I was pretty happy when I got off the bus in Tirana.
The journey from Ohrid (via Struga) in Macedonia was about 5 hours and I had spent most of the time speaking to an elderly Albanian man who had developed a slight affection for me, continuously pinching my cheeks in delight as we spoke in broken Russian.
Slightly worried that I wouldn’t be able to shake him in Tirana, I was glad as we pulled into the city centre when he told me he was staying on the bus until Durres. Tirana doesn’t have a central bus station, so I was dropped off at a random street corner and proceeded to follow some basic directions to my hostel.
I didn’t have any expectations of Tirana as most of what I had read previously suggested that the city was only worth spending a day in. Everything I read suggested that the best things to do in Albania were to be found in the UNESCO sites of Berat and Gjirokaster or along the Adriatic Coast.
And on the surface, these opinions are probably right. However, two things resulted in my time in Tirana well exceeding expectations: the people I was with and Trip’n Hostel.
Within an hour of staying at Trip’n Hostel, I unexpectedly bumped into three people I had previously met on my travels and along with one other person, we formed a posse of five who spent the next few days aimlessly drifting around the city. We explored the few sites that there were to see, drunk copious amounts of coffee during the day, rakija at night and entertained ourselves by playing random ball games at the nearby parks.
When I described this to one of the girls that worked at the hostel she exclaimed: “You are experiencing this city like a local!” And that’s really what it felt like – I was just hanging out with my friends in a city.
That’s not to say that Tirana doesn’t have things worth seeing. The Piramadia, a structure built in communist times as the International Centre for Culture, and later used as a TV broadcasting centre is, these days, covered in graffiti and broken glass. You can follow the lead of the locals and try to climb it to the top and then slide down. Make sure to be careful as it is steep!
A trip to Mountain Dajti, the highest peak in the city provides excellent views of Tirana as well some hiking paths around the mountain.
The bunkers that are dotted around the city give a glimpse into the Communist era from which Tirana is still awakening. They were originally built by the communist government in preparation for what they felt was an inevitable war against Yugoslavia or NATO forces and they were extremely controversial due to their high costs and subsequent drain on the Albanian economy.
They were never used and serve as a reminder to locals about the paranoia of the government that led to decades of isolation and a harsh communist regime as countries around them prospered.
None of these sights are what kept me in Tirana for four days. I became very comfortable with the group of people I was with and even more comfortable at the hostel. Trip’n hostel’s owners, Erjon and Eni have created a friendly and relaxed atmosphere that makes it extremely difficult to leave. There’s spacious common rooms, a large garden, a rooftop terrace, freshly cooked breakfast, craft beers and rakija at night that combined with their friendly and upbeat attitude make this one of the best hostels in the Balkans.
When you travel long term, you’ll find that some places just suck you in and make it difficult to leave. Whether it’s the longing for a temporary home or the comfort of spending a few days with familiar faces – if it comes your way, you should embrace it!
Don’t assume your experience in a place will be the same as people that have been here before. Almost everything I read about Tirana suggested one day would be enough time. However, the four days I spent here proved to be some of my most memorable when travelling and I urge you to come to Tirana with an open mind!
Have you been to Tirana before? What are your thoughts on the city? Add a comment below!