Beautiful and fascinating Albania, nestled between its more developed neighbours along the Adriatic Coast, is still relatively undiscovered on the mainstream European tourist trail. The country is still waking up from years of isolationism and whilst tourism is increasing to some coastal areas, particularly close to Greece, the country as whole remains one of the few unexplored countries left in Europe. If you’re unsure which cities to include on your itinerary, here are the five best places to visit in Albania that covers some of the highlights of this country.
Saranda is the main city in the southern part of the country and one of the best places to visit in Albania if you’re looking to base yourself somewhere and exploring the surrounding area. The main tourist season is from June to September when the town comes alive, particularly along the main promenade which is filled with cafes, restaurants and bars.
The beaches in Saranda are decent and fine for swimming, however, if you’re after a beach that is a little more untouched, head to Ksamili or Bunec. Both are easy day trips and have, to date, escaped most of the development that has occurred in Saranda.
Budget accommodation options are plentiful in Saranda, with many locals renting out apartments during the high season at affordable rates. Alternatively, there are a number of hostels which have been converted from apartments.
Butrint is almost certainly Albania’s best-preserved historical site and a perfect day trip from Saranda.
The ruins, dating back to the 7th century BCE, were influenced by the Greek, Roman and Byzantine empires before being abandoned in the Middle Ages. Whilst the ruins themselves are fascinating to see, the highlight is undoubtedly the beautiful natural setting that surrounds the site with plenty of lakes and rivers to stop by to take it all in.
Butrint is located close to the Greek Island of Corfu so it does get a fair share of tourists. During your visit, it is recommended to go early or towards the end of the day, both to avoid the tour buses and the strong summer sun.
Entry for non-Albanians is 700lek (about 5-6 euros) and goes towards the preservation of the park. If travelling from Saranda, combine a visit here with Ksamili beach for a great day trip!
Gjirokastër is a well-preserved Ottoman-era town and one of the best places to visit in Albania if you’re interested in history.
The fortress and castle in Gjirokastër are easily the most stunning in Albania, with amazing views of the whole city as well as a couple of museums and prison chambers that can be openly explored.
The centre of town, located at the foot of the fortress, is home to the Old Bazaar which has a number of tasty local restaurants, traditional old homes and souvenir shops that are all worth exploring.
Gjirokastër is a one-hour bus ride from Saranda with buses leaving frequently. It is possible to visit Gjirokastër as a day trip from Saranda, however, I suggest spending at least one night to give yourself sufficient time to take in the peaceful atmosphere and enjoy dinner at one of the local restaurants.
I stayed at Stone City Hostel which was newly opened in 2016 and run by a friendly Dutchman named Walter who will give you plenty of great recommendations for your stay in Gjirokastër.
The city of Berat, also known as ‘the town of a thousand windows’ is located about a three-hour drive from Tirana and offers a relaxing and charming atmosphere. The old town is extremely well preserved from the Ottoman-era and can easily be explored by foot.
Some of the highlights when visiting Berat are climbing up to Berat Fortress and exploring the cobbled streets of the Mangalem and Gorica Districts. Make sure you also follow the lead of the locals who converge on Bulevardi Republika as the sun goes down, wearing their best clothes with the sole goal of ‘being seen’.
There are a plethora of hiking opportunities in the surrounding mountains as well as nearby wineries if you feel like exploring a bit further out of the old town.
The place to stay if you’re on a budget is Berat Backpackers which offers both dorm and private rooms in a peaceful and tranquil setting. One of the highlights of staying here is undoubtedly the massive terrace area that provides stunning views of the town and a perfect place to waste away an afternoon with a book in hand and a couple of beers.
Unlike the scenic and picturesque towns of Berat and Gjirokastër, Tirana is undoubtedly a city with less charm, but more grit and character. I ended up spending four days here despite the city not offering a lot to do from a typical tourist’s perspective.
Spend your days here living like a local, by enjoying long coffee breaks at one of the many cafes or having a long lunch at some of the most affordable restaurants in all of Europe.
For those of you that feel like being more active, take a hike to Mountain Dajti, explore some of the Communist-era bunkers or climb the Piramadia in the centre of town.
If you’re planning to visit Albania you’ll undoubtedly end up in Tirana at some point as it’s the main transport hub in the country. Book a couple of nights at Trip’n Hostel where the owners will make it difficult for you to leave with the brilliant atmosphere they have created there!
Now is the time to visit Albania before the tourist crowds start arriving in this underrated country. If you plan on visiting all five places, I suggest allocating about 10 days to give yourself enough time to explore the cities and relax by the beach! There are also plenty of other places in Albania, particularly in the northern part of the country that I am yet to visit and will probably mean that over time I will add plenty more to this list about best places to visit in Albania!
Before setting off on your Albania trip, make sure you have a valid travel insurance policy. We personally used World Nomads during our time in Albania however it’s important to read the policy details to ensure it’s right for you. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads!
Have you been to Albania? What do you think are the best places to visit in Albania? Let us know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links. That means if you click a link and make a purchase, we make a small commission at no extra cost to you.