Located along the Ionian Sea in southwestern Albania is the coastal region known as Bregu. Also known as the Albanian Riviera, this area encompasses the coastlines of the Sarandë and Vlorë districts. If there’s one criminally underrated travel destination in Europe, it is this sunny region, which is characterized by its serene blue waters, enriching historical sites, and dynamic beaches. All of those things encompass the top things you must do on the Albanian Riviera.
This rugged, mostly unspoiled stretch of coastline is the perfect place for those who want a Mediterranean holiday far from the more crowded and tourist-heavy coasts of Spain, southern France, Italy, and Greece. It’s still mostly frequented by native Albanians, so despite the growing number of villas, hotels, and restaurants, it still retains a local, non-touristy feel.
There is a remarkable number of beaches for swimmers and sunbathers, but the region is also popular among history lovers. With the coastline dotted with centuries-old monasteries, imposing castles, and expansive archaeological sites, those who enjoy exploring the past will be pleased. There are also several fantastic restaurants, as well as non-beach recreational areas further inland.
In August of 2020, my friend Erjan from Travel Media EU and I spent several days exploring the Albanian Riviera. We started in Sarandë in the far south and then made the drive roughly 120 kilometers north along the coast to Vlorë, and then on to the capital city, Tirana. I was struck by the riviera’s sun-drenched beaches and gorgeous sites, and the fact that it’s still largely unknown to non-Albanians. And while I would hate to see this unique slice of heaven become more touristy, it’s also a place I think deserves more recognition. These are the 15 things you must do on the Albanian Riviera.
There are a number of small towns and villages along the Albanian Riviera, but its crown jewel is Sarandë, the southernmost city in the country. This idyllic town is located on a crescent-shaped bay just under nine miles east of the Greek island of Corfu. As one of the main cities along the riviera, it has been built up into a modern-day resort town, complete with luxurious hotels, upscale restaurants, and private beaches.
The Sarandë area is rich in history, with the 16th-century Lëkurësi Castle standing just southeast of its city center and the ruins of the ancient city of Butrint just south of town. The site, which is comprised of ancient walls, a Roman theater, a baptistery, a basilica, and more, is one of Albania’s four UNESCO-protected sites.
Of course, with its position along the Ionian Sea, it’s only natural that Sarandë is one of the best places in the country to enjoy fresh seafood. Eateries like Bar Restorant Abiori and The Mussel House are among the top spots for dishes like crudo, squid, prawns, and of course, succulent mussels.
But of course, Sarandë’s main selling point is the sea itself. Most of the beaches in the city are private, but if you drive 15 minute south, you’ll find Ksamil Beach. The beach is one of the most beautiful in the area, with its sapphire-colored waters. The waters are quite shallow, making it a favorite with families.
Although it’s a bit crowded in the high season, I loved my time there and I believe it’s a must for anyone visiting the Albanian Riviera. To learn more about the city and what to do there, please check out my full Sarandë travel guide!
Visit the Ujvara Veranda in Borsh
In the village of Borsh, roughly a one-hour drive north of Sarandë, you’ll find the largest bay on the Albanian Riviera. The village is known for its beach and the production of olive oil, but it’s also well-known for a particularly famous café called Ujvara Veranda.
Ujvara Veranda initially gained recognition for its unique location. The restaurant was built around, and on top of, Borshit Waterfalls, natural falls that cascade between the café’s outdoor terraces. The presence of the waterfalls initially entices visitors, but they stay for the quality of the food.
There, you can try a number of Mediterranean dishes, including pizza, sea bass, seafood risotto, and antipasti, as well as omelets, soups, salads, beer, coffee, and rakija.
Erjan and I made a pit stop at Ujvara Veranda for a quick rakija as we made the drive from Sarandë to Vlorë. The outdoor terraces were beautiful and breezy, and the waterfalls in the very center were a calming presence. Their plum rakija was refreshing and fruity, and quite inexpensive. At only 100 lekes, or about $0.95 USD each, it’s practically a steal! I’ve also heard great things about the food there but didn’t get to try it myself.
All in all, whether you pass through Borsh for a quick drink or a longer meal, stopping by Ujvara Veranda is a must. It’s easily one of the best things to do on the Albanian Riviera and is well worth the road trip from Sarandë!
+355 69 543 2505
Explore Porto Palermo Castle
Roughly 20 minutes north of Borsh is another popular landmark along the Albanian Riviera, Porto Palermo Bay. There, you’ll find a beautiful beach with crystal blue waters and a number of yachts. While the beach is beautiful, the main attraction in the area is Porto Palermo Castle.
Located just a few kilometers south of Himarë, this well-preserved castle has a somewhat controversial history. Its origins are disputed, as some claim it was built early in the 19th century by the Ottoman Albanian ruler Ali Pasha of Tepelena. Others say it was built much earlier by the Venetians due to its resemblance to a similar fortress in Butrint.
The triangular castle boasts an underground tunnel, barracks, circular towers, walls, and gates. Earlier in its history, it housed Ali Pasha, his wife, and his soldiers. Later, it served as a Soviet submarine base and a storage space for oil during the communist era. It is now a rather underrated tourist attraction. The Huffington Post even named Porto Palermo as one if its top undiscovered European destinations back in 2014.
Visitors must follow a craggy, rocky path to reach Porto Palermo Castle. The interior is quite different from other fortresses I’d visited because it also served as a home. A staircase in the room that housed soldiers leads to a gorgeous terrace that is said to have been built for Ali Pasha’s wife.
The terrace boasts one of the most remarkable views along the Albanian Riviera. The wide-open terrace offers a stunning panoramic view of the Ionian Sea and the nearby bay and beach. Its beauty is unmatched and makes Porto Palermo Castle one of the top things to do on the Albanian Riviera!
Porto Palermo Castle
Penisola Di Porto Palermo e Castello
Check out the 5 Things You Must See and Do in Durrës, Albania
Check out the City of Himarë
Just ten minutes north of Porto Palermo Bay is the city of Himarë. This coastal resort city in Vlorë County is nestled between the Ionian Sea and the Ceraunian Mountains. It’s located in a bilingual and multi-ethnic region of southwestern Albania that has many Hellenistic inhabitants and influences.
The city is known for its traditional tavernas, its nightlife, and its hillside old town, Kastro. The area is also a showcase for traditional Byzantine architecture, as it’s home to numerous monasteries and Orthodox churches. But much like Sarandë to the south, Himarë’s signature feature is its seaside promenade and family-friendly beach.
Himarë’s white sand beach is the perfect place for swimmers and sunbathers, as the sand is set up with lots of umbrellas. If you’re lucky, you may come across vendors on the beach selling fresh figs! It’s If you need a place to stay or grab a drink, stop by Dhima Hotel, which offers delicious beer and rakija.
Visit the Beach at Dhërmi
Not far from Himarë is Dhërmi, a small, seaside village midway between Sarandë and Vlorë. As with other settlements along the Albanian Riviera, this village 42 kilometers south of Vlorë boasts incredible views of Albania’s breathtaking Ionian Sea coast.
Like Himarë, the majority of Dhërmi’s residents have Hellenistic origins, and speak a specific dialect of their national language called Himariote. Though it is unknown when Dhërmi was first established, it is known that the area was originally inhabited by a Chaonian tribe known as the Epirote.
Visiting Dhërmi is among the best things to do along the Albanian Riviera. Its position roughly 200 meters above sea level on the slopes of the Ceraunian Mountains gives visitors a unique view of the water from above.
The village itself is home to many traditional houses and a beach that is especially popular among young locals. The three-kilometer-long beach is bordered by a boardwalk with numerous bars and restaurants, so there are plenty of places to eat and enjoy a drink!
Swim and Sunbathe at Palasë Beach
Not far from Dhërmi in the Himarë municipality is another small village called Palasë. Also known as Paljasa, it is believed that the village was known by the name Palaeste in antiquity. According to local legend, Palaeste was moved from the coast to a location further inland on the Ceraunian Mountains around the 12th or 13th century due to pirate attacks.
Palasë is located south of the Thunderbolt Mountains, the western extension of the Ceraunian chain. It lies near Çika Mountain, the highest peak in the Ceraunian Mountains, and is known for its narrow stone roads and white houses.
Built around a 400-year-old plane tree that’s central to life in the village, Palasë is also close to another nearby attraction, Llogara National Park. You have to pass through mountains to get to Palasë, and the area itself is wilder and less developed than other parts of the Albanian Riviera.
There are still resorts and bars near the beach, which is rockier and typically less crowded than the ones at Dhërmi and Himarë. Here, instead of huge numbers of sunbathers and swimmers, you’ll likely see lots of paragliders, who are fun to watch as you roam the beach! If you’re lucky, you might meet a friendly vendor selling fruit to visitors. Try his figs–they’re so sweet and tasty!
Check out the Things to Do in Theth, Albania
Enjoy the View at Panorama Llogara
As you continue north along SH8 between Himarë and Vlorë, the highway makes a brief turn further inland past Palasë. It becomes a winding alpine road that skirts Mount Çika as it zig-zags its way through the Ceraunian Mountains. In these mountains, roughly 1,027 meters above sea level, is the viewpoint known as Panorama Llogara.
This famous viewpoint is quite spectacular, as it offers a magnificent 360º panoramic view of the area, including the surrounding mountains and the distant coastline. The unique vistas alone make checking out Panorama Llogara one of the best things to do along the Albanian Riviera.
When I visited Panorama Llogara, I couldn’t get enough of the spectacular view it offered. Seeing the region from this vantage point brought back memories of my travels along the Italian Riviera years earlier. I also couldn’t get enough of the many paragliders who put on quite a show for me and my fellow visitors!
Llogara, Albania 9425
+355 67 404 6313
Have Lunch at Llogara Tourist Village
As SH8 curves further away from the Ionian Sea coast and further into the Ceraunian Mountains, it eventually winds its way through Llogara National Park. This lush, natural area includes dense deciduous forests, alpine meadows, cliffs, and vertical rock faces. It covers a little over 10 square kilometers and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including golden eagles, deer, wolves, and red foxes.
Inside the park is Llogara Tourist Village, a small mountain resort village roughly 800 meters above sea level. It lies just 35 kilometers south of Vlorë. The village is a great spot to rest or even spend the night, as it offers 21 hotel rooms, 16 cottages, and three suites, all of which border a central park. One of the highlights of the village are the nine deer that freely roam the area.
The Albanian Mountain Food
One of the best things to do at Llogara Tourist Village is to grab a bite to eat. The cuisine reminded me of the hearty, meat-heavy mountain food I ate in northern Albania. It’s very different from the lighter, seafood-rich fare you’ll find further south along the Riviera.
It included smoky and fatty lamb ribs that were so tender, the meat practically fell off the bone; a buttery grilled cheese tava; roasted lamb with lamb intestines; quail legs and wings; a doughy cheese byrek; earthy wild mushrooms; and fresh, grilled vegetables.
The food was phenomenal. I couldn’t get enough of the tender, juicy meat and the creamy cheese in both the tava and the byrek. The quail meat had a unique sweetness to it, and we even had a couple of delicious and refreshing salads. We ended our meal with fresh yogurt with honey and walnuts.
The creaminess of the yogurt, the sweetness of the honey, and crunch of the walnuts was a combination made in Albanian heaven. And of course, you can’t enjoy a good Albanian meal without a rakija—or four! Their strong plum, fruity wild berry, tart blueberry, and gin-like juniper rakijas are all winners!
Llogara Tourist Village
Rruga Nacionale Vlore-Sarande
Llogara National Park
8401 Dhërmi, Albania
+355 69 334 4400
Explore Orik Archaeological Park
Located on a peninsula at the southern end of the Bay of Vlorë is the ancient city of Orik, also known as Oricus or Orikos. This Hellenistic site lies in the region of the Balkans known as Epirus in antiquity and dates back to the 8th century BC.
The History of Ancient Orik
It is thought that the city was founded by people from the island of Euboea. The city served as a harbor in its early days before becoming a pilis, or city, later in its history.
Ancient Orik also served as a base during its time under Roman rule, and played an important role in Rome’s wars with both the Illyrians and Macedonia. The city also has the distinction of being the first city Julius Caesar took after he invaded Epirus.
Caesar fought three wars with Orik before successfully conquering it. On his first two attempts, he approached Orik from the sea and lost. After he switched tactics and approached from the peninsula, he successfully took the city, which later proved pivotal in the civil war against Pompeii between 49-48 BC.
After the invasion, Orik is said to have become more of a civilian settlement. During the Byzantine era, the city’s name changed to Jericho, and the Ottomans later renamed it Pashaliman.
My Visit to Orik Archaeological Park
Because the archaeological park resides inside a military zone, you’ll have to have your passport checked in order to enter. If you travel with a camera as I do, you’ll also have to turn your camera off until you reach the park.
One of the most prominent sites in the park are the circular remains of the monumental fountain. Once thought to have been an amphitheater, it was used as a tank and collected rain water. You can also see a Byzantine tower, an acropolis, a Paleochristian church, and the remnants of the city’s fortified walls.
Further on is a wide set of ancient steps leading up a hillside and a ruined gate, as well as houses carved into a rocky hillside. These homes date back to the 3rd century BC and are paved with brick. Each of them had roofs that allowed for easy collection of water, which would trickle down into the house’s private well.
As a major history buff, Orik was one of the highlights of my drive up the Albanian Riviera. It’s one thing to read about history, but it’s much more enthralling when you get to visit the sites where pivotal moments in history happened, and can feel the history under your fingers. It’s one of the reasons why visiting Orik is among the top things to do on the Albanian Riviera!
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Visit St. Mary’s Monastery
On Zvërnec Island just northwest of Vlorë is a Cultural Monument of Albania you cannot miss on the Albanian Riviera. This island inside the Narta Lagoon is home to St. Mary’s Monastery, a medieval Byzantine church that dates back to the 13th century.
While many of Albania’s churches were destroyed when communism overtook the country, St. Mary’s Monastery escaped destruction. As Albania became the world’s first atheist state, the church ceased to function. It remained closed for 33 years until the early 1990s after being restored.
The church, also known as the Monastery of Dormition of Theotokos Mary, can be accessed by a 270-meter-long bridge that connects the island to the mainland. In the middle of the monastic complex is the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On August 15th (the day of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary) of every year, Albanian Christians pilgrimage to the monastery, which has also become a popular historical and cultural site. The monastery’s rotunda houses lots of stunning paintings that depict scenes from the Bible.
It serves as a tranquil, spiritual oasis for Albanian Christians who live in the Vlorë area. As such, visiting it is also one of the top 15 things you must do on the Albanian Riviera!
Enjoy Albanian Seafood at Restorant ‘Joni’ Vlore
After arriving in Vlorë, it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that a seafood feast is in order. One of the city’s best eateries is Restorant Joni, a popular but beautiful spot right on the beach.
The restaurant boasts a number of white tables outside during the summer, so I recommend dining al fresco to enjoy the weather.
Chef Joni is a master at creating succulent Albanian seafood dishes, so it’s hard to go wrong with anything on his menu. That said, I highly recommend trying their crispy and creamy shrimp quiche, grilled tuna, and blackened salmon. Their sardines are surprisingly spicy and tangy from the lemon juice on them, and the prawns are super salty!
You can also try their seafood pasta with salted fish eggs and monkfish. One of my favorite dishes was the silky gnocchi with carrots, asparagus, and cured meat shavings. It was stunningly good and paired perfectly with a nice glass of white wine. But the best thing about Restorant Joni is that they only use fresh fish, so none of it is ever frozen.
Eating at Restorant Joni is easily one of the best things you can do on the Albanian Riviera and will make for a dining experience you won’t soon forget!
Restorant ‘Joni’ Vlore
Rruga Murat Terbaci
Vlorë 1001, Albania
+355 69 528 2492
Stay at the Bologna Hotel
Visiting Vlorë is fine, but staying in Vlorë is even better. As the largest city on the Albanian Riviera, there’s plenty to do there, which means a hotel stay is in order if you want enough time to explore the city properly. I recommend Bologna Hotel, a stunning three-star boutique hotel right on the Ionian Sea.
This sleek, family-friendly hotel boasts 40 rooms that are simple yet elegant, with king-sized beds, desks, minibars, and flat-screen TVs. The rooms also offer complimentary WiFi, and some of them even have balconies or views of the Ionian Sea. Their Italian restaurant also has a nice terrace outside.
Breakfasts at its restaurant are complimentary. Their buffet-style breakfast consists of items like eggs, sausage, cheese, cake, juice, coffee, honey and fruit. If you prefer, the hotel also offers room service, as well as laundry service.
Best of all, you don’t have to travel far from the hotel to experience some of the best of Vlorë. It’s centrally located and is less than ten minutes from several restaurants, including Restorant Pane e Vino and Taverne Te LILO.
Local attractions like the National Museum of Independence, Flag Square, and Marina di Orikum are also within a 30-minute drive. Its proximity to most of the local attractions makes staying at Bologna Hotel one of the top 15 things to do on the Albanian Riviera!
Vlorë 9401, Albania
+355 33 409 600
Check out the Top Things to See and Do in Gjirokastër, Albania
Visit Independence Square
One of the best places in Vlorë to honor and celebrate the country’s history is Independence Square. This recently renovated central square just minutes from Flag Square and Historic Museum is home to the Monument of Independence.
The nearly 56-foot-tall sculpted monument stands on the site of the proclamation of the Albanian Declaration of Independence, which occurred on November 28, 1912. Created by Albanian sculptors Muntaz Dhrami and Kristaq Rama, the monument celebrates the Declaration of Independence.
Prominently featured on the monument is Ismail Qemali, who led the Albanian national movement and founded Independent Albania, a parliamentary state declared and constituted on the same day as the Declaration of Independence. It’s a great spot to learn about Albania’s history!
Sheshi i Flamurit
Take a Stroll down Museum Road
Within walking distance of Independence Square is another unique location called Museum Road. Also known as Rruga Justin Godard, this newer area of the city has been recreated in the style of Old Vlorë.
The buildings lining the road are quite pretty and colorful. The architecture felt very Italian and reminded me a lot of the buildings I saw when I explored Venice. Even though the buildings are new, walking the street is like taking a step back through time. The street aims to be a popular attraction that will draw visitors to Vlorë during the colder winter months.
When I visited Museum Road in August of 2020, it was spotless, as the road hadn’t officially opened. Some of the places were still being renovated as I walked the street, but I highly recommend visiting once it’s open to get the full experience! Without a doubt, it’s among the best things to do on the Albanian Riviera!
Explore Ancient Apollonia and St. Mary’s Church
As many of you guys already know, I am a history fanatic. Visiting historical sites has been a major part of my travels ever since I started traveling professionally over 13 years ago. One of favorite things to see and do along the Albanian Riviera is Apollonia, an ancient site roughly a 30-minute drive north from the city.
The Ancient City
This massive, ancient city was a trade center that was home to roughly 60,000 people in its heyday. Originally settled by Illyrian tribes in the 6th century BC, its ruins constitute one of Albania’s most important archaeological sites. The city shares its name with roughly 30 other ancient cities from that time period.
Apollonia is so large that only parts of it have been excavated, so it’s even more expansive than it looks on the surface. Points of interest that have been unearthed include an odeon or theater, a temple, and a building called a bouleuterion, which is where the city council met. The odeon had a small state and therefore, was meant for smaller shows.
Elsewhere in the city are houses, columns, the pillars of the Arch of Triumph, and an ancient storehouse. While I investigated the storehouse, I made a new friend—a Hermann’s tortoise using the structure to stay cool in the heat!
St. Mary’s Church
On top of a hill surrounded by ancient Apollonia is St. Mary’s Church, a 17th-century Byzantine monastic complex built with stones from archaeological sites. The chapel merges both ancient and Byzantine architectural styles into a uniquely beautiful structure that represents Christianity while surrounded by an ancient city that engaged in polytheism.
Inside the monastery are some fading 17th-century frescoes, which are still quite breathtaking. There’s also a large calendar on the floor and several statues initially unearthed in the ancient city. You can also find large jars, numerous beheaded Roman statues from the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Another highlight is the Archaeological Museum of Apollonia, which houses many of the treasures discovered in and around the ancient city. There, you’ll find mosaics, a portico lined with statues, and six halls that display everything from prehistoric artifacts to Roman-era objects like ceramics, vessels adorned with images of Hellenistic mythological beings, and clay pottery! If you love history like I do, visiting Apollonia and St. Mary’s Church is one of the best things to do on the Albanian Riviera.
BONUS: Dine at Restorant Ali Kali
As you continue north from Vlorë, you’re bound to get hungry at some point. When you do, I recommend stopping at Restorant Ali Kali, a popular eatery about 90 minutes outside the capital city, Tirana. This spot deserves to be on every list of things to do on the Albanian Riviera.
The restaurant is easily the most unique I visited during my time in Albania. Inside, the friendly owner, Ali, has decorated with antiques including musical instruments, old television sets, kives, and even guns. But the thing that makes Restorant Ali Kali so memorable is how the food is served!
If you dine on their outdoor terrace, you’ll get the pleasure of Ali serving you on horseback! The restaurant is famous for its seafood, especially its fish and prawns. Ali rides his horse around the terrace, an iron clamper filled with grilled, steaming fish in one hand.
He then jumps off the horse and quickly divvies out fish to his customers right at their tables! After he serves everyone, he returns to his horse and plays with him. Sometimes he even lies on the ground with him!
During my visit to Restorant Ali Kali, I started with some cold and smooth blackberry rakija. Trying this delicious fruit wine is a must when you visit Albania! Then, I moved on to enjoyed some monstrous sea bass that weighed over one kilo. On the side, we had prawns, cheese with pickled peppers, fërgesë, salad with yogurt, toasted white bread, and French fries.
The sea bass is tender with a crispy, flavorful skin. It’s full of bones, so I recommend eating slowly and using your fork and knife to pull it apart. Then, use your tongue to feel around in case any stray bones wind up in your mouth. It’s a lot of work, but the fresh, buttery flavor of the fish is more than worth it!
Another highlight was the grilled shrimp. They were like briny, succulent little morsels sent straight from heaven! Of course, I can’t forget the fërgesë, which is one of my favorite Albanian dishes. This eggy dish is best with the toasted bread, cheese, and peppers. It’s outstanding!
I suggest ending your meal with one of my favorite Balkan desserts, fresh yogurt with honey. It’s a staple throughout southeastern Europe and is also a sweet, creamy way to end your meal. The kind served at Restorant Ali Kali is more honey than yogurt, so it’s especially sweet!
The Albanian Riviera is one of the most magical regions in Europe. And because Albania isn’t as widely known to the world as some of its neighbors like Greece and Italy, it’s very much a gem that’s hidden in plain sight. From Sarandë to Llogara Tourist Village to Vlorë, this picturesque stretch of coastline is the stuff dreams are made of. It’s almost entirely frequented by locals, offers some of the best food in the country, and boasts more beautiful beaches than you can imagine. It’s one of my favorite travel destinations I’ve visited in a long time and one I hope you’ll take the time to visit as well. Book a trip to Albania today to experience the sights and wonders of the Albanian Riviera today!
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