If you’re planning a trip to Albania, it can be a bit of an overwhelming prospect. The country isn’t large, objectively speaking, but giant mountain ranges throughout the country and winding roads make certain trips that look short on the map look way longer in reality.
The fact that there’s really only one international airport right in the middle of the country means that some backtracking is almost always inevitable, unless you are able to fly out via another country.
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One Week in Albania Itinerary: 2 Ways to Spend It
If you only have one week in Albania, it can be a little hard to create a good Albania itinerary without excessive backtracking.
I’ve created two itineraries, one focusing on Northern Albania and one focusing on Southern Albania, as they both offer extremely different things.
For the first itinerary, if at all possible, I recommend starting in Tirana, working your way down the coast, and ending in Saranda by then taking the ferry to Corfu to get your flight out. However, if you have flights in and out of Tirana (or Corfu as the case may be), this Albania itinerary will still be useful to you, you will just to have to add on some extra travel time.
For the second itinerary, it will be easy to just fly in and out of Tirana, but this is also a good itinerary to combine with onwards travel throughout the Balkans such as if you are going onwards to Montenegro, North Macedonia, or Kosovo.
A quick note: While this itinerary is possible with only public transportation – which is how I’ve traveled Albania for the 5+ weeks I’ve spent traveling it – a car will enable you to get even more off the beaten path and visit more remote and pristine beaches, gorgeous hidden hot springs, marvelous ruins, and more. But driving in Albania isn’t for the faint of heart, so it’s only for the experienced driver!
We haven’t been brave enough to drive around Albania… yet. But friends who have had said it’s the trip of a lifetime! Should you choose to rent, we suggest searching via Discover Cars. We’ve rented cars dozens of times in the Balkans through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental in Slovenia here.
City & Summer Fun: 1 Week Albania Itinerary
If you’re traveling in summer and want to make the most of Albania’s beaches – while also getting to see a bit of city culture – this is the ideal Albania itinerary for you!
Day 1-2: Explore Tirana
Tirana is hands-down one of my favorite cities in the Balkans, full of incredible restaurants, cafés serving up perfect coffee for less than $1, funky museums, interesting open-air markets, and vibrant street art.
Spend your first day in Tirana getting aquainted with the area around Skanderbeg Square, visiting Bunkart 2 and/or the House of Leaves, checking out the socialist mural on the National History Museum, visiting the newly renovated Pazar I Ri market area, and walking around the hipster neighborhood of Blloku which used to be the center of Communist rule during Enver Hoxha’s murderous reign.
This is a great area to go out at night: I strongly recommend Colonial Cocktail Academy for inventive mixology, Radio Bar for chilled-out drinks in a funky vintage-inspired settling, Nouveau Vague for one of the most photogenic terraces in Tirana, and Kino for a lovely summer garden and fabulous mixed drinks.
For your next day in Tirana, get a little green in your life. I strongly recommend heading out to Bunkart 1, which is quite different from Bunkart 2 and even more interesting as it used to be Enver Hoxha’s nuclear bunker and a lot of it has been kept just as-is. As a bonus, it’s right next to the Dajti Express cable car, where you can zoom up to the heights of Mount Dajti and have a fabulous view over Tirana.
Afterwards, when you return to sea level, take a walk through the Grand Park of Tirana near Blloku with its gorgeous artificial lake and stop for drinks at one of the lakeside bars (I like Black Sheep). You can also check out the the Cloud installation (Reja) in front of the National Arts Gallery of Tirana, which is also worth a visit.
While there, don’t miss Piramida (the abandoned Pyramid of Tirana, built in homage to Enver Hoxha and since abandoned) and the Peace Bell installation which was made of melted-down bullets from the crazy post-communist years of the 1990s. You also should check out the “Postbllok – Checkpoint” installation near the Pyramid, which has a piece of the Berlin Wall, a leftover bunker from the paranoia-days of Hoxha’s rule, as well as the iron supporting beams of a copper and pyrite mine from one of Albania’s forced labor camps.
After all that, be sure to check out some of Tirana’s fantastic restaurants – there’s something for everyone!
Day 3: Take a day trip to Berat or Kruja
If I had to pick one or the other, I would opt for Berat as it’s one of my favorite places in Albania and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site with good reason. It’s extremely impressive and really beautiful to walk around, and its small size (and only two-hour minibus distance from Tirana) means that it’s quite easy to visit for just a day trip.
When in Berat, be sure to cross the bridges to get a sense for both sides of the town, as they are a bit different (one is protected by UNESCO and prevented to make any changes, and the other has been allowed to make some adaptations to be better suited for guesthouses and the like).
And of course, don’t miss the gorgeous Berat Castle up on the hill, the crowning glory of any trip to Berat. Getting up can be a bit of an effort – it’s not the most well signposted so you can easily find yourself getting in the back way with some struggle, especially if it’s hot when you visit!
If you opt to visit Kruja, it’s most famous for its excellent castle remains – one of the best-preserved remains of a castle in Albania. It’s also well-loved for its fabulous ethnographic museum, as well as the National Museum Gjergj Kastrioti, a beloved 1400 military figure.
Day 4-5: Head to the coast (basing in Himara or Dhermi)
I love the Albanian Riviera so much, and if you’re visiting in the summer, you’ve got to have some beach days on your Albania itinerary. I have a detailed guide to the Albanian Riviera which you can reference if you want more explanation, but I’ll go into it a bit here as well.
Personally, I loved basing myself in the chill beachside town of Himara. The main city beach isn’t so phenomenal, but there’s a “secret beach” you can hike to or hire a boat to take you to that is one of my favorite in all of Albania. It’s also quite close to several of my other favorite Albanian beaches, including Jale, Gjipje, and Porto Palermo.
Dhermi also makes another fantastic base, although I didn’t get a chance to experience it for myself on my Albanian Riviera trip a few years back. Dhermi is a little more posh whereas Himara is a little more low-key, so it depends what the vibe you’re looking for it. Dhermi has Drymades beach, which is phenomenal, and it’s closer to the Karaburun peninsula which has some of the most untouched beaches in Albania.
Either make a great base so I suggest picking based on your travel style and what accommodations are available.
Day 6-7: End your trip in Saranda, exploring Butrint & Ksamil
Saranda is a fantastic base for further explorations in southern Albania, in addition to just being a great town to relax in as well. Saranda has some quite nice beaches once you get away from the ferry area which is a bit polluted, but the really beautiful beaches are down just a 15-minute drive from Saranda in Ksamil.
I’d spend a half-day exploring Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the least-crowded Roman ruins you’ll ever come across in your life, before spending the afternoon in Ksamil Beach enjoying the sun and relaxing.
On your final day, you can either chill in Saranda, eating delicious seafood from waterfront restaurants, taking a brisk hike up to the Lëkurësi castle which has gorgeous views over the city, or returning to Ksamil for a lovely day of relaxing.
Nature & Hiking Focus: 1 Week in Albania Itinerary
Day 1: Explore Tirana
It takes a while to really get into the mountains of Albania, so you’re going to have to cut your city time close if you only have one week in Albania on your itinerary and you really want to do some epic hiking and nature escapes.
I’d roughly follow the outline I recommended above for Tirana but skip some parts of Day 2, particularly Bunkart 1 and Mount Dajti which will take the better half of a day.
If you walk strategically and get an early start in Tirana, you can cover the following: either Bunkart 2 or The House of Leaves, Skanderbeg Square, Pazar I Ri and the revitalized Kalajes I Tirane area as well as the pedestrian street of Toptani, visiting the Piramida complex, seeing Reja and the National Arts Gallery, and Postbllok – Checkpoint park area, followed by checking out Blloku by night for its fabulous restaurants and nightlife.
Day 2: Head north to Shkodra
Shkodra is one of my favorite cities in Albania – it’s quiet and calm in a way that is sorely missing in Tirana, mostly due to the fact that it’s one of the most bicycle-crazy cities in Albania.
It has a great pedestrian walkway with lots of wonderful coffee shops which is an easy place to while away half an afternoon. I recommend renting bikes and heading out to Rozafa Castle, where you can get phenomenal views over Lake Shkodra, and if you’re extra ambitious you can even bike to the shores of the lake and sunbathe there for a bit or even go for a dip.
You can also check out the phenomenal photography museum there, the Marubi National Museum of Photography, the beautiful central mosque, and the old bazaar.
Day 3: Head to Lake Komani for the Valbona to Theth trek
The best thing about staying in Shkodra for a night before your hike is that you have the ability to leave the majority of your luggage behind. I stayed at Wanderers Hostel in Shkodra and they had secure luggage storage. This way you can just pack a smaller day pack for what you’ll need for your Valbona to Theth hike.
Start your day heading to Lake Komani, which is the gateway to the Albanian Alps, and take the gorgeous ferry across the waters to Fierza, from which you can head onwards into the Alps. Here’s a guide to taking the Komani ferry.
You’ll end up making your way to Valbona by the end of the day, which is a fantastic place to rest up before your epic hike tomorrow or the following day.
Day 4-6: Enjoy Valbona & Theth
The hike from Valbona to Theth is one of the most popular in Albania. I actually have wanted to do this hike for ages and have planned two twice – only to have my first trip derailed by freak thunderstorms and flash floods and my second attempt derailed by the first snowfall in early October… so, while I know from photos and friends’ experiences that this is a must-do in Albania for hikers, I can’t personally speak to it.
Instead, I refer you to my friends Rohan and Max who know Albania super well and have done this hike and written about it in great detail – their Valbona to Theth guide is easily the best out there (as other guides have just copied it without adding anything of their own to it), so use that as your reference point.
Once you arrive in Theth, it’s worth spending some time exploring Theth National Park and making the hike out to the Theth blue eye, which is one of the most beautiful places in Northern Albania.
Day 7: Head back to Tirana
The journey back from Theth is a long one, so I recommend leaving the better part of a day for it. You’ll need to go back to Shkodra via an incredibly bumpy road (which keeps hearing promises of repaving, yet no dice so far as of 2019). From there, you’ll need to catch a bus back to Tirana.
At that point, you’ll probably only have an evening left, so check out the Tirana bar and restaurant scene and enjoy your last few meals and drinks in Albania!
Two Weeks in Albania Itinerary: Extension Ideas
If you have two weeks in Albania, now you’re open to plenty more options that will make your time spent there even more rewarding. Personally, I think that two weeks is a way better amount of time to spend in Albania, but I understand people sometimes only have one week and that’s better than nothing.
With a two weeks in Albania itinerary, you’ll be able to cover the majority of the main sights, squeeze in both beach time and mountain time, and even get to see all of Albania’s UNESCO sights.
To save time, this Albania itinerary has you arrive in Tirana, explore the North, then head south and catch a ferry out of Corfu. If you need to return to Tirana from Saranda by bus to catch a flight, factor that into your Albania itinerary.
I’m not going to re-write these entirely as it is mostly combining both of the one-week itineraries with a few extra which I’ll mark with a NOTE. Other than that, I’ll just lay it out and you can refer above to my suggestions.
Day 1-2: Tirana
Day 3-4: Berat
NOTE: Spend your extra day in Berat visiting the nearby Cobo winery, one of the best in Albania, or cooling off in the fabulous Bogove Waterfalls.
Day 5: Shkodra
Day 4-6: Lake Komani & arriving in Valbona
Day 7: Return to Tirana for a rest day before making your way down the coast
Day 8-11: Albanian Riviera, using Himara or Dhermi as a base
Day 12-14: Saranda, Butrint, Ksamil, Blue Eye, Gjirokastra, etc.
NOTE: The Blue Eye is right on the way to Gjirokastra, so you can simply take a furgon from Saranda, get off at the Blue Eye and visit it for an hour or two, then wait back where you exited the bus to then go onwards to Gjirokastra, a “Stone City” and a UNESCO World Heritage Site about an hour and a half from Saranda. There, you’ll find a castle with a unique amphitheater as well as the ethnographic museum which was the birthplace of Enver Hoxha.
Three Weeks in Albania Itinerary: Even More Extension Ideas
If you have three weeks in Albania, now you can really start exploring and getting off the beaten path!
Follow the two week itinerary, but add one day in Tirana and use it for a day trip to Kruja Castle, which is a wonderful stop on your Albania Itinerary. From Berat, you can add a side trip to Korca and/or Pogradec to enjoy some time on the Albanian side of beautiful Lake Ohrid.
Here are a few other places you can add to your Albania itinerary, so you can mix and match it to suit how much time you have there:
- Rana e Hedhun sand dunes in Shengjin, near Lezhe on your way to or from Shkodra.
- Karaburun peninsula and the Llogara Pass on your trip around the Albanian Riviera
- Elbasan between Tirana and Berat for a non-touristy Albanian city
- Durres to visit Apollonia, a UNESCO-tentative sight
- Permet, some beautiful hot springs in Southern Albania which make a great diversion from Gjirokastra
More Albania Resources
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.
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.
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!
Finally, Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a great idea for Albania and for travel in general! This is especially true when you’re talking about hiking in remote areas where help is far away, or relaxing on the beach or traveling around cities where you can be a potential target for theft.
Stephanie 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 Albania is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe.
Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.