Although maybe not the first on your list of tourist destinations, Albania emerged to the European surface after difficult and painful history under communism and it’s time to see what it has to offer. The natural beauty of this country is stunning, from ancient mountain codes and archaeological sites to villages which seem to have stuck in time. Thanks to the vibrant capital, nature scenery and lovely beaches, Albania has become the youngest hit of the Balkans. Follow our round trip and find out why!
The city in northwestern Albania is a good point to start your tour at. It is one of the oldest and most historic sites on the Balkans, mostly known for the Lake Shkodër, the largest lake in Southern Europe which straddles Albania with the neighbouring Montenegro. Although the city serves only as many travellers’ stop on their way between Tirana and Montenegro, it is worth spending a night or two in Shkodër to feel the pleasant and welcoming atmosphere before continuing with your journey. While here, don’t miss out on seeing the Rozafa Castle and Venice Art Mask Factory.
How to get to Shkodër:
- By bus: here are some of the most popular routes to Shkodër: Podgorica – Shkodër, Budva – Shkodër, Vienna to Shkodër, Kotor to Shkodër
Once Albania’s capital, today an ‘extension’ of today’s capital Tirana, Durrës is an inevitable stop on your tour. The city has a 10km long beach and offers a nice getaway from the vibrant capital (and can be a bit crowded in the summer months). Beaches aside, Durrës also has an impressive history, best explored by visiting the Roman amphitheatre and the city’s new archaelogical museum. All history enthusiasts should also check out the Byzantine Forum (Macellum).
How to get to Durrës:
- By bus from Shkodër: Shkodër to Durrës – the journey takes approximately 2 hours and one single ticket costs 3€.
- By train from Shkodër: Hekurudha Shqiptare (HSH), known as Albanian Railways, offers a connection between the two cities on a route Shkodër – Vorë – Durrës – Vlorë.
Albania’s third biggest city and the second largest port, the coastal city of Vlorë is of special significance for the Albanians, since this is where the country declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire. So, you can expect many monuments and museums celebrating what it means to be Albanian. If you wish some place to relax, beaches are only few kilometres away, so if you ask a local, Orikum is the answer, as they enjoy spending weekends on this gleaming white beach. If you go south the coastal road, you’ll end up in the Llogora National Park.
How to get to Vlorë:
- By bus from Durrës: the bus line Durrës – Vlorë operates few times a day.
- By train from Durrës: there are train lines which provide connection between these cities, use the route Tirana – Durrës – Vlorë or Shkodër – Vorë – Durrës – Vlorë for the price of 1.5€.
With views out to the Drina Valley, limestone and shale roads, great castle and imposing houses, Gjirokastra is a 2500-year-old hillside town attracting visitors for its 600 monumentar Ottoman-era houses. It was the place of rule of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha who, although having the city well-preserved, is not memorialised there in any way. Although in the shadow of nearby tourist city of Berat, Gjirokastra is as charming and as beautiful which are the enough reasons to visit. Do not forget to see the huge Gjirokastra Castle, the city’s most famous landmark dating from the Ottoman era.
How to get to Gjirokastra:
- By bus from Vlorë: buses from Vlora to Gjirokastra depart from the centre of the city at 06.30 a.m. and one ticket costs 3-4€.
Located in the heart of Albania, Elbasan sits on the Shkumbin river. The city is a live monument to medieval buildings and mosques, as well as cobbled streets and markets known as Bazar. For its past, the city’s architecture is a mixture of medieval buildings colliding with modern style. While there, do not forget to see the Elbasan Castle in the very heart of the city and take a dip on the curative thermal waters of Llixha and visit the caves and waterfalls of Gramsh.
How to get to Elbasan:
- By bus from Gjirokastra: the bus Albtrans sh.p.k operates on the route Gjirokastra – Elbasan twice a day.
It’s time for the capital of Albania. The vibrant city is the centre of this tiny country’s economy, consumerism and fun. If you were there in the early 1990s, and if you go now, you will be stunned by the progress this city has made, and still is making. The colorful buildings, squares and streets full of people are a pleasure to see. Trendy Blloku is the beating heart of the city with bars, cafes and restaurants, so make sure to see it. Another sight popular among tourists is Bunk Art, a contemporary art museum which used to be a massive cold war bunker.
How to get to Tirana:
- By bus from Elbasan: Elbasan – Tirana – the trip is only 45 min long and costs only 3€.
End your journey across Albania with this beautiful city on the northeast of which you may have already heard of as the first ever town to be nominated for the Nobel Peace prize in 2000 for taking almost half a million refugees from Kosovo. Apart from this beautiful gesture, the city (and the county) is proud of the Valbonë National Park, also known as the Albanian Miracle of the Alps situated in the Prokletije mountain range, and the artificial Fierza Lake with many canyons and several small islands.
How to get to Kukës:
- By bus from Tirana: the bus on the route Tirana – Kukës departs several times a day from the morning til the early evening and a single ticket costs 5€ for a journey of 2.5 hours.