Top things to do in Albania and where to stay
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Top 10 Things To Do In Albania And Where To Stay

Albania, a country that is rich in history, with breathtaking scenery spanning from top to bottom, has somehow remained relatively off the radar. From historic cities to UNESCO World Heritage sites, and pristine beaches to rugged mountains, there are so many things to do in Albania thats suits all kinds of travellers. And the cherry on top? It offers excellent value for money. 

Emma Mullan, a full-time creator with a passion for travel, spent 3 weeks there in Summer 2022 and kindly agreed to share her top tips for visiting Albania with me. I love Emma’s travel content, especially her stories on Albania, and more recently, the time she spent a week in the Arctic Circle in a campervan! Check out her Instagram and you will see why.

Albania lacks some amenities and services compared to other European destinations. But, by embracing all that Albania has to offer, you’re in for an incredible adventure with, in Emma’s opinion, the friendliest people in Europe! And, get there sooner than later, because Albania is often identified as the Maldives of Europe, so there’s no doubt that soon this gem of a country will soon be VERY popular!

Albania is referred to as the Maldives of Europe

How to get to Albania from Dublin

check in online with Ryanair

Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from any Irish airports to Albania yet, but Ryanair do fly from five UK airports, so Ireland may be next on their list….

In the meantime, a great way to get there is to take a direct flight to Corfu ( available with Aer Lingus, Ryanair and TUI from Dublin, and Ryanair from Shannon), and then take a 30 minute speedboat or 70 minute Ferry to Sarande, and start your Albanian adventure from there

You can find a link to the ferry services here.

It is also possible to get to Albania’s capital through connecting flights which you can find through a Skyscanner search. We flew to Tirana from Antalya, Turkey for just €60.

Search flights here

How to get around Albania

Car-hire on holidays

Without a doubt, the best way to get around Albania is with a car. In fact, I’d be confident to say that this is very much a road-trip destination! Public transport is extremely unreliable and might not get you exactly where you want to go. With a car, you can easily access beautiful destinations that are off-the beaten path and truthfully, we would have been lost without a car. 

TOP TIPS: It’s important to book car hire in Albania in advance so that you can choose something that suits your budget. Last minute booking will leave you with limited options, and usually higher priced cars! Make sure you have an international drivers licence.

Search Car hire

Top 10 things to do in Albania

With a quick google search of Albania, there’s no doubt you will see images of pristine beaches and will be heavily influenced to visit the south. And while this part of the country is undoubtedly stunning and shouldn’t be missed, Albania has SO much more to offer. Here’s my Top 10 things to do in Albania from North to South.

1. Albanian Alps 

Albanian Alps

One of my greatest regrets when visiting Albania was not dedicating more time to the North of the country, which in my opinion, is the most beautiful of all. The Albanian alps are simply breathtaking and renting a car to journey through this spectacular landscape should be high on your list of things to do in Albania. Head to Shkoder and start your journey from there.

If you love to hike, then the Theth to Valbona hike is a must see in Albania and something I regrettably found out about too late. This challenging village to village hike typically takes around six to eight hours to complete, depending on your pace and stops along the way. So it’s definitely something to look into if you’re planning to head North. Several people we met gave this their highest recommendation. 

Another spot to add to the list when visiting this region is the stunning Komani Lake. I’d highly recommend booking this experience through a company, because getting here alone can be slightly chaotic to say the least! A friend of mine booked her experience through KomaniLakeFerry.com and had a great experience. Keep an eye on the weather and consider rescheduling if the weather is bad. 

Don’t miss out on some of the stunning waterfalls too. Grunas waterfall was a stunning one we came across.

2. Kisha e Thethit in Theth National Park 

Kisha e Thethit in Theth National Park

The iconic Kisha e Thethit (the Church of Theth) is a must on your Albania itinerary. The Church was built in 1892, and legend has it that villagers settled here in order to worship the Christian faith undisturbed, surrounded by the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. No photographs can do this place justice. The beauty and serenity can only be experienced in real life!

There are a number of accommodation and restaurant options available in Theth National Park should you wish to stay here, and it also makes for the perfect starting point if you’re taking on the Theth to Valbona hike. 

While I regretfully didn’t stay here due to time constraints, here are some top accommodation picks in That I’d have on my list:

TOP TIP: Make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water as you might be exposed to a lot of sun in this area while walking – and DON’T forget to take your camera with you – you’ll get the best photos of your entire trip (and life) here!

3. Tirana (capital city)

I love Tirana sign in Albania

Make sure to give Albania’s capital city Tirana a day or two of your time. For a small city, it has a lot of character, as well as a bustling cafe and restaurant scene. I’d highly recommend wandering around the Blloku area to enjoy the shops and cafes. And definitely check out the New Bazaar. If you’re looking for traditional Albanian cuisine, Oda restaurant is a must. But make sure to book it in advance, as it is very popular. 

Head to the Skanderbeg square and go to the National History Museum. The museum’s collections cover various periods of Albanian history, from ancient times to the present day. Entry into the National History Museum is less than €5. 

Also don’t miss out on visiting at least one of the series of Bunk’Art museums.  These museums are situated within massive concrete bunkers that were built during the communist regime, but many of them remained unused after the fall of communism in the early 1990s.

Some other places worth visiting while in Tirana include the Dajti Ekspres cable car for panoramic views of the city, and check out the newly renovated Pyramid of Tirana

I’d recommend staying in this centrally located apartment which can be found on Booking.com. I’d also highly recommend Ebel boutique hotel which is located beside the bus station if you plan on travelling to Montenegro and need to be at the bus station nice and early!

TOP TIP: If you’re looking for some incredible cocktails, head to Colonial Cocktails Academy. It’s the best cocktail bar I’ve been to on my travels so far. 

4. Berat 

A trip to Berat is of the top things to do in Albania

When it comes to Albania tourist attractions, The UNESCO World Heritage city of Berat is on most visitors lists. Make sure to give yourself at least 2-3 days to take in all that this place has to offer. Located in central Albania along the Osum river, Berat is known as “The City of a Thousand Windows” due the numerous windows in its traditional houses that line the hillside.

One of the best things to do in Berat is to visit the hilltop castle which overlooks the city and offers incredible panoramic views. The castle dates back to 4 BC and up here you’ll find Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques and traditional Albanian houses which have residents to this day. 

You can also book a unique cooking class inside Berat Castle, see more here:

Cooking Class

I couldn’t recommend Hotel Guva Mangalem more. This was centrally located, spotless and had spacious rooms and a delicious Albanian breakfast. The peaceful rooftop terrace had incredible views over Berat also. However, bear in mind that this hotel is situated uphill and you must go up some winding and narrow streets to get here, so it is not suitable for everyone. It is incredible value for money – We paid just €30 per night, including a delicious Albanian breakfast!

View Hotel

One of the top things to do in Albania is book a wine tasting tour, and I found a top rated tour that leaves from Berat and costs just €60.

View Wine Tour

TOP TIP: Don’t miss out on one of the most memorable meals of your life at Home-made Food Lili, situated right next door to Hotel Guva Mangalem. This is a once in a lifetime experience in the home of an Albanian family with just 6 tables.

Your meal is sure to turn into a party with all the other guests and here you will experience Albanian hospitality like no other. Make sure to book in advance because the places are extremely limited. 

5. Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster, Albania

Gjirokaster is another UNESCO World Heritage city located in Southern Albania. This is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe that I have ever been to, and can be visited over 1-2 days.

If you’re short on time, a day trip is worthwhile, but I’d recommend at least an overnight stay to take in all the charm that Gjirokaster has to offer. AND, you’ll find some of the best value accommodation of your life! Often referred to as the “The City of Stone”, Gjirokaster has an incredible hilltop castle with breathtaking views over the city and the surrounding countryside.

Make sure to also head to Zekate House which is thought to be the best surviving example of an Ottoman tower house in Gjirokaster. Here you will be able to explore the stunning rooms of this mansion that belonged to the wealthy Zekate family, who played a significant role in the economic and social life of Gjirokastër during the Ottoman period. I’d highly recommend booking a walking tour with a local guide.

View Walking Tour

Gjirokastër’s old town is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets, traditional houses, beautiful shops, cafes and restaurants and the city serves as a great base to visit the famous Blue Eye which is just 35 minutes away and next up on the list!

I’d highly recommend staying at The Old Town Clock which is centrally located, spotless, spacious and excellent value for money at around €25 per night in peak summer season.

6. The Blue Eye (Syri i kaltër) 

The Blue Eye (Syri i kaltër), Albania

The Blue Eye is one of top tourist attractions in Albania and extremely popular with tourists. It’s definitely a worthwhile visit if you are in the area and all you’ll need is 2-3 hours to enjoy everything this natural monument and its surroundings has to offer. 

The Blue Eye gets its name because of the beautiful crystal clear blue water that is incredibly deep. This natural spring has a depth of more than 50 metres and is really beautiful to witness! When you visit, you might see some people swimming in the Blue Eye, although there are many signs saying this is not allowed due to strong currents and the depth of the water. You can explore the surrounding forest and picnic areas and enjoy the beautiful landscapes. 

TOP TIP: Pack your own lunch to enjoy at one of the many picnic areas. This way you can avoid tourist prices and crowds at the on-site cafe. 

You can make your own way if you have a car or take a taxi. It’s also possible to go as part of a half day tour which you can find here.

It costs 50 LEK (approx 40c) per person to enter. The car park costs around 100 LEK (80c)

7. Sarande and the Monastery of 40 Saints

view from Sarande and the Monastery of 40 Saints, Albania

Sarandë in southern Albania is a seaside town known for its vibrant atmosphere and sandy beaches.  You can stroll along the waterfront promenade and enjoy some delicious fresh seafood under the palm trees.

The city of Sarande itself is quite built up and due to its growing popularity and need to cater for more tourists, there is ongoing construction of hotels and residential buildings. I would suggest taking a short drive outside of the main city of Sarande in search of the best beaches in Albania that will be a little quieter and more picturesque than those in the main town.

However, it’s important to be aware that this region is one of Albania’s most popular along the Riviera and it’s difficult to find a beach that isn’t crowded during the peak summer months. 

If you choose to stay in Sarande, it is a great base for day trips in Albania, I have some linked here:

View Day Trips

While in the city, I would highly recommend a trip to the Monastery of 40 Saints. This ancient monastery which can be reached by car, dates back to the 6th century AD, and overlooks the city with magnificent views. Legend says that the monastery was constructed in honour of forty Christians who were killed during the Roman persecution. Be warned though, this place is very creepy and not for the faint hearted!

8. Ksamil and Butrint National Park

Ksamil and Butrint National Park, Albania

When researching the Albanian Riviera, you’re likely to be met with photos of Ksamil, often described as “the Maldives of Europe”. Ksamil is an extremely popular summer destination for Albanians and is increasing in popularity for people from all over the world. I think it’s really important to note that what you see on Instagram is not exactly what you get here. Let me explain…

There are some truly stunning beaches in Ksamil but to have the “Maldives” experience, you need to be prepared to pay. All beaches in Ksamil were privatised during our visit in 2022 and if you want to relax in the most stunning spots, you need to be prepared to pay up to €30 per person for a sun bed and higher prices for food and drinks.

Ksamil is extremely crowded in the peak summer months, so it’s also important to arrive VERY early to grab your spot. But if you have a bit of extra cash to splash, then it’s certainly worthwhile. 

While I would absolutely recommend spending a few nights in Ksamil, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was slightly disappointed. The incredible scenery is often spoiled by floating bouncy castles and pedal cars scattered all over and I felt that what I saw on Instagram didn’t reflect the full reality of the destination.

Ok, now that we have the negatives out of the way, it’s time to discuss the positives and there are so many that make Ksamil a must see in Albania.

The bar and restaurant scene is incredible and you will quite literally be spoiled for choice on where to eat and drink. Ksamil is so lively and has a true “holiday vibe” with something for absolutely anyone. There are accommodation options to suit everyone, from the luxury traveller to backpacker athough l I’d highly recommend Villa Xristos Kalageros.

And there are some truly beautiful beaches in Albania if you wander a little further from the famous “Instagram” locations. A personal favourite was Plaza Agosto, where we returned every single day to relax, eat and drink. I’d highly recommend purchasing your sun lounger at Beach Bar and Grill Reni Risi. The prices were very reasonable, the views were stunning and the food was amazing!

One of the best things we did in Ksamil was the Tongo Island Boat trip and BBQ. A speed boat transports you to the most incredible spots close to Ksamil, with plenty of time to jump into the sea and swim.

The final spot is Tongo Island where you can enjoy the stunning private beach with just a few others. Here you will be served a delicious lunch with fish, vegetables, cheese, fruit, beer, soft drinks and water before returning to Ksamil at sunset. This tour must be booked in person at the tour office in Ksamil. 

9. Himare and Lambjano Bay

Himare and Lambjano Bay have some of the best beaches in Albania

A personal favourite spot was the beach town of Himare, in particular Potami beach. This town was definitely a little less developed and more laid back and less crowded than Ksamil and Sarande, with plenty of great spots to eat and drink during the day and into the evening.

The water at Potami beach was crystal clear, and unlike Ksamil, it’s possible to lay down your own umbrella and towel, without having to purchase a sun lounger. I’d highly recommend eating at Grill Rondo Potam and UMI sushi & cocktail bar. 

From Himare, a visit to Lambjano Bay is an absolute MUST. This is without a doubt one of the most stunning little beaches I have ever set foot. The beach is located between Llamani beach and Porto Palermo and is a little bit tricky to find so you may need to ask for help from some locals.

Your best bet is to park beside Palermiti Luxury Rooms Resort and just off the main road, take a left and follow the gravel track. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the beach but it is completely worth it. Just remember to bring a towel, umbrella and snacks as this is a wild beach and there are no facilities available. 

TOP TIP: After Lambjano Bay, head to the beautiful Castle of Porto Palermo which is just a short drive away. Dating back to the early 19th century, this historical gem offers beautiful views of the Ionian Sea and surrounding landscapes. 

10. Drive the Llogora Pass

The Llogara Pass is known to be one of Europe’s most spectacular drives and shouldn’t be missed on your Albania trip! You’ll drive through the Ceraunian Mountains and the scenic route boasts panoramic views of the Ionian Sea.

The winding road through the Llogara pass is an exciting drive and there are so many incredible lookout points along the way, and you won’t be disappointed if you stay for sunset!

If you’re brave enough, you can do a paraglide from the top of Llogara pass, right down to one of the stunning beaches below. You can book your paragliding experience here:

View Paragliding

Where to stay in Albania

Miamare Hotel, Albania

Theth National Park 

Tirana

Berat

Gjirokaster

Himare

Ksamil

Top Tips for Visiting Albania

  1. Make sure you have a drivers licence or travel with someone who does. The best way to get around is with a car.
  2. Be prepared to pay for everything in CASH (this has possibly changed but in 2022, we were hardly ever able to use card to pay).
  3. Use Credins ATM’s to avoid high fees.
  4. Pack a rainjacket – the weather is very changeable even in summer and especially in the North in the mountains
  5. Be prepared to pay up to €30 for a sunbed in popular areas like Ksamil (and be prepared for it to be crowded in summer)

I hope this travel guide to Albania will inspire you to take a trip there soon, and a big thanks to Emma Mullan for sharing her top things to do in Albania with me.

Some of the links in this post contain affiliate links, where I receive a small commission if a booking is made, but at no additional charge to you. While every effort is made to ensure accuracy, prices, hotels and attractions are subject to change.

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