From the Albanian Alps in the north to the sparkling coastline in the south, here are 10 things you absolutely have to see and do in Albania when you visit.
Albania is one of the most fascinating and underrated countries I’ve traveled to. Part of the Balkan countries, Albania is an undiscovered jewel on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Freed from communism in 1993, Albania is still a country that many people question.
Is it safe?
What is there to do?
Why would you go there?
Having traveled solo to Albania I can tell you that it’s a fascinating, beautiful, and (in my experience) safe country to visit. And here are ten great ways to explore it:
10 Great Things to See and Do in Albania
1. Valbona to Theth Hike
One of the most beautiful (but strenuous) hikes in Europe, is the hike from Valbona to Theth. Both Valbona and Theth are small, remote villages located in the northern part of the country in the Albanian Alps.
The hike from one village to the next is 10+ miles (depending on where you’re starting and ending) and on average, takes about seven hours to complete. The hike is incredibly beautiful, and the trail is well-marked and easy to follow.
As a bonus, there are small rest areas along the way to sit down, refill your water, and get some food.
If you plan to complete this hike you should know that it’s only accessible in the summer months when the snow has melted from the pass. You can also do the hike in reverse from Theth to Valbona, but for logistical reasons I recommend the hike from Valbona to Theth.
2. Visit Gjipe Beach
Gjipe Beach is a remote beach on the coast of Albania located between Himara and Dhermi. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen with crystal blue waters, white sand, and a huge canyon behind you.
It flies under the radar as it can be difficult to reach, but it also means that there are fewer crowds. To reach Gjipe you can travel by boat from Himara or you can drive, park, and walk about 30-minutes to reach the beach. I highly recommend renting a car and making the hike to Gjipe as it’s much cheaper and the boats leave the beach in the early afternoon.
Once the boats leave, the beach becomes much more enjoyable as it’s more secluded with far fewer people around.
Pro tip: If you are going to make the hike to Gjipe, make sure to wear sturdy shoes. It’s pretty rocky and there isn’t a great path to walk on. Also, if you plan to get in the water, I highly recommend bringing water shoes. The sand turns into rock closer to the water and it can be difficult to walk on.
3. Spend Time in Berat – The City of 1,000 Windows
One of the most fun small towns in Albania, Berat is known as the City of 1,000 Windows – or, “a city of one window on top of the other” as my tour guide pointed out. The town is made up of winding cobblestone alleyways, old Ottoman-style houses, churches, mosques, and a huge castle complex that overlooks the town.
While most people pick Berat as a place to get out and stretch their legs as they head from Tirana further down the coast of Albania, I highly recommend staying a couple of nights. The town is beautiful and there are many fun things to do around Berat as well.
Easy to get to, Berat is only a 2–3-hour drive from the capital of Albania, Tirana. You can take the bus (which departs every 30 minutes) for the affordable price of 30 Lek (or 0.30 USD).
4. Indulge in Traditional Albanian Food and Drink
Traditional Albanian food (and drink) is where it’s at. Albania sure knows their food and you can find delicious, traditional food all around the country.
My favorite Albanian dishes throughout my travels were “yogurt appetizer” (generally just yogurt and olive oil), Albanian feta cheese, byrek (Albanian pie), kackavall (a cheese mix served as an appetizer), and the traditional dessert – trilece. All washed down with the traditional spirit – raki.
If you’re visiting Berat, I highly recommend eating lunch or dinner at Lile. Lile is a small restaurant run by an Albanian family, and it was the best traditional food that I had in the country. The menu changes based on what’s seasonal and Lile (the owner) makes sure to tell you what the best things on the menu are at the time.
Make sure to make reservations ahead of time as there are only about five tables to sit at and the restaurant is quite popular!
Read also: Best of the Balkans – All the highlights you should not miss during your visit
5. Take a Dip in Osum Canyon
In the heart of Albania outside of Berat, you’ll find Osum Canyon (also known as Osum Gorge), or Kanionet e Osumit. Osum Canyon is one of the most beautiful and intriguing natural wonders in Albania.
There are many different areas to take a dip in the river and also bring food and drink to have a picnic, and the best part is is that it’s completely free! Plus, the gorge has a unique ecosystem that allows for the canyon to have greenery on both sides, year-round making it a beautiful spot to spend an afternoon.
Pro tip: Before reading any further, make sure to read this complete Albania travel guide for tips on transportation, tipping, safety, local food, and more.
6. Dine at an Affordable Top 50 Restaurant in the World in Tirana
Found on the “Worlds 50 Best List”, Mullixhiu is farm to table, traditional Albanian restaurant in the heart of Tirana. The restaurant is owned by Chef Kola who trained at NOMA before moving back to his home country to open Mullixhiu.
The best part about dining here is that you get a fine-dining experience for a fraction of the cost. Chef Kola believes in affordable food so everything on the menu is priced reasonably.
You can also do a tasting menu where you’ll get six dishes for 2,500 LEK ($25) or eight dishes for 3,000 LEK ($30).
7. Drive Along the Albanian Riviera
The Albanian Riviera is a beautiful stretch of coastline that runs from Durres in the north to Ksamil in the south. With hairpin turns, epic views on both sides of the road (mountains on one, beaches on the other), this drive is sure to take your breath away.
If you plan to slowly travel the coast, I recommend staying in Himara and Ksamil. In Himara you’ll find more locals hanging around and while Ksamil is quite touristy, it’s a beautiful town with amazing seafood, beaches, and clear water.
8. Visit Gjirokaster – “The City of Stone”
In Southern Albania, 3.5 hours from Tirana, Gjirokaster is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a well-preserved Ottoman-style town that was founded in the 13th-century. It holds the second largest castle complex in the Balkans, and tons of historical sites like the Skenduli House, the Zekate House, and the Cold War tunnels.
Many people come to spend a day in Gjirokaster, but I recommend staying for at least one night. The highlight of this town happens to be Stone City Hostel, an incredible hostel run by an American woman and Dutch man. They’ve gone above and beyond to help travelers fall in love with Gjirokaster and they often host day trips to nearby historical areas.
9. Learn About Albania’s History at Bunk’Art 2
If you’re a history nerd, you won’t want to miss Bunk’Art 2 in Tirana. Albania has a fascinating history and it got even more fascinating when Enver Hoxha rose to power as the Prime Minister.
Around this time Hoxha, being the paranoid dictator that he was, ordered the “bunkerization” of Albania, and bunkers were built all around the country to protect Albania from war. By 1983 173,371 bunkers had been built around the country.
Bunk’Art 2 is a history museum in one of Albania’s old bunkers. The cost of entry is 500 LEK ($5 USD) and depending on how much information you’re reading throughout the museum you can spend anywhere from 30-minutes to two hours.
10. Take the Ferry from Saranda to Corfu
Another fun thing to do when you’re in Albania (southern Albania to be exact) is to take the ferry across the Ionian Sea to Corfu, Greece. You can go for a quick day trip if you want to hang around the island of Corfu and see the quaint downtown, eat Greek food (considered one of the best cuisines in the world!), and hop back on the ferry to Albania by nightfall.
Or you can spend more time in Corfu and return to Albania later. Here’s a Corfu 7 day road trip itinerary to help you plan your visit. Either way, this ferry ride is quick, easy, and affordable – a great way to cross another destination off your list!
Albania is a truly special country. One that I hope you’ll consider visiting as it’s still affordable, less touristy, and filled with the most kind and special locals who are waiting to show you around.
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Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse with a love for solo travel, wine, and Taylor Swift. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Passports and Preemies was created as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Follow her on Instagram or Facebook.