Perched on a plateau in southeastern Albania, surrounded by the Morava Mountains, is the beautiful city of Korçë. The city dates back to the 13th century, when it was known as Episkopi. Since then, it has blossomed into an enriching mix of culture, cuisine, and history, which make up the top things to see and do in Korçë, Albania.
History of Korçë
In the 1480s, an Ottoman Albanian lord named Ilias Bey Mirahori founded the modern city. Korçë remained a small settlement until 1788, when residents from the nearby town of Moscopole fled raids conducted by Ali Pasha and his Muslim Albanian troops. The city then began to grow and thrive with its new influx of residents.
Known as the City of Serenades, Korçë is often thought of as one of Albania’s most beautiful cities. It earned that nickname because of the men who would sing love ballads on the city’s balconies and in the courtyards of villas. But at three hours southeast of the capital, Tirana, it’s quite a ways off the beaten path, so many travelers often miss it.
The people who pass through Korçë will find a number of exciting things to do in this gem hidden in plain sight. From the city’s museums to its bars to its wonderful bazaar, Korçë is a very homey, cozy city. It has a very relaxed feel, as evidenced by its parks and beer gardens, and also exudes a friendly, Balkan-esque charm.
I spent two days exploring Korçë with my good friend Erjan from Travel Media EU. In those two days, I fell in love with the city, especially its historical and cultural landmarks. It should be on everyone’s itinerary when they come to Albania, and this article will show you why. These are the top 10 things to see and do in Korçë, Albania.
Visit the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
No list of the top things to do in Korçë, Albania would be complete without mentioning the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral. Better known as Resurrection Cathedral, it’s a large, impressive church with Byzantine Revival-style architecture. It’s the largest Orthodox church in Albania and dates back to 1995.
Resurrection Cathedral replaced St. John Church, which was destroyed in 1968 during the Communist era. During that period, all religion within Albania was banned, and most churches and mosques were destroyed.
Inside the church are individual chairs instead of benches. Visitors can buy a candle to make a prayer for 5-20 lekes ($0.05-$0.19) each. I bought five large candles to say a prayer for my grandmother.
While you’re inside the church, I recommend taking a look at its walls. They’re covered in stunning, colorful paintings of various Christian figures. As you look around, you’ll find saints, kings, Mary, Peter, Joseph, Jesus Christ, and more!
Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
Explore the Old Bazaar
Just a two-minute walk from Red Tower (more on that below) is Korçë’s stunning Old Bazaar. This charming, 400-year-old area of the city is like the city’s beating heart. Along its streets, you’ll find lots of vendors, shops, bars, and restaurants. The Ottoman-style cobblestones are still intact, and when you walk them, you can’t help but be transported centuries into the past.
Bazaars are always a great place to people-watch, and the Old Bazaar is no different. Outside the bars and restaurants, you’ll likely find patrons drinking everything from coffee to beer to rakija. You will also come across quite a few vendors, who sell interesting souvenirs, including beautiful tapestries. There, I bought a pink hand-knitted bag for my oldest daughter, and the vendor was kind enough to knit me a blue one for my youngest daughter!
One of my favorite landmarks in the Old Bazaar was Haniipazarit, a large, cozy-looking building with a courtyard and old well. During the Ottoman era, it served as a guesthouse for the Ottoman army, but it has since been converted into a boutique hotel. You can see the original stones in the architecture, and the accommodations inside are comfortable and clean!
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Have Lunch at Taverna Vasili
When you visit Albania, one thing you may notice is that most restaurants seem to be converted houses. That’s certainly the case at Taverna Vasili, one of my favorite spots to eat in Korçë.
On the second floor is a covered, open-air terrace with five tables, and inside, you’ll find a cozy dining area and a small wine cellar. It’s very rustic and has the feel of a unique, Balkan steakhouse.
Speaking of steak, the restaurant offers sirloin steak, which has aged for 300 days. I personally recommend the beer-marinated pork ribs, which are both crispy and tender and have the flavors of the local beer! Enjoy them with one of the two Korçë-style beers offered: a blonde ale and a coffee-flavored porter.
If you order the mixed platter, you’ll get grilled pork, marinated veal, potatoes, eggplant, beans, red peppers, petulla, and grilled cucumbers. Everything is incredibly fresh, and the pork had a tasty, smoky flavor that drove my taste buds wild!
The eggplant is also phenomenal, and the veal was so tender it melted in my mouth. Having this meal is one of the top things you must do in Korçë, Albania!
Rruga Kostandina Gace
Walk Down Bulevard Shen Gjergji
In my opinion, one of the best ways to get a feel for European cities is to stroll down the local pedestrian street. In Korçë, that’s Bulevard Shen Gjergji. It’s a beautiful, family-friendly spot that’s lined with a number of bars and restaurants. It’s also a popular place to meet up with friends!
Along the street, you’ll find an old-school telephone booth, as well as the site of the destroyed St. John Church. This church was later replaced by Resurrection Cathedral. None of the church remains today, but its site is marked with a white outline. Today, you’ll find a library on the site.
Further down Bulevard Shen Gjergji is a miniature square, and at the end is the Red Tower! Exploring it is one of the best things to do in Korçë, Albania!
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Enjoy a Flight of Raki at Café-Museum Komiteti
If you arrive in Korçë unfamiliar with the fruit brandy known as rakija (or raki), you’re in luck! If you head over to a cozy bar called Café-Museum Komiteti in the Old Bazaar, you can get a crash course in many different types of this Balkan favorite.
There, you can try a flight (or several, if you’re a heavyweight) of different rakijas, and the friendly staff will walk you through them. Erjan and I worked our way through a few rounds of rakija and sampled some that ranged from fruity to herbal to coffee-flavored ones! Many of them are quite strong and burn going down, but you feel nice and relaxed afterward!
They’ll serve you some passionfruit or rose water in-between rounds as a palate cleanser. We were told that the rose water helps you to not get drunk! If you love rakija or are curious about it, visiting Café-Muzeum Komiteti is easily one of the top things to see and do in Korçë, Albania!
Eat Unique Albanian Food at Vila Cofiel
I’m all about trying unique local foods when I travel, so when I heard about a restaurant in Korçë that makes dishes that are exclusive to them, I knew I had to try it. Vila Kofiel is one of the city’s best restaurants. If you visit during the summer, I recommend dining on their outdoor terrace, which is decked out with lots of plants and greenery.
You can’t start a meal in Albania without some rakija, so I suggest starting with their house version. It’s sweet and light and tastes like Jagermeister! You should also sample their house reserve wine, which is a smooth, full-bodied blend of merlot and cabernet.
But as good as the rakija and wine were, the meal is what really sealed the deal for me. One of the best dishes I ate in all of Albania was Vila Cofiel’s pork with purple plum marmalade, which was the perfect combination of fatty, juicy, salty, and sweet. It’s one of my favorite things you must do in Korçë, Albania!
They also served us red peppers stuffed with creamy cheese, beans, meatballs with yogurt, a crispy cheese byrek topped with honey. Another highlight was the fluffy pita, which came with four dips, each of which represents a season. They were very unique and a little spicy!
Rruga Avni Rustemi
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Get a Bird’s-Eye View of Korçë Atop Red Tower
At the end of Bulevard Shen Gjergji is Red Tower, the closest thing Korçë has to an observation deck. It’s a narrow, curiously-shaped building that stands high above the city. I’m all about seeing the locations I visit from above to get a new perspective of them. Korçë is no different!
For only 50 lekes/$0.49 USD, you can make the climb up the eight flights of stairs to the top of the tower. From the deck at the very top, visitors will enjoy unparalleled views of the entire city of Korçë and the surrounding mountains. It’s both awe-inspiring and a little scary. It’s definitely not for people with a fear of heights!
Visit Korçë Brewery (Birra Korçë)
As a proud beer snob, one of my favorite things to do when I travel is to visit local breweries. If you’re a beer lover, too, stop by Korçë Brewery when you visit the city. It dates back to 1928 and is the oldest brewery in all of Albania. Visiting it was one of my favorite things to do in Korçë, Albania!
During my time there, the staff took me on a VIP tour of the facility, which produces 10 million liters of beer per year. I got to see their four massive tanks, the chemical room where they check the beer quality, the filtration room, the assembly line, and more.
One of my favorite parts of the tour was visiting their stunning beer garden. The garden itself reminded me of my time in Munich, Germany. There, I sampled their blond ale, which is on tap there, and their dark, which is only available in bottles. The blond is a nice, light summer beer, while the dark is rich and tasty and contains notes of espresso beans!
Bulevardi Fan Noli
+355 82 254 033
See the Museum of Education (Mësonjëtorja)
Of course, you can’t truly get a feel for Korçë, or any destination for that matter, if you don’t explore its history. One of the best ways to do that in Korçë is to stop by the local Museum of Education, Mësonjëtorja, which was built in 1887.
This museum was once a school and is an emblem of Albanian history. Only Turkish was spoken in Albania during the Ottoman period. After the Ottoman Empire fell, this school was the first in the country to teach in Albanian! Doing so was a turning point that changed the future of the country!
Bulevardi Shen Gjergji
Stay at the IN Gallery Hotel & Spa
Because I recommend spending at least two days in Korçë to fully experience it, you’ll need a place to lay your head. I suggest the IN Gallery Hotel & Spa, a beautiful, modern hotel located directly across from Resurrection Cathedral.
The hotel offers a rooftop restaurant, bar, and lounge, as well as 18 boutique-style rooms. The rooms are sleek and chic, and include hardwood floors, a wooden wardrobe, a private mini-fridge, a workstation, a unique bathroom, and a king-sized bed. My room also had a balcony overlooking some of Korçë’s beautiful houses!
At the rooftop restaurant, you can dine while enjoying a view of the entire city. You’ll get spectacular views of Resurrection Cathedral and the distant mountains. There, I got to watch the cooks prepare a traditional porridge called trahana, which is made from fermented grains.
This hearty dish also contains chunks of freshly-baked bread, smoky sun-dried tomatoes, fish oil, seeds, browned butter, paprika, and edible flowers. You can also add in got crumbled goat cheese, which they serve on the side.
The dish became very popular during the Communist era because it’s cheap to make and easy to prepare. Since then, it has become a staple in modern Albanian cuisine.
But perhaps the highlight of any stay at IN Gallery Hotel & Spa is its remarkable spa. The dimly lit, serene space contains a colorful pool, two massage rooms, two saunas, a salt room, a steam room, a double massage room, a shower room, and an amazing hammam, or Turkish bath!
Although I usually work non-stop when I travel, I couldn’t help but take an afternoon and evening off and get pampered at the spa. It was the perfect way to relieve my sore muscles and refresh my body after a hard week of traveling.
Treating yourself there is one of the best things to do in Korçë, Albania. I can’t recommend it enough!
IN Gallery Hotel & Spa Korçë
+355 69 520 2000
The two days I spent in Korçë were some of my favorites in Albania. From visiting the local cultural sites to exploring the unique gastronomical scene, I had a blast. The people were kind and friendly, and every moment I spent there made me fall even more in love with the Balkans. Book a trip to Albania today to visit this gem for yourself!
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