Discover Albania: A Safe, Affordable Dream Destination Awaits You!

Albania, a hidden gem in Europe, offers a rich history, stunning landscapes, and a welcoming culture. From bustling cities to quiet villages, there is something for everyone. After spending three weeks traveling throughout Albania, I found it a great place to visit.

Most tourists miss visiting Albania, which is hidden away. It is home to three UNESCO Heritage sites, two of which I visited. Albania is also home to over 170,000 bunkers. Built by a paranoid leader, they dot the countryside, and a few are now open to the public and worth visiting.

Entrance To Underground Albanian Bunker, Now a Museum Called " Bunk'Art2"

It has the last free-flowing river in Europe. When the winter snow melts, the water cascades down the mountains into a river. The turquoise-green water takes your breath away when you see it flowing in the sunlight.

Albania is a country of mountains and seashores. The beauty of the landscape will fill your eyes with scenes of valleys, peaks, and sandy beaches. One couple I talked to rented a car and said they stopped every twenty minutes to take pictures of the stunning countryside.

Here’s a guide to help you explore the best of Albania.

Where Is Albania on a Map?

Albania is located in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. It borders Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, North Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south. The Adriatic Sea flanks the western side of Albania, while the Ionian Sea touches the southwest. Its location makes it an excellent destination for cultural exploration and beach vacations.

Is Albania Safe?

Yes, Albania is generally considered safe for travelers. The crime rate is low, and violent crime is rare. As with any travel destination, it’s always wise to stay aware of your surroundings, keep an eye on your belongings, and follow local advice.

During my three weeks in Albania, I found Albanians helpful. Even though I didn’t speak the language, the locals went out of their way to help me find the places I was looking for. I rode buses and taxis and even took a ride with a package delivery driver with no problems at all.

Albania Visa Requirements for an American Citizen

For American citizens, entering Albania is straightforward. You do not need a visa for stays of up to one year. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned stay. Upon arrival, you might be asked to show proof of onward travel or accommodation arrangements, but I have never been asked for this information during my two visits.

Is Albania a Cheap Place to Travel To?

Yes, Albania is one of the most affordable travel destinations in Europe. Accommodation, food, and transportation are all budget-friendly. You can enjoy delicious meals for a fraction of the cost in Western Europe. Public transport is also very cheap, making it easy to explore the country without breaking the bank.

Buses run throughout Albania, making it easy and cost-effective to see the country. I traveled to five cities, and bus rides were at most four hours. Most bus companies in Albania do not have online stores, so you must visit the local bus stations to buy tickets for bus transportation in most of Albania.

Outside of Tirana, you will have to pay cash for most everything. That’s because, in the smaller cities, they don’t take credit cards. So meals, groceries, and buses require cash. Read More About Budgeting Basics.

Albania's Past Lives With The Present. A Man Delivers Goods Down The Streets of Berat On His Horse Drawn Carriage.

What is Albania like?

Albania was closed off from the rest of the world until about thirty-five years ago. Now, it is ripe for tourists looking for a country untouched by tourist traps and rip-off artists.

The common thought of travelers I spoke to was that visiting Albania was like going back in time. Roadside fruit and vegetable markets dot the picturesque countryside, which is still home to sheepherders, roaming cows, and horse-drawn carriages.

Let’s Begin Our Journey in Tirana.

Tirana, Albania’s capital, is a vibrant city mixed with old and new. It’s the country’s cultural, economic, and political center. When you arrive in the city center, you will notice the post-communist era building boom that has changed the face of Tirana.

Things to Do in Tirana

Skanderbeg Square is the heart of Tirana, surrounded by important buildings like the National History Museum, Et’hem Bey Mosque, the old clock tower, and the Opera House. I saw a symphony performance at the Opera House on my last trip. Tickets cost about $10, and the concert was an excellent way to spend the evening.

On sunny days, the square is alive with performing musicians and people enjoying lunch or relaxing. Vendors dot the outskirts of the square if you need a drink, ice cream, or a quick snack. And remember to visit the sprawling outdoor market on weekends during the summer.

Bunk’Art 2

A former nuclear bunker now turned into a museum offers a rare glimpse into Albania’s communist past. Located in the city center, right next to Skanderberg Square, the bunker was designed for use by leaders in case of attack. Walking through the underground shelter, you see it just as it was initially intended, complete with intact electric, ventilation, and phone systems.

Bunk Art 1

Located outside the city center, this enormous underground shelter remained hidden from residents until the fall of the communist regime in the early 1990s. It has a theater, meeting rooms, a grocery store, and school rooms. It’s like visiting a small town.

Mount Dajti

Take a cable car ride up the mountain for panoramic views of Tirana. Although there is not much to do when you reach the top, the ride is relaxing, and you get a great view of Tirana. Combined with Bunk’Art, it makes for an exciting day away from the city center.

Take the Free Walking Tour

Get a guided tour around Tirana with an expert guide. These tours are tip-based, so you pay what you think it’s worth at the end of the tour. You will see the local landmarks, such as the Tirana Pyramid. And you can get information about buses and restaurants from a local.

Skanderberg Square Tirana. Pedestrians Cross The Square in The Center of Town.

House of Leaves

House of Leaves is an unusual museum about the government spying on its citizens. It is complete with cameras, listening devices, and copies of court papers from people convicted of civil disobedience. 

Durres Albania

Durres is one of Albania’s oldest cities, known for its rich history and beautiful beaches. Located on the Adriatic coast, it is just a short drive or bus ride from the capital, Tirana. Many people go to Durres as a day trip, but you find things to do to fill a few days, especially in summer.

Things to Do in Durres

Durres Amphitheatre and Durres Castle are located within walking distance of each other. You can explore the remnants of the Byzantine walls and the Venetian tower. The ancient Roman theater is one of the largest in the Balkans. You can stroll through the seating area and walk the same steps people did thousands of years ago.

Durres Beach

The beach is perfect for relaxing, sunbathing, and swimming. It is lined with cafes and restaurants, and the sunsets are memorable.

Durres Archaeological Museum offers a fascinating look into the city’s ancient past.

Berat Albania

Berat, also known as the “City of a Thousand Windows,” is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s famous for its Ottoman-style houses that climb up the hillside. This is one of my favorite cities in Albania.

This quaint city is off the beaten path and worth the trip. The city’s center has a pedestrian walkway lined with cafes, restaurants, and little shops on one side. On the opposite side, older men circle tables, playing chess and dominoes in a park.

On sunny summer days, the town is filled with children playing and locals gathering and talking. The Osum River flows through the town center, so you can walk around and enjoy this beautiful and picturesque town.

Things to Do in Berat

Berat Castle is an ancient fortress that offers stunning views of the city, the surrounding farmlands, and the Osum River. Filled with houses, residents live inside the ancient walls year-round. You can easily spend three hours touring the Castle and still feel there’s more to see and enjoy. Plus, you’ll experience the wonders of old churches, friendly restaurants, and smiling street vendors.

Outdoor Activities

Although I was here at the beginning of spring, the city offers kayaking, hiking, and camping tours. Albania is covered with mountains and areas still untarnished by an influx of tourists. Berat is a beautiful place to base your adventures if you’re in good shape and want to spend time in pristine nature.

Gorica and Mangalem Quarters

Wander through these historic neighborhoods with their charming cobblestone streets and unique architecture. Visit the Ethnographic Museum and learn about the traditional life in Berat, as well as see exhibits on local culture and crafts.

Onufri Museum is located in a beautiful church that showcases religious icons and artifacts.

Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster is another UNESCO World Heritage site known for its well-preserved Ottoman architecture and stone houses. It’s another little gem I’m glad I discovered. The city center is situated on a mountain top, like walking through a museum. Fabulous restaurants and pastry shops line the old cobblestone streets.

UNESCO Heritage Site Old Town Gjirokaster Around Dusk.

Things to Do in Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster Castle

Explore this imposing fortress and enjoy breathtaking views of the Drina Valley. During the summer, events are held in an open area of the Castle, along with various rooms from the Middle Ages. The Castle once housed political prisoners in small, dark stone cells.

These prisoners built a hidden bunker under the Castle that is open for touring. Like many other large bunkers in Albania, the citizens were unaware that the bunker existed before the fall of communism. But when they did, local residents ransacked almost all the original belongings when they discovered the bunker in the early nineties.

Bridge of Ali Pasha is a friendly walk just outside the city. The climb through the city streets to mountain paths that lead to an 19th century bridge across a quiet valley.

The Old Bazaar, where you can wander through this historic market area with its traditional shops and cafes.

Skenduli House and Zekate House are beautiful examples of Gjirokaster’s unique architecture, offering insights into the life of Ottoman-era homes.

Sarande Albania

Sarande is a coastal town known for its stunning beaches and proximity to the Greek island of Corfu. It’s a popular summer destination: the natural curved bay and the coast offer relaxing views and unforgettable sunsets. I only spent a quick two days here, but I hope to enjoy more time here in the future.

The waterfront offers cafes, restaurants, and ice cream shops with beautiful views of the coast and Corfu. It is also one of the few cities outside of Tirana where you will find restaurants and grocery stores that take credit cards.

Sunset Over The Adriatic in Sarande, Albania.

Things to Do in Sarande

Butrint National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site with ancient ruins in a beautiful natural environment. It is just a short bus ride from Seraande, meaning you can spend a relaxing morning walking through the ancient site for less than a dollar. Along the way, you will enjoy seeing the beaches that Sarande is famous for.

Ksamil Beaches are just a short drive from Sarande and offer turquoise water and white sand beaches.

During my three weeks exploring Albania, I discovered that the country offers a mix of history, culture, and natural beauty. Whether you decide to stroll through ancient ruins, relax on a pristine beach, or enjoy local cuisine, there’s always something to discover.

I highly recommend traveling through Albania as one of the undiscovered gems of Europe. Just get here before the average tourist finds out and overruns the country.

Till next time, enjoy life’s journey.

Joseph O’Brien

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