Albania doesn’t get nearly as much international recognition as it should. Epic mountains, off the beaten path hiking trails, stunning turquoise waters on rugged beaches, UNESCO Old Towns: Albania has a little bit of everything and yet doesn’t feel like anywhere else in the world.
We’ve visited Albania extensively, spending six weeks or so in the country between the two of us, but we wanted to also have other travel bloggers tell us their favorite places to visit in Albania. (We couldn’t help ourselves – we’ve thrown in a few of our own favorites as well!)
Be sure to give yourself as much time as possible to explore Albania – it’s not a country you can rush through quickly.
Korça is one of the most important cities in Albania yet it is rather removed from the tourist trail. While it looks close to other tourist favorites like Gjirokastra, it’s actually quite separated from them due to the mountainous terrain.
As a result, Korça is quite off the beaten path. It is best visited combined with Ohrid as it’s a short distance from Pogradec, the largest Albanian city on Lake Ohrid (which it shares with Macedonia).
There are quite a few cool things to do in Korça. Don’t miss the old Bazaar, one of the coolest neighborhoods to walk around. It dates back to the Ottoman times yet has been recently renovated. The new Korça Cathedral is also worth seeing; it’s incredibly beautiful and was done in an old style (as the original was destroyed during Enver Hoxha’s reign).
Don’t miss great views from Sky Café and a stroll down the main pedestrian boulevard, where you’ll see the first official Albanian school.
There are many reasons to visit Vlorë and the Zvërnec Monastery, but not many travelers do. Too bad, because the city itself is very pleasant and calm! Vlorë is located on a beautiful bay of the Albanian Riviera. You can witness some amazing sunsets, with vistas of the port where ferries connect Vlorë to Brindisi in Italy.
Inside the city are various monuments to Albania’s independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, which was signed in Vlorë. Another important sight is the 500-year-old Muradie mosque. Outside the high season, it’s a budget destination as accommodation is quite affordable and eating out delicious Albanian, Balkan, and Mediterranean specialties always come at a good price. Café culture also thrives, so make sure to head out for your morning caffeine dose – but beware to not get the jitters!
Vlorë also works very well as a start-and-end-point to explore the ruins of Oricum and Kaninë castle, the recently opened Karaburun-Sazan national marine park, and the beautiful Zvërnec monastery in the Narta Lagoon. The latter two are a good attraction for those who love Byzantine history, nature, hiking, and bird-watching.
The hike to the monastery is about 10 kilometers from Vlorë, and the route there is mostly flat. The beautiful monastery dates back to the 14th century and parts of it are still in use. The island itself is taken over by chickens, rabbits, and geese. You can have a picnic here and enjoy the views and quiet away from the city for a day.
Saranda is a hotspot along the Albanian Riveria and one that shouldn’t be missed during your trip to Albania. There’s a lot of great things to do in Saranda including hiking up to the Monastery of the 40 Saints, which is on the opposite hill from Lëkurësi Castle. Here you gain a magnificent view of Saranda and it’s a spot which many still don’t even know about.
Another high recommendation is to explore the beaches to the north of the city (near the mosque on the hill). On this side of Saranda, you can visit totally secluded and wild beaches. Also, just above the mosque is an epic sunset spot too!
Saranda has an abundance of great food restaurants with its speciality of seafood, Italian and Greek. Make sure you try a restaurant called Laberia, its run by a local family who knows how to cook the most delicious Albania/Greek food with big portions! If you’re looking for maybe the best Italian food you have ever eaten, make sure you visit Italian Mattarello, Maria Magdalena or A Casa Mia.
If seafood is your thing then go to Anchor Bar (right in the centre) or try Fishland by the old port. This area is where the fishing boats arrive, and you’ll find the freshest seafood here!
Tirana, Albania’s capital, is a popular tourist destination, mostly because it has the only international airport, but above that because it’s a lively city filled with art, culture and glorious food.
In stark contrast to the country’s grim communist past, Tirana is vibrant and filled with color, literally. The previous mayor, Edi Rama, believed that the city’s safety and local pride could be improved by painting it in bright colors. Therefore, you can see buildings covered in rainbows at Wilson Square, massive murals and even small street art covering the electrical boxes.
Visit some of the country’s oldest constructions like the Ottoman Mosque in Skanderbeg Square and then make your way to Bunk’Art 1 and Bunk’Art 2 to learn more about Albania’s history. Pop into the National Museum to complete your insight into the country’s heritage and then try climbing the abandoned pyramid before snapping a selfie.
Complete your trip by taking the Dajti Ekspres, a cable car that takes 20 minutes to climb to the top of the mountain. When you reach the city again, dine at Oda for some authentic Albanian food in an eccentric environment.
One of the best jumping off places for visiting the beaches of Albania’s Riviera is Himara, a small beachside town about 1.5 hours north of Saranda. While it has its own beach in town, there is a hidden beach accessible by boat (or terrifying hike which involves edging down a cliff holding a rope) that is one of Albania’s most beautiful and isolated beaches.
The town itself is also quite enjoyable: there are delicious seafood restaurants serving up the catch of the day — plus mouthwatering gyros and gelato which can be had for about a euro a pop.
It’s also a great base for visiting Albania’s other gorgeous beaches such as Gjipe (below) and Jala as well as stunning abandoned castles and fortresses like Porto Palermo Castle and Borsh Castle.
Of all the beaches Albania has to offer, Gjipe Beach may well be one of its most beautiful and untouched. Located an hour’s hike from the main road, its isolation keeps it under the radar and delightfully quiet.
There’s not much in the way of amenities at Gjipe Beach, but it’s still one of my must-visit places in Albania. There is a facility where you can camp if you wish to watch the sunset over the Adriatic, spend the night in total peace and quiet under a sea of stars, and wake up to your very own beach. There is also a small concession stand selling beer, water, and other small things.
Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water for the hike as it’s not easy on the way up – especially after you’ve been swimming and enjoying the sun all day!
Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque areas of Albania is the Albanian Alps. Stretching across the north of the country they are home to the Valbona National Park and offer incredible hiking opportunities.
The town of Theth is a peaceful unassuming mountain village which is slowly gaining popularity as the base for trips to the northern Blue Eye (there is also one in the south) and the stunning Theth to Valbona hike.
From Shkodër you can take a shared 4WD to Theth, find yourself a cosy guesthouse and spend a couple of days exploring the area and breathing in the fresh mountain air. The day hike to the crystal clear spring known as the Blue Eye is a great warm-up for the 6-8 hour day hike over the mountains and into the Valbona National Park.
From there you can stay and walk back again or take the ferry along the Komani Lake back to Shkodër. Take supplies with you, in Theth there are no shops or restaurants but you’ll get amazing home cooked meals at the guesthouses (usually included in the price).
The town of Shkodra in northern Albania is close to the border of Montenegro and is a natural stopping off point between the two countries as buses often will not connect between the two without a stop in Shkodra. It’s also the jumping off point for the Valbona to Theth hike (above) that any hiking-loving tourist makes a focal point of their Albania itinerary.
But beyond being a natural stopover on longer Albania trips, Shkodra is well worth visiting for its own merits. The town is very bike-friendly which gives it a much different, more pedestrianized vibe to other cities in Albania – especially Tirana! It’s quite laidback and an easy place to while away a few days.
Don’t miss the bazaar, the pedestrian street, the excellent photography museum, Rozafa Castle, and checking out Lake Shkodër (the Albanian side of Lake Skadar, which it shares with Montenegro). Make like the locals and rent a bike for maximum effect!
Krujë is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Albania. Located 600 metres high in Albanian mountains, it attracts travelers with its remarkable history and beautiful views. Krujë is one of the oldest places in Albania – its beginnings start in 3rd century! This town also used to be first historical capital of Albania.
The most important landmark of Krujë is the characteristic yellow castle – Kalaja e Krujës. In the castle, there is the Skanderbeg Museum. All history lovers should visit this museum. There are many antiques and relics connected with the history of the region: original documents, bibliographies, maps, reproductions depicting life in the 15th century, mosaics, icons, sculptures and furniture.
The road to Kalaja e Krujës castle leads through an interesting Turkish bazaar – Pazari i Derexhikut. It is full of stalls with local souvenirs. Currently there are about 30 market booths. The best souvenirs include: Skanderbeg brandy in decorative bottles, fancy ashtrays, various firearms and sabres, copper crockery and colorful rugs and carpets. It is important to trade with the salesmen.
Another interesting place in Krujë is the Ethnographic Museum. It is considered to be the most important historical treasure in Albania. In a handful of rooms, there are objects showing life and craft in Albania in the last 300 years.
Komani Lake in northern Albania is actually a reservoir, created by a hydroelectric dam in the village of Koman. Komani has some of the best scenery in Albania. The gem-colored lake is surrounded by the sheer cliffs of the Albanian Alps.
You will marvel at the occasional remote farms – it’s unbelievable that anyone could live there. There are several options to visit Komani Lake. From the middle of April to the end of October, you can take the ferry both ways from Koman village to Fierze and back (possible in one day or possible to stay overnight with a visit to Theth National Park).
In the summer months, it is also possible to do a tour. At least one private tour and the ferry company run options where you can go halfway to Fierze and stop at a remote restaurant where there are options such as swimming, kayaking, and boat rides up a tributary.
It’s possible to drive to Komani for the ferry; you can even take a vehicle on the ferry if you have reservations. The other way to get to Komani is to take the shuttle from Tirana or Skhoder.
Twinned with Berat (later in the article) as one of Albania’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Gjirokastra is a unique city well worth seeing while in Albania. Its unique stone architecture is unparalleled in the region, earning it the nickname “Stone City.”
It’s incredibly beautiful and is famous for being home to the Gjirokastër National Folklore Festival which is one of the most famous cultural events in Albania each year. It hosts polyphonic singing which is one of Albania’s intangible cultural heritage designations from UNESCO.
It’s also the birthplace of the dictator Enver Hoxha, and his home has been turned into the Gjirokastër Ethnographic Museum (a can’t-miss!). There are also several other house museums which beautifully preserve moments otherwise lost to time in their architecture, decor, and traditional items.
The Blue Eye (Syri I Kalter)
Not far from Gjirokastra, you can’t miss one of southern Albania’s most beautiful natural landmarks, Syri I Kalter, when you’re traveling between Saranda and Gjirokastra as it’s right on the road between the two! A public bus (
The Blue Eye is the nickname of this natural cold water spring which bubbles from an unknown depth – at least 50 meters deep but likely way more. It’s the source of the Bistricë River, which goes all the way to the Ionian Sea and empties out near Saranda.
There aren’t a lot of amenities here but you will find a small restaurant and restrooms. There is a parking lot closer to the spring but you will have to walk about 10 minutes from the place where the bus lets you off.
Butrint National Park
Butrint National Park is located 18km south of Sarandë in Southern Albania. The park covers an area of 94 square km and has wetlands, salt marshes, freshwater lakes and islands and is home to many threatened species of flora and fauna and mammals. It is also common to see dolphins.
The main attraction in Butrint is that one of the most important archaeological sites in Albania is located within the park. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.
It is believed that the site has been inhabited since the 12th century BC, though the ruins are dated back to the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. The most famous being the Roman theatre, acropolis, public baths, aqueducts, Lion Gate, Basilica.
The area is beautiful and it is amazing to walk around the ruins that are located within a forest on the edge of Lake Butrint, definitely a place to visit while you are in Albania.
There is a bus that goes from Sarande to Butrint hourly, so it’s easy to get there. There are no restaurants or cafés nearby so make sure that you take any water or food you need for the trip.
Ksamil is located within Butrint National Park in the South of Albania. It is a small beach town about 14km from Sarandë on the same road to Butrint. You can easily take the bus and just tell the driver you want to stop in Ksamil.
The white sand beaches here are beautiful and the color of the water is unbelievable. Many of the beaches in the town are small with deckchairs available to rent and hotels/restaurants have deckchairs available if you buy a drink/eat there.
It’s a great place to spend a day relaxing, swimming in the calm waters or sunbathing and reading a book. If swimming isn’t your thing, you could also rent a pedalo to get out to one of the islands. Also, if you tire of sunbathing then there is a little path that winds along the coast and it is beautiful to walk along the rocky coastline and see the views.
There are 4 islands located just off the shore and if you want to enjoy the beaches and the crystal clear water of them then you can there by boat or pedalo.
Berat is a beautiful museum city full of Ottoman houses that go up and down the hills on both sides of the Osum river. Along with its sister city Gjirokastra, Berat has the honor of being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. According to UNESCO:
Berat bears witness to the coexistence of various religious and cultural communities down the centuries. It features a castle, locally known as the Kala, most of which was built in the 13th century, although its origins date back to the 4th century BC. The citadel area numbers many Byzantine churches, mainly from the 13th century, as well as several mosques built under the Ottoman era which began in 1417.
While here, make sure to spend time wandering the cobblestone streets on the hills between the houses.
Another important landmark to see while in the city is Berat Castle. Beyond the gorgeous city and river views, you can also explore the different Byzantine churches and cafes within the castle walls.
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.
We recommend referring to our Albania itinerary guide, which has ideas on how to travel for 1, 2, or 3 weeks in the country (or longer!)
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.