Sunbathing on pristine beaches, trekking through lonely mountains, exploring ancient ruins… if this sounds like your idea of heaven, you NEED to travel to Albania this year. The Balkan gem has avoided mass tourism unlike many of its neighbours, so travel in Albania means many off-the-beaten-path experiences and oodles of authentic local charm.
From numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites to lush mountains and crystal clear Albanian beaches along the Albanian Riviera, adventure awaits you at every turn – and despite what some people may expect, it’s super safe. Prices here are also a fraction of those in the more popular Balkan coastal countries of Greece and Croatia, with a pint of beer costing a glorious $1, a slap up meal costing under $5 and a hostel bed starting at as little as $4 per night. Sound good? Read on for 14 irresistible reasons to travel to Albania ASAP.
1. The Hidden Beaches Of The Albanian Riviera
If this is the first time you’ve heard the words ‘Albanian Riviera’ then you’re in for a treat. As you head west towards the coast from Berat in central Albania, you’ll discover some of Europe’s best beaches. Head to Himara, a popular backpacker town with a bohemian vibe full of fish shacks and beach bars. This is a great starting point for your Albanian beach adventure.
Spile Beach is the main beach adjacent to the town, where you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, or pedal boats to explore nearby coves and secluded hidden beaches. This is the place to enjoy surf, sand, and sun on a budget. Starting from Spile you can reach the popular white stone paradise of Livadah Beach on foot by walking west along the coast through lush forest. From here, another hike will take you to the infamously hard to find Gjiri I Akuariumit beach. Trust us, it’s worth getting lost for and you’ll likely have this idyllic swimming hole all to yourself. The last beach within hiking distance from downtown Himara is Jale Beach. This is the party beach where you’ll find many beach clubs, restaurants, and large crowds. It’s also the best spot to watch the sunset.
If you really want to get off the beaten track then head to Gjipe Beach; it’s hard to get to but totally worth it. This sandy cove surrounded by rocky cliffs is one of the best beaches in Albania. After taking the bus or hitchhiking as far as the road will take you, there’s a hike down a steep rocky path. The beach here is completely natural with underwater caves and amazing snorkelling. Many backpackers love this untouched beach so much that they camp out here for the night under the stars, though obviously don’t try this alone and be sensible about safety.
2. The Historic Butrint National Park Ruins
If you’re interested in history, this should definitely be on your Albania travel bucketlist. You’ll be treated to some fascinating prehistoric Mediterranean history within the ancient ruins of Butrint. This area was ruled by the Greek, Roman and Byzantine empires, and it’s incredible to see the structures that have lasted the turn of time. When you arrive at the archaeological site you’ll be given a detailed map of the area with your ticket.
Don’t miss the Christian cult church from the 6th century, where you can admire heart tile work on the ground near to the altar where marriage ceremonies were held. Our favourite ruin is the 2nd century fountain that was built in honour of nymphs.
3. Berat Aka The Town Of A Thousand Windows
Take the bus from the capital of Tirana to the tiny city of Berat, which is one big UNESCO World Heritage Site. Awesome fact alert: Berat is one of the world’s longest inhabited cities in the world. When you arrive in this fortified city you’ll instantly realise why it obtained its nickname, the Town of a Thousand Windows. Observe white Ottoman houses fitted with large windows which line the Mangalem side of the city, and cross the Ishull river to the Gorcia quarter in the evening to take in the view of the windows glowing.
High above Berat are the remnants of the 13th century castle, and now home to a thriving little community. Local families live here and various craft sellers sit around the grounds. The Orthodox Kisha e Shën Todrit is built into the back of the hill in the traditional brick style and is a cultural monument of Albania. Experience golden hour from the castle grounds as Mother Nature paints the surrounding mountain ranges with pastel hues.
4. The Beach Party Vibes In Saranda
Head south from Himara in a bus towards the coastal city of Saranda, locally known as the capital of the Albanian Riviera. It is a great place to stay for at least a week as there are many fascinating day trips to be taken. Explore the city in the evening after your day trip and enjoy the many eateries offering fresh fish, then stroll along the busy waterfront promenade and dance the night away at the beachfront nightclubs. The massive island you’ll see off the coast is actually Greece’s party capital, Corfu, which can be reached via a ferry ride.
5. The Lush Nature Of Shkodër
From the capital city Tirana, take a local bus north to Shkodër, one of the oldest towns in Albania. The massive Lake Shkodër is the largest lake in Southern Europe and borders with Montenegro. Test your strength and see if you can swim to a whole new country!
For spectacular views over Shkodër, hike up to the Rozafa Castle which offers 360° views, and walk around the whole perimeter of the Illyrian fortress. At dusk, you’ll be treated to a spectacular sunset reflecting in the sparkling Shkodër Lake. At the bottom of the hill you can also visit the Lead Mosque, which was covered with lead in 1773 when it was built but over time thieves stole the valuable metal.
Another great place to visit in Albania is the 18th century Mes stone bridge. Bike 5km through the Shkodër countryside to the bridge near the base of the mountains, which connects land over what was once a ferocious river. This spot is unknown to most tourists and is a gorgeous place to snap some panoramic photos of the historic bridge with mountains looming in the background.
6. The Awesome Blue Eye Spring
The Blue Eye Spring is one spectacular feat of Mother Nature, and a must-see when you visit Albania. You’ll immediately understand how this natural pool got its awesome name: the centre of the pool is a deep, dark, azure blob – aka the pupil of the eye. Branching outwards from the centre are shallower circles of bright blue water that look like the iris of the eye. It’s possible to swim here, but be warned that even on a hot day in September the waters were a crisp 10°C!
7. The Epic Hiking Between Theth And Valbona
The iconic trek from Theth to Valbona takes three days, and will lead you between remote mountain villages across the Albanian Alp highlands. Breathe in fresh mountain air and discover picturesque ancient monasteries that survived the communist destruction of religious buildings.
Shkodër is a great starting point for the trek, and worthy of a visit in its own right. The small downtown area of Shkodër contains many mosques and excellent restaurants, bars, and cafes. Look out for the various murals with strong political messages left over from the Albanian Civil War in the 1990s. For budget-friendly local cuisine head to Tradita Greg & Tosk, where you can dine al fresco on the terrace.
8. The Incredible Ksamil Beach Albania
Okay, this is no insider tip, but there’s a reason Ksamil beach is so popular; it’s the creme de la creme of Albania beaches. This natural paradise comprises three islands surrounded by a turquoise bay. Select a sunny spot and swim out to the islands, or rent a paddle boat to explore away from the crowds. Especially during the summer, the beach can get pretty packed with local Albanian people and tourists, but the vibe is really friendly and the beach is just too beautiful to miss.
9. The Heavenly Lake Ohrid
The town of Ohrid is located in Macedonia, but the gorgeous lake also straddles the border of Albania. This massive body of water is believed to be over three million years old, and is an incredible place to cool off during the hot summer months. Scuba divers should definitely add this to their list of places to visit in Albania, as they will be able to enjoy swimming with the 200 animal and plant species found in the lake, not to mention ancient artefacts from past civilisations.
10. The Mosques & Stunning Countryside of Tirana
Skanderbeg Square is so pretty ?@aleksiamansaku
The stunning countryside surrounding Tirana ?@kangaruhi
Albania’s fascinating capital city, Tirana, is a must-see place when you travel Albania. The easiest way to travel there is to fly to Tirana International Airport – reach the city centre via the airport shuttle which stops at Skanderbeg Square. This is a historic area, home to many museums and the beautiful Et’hem Bey Mosque that was built in the 1790s. It is rare to find old religious buildings in Tirana as many were destroyed as a part of the communist atheist belief system. Non-Muslims are welcome to visit the mosque – you’ll be asked to remove your shoes and women will be required to cover their hair with a scarf.
Take a ride on the Dajti Ekspres cable car and enjoy the sweeping mountain views as you pass over quaint villages, bunkers, and farms. When we went there was a cultural festival with Albanian women clad in traditional costumes dancing to folk music while the men gathered and played games in the grass.
11. The Fascinating History Of The Albanian People
The complicated, war-ridden history of the Albanian people and many interesting facts about Albania are displayed in Bunk’Art, a museum located in the indiscreet underground bunker that was created by communist politicians in 1970s who feared nuclear warfare. There are actually 168,000 bunkers in Albania that were never once used for their bomb shelter purpose.
12. The UNESCO-Listed Museum Town Of Gjirokastër
Head back to the main road from the Blue Eye Spring and get on a city bus to continue on to Gjirokastër. The historic old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with museum town status, and has many incredible Ottoman-era buildings. A pleasant afternoon can be spent here uncovering culture while exploring many of the 500 preserved historic homes. The 17th century Zekate House-turned-museum is the largest, with delicately restored rooms featuring family heirloom paintings, original furniture and hand carved wood decals.
The 13th century citadel that sits above the old town is the second largest in the Balkans. A stroll along the ancient castle walls will offer panoramic views of Gjirokastër and from this vantage point you’ll be able to see why Gjirokastër is nicknamed the City of Stone.
13. The Stunning Southern Mountains In Delvine
Adventures in Delvine ?@ilon.a.bit
Albania is home to some truly spectacular hiking trails all over the country. The southern mountain ranges near Saranda are one of our favourite places to hike. If you don’t want to go it completely alone, Qendra Shen Maria is a non-profit that organises treks through the lush Albanian countryside, stopping frequently at secluded monasteries and ancient castles.
14. The Cute AF Hostels In Albania
Stone City Hostel in Gjirokastër
There are some pretty amazing hostels in Albania, and you’ll be spoilt for choice with amazing views, delicious homemade food and welcoming people. And the best bit is that a bed in a dorm starts at around $4!
About the author
Lola Méndez is a full-time traveller sharing her adventures on Miss Filatelista as she adds to her collection of passport stamps. She travels to develop her own worldview and has explored 46 countries so far. Passionate about sustainable travel, she seeks out ethical experiences that benefit local communities. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
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Have you been to this Balkan gem? What did you love the most about Albania? We’d love to hear about your experience, tell us all about it in the comments below ?