Tirana is a city of contrasts. Soviet and Fascist-style concrete housing blocks have been updated in rainbow shades to rival the Central European-influenced architecture in the old town. Nuclear bunkers have been transformed into museums. And a former neighbourhood reserved for the Communist dictatorship's elite is now an achingly cool millennial haunt. Thanks to this, as well as a mix of intriguing Ottoman history and incredibly welcoming people, it's well worth factoring in some travel time in Albania's capital.
You can stay in an artists' hub with creative works decorating the walls, a Tirana hostel with a spacious rooftop terrace featuring views of colourful buildings, or an eclectic arty hangout with exposed-brick interiors. Look out for hostels in Tirana with lively courtyard bars so you can easily meet other travellers. A place with its own kitchen (complete with recipe books collected by a local grandmother) will have you trying out home-cooked Albanian fare.
Blloku is Tirana's best-loved neighbourhood for travellers. This is in part because it has a host of cool cafés and bars, but it's also due to its intriguing history as a restricted enclave for the Communist party. Rruga Myslym Shyri is the city's main shopping area and Tregu Çam is the older part of town, home to the National Historical Museum in Skanderbeg Square. Zona 1, between the square and the Lana River, is where to go if you're a foodie. It has the Pazari i Ri food market and seafood restaurants galore.
While Tirana has shaken off its Communist past, the history remains fascinating. Find out more by visiting former dictator Enver Hoxha's house in Blloku and his crumbling Brutalist-style Piramida structure that’s now a skaters' hangout. In Tregu Çam, make your way to the BunkArt2 bunker, a nuclear war shelter transformed into a museum and memorial to the victims of Communist rule. There's also striking architecture like the restored 18th-century Tanner's Bridge and fresco-covered Et'hem Bey Mosque.
You can easily access the city's main sights on foot, but buses are on hand to speed things up a little. Just look out for those marked 'Unaze' that loop around the centre. You can also take taxis, although drivers tend not to use their meters so it's best to agree a price in advance. Shuttle buses take travellers to and from Tirana Airport every hour or so.