Situated on a plain surrounded by lofty mountains and hills in central Albania is the city of Tirana. Also known as Tiranë, it is the capital and largest city in the country. It serves as the seat of power of the national government, and is also Albania’s most significant political, financial, and trade center. With a history that dates back to at least the 15th century and a quirky, funky modern vibe, there are plenty of things to see and do in Tirana, Albania.
The History of Tirana
The Tirana area has been inhabited for thousands of years. As early as the Paleolithic era, or Old Stone Age, ancient humans called the region home. An ancient Indo-European tribe known as the Illyrians were among its earliest inhabitants. Among the ancient finds unearthed in Tirana include the ruins of a 3rd-century Roman house and the remnants of a medieval temple near Shengjin Fountain.
In 1417, the Ottomans conquered the area, and by the early 17th century, the city continued to develop, with a bazaar and several watermills built. Over the next few hundred years, multiple mosques sprang up, including the Old Mosque in 1614 and the Et’hem Bey Mosque, whose construction concluded in 1821.
The Serbian army occupied Tirana for a time during the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. After five years as Albania’s temporary capital, it permanently took on the title on December 31, 1925. It remained the capital even after communists took over in 1944 and transformed or demolished many of its buildings. The communist regime would not fall until 1991, though the city experienced further turmoil with a civil war in 1997 and a failed coup d’état in 1998.
Today, Tirana is a unique and rather funky mix of its tumultuous past and a bright, shining future. The signature, blocky Communist-style architecture from that era remains, but much of it has since been decorated with splashes of vibrant color.
Because of its Communism-era history, Tirana’s Old Town doesn’t have the same traditional feel as other old towns around the country, but there’s still plenty to do, especially when you include the surrounding area. The predominant languages in the area seem to be Albanian and Italian—something that helped me out a lot, since I’m mostly fluent in Italian.
From one-of-a-kind farms to unique living castles to pottery workshops, Tirana is a bastion of Albanian culture. The fare is hearty, stick-to-your-ribs food, and there are a number of fantastic places to grab a drink, mingle with locals, and people watch. It’s a city that has captured my heart for all of these reasons, and I’m excited to share them with you. These are the top 15 things to see and do in Tirana, Albania.
Enjoy a Turtle Farm Albania Experience
Albania’s newest local farm experience is also one of its most unique! Located roughly 25 minutes outside of Tirana in Daias village, Turtle Farm Albania is Albania’s first tortoise sanctuary. Visiting is easily one of the top things to do in Tirana, Albania!
It’s headed by yours truly in partnership with my good friend and guide Erjan Guxha and his family. Turtle Farm Albania is a passion project of mine that was born from my love of turtles and tortoises, which began when I was a kid.
The Origins of Turtle Farm Albania
After traveling around Albania and encountering numerous Hermann’s tortoises crossing busy roads (and sadly, finding a few that had gotten hit by cars), I came up with the idea of a tortoise sanctuary of sorts where they could live safely, far from cars driving at 70 miles per hour.
After some discussion, Erjan offered up his family’s 2.5-acre farm, which grows watermelon, olives, grapes, cucumbers, figs, tomatoes, and much more.
We converted the farm into a safe haven for tortoises found along the side of the road around the country. After just a few months of operation, our family swelled to over 200 tortoises who have found a new, happy home on our grounds.
But Turtle Farm Albania isn’t just a home for our tortoises. It’s also a steadily growing tourist attraction that offers tons of recreational activities to those who choose to pay us a visit!
Meet Our Tortoises
Of course, the stars of Turtle Farm Albania are our tortoises, who live in pens set up around the grounds. Our visitors can meet them and get up close and personal with them, and can even feed them if they want! Our tortoises love watermelon, which the Guxha family grows a lot of on their property!
Turtle Farm Albania Activities
Because Turtle Farm Albania is located on an authentic, working farm, we also offer farm activities like grape-picking and tractor rides. For those with more adventurous spirits, you can go on a wild and bumpy off-roading SUV ride down the backroads through the forests around the village. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart but is a ton of fun!
We also offer our house wine and our homemade rakija, which sells for 700 lekes/$6.93 USD per bottle. We also offer home-brewed Turkish coffee, as well as jam and olive oil, which is made from olives grown on our farm. Try it with our fresh bread–it’s delicious!
Those looking for souvenirs are also in luck, as we have teamed up with local artisans to sell their pottery and handmade bronze tortoise figurines.
Turtle Farm Albania is also proud to offer traditional, homecooked dinners, which our guests can enjoy on our sweeping grounds at sunset. There, you can enjoy a relaxing and romantic evening while dining on mouthwatering Albanian dishes made with ingredients produced on our farm!
The Future of Turtle Farm Albania
The future of Turtle Farm Albania is bright, as we have plans to expand in the near and not-so-near future. Those plans include building Hobbit houses on our grounds for guests to stay in overnight, offering breakfast to overnight guests, and even constructing a play area for kids.
Visitors to Turtle Farm Albania can help us make these plans a reality, as we ask for a small donation for those who wish to experience our farm. Even if you can’t physically visit the farm, we welcome any and all donations here. All funds raised go to improving our tortoise habitats and our expansion projects.
NOTE: If you would like to enjoy a Turtle Farm Albania experience, please contact us via DM on our Instagram or by phone. We ask that you contact us at least 24 hours before you plan to visit so we can set up the best experience for you. Families, couples, and solo travelers are all welcome!
Turtle Farm Albania
Tirana 1034, Albania
Eat Albanian Street Food at Fast Food Albania
It’s often remarkable how different fast food is in different countries. Like in most other countries, in Albania, the term “fast food” refers to food that’s inexpensive and easily accessible. But the food is also of a very high quality, making it very different from the processed, previously frozen fast food found in many Western nations.
Some of the best Albanian fast food in Tirana can be found at Fast Food Albania, a small eatery close to Skanderbeg Square. There, you can try souvlaki, which is essentially the Albanian equivalent to a Greek gyro. It’s made with a fresh, thick pita wrapped around fatty pork, refreshing tomatoes and onions, creamy tzatziki, crispy French fries, and a wonderfully spicy sauce!
The souvlaki is full of delicious garlic flavor and a number of beautifully contrasting textures. The fresh vegetables with the fatty pork and creamy sauces makes for a fantastic combination, and the quality of the ingredients can’t be beat! It’s one of my favorite things to do in Tirana, Albania!
Fast Food Albania
+355 69 895 1265
Shop at New Bazaar
Located in Tirana’s Old Town, east of the central boulevard, is the city’s largest marketplace, New Bazaar. Also known as Pazari i Ri, the open-air market sells a wide array of locally-grown fruits and vegetables. You can also find regional rakija and wine, and fresh meat and fish.
The market also sells lots of fantastic items that make for great souvenirs. Browse the stalls and vendors for items like antiques, decorative spoons, and scarves, and Albanian football jerseys. If you look hard enough, you may find a çifteli, which is a traditional stringed instrument.
The bazaar, first built in 1931, underwent a bit of a facelift in 2017, with a renovation that completely modernized the market. It has a younger, fresher look, but is still a long-standing staple in the city. Head over there to find some cool keepsakes to take home with you!
Pazari i Ri
Avni Rustemi Square
Tirana 1001 Albania
Visit Tirana Castle
In the heart of Tirana is one of the city’s most prominent historical sites, Tirana Castle. Also known as the Fortress of Justinian, the castle is a Byzantine-era relic that was built some time before 1300. It is surrounded by a 20-foot-high wall from the Ottoman era and consists of three towers.
Due to its historical significance, it was named a Cultural Monument of Albania in June of 1973, while its walls earned the same designation in May of 2008.
But Tirana Castle isn’t just a local historic site. It’s also a living modern attraction. Inside its Ottoman-era outer wall are modern hotels, shops, and restaurants. One of the restaurants, Ceren Ismet Shehu, is a fantastic spot to grab a traditional Albanian breakfast!
Ceren Ismet Shehu Restaurant
Ceren Ismet Shehu is a rustic restaurant with a farmhouse-like aesthetic, so expect lots of wooden interiors. The traditional-looking interior fits perfectly with the menu, which includes favorites like trahana, kofta, and petulla.
I recommend starting with a strong double espresso and some rakija. Rakija is a strong spirit that’s essentially fruit brandy, and is extremely popular in the Balkan countries of southeastern Europe. Traditionally, Albanian men drink some with their breakfast every morning.
Like most restaurants in Albania, the food at Ceren Ismet Shehu is fresh and farm-to-table. They include items that would be recognizable to Westerners like over-easy eggs, French toast with honey, tomato, goat cheese, and cucumbers. They also have various fruit jams including fig and blueberry.
Among the local specialties are a smoky beef salami, yogurt with oats and honey, and petulla, which is a type of golden fried dough that is served with jams and honey.
I also highly recommend the thick, stew-like fërgesë. This pepper-and-tomato dish contains ricotta cheese, bits of meat, and olive oil. It’s extremely unique, with lots of texture and flavor combinations I couldn’t get enough of!
But the star of their menu is the trahana, a hearty, porridge-like dish that’s made with bread and grains. I tried several variations of this dish during my time in Albania, and the one served at Ceren Ismet Shehu is is one of my favorites.
It’s hearty, filling, and earthy, with a slight graininess that adds to its pleasant mouthfeel. After trying it, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular breakfast foods in Albania. Trying it is, without a doubt, among the best things to see and do in Tirana, Albania!
Shëtitorja Murat Toptani
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Enjoy a Flight of Rakija at Komiteti – Kafe Muzeum
After getting a taste of Albanian rakija inside Tirana Castle, you can try a wider variety at a local bar called Komiteti – Kafe Muzeum. Inside the bar is a museum of sorts that displays Communist-era knickknacks including glasses and wooden items.
The real magic of Komiteti – Kafe Muzeum is its open-air bar in the back of the establishment. They offer numerous flavors of rakija, including a strong honey-cinnamon, a spicy black pepper, a floral saffron, and a tangy and citrusy kumquat.
I personally recommend their warming anise flavor, the blackberry, and the floral and berry-like passion seven sensations flavor. They’re all fantastic and among the top things to do in Tirana, Albania.
Just keep in mind, they are quite strong, so take it easy, especially if you’re not much of a drinker!
Komiteti – Kafe Muzeum
Rruga Fatmir Haxhiu
+355 69 612 1770
Enjoy Albanian Slow Food at Ceren Ishmet Shehu Restaurant
Roughly 20 minutes outside of Tirana is the farming community of Surrel. There, you’ll find arguably one of the best restaurants in the entire country, Ceren Ismet Shehu. They serve slow food, which is a global philosophy that promotes high-quality, environmentally sustainable food. The philosophy also supports traditional and regional cooking styles. It focuses on the quality of food rather than the quantity, and is strictly against overproduction and food waste.
This legendary restaurant is known for its meat-heavy dishes, which primarily focus on veal, goat, and lamb, all prepared in different ways. The owner, Ismet, is a kind, passionate man who puts tons of love into the food he prepares, including his smoked and marinated lamb ribs and chicken kebabs. His food is world renowned; he even got the opportunity to cook for the Queen of England in 2010!
As such, it should come as no surprise that the restaurant is often packed with patrons who come from far and wide to enjoy Ismet’s cooking. Many of the ingredients he uses come from his own farm, where he grows tomatoes, corn, peppers, eggplant, green apples, peaches, plums, grapes, and much more.
One of my favorite dishes at Ceren Ismet Shehu is the flija, a type of flaky cake consisting of layer after layer of eggy crepes stacked atop one another. I also suggest their medium-rare tomahawk steak, which is juicy and a little bloody, but still smoky with lots of thyme flavor.
He also offers a delicious pepper stuffed with hot, creamy cheese, and a fantastic cheese served with wild berries. Another item that comes stuffed with cheese is his green pasta.
If meat is more your thing, his kofta kebabs are tender and smoky. The veal ribs with barbecue yogurt and berry jam made for a mind-blowing combo. Meanwhile, the double-smoked goat meat with beetroot are so buttery, they melt in your mouth.
I also must recommend his silky squash-mushroom-nut tava, which is one of the best dishes I ate in Albania. And of course, you can’t forget dessert. The baklava with walnuts and vanilla ice cream is a winner, as is the chocolate with ice cream and kadaif. There’s also a rich and smooth blueberry cheesecake that is simply outstanding! Overall, you can’t really go wrong!
Ceren Ishmet Shehu
Rruga Nacionale Dajit
Surrel, 221, Tirana
Tirana County, Albania
Visit Plaku Pottery
One of the best ways to learn about a new travel destination is to dive deep into their traditional practices. One of the most traditional in Albania is its pottery-making. Fortunately, visitors can explore the craft at one of the oldest pottery shops in the area, Plaku Pottery, in the village of Farkë, about 30 minutes south of Tirana.
This rustic potter’s workshop dates back to the 1990s. Surrounded by rural land with stacks of firewood and lots of roosters outside, it oozes tradition and authenticity. Inside, the potter sculpts clay into a variety of shapes, including pots, vases, cups, bowls, tava dishes, and even piggy banks.
The potter puts tons of care and love into his work, painstakingly creating beautiful works of art. He then bakes them in a massive oven heated to 900 degrees, and then stores his creations in an enormous industrial oven.
Also on the property, you’ll find his son, who makes pottery that has more of a modern twist. He uses a plastic clay and double-bakes his creations to make them stronger.
The unique material also allows him to make thinner products, which he then paints and sells! Visiting the workshop is easily one of the best things to do in Tirana, Albania, and be sure to buy something to support the local economy!
Visit La Fattoria Agro Farm
There is no shortage of remarkable restaurants in the Tirana area, and another of the region’s best is located roughly 30 minutes south of the city. Tucked away on the eastern shore of Farka Lake in the village of Farkë, La Fattoria Agro Farm is another of the Tirana area’s many gems.
Nature is on full display on the farm, where you’ll find chickens, geese, tortoises, and rabbits on the grounds, as well as other birds and frogs along the lakeshore. The restaurant’s terrace on the water is the perfect place to eat and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
Like other farm restaurants in Albania, La Fattoria Agro Farm prides itself on using fresh ingredients grown and raised on its own grounds. The sheep, geese, goats, and chickens on the farm are used many dishes, as are the blackberries, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, leeks, peppers, and pumpkins grown there. They even fry up frog legs from the frogs in the lake!
I highly recommend enjoying a large feast of all of their specialties, including their frog legs, tomato-and-onion byrek, cornbread soaked in yogurt, fërgesë, and yufka with chicken. They also serve a thick, sour yogurt, which you must try with the byrek. It takes both already-impressive dishes to the next level!
One of the highlights are the frog legs, which are tasty if not a little scarce on meat. They’re like a slightly gamy version of chicken! The roasted red peppers and juicy tomatoes in the fërgesë are to die for, and the creamy tagliatelle yufka pairs perfectly with the buttery and lightly fried chicken. The yogurt-soaked cornbread is also outstanding, and such a unique take on the dish.
For dessert, try a pear soaked in rakija. It’s a sweet but very strong adult dessert. If you prefer one without alcohol, try the hasude, a creamy dessert accented with tangy orange zest. And if you’re looking for an after-dinner drink, their icy melon liquor is fruity and super refreshing!
All in all, a feast at La Fattoria is one of the tastiest you’ll have anywhere in Albania and one of my favorite things to do in Tirana, Albania!
La Fattoria Agro Farm
Liqeni i Farkes
Tirana, Albania 1045
+355 69 617 8916
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Explore Skanderbeg Square and Mother Teresa Square
No trip to Tirana is complete without exploring its two most prominent plazas. The largest of the two, Skanderbeg Square, covers roughly 40,000 square meters in the center of the city. Named after Albania’s national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu, the square dates back to 1917 and was built by the Austrians.
During the Communist period, a statue of Joseph Stalin stood in the square, but it has since been removed. Now, the square is home to the Skanderbeg Monument, a large bronze-and-stone statue that portrays the war hero astride his horse.
It stands 36 feet in height and dominates the square, which is part of the largest pedestrian zone in the Balkans. Bounding the square are numerous important buildings including the National Bank, the National Historical Museum, the National Opera, the Ethem Bey Mosque, and the ministries of agriculture, infrastructure, economy, and energy.
Mother Teresa Square
The second-largest square in Tirana is Mother Teresa Square. Named after the famous nun and missionary from Skopje is what is now North Macedonia, it was initially built during the Italian occupation of Albania between 1939 and 1941.
Built at the same time as Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard by Italian architect Gherardo Bosio, it originally honored someone else. The square originally honored Italian king Victor Emmanuel III, who reigned from 1900 to 1946. After communism fell, it was renamed after Mother Teresa.
Buildings lining the square include the University of Tirana, the Archaeological Museum, the Centre of Albanological Studies, the Polytechnic University, and the University of Arts. If you have time to visit the square, it’s certainly among the top things to see and do in Tirana, Albania!
Have Breakfast at Byrek te Çastit
If you visit any Balkan nation, there’s one food you’re sure to find everywhere: byrek. Also known as burek or borek, depending on which country you’re in, this flaky, stuffed pastry is a Balkan staple. In some countries, you’ll find sweet, fruit-filled varieties, while in others, you’ll find savory versions filled with meat, cheese, and vegetables.
One of the best places in Tirana to try byrek is a local bakery called Byrek te Çastit. There, the bakers make a number of different types of byrek, including spinach, ricotta, mincemeat, onion-and-tomato, and sausage. The fillings come encased in a crispy, golden brown phyllo crust.
Even though the byrek contain lots of meat and dairy, they’re not very filling because of the airy dough. Their square-shaped mincemeat byrek reminded me of an oily meat lover’s pizza, while the salty, crumbly ricotta was a bit doughier.
I also must recommend the tomato-and-onion, which is fantastically juicy and tangy. Their spinach byrek is also outstanding even though it’s the lightest and healthiest-tasting variety. For a more gluttinous indulgence, try the sausage variety, which tastes a lot like a corn dog!
Byrek te Çastit
Rruga Bardhok Biba 13
Enjoy Albanian Coffee at Kafe Flora
After you’ve indulged in some delicious byrek, I recommend trying some top-tier Albanian coffee. Not far from Byrek te Çastit is Kafe Flora, one of the oldest coffee shops in the country.
The café is well known not only because of its status as one of Albania’s oldest but also because a song was written about it in 1972! The song, called “Kafe Flora Plot me Burra,” is performed by Lindita Theodhori. The open-air café also boasts a fantastic atmosphere and is a beautiful spot in the middle of the city to grab a cup of joe and people watch!
I’m an admitted espresso lover, and the kind at Kafe Flora is on point. It’s strong and thick and reminded me of Turkish coffee. While you’re there, try some of their smooth and fruity blackberry rakija. It’s very strong but is also a great way to kick off your day and one of the top things to do in Tirana, Albania!
Rruga e Durrësit
+355 69 700 6001
Dine at Mullixhiu Restaurant
When you’re ready for a hearty and decadent lunch, head over to Mullixhiu, a popular restaurant near Tirana Lake. This restaurant, whose name translates to “The Mills,” has three on-site mills that they use to make flour.
The owner and head chef at Mullixhiu is world-renowned chef Bledar Kola. He has made it his mission to reinvent traditional Albanian food. He serves his updated take on the national cuisine in a rustic, Nordic-inspired dining hall with beautiful all-wood interiors.
I recommend the grainy porridge made from bulgur wheat called trahana. Chef Kola tops it with goat cheese, which adds a crumbly texture and a nice hint of salt. You also have to try the petka, which is a pan-fried dish made from an Albanian pasta called yufka. If you like creamy, rich pastas dripping with butter, you’ll love it!
Another specialty is the lakror, a pastry similar to a multi-layered pizza crust with meat and tomatoes. One of the more unique offerings is the paçe koke, a braised veal head stew that makes full use of the animal. The brains, cheek, and tongue are full of meaty flavor! They make the stew a great option if you have a cold or a hangover!
For dessert, try the boza, which is a fermented corn drink found in the Caucasus region, as well as northern Africa and central and western Asia. Chef Kola serves his boza with ice cream, which adds a sweet creaminess to the sour corn flavor. It’s the perfect way to wrap up your meal and trying it should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Tirana, Albania!
Shëtitorja Lasgush Poradeci Hyrja e Parkut tek Diga e Liqenit Artificial
Tirana, Albania 1019
+355 69 666 0444
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Eat Souvlaki at OPA
Another fantastic spot to visit if you’re craving Albanian souvlaki is a restaurant called OPA in the city center. This restaurant offers several varieties of the Albanian street food, which is comprised of chicken or pork grilled on a spit.
The meat is then wrapped in a warm, fresh pita with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, French fries, and spicy yogurt. It makes for a fresh, oily, and creamy Mediterranean treat that’s portable enough to enjoy on the go.
Other options at OPA include their fried cheese sticks and their fries topped with grilled chicken, lettuce, mustard, and ketchup. The cheese sticks are very similar to a Venezuelan favorite of mine called tequeños, which are crispy and golden brown on the outside, with gooey melted cheese inside.
All three dishes pair perfectly with an ice cold beer or a wine if you choose. Whether you’re looking for a quick lunch on the go or a fast late-night dinner, all three are among the best things to see and do in Tirana!
OPA – Greek Street Food (Bllok)
Rruga Sami Frashëri
+355 69 406 5555
Check out the Local Bars
Drinking is a big part of the culture in the Balkans. Rakija, or raki, is typically the drink of choice, but there is also a growing craft beer scene. The region also produces some extraordinary wines! One of the best places to enjoy a drink in Tirana is a bar called Duff Sports Bar.
The bar is named after a fictional bar of the same name from The Simpsons. There, you can enjoy some shots or order a crisp, tasty beer. I recommend the Hoegaarden, a classic Belgian beer that’s thick and refreshing!
In nearby Daias village, there is a small local bar where the local men hang out. There, you can enjoy some fun, if a little off-color, conversations with the locals while enjoying two rakijas for just a dollar!
Duff Sports Bar
Rruga Brigada e VIII
+355 69 927 7086
Stay at Nano Resort & BioFood
Agrotourism resorts are some of the best places in Albania to enjoy fresh, farm-to-table food. In nearby Daias is Nano Resort & BioFood. Set in a lush, hilly area 25 minutes southeast of Tirana, this vibrant, green area is a picture-perfect slice of Albanian countryside.
The resort’s connection to nature is evident from the moment visitors walk up the vine-lined path and pass beneath the heart-shaped shrub at its entryway. Their massive terrace also boasts beautiful views of the area, which is reminiscent of the Tuscany area of Italy.
On their grounds, they also have cows, chickens, and goats living in outdoor stables. Their expansive grounds are also home to deer and ducks, and also house a sprawling vineyard.
Food & Accommodations
Everything served at the resort, from the wine to the cheese to the meat to the vegetables, is produced on-site. I suggest arriving early, or staying overnight, to enjoy their breakfast, which consists of eggs fresh from the chicken coop, tomatoes, eggs, butter, marmalade, olives, bread, and a smoky and bourbon-like rakija.
If you stay at the resort overnight—and I really suggest you do—you’ll enjoy spacious accommodations that ensure maximum comfort. My room there contained two king-sized beds, a simple but clean bathroom, and a vanity area. It also boasted a balcony that provided me with a spectacular view of the gorgeous, green grounds below.
Between the wonderful food, the comfy accommodations, and the warm Balkan hospitality, you can’t go wrong by staying at Nano Resort & BioFood. It’s one of my top 15 things to see and do in Tirana, Albania for a reason and will be one of many highlights of your Albanian vacation.
Nano Resort & BioFood
Fshati Daias Petrele n/n
Daias-Barabas, Albania 1000
+355 67 203 0193
Between its restaurants, distinctive history, cultural sites, and unique farms, Tirana is a funky and underrated tourist destination. It rarely finds itself on lists of interesting European travel destinations but is chock-full of fun things you can’t find anywhere else. Whether you’re looking to indulge in Albanian food and drink, nature, or visit a living castle, Tirana has it all. It’s one of my favorite destinations in the Balkans and I’m sure it will be one of yours as well. Book a trip to Tirana today to explore it for yourself!
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