Albania, a hidden gem nestled in the Balkans, is a country brimming with natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture. With its stunning landscapes, ancient ruins, and warm hospitality, Albania has become an increasingly popular destination for travelers seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure. In this guide, I will take you on a journey through my favorite places in Albania. Come with me and let’s dive into why this gorgeous nation needs to be on your travel itinerary!
Nestled between Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro, Albania offers a unique blend of Mediterranean and Ottoman influences. With a history dating back to ancient times, Albania is home to a wealth of archaeological and historical sites, including ancient sites like Butrint and Appalonia.
The country’s capital, Tirana, serves as a vibrant hub where modernity meets tradition. From the moment you step foot in Albania, you will be captivated by its natural beauty, warm climate, and the hospitality of its people.
You may be wondering why you should choose Albania as your next travel destination. Well, let me tell you, Albania has something for everyone. Whether you’re a nature lover, history enthusiast, or simply seeking a new cultural experience, Albania will not disappoint.
The country offers a diverse range of landscapes, from the pristine beaches of the Albanian Riviera to the rugged peaks of the Albanian Alps. Albania is also home to a plethora of ancient ruins and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, providing a glimpse into its rich historical past. Moreover, the affordability of travel in Albania makes it an attractive option for budget-conscious travelers.
Tirana, the vibrant national capital, is one of several places in Albania that seamlessly blends the old and the new. Begin your exploration of Tirana at Skanderbeg Square, the heart of the city, named after the national hero who fought against the Ottoman Empire. From there, visit Tirana Castle, inside which you’ll find a number of shops and restaurants including the incredible Ceren Ismet Shehu (try the trahana and petulla).
Other hotspots for foodies include Mullixhiu Restaurant and Fast Food Albania. Enjoy a flight of rakija at Komiteti – Kafe Muzeum, and meet local potters at Plaku Pottery. A stroll through New Bazaar is a must for shoppers and souvenir hunters, and if you’re looking for a unique agrotourism farm experience, my very own Turtle Farm Albania is a fun choice!
Located on the Adriatic coast, Durrës is Albania’s second-largest city and boasts a rich history dating back over 2,500 years. Explore the Venetian Tower and the ancient city walls, which you can find crumbling sections of throughout the city. Visit the Amphitheatre of Durrës, one of the largest Roman amphitheatres in the Balkans, and imagine the gladiatorial battles that once took place there!
Take a leisurely walk along the picturesque seaside promenade and indulge in delicious seafood at one of the many waterfront restaurants. I recommend Bar Restorant Ferra Shijak for their succulent mussels and shrimp crudo! Durrës is also among the top places in Albania for its vibrant nightlife. It makes it a perfect destination for those seeking a lively atmosphere.
Situated in the north of Albania, near the border with Montenegro, Shkodër is a city steeped in history and natural beauty. Explore the well-preserved Rozafa Castle, perched atop a hill overlooking the city and the stunning Mesi Bridge.
Immerse yourself in the rich culinary culture of Shkoder with a hearty mountain meal at Hotel Restorant Tradita Gegë & Toskë. Don’t miss the chance to dine by the shores of Lake Shkoder, where you can admire the breathtaking scenery and spot a variety of bird species.
For nature enthusiasts and hikers, Theth is high on the list of must-visit places in Albania. Located in the Albanian Alps, Theth offers unparalleled natural beauty and tranquility. Embark on a hike through the alpine scenery to local wonders like natural pools and icy waterfalls. History lovers will enjoy seeing Kishna e Thethit (the Church of Theth) and visiting Lock-In Tower, a 400-year-old defense tower that kept the region safe from invaders.
Theth is also very close to another of my favorite places in Albania, Valbona Valley National Park, known for its majestic mountains and lush forests. Stay at a traditional guesthouse like Logu i Harushave Guesthouse to experience the warm hospitality of the residents yourself!.
Known as the “City of a Thousand Windows,” Berat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most picturesque places in Albania. Explore the well-preserved Ottoman-era architecture in the Mangalem and Gorica neighborhoods. Visit the Berat Castle, which offers panoramic views of the city and houses the Onufri Museum, home to a collection of beautiful religious icons.
Don’t miss the chance to try the local cuisine at Bar Restorant Onufri, which is known for its delicious traditional dishes. Byrek (savory pastries), moussaka (a lasagna-like dish containing eggplant), and fërgesë (a hearty dish containing tomatoes, cheese, and peppers dish) are just a handful of the dishes you must try there!
Pogradec, located on the southwestern shore of Lake Ohrid, is one of the most popular places in Albania for its natural beauty and Mediterranean climate. The city is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is close to another potential UNESCO site, the Illyrian Royal Tombs. Pogradec is a family-friendly city with popular attractions and off-the-beaten-path locations.
The city is small and walkable, with every attraction within a short drive. Pogradec Beach and Drilon National Park are great options for tourists looking to enjoy the outdoors. Don’t miss the phenomenal grilled koran and koran tartare at Restaurant the Change. This salmon-like freshwater fish is a specialty in the city is a must. Chef Apostolos is a genius!
Përmet, Albania is a town rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. While the town is fairly small, it’s full of unique things to see and do. Katiu Bridge, also known as the Ali Pasha Ottoman Bridge, is a stunning stone bridge built in the 19th century. Located in the Fir of Hotova National Park, it offers breathtaking views of the Lengarica River and the Benja Thermal Baths below.
The Benja Thermal Baths are among the most popular places in Albania. Fed by the Lengarica River, many say these natural baths have therapeutic benefits. I also recommend visiting my friends at Shtepia me Mozaik for some homemade gliko (a syrupy fruit preserve). Finally, climb the Rock of the City to get a view of Përmet from above! It’s truly one of the most stunning places in Albania!
Korçë, Albania is among my favorite places in Albania for culture, cuisine, and history. One of the top things to see is the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral, the largest Orthodox church in Albania. Another must-visit spot is the Old Bazaar, a 400-year-old area with Ottoman-style cobblestones that’s filled with vendors, shops, bars, and restaurants.
If you want to try different types of rakija, go for a flight at Café-Museum Komiteti. Afterwards, enjoy some grilled pork and marinated veal at Taverna Vasili or some modern Albanian food at Vila Kofiel. Korce Brewery is a great spot to try some Albanian craft beer. And don’t forget to get a bird’s-eye view of the city from atop Red Tower!
One of the best places in Albania to explore the country’s history is Gjirokastër, also known as Gjirokastra. This historic city in southern Albania is famous for its architecture, traditional bazaar, and culture. The iconic Gjirokastër Castle offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s history and is a popular attraction for history enthusiasts.
The handicraft shops in the Old Bazaar are a cultural dream, with wood- and stone carvers lining the streets. When you get hungry, Bar Restorant Hotel KODRA is a must. Their phenomenal Gjirokastër tava was a highlight of my trip and was a delicious mix of tomatoes, tender chicken, cream, and cheese. And to learn about the local culture and history, I suggest a trip to Skenduli House, a 19th-century house that also serves as an ethnographic museum!
Sarandë, the southernmost city in Albania, located near the southern tip of the Albanian Riviera. This popular tourist destination is famous for its beautiful beaches and Mediterranean charm. The turquoise waters of Ksamil Beach make it one of the most stunning places in Albania. In addition, the waters of Sarandë also house mussel farms and provide the city’s famous seafood.
Bar Restorant Abiori is a phenomenal spot to try shrimp, fish, mussels, and a seafood-rich pasta baguerie. I also recommend The Mussel House for arguably the best mussels in the city! Elsewhere, Lëkurësi Castle is a great place to dine while enjoying views of the Ionian Sea and the Greek island of Corfu. And if you’re a history lover, the nearby ancient city of Butrint is one of the best places in Albania to explore ancient ruins!
One of my favorite places in Albania, Kukës is a hidden gem not far from the Kosovo/Albania border. The city played a crucial role during the Kosovo War, providing refuge for displaced refugees. This era of the city’s history is commemorated at Memorial Tower, a must-see attraction in town.
One of the top attractions in Kukës is the network of underground tunnels constructed during the Communist era. These tunnels, known as “Underground Kukës,” were meant to serve as a shelter but now offer a unique glimpse into the past. Elsewhere, I recommend visiting Kantina Dogjani to try and sample their expertly-made rakija. Kukës is also among the best places in Albania to try a local favorite called flija, which is a savory cake made from layers of crepes, eggs, and butter!
Valbona, Albania is a hidden gem in the Accursed Mountains, one of the most scenic places in Albania. The region comes alive during the summer months, attracting tourists with its breathtaking alpine scenery.
Once in Valbona, visitors can experience authentic northern Albanian cuisine at Kujtim Cocaj Guesthouse and Guesthouse Kol Gjoni. Xhemes’ Lake is a gorgeous alpine lake in the middle of a mountain forest. The Old Mill of Valbona is another unique spot where you can visit an old-time mill along the Valbona River.
There are a variety of places in Albania that will leave you in awe. From the vibrant capital city of Tirana to the ancient ruins of Durres and the natural wonders of Theth, Albania has something to offer every type of traveler.
Whether you’re exploring its larger cities, its alpine villages, or its sun-soaked beach towns, Albania is a dream. It’s one of my all-time favorite travel destinations and I think it’ll be one of yours, too. So book a trip to the Land of the Eagles to experience the beauty and charm of the top places in Albania!