Located at the base of Mount Krujë in north-central Albania is the beautiful mountain village of Krujë, also known as Kruja. Even though it lies just 38 kilometers north of the capital city, Tirana, Krujë feels like a completely different world. This village nestled in the foothills of the Albanian Alps exudes a small-town atmosphere and the unmistakable charm you can only find in the Balkans. Most of the best things to see and do in Krujë, Albania take full advantage of its enchanting qualities, making it the perfect day trip from the capital.
The History of Krujë
Krujë is more than just a small mountain village north of Tirana, though. It also holds historical significance for many reasons. In antiquity, the area was home to the Albani, a tribe of ancient Illyrians. Some scholars believe Krujë may have been the site of Albanopolis, a city in ancient Roman Macedon. Albanopolis is thought to have been established around 150 AD, nearly 300 years after the Roman Empire conquered the area.
Krujë was also the first capital of the Albanian state during the middle ages, starting in 1190. But the city is best known as the location from which an Albanian nobleman and military commander named Gjergj Kastrioti (better known as Skanderbeg) fought off Ottoman forces from 1443-1444 until his death in 1468. Skanderbeg is revered as a national hero, and a museum dedicated to him is among the things to see and do in Krujë, Albania today.
My Visit to Krujë
My time in Krujë was short, less than 12 hours due to my packed travel itinerary. But it’s easily one of my favorite places I visited in the country. The quiet, mountainous surroundings; the authentic, Balkan feel; and the lovely, friendly locals made it a true pleasure to explore. These are just a few things to see and do in Krujë, Albania.
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Visit Skanderbeg Museum in Krujë Castle
Perched high above the city is an elliptical-shaped medieval citadel whose contributions to Albanian history cannot be overstated. This is Krujë Castle, a small 5th– or 6th-century castle that served as the base of operations for Gjergj Kastrioti, or Skanderbeg in the 15th century.
Who was Skanderbeg?
From this castle, Skanderbeg and an army of 3,000 men or less, defended the city against the Ottomans, who were looking to expand into Western Europe. They had already conquered other parts of Albania and wide swaths of Europe. But Skanderbeg and his forces kept the Ottomans at bay for 25 years until Skanderbeg’s death in 1468.
Skanderbeg’s military prowess was so respected that the Ottomans referred to him as Iskender bey, or “Leader Alexander.” This name is thought to be a comparison to one of the greatest military leaders of all time, Alexander the Great. Even after his death, Skanderbeg’s forces held back the Ottomans for another decade before Ottoman ruler Sultan Mehmed II finally took the castle.
Today, you’ll find several noteworthy attractions, including an ethnographic museum, a Turkish bath, and the ruins of the Fatih Sultan Mehmed Mosque and its minaret. But the main attraction is the National Skanderbeg Museum, one of Albania’s most famous museums. Skanderbeg is honored there, as you can see lots of gorgeous paintings, maps of medieval Albanian settlements, and even Skanderbeg’s helmet!
From the roof of the museum, you’ll enjoy stunning views of Krujë. You can see for miles up there and will have an unparalleled look at the village, the river, and the surrounding mountains. It is truly magical and easily one of the best things to see and do in Krujë, Albania!
National Museum George Kastrioti Skanderbeg
Krujë 1501, Albania
+355 511 22225
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Eat at Restorant Bardhi in Krujë Castle
Also located in Krujë Castle, just steps away from the National Skanderbeg Museum, is Restorant Bardhi. This local eatery first opened its doors in 1994. It lies 607 meters above sea level and offers some of the most spectacular views in all of Krujë. The restaurant specializes in fresh but rich traditional mountain food, as well as dishes from around Albania.
The owner, Bardhi, goes out of his way to make his guests feel welcome. During my visit, he took me up to the second floor to try a unique rakija (Balkan fruit brandy) made from a mix of cabernet franc, merlot, and syrah grapes. It was extremely strong and flavorful!
As with every restaurant I visited in Albania, the level of freshness in the food at Restorant Bardhi is stellar. Their house-made pepper cheese and blueberry cheese were out of this world. They also had a fantastic byrek made from crunchy phyllo dough with a tender lamb-and-onion filling. But the stars of the show were the fatty, juicy baked lamb leg and the lamb ribs. They were so well-cooked that the meat fell off the bone at the slightest touch!
For dessert, don’t miss the kabuni. It’s a unique but tasty dessert that combines rice, shredded lamb neck meat, cinnamon, and raisins into an exotic, rice-pudding-like concoction that is sweet, savory, fatty, and a little earthy! It confused my taste buds in the best way and had me going back for bite after bite until it was gone! Trust me, this dish, and all of the lamb dishes there, make visiting Restorant Bardhi one of the top things to see and do in Krujë, Albania.
Rruga “Kala”, 1007
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Visit the Old Bazaar
Down the main road leading away from Krujë Castle is the spectacular old bazaar, the Bazaar of Derexhik. It’s one of the oldest bazaars in Albania at over 400 years old! Walking this pedestrian-friendly lane is like stepping into a storybook. It’s complete with a gorgeous cobblestone path and cute, charming shops and friendly vendors on both sides of the road.
Hanging from the shops and booths are colorful banners and interesting-looking souvenirs. The shop owners are especially friendly and beckon passersby to come inside and check out their wares. I think I was invited into at least three or four shops in total during my visit! You can find everything from red-and-black clothing and accessories featuring the Albanian eagle across the chest to handmade carpets to antiques.
Buying a Qeleshe
My favorite moment from my trip to the Bazaar of Derexhik came early into my visit. Almost immediately, a beaming man named Ndricim stepped out into the street, wringing my hand, and invited me into his shop. Inside, he and his employees make a type of traditional Albanian wool hat called a qeleshe. They come in different shapes and sizes—some have pointed tops, while others have flat tops.
He and his employee even showed me how to make a qeleshe! They start by using a wooden bow to fluff the wool. Then, they press it into a flat sheet for 24 hours. They use two sheets of wool to make a hat and glue them together by adding only soap and water!
Next, they pressing the hat and remove any black hairs. More soapy water is added, and the qeleshe is shaped into the desired shape using a mold. Then, after shaving and smoothing the qeleshe, they let it dry. After it dries, it’s ready to be sold!
I bought one for 1,200 lekës ($11.46 USD) and also bought some cute wool slippers for my daughters. They’re priceless traditional items you can’t find anywhere else, making the Bazaar of Derexhik one of the best things to see and do in Krujë, Albania!
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While I wish I could have stayed in Krujë longer, I believe I still got a good feel for the village in the few hours I was there. This is a mountain village of friendly, welcoming people who are exceptionally proud of their history, heritage, and craftsmanship. It’s evident from the moment you arrive in town and permeates every element of life there. It’s a place you should not miss when you come to Albania. Book a trip there today to experience this incredible village for yourself!
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Have you ever visited Krujë? Is it a place you’ve always wanted to visit? Let us know in the comments below!