Nestled on the Mbishkodra Plain between the marshes surrounding Lake Shkodër and the foothills of the Albanian Alps is the northern city of Shkodër. This laid-back, historic city lies roughly 103 kilometers north of the Albanian capital, Tirana. It is sometimes referred to as Shkodra and was also known as Scodra and Scutari in its history. It serves as the gateway to the magnificent Albanian Alps and the expansive Lake Shkodër, but the things to do in Shkodër, Albania are all its own.
The lands around Shkodër have been inhabited since at least the Bronze Age due to the lake and the fertile plain that the city was built upon. The city itself dates back to early antiquity, making it one of the most ancient cities in the Balkans. During its early history, Shkodër was home to the Ardiaei and the Labeates, two Illyrian tribes that ruled territories that included Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Later in its history, the Romans, Serbs, Byzantines, and Ottomans also ruled the region.
Most of the city’s most prominent attractions take advantage of its long history and appealing geography. The city is also known as the cultural capital of northern Albania and is known for its rural, northern music. It’s also a fantastic place to experience northern Albanian cuisine, which I found to be heartier, richer, and meatier than the fare I found in the cities further south. During my time in the city, Andy from Travel Albanian Alps took me around to experience the real Shkodër and all it has to offer. These are the things to do in Shkodër, Albania.
Also known as Mes Bridge, Mesi Bridge is a relic from the Ottoman period and a Postribë cultural monument. The 18th-century bridge was built around the year 1770 by a local Ottoman pasha named Kara Mahmud Bushati. It spans the Kir River, which runs through the Albanian Alps and flows into the Drin River just south of Shkodër. It also carries the distinction of being the oldest Ottoman bridge in Albania!
At 108 meters long, Mesi Bridge is one of the longest Ottoman bridges in the region. The bridge is made up of round stones and stone plates and provides picturesque views from atop it, as well as from below when the Kir is dry. Mesi Bridge is 12.5 meters high and consists of 13 arches, including the largest, which is in the very center. Although tourists can cross the bridge due to a 13-million-leke investment by the Albanian Development Fund, it is quite narrow at just 3.4 meters wide.
When I visited Mesi Bridge, the Kir River was completely dry, so I was able to explore the area below the bridge. It’s one of the most beautiful Ottoman bridges I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. It strongly reminded me of another of my favorites, the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge in Visegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s a gorgeous example of Ottoman architecture and is a great site to visit if you want to get a feel for Shkodër’s history.
AL, Boks 4012
When you want to get a taste of northern Albanian flavors, I suggest a visit to Hotel Restorant Tradita Gegë & Toskë. As its name suggests, this is a hotel and restaurant that serves traditional northern Albanian food. They also offer cultural activities and entertainment, including traditional musical performances and other events designed to share northern Albanian traditions with their guests.
Before you dine, I suggest touring the property, which is a unique mix of restaurant, hotel, museum, music venue, and retail. Be sure to check out the mannequins donning traditional Albanian clothing.
Don’t miss the souvenir shop, where you can buy some local clothing, as well as pillows, musical instruments, and traditional hats called qeleshes. There’s also a huge terrace outside, as well as a bar on the second level. From the bar, you’ll have a great view of the stage, where the restaurant hosts live musical performances.
But the best part of the Hotel Restorant Tradita Gegë & Toskë experience is the food! I highly recommend the gamy wild pork sausage, fresh goat cheese, the beef-and-mushroom tava, fresh pork, and the roasted eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. There was also a unique goat cheese and herbs that came sizzling in a tava. Enjoy it all with some kulaç, which is a type of flatbread that’s similar to naan.
The fresh pork was fatty and smoky, and the sausage was heavenly. I noticed that pork was a bit of a rarity in Tirana, but seemed to be much more common in the mountains. Pair the feta-like fresh goat cheese with the tomatoes, which are bursting with delicious juice.
But the highlight of the meal was the beef tava with wild mushroom sauce, which was hearty, tender, and earthy and my favorite tava dish in Albania up to that point! Having it is one of the things you must do in Shkodër, Albania!
Hotel Restorant Tradita Gegë & Toskë
Rruga Edith Durham 25
Shkodër 4001, Albania
+355 22 809 683
One of my favorite things to do when I travel, especially when I’m in Europe, is to visit the local pedestrian street. They’re usually located in the heart of the cities. And while they’re usually packed with tourists, they’re also safe places to get a small taste of everything you look for when you travel: culture, food, and local life. In Shkodër, the local pedestrian street is Rruga Kole Idromeno.
Andy from Travel Albanian Alps showed me around the street, which is located in the old center of the city. The street itself is very colorful and vibrant and filled with locals, tourists, and families. I noted a lot of Italian influences, particularly in the cafés lining the street. There are also lots of eateries and outdoor seating where you can enjoy lunch during the day or a drink at night.
I suggest having a rakija outside if the weather permits, which will allow you to people watch and get a better feel for Shkodër. There are also souvenir shops where you can buy clothing and mugs, as well as lanterns and woodwork! As you press on to the end of the street, you’ll come across a Catholic Church on your left and the Ebu Beckër Mosque on the right. The mix of cultures and variety along Rruga Kole Idromeno is the city in a nutshell and one of my favorite things to do in Shkodër, Albania!
When you’re compiling a list of the best things to do in Shkodër, Albania, a stop in the nearby village of Shiroka should be on it. This small village is located just a 10-minute drive from Shkodër and is located on the shores of Lake Shkodër. It’s also just a few kilometers from the Adriatic Sea, which helps explain why the village is known for its delicious local seafood. One of the best restaurants to have some is Sunset Restaurant.
Sunset Restaurant is located in a row of restaurants along the lakeside. It’s the closest restaurant to the water. I suggest dining al fresco on their outdoor terrace, just feet from Lake Shkodër if you can. But if you prefer, there’s also an elevated terrace on the restaurant’s second floor and an indoor dining hall with massive windows that look out at the lake. The views are absolutely breathtaking!
The chefs at Sunset Restaurant make a variety of Albanian dishes. For your starters, I recommend the Greek salad, which contains lettuce, olives, feta cheese, cucumbers, and tomatoes. The cheese is incredibly fresh, and I loved the oily, tasty olives. I also recommend the bruschetta, which is soft but still has some crisp to it, and topped with fresh tomatoes, oil, and cheese. It’s like a fresh, farm-to-table pizza!
After your starters, I suggest having some fish, which is what Sunset Restaurant is known for. The fish come from both the lake and the Adriatic Sea. I highly recommend the lake trout, which is buttery and tender and comes smothered in a rich tomato sauce. It’s cooked in a tava, so it arrives at the table nice and hot. Just beware—it contains lots of small bones!
But the most unique dish is the salt-baked fish from the Adriatic. It’s baked under a mountain of salt, which you have to chip away at before you can serve yourself. Despite the amount of salt it’s cooked in, the fish itself is not very salty. The meat melts in your mouth and is incredibly fresh.
It contains fewer bones and spines than the lake trout, but I still advise being very careful while eating it. Pick through both dishes with your fork and fingers if you like, and use your teeth and tongue to feel around as you chew to make sure you don’t accidentally swallow any. It’s a lot of work, but the fish is so tasty, it’s more than worth it. Trying these dishes is easily among the best things to do in Shkodër, Albania!
Shkodër 4001, Albania
+355 67 668 4401
Easily the most well-known attraction in Shkodër is Rozafa Castle, a massive stronghold that stands guard over the city like an enormous sentry. It stands atop a steep, rocky hill that you can choose to hike if you want. From what I’ve heard from others, the hike is strenuous, so if you’re pressed for time or not in great shape, I suggest driving up to the castle to explore it.
Rozafa Castle is one of Shkodër’s ancient relics. The crumbling but still impressive ruins date back to the days of ancient Illyria. The Romans captured the castle in 167 BC. Later, the Venetians took the castle and built most of the walls that stand today. The use of the castle continued throughout the medieval period, as it was taken by the Ottomans in 1478. The castle was a popular target even in modern times, as Montenegro captured Rozafa Castle in 1912.
As of August of 2020, it costs 300 lekës, or just under $3 USD to visit the castle. It’s more than worth the small entry fee, as the sprawling grounds are heaven for any history fanatic. Inside the castle itself, you can see the original stone floors, as well as arches set into the walls, which I guessed were stables for horses. You can see many ancient-looking walls lining the main path. You’ll also find the 15th-century Fatih Sultan Mehmet Mosque, which was built atop the remnants of the 13th-century St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Don’t miss the two courtyards, both of which boast a number of ruins. The first you’ll come across contains Venetian ruins, including three towers, while the second is home to walls, a storage space, a prison, a cistern, and a church that later became a mosque. Other sites around the castle include a gift shop, a museum, and a café.
And as someone who loves seeing the places I visit from above, Rozafa Castle did not disappoint one bit. Because of its position on a hill high above Shkodër, I could see for miles in every direction. The views of the city, the river, the farmlands, distant mountains, and Lake Shkodër, are breathtaking. You can even see into Montenegro! It’s the best place in Shkodër to take photos and one of the best things to do in Shkodër, Albania.
One of the many highlights of my time in Albania was the food. It’s a fantastic mix of hearty, heavy Balkan cuisine and lighter Mediterranean fare with lots of Italian influences. When I travel, I like to know where my food came from, and there are few places in the world better at this than Albania. Meals in Albania are often farm-to-table, and one of the best places to see the practice in action is Agroturizem Shega in the nearby village of Muriqan.
The word “Shega” is Albanian for “pomegranate,” so it should come as no surprise that the farm is famous for its pomegranates and pomegranate juice. And while I visited about a month before the pomegranates would be ripe, they still had some fresh juice for me, which was refreshing and fruity, with no added sugars or preservatives.
The owner, Ahmet Sylejmani, then showed me around the farm. We joked around in Italian and shared some laughs as I tried some figs from his trees. He was so eager for me to try them that he fed me more while my mouth was still full! I also tried some juicy but slightly tart red grapes, as well as some sour white grapes. After they’re harvested, the grapes are then bought by wine producers.
As I continued my tour, I saw some lemons, tangerines, and limes growing on trees outside, as well as tomatoes growing in their tented greenhouse. The greenhouse is huge and contains twenty rows of hundreds of plants that range from tomatoes to eggplant to peppers.
While some of the tomatoes were still small and green, others were overripe and already starting to go bad. Those tomatoes are fed to the farm animals so nothing goes to waste! The animals on the farm include some trusty hens, who lay 2-3 eggs each per day, and some native Hermann’s tortoises!
Agroturizem Shega is run by Ahmet and his family, so when you visit or stay there overnight, you’ll be treated to authentic, home-cooked Albanian cuisine. On the night I stayed, Ahmet’s wife prepared a phenomenal chicken that had been boiled in a flavor-rich broth. It infused lots of herbal flavor into the chicken, which still tasted incredibly fresh, as it had come straight from the chicken coops outside.
I enjoyed the chicken with some pickles, a refreshing tomato-and-onion salad with oil, olives, fresh goat cheese, freshly baked bread, and potatoes. I had helped picked tomatoes in the salad myself! Beverage-wise, I enjoyed a nice Torre shesh i zi wine, which is made from indigenous grapes with a fruity but unique flavor.
I ended my night with a few slices of tespixhe, a cake that is famous in Muriqan. It’s a dense, thick cake that’s soaked in a sugar syrup. Despite that, it’s not overly sweet at all!
Of course, if you have the time, I highly recommend staying at Agroturizem Shega overnight to get the full farm experience. The house has two rooms for guests, both of which contain two twin beds. The accommodations are modest and simple yet comfortable and homey. One of the rooms has a unique coat rack made from a de-barked tree. You can hang your things from the branches!
Parking is free for guests who drive to the farm, and all of the rooms have air conditioning and a private bathroom. Guests will also enjoy complimentary continental breakfasts every morning. It’s located roughly 54 miles from Mother Teresa Airport in Tirana, but is also easily accessed via Shkodër.
Dodaj 4001, Albania
+355 69 453 1309
One of the most common foods you’ll find in Albania is the savory pastry called byrek. Also known as burek or börek depending on which country you’re in, it’s a staple in the Balkan nations of southeastern Europe. I’ve eaten many different varieties in Albania alone, and probably dozens more during my travels through the Balkans. When you’re in Shkodër and have a hankering for some byrek, I suggest a pit stop at Piceri Arlindi.
Piceri Arlindi is a small bakery in town, and the byrek they serve is fantastic. Byrek is particularly convenient because it’s portable. It’s basically a stuffed, handheld pie with a crispy and flaky crust. That makes it the perfect dish to take with you when you’re on the go.
On the morning of my fifth day in Albania, I stopped there on my way to Theth National Park and ate my byrek in the car on the way. It was hot, full of fresh, melted cheese, and had a golden-brown crust that gave it a nice, buttery flavor. I recommend having it with some plum rakija and a strong espresso!
If you need a comfortable place to stay in Shkodër, check out Kevin Homes Guesthouse. This cozy guesthouse is located just minutes from the heart of Shkodër, so getting to all the local attractions from there is quick and easy. The guesthouse is run by Andy from Travel Albanian Alps, a tour company that specializes in tours of northern Albania.
The guesthouse is a typical Albanian house. On the first floor, you’ll find a map of Albania on the wall, as well as brochures advertising the tours they offer. Four rustic, wooden, and comfortable guest rooms are on the second floor. One of the rooms has a queen-sized bed that is perfect for couples. The other three rooms contain three twin beds each. There’s also a spacious backyard, where you’ll find a separate building that serves as a bar and kitchen. You can camp in a tent in their garden, under their fruit trees, for only €5 per night.
If you’d prefer sleeping inside, one of the twin beds will cost you €12/$14.18 USD per night, while the room with the queen-sized bed will cost double that at €24/ per night. Breakfast is included, regardless of where you sleep, and your first drink there is complimentary.
While you’re there, you’ll be treated to some fantastic, home-cooked Albanian cuisine prepared by Andy’s wife. She makes a phenomenal pork cevap, Albanian fried rice, fresh yogurt, and fried cheese for dinner. And for breakfast, you can enjoy fresh eggs from Andy’s milkman, as well as homemade cheese, jam, bread, butter, and apricot juice. You’ll also enjoy tomatoes and cucumbers straight from their garden!
Kevin Home Guesthouse
Rruga Mehmet Shpendi
Shkoder, Albania, 4001
Of course, because Shkodër is the gateway to the Albanian Alps, you should definitely set aside at least a few days to explore Theth National Park. This expansive park in northern Albania is the largest national park in the country. It’s also home to some of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen while traveling!
The town of Theth is roughly a three-hour drive from Shkodër. The road leading away from Shkodër is paved only part of the way, and becomes a dirt road before you reach the mountains. From there, the road only gets rockier and more treacherous, so I highly advise taking it slow.
You’ll need to drive a 4×4 to manage the road well. Be extra careful if you’re traveling in the winter. Snow and ice can sometimes completely cover especially tricky parts of the road, making them impassable. For that reason, I advise traveling to Albania in the summer to mitigate any safety issues.
The summertime temperatures in Albania can be brutal, even in the mountains. But thankfully, there is a little natural fountain along the side of the road with ice-cold mountain water flowing from it. Get a drink from it or splash some on your head to cool off like I did! Driving up to Theth National Park is easily one of the top things to do while in Shkodër, but be safe while doing it!
While I’ve heard some travelers say there isn’t much to do in Shkodër besides pass through on your way to the mountains, I disagree. The city is brimming with Albanian culture and history and is one of the best places in the country to immerse yourself in everyday Albanian life. Shkodër is charming and decidedly laid-back, which is exactly what I loved about it. It’s a place you should definitely spend a couple of days exploring before you head north into the Albanian Alps. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t. Book a trip to Albania today to experience everything Shkodër has to offer for yourself!
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