A-Z of reasons to visit Albania (plus free Albania itinerary)
Every other month I offer a free travel guide and itinerary for my ‘Travel Freedom Club‘ as well as an A-Z of reasons to visit. Sign up below to join the Travel Freedom Club and get your copy of the latest travel guide delivered to your inbox for free!
Future guides will be sent out on the 1st of the month, every other month.
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September 2021’s Travel Across The Borderline destination of the month is….
In today’s post, I’m going to take you through an A-Z list of reasons to visit Albania.
Whether you are planning a long term Balkan trip or just looking for the perfect beach getaway, Albania should definitely be on your radar.
Gorgeous coastline, friendly locals, fascinating history, great value for money and breathtaking mountain views, This off radar destination has it all.
Albania still doesn’t receive a large number of visitors so now is the perfect time to visit this hidden gem before the secret gets out and its popularity skyrockets.
Scroll to the end of the post to grab your Albania itinerary!
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- September 2021’s Travel Across The Borderline destination of the month is….
- A – Albanian riviera
- B – Bunkers
- C – Castles
- D – Dhermi
- E – the blue eye
- F – Fantastic river rafting
- G – Gjirokaster
- H – Hitchhiking
- I – It’s safer than you think
- J – GJipe beach
- K – Komani lake
- L – Language
- M – Mopeds
- N – Natural hot springs
- O – Ottomans
- P – Pyramid
- Q – Questions
- R – Roman ruins
- S – Shkodër
- T – Tirana
- U – Ugly soviet architecture (which is actually kind of charming)
- V – Valbona
- W – Weather
- X – eXtremely friendly locals
- Y – You should just go already
- Z – Zzzzz – sleeping under the stars
Best places to visit in Albania
Tirana – The quirky capital full of fun and colour.
Theth/Valbona – The most stunning mountain hike.
Komani Lake – A glass lake that will leave you feeling like you are floating through clouds.
Gjipe beach – A secret cove with fantastic views.
Berat – The city of a thousand windows.
Sarandë – Enjoy the best of the Albanian riviera.
Gjirokaster – Beautifully preserved Ottoman town with a fascinating history.
Top Things to do in Albania
A – Z of reasons to visit Albania
A – Albanian riviera
Spending a day (or several) on the beaches of the Albanian Riviera feels like you’ve been let in on a huge secret and is absolutely one of the best reasons to visit Albania. You have a gorgeous paradise all to yourself!
In some places you can see the Greek islands in the distance, you are sharing the same ocean and same climate but for a tiny fraction of the price!
My favourite beach in Albania is Borsh. It has a super relaxed vibe and is big enough that you will have a large section of the beach all to yourself if you want. We wild camped under the stars on Borsh beach and woke up to the sound of dolphins splashing about in the sea right in front of us. It was absolute bliss!
Some other great beaches are Dhermi, Himarë, Gjipe and Ksamil.
B – Bunkers
During the rule of Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, 173,000 concrete bunkers were built all around the country. There are now around 6 bunkers per square Km (That’s around 15 per square mile!). You will literally see them everywhere you go. Some bunkers have now been repurposed into funky cafes and even Airbnbs, but the majority of them are derelict.
For an excellent introduction to Albania’s recent history and an interactive look at the bunkers be sure to visit BunkArt.
C – Castles
Albania has several castles that are well worth a visit and unlike other European countries there will be hardly any other tourists to compete with so you will most likely get to explore these places in peace.
Best castles to visit:
Durrës Castle – 5th-century castle in the port city of Durrës.
Rozafa Castle – Perched high up on a hill above the town of Shkodër, This was by far my favourite castle to explore in Albania.
Gjirokaster – Incredibly well preserved 12th-century citadel. Don’t forget to check out the cold war American ‘spy plane that is displayed within the grounds of the fortress.
Krujë Castle – This place was completely deserted when we visited. For a few coins, the friendly groundskeeper will give you an unofficial ‘tour’ up to the top of one of the towers
Berat Castle – Now recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site and undergoing restoration.
Learn more about Albania’s castles here
D – Dhermi
One of the beautiful coastal villages along the Albanian riviera. Dhermi is a perfect spot for relaxation and soaking up the sun
E – the blue eye
The Blue Eye is a clear water spring with a more than 50-metre deep pool. The water is an intense blue and turquoise colour and looks unreal! Divers have attempted to dive to the bottom of the Blue Eye to calculate its depth but it’s still unclear how deep It really goes.
There are signs around that ban swimming but that doesn’t seem to deter people from jumping in.
Just let me warn you… If you do fancy a swim, the water is extremely cold!
F – Fantastic river rafting
For a fun day to remember, try river rafting on the Vjosa river near the town of Permet.
The river has class III rapids so you should be prepared to get wet and possibly fall in the water! But it’s all part of the fun! The guides will provide you with safety gear so you will be perfectly safe.
There is also lots of stunning scenery around this area and opportunities to spot wildlife as you go whizzing past.
G – Gjirokaster
Gjirokaster is a fun little hilltop town to spend a few days in. Its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as “a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town.
Head to the castle at the top of the hill, take in the views and appreciate the remarkably well preserved 12th-century fortress. Be sure to check out the old cold war era American ‘spy plane’, displayed within the grounds.
There’s also an ottoman bridge located behind the castle, which you can hike to. Use the maps.me app to find the viewpoint (search for Ali Pasha’s bridge).
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H – Hitchhiking
If you have never hitchhiked before then Albania is a great place to start. I spent a month in Albania and only used public transport once or twice. The rest of the time I hitchhiked around the country and had a blast!
I hitchhiked with a friend and most of the time we rode with couples or families and always felt safe. We also met some amazing people who often insisted on taking us to scenic viewpoints or stopping for snacks and coffee or showing us around old castles that we would have never heard about if it wasn’t for these friendly strangers. One couple even took us out to dinner and then clubbing at an exclusive beach club. I’m still in contact with many of the Albanians who gave us a ride.
I have incredible memories that I never would have got to experience if it weren’t for hitchhiking. I wouldn’t usually recommend hitchhiking in many countries. But in Albania, it is very much a part of the culture and just comes naturally to a lot of people so just do as the locals do and give it a try.
I – It’s safer than you think
Albania has got a bad reputation over the years. I don’t know if this comes from the old communist regime or the plot of the ‘Taken’ movies but those stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth! I felt incredibly safe in Albania, even whilst hitchhiking and walking around after dark.
J – GJipe beach
Ok, I know this doesn’t technically begin with J but let’s just pretend for a minute that it does 😉
Gjipe beach Is a gorgeous secluded cove not far from Dhermi. To get there you can either arrive by boat or hike down, either from the main road or from the parking lot halfway down. Personally, I hiked down from the main road and found the hike to be pretty easy (although hot) and very enjoyable! The views were incredible.
The sandy feet has a fantastic blog post on how to plan a trip to Gjipe beach so do be sure to check it out.
K – Komani lake
Komani lake is a beautiful blue crystal clear lake surrounded by lush green vertical canyons. It is honestly too beautiful for words.
There are a few tourist boats that run tours of the lake. But in my opinion, the best (and cheapest) way to experience the lake is via the local passenger ferry that runs from Koman to Fierza.
L – Language
The Albanian language, called shqip, is completely unique. No other language can be conclusively linked to it and its unknown origins have long been a cause of disputes among linguists and historians. It is also thought to be one of the oldest languages in the world.
Try to learn a few words, most Albanians you meet will be delighted to teach you a few phrases.
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M – Mopeds
Renting a moped is a fantastic way to get around Albania.
My friends and I rented mopeds for around €12 each for the day and drove from Sarrande to Gjirokaster and then stopped at the blue eye on the way back. It would have been a little tricky (though not impossible) to get to these places without our own transport. We were also able to stop off at some really nice viewpoints along the way.
Just make sure to look out for cows wandering into the road!
N – Natural hot springs
The Benja thermal pools, just outside of the town of Permet, are natural geothermal springs that are said to have healing properties. Do as the locals do and grab a handful of mud and make yourself a facemask for super soft skin!
Also, be sure to spend some time exploring the nearby canyon for some amazing geology.
O – Ottomans
Albania is a great place to see ottoman architecture from as early as the 15th century
The best places to see Ottoman settlements are Gjirokaster, Berat, Permet and Kruje
P – Pyramid
The enormous concrete pyramid that stands in the middle of Tirana was originally built during the communist regime to honour the former dictator Enver Hoxha. It then became a TV station for a while before falling into disrepair and becoming a derelict eyesore. Local kids soon started to use it as their personal playground by climbing to the top and sliding down. And you can join them if you are brave enough.
I attempted the climb one night after a couple of cocktails and somehow miraculously made it to the top of the 21m (~70ft) structure and back down without seriously injuring myself! Weirdly this was one of the most fun nights of my life
Q – Questions
“Why do you want to go there?”
“Is it safe?”
“Where even is that?!”
Expect a lot of these kinds of questions when you announce your Albania trip plans to your family and friends. Albania is not on a lot of peoples radar as a tourist destination, YET! So if you plan a trip to Albania, you’re likely to be met with a lot of curious questions from well-meaning friends/relatives.
R – Roman ruins
Unlike the roman ruins in nearby Italy, you will have Albania’s archaeological sites all to yourself. Check out Butrint archaeological park and the roman amphitheatre in Durres.
S – Shkodër
Shkodër is a really nice little town in the north of the country. The best thing to do here is to explore the amazing Rozafa castle and spend a day relaxing at the lake.
There are a lot of nice restaurants and cafes serving up traditional local cuisine a few nice bars to grab a drink at too.
There’s a large population of stray cats and dogs around town but don’t worry they are very friendly and appreciate a bit of fuss!
T – Tirana
After the fall of the communist regime, the new Albanian prime minister (a former artist) decided to brighten up all the grim-looking brutalist architecture by covering the whole city of Tirana in art! Now almost every building in Tirana has been painted a fun bright colour. And there are street art murals and quirky touches all over the city. I particularly loved the bollards painted to look like Mario style mushrooms!
I suggest you spend some time admiring the art whilst taking on a walking tour of the top sites of the city.
Things to do in Tirana:
Grab a sunset cocktail at the sky bar panoramic rooftop bar.
Explore Bunkart, for a fun and interactive look at Albania’s recent history
Climb the pyramid! Only for the most fearless.
U – Ugly soviet architecture (which is actually kind of charming)
I have to admit I have a soft spot for Brutalist architecture, there’s a somewhat endearing charm to the looming concrete structures. Tirana especially is a great way to see some examples of brutalism but with an added modern twist in the form of a splash of colour.
V – Valbona
Hiking between the two mountain villages of Theth and Valbona was one of the highlights of my time in Albania. No words can describe the beauty of the mountains. The trails are all reasonably well maintained and not in the least bit crowded.
The hike took us around 7hrs, including an hour stop for lunch and a lot of photo stops. Spend the night at a lodge in Valbona and then be sure to catch the ferry across the beautiful Komani lake on your way back down south the next day.
W – Weather
Like other Mediterranean countries, Albania has characteristically warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The summers can reach scorching temperatures of up to 35℃ (95℉). The best month to visit is June
X – eXtremely friendly locals
In my opinion, the top reason you should visit Albania is to get to know the friendly locals.
Albanians are some of the most incredibly friendly people I have ever met! Everywhere I went people wanted to stop and chat, to offer me help or directions (even if I didn’t need them lol) and in many places refused to let me pay for anything.
I was even invited to a wedding by a guy I met in a sandwich shop!
Albania was under a communist regime, run by a dictator, until the ’90s. The people of Albania were essentially cut off from the rest of the world during this time. This means that tourism is still a relatively new concept to them. So they are genuinely delighted to have you visit their country.
Y – You should just go already
You can get started with planning your trip by grabbing a copy of my Albania itinerary now!
Z – Zzzzz – sleeping under the stars
You should absolutely try out some wild camping whilst in Albania.
Psssst… Need travel gear for your next adventure? Check out my travel store!
So hopefully now I have convinced you to visit Albania.
Below you can grab a copy of my perfect Albania itinerary. The itinerary includes everything you need to have a great vacation including:
- Where to stay
- Restaurant recommendations
- Hidden gems
- How to get around
- Day by day fully planned itinerary
- And much more!
And because it is my Travel Freedom Club’s current destination, you can get it completely free for this month only (Sept 2021). Grab your copy below.
Have you ever been to Albania? Let me know in the comments.
Happy travels xo