Awesome Things to do in Albania
Oh Albania! Like the other Balkan countries we had really only heard about Albania's political history and didn't hold high expectations. But I can now safely say it is one of my favourite countries and I can't speak highly enough of all the fabulous things to do in Albania.
The nature in Albania is phenomenal including mountain ranges, rivers, lakes and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (yip I said it!) Top that off with a couple of quirky cities, UNESCO world heritage old towns and ridiculously affordable prices and you've got the stuff dreams are made of... or just really great holiday destinations.
1. Hike Theth to Valbona
Who knew the Albanian Alps were an incredible spot for some challenging but rewarding hikes? Not us! Until we were invited by some other bloggers to join them on this adventure. The hike from Theth to Valbona takes 6-8 hours and has some of the most gorgeous scenery we've seen on our travels. Check out everything you need to know about the hike here.
2. Visit Rozafa Castle in Shkoder
The city of Shkoder is definitely worth visiting for a day or two and the castle is the highlight of the city. Stunning views and amazing history, it's the place to be if you're in the area. If you have a few days check out our Shkoder city guide.
3. Drink a Beer in a Rotating Bar in Tirana
Yes you read right, have a beer whilst rotating a full 360° to see the views of Tirana from all angles. The Sky Tower bar is open all day but sunset is a magical time to sit and be gently rotated.
4. Visit a Museum in an Abandoned Bunker
You'll never run out of quirky things to do in Albania but visiting BUNK'ART in Tirana is a must. Originally one of the many bunkers built by dictator Hohxa, this is now a museum all about the history of Albania. It's kind of creepy but really interesting and very informative. They've even opened a second one in the city.
5. Take a Cable to See the Best Views of Tirana
Just outside the city is Mount Dajti with some pretty awesome views over the city. There's plenty of hiking in the area or you can take the lazy man's option like we did and get the cable car to the top. The restaurant up there has some decent food and more than decent sunset views.
For more ideas for great things to do in Tirana check out our Tirana city guide.
6. Wild Camp on Albania's Most Beautiful Beaches
We planned to spend a week on the Albanian coast but ended spending over two weeks. We were there right at the end of the season (September) and found ourselves alone on many of the beaches. Wild camping is legal in Albania and we found so many amazing (and a couple not so amazing) spots to spend a couple of days. If you're looking for a place to camp have a look at our favourite spots in Albania.
7. Visit Beaches You Can Only Walk to
Along the coast of Albania there are plenty of larger beaches with hotels and restaurants. While these are great beaches and worthy of their popularity we also found some more secluded ones that required a bit of a walk to get to. The walk obviously put enough people off to make them much quieter and totally epic places to spend the day. Our favourites were Gijipe Beach and the little bay we found north of Livadh beach.
8. Visit Berat, the City of a Thousand Windows
We didn't actually make it here as it was going to add a good few kms to our journey and we had to skip on something. But we've heard really good things about the town and it's definitely on our list for next time. It's possible to visit Berat as a day trip from Tirana.
9. See the Flat Stone Roofs of the Gijrokaster Old Town
This is a UNESCO world heritage site and is an adorable little town. The old town dates back to around the 17th century and is known for its stone buildings. Even the roofs are impressively made from layers of flat stone. The castle has amazing views of the town and landscape beyond. There are also a bunch of cute cafes and restaurants in the streets of the old town.
10. Soak in the Benja Hot Springs
We came across these by accident and wow was it a great find! Around 6km up a winding road from the small town of Permet, you get to a river with an ancient bridge and some (man made) pools formed by layers of stones. The water is a pleasantly warm temperature and is heated by the geothermal activity beneath the ground. The smell in the area is not so appealing and is caused by the sulphur in the earth. But you quickly get used to it as you bathe with fantastic views. It's 200L ( around €1.50) for 2 people and car parking. You can also camp at the thermal pools overnight.
11. Experience the views and small villages while driving through the country
Albania is an amazing place for road tripping. The roads vary a lot and there are often potholes, one lane roads and a variety of animals and farm machinery on the roads. So don't plan on getting anywhere in a hurry. But if you have the time you'll find yourself driving past some very impressive views and being stared at by local farmers and children as they go about their daily business.
12. Eat Burek (for breakfast, lunch and dinner)
This wonder-food is available all through the Balkans (in varying shapes) and pretty much became a staple of our daily diet in the 3 months we were there. It's basically pastry filled with with meat, cheese or spinach. Simple, delicious and cheap (around 70c). You'll find it in bakeries all over Albania.
13. Swim in Crystal Clear Waters
We had heard the beaches of Albania were nice but didn't really know what to expect. But just...wow! I don't think I've ever seen water so clear and I've been to Fiji, Cuba and the Greek Islands. You can't look at this water without wanting to dive straight in. So that's what we did everyday!
14. Eat at Least Ten Different Types of Trilece
We were actually introduced to this dessert in Montenegro but are lead to believe it's an Albania speciality. Basically a light, spongy cake soaked in milk or cream and topped with a layer of caramel. Every restaurant, bakery and Albanian grandmother has their own recipe for the milk mixture and the caramel to cake ratio so make sure you try a few!
*This is the only time one stayed around long enough to be photographed. It's not the most photogenic dessert but it tastes really great!
15. Eat Some Delicious, Fresh Seafood at Really Cheap Prices
Yip, coast means there's fish and Albania means it's cheap! We ate at a variety of restaurants along the coast and every time the seafood was fresh and delicious. An average meal was around €5-10 including a drink and a side dish.
16. Visit the First School in Albania in the City of Korce
Korce was a forced stop for us on the way to Macedonia but we ended up really loving it. There's enough attractions to keep you busy for a couple of days and there are lots of great places to eat. One of the more interesting attractions was Albania's first school which is now The National Education Museum. Being a teacher this obviously appealed to me. It was first opened in 1878 and aimed to teach both boys and girls the Albanian language.
17. See the View over Korce from a Random Tower
Also in Korce is a very random looking tower at the end of the pedestrian street. It costs 50L to take to elevator to the top and enjoy the city views, so we thought why not? The views are really nice. As far as we can tell it's just a tourist attraction and holds no other significance.
18. Spot the Bunkers
A trip to Albania would not be complete without learning something about it's past. BUNK'ART is a great way to do this and to be introduced to the bunkers of Albania. They are everywhere! Dictator Enver Hoxha built over 170,000 bunkers throughout the country in case of an attack. So everywhere you go, look out for them. Some are accommodation or cafes, some have been decorates and some are home to hundreds of goats like the one above!
19. Take a Ferry on the Komani Lake
This beautiful trip is a must if you're in the Shkoder area. We did it as a return trip after hiking Theth to Valbona. The views were really stunning and it made a much more leg-friendly alternative to doing the hike back the next day!
20. Visit one of the Blue Eyes
These are natural water springs which produce some of the cleanest (and coldest) water we've seen. The more well known one is between Sarande and Gijrokaster. There is a second one about 2.5 hours hike or a 30 minute 4WD taxi drive from Theth. We preferred the second one (pictured) as it was harder to get so there were less people. The surroundings were also more beautiful.
As you can see, Albania is packed with amazing things to do and most of them are freeeee! (or really cheap). September was the perfect time to visit Albania as the weather was still amazing (27-32°C) and there are very few tourists left at the beaches.
We had our van and would definitely recommend hiring a car for your adventure as there is so much to see in between the cities and you have a lot more flexibility. We also heard mediocre reviews of the regularity and reliability of public transport in Albania. We've heard hitchhiking in Albania is easy and common.
So what are you waiting for? Get planning your trip to Albania!