As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Shkodër is a piece of living history littered with Roman, Venetian and Ottoman relics. The sophisticated Italian feel of Pedonalja (the pedestrianised central thoroughfare) is enough of a reason to visit in itself. Sip iced coffee and sample pastries in an outdoor café or grab picnic ingredients for an afternoon on the shores of Lake Shkodër. This pastel-coloured old town is Albania at its most elegant.
Many hostels in Shkodër have kitchens, while others provide home cooked meals for guests. Choose a Shkodër hostel set among orchards and vineyards or laze in a hammock in relaxed palm tree gardens. In the city centre you'll find buildings finished with old stone walls and beams or outdoor terraces where you can linger over free breakfast. Most places have free Wi-Fi and air con too, and you can often pick between dorms and private rooms.
Head to the old Ottoman-era district to find Pedonalja (officially called Rruga Kolë Idromeno) sandwiched between communist-era buildings and the historic street of Rruga Gjuhadol. The gleaming white Ebu Bekr Mosque is at the western end of Pedonalja, surrounded by a terrace bustling with cafés. Wander along the diverse Rruga Europa street to discover shops selling everything from clothing to vegetables. To go swimming or kayaking, catch a local bus to the shore of Lake Shkodër. Further out, a 4-hour bus journey will take you to hikes around the village of Theth and the Prokletije range, also known as the Accursed Mountains.
Back in town, walk to the 14th-century Rozafa Castle for Turkish and Venetian ruins and to discover the legends surrounding it. In the centre, the Marubi National Museum of Photography houses the first photograph ever taken in Albania. You can visit the Site of Witness and Memory to learn about the communist era, or take the 2-hour ferry trip on Lake Koman to see the Albanian Alps from the water. Early-morning buses run from Shkodër to the port in Koman and take around 2 hours.
To reach Shkodër you can fly to Tirana International Airport and take the 2-hour bus ride into the city. There's no bus station, so buses for Tirana leave from Sheshi Demokracia in the centre and buses for Montenegro leave from Ebu Bekr Mosque. You can get to most parts of Shkodër on foot and explore the wider area with furgons (shared minibuses), which go to outlying villages like Theth.