16th century Venetian tower. It is a popular tourist destination with a number of good beaches nearby to have a relax by the sea and a swim. Lalzit Bay Beach and Golem Beach are the two most well known.
The city also has a nearby winery. Kokomani winery which offers guided tours and is an excellent way to kill an afternoon. In the evening, after a days sightseeing or sunbathing then take a walk along Durres’ fantastic sea front promenade. If you are looking for a place to eat then Bar Restaurant Kajser is the recommended spot with it’s great view of Durres.
3 – Shkodra
Shkodra is Albania’s fourth largest city. It is an ancient city and was the site of a famous siege where the Ottoman Empire lost up to 30,000 men. The main reason to visit Shkodra is for cycling. Because of it’s flat terrain, scenic countryside and good roads it is considered to be the bike capital of Albania. There is little better way to experience this city than by renting a bicycle for a day and exploring.
The highlight of Shkodra is the impressive but menacing fortress overlooking the city. Rozafa Fortress was built by the Illyrians and as it has been modified and rebuilt by various occupants (such as the Ottomans) over the years, it remains in good condition. The castle provides some fantastic views of the city and features an excellent museum.
Other places to visit in Shkodra are the Shkodra History Museum which is in a traditional Albanian house, Shkodra cathedral and the Site of Witness and Memory. Site of Witness and Memory is an impressive museum about the crimes of Albania’s communist regime. Also nearby is Lake Shkodra. This is the largest lake in the Balkans and can be reached by taxi or bicycle.
2 – Albanian Alps
Albania is famous it’s mountains and there are few ranges in the world as scenic as the Albanian Alps. The main tourist destination within the Albanian Alps is the charming village of Thethi. This small village is the perfect base-camp for hikers to explore the mountain peaks of Thethi, Boga, Razma and Vermoshi. A must see location near Thethi is the nearby waterfall which is considered to be one of Albania’s most beautiful sights. You can spend weeks exploring the Albanian Alps and it is well worth doing so. Every corner has an amazing view, perfect for Instagram. A particular highlight is the village of Razem, a place boasting hundreds of accessible caves to explore.
1 – Butrint
Now we reach the number one place in our Top Ten Places to Visit in Albania. The simply stunning archaeological site of Butrint.
Butrint is one of Albania’s hidden gems and is located near the small city of Sarande. Sarande itself makes an excellent place to visit with it’s relaxing, Mediterranean vibe. Butrint however, deserves to be world famous. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national park. The site has been inhabited from prehistoric times. It’s is an ancient city inhabited by the Greeks and later was a Roman Colony. It is considered to be one of the greatest of the Mediterranean classical cities but remains largely unknown by tourists.
There are a number of important archaeological sites and ruins located within the grounds of Butrint. These include a Roman Amphitheater, a Roman temple with an impressive mosaic floor, the 2nd largest Byzantine Basilica and a beautifully carved gate. There are a number of other ruins and buildings to see too.
Possibly even more impressive is the entrance fee. You can access Butrint for a mere €5. The larger, nearby city of Sarande is accessible via bus routes from Tirana, Vlore and Gjrokaster.