Since Albania was almost off-limits to outsiders for most of the 20th-century, not a lot of people are aware of the country’s beauty. With its soaring mountains, historical towns with ancient architecture, excellent beaches and ruins – Albania is one of Eastern Europe’s hidden gems.
Tirana – the capital of Albania is located at the heart of the country. Dotted with Ottoman-, Italian- and Soviet-era architecture, the city also offers a few great museums including the excellent National History Museum. This museum is the best place to learn about Albania’s history – starting from the prehistoric times to its communist past. The Skanderbeg Square, however, is the focal point of Tirana. Named after an Albanian national hero, this vast square is where the city comes to life.
Historic cities and ruins are one of Albania’s prime attractions and cities like Gjirokastra, Butrint, Berat and Shkodra are the best places to witness its historical glory. Gjirokastra’s biggest draw is its namesake castle – located on a hilltop, from where you can get an amazing 360-degree view of the city. Its old town – marked with cobblestone roads and well-preserved Ottoman-era houses, is a UNESCO world heritage site and the reason why many people visit. Located almost halfway between Gjirokastra and Tirana, the UNESCO listed city of Berat is Albania’s another top draw, packed with stunning Ottoman houses and the Berat Castle. The city’s Byzantine churches, museums, and the Red Mosque are also worth checking out. Butrint (also known as Buthrotum) – located in the southernmost region of Albania – is another UNESCO listed city known for its ancient Greek and Roman ruins. The ruins are quite extensive, spread across 29 square kilometres and spanning 2500 years – it is currently considered as the largest ancient site in Albania. Located in the north, Shkodra (also known as Shkoder), a historical city and one of the oldest in Europe is known for pastel-coloured buildings and the Rozafa Fortress, overlooking Lake Shkodra. Cycling in the city is hugely popular.
Shkodra is a starting point for accessing the Accursed Mountains (Albanian Alps) – Albania’s prime hiking territory. Theth and Valbona are the two major villages with a beautiful natural setting and the drive from Shkodra to Theth is quite scenic, so is the trek from Valbona to Theth. While you are in the north, we highly recommend that you check out Lake Koman (also known as Komani Lake) and take the scenic Lake Koman ferry to witness its surreal beauty. It could easily be one of Eastern Europe’s best boat trips.
Albania has a long coastline along the Adriatic Sea, which is dotted with stunning beaches and Drymades Beach – in Dhermi village in the southern region – is perhaps the superstar of all. This beach is perfect for relaxation and is often crowd-free. Cities like Durres, Saranda, Ksamil also have some fine beaches.
With its diverse landscape and sights, you will never feel bored in Albania. Tired of exploring historic sites? Visit a modern city like Tirana. Had enough hiking in the mountain regions? Explore the stunning Adriatic Sea beaches. Albania is one of the best examples of “big things come in small packages“.
We highly recommend that you take the scenic Lake Koman ferry to witness its surreal beauty.