Sofia Adventures

Welcome to Sofia!

Sofia is an intriguing city, with corners that show at various times a glint of the splendor of Vienna, the charm of Istanbul, the quirkiness of Budapest, and the brutalism of Moscow. You’ll find Roman ruins in our subway stations, medieval icons in the church basements, and Thracian relics in the former presidential palace. Yet Sofia brings all of these seemingly disparate traditions together into one magical, inspiring city.

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27 Incredible Things to Do in Tirana, Albania

Tirana is one of my favorite cities in the Balkans, and it always breaks my heart when I hear a traveler has only dedicated a day – or worse, a mere transit stop – to visiting this incredibly vibrant capital.

OK, Tirana isn’t “pretty” in the traditional European sense of the word. It’ll never beat the Parises or Romes of the world for its beauty. But Tirana has a vibe uniquely its own, and in a world full of cookie-cutter European cities with tourist-packed Old Towns, Tirana is endlessly unique and utterly fascinating, worthy of at least two days on your Albania itinerary.

Get your bearings with a Tirana walking tour

Albania - Tirana - Skanderbeg square and Skanderbeg monument in Tirana in a beautiful summer day, Albania

I love starting my time in a city with a walking tour. It helps me to understand what the main tourist sites are, and I find that after doing a walking tour, I can usually tick off about half the things I wanted to do in that city in three hours or less.

I took the Tirana Free Tour on my first visit to Tirana back in 2016 and it was a fantastic introduction to the city of Tirana and the history of Albania. The tour is full of facts without a hint of dullness, as Albanian history is endlessly fascinating and completely new to most travelers.

Go deep into Albania’s dark past at Bunk’art 2

Albania - Tirana - Bunker in downtown Tirana, Albania with the Ministry of Urban Development in the background - Image

There are two Bunk’arts in Tirana, and each covers a slightly different aspect of Albania’s past. If you have two days or more planned for Tirana, I think it’s worth it to visit both. If you only have one day in Tirana, make it this one.

I’m putting Bunk’art 2 higher on this list of things to do in Tirana because it’s in the dead center of the city, making it far more likely that visitors will come here: it’s pretty hard to miss one of Albania’s signature bunkers emerging from a ground in one of Tirana’s main squares, after all.

Bunk’art 2 is more straightforward in telling the story of Albania’s past century of oppression and paranoia under the cruel hands of Enver Hoxha, the former dictator who ruled over Albania from 1944 to his death in 1985.

Those four decades were some of Albania’s darkest, and Bunk’art 2 illustrates that with poignant stories of those persecuted, imprisoned, and tortured by the regime — all in the home of a former bunker used by the Ministry of Internal Affairs during those years.

See the abandoned Pyramid at the heart of Tirana

Tirana - Albania - Pyramid Horizontal

The ‘Pyramid of Tirana’ is one of Tirana’s biggest quirks, an abandoned museum set inside a park in the heart of the capital. It was built as a museum in 1988 by Enver Hoxha’s daughter to memorialize him after his death. However, upon the fall of communism in Albania in 1991, the museum’s original function became defunct.

It has since moonlighted as a conference center, NATO base, radio station, film set, and beloved oversized slide by local children (though it is now fenced off to prevent this).

The Pyramid was at risk for demolition for years, but Tirana citizens fought against it; luckily, it was announced last year that the Pyramid will be converted into an IT center for young coders and programmers. If that doesn’t show the direction that Tirana sees itself going forward, I don’t know what does.

See the poignant Bell of Peace next to the Pyramid

Tirana - Albania - Pyramid Bell Horizontal

In the same park as the Pyramid, you can’t miss the Bell of Peace (Kambana e Paqjes), a small monument with an interesting story.

The bell itself is made of over 20,000 melted-down bullets from the civil unrest and violence that occurred in 1997, after a pyramid scheme practically bankrupted the country and led to a violent outburst that caused 2,000 deaths.

While it’s not a large monument by any stretch of the imagination, the history it represents is an important part of understanding modern-day Albanian history, and I find it rather moving.

Chill out in the hip cafés of Blloku

Albanians love to relax in bars and cafés…. a lot. As in, it’s the world leader in most bars and cafés per capita, and there are so many impressive cafés in Tirana that I wrote a caffeine-fueled post dedicated to them.

Cafés in Tirana are a significant part of the social life of locals, who sip espresso all hours of the day chatting with friends. The weather in Tirana is pretty mild year-round, so most bars and cafés have a large terrace area to relax in.

I could wax poetic about all my favorite cafés in Tirana (oh wait, I already did!) but a handful of my favorites are as follows: Komiteti Kafe-Muzeum, Small, and Nouvelle Vague.

Sip creative cocktails at the colorful Radio Bar

My favorite bar in Tirana is Radio Bar. I went there on my first visit to the city and fell in love with its funky décor — I sat at a table adorned with a vintage sewing machine, so I was pretty much in heaven.

My second visit, I visited during the daytime and noticed how completely colorful the outside area is, with rainbow-colored chairs and tables. I fell in love even deeper with this wonderful bar when I tried their tasty rakia caipirinha (try it if you’re brave – rakia packs a punch to the uninitiated!).

Relax in Skanderbeg Square, the heart of Tirana

To understand the direction where Tirana is headed, you need to visit Skanderbeg Square.

When I first visited Tirana in 2016, Skanderbeg Square was besieged by cars at all sides, and crossing from Et’hem Bey Mosque to Skanderbeg Square was almost like playing real-life Frogger with a dozen maniacal drivers.

Now, Skanderbeg Square is the largest pedestrianized space in the entire Balkan peninsula — and in the words of its mayor, it has become “a destination, rather than a place of transit”.

The architecture around Skanderbeg Square is still a bit of a chaotic pastiche: a socialist realist mural bedecking the National History Museum, an Ottoman-era mosque with a clock tower, newly repainted government buildings in a riot of colors. Its mishmash summarizes modern-day Albania perfectly: a wild variety of influences held together by a modern vision of the city.

Climb the clock tower (when it’s open!) for gorgeous views

The Tirana Clock Tower (called Kulla e Sahatit in Albanian) is located right next to the Et’hem Bey Mosque, built contemporaneously. This gorgeous clocktower is a reminder of the centuries of Ottoman rule that greatly shaped the course of Albania’s history.

The Clock Tower is usually open for visitors so that you can ascend the 90-odd stairs to get sweeping views over Tirana and in particular Skanderbeg Square. However, when I visited in summer 2019, it was temporarily closed, as well as the adjacent Et’hem Bey Mosque, for renovations, so it may still be closed. Please update me if this changes!

Admire the improbable Et’hem Bey Mosque

Why improbable? Well, during Enver Hoxha’s rule over Albania, religion was outlawed and hundreds, if not thousands, of mosques, churches, and other religious buildings were destroyed on his command.

Very few religious buildings remain from the pre-Hoxha era, except those which were of great cultural significance (and those were converted into secular institutions where worship was no longer permitted). Et’hem Bey, constructed in 1823, is an exception to this, having survived destruction by Hoxha’s party due to its cultural importance.

Today, it’s the oldest surviving mosque in Albania. When I visited the interior in 2016, it was clear it was in need of a little TLC, so I’m super happy that it’s getting the renovations it deserves, even if it means being closed for a year or two.

See the construction of the new mosque

It’s hard to ignore the construction of an enormous new mosque in the center of Tirana, which is known as the Great Mosque of Tirana or the Namazgâh Mosque. When completed, it will be the largest mosque in the Balkans, fitting up to 5,000 visitors and worshippers.

The mosque is being completed with the help of Turkey (who is also assisting with the Et’hem Bey restorations), and due to the history of Ottoman occupation and Turkey’s current political situation, that naturally brings up complicated feelings for some Albanians.

Turkey’s influence is clear in the aesthetic of the mosque, which to me resembles a modernized version of the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul.

While it’s not yet ready, I still think it’s worth walking by, since it’s due to be one of the most important religious sites in the Balkans in years to come.

Take a peek at Enver Hoxha’s former residence

While Albania on the whole has done a better job than most Balkan countries at addressing its complex past of communism and authoritarianism, the city of Tirana always seemed a bit perplexed on how to address the former home in Enver Hoxha.

Located in the heart of Blloku — once reserved for the party elite, now a hipster playground for Tirana’s youth — Enver Hoxha’s residence stood guarded yet virtually untouched for nearly 30 years.

This year, it was announced in an article in the Guardian that it will be converted into a public space. Prime Minister Edi Rama said this of his vision for the space:

“If you erase everything completely it would not be good. It’s important to have his ghost inside. My point is that it should be Enver Hoxha’s house, but inside all the things the guy would hate should happen. This could include modern art classes and exhibitions, literature talks and foreign policy discussions… all things Hoxha would have despised.”

As you’ve probably gathered from all the projects underway I’ve mentioned, the number of things to do in Tirana is always increasing, due to the innovative visions for the city and its entrepreneurial and daring spirit.

While it’s not yet open to the public, that should change shortly. In the meantime, it’s worth visiting it. It’s located at the intersection of Rruga Ismail Qemali and Rruga Ibrahim Rugova

Catch the sunset at Tirana’s chic Sky Bar

One of the best places to catch the sunset in Tirana is from the rotating Sky Bar, located on Rruga Ibrahim Rugova, not far from Hoxha’s former residence.

As predictable for a Sky Bar, prices for drinks is a bit higher than elsewhere in Tirana, because you’re paying for those views. It’s not too outrageous though — expect to spend about 400 lek (~$4 USD) for beer or wine and more for cocktails. The food is supposed to be pretty good, but I can’t vouch for that personally… and there are so many other good restaurants in Tirana worth eating at!

See the historic Tanner’s Bridge

It’s not the most beautiful bridge you’ll ever see, but the Tanner’s Bridge is an interesting sight in Tirana nonetheless, as it’s of the remaining relics of the Ottoman era in the city.

It was built near the now-destroyed Tanners’ Mosque, hence the name of the bridge. This bridge used to be part of the Saint George Road, a network that connected Tirana with the eastern, mountainous part of the country, which brought in livestock and vegetables from rural parts of Albania into the city.

Now, it’s not much more than a curiosity in the center of Tirana, but due to its central position, it’s worth a quick photo stop.

Marvel at the colorful rainbow buildings around Tirana

There are dozens of colorfully painted buildings all over Tirana, centered around Blloku and Pazar i Ri.

Wilson Square (Sheshi Uilson) is one of the epicenters of Tirana’s unique approach to urban revival: the colorful painting of otherwise rather ugly apartment blocks to add a touch of whimsy to the city’s landscape and revitalize it an affordable, quick way.

This approach was championed by Tirana’s former mayor, Edi Rama, (now the Prime Minister of Albania), who was also a painter. His painting blitz of Tirana’s central apartment blocks would change the look of modern Tirana immensely, and I think it’s central to the vision of Tirana today: reworking Tirana into a more liveable and exciting place, with a dose of realism on what the city can and can’t afford.

Learn about Albanian history at the National History Museum

The history of Albania is quite distinct from other countries in the Balkans, which have had more overlap and interaction throughout the centuries. While generally, many tourists focus on learning about Albania’s history in the admittedly intriguing past century of conflict, communism, and independence, the history of Albania is a lot more complex than that.

While it’s a small museum that can be seen in about 30 minutes to an hour, it’s well worth visiting the National History Museum (the building beneath the enormous socialist-realist mosaic in Skanderbeg Square) to get a sense of Albania’s pre-communist history, which is all too often ignored by visitors to the city.

Marvel at the modernist Cloud sculpture and exhibition space

Tirana’s “Cloud” sculpture (called Reja in Albanian) is so much more than meets the eye.

From afar, it looks like an oddly geometric cloud, but you can walk inside and sit and see it from all sorts of unique angles. It was created by the Japanese artist Sou Fujimoto, who also showed the piece in London.

It’s also an interactive events space – in the summer, movies are shown here, and it hosts workshops in front of the National Arts Gallery (below).

Check out modern Albanian art

After visiting the Cloud sculpture, be sure to head inside to the National Arts Gallery, which shows Albanian art and has intriguing exhibits which change regularly.

It’s a relatively small museum and only needs perhaps an hour if you’re a big art fan or a bit less if you just want to browse. That said, I still think it’s worth a visit if you have two days in Tirana, but maybe it shouldn’t be one of the top things to do in Tirana if you only have one day.

See the Albanian Open Air Museum (Post-Blloku)

This small ‘open air museum’ is really a series of three sites in one park across the street from the Gallery of Arts, all dedicated to the theme of the end of communism.

There’s a piece of the Berlin Wall on display here, as well as one of Albania’s hundreds of thousands of nuclear bunkers, and finally an abstract sculpture made from columns from a mine shaft at Spac Prison, a forced labor camp and political prison located near Tirana and used against political enemies during Hoxha’s rule.

Explore Tirana’s up-and-coming street art scene

Tirana - Albania - street art

There are several pieces of interesting street art and murals around Tirana, in addition to the colorful paint jobs that many of the buildings in the center have.

Unfortunately, the information about Tirana’s street art scene isn’t super organized as of now, so it’s more of a ‘walk and discover’ situation than being able to outline a street art walking route. I expect this will change in the near future as more street art seekers travel to Tirana and document it!

Visit Tirana’s scenic artificial lake

The Grand Park of Tirana is the lungs of a built-up, dense city: one of few green respites from the busy, chaotic traffic of Tirana, located just due south of Blloku. And at the heart of the Grand Park is the artificial lake (Liqeni Artificial i Tiranës), which may be manmade but is extremely beautiful nonetheless.

A handful of great restaurants have opened up here, including one of my favorite restaurants in Tirana, Mullixhiu, which focuses on creative Albanian farm-to-table dining.

The loop around the lake is about 5 kilometers, so only embark on it if you have an hour or two to dedicate to walking; otherwise, I suggest visiting it briefly, grabbing a cup of coffee at one of the cafés flanking the lake (it is Albania, after all – a café is never more than a stone’s throw away) to relax and take in the views.

Take the cable car up to Mount Dajti

Tirana’s artificial lake may be the green lungs of the city, but Mount Dajti is its true nature escape. Take the Dajti Express from the outskirts of the city up to the top of Mount Dajti, a 15-minute journey that costs 1,000 lek roundtrip (~$10 USD).

It’s the longest cableway in the Balkans and is ultra-modern, using Austrian cable cars (as someone who has taken a handful of ultra-slow, rickety cable cars in the Balkans — I appreciate this!) to whisk you up over a thousand meters rather quickly and smoothly.

At the top, there are hiking trails so you can enjoy Dajti National Park, as well as paragliding and mountain biking opportunities. For those looking for a little less activity, there’s also plenty of relaxation to be had.

There’s also the Dajti Tower Hotel where you can stay the night if you want to wake up in the mountains, a rotating bar in the Dajti Tower where you can enjoy marvelous views over Tirana, and the delicious Resturant Ballkoni Dajtit where you can get a great traditional Albanian meal like a meshana skara (mixed grill).

Visit the immersive, impressive Bunk’art 1

Combine your visit to Mount Dajti with a visit to Bunk’art 1, as the entrance to the cable car is only a few minutes’ walk from Bunk’art 1.

Though part of the same project, the two museums are rather different, and having visited both on separate visits to the city (as Bunk’art 2 wasn’t there yet on my first visit to Tirana) I can say it’s worth seeing both, even back to back.

Bunk’art 1 is especially interesting as it is much larger: five levels, in fact. It was meant to be used by Hoxha and his regime as a bunker in case of nuclear attack. The museum covers the history of Albania’s past century in depth, similar to Bunk’art 2. However, it also includes a lot more conceptual art as well as rooms in the bunker preserved as they were originally intended to be used to give you the sense of how the bunker would have been used in decades past.

Shop at the colorful Pazar i Ri

Another new fixture of Tirana’s tourism scene is the Pazar i Ri, “New Market.” It’s located a short walk from Skanderbeg Square and it’s one of the best places to shop in Tirana — I picked up the kitschiest souvenir ever here, an Albanian bunker-themed ashtray. My friend was delighted by it, and it’s a wonderful quirky gift for friends back home.

There are also vendors selling fresh produce, canned and jarred edibles like local honey and jams, and other souvenirs that you’ll be tempted to take home with you. I’m not a big shopper but I still couldn’t help but leave with a handful of goodies for loved ones back home.

It’s also one of the most colorful places in the city, with beautifully painted buildings inspired by textiles and embroidery, so it’s well worth a photo stop even if you don’t get inspired to buy.

Stroll down the pedestrian Murat Toptani Street

Tirana - Albania - Toptani Mall

Tirana’s Murat Toptani Street is the first true ‘pedestrian’ street in the city — one that is sorely needed amongst the traffic and congestion of downtown Tirana.

The castle area (Kalaja e Tiranës, below) is one of the highlights of this street, but there is also a large shopping complex and several cute cafés with extensive terraces on Murat Toptani as well.

Relax in the revitalized Kalaja e Tiranës area

Tirana - Albania - Tirana Castle development

Another new fixture in Tirana’s tourism scene, the ‘Tirana Castle’ area was completely undeveloped when I first visited the city but now is one of the cooler places to hang out and enjoy a coffee or shop for souvenirs.

I loved my mid-day snack at Luga e Argjendte, full of traditional Albanian appetizers like rose jam, homemade cheese, and spicy stuffed peppers. There are also several souvenir shops selling slightly elevated versions of what you’ll find in many of the bazaars around Tirana.

Learn about the Albanian secret police at the House of Leaves

The House of Leaves is dedicated to the actions of the Sigurimi, Albania’s secret police force, during the Communist era. It focuses on the vast surveillance efforts that the Sigurimi used to monitor the Albanian people and quell uprising efforts.

There is quite a bit of overlap in terms of thematics and history covered in Bunk’art 2, so you may want to give this or the other a skip. I’d say if you are narrowing it down to two museums between Bunk’arts 1 and 2 and the House of Leaves, to visit Bunk’art 1 outside the city center and the House of Leaves inside the city center to see two different visions of preserving the past without overlapping too much on the history.

Sample Tirana’s fine dining scene

Tirana - Albania - Restaurant Mellixhiu

Tirana is quickly becoming a gastronomic destination, with a focus on local ingredients, seasonal produce, and a combination of returning to Albanian traditional and looking to outside influences as well.

I had a number of fantastic meals in Tirana (I’ve outlined my favorites in more detail on this post on Tirana’s best restaurants), but I’d say SALT is fantastic if you crave a little Asian flair, A La Santé and Vila at Artigiano are some of the best Italian-inspired options, and Mullixhiu is delicious for local Albanian fare executed beautifully.

5 Things to Pack to Travel Hassle-Free in Albania

Gjirokastra - Albania - Town
Lovely Gjirokastra – a can’t-miss stop in Southern Albania!

We have a complete packing list for Albania, but make sure you bring these five items with you!

Lonely Planet Western Balkans is a great guidebook for your visit to Albania, and it’s great if you’re also visiting any combination of the following countries: North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. It can be really hard (sometimes impossible) to buy a physical guidebook in English once you’re in Albania, so if you like having your guidebook in your hands you will need to bring it with you from home.

Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (Steph uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get SIM cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams! 

If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use an Albanian sim card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use (and they also make men’s versions). It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag. It’s also aesthetically pleasing and stylish enough to be used as an everyday bag, which is unusual for a bag with so many safety features.

A Sturdy MoneybeltIf you don’t want to get a new bag with anti-theft features as I use, you can use a money belt instead. I prefer to have these features built into my bag instead, but I know for a lot of people a money belt is a less expensive investment than a new bag. 

Grayl Water FilterWhile the water is safe to drink in the country’s larger cities, you need to avoid it in the small towns and villages inland and on the coast. If you don’t want to be buying millions of plastic water bottles, you can get a reusable water bottle that comes with a water filter so that you can stick to the tap water and reduce your plastic waste. 

Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

Read next: Essential Albania Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Albania

Where to Stay in Tirana

We are working on hotel guides for Albania’s major cities. When traveling to Albania, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible. The country is gaining in popularity as a tourist destination, so some of the best spots do sell-out early (especially in summer in Tirana and on the coast)!

More Albania Travel Resources

Albania - Berat - Berat Flowers

First, start by reading our post on planning a trip to Albania. It covers everything from visas to vaccinations to what to pack, so it’s a great jumping-off point for your travel plans.

Next, check out our Albania packing list and our suggested one, two, and three week Albania itineraries.

If you’re curious about the currency used in Albania (the lek) and how tipping works, we recommend our Balkan currency guide to learn all about the Albanian lek and tipping culture. We also have a post on Albanian cuisine!

If you’re looking for even more places to add to your Albania itinerary, we have a bunch of ideas for you from us and other bloggers in this collaborative post about the 15 best places to visit in Albania! If you love UNESCO sites, make sure to check out Gjirokastra, Berat, and Butrint!

We are working on all of our Tirana guides, but for now, we have posts on the best restaurants in Tirana, the best Tirana cafes, and the best Instagram spots in Tirana, plus how to visit the Tirana Christmas Market.

We add new content almost daily! We recommend you bookmark our homepage, our Albania page, or our general Balkans page to refer to when planning your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Albania, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Albania, it’s a good idea to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.

For travel insurance, Allison and I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here. <<

Is Albania Safe? 11 Tips to Stay Safe in Albania

For many travelers unfamiliar with Albania, there’s a lot of confusion about the current state of the country that might leave them wondering is Albania safe to travel to. While we love traveling to Albania (and we’ve both traveled here solo), there are some common-sense Albania safety tips that you need to follow while here.

We share our best safety tips for Albania, plus important information about Albania travel scams and crime statistics.

Can’t read now? Pin for later!

Is Albania Safe? 13 Albania Safety Tips

Is Albania Safe? 5 Things to Know about Safety & Crime in Albania

Here are five facts about the current state of crime in Albania that you should be aware of. I address how to protect yourself in the next section. So while these things exist, there are things you can do. Being aware of them is the first step.

There is a Small Risk for Domestic Terrorism

While there have been no major terrorist incidents in Albania in recent years, unlike in the UK, Spain, France, etc., there are still some issues with terrorism. According to the Albania 2019 Crime & Safety Report:

Returned Albanian fighters from Syria and Iraq continue to pose a problem for the country. The Albanian government has policies and procedures to document the travel of Albanians to and from Iraq and Syria. In 2018, there were 25 new terrorism-related cases in the judicial system, although no prosecutions were conducted.

Violent Crime is Decreasing

Although violent crime in Albania is usually targetted to locals and not travelers, nevertheless travelers should always be smart. According to the Albania 2019 Crime & Safety Report: 

Recent crime statistics indicate a decrease in numerous violent crime categories; this includes murder/attempted murder, robberies by force, and armed robberies. Street crime is fairly common in urban areas, predominantly at night. The most notable crimes are burglaries, theft, and domestic violence claims. If confronted by armed assailants, comply with demands.

Albania - Tirana - Aerial view of Tirana city ​​and outskirts, Albania. Tirana city seen from the Dajti Express (Dajti Ekspres). Beautiful cityscape seen from the Dajti Express cable car. - Image

Political Demonstrations Can Turn Violent

While most political protests are peaceful, there’s always a chance they can turn violent. In Albania, political demonstrations are frequent. Follow the US State Department’s advice:

Demonstrations and political protests are common in Albania. The protests are generally peaceful but have resulted in violence in the past. The demonstrations vary in size from several hundred to more than ten thousand participants and frequently disrupt traffic.

Avoid demonstrations whenever possible. Alerts and Messages can be found on the U.S. Embassy Tirana Website.

Sexual Assault is a Larger Issue in Rural Communities

Keep in mind that sexual assault is under-reported, but in aggregate sexual assault is more of an issue when in small towns and villages. According to the Albania 2019 Crime & Safety Report: 

Sexual assault and harassment is an issue mostly in the smaller towns. The victims tend to be females walking alone.

Albania - Tirana - Skanderbeg square and Skanderbeg monument in Tirana in a beautiful summer day, Albania

Lazarat is Still a Target for Local Organized Crime

While most of the country has no heightened travel warning, Lazaret is a special case. According to the US State Department, there is an elevated risk in Lazaret:

The security situation in Lazarat remains volatile due to crime and violence associated with marijuana cultivation. Local police have limited ability to protect and assist travelers.

The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Lazarat as U.S government employees are prohibited from traveling there.

Of course, travel advisories change over time. Check the US Travel Advisory for Albania before your trip, just read them carefully to see what they actually reference. 

11 Albania Safety Tips

Here are our essential Albania safety tips.

Avoid political demonstrations

I know it’s tempting. It happened to me in Tunisia and Iceland. You see a large protest rally and you just have to know what’s going on. 

Well, in Albania, stay away. In 2018 a political protest resulted in injuries to thirteen police officers. You do not want to be in the middle of a political situation that you don’t understand, especially when you don’t speak the language. 

So just stay away from political demonstrations of any kind while in Albania.

Know what to do if something goes wrong

It’s a good idea to know what you would do in a country if something were to go wrong. Besides your embassy’s contact information, keep these numbers handy:

Ambulance: 127
Police: 129
Fire: 128 

Albania - Tirana - Couple in love on the street on a rainy day. Friends walking down the street looking in same direction under transparent umbrella

Enroll in your government’s safety program

If you’re an American and you are concerned about the possibility of terrorism or political unrest while in Albania, you can enroll in the State Department’s STEP Program. This lets the government know your travel plans, and they will also email you to alert you if anything happens on the ground.

To be honest, I don’t use it when I go to Albania (though I probably should) since I feel pretty safe there. I have used it while traveling in Tunisia during protests, and I appreciated the up-to-date emails with what to look out for and areas to stay away from.

There is a similar program for Canadians. If you are a citizen of another country, check with your government to see if they provide these services. 

Do not drink and drive 

We love going to Albania for the wine and raki, but you cannot mix this with a night drive. Even a tiny bit of alcohol in your blood is illegal and will get you arrested (not to mention other Albanian drivers can make driving difficult even without alcohol).

Albania - View from Rozafa Castle

Have your travel insurance information handy

Since you’re a smart, safety-first kind of traveler, you know it’s a good idea to get a travel insurance policy before you leave for your trip.

But what do you do with it once you have it? First, it’s a good idea to have easy access to your policy information so you can make a claim if needed. You can also give the policy info to an emergency contact who’s not traveling with you. In a worst-case scenario, they can access the benefits to help you if you’re unconscious.

Something no one likes to think about:  In an absolute worst-case, your family can use the policy to have your remains repatriated (provided this is part of your coverage, obviously. I look for policies that include this). No one likes to think about this stuff, but it would be worse if something happened and then your family had to figure out what to do.

Of course, the most likely scenario is you have travel insurance and everything goes right on your trip. That would be awesome. You’d have peace of mind while you travel but you wouldn’t actually need to deal with anything. 

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip.<<

Keep your money safe

Don’t every flash your cash. Use a mix of credit cards and cash in the city, and keep everything tucked away. 

I use a Pacsafe Citysafe backpack, which has a pocked inside with RFID technology. This helps to make sure my credit cards won’t get scanned from afar.

It also has interlocking zippers, which means if someone does see that I have extra cash on me, it will make it harder for them to pickpocket me.

If you don’t want to buy a new backpack with safety features, you can use a money belt instead. 

Tirana - Albania - Street Art

Have a hard copy of your card numbers, phone numbers, and passport information

If something does go wrong and your cards and passport get stolen, you need to be able to get them replaced. Have a hard copy in case your phone also gets stolen. This way you can call your banks, your embassy, and then your travel insurance company to get everything replaced without needing access to the internet.  

I like to have one copy in my backpack, one copy in my day bag, and email a copy to myself in case I literally get everything stolen. 

Never leave your stuff unattended

It’s tempting to leave your stuff unattended when you’re in a restaurant or cafe, especially if you’re traveling solo. How much easier would it be to just leave your backpack at the table while you go to the restroom?

Don’t! Never leave your stuff unattended. Don’t leave your cell phone out on the table. If you’re out in a public place that has a lot of tourists, sit with one of your chair legs through the loop of your backpack.

Be the hardest target, not the easiest. That starts with not letting your stuff be easily snatchable! 

Albania - Berat - View from the Castle

Pay attention to your surroundings

Pay attention to your surroundings. The one time I thwarted a pickpocket (in Italy, of course) was because I saw him out of the corner of my eye. He caught me looking at him, and he removed his hand from my backpack. 

If I hadn’t have been paying attention, he would have gotten my cell phone, my cash, and my passport! 

Don’t get lost on your phone in transit or in a taxi. Don’t keep your headphones on when you’re walking alone. 

Make sure you can generally see and hear what’s going on around you so that if something is about to happen you’ll be aware. 

Don’t drink the tap water in rural areas and small towns on the Albanian Riviera

While you can generally drink the tap water in places like Tirana and Saranda, it’s not safe to drink in small towns. Instead, opt for bottled water or bring your own Grayl Water Filter so that you can filter the tap water yourself. 

Albania - Berat - Ottoman House on the River

Women need to use extra caution – just like everywhere in the world 

There are very low rates of reported crime against women in Albania, and it’s not a country where catcalling is a real problem.

However, that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t be just as vigilant in Albania as they would be in their home towns or big cities.

Don’t leave your drink unattended, don’t drink too much if you’re traveling alone, be wary of any men who try to get your attention, etc.

Another thing to consider is that while there are low levels of sexual assault reported in Tirana, you should be just as wary of other travelers you meet as any locals. 

So, How Safe is Albania?

Overall, Albania is a great place to travel, and I haven’t had any issues there as a solo female traveler. However, you want to use the same caution against pickpockets, sexual assault, etc. as you would anywhere in the world.

In addition, if political protests flare-up or there is a terrorist incident, it’s better to know ahead of time what you will do. Hopefully, you will have a safe, fantastic trip, but it’s better to be prepared just in case. 

5 Things to Pack to Stay Safe in Albania

Bulgaria - Burgas - Stephanie at Burgas Train Station with Luggage

We have a complete packing list for Albania, but make sure you bring these five items with you!

Lonely Planet Western Balkans is a great guidebook for your visit to Albania, and it’s great if you’re also visiting any combination of the following countries: North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. It can be really hard (sometimes impossible) to buy a physical guidebook in English once you’re in Albania, so if you like having your guidebook in your hands you will need to bring it with you from home.

Unlocked Cell Phone: Allison and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (I use a Samsung and she uses and iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams! 

If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use an Albanian sim card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Allison and I use (and they also make men’s versions). It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag. 

A Sturdy MoneybeltIf you don’t want to get a new bag with anti-theft features as I use, you can use a money belt instead. I prefer to have these features built into my bag instead, but I know for a lot of people a money belt is a less expensive investment than a new bag. 

Grayl Water FilterWhile the water is safe to drink in the country’s larger cities, you need to avoid it in the small towns and villages inland and on the coast. If you don’t want to be buying millions of plastic water bottles, you can get a reusable water bottle that comes with a water filter so that you can stick to the tap water and reduce your plastic waste. 

Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

Read next: Essential Albania Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Albania

Where to Stay in Albania

Albania - Berat - Ottoman Houses

We are working on hotel guides for Albania’s major cities. When traveling to Albania, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible. The country is gaining in popularity as a tourist destination, so some of the best spots do sell-out early (especially in summer and on the coast)!

More Albania Travel Resources

Albania - Berat - Berat Flowers

First, start by reading our post on planning a trip to Albania. It covers everything from visas to vaccinations to what to pack, so it’s a great jumping-off point for your travel plans.

Next, check out our Albania packing list and our suggested one, two, and three week Albania itineraries.

If you’re curious about the currency used in Albania and how tipping works, we recommend our Balkan currency guide to learn all about the Albanian lek and tipping culture. We also have a post on Albanian cuisine!

If you’re looking for even more places to add to your Albania itinerary, we have a bunch of ideas for you from us and other bloggers in this collaborative post about the 15 best places to visit in Albania! If you love UNESCO sites, make sure to check out Gjirokastra, Berat, and Butrint!

We are working on all of our Tirana guides, but for now, we have posts on the best restaurants in Tirana, the best Tirana cafes, and the best Instagram spots in Tirana, plus how to visit the Tirana Christmas Market.

We add new content almost daily! We recommend you bookmark our homepage, our Albania page, or our general Balkans page to refer to when planning your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Albania, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Albania, it’s a good idea to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.

For travel insurance, Allison and I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here. <<

Pin this Albania Travel Safety Guide for Your Trip

Is Albania Safe? 13 Albania Safety Tips

 

Is Albania Safe? 13 Albania Safety Tips

The Essential Guide to Visiting Gjipe Beach, Albania’s Most Beautiful Beach

Getting to Gjipe Beach is not an easy task – and that’s exactly why it’s so worth it.

This stunning beach takes up prime real estate on the beautiful Albanian Riviera — yet it has none of the crowds of neighboring Himara or Drymades. The reason? A 45-minute hike up and down each way, unshaded by the hot sun, stands between you and the beautiful Ionian Sea (though that are a few ways around that).

If you have rented a 4×4, you can drive down all the way to the beach, but this post is going to assume you haven’t and give you directions for how to get to Gjipe Beach from Himara and Dhermi, two of the more popular choices for where to stay on the Albanian Riviera, as well as a few other alternatives, such as taking a boat from a nearby beach.

Getting to Gjipe Beach by Car

If you’ve rented a car to travel around Albania, it’s not too hard to get to Gjipe Beach. You can simply drive to the main parking lot, which is located a few kilometers away from the beach itself. The road all the way down to the beach is unpaved, sandy, and full of hairpin turns. It is only suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles, so don’t attempt it without one!

The fee to park is 200 lek (about $2 USD), and your car will be looked over by an attendant so you don’t have to worry about leaving things in your car that you don’t want to take down to the beach with you.

From the parking lot, you’ll make about a 2-kilometer hike down to Gjipe Beach, which takes about 30 minutes to one hour depending on your pace… and how many photos you stop to take along the way!

How to Get to Gjipe Beach by Boat

The most scenic (and expensive) option to get to Gjipe Beach is by boat. You can arrange a private transfer from Himara to Gjipe or Dhermi to Gjipe at your guesthouse. You can also arrange a boat transfer at Jala Beach and visit two of Albania’s most beautiful beaches in one day.

There is no set price, as each boat driver sets their own, but expect to pay roughly 2,000 lek ($20 USD) per person for a roundtrip transfer from either Himara or Dhermi.

You can also arrange for a boat transfer at Jala Beach by hiring a local with a boat. I’m not sure what the fees would be, but they would be less than from Himara or Dhermi as Jala is much closer.

If you want a more active way to get to Gjipe Beach, but don’t feel like hiking, you can rent a kayak at Jala to go to Gjipe. It’ll take about 40 minutes to 1 hour to kayak from Jala to Gjipe, though I only recommend doing this if the waves are minimal.

Getting to Gjipe Beach by Bus

There are several minibuses (furgons) that go up and down along the main coastal road. You can flag down and hop on any furgon that connects major cities along the coast, such as the buses between Himara and Vlora, which make several runs a day. The timetables depend on the season, so you’ll want to ask your guesthouse or hotel owner for the most recent times, but generally there is at least one early morning option, one mid-morning option, and one afternoon option.

Note that if you go to Gjipe Beach by bus, as I did, it may be a bit difficult to time your return journey by bus as well. The hike back up the hill is a lot more difficult than the way down, especially if you’re battling high sun and fatigue from being in the sun all day… or if you were betrayed and sunburned by your Albanian sun milk (how could I have ever possibly thought that wouldn’t go wrong?).

Due to taking longer to hike back up the hill and the questionable bus schedule, I ended up having to hitchhike back, which is extremely easy to do in Albania, but I don’t recommend hitchhiking this solo if you can help it (I had another person hitchhiking back with me).

Albania is a safe country full of hospitable and lovely people, and hitchhiking is relatively common around these parts. However, I still don’t suggest doing it solo, especially if you’re a woman, just as a precaution.

How to Get to Gjipe Beach by Walking

If you don’t mind a little extra exercise, there are several ways to get to Gjipe Beach all on foot! Gjipe Beach is conveniently only 4 kilometers from Dhermi and 5 kilometers from Vuno, and there are trails that connect them.

Walking paths are laid out on Maps.me, which is extremely helpful to have pre-downloaded in advance as some trails, like the Vuno-Gjipe path, are not well-marked.

If you choose to do this (or any way you choose to get to Gjipe Beach short of 4×4 or boat, honestly) be sure to bring a ton of water, as there is virtually no shade on these paths and you’re looking at at least a 2-3 hour hike each way at a minimum.

Camping at Gjipe Beach

There is a small campsite at Gjipe Beach, Gjipe Eco Camping, with very basic facilities but an unbeatable location. You can book online here to save your spot. You can bring your own tent or use the one they provide. You may want to bring your own sleeping bag liner for added cleanliness.

What to Do at Gjipe Beach

Besides lay and bake in the sun (bring that SPF!), there are a few things you can do to pass the time at lovely Gjipe Beach.

Swim or kayak by the caves

There are a few caves on the lefthand side of Gjipe Beach (facing the ocean) that you can explore! The people I was visiting Gjipe Beach with were brave enough to explore them, but I’m not a very strong swimmer and the waves were a little rough when I visited Gjipe Beach so I didn’t get a chance to see them for myself.

Be extremely cautious when visiting these caves as waves can surprise you, and unless you’re a very strong swimmer, I wouldn’t visit these alone.

Rent a chair & umbrella

Albania in the summer is hot, and the sun at Gjipe Beach is particularly punishing. I got one of the worst sunburns in my life at Gjipe Beach – so bad that I actually think I had sun poisoning and felt sick for days afterwards.

Beat the heat and rent a beach chair with umbrella to get a little shelter from the sun (and don’t put your faith in Albanian sunscreen — bring some from home, seriously). You can get a pair of two chairs plus an umbrella for 1,000 lek ($10 USD) for the day — expensive by Albanian standards, but in my opinion, a total steal for this pristine patch of coastline.

Explore Gjipe Canyon and Waterfall

Once you arrive down on the beach, you can explore the Gjipe Canyon area on foot for a bit more of an active day, though it’s best suited for people comfortable with rocky terrains.

I didn’t explore this area as I was already pretty tuckered out from the hike down, which was more challenging than I expected in the heat, but supposedly there is a beautiful waterfall here as well. Ask a local staffing the bar or restaurants on Gjipe for directions.

Sip on an ice cold beer

There’s a small ‘bar’ at Gjipe Beach which offers cold beers, water, sodas, and a few snacks.

Prices are a bit inflated here due to the difficulty of bringing things in, but buying yourself a beer after a tough hike down to Gjipe is well worth the slight upcharge. Expect to pay about 300 lek ($3 USD) for a beer.

Dine on fresh seafood

There are a handful of restaurants at Gjipe Beach, if you didn’t bring your own food for a picnic.

Like the bar, the prices are inflated — about twice what you’ll find back in Himara or Dhermi — but for the convenience, it’s surely worth it. Go for the seafood, which is as fresh as can be along the Riviera.

5 Things to Bring to Albania

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

We have a complete packing list for Albania, but make sure you bring these five items with you!

Lonely Planet Western Balkans is a great guidebook for your visit to Albania, and it’s great if you’re also visiting any combination of the following countries: North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. It can be really hard (sometimes impossible) to buy a physical guidebook in English once you’re in Albania, so if you like having your guidebook in your hands you will need to bring it with you from home.

A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in big cities in Albania is drinkable, such as in Tirana and Sarande, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! Albanian water has a notoriously high amount of chlorine that affects the taste.

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

Unlocked Cell Phone: Steph and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (Steph uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams! If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use an Albanian sim card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Travel safety items. We think Albania is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Steph or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack. It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read next: Essential Albania Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Albania

More Albania Travel Resources

Albania - Berat - Berat Flowers

First, start by reading our post on planning a trip to Albania. It covers everything from visas to vaccinations to what to pack, so it’s a great jumping-off point for your travel plans.

Next, check out our Albania packing list and our suggested one, two, and three week Albania itineraries.

If you’re curious about the currency used in Albania and how tipping works, we recommend our Balkan currency guide to learn all about the Albanian lek and tipping culture. We also have a post on Albanian cuisine!

If you’re looking for even more places to add to your Albania itinerary, we have a bunch of ideas for you from us and other bloggers in this collaborative post about the 15 best places to visit in Albania!

We are working on all of our Tirana guides, but for now, we have posts on the best restaurants in Tirana, the best Tirana cafes, and the best Instagram spots in Tirana.

We add new content almost daily! We recommend you bookmark our homepage, our Albania page, or our general Balkans page to refer to when planning your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Albania, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Albania, it’s a good idea to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.

For travel insurance, Steph and I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here. <<

9 Things to Do in Gjirokastra, Albania’s Stone City

Gjirokastra (alternately written Gjirokastër because, Albania) is a UNESCO World Heritage gem, thanks to its gorgeous Ottoman-era stone architecture. In fact, Gjirokastra is lovingly nicknamed “the city of stones” due to its unique building style.

While Gjirokastra is twinned with Berat as a UNESCO site, they are both so unique and different from one another that you can’t visit just one and get the whole effect. It’s really worth your effort to visit both. And if asked to pick a favorite, I don’t think I could: they are both so unique, each with something distinct to offer.

The majority of the houses in Gjirokastra are composed entirely of stones, right down the roofs, which are made of carefully composed layers of flat stone tiles. It’s really beautiful to walk around the city, and you can go inside a few of the old houses, which have been preserved perfectly and turned into museum houses.

Things to Do in Gjirokastra

Check out the traditional houses for a firsthand look into the past

There are several traditional house museums in Gjirokastra, but if you have to pick just one to visit, I’d opt for the lovely Zekate House, which is one of the oldest such tower-houses in the city which used to belong tot he city’s elite. It was built in 1812 and is in fantastic condition to this day.

You can visit for 200 lek (~$2 USD) and the owners of the house will show you around each and every room on the four levels of the house, giving you details about each room’s function and history. They speak Albanian, Italian, and some English.

If you want to visit more than one house museum, I also suggest Skenduli House, which is just around the corner from the Ethnographic Museum.

Check out the Gjirokaster Fortress and its marvelous views

The castle at the top of Gjirokastra is quite a climb, but it’s absolutely worth the effort spent and the 200 lek (less than $2 USD) entrance fee!

In addition to the crazy views of the entire city you get, you can learn about its dark history. More often than functioning as a castle, it was used as a prison by various regimes, from Albanian kings to the brief occupation of the Nazis to Enver Hoxha’s communist party.

Now, it’s home to lots of different military equipment, including a decrepit U.S. Air Force plane that was supposedly captured by the Communists.

It’s a fascinating place to walk around, mostly because when I visited, it was super empty and almost gave me that Indiana Jones feel of exploring a place lost to time.

There are a few other points of interest: the clock tower, theW arms museum, abandoned tanks from WWII, and the lovely concert stage (pictured later in this article) are all well worth your time, but my personal favorite part was wandering aimlessly amongst the crumbling walls.

Photograph Gjirokaster’s distinctive bell tower

The icon of Gjirokaster, it’d be silly to leave the beautiful city without snapping at least one photo of its gorgeous belltower. It’s located at the edge of the castle complex, near the concert area.

I suggest snapping photos from it from a variety of angles – and if you have more than one lens, you can vary between wide-angle shots getting in the entire landscape and zoomed-in shots that compress the belltower beautifully against a mountain backdrop.

Go underground in Gjirokastra’s tunnels

There’s a network of tunnels beneath Gjirokastra’s castle that date back to its use as a castle.

These tunnels were converted into a bunker during the Communist era, complete with rooms used for interrogating enemies of the state and tunnels to escape from in case of an enemy invasion.

It costs 200 lek for a brief guided tour of the tunnels.

Visit Viroit Lake (Liqeni i Viroit)

For a break from the stone architecture and castle exploring, check out the beautiful nature at Liqeni i Viroit (Viroit Lake) just a few kilometers outside the Old Town of Gjirokastra.

I recommend taking a taxi and having them wait for you as it won’t be easy to get here from the Old Town on the hill otherwise. It’s not a particularly large lake, but it’s still quite beautiful. There are three small restaurants in the area, so you can get lunch while overlooking the lake if you get hungry.

Shop at the Ottoman Bazaar

We love shopping for souvenirs in Albania, and I make it a point to visit a bazaar (marketplace) in every Albanian city I visit!

You’ll find rugs, handworked lace, ceramics, jams, honey, and other small handworked souvenirs.

Visit the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, now an ethnographic museum

The shadow of Enver Hoxha’s reign looms large in Albania, and you can’t visit this country and ignore its past. Albania’s past has a way of confronting you, from the bunkers that dot the landscape to the museums dedicated to Hoxha’s decades of paranoid control.

Some of the informational placards give information on the house’s most famous former resident. However, in general, the museum is a celebration of Albanian textiles and tradition, preserving the history of the 18th-century Ottoman architecture and interior design.

Do a day trip to the Blue Eye (Syri i Kalter)

The beautiful Blue Eye (Syri i Kalter in Albanian) is just about 45 minutes’ drive from Gjirokastra, and it’s actually a convenient halfway point between Gjirokastra and Saranda should you be heading between those cities at any point on your Albania itinerary.

There, the freezing cold water gushes up from a freshwater spring of unknown depth — divers have yet to be able to determine where exactly the bottom is, but it’s more than 50 meters deep.

It’s one of the most beautiful sites in Southern Albania, and while not in Gjirokastra proper, it’s so close it’d be an utter shame to skip it.

Keep an ear out for iso-polyphonic singing, a UNESCO-listed piece of Albanian heritage

Occurring only once every five years, the National Folklore Festival occurs in Gjirokastra and is well-worth shifting around your schedule for if it so happens to align! I can’t find details on when the next festival will be, but there are still other opportunities to find it — ask a local or your hotel/guesthouse owner for information if you’re keen to find out more.

Even if you’re unable to find the singing yourself (I didn’t find it during my visit to the city), you can see the stage where the festival takes place, set beautifully in the Gjirokaster fortress complex with a backdrop of the mountains.

How to Get to Gjirokastra from Saranda

From Saranda, locate the furgon (bus) station. The one to Gjirokastra is located outside the ruins within Saranda’s city limits, which is around the intersection of Rruga Flamurit and Rruga Skenderbeu. Your host, or pretty much any Albanian person, should be able to direct you to the bus to Gjirokastra. It should cost about 300 lek (less than $3 USD).

Tell them you want to get off in the Old Town of Gjirokastra. Make sure you specify Old Town or it will take you further away, to the New Town. It takes a little over an hour to get there. They will drop you off by a gas station at the bottom of a huge hill, which, yes, you will have to climb (or wait for a mercurial blue public bus, which never seemed to show on my ascent, but was everywhere as I walked down).

If you’re lazy or impatient, there are taxis available or you could hitch a ride up to the top – Albanians are super friendly and often willing to give you a ride, usually in a kickass Mercedes.

Where to Stay in Gjirokastra

Budget: The best hostel in town is by far Stone City Hostel! It has a cozy, homey feel with comfortable shared spaces and a social but not too party-focused atmosphere. The hosts are really kind and welcoming and offer a wealth of information about the region.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Mid-Range: For a more private option, Hotel Kalemi is a great choice. It’s beautifully designed, almost more of a boutique hotel vibe, while still offering rooms well under $50 USD a night. The rooms are ornately beautiful, some with intricately designed ceilings and regal-feeling furniture.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Luxury: Gjirokastra isn’t a particularly fancy city, but if you are looking for a dose of luxury in your stay, you’ll get fantastic value for your money at Old Bazaar 1790. It truly feels like its own palace, especially the Deluxe King Suite with its beautifully carved woodwork, painted walls, and soaring high ceilings.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

5 Things to Bring to Albania

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

We have a complete packing list for Albania, but make sure you bring these five items with you!

Lonely Planet Western Balkans is a great guidebook for your visit to Albania, and it’s great if you’re also visiting any combination of the following countries: North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. It can be really hard (sometimes impossible) to buy a physical guidebook in English once you’re in Albania, so if you like having your guidebook in your hands you will need to bring it with you from home.

A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in big cities in Albania is drinkable, such as in Tirana and Sarande, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! Albanian water has a notoriously high amount of chlorine that affects the taste.

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

Unlocked Cell Phone: Steph and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (Steph uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams! If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use an Albanian sim card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Travel safety items. We think Albania is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Steph or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack. It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read next: Essential Albania Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Albania

More Albania Travel Resources

Albania - Berat - Berat Flowers

First, start by reading our post on planning a trip to Albania. It covers everything from visas to vaccinations to what to pack, so it’s a great jumping-off point for your travel plans.

Next, check out our Albania packing list and our suggested one, two, and three week Albania itineraries.

If you’re curious about the currency used in Albania and how tipping works, we recommend our Balkan currency guide to learn all about the Albanian lek and tipping culture. We also have a post on Albanian cuisine!

If you’re looking for even more places to add to your Albania itinerary, we have a bunch of ideas for you from us and other bloggers in this collaborative post about the 15 best places to visit in Albania!

We are working on all of our Tirana guides, but for now, we have posts on the best restaurants in Tirana, the best Tirana cafes, and the best Instagram spots in Tirana.

We add new content almost daily! We recommend you bookmark our homepage, our Albania page, or our general Balkans page to refer to when planning your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Albania, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Albania, it’s a good idea to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.

For travel insurance, Steph and I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here. <<

How to Get From Sofia to Bansko, Easily & Hassle-Free

Bansko is Bulgaria’s premier ski resort and the largest ski resort in the Balkans to boot. But beyond its appeal in the winter, Bansko is also a truly year-round destination, with gorgeous hiking in the summer and autumn, a lively culture with plenty of festivals, and a picturesque old town.

The only problem? Getting there.

It’s actually not so hard to go from Sofia to Bansko once you know what to do. But for first-time visitors to Bulgaria, there may be a few hiccups in the process: particularly, the use of the Cyrillic alphabet, the confusing Sofia Central Bus Station, and figuring out timetables which can sometimes be quite elusive.

This guide will cover how to go from Sofia to Bansko, including how to get from Sofia Airport to Bansko, from everything from public transportation to affordable private transfers.

How to Get From Sofia City Center to Bansko by Bus

Bulgaria - Sofia - Bus station
Be sure to stock up on snacks before you go – you can pop into the RELAY at the Central Bus Station.

If you’re planning on visiting Bansko after spending time in Sofia, this is the section you’ll want to read. If you are flying into Sofia Airport to go to Bansko immediately, the following section will answer all your questions.

The easiest way to get from the center of Sofia to Bansko is to first get yourself to Sofia’s Central Bus Station, located adjacent to the train station in the northern part of the city. Sofia’s Central Bus Station is well-connected to the rest of the city with frequent trams, buses, and metros.

The easiest way to get to Sofia’s Central Bus Station is to take the metro to Centralna Gara (Централна гара in Cyrillic), which costs 1.60 leva for an individual ticket. If the metro isn’t convenient for you, there are also frequent trams and buses. I suggest downloading the Moovit app to figure out the best route for you.

You can also take a taxi from your hotel, hostel, or Airbnb. Depending where you’re staying in the city, the cost should be around 3-5 leva if you’re staying relatively central. I suggest using the app Yellow or TaxiMe to avoid taxi scams.

Once you arrive at the Central Bus Station you’ll need to book your ticket from Sofia to Bansko. There are two bus companies leaving Sofia Central Bus Station that go to Bansko, which are Union Ivkoni and Popov. I’ve taken both buses and they’re roughly on par in terms of comfort and quality.

Bulgaria - Sofia - Sofia Central Bus Station Union Ivkoni Kiosk

Your bus ticket from Sofia to Bansko should cost about 16 leva (8 euro) whether you book from Union Ivkoni or Popov. You can buy online in advance on BusExpress.bg, ask at the information desk where to buy, or look for the brand of the bus you are looking to take.

Here is the current time-table for buses from Sofia to Bansko and which companies are running them:

7:30 AM, 8:30 AM, 9:45 AM, 11:25 AM — Union Ivkoni

2 PM — Popov

Approximate travel time: 3-3.5 hours, with one 15-minute stop in Blagoevgrad roughly halfway through

Buy your ticket (or have your e-ticket printed) and make your way to the platform listed on your ticket. The word for platform in Bulgarian is ‘peron’ (перон) – you may also see ‘sektor’ (сектор).

Bulgaria - Sofia - Union Ivkoni Bus Schedule from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo

In all likelihood your bus will not say that its final destination is Bansko (Банско) but rather Gotse Delchev (Гоце Делчев), the final stop of most Bansko-bound buses. Ask the driver to confirm that the bus is heading to Bansko by showing your ticket if you have any confusion; the bus drivers generally don’t speak much English but should be able to indicate if it’s the correct bus or not.

Once on the bus, settle in and try to get comfortable (though Bulgarian buses always seem to run far too hot for my taste, in both summer because they don’t use the air or in winter because they crank the heat… so dress in layers).

Don’t forget to grab some bus snacks at the Sofia bus station in case you get hungry as traffic can always hit unexpectedly; however, you will have a chance to stop and buy a snack, some water, or use the bathroom about 90 minutes in when you hit Blagoevgrad.

3 hours later you should finally be arriving in Bansko from Sofia. The bus station in Bansko is rather quiet and there’s not a lot going on. There are usually 2-3 taxis in front, undoubtedly charging slightly too much to take you to your hotel. Whether or not I suggest you take a taxi depends on where you are staying and how much luggage you have.

If you are staying in the Old Town / central area of Bansko, I suggest walking unless you have a ton of luggage. It’s only about a 10 to 15-minute walk that’s well sign-posted and easy, and there’s only a slight uphill angle to the walk so it’s pretty pleasant.

However, if you’re visiting Bansko to ski and have a lot of equipment, or you’re staying in one of the ski resorts up in the new part of town by the chairlift, you’ll definitely want to take a cab.

I’ve always stayed in the center of Bansko and been able to walk from the bus station, but based on previous Bulgaria taxi experience, I’d imagine a cab would quote you about 5-10 leva (2.5 to 5 euros) for the ride. I wouldn’t pay more than 10 leva, knowing full-well that’s an inflated bus station price, but I’d be far happier paying 5 or so. You could also ask your hotel to arrange a pick-up at the bus station which may be easier.

How to Get from Sofia Airport to Bansko

Bulgaria - Sofia - Terminal 1 Sofia Airport

If you’re flying into Sofia Airport and want to head immediately to Bansko to start your vacation, there are a few ways you can do that. The most commonly chosen one by tourists is to simply arrange a transfer, as taxis and transfers in Bulgaria are relatively affordable and the convenience is unmatched, especially if you are bringing a lot of ski equipment with you that’s too bulky to deal with on public transit!

You can check My Day Trip for transfers or book a transfer with Bansko Express here.

Alternately, renting a car is a great option if you want to have a car when you’re in Bansko to be able to travel around the region easily. Driving in Bulgaria is not particularly difficult, and the road between Sofia and Bansko presents no major problems as it’s rather well-maintained by Bulgarian standards.

The final option is to fly into Sofia Airport and head to Bansko by public transit! In that case, you’ll want to take the metro from Sofia Airport to the Central Bus Station. If you flew into Terminal 1 on a budget airline, you’ll have to take the free shuttle bus to Terminal 2 to connect to the metro. The metro from Sofia Airport to the Central Bus Station takes around 35 minutes. You could also take a taxi to the Central Bus Station if you didn’t want to take the metro, which would cost about 10-16 leva (5-8 euros) depending on time of day and traffic.

However, this may not be that convenient unless you have an early morning arrival into Sofia, as the final bus to Bansko departs at 2 PM each day. I would only suggest planning to take public transit if your plane arrives before noon and booking the 2 PM bus from Sofia to Bansko.

How to Get from Sofia to Bansko by Train

Bulgaria - Burgas - Stephanie Train Station Selfie

Just don’t! Unless you really enjoy taking the scenic route, as even taking the ‘fast’ train takes 6.5-8 hours!

To get from Sofia to Bansko by train, head to Sofia’s Central Train Station, located conveniently next to the Central Bus Station and easily accessible by metro. Once at the train station, you’d have to first take a Burgas (Бургас) -bound train to Septemvri (Септември). From there you can take the one bound for Dobrinishte (Добринище), which makes a stop in Bansko.

Generally speaking, the train is a tad cheaper in Bulgaria than the bus, but about twice as long and not really any more comfortable, so I do usually recommend buses over trains in Bulgaria (and elsewhere in the Balkans) unless you are a true train-phile.

Where to Stay in Bansko

We have a full post on the best ski resorts in Bansko which may be helpful, but here are our top 3 suggestions if you just want a quick tip.

Budget: This small, friendly Boutique Hotel Uniqato has only 16 studios and suites, all with large and modern stylish rooms. There are three types of rooms available: double, maisonette, and suite.

All rooms have a balcony and you can choose either a view of the mountain or the city of Bansko! Breakfast is large and the choices vary daily, so it’s hard to get bored. It’s extremely well-priced and well-located, so book early!

>> Check rates, photos, reviews, and availability here.

Mid-Range: The charming Astera Bansko apartment and hotel complex has 105 rooms, with large windows and stunning mountain views. The rooms have a cozy cabin feel with all the wonderful amenities of a 4-star hotel. There is a ski school, and if you didn’t bring your own skis or snowboard, ski equipment can be rented.

The spa and wellness facilities are world-class at Astera Bansko. The ski resort offers well-priced packages that are sure to free you from tension and stress. They have an indoor pool, fitness center, beauty salon, hot tubs, hammam, steam room, and sauna, all for you to enjoy when you’re not hitting the slopes (or you’re recovering from them!).

>> Check rates, photos, reviews, and availability here.

Luxury: There’s only one 5-star option in town — luckily it’s pretty amazing! The spacious, gorgeously decorated rooms and luxe amenities at Kempinski Hotel Grand Arena are sure to impress even the pickiest of us.

Skiers don’t have to worry because they provide passes at the hotel for the gondola lift. The ski lift is only a short walk from Kempinksi so it’s a true ski-in, ski-out resort in Bansko! There’s also a ski room where ski storages are available.

The Kempinski Spa offers several unique relaxation experiences, from an Alphasphere to a snow room to saunas and pools to soothe tired muscles and reduce stress. They also have your standard massages and other wellness packages!

>> Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability here

What to Pack for Winter in Bulgaria

Bulgaria - Borovets - Stephanie Fox Hat

We have a full Bulgaria packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!

A good guidebook: While travel blogs are great, we still think a good guidebook is always handy. We own and strongly recommend the Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania for travel in Pamporovo and beyond!

One or two swimsuits: While swimsuits may not come to mind for ski season, if you’re staying in a ski resort with a sauna, indoor pool, or steam room, you’ll likely want one! We suggest bringing two so you never have to put a cold wet one back on. We love this one.

Plenty of winter clothing: You can check our packing list above for our full winter packing suggestions for men and women. At a minimum, you’ll want to bring a warm winter jacket (I love this North Face parka), cozy snow boots, warm wool socks, touch-screen friendly gloves, a scarf, and a winter hat.

Any ski equipment and clothing: We’re not skiers ourselves, so we don’t have specific ski gear equipment, but special ski clothes — waterproof pants and jackets, goggles, etc. — and ski gear obviously should be on your packing list, unless you have decided to rent it all when you arrive at your Bulgaria ski resort.

Moisturizer: Travel will beat your skin up in the best of times — and winter travel in addition to skiing will really do a number on it! If you use a moisturizer at home, bring it. If you’ve never used a moisturizer before, you really should start. You’ll be happy to give your face a boost before heading outside in the cold all day.

Sunscreen: We strongly suggest wearing sunscreen when you spend time outdoors, no matter the weather outside. The higher altitudes combined with the reflection of the sun off the snow can lead to unexpected sunburns. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen – it’s mess-free, works well in carry-ons, is ultra-protective, and blends in well.

Bulgaria Travel Resources

Bulgaria - Borovets - Stephanie

We want you to have the best trip to Bulgaria possible! If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, check out our Bulgaria trip planning guide as well as our packing list for Bulgaria (which includes a winter section). We also have a full guide to things to do in Bulgaria in winter!

To help you, we’ve created a number of resources that will be helpful. If you’re visiting Sofia, this 101 things to do in Sofia should be a nice start! Also read our Sofia travel tips post and where to stay in Sofia.

For transportation, check out our guide to avoiding taxi scams in the city. If you’ll be flying into Sofia, you can read our tips for flying in and out of Sofia Airport.

We also have Sofia restaurant and bar recommendations. We also have articles for popular day trips from Sofia like Plovdiv, the Rila Lakes, and Buzludzha.

If you’re thinking of Borovets instead of Bansko, check out how to get to Borovets from Sofia, our favorite Borovets ski resorts, as well as our favorite Borovets restaurants.

For more resources for your trip, check out our pages on traveling in Bulgaria and the Balkans

Planning a Trip to Bulgaria in Winter? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

Bulgaria - Borovets - Snow Covered Pine Trees

We strongly suggest that you travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. While the country is safe, accidents can happen anywhere. If you experience an accident or theft, travel insurance will help you recover your costs and enjoy the rest of your trip.

This is especially important in winter, since winter activities carry a certain amount of risk with them. We recommend the Explorer upgraded insurance plan if you plan to do any skiing or snowboarding so that you can be fully covered.

For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

13 Delightful Things to Do in Slovenia in Winter for a Fairytale Escape

Looking for a winter escape this year? Whether you want to get away from the cold or you’re looking to dive right into it, Slovenia has a great combination of mountain and coastal fun waiting for you! From dreamy Lake Bled to charming Ljubljana all the way out to Piran on the Adriatic sea, here are our picks for the best things to do in Slovenia in winter and best Slovenia winter activities!

Read Next: 17 Dreamy Things to Do in Lake Bled in Winter for a Fab Slovenian Getaway

Can’t read now? Pin for later!

Things to Do in Slovenia in Winter

The Best Things to Do in Slovenia in Winter

In no particular order…

Visit Slovenia’s Christmas Markets for Some Holiday Cheer

Slovenia - Lake Bled - Night on Lake Bled. Christmas atmosphere and lights. Castle and Church of the Annunciation - Image

While Germany and Austria might be more famous Christmas Market destinations, Slovenia has its share of magical Christmas markets, pageants, and events to attend! 

Start with the Ljubljana Christmas Market, which turns the beautiful capital into a magical fairytale. You’ll also love the Lake Bled Christmas Market, which sits beside the lake and has a special light show on December 25th called the Legend of the Sunken Bell. Make sure to see this even if you plan to spend Christmas in Bled!

Other great Slovenian Christmas markets include those put on by the towns of Celje, Maribor, and Radovljica.

Read Next: How to Visit the Lake Bled Christmas Market for a Cozy Lakeside Christmas

Tour One of Slovenia’s Epic Castles – in the Snow!

Slovenia - Bled - Photo of Bled Castle in snow landscape, trees and mountains covered in snow

The country of Slovenia is practically synonymous with beautiful castles, and they’re even better in the snow! You can attend special seasonal events at some (like Bled Castle’s Dance), or simply enjoy the beauty of these architectural wonders in the fog. 

Read Next: 13 Fairytale Castles in Slovenia (+ How to Visit Each One)

Get Cozy in Ljubljana

Slovenia - Ljubljana - Ljubljana, decorated for Christmas and New Year celebration, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana is a cupcake-frosted dreamscape at any time of year, but it is especially darling in winter! Between the joyful Christmas lights in December and the romantic air of Valentine’s day. One of my absolute favorite cities in Europe, come in winter to avoid the crowds and enjoy the extra winter festivities. 

Go Chase (or Climb!) Some Slovenian Waterfalls 

Slovenia - Bled - Ice climber, climbing frozen Pericnik waterfall in Vrata valley, Julian Alps, Slovenia. - Image

We adore Slovenia’s fabulous waterfalls, but they aren’t just for appreciating in summer! In winter you can still visit many of them – like the magnificent Kozjak Waterfall in Triglav National Park. Though if you want to be more adventurous, many of Slovenia’s waterfall can be climbed once they freeze over for the year.

Read Next: 13 Gorgeous Slovenia Waterfalls to Add to Your Itinerary

Enjoy a Serene Trip to Lake Bled

Slovenia - Lake Bled- Slovenia, Bled, Church of the Assumption on the island

Spending a few days in winter in Lake Bled means you can appreciate some of the best lake activities with a gorgeous backdrop of snow and with far fewer crowds than in summer. Plus there are special activities you can only do here in winter, like skiing at Bled, ice skating, and seeing the Bled Christmas Market.

Read Next: 17 Dreamy Things to Do in Lake Bled in Winter for a Fab Slovenian Getaway

Get an Adrenaline Rush and Ski, Snowboard, or Climb Slovenia’s Peaks

Slovenia - Winter mountains panorama with ski slopes and ski lifts near Vogel ski center, Slovenia

Winter in Slovenia is full of opportunities to try your hand at winter sports. You can climb Mount Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak, go skiing in Triglav National Park, or try out snowboarding, cross-country skiing, or even snowshoeing! Slovenes have been at the forefront of winter sports for centuries, so there’s no shortage of things to try here!

If you’d rather watch than do it yourself, you can attend the Biathalon World Cup and World Championships, which will be held in Pokljuka in February of 2020 and 2021.

Read Next: Skiing in Bled: Where to Stay Near the Straža Lift

Wander Through a Quiet Piran on the Adriatic Sea

Slovenia - Piran - Slovenia city's streets on a cloudy day in winter

If you prefer your winter travel to the sea instead of in the snow, head to Piran. Slovenia’s Adriatic gem, Piran is a bit foggy and gets light snow, but is a fabulous place to unwind with a glass of wine overlooking the water. Plus, the town has special winter and seasonal events planned (many of them quite delicious) for an extra bit of wintery flare!

Relax at One of Slovenia’s Spas or Hot Springs

Slovenia - Dolenjska - A hot spring pool with snowy landscape in the background.

Since moving to the Balkans, I’ve developed a new relationship with spas and hot springs. Basically, hot springs are life. 

In most cities in Slovenia, you can enjoy the local spas, but if you want to take it up a notch, check out the natural hot springs in Dolenjska at the Toplice Spa. 

Eat Your Way Across Slovenia

Slovenian Food - Potica/Potizza, Roll with walnuts

Slovenian food might not be famous outside of Slovenia, but it certainly is delicious! A mix of traditional Balkan, Italian, and Austrian cuisine, it’s a reflection of the cultures that make up Slovenia. 

The best part? It’s hearty and tastes great in winter! Make sure to sample Potica, Carniolan sausage, and Štruklji. 

Tibble on Slovenia’s Delicious Local Wines and Liquors

Slovenia - Wine Tasting

If you love wine, you’ll love Slovenia. And if you need to escape the cold for a few hours, a wine tasting is the perfect way to enjoy some time indoors. 

Slovenia has three main wine regions, the Drava Wine-Growing Region, the Lower Sava Wine-Growing Region, and the Littoral Wine-Growing Region. Between these three regions and their different varieties, you won’t run out of delicious local wines to try!

Shop til You Drop for Slovenian Souvenirs and Gifts

Slovenia - Slovenia flag printed on a Christmas shopping bag. Close up of a shopping bag as a decoration on a Xmas tree on a street. New Year or Christmas shopping, local market sale and deals concept. - Image

I absolutely adore shopping in Slovenia! From cuddly stuffed Ljubljana dragons to Idrija lace, each region has its own perfect souvenirs for you to peruse!

Read Next: 10 Slovenian Souvenirs You Need to Take Home with You

Escape the Cold in One of Slovenia’s Famous Caves

Slovenia - Skocjan Caves

Southern Slovenia’s Karst region is a land of amazing caves. If you’re an avid (or amateur) spelunker, you’ll treasure your time in Slovenia. 

There are actually over thirteen thousand caves in Slovenia, but the two most famous can’t-miss caves are Škocjan Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Postojna Cave near Predjama Castle.

Skip Venice & Celebrate Carnival the Slovenian Way – at Kurentovanje!

Slovenia - Colorful face of Kurent, Slovenian traditional mask Traditional mask used in februar for winter persecution, carnival time, Slovenia. Roots draws from the northern part of Slovenia, the surroundings o

A visit to the festival of Kurentovanje has been on my Balkan bucket list for years. Related to Bulgaria’s Surva Festival, Kurentovanje is a way that Slovenians transformed their ancient pagan rituals into ones that conformed with the prevailing Catholic traditions after the introduction of Christianity, thus creating a Balkan Carnival!

For more information on how to attend Kurentovanje, check out their website

Where to stay in Slovenia in Winter

Slovenia - Ljubljana - Aerial panoramic view of Ljubljana decorated for Christmas holidays. Roofs covered in snow in winter time. Slovenia

We are working on hotel guides for Slovenia’s major cities. You can start with our guide to where to stay at Lake Bled and the best hotels near the Straza Life in Bled

When traveling to Slovenia, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible. The country is gaining in popularity as a tourist destination, so some of the best spots do sell-out early!

What to Pack for Slovenia in Winter

Slovenia - Lake Bled - Woman in Winter looking at lake

We have a full Slovenia packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!

A good guidebook: While travel blogs are great, we still think a good guidebook is always handy. We suggest Lonely Planet Slovenia if you’ll be traveling quite a bit around the country, or if you are planning a multi-country Balkan trip, Lonely Planet Western Balkans includes Slovenia and many of its neighbors.

One or two swimsuits: While swimsuits may not come to mind for ski season, if you’re staying in a ski resort with a sauna, indoor pool, or steam room, you’ll likely want one! We suggest bringing two so you never have to put a cold wet one back on. We love this one.

Plenty of winter clothing: You can check our packing list above for our full winter packing suggestions for men and women. At a minimum, you’ll want to bring a warm winter jacket (I love this North Face parka), cozy snow boots, warm wool socks, touch-screen friendly gloves, a scarf, and a winter hat.

Any ski equipment and clothing: We’re not skiers ourselves, so we don’t have specific ski gear equipment, but special ski clothes — waterproof pants and jackets, goggles, etc. — and ski gear obviously should be on your packing list, unless you have decided to rent it all when you arrive at your Slovenia ski resort.

Moisturizer: Travel will beat your skin up in the best of times — and winter travel in addition to skiing will really do a number on it! If you use a moisturizer at home, bring it. If you’ve never used a moisturizer before, you really should start. You’ll be happy to give your face a boost before heading outside in the cold all day.

Sunscreen: We strongly suggest wearing sunscreen when you spend time outdoors, no matter the weather outside. The higher altitudes combined with the reflection of the sun off the snow can lead to unexpected sunburns. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen – it’s mess-free, works well in carry-ons, is ultra-protective, and blends in well.

Read Next: Essential Slovenia Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Slovenia

More Slovenia Travel Resources

Slovenia - Piran - View of Piran and Coast Stephanie

If you’re just starting to prepare for your trip to Slovenia, read our guide to planning a trip to Slovenia which features an 11-step checklist!

You’ll also definitely want to read our all-season, all-gender Slovenia packing list, which includes a huge winter section! We also have a guide to visiting the Lake Bled Christmas Market and the best Lake Bled winter activities if you’ll be here in from the end of November through the beginning of January!

If you’re an avid photographer, you’ll find our Instagram guide to Bled helpful (Ljubljana on the way!). 

If you need more Slovenia travel inspiration, check out the best places to visit in Slovenia, the best Slovenian castles, the most breath-taking Slovenian waterfalls, and what Slovenian souvenirs you should bring home.

We publish new content nearly every day! Bookmark our pages on Slovenia and the Balkans so that you don’t miss out on any new info or resources that we publish before your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Slovenia (or really, any part of the world)! Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.

While the Balkans are perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, especially during the winter! – so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

Pin this Guide to the Best Things to Do in Slovenia in Winter for Your Trip!

Things to Do in Slovenia in Winter

 

Things to Do in Slovenia in Winter

Planning a trip to Sofia? Check out our best free trip planning resources