Located in eastern Albania, along the southwestern shore of Lake Ohrid, is the resort city of Pogradec. The city is situated in a narrow plain between two mountain ranges and enjoys a seasonal Mediterranean climate. The warm weather makes it a popular tourist destination, especially during the summer. In fact, much of Pogradec’s appeal is in its natural beauty, which is largely characterized by the alluring, glass-like waters of the lake and the nearby Drilon National Park. Together, they make the things you must see and do in Pogradec, Albania a wealth of seemingly endless possibilities.
But before we dive into the best things that this popular resort city has to offer, let’s take a step back and explore its past. Pogradec’s lengthy history is every bit as fascinating as its present. It’s also a key component to understanding this beautiful lakeside gem’s present.
The History of Pogradec
This city, which is the eleventh-most populous in Albania, also boasts a rich history. Its name is of Eastern South Slavic origin and translates to “under the city.” This is a direct reference to an ancient Illyrian city that was settled on a hill above the location of modern-day Pogradec.
The city now known as Pogradec exchanged hands between several states including the Bulgarian, Byzantine, Serbian, and Ottoman empires between the 8th and 15th centuries. During the medieval Ottoman period, the city went by the name İstarova or İstarye. It then went on to play important roles in both World War I and World War II.
I visited Pogradec in August of 2020 during a 12-day Albanian road trip that took me from the capital, Tirana, to Sarandë in the far south. From the moment I arrived with my guide and good friend Erjan of Travel Media EU, I was blown away by this idyllic lakeside town. It can be quite touristy because of the lake and beach, but it’s much more than a tourism hotspot.
Pogradec is a highly enjoyable city, with lots of popular locations and others that are a bit more off the radar. Because of this duality, it’s very family-friendly. The city and surrounding area are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes locations in both Albania and North Macedonia. It’s also close to another tentative UNESCO site, the Illyrian Royal Tombs in Korçë county.
Pogradec is also great for foodies, especially those who like freshwater fish! Best of all, it’s small, so it’s very walkable, and every attraction in the area is within a 10- or 20-minute drive. You only need one day to really see it all, but I recommend two if you also hope to visit the surrounding attractions. I hope you enjoy this gem of a city as much as I did. These are the 3 things you must see and do in Pogradec, Albania.
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Visit Pogradec Beach
As Pogradec is essentially a summer beach town, most of the action in the city revolves around its beach. It’s unique in that it’s one of Albania’s rare sandy beaches, which only adds to its popularity.
Without question, visiting it is one of the top things you must do in Pogradec, Albania. You can easily reach the beach on foot from Restaurant The Change, which is my personal lunch recommendation, but more on that later.
When you reach Pogradec Beach, it becomes evident why this lakeside city has captivated travelers, tourists, and yes, invaders, for centuries. It is a tranquil, gorgeous spot that almost seems to beckon visitors to enjoy its waters. Because I was pressed for time and didn’t have a bathing suit on me, I couldn’t hop in. But I could certainly enjoy the view!
The highlight of my time at Pogradec Beach was my visit to the nearby pier, which stood near a large, broken waterslide. There, a dozen or so local kids joyfully jumped and dove off the end of the pier and into the drink below. Watching them be so carefree and full of excitement and energy took me back to my childhood! I wished I could have joined them!
Just keep in mind that Pogradec Beach will likely be packed during the summer months. It’s particularly popular for Albanian tourists, many of whom prefer it to the Adriatic Sea. There are no similar beaches on the Macedonian side of the lake, which means Pogradec Beach is the only beach of its kind on Lake Ohrid!
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Dine at Restaurant The Change
While there are many dining options in Pogradec, the one restaurant you must experience for yourself is Restaurant The Change. It’s the most popular modern fish restaurant in the city. It deserves the title, as its food is the definition of “high-quality.” Its décor features a wooden terrace and an interior that feels like a Greek boat in the middle of the Aegean Sea. It took me back to my time in Greece!
During my visit, I met the chef and owner, Apostolos, who prepared a local specialty for us called koran. Koran is a salmon-like fish found in Lake Ohrid, and you can prepare it in a number of drool-worthy ways. While we waited on our koran, we started with a modernized dakos salad with tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese, a Greek-style bread, and oil.
We also had eggplant salad, zucchini fries, fritters, tzatziki, and feta-stuffed phyllo rolls. Another highlight was a spinach salad with pistachios, raisins, berries, and pomegranate seeds.
While all of our starters were amazing, the koran blew them all out of the water. Our first koran dish was koran tartare, which consists of cubed, raw koran, avocado, olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, and mangoes. The presentation alone—which featured fanciful dollops of fresh, creamy mayo—was to die for. And I must say, the cold koran with the zesty citrus, sweet mangoes, creamy mayo, and earthy olive oil was one of the highlights of my time in Albania. You can’t beat fresh, quality ingredients prepared by an expert chef!
If you’re not into raw fish, you can always get your koran grilled. This mouthwatering koran contained minimal seasoning with just salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon. I usually love my food to contain lots of different spices and flavors, but this fish is so good on its own that that’s all it needed.
For this dish, Chef Apostolos let the fish shine. It was easy to see why so many people come to Restaurant The Change for it. The skin was nice and crispy, the lemon added some nice acidity, and the fish itself was like a less fatty salmon. The British monarch, Queen Elizabeth, tried this very dish by Chef Apostolos and loved it! That alone makes it one of the best things to see and do in Pogradec, Albania!
Restaurant The Change
Rruga 10 Deshmoret e Pojskes
+355 83 604 244
Check out my article, Mrizi i Zanave: The Ultimate Agrotourism Experience in Albania
Explore Drilon National Park
One thing you must do when you visit Pogradec during the summer is visit Drilon National Park. This beautiful natural area is just a five-minute drive from Drilon Beach. It’s a serene, laid-back alternative to the tourist-heavy city nearby. It includes a park and natural waterways where you can have a picnic, go boating, and enjoy a meal at a local restaurant.
I highly recommend the national park to nature lovers. They will enjoy being amongst the trees, wildflowers, and local wildlife, which includes swans and ducks. The air quality in the park is exceptional, and the trees provide lots of shade so you can enjoy the area even on hotter days.
My favorite thing to do there was the rowboat ride. For 500 lekes, or roughly $4.72 USD, you can enjoy a 15-minute ride down a circuitous stream with a captain. You can also try your hand at rowing the boat yourself! I cannot recommend this gorgeous park enough. It’s easily one of the top things you must see and do in Pogradec, Albania!
Driloni National Park
Rruga e Drilonit
+355 68 882 0254
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It’s no secret that the Balkan region of southeastern Europe has a charm that is all its own. That, of course, includes Pogradec. This charming, lively, lakeside resort town is everything a solo traveler or a vacationing family could want. Between the magnificent food, the beautiful national park, and the lake itself, Pogradec is like a Balkan dream. Book a trip to Albania today to experience Pogradec for yourself!
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