Have you ever been to Albania? What have you heard about this beautiful country? Much has been written about its political choices and historical prospects. However, only a few people know that it is safe for travel, has lots of natural and historical sites, amazing coastline and even European winter sun in Ksamil & Saranda!
Albania is found on the map of the western Balkans. The country borders Montenegro, Greece, Kosovo, and Northern Macedonia. It is washed by the Ionian and Adriatic Seas. The total area is 11,100 square miles (28,748 sq.km.). Its biggest cities are Tirana, the capital, Durres, Shkoder, and Vlore. The Albanian Alps make up its main mountainous range.
Is all this information enough to attract the attention of people who are looking for new experiences, amazing places or Albania cuisine for a perfect vacations? Obviously, not. Albania as a tourist destination is highly underestimated. Therefore, let’s correct this mistake and show what you can do, try, experience, and taste here. This article is about the most interesting and entertaining tourist activities in Albania.
Leisure Activities in Albania: Cities and Towns
Let’s start with the capital.
Tirana Sightseeing and Entertainment
Tirana’s Grand Park is the place for those who are looking for a peaceful and calm destination. The park has a beautiful lake with a lot of picnic areas and cozy cafes around it to chill out. This is one of the best places in Tirana to escape from the city hassle. The area includes 289 hectares with the Presidential Palace, the St. Procopius Church and the Botanical Garden & Zoo on its territory. There are monuments and memorials to famous Albanian people here, too.
Touring the city of Tirana, visit the Bunk’Art Museum. It is located on Deshmoret e Kombit Boulevard, next to Mount Dajti. It is a history and art museum that features the communist times in Albania. The museum shows people's life during the communist regime in combination with modern art works. The place is actually a bunker built by dictator Enver Hoxha. Take an audio guide there if you want to learn more.
Skanderbeg Square is one of the most beautiful places in the capital and the Skanderbeg monument dominates it. It was symbolically erected at the very spot where a Josef Stalin statue once stood. There is also a big lawn surrounded with trees and flowerbeds. It is used for most official celebrations in Tirana. The Clock Tower, National Historical Museum, Et’hem Bey Mosque, National Library, Palace of Culture, and many ministries are located around the square.
A ride on the Dajti Express is one of the most popular things to do and fun activities in the capital. It is the longest cable-car ride in the Balkans with more than four kilometers in length, the ride takes 15 minutes and you will go up to more than 800 meters to Mount Dajti. On top of it there is a tourist complex with brand-new restaurants and hotels to enjoy breathtaking views from "the Balcony of Tirana" as locals call this place. You can also try paragliding here. Another way to get there is by car, it takes less than an hour from the city center.
There are also lots of shopping opportunities in this city. Large malls, such as the tree-lines Toptani pedestrian street, are very popular among tourists and are always crowded. You can also experience Tirana nightlife while staying in these 9.5+ hotels & apartments.
Other cities and towns can also boast a lot of well-appreciated tourist sites and activities in Albania. For example, take a 1 day trip from Tirana to Berat, which is less than 2 hours driving south. It is located on the banks of the Osumi River and is famous for its pretty historical buildings with endless numbers of windows. The old town was initially built as a castle. The city walls amaze everyone who sees them now and there are lots of churches and mosques within them. All the buildings are ancient but well-preserved. The place was called the ‘city of museums’ in 1961.
Vlore is the center of Vlore county and the third most popular tourist destination in Albania. It is located in the southwestern part of the country. The Bay of Vlore is surrounded by the green hills of the ancient Ceraunia Mountains that stretch along the Ionian and Adriatic sea coasts.
The country declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire here in the early 20th century. You can enjoy Vlore sightseeing and visit the Independence Monument, Muradie Mosque, Zvernec Monastery, dating back to the 14th century, ancient Kanin Castle, built in the 4th century BC, Museum of Historic Relics, Museum of National Independence, and Orikum Beach. Boat trips from Vlore can take you to Sazan Island, a former military installation, full of tunnels and bunkers.
Gjirokastra is a UNESCO World heritage site. It is a small town that dates back to the 17th century. All the buildings and even their roofs are made of flat stone. Local castle is a landmark and the central spot for amazing town views and landscapes. You can sit in nicely designed cafes and restaurants in the old town and enjoy the wine and local cuisine.
The Gjirokastra Bazaar is a great place to purchase unique Albanian souvenirs. You can enjoy the bright atmosphere of a true eastern bazaar here.
Durres is famous for its amphitheater which is an architectural wonder. It could house about 20 thousand people in Roman times. The building is well-preserved and considered the largest one that survived in the Balkans till nowadays. The city is located on the coast, and you will see a beautiful harbor there. Free walking tours in Durres are an absolute favorite among tourists. Since Durres lies on the coast, it is also a popular holiday destination on the Adriatic Sea. Its beaches attract thousands of summer enthusiasts every year.
Ksamil Village is a quiet and peaceful location found on the coast of the Ionian Sea. It boasts its small and cozy beach, a lot of cafes and family-run restaurants. You should visit it for sure to enjoy a variety of water activities: kayaking at 15 EUR/hour, stand up paddle (SUP) at 20 EUR/hour, jetski, wakeboard.
Welcome to Korce
Korce is located 20 km south from Ohrid lake and Prespa lake. It is a cozy city with a population of 75 000 Albanians surrounded by mountains. You can spend several days there and visit Korca Beer Fest taking place from 16.08.2023 till 20.08.2023.
In just 10 kilometers south there is a village called Boboshticë founded by Polish settlers left behind after a Crusade. If you come here in winter time, enjoy skiing in Ski Pista Bigell, 15 kilometers from Korce.
Korce should be in your Europe winter destinations list for occasions like a New Year Eve or Christmas for its holiday market and small sji resort in Dardhe.
Outdoor Activities in Albania: Admire Natural Beauty
For those who is ready for renting a car in Albania, this country provides gorgeous nature, the wild beauty of Albania Riviera beaches, endless mountains and rivers offering great outdoor activities.
If you like Nature, do visit the Qafe-Shtama mountain pass and the park located in the central part of the country, north of Tirana. You will love picturesque landscapes, beautiful valleys, gorgeous peaks, and pleasant-looking green hills.
Butrint National Park is the place where nature and history meet and provide tourists a wonderful opportunity to combine different aspects of their travel. The park occupies 9,400 hectares and is located in the southern part of Albania, very close to Greece. It is a great historical destination, featuring sites dated back to the Iron Age and the Middle Ages. The ruins of a basilica, a baptistery, a Roman theater, and two castles can be pretty attractive for history lovers when on a guided tour across the park. These places account for assigning the park a UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Apart from that, it is a world-famous bird area that consists of freshwater lakes, salty marshes, picturesque plains, and islands. Therefore, Butrint National Park is a fascinating place to visit.
You can continue bird watching in Divjaka-Karavasta National Park. This fantastic natural park is abundant in birds and is located on the seaside. The vast wetland areas make it a perfect place for birds’ nesting. Buy a 1 day tour there or explore the area on your own.
Theth National Park is another great destination for Nature lovers, located in the Albanian Alps on the border with Montenegro. It is also a home of such appealing sites as a working watermill, the Lock-In Tower and mind blowing Theth to Valbona valley hiking trail.
The village of Theth is a remote one and you need to cover 25 kilometers along the unpaved road to get there. So, the best time to visit it is summer as in winter the village can become inaccessible. However, a 4WD auto is a must even in summer time because the road is very difficult. But it's worth it and you will be rewarded with the perfect peace and tranquility in this gorgeous nature site.
The Llogara Pass in Llogara National Park is one more great chance to enjoy the beauty of mountains and their breathtaking views. The Llogara Pass is a mountainous road that stretches at the altitude of 1,000 meters above sea level. You will find cozy restaurants and recreational sites on top of the pass and take a chance to admire the Adriatic coast from the bird’s eye view.
Lake Ohrid is the oldest and deepest lake on the Balkans whose banks are both in Albania and Northern Macedonia. It is a unique habitat of different flora and fauna species, lots of them are endemic. The lake’s aquatic ecosystem is powerful but pretty endangered. That's why the lake belongs to UNESCO World Heritage sites and is also a biosphere reserve.
It is strongly recommended to take a boat trip on Komani Lake - an artificial reservoir built on river Drin. The duration from Koman to Fierza is 2.5 hours with a ferry and it will be one of the best day trips in your life: the views are just stunning, you will take a lot of eye-catching photos of lush green mountains and on top of that there is a magnificent beach on Shala river where you can relax with a glass of wine or cold beer.
The Blue Eye are 2 natural water springs famous for their clean and very cold water. The biggest one is located between Gijrokaster and Saranda. The smaller one is in Theth National park and you can get there either by 2.5 hours walking or a 30-minute taxi ride from Theth village. The one in Theth is less crowded due to its remote location.
Have an Insight Look at History of Albania
These options are for history fans who like to learn more about the countries they visit.
One of activities to do while in Albania is to visit ruins of the ancient Greek town built in 588 BC. The original name of the place was Geelakeia, then it was changed to honor the god Apollo and they even had a unique school of philosophy. It was an important cultural center for ancient Greeks so you can see the ruins of libraries, theaters, and temples that are well-preserved and maintained to let visitors feel the atmosphere of the ancient world.
If you want to continue exploring the country’s history and culture, take a guided tour to the Kruje’s National Ethnographic Museum. It is a traditional Ottoman house built in the 18th century, and now you can see how people lived, worked, and rested at those times. There is an old blacksmith’s workshop, bakery, and wine cellar to see a lot of interesting artifacts.
Other attractions in Kruje are the Castle and Skanderbeg museum. The castle was built in the 5th-6th centuries and used by Georg Kastriot to protect the country from the Ottoman sieges in 1444. It almost stopped the Ottoman expansion into Central Europe.
Due to Kastriot’s prominent victories, the Ottomans compared him to Alexander the Great by giving him the name of Iskender Bey. The Latin transcription of it is Skanderbeg, and he became Albania national hero. People here called him the Dragon of Albania. Visiting Kruje can be done as a 1 day trip from Tirana as it is only 50 minutes driving from the capital city.
Shkodra city is located in the north of Albania on the banks of Skadar lake and is well-known not only for its adventure and sport tourism options but also as a historical place and a battlefield in the past.
The most popular attraction here is Rozafa Castle placed on a hill with a stunning view on 3 rivers (Buna, Drin and Kiri) merging. You can spend several days in Shkodra and make day trips to Theth National Park and Albanian Alps.