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Albania isn’t the most popular country in the Balkans. Matter of fact, if you asked Europeans to place it on a map, there’s a good chance they couldn’t. However, what it lacks in popularity, it makes up for in majestic, unspoiled secrets which will make you continue to beg for more.
Standing below fragmented castles and war-torn forts, you will feel the history and the mystery all at once of this country which, until of late, has been held as enchanting hearsay to the rest of the world. It will make you feel as though you have discovered new frontiers waiting to be uncovered.
Albania is a country with a dark past and a relatively curious recent history. Tucked in the Balkans and surrounded by four countries; Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro, with two seas meeting at its western coast, there is a lot of reason to be intrigued by this undervalued destination.
Many travelers don’t bat an eye at it which is a travesty of its own. However, the few adventurers who make it a point to travel the less-traveled will be rewarded with the ultimate prize in Albania. Its glistening seafront, relaxing beaches, elusive fairytale castles, towering mountainsides, shackled culture, and impenetrable people will leave you in love with a country you couldn’t place on a map before-hand.
Take a look at our guide to all you need to know about Albania travel and the Best places to visit in Albania on a weekend break.
Albania Travel: Know Before You Go
The best part about Albania is undoubtedly the unknown. Not everyone has weighed in on their experiences, but those who have been know what it is like. Those who haven’t can only guess. Hopefully, you can imagine with more confidence with the information below.
Transportation in Albania
When it comes to transportation in Albania, your experience can vary greatly depending on what mode of vehicle you travel by.
Trains, on the one hand, were introduced in Albania during the communist reign in the 1940s and don’t seem to have been updated since.
There are some routes like the main north to south route, which isn’t bad in quality and offers unparalleled scenic views for a super low price.
Taxis are frequent in the main cities of Albania, but you will probably struggle to find them in the countryside. Make sure you negotiate the price before getting in the cab as there are no meters in Albanian taxis.
As a rule of thumb, Mercedes-Benz taxis of all shapes and conditions are decent and safe. So are yellow taxis. Generally speaking, you can hail a ride almost anywhere within the city for less than $ 5.
There are two choices of buses in Albania; both ran privately with improving routes every year. Inexpensive buses which run less frequently and the alternative furgons which are mini-buses which run more often but don’t leave until the bus is full.
You can always rent a car – which may be your best option for seeing small towns in Albania. Just keep in mind that the infrastructure is not the same condition in all regions of the country. Sometimes, you may have to deal with less than likable road conditions.
You can rent a compact vehicle in Albania for around $ 8-10 per day.
Accommodation in Albania is sometimes hard to come by in the small towns. Make sure you plan ahead. You can usually find a budget hotel in most places for around $ 20 per night. Likewise, you can share a dorm in a hostel for less than $ 10.
Food in Albania, along with sharing some qualities of Balkan countries such as heavy stews and smoked meats, also follows a Mediterranean diet with a lot of oiled roasted vegetables and feta cheese and breads.
You can find an inexpensive meal in Albania for under $ 5, or you can dine at a mid-range restaurant which will give you a good idea of the cuisine with a plethora of options for around $ 10.
Albania Weekend Itineraries
Here are a few examples of how to spend the weekend in Albania. We’ve also listed longer itineraries for travelers who appreciate fresh air and discovering new places for more than a weekend.
2 or 3-days: Start in Theth for a day, travel down to Schkodra for a day.
4-5 days: Start in Theth for a day, travel down to Schkodra for a day and Kruja for a day before ending up in the capital city Tirana.
7 days: Start in Theth for a day, travel down to Schkodra for a day, and Kruja for a day. Drive to Berat and stay there for two days. Finish the trip by driving to Ksamil (the southernmost town on this itinerary) while stopping in Gjirokastra.
Best Time To Visit Albania
Unlike some of the other magnificent places to explore in the Balkans, Albania isn’t best left for the heat of the summer.
Instead, we advise traveling either between April and June or September and October. During these months, you will avoid the heat and what rush of tourism Albania is starting to receive. You will have the entirety of the country at your fingertips – most times in solitude.
Albania is a country with the great outdoors and a nature scene straight out of a movie which means the more time you can spend outside the better. July and August are the hottest months, but if you can withstand the heat, it usually rains the least during these months.
The sea is best, believe it or not, in the late summer range. Toward the end of August and into September and October is when the sea finally reaches its peak warmth and the beaches begin to cool off and clear out.
There is no wrong time to visit Albania, though, and any time away from work you can get, you should visit this fairytale.
Best Places To Visit In Albania
Much of Albania feels like a small town. Whether it is because there are fewer tourists and more people going about their everyday life or the fact that it is relatively unpopulated, we don’t know. However, here are some small towns which we know you will fall in love with.
Gjirokastra – also known as Gjirokaster of the “City of Stone” — is a town in southern Albania scrunched up in the Drino River Valley between the Drino River and the Gjere Mountains. It is a rare former Ottoman town which is well-preserved at its former glory.
That is because it is the hometown to former communist leader Enver Hoxha who made sure the town stayed in exceptional shape throughout his reign.
There are about 25,000 people who call Gjirokastër home, which is nearly as many tourists as it sees annually. It is one of the oldest towns in Albania, settled over 2,500 years ago. It is nothing short of good fortune that this town is still the sight it is today.
No matter which vantage point you are viewing the city — whether from its streets, from the valley below, or looking down upon the river – Gjirokastra is one of the most beautiful places in the Balkans.
The cobblestone streets wind throughout town all leading to its most renowned attraction; the Castle of Girokastra.
Go ahead and stay for a night or two. Here are some of your best options in Gjirokastra when it comes to a place to rest your head at night:
- Hotel Lord Byron
- Resort Kerculla
- Hotel Old Bazaar 1790
On paper and in person, Kruja is an ideal small town road trip destination. It is small enough to be seen in a short afternoon or evening with loads of local history and scenery to go with it. Not to mention, it is less than an hour away from the country’s capital, Tirana.
The population is around 60,000 which is to be expected in the suburbs of Albania’s biggest city. Being so, there is enough entertainment and things to do to occupy as long as you would like, however, there is no need to spend more than a few hours if you prefer.
Kruja is the hometown of Albanian hero — a man named Skanderbeg — whose memory isn’t lost in the hearts of Albanian people.
Whether it is the Skanderbeg Museum which juts out of the largest attraction in the city -the castle on the hill – or his plaques and statues dedicated to his memory, you will surely become educated on Albania’s one and true hero while visiting.
It is just a small hillside town whose roads are as sloped as they are jagged from the worn cobblestone. You will have fun walking the streets for the afternoon and stopping at a cafe for a local fix.
Krujë is just an hour away from Tirana, remember. With that being said, you would be much better off finding a place to sleep in the capital city.
Here are some of our favorites there:
- Hotel Panorama Krujë
- Mervin Hotel
- AS Tirana Hotel
About one and a half hours south of Tirana, Berat is located on the banks of the Osum River in the southern half of Albania. It has nearly 60,000 people living in its boundaries, and many people visit each year to see the delicately preserved Ottoman architecture.
The entire city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for being an extraordinarily beautiful and great insight into what some describe as a mixing pot of architectural style.
It is easy to read Berat’s history just from a stroll around its Old Town. There are so many influences that played a part in modern-day Berat with art and murals to add onto it.
The best view is the neighborhood of white homes with orange roofs climbing the hill up to the famous castle. It all seems so symmetrical and planned.
The wild mountains that surround the area are even more magical at dusk. If you are around for sunset, the local people would be glad to point you to the best spot to watch the sun go down.
There is no shortage of excellent accommodations in Berat. Here are a few we think you would like that are all in an affordable budget.
Perhaps you might like to stay at one:
- Hotel Klea
- Hotel Vila Aleksander
- Hotel Mangalemi
Ksamil is the perfect Ionian Sea beach escape down on the very southern tip of Albania on the border with Greece. Over the past decade, it has decidedly become one of the hottest tourist destinations in Albania. That doesn’t mean the small coastal village is overrun with tourists; it just means this beautiful country is vastly underappreciated.
There are less than 3,000 people in town but, depending on when you visit, it can seem like many more than that.
Down along the beach in Ksamil are several seaside bars and restaurants along crystal clear, turquoise waters. Across from shore are four picturesque uninhabited islands within swimming distance of mainland Albania. Between the islands is beautiful snorkeling water and fun things to see.
The village itself sits along a renowned lagoon for mussels and other fishing so you won’t be disappointed with the lovely seafood cuisine while there. And the nearby Butrint ruins are well worth the day trip from Ksamil making the argument to visit the village even stronger.
If you have time to make it, we suggest avoiding the peak season and instead, visit around late September or early October. Don’t worry, that water is still warm at this time! That way, you can avoid the hordes of tourists who wash up ashore and ruin the enchantment that is Ksamil.
Ksamil has a plethora of accommodation options which are all as quaint as you would expect from such a charming town.
Take a look at these places:
- Studio Eno Ksamil
- Hotel Luxury
- Villa August Ksamil
Sitting on the other side of the country from Ksamil, in the far north along the Montenegro border, perched in the Albanian Alps is the small village of Theth which visitors always enjoy.
Theth is quite the opposite of Ksamil in that instead of the warmer climate of southern Albania on the beach, Theth is more frigid — especially the higher you get in the mountains — and quite a distance from any beaches.
Theth is a village for mountain enthusiasts whose love for serene vistas and views for miles on end excite them more than the journey itself. It has, perhaps, the best and most inspiring views in all of Albania.
In Thethi National Park, you will find deep waterfalls, mountain valleys further than the eye can see, and lush green forest to create a pleasing contrast of nature.
Theth has accommodation options of all shapes and sizes. If you’d rather, maybe there is an Airbnb spot which would suit your fancy.
However, we think one of these three options should do the trick:
- Thethi Paradise
- Hotel Vellezrit Guri
- Boga Alpine Resort
Located just an hour and a half north of the capital city, Shkodër (also written as Shkoder) is a stunning city nestled on the shores of Lake Shkodra at the intersection of three prominent rivers.
Standing in the ruins of Rozafa Castle, high up in the hills above the town, you look down on the quaint town streets and across for a supreme bird’s eye view of the impressively large Lake Shkodra.
Though the lake is the main attraction in town, it is by no means the only perk of visiting Shkodra. Matter of fact, you will love Old Town Shkodër even more. Its pastel-colored buildings with faint paint jobs will remind you of a small coastal town in Italy. And the museums and mountains are more than enough to hold your appetite for the rest of the country until you have thoroughly explored the traditional center of Gheg culture.
The superb location makes this place easy to visit on any kind of road trip through Albania. Spend a day or two here before moving on to Tirana or heading north.
Shkodra is a backpackers town with luxuries any traveler would appreciate. It hosts a variety of accommodation choices whether you want to stay under budget at a hostel or spoil yourself on a resort.
These are our favorites in town:
- The Wanderer’s Hostel
- Hotel Legjenda
- Petit Hotel Elita
Though a recent history of communism has darkened this country’s reputation and probably will falsely remain a part of its identity for decades to come, Albania is a completely safe country with some of the warmest people you will ever encounter.
Those willing to risk going into the unknown will thank themselves greatly once they discover what Albanians are all about. And those people will love the natural gems this place has to offer, as well.
Take a chance, take a short dip in Albania and let your senses overcome you.
If you have any questions about travel in Albania, don’t hesitate to reach us. We will do our best at using our knowledge to answer all of your questions and concerns.