When you have cheap flights from London to Albania Tirana by Wizzair at 40 Euro round trip, you don't have to think too much what will be your entry point to Albania so it is logical that the first stop on your trip will be the capital of the country - Tirana.
It is a very nice rapidly changing city offering attractions of all kinds inside it and within 20-30 kilometers around. But we strongly advise you not to stay more than 3-4 days there unless you want to live there for several months, i.e. live like a local there. The reason is that Tirana is a westernized town whereas Albania in general differs very much from Western Europe and we’d like you to get that taste of authentic Albania and the charm of local villages, people there and, of course, wild nature beauties.
You will experience a culture shock in Tirana if you come here with stereotypes like “Tirana is a capital of one of the poorest countries in Europe”, “nothing to see over there”, “bad infrastructure”. But in reality you will see that Blloku area with lots of cafes and restaurants each with its own design zest, nice climate (only in July-August it is hot as +40C), 2 beautiful parks and a stunning mountain view to Dajti National Park.
In general Tirana feels like Rome: a bit overcrowded, a bit loud, and a bit dirty at times.
Accommodation in Blloku
When you will be choosing in which part of the city to book accommodation it definitely must be Blloku.
In the communist times this district of Tirana was walled off to divide it from the rest of the city so that ordinary people could not even enter the area. It was only accessible to Communist Party members and those who worked for Sigurimi (a secret service that controlled the entire Albanian people and imprisoned or killed all those who disagreed with the communist regime).
See the full list of accommodations with 9.5+ rating in Tirana here.
Local transport in Tirana is presented by buses only with very flexible schedules and rush hours from 7:30 - 9:30 in the morning and from 16:00 - 18:00 in the afternoons. In most cases you need to wait for your bus for 15-20 minutes, tickets you buy inside the bus where there is a special guy collecting money from the passengers. The city is covered with routes relatively well, but usually you will rely on 1 route to get to point B as there are not too many stops to change to another bus route. Heating inside is usually good but they have significant problems with air conditioning which is a real issue during summer months as Tirana is a hot city! In many aspects.
But the price of 0.33 EUR per ride compensates for all minor inconveniences:)
An integral part of local culture is spending time in 2 parks with lakes inside the city near Blloku district. So you too should head there to while visiting Tirana:
Grand Park of Tirana with 5 kilometers of trails around the lake, lots of cafes near the lake to enjoy your coffee or a glass of wine and National Archaeological Museum right near it.
Park of Farka Artificial Lake.
Cafes & restaurants
Albania has a very rich coffee culture due to the rule of the Ottoman Empire for almost 500 years so for coffee lovers Tirana is best city to visit in Europe. Especially taking into account local prices: 1.5 Eur for a capuccino! And coffee shops are everywhere.
Here, in Tirana city, you will taste Albania cuisine masterpieces for the first time so we want you to know that there are 330 restaurants here with rating 4.5 and up. Especially Blloku district is full of brand new and beautifully designed places.
Spend one evening or night in rooftop bars around like Xheko Rooftop / Eden Garden Rooftop, Mondial Terrace, Observator Wine & Piano Bar, Bar Piceri Taraca, Sky Restaurant & Panoramic Bar (a rotating bar with 360 degree view)
Nightlife & clubs
The epicenter of Tirana nightlife is in the Blloku district where people first cruise through several bars and pubs for drinks before they settle down in one of the night clubs with a contemporary music and dance floor being around every table:) Do come to "4 Elements Night Club Tirana" or "Boleros Club".
Sunny Hill Festival held for the last 5 years in August in Tirana and organized by Albanian singer Dua Lipa and her father and destined to is to be the best patry event on the Balkans.
I’m sure lots of you asked yourself questions like: is Tirana worth visiting?
One of the main reasons why tourists like this beautiful city is that it is a walkable one, so if you stay somewhere in the center you can reach points of interest walking. So here’s a list of things to do in Tirana center located on a territory 500 by 500 meters:
Skanderbeg Square - the main place in Tirana downtown named after Albania National hero who led the anti-Ottoman uprising.
House of Leaves - The Museum of Directorate of State Security Service during those communist times commonly called the Sigurimi
Fortress of Justinian (Tirana Castle) - ruins of a medieval fortress built in 6th century
Pyramid of Tirana - a former museum which will be reconstructed soon
Bunk Art2 - A unique museum of Albanian history in a Cold War nuclear bunker.
Former Residence of Enver Hoxha (Ish-Vila e Enver Hoxhës) - the communist leader of Albania who built here the scariest regime which lasted from 1944 till 1991.
Other places to visit during your Tirana travel are Et'hem Bey Mosque, National Historical Museum, Clock Tower, Tirana Zoo, Tanners' Bridge, Central market (New Bazaar).
Attractions around Tirana
We give you a strong advice for renting a car in Albania at least for 2-3 days, paying only 12 - 15 Euro/day and explore the surrounding areas:
If you go north-east you get to to Bunkart, a must-see bunker built for Enver Hoxha inside the mountain, and then drive 25 km to stunning Bovilla Lake.
Mt Dajti National Park is located on the east from Tirana and the most popular way to get there is to take a cablecar or go by car. You can enjoy magnificent views of Tirana from there, drink a coffee or something stronger, go hiking.
Drive 1 hour straight east to Shëngjergj and relax, make a barbeque or go hiking in Mali me Gropa-Bizë-Martanesh Protected area.
Erzenit Canyon (Kanioni i Erzenit) in just 30 minutes south-east from Tirana. On your way back visit Petrela Castle with a nice traditional restaurant inside and a Zip Line.
For those looking for Tirana beaches, the closest one is in Durres located on the Adriatic sea. It is a 45 min bus drive and 3 EUR round trip. Visit Amphiteatre, walk along the streets with palm trees that resemble California, see the current port location where in the near future will be Durres Marina (a United Arab Emirates project worth 2 billion EUR).
Message to Digital Nomads
For freelancers or those of you who can work remotely Tirana is a perfect choice to spend 3 months in spring or autumn due to the following:
Tirana International Airport is in just 25 minutes drive from the city center and in low season Ryanair and Wizzair have cheap flights from London to Albania Tirana for 40 Euro return ticket only.
Perfect climate (just avoid hottest months of July and August).
Albania cuisine and local green markets are full with organic and fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish.
Low prices for everything: haircut for 5 euros, 1 month fitness entrance for 30 EUR, a 2 room apartment in the city center for 500 Euro/month, dinner in a nice restaurant for 10 - 12 Euro.
While considering a budget Europe winter destination Albania should be number 1 in your list as it is the last untouched touristic stone in Europe, has magnificent climate in Ferbuary - May and September - November and Albanian traditional food is just impeccable!