Albania is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the last remaining hidden gems in Europe.
But with a reputation for difficult public transportation and a lack of travel information available on the internet about certain destinations in Albania, it can make planning a trip to Albania seem a bit stressful.
Luckily, traveling in Albania has gotten a lot simpler and more straightforward since my trip there in 2016. Bus schedules are online (mostly), English is more widely spoken, and roads have improved, reducing travel times.
We’re here to help you plan the perfect Albania trip – and the best place to start is this simple, easy-to-use checklist to ensure you’re prepared for your trip.
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Step 1: Check to See if You Need a Visa
Albania has one of the laxest visa policies in Europe (in fact, Americans are allowed to stay in Albania for up to a year visa-free!).
Here are the countries who can visit Albania without a visa as of the time of writing this article (May 2019) – keep in mind that things may change, so please double-check your country’s specific requirements before planning a trip.
All EU nationals, Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Georgia, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Kitts & Nevis, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, U.A.E., U.S.A., Uruguay, Venezuela.
There is also a temporary visa waiver for the following countries, which expires on October 31, 2019:
Bahran, Belarus, China, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, & Thailand
Finally, if you have a valid multi-entry visa for the Schengen area, the U.S., or the U.K., you can visit Albania without a visa for up to 90 days. Keep in mind the visa must have been used at least once before arriving in Albania. U.S. permanent residents / Green Card holders, as well as Schengen residents, are also allowed to enter Albania without a visa.
On my bus crossing the border from North Macedonia to Albania, another traveler on my bus was able to successfully use her valid U.K. visa with her Nigerian passport without any issues.
Step 2: Book Your Tickets
There’s only one airport in the country at the moment, which is Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA) about 11 kilometers outside of the city.
However, there is also the option to fly into Corfu (CFU) and take the short ferry ride to Saranda, which is actually the faster way to reach the Albanian Riviera if that is your end destination.
Most people tend to visit Albania on a multi-country trip through the Balkans rather than as a stand-alone destination, and therefore arrive via bus.
A few of these routes may be Kotor-Tirana, Prishtina-Tirana, Ohrid-Tirana, or Skopje-Tirana. For all of these buses, I recommend using Gjirafa to check timetables, as it’s the most accurate. It’s an Albanian-language website, but I think it’s easy enough to use without translating. You likely won’t be able to buy your tickets online in advance, so if traveling in high season along a popular route, I recommend buying your ticket as soon as you can, perhaps when you arrive at the bus station of the previous city.
Step 3: Plan Your Albania Itinerary
There are so many places to visit in Albania that it’s hard to offer one standard itinerary. I personally spent 5 weeks in the country my first visit and still found there were places I didn’t get to (Valbona and Theth, I’m coming for you one day, I swear!).
Many people just visit Tirana as a connection point between Montenegro and Macedonia or Kosovo, which is great to see a bit of Albania but I think you’re missing some of the best of what the country has to offer if you only see Tirana.
A more complete itinerary would be starting in Saranda, doing day trips to places like Ksamil, Butrint, and Gjirokastra, and working your way up the coast (with an optional stop somewhere along the Riviera, like Himara, Dhermi, or Vlora) before reaching Tirana (maybe allocating a day for a day trip to Berat or Kruja). If you had more time still, you could add on Shkoder to visit Lake Komani and perhaps tackle the Valbona to Theth hike.
That itinerary at its most basic could take about 1 week all the way up to 3 weeks, depending on your travel pace and how many of the places you have on your list to visit.
Guided Itinerary Options
Does planning a trip to Albania independently stress you out? There are some great group tour choices if that’s up your alley. The tour that covers the most of Albania in the least time is this excellent 5-day tour covering Southern Albania.
Stops on the itinerary include Ardenica Monastery, Berat, Osum Canyon (the Grand Canyon of Albania), Polican, Bogove Waterfall, Permet & its springs, Langarica Canyon, Gjirokaster, the Blue Eye, Butrint, Ksamil, the Albanian Riviera, the Llogara Pass, Vlora, and Apollonia – all before returning to Tirana! It’s quite a packed itinerary, but it offers excellent value for both time and money, and it’s what we’d recommend if you want to see a lot of Albania in a limited amount of time. Check out details on the itinerary, prices, and more here.
Step 4: Plan Your Activities
If you want to add on some day trips or tours to enrich your time in Albania, now’s the time to plan it! There aren’t a ton of guided tours you can book online in advance, but we’ve picked a few Tirana-based tours and day trips that may be of interest to you.
Suggested Tirana Tours & Day Trips
- 3-Hour Highlights of Tirana Walking Tour
- Shkoder Full Day Trip from Tirana
- Kruja & Kruja Castle Full Day Trip from Tirana
- Berat Full Day Trip from Tirana
- Ardencia & Apollonia Day Trip from Tirana
Step 5: Budget Your Trip
Albania is a very budget-friendly destination, and you can get good value for your money here. I stayed in a nice double room in the hippest neighborhood of Tirana and spent about $30 USD per night. A hostel would cost about $10 per night, whereas luxury 5-star hotels can be found for about $150 per night.
Food also offers excellent value, roughly $1 USD for a gyro or other take-away street food, less than $1 for a burek or other pastry, and up to $10-20 for a delicious multi-course meal at a more upscale restaurant. For drinks, expect about 70 cents for an espresso in a café, beer or wine for $1-2, and cocktails for $4-6.
Most museums have a small entry fee, usually less than $5 USD, and a taxi from one part of the city to the other will cost about $3-5 USD. Transportation between cities costs on average about $3-10 USD depending on distance and if it’s international or domestic.
From that, I’d say that you can do Albania on a backpacking budget for as little as $20-25 USD a day but you’d be more comfortable with $35 USD. I didn’t keep an exact tab on my budget, but I’d estimate I spent about $70-80 a day staying in a double by myself, eating out at the nicest restaurants in Tirana (hey, I was writing a restaurant guide!) and drinking plenty of cocktails and coffee. Luxury travelers can definitely spend more, but your dollar will go quite far here!
Step 6: Book Your Accommodations
As I mentioned above, you really can run the range of accommodations in Albania. The nicest hotel in Tirana, The Plaza, can be had for as little as $150 USD per night!
We’ll create detailed guides on where to stay in Albania soon, but for now, we recommend perusing Booking.com. We like that they have free cancellation if you end up changing your plans. This is critical in Albania since you may decide to change your itinerary if you uncover a new Albania spot you’re itching to visit!
Booking.com also has a wide selection of types of accommodations. On our last trip to Greece, we stayed at a really different range of places – from a budget hotel in Rhodes to a private villa in Crete with friends to a mid-range hotel in Athens. One great way to keep overall accommodation costs down is to stay somewhere nice at one destination, and then pick a budget hotel at your next destination.
Step 7: Research Any Vaccinations You May Need
The CDC recommendations for Albania are basically your standard travel series. Per their website:
Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.
These are all standard vaccinations that most people have, unless they are some sort of crazy anti-vaxxer. The CDC also recommends the Hepatitis A vaccine, as it’s possible to get this through contaminated water or food.
While there are a lot of stray animals in Albania, rabies is not very prevalent, though it does exist. The city of Tirana has done a great job of tagging, vaccinating, and spaying/neutering the city’s strays, so if you see a dog with a tag on his/her ear they are vaccinated.
If you’re especially worried or think you’ll be traveling in remote or rural places where you won’t be able to access medical treatment quickly in case of an animal bite (such as doing a multi-day hike), you can get the rabies vaccination prior to visiting Albania. However, keep in mind that you will still need to seek medical treatment if you’re bitten by an animal as the vaccination doesn’t provide full protection but just buys you more time to get the post-exposure shots.
Step 8: Learn a Few Common Albanian Words & Phrases
I won’t lie – Albanian is a very difficult language to speak. Not only that, there are two dialects of Albanian which are not really intelligible to speakers of the other dialect. I’ve heard stories of Tosk speakers not being able to understand Gheg speakers and vice versa, and ending up using English or Italian as a common language instead!
Tosk is generally the more ‘standardized’ Albanian, and so that’s what I’ll share with you in terms of common phrases. Note that I’ve written it as it’s pronounced, not spelled! (Feel free to correct in the comments – my Albanian is not great!)
Hello – Shkemi
Hi – Si ye
Good day – Meer-deeta
Thank you – Fa-leh-min-DER-it
Please – Ta lutem
Cheers – Ga-ZOO-ar
Yes – Po
No – Yo
Sorry, excuse me – Ma fal
Step 9: Pack Your Bags
We’ll create a full-on Albania packing list soon, but for now, here’s what we recommend!
- A Lonely Planet guidebook, to help you plan when on the ground
- An unlocked smartphone, so you can buy a cheap SIM card and make calls if needed
- An extra swimsuit so you can enjoy Albania’s beaches without having to put a wet one back on.
- Motion sickness pills and other travel medicine, in case you can’t find your preferred brands in Albania
- Sunscreen (if you’re bringing checked luggage). I bought cheap sunscreen (or, actually ‘sun milk’) in Albania once and ended up with one of the worst burns of my life!
Step 10: Prepare For Your Arrival
Assuming you arrive to Tirana International Airport, we recommend you have your accommodation organize a transfer for you rather than trying to deal with the hassle of an airport taxi. It’ll cost you a bit more, but it’ll come with peace of mind. There is also an airport bus if you’re on a budget; you can read more about it here.
I’ve never flown into Tirana as I’ve always come overland, so I can’t speak to personal experience, but knowing that getting a fair price at an airport in the Balkans is always a hassle, I strongly recommend booking a transfer or arranging a taxi through your accommodations.
If you’re arriving at the Tirana International Bus Station near Zogu I Zi Square, it’ll be hard to arrange a transfer ahead of time, so try your luck with a taxi. I recommend agreeing on the price ahead of time to avoid any funny business, though I have heard that MerrTaxi is a legit company and you can call them to pick you up (+355 800 5555) starting at 300 lek (a bit less than $3 USD)
In reverse, I paid 500 lek (less than $5 USD) to go from Blloku to the bus station organized by my hotel, so I’d use that as a benchmark so you don’t overpay.
Before You Leave the Airport
You’ll want to have some Albanian lek on you for your taxi or to get on a bus. You can take them out at the ATMs in the airports for the best exchange rates. Just make sure you don’t have big ATM withdrawal fees from your bank. Some banks require a travel notice, and others will still put fraud blocks on cards making purchases outside of their home country.
Tell your bank when and where you’ll be traveling to avoid this. They may still put a block on your card at some point. To rectify this, you’ll need to call them or respond to an email if they send one. This is one reason its good to always travel with multiple cards attached to different accounts.
While many places in Tirana accept Visa and Mastercard, not all places do. You’ll need some cash to be able to travel through Tirana smoothly, and it becomes essential to carry cash once you leave Tirana. It can be near impossible to find places that take American Express, so it’s best to leave it at home.
Step 11: Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
We put this last so it’s fresh on your mind: travel insurance is a good idea for Albania and for Balkans travel in general! Stephanie and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last two 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.