The Best 10 Places to Visit in Croatia

Croatia has one of the most beautiful coastlines I’ve ever seen. If that wasn’t enough to tempt you, then the stunning National Parks and ancient cities full of history surely are.

Here are the best 10 places to visit throughout Croatia

 

1. Plitvice Lakes

This National Park contains some of the most beautiful natural scenery I’ve ever beheld. The water is crystal clear, incredibly green and woven with wooden paths to explore the network of lakes.

For more photos and information on visiting the lakes as an independent day tour, see this post.

Emerald green color of Plitvice Lakes

Tourists walking across duckboards at Plitvice Lakes

 

2. Dubrovnik

Famed as the set of King’s Landing from Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik has an amazing yet touristy old town. To walk the length of the town walls you’ll need to fork out around 30€. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones or of enchanting old towns, then the high ticket price is worth it. Otherwise I’d recommend exploring the less busy parts of the town.

A (free) highlight for me was finding a small gate in the southern wall of the city near Svetog Petra. This led a rocky area outside the city walls with stunning views of the bay below and towers of the wall. You can grab a drink at the cliff-side bar or clamber onto the rocky cliff and watch the sun set with you own drinks. 

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A bar nestles into the cliff of Dubrovnik's Old Town

 

3. Korcula

Known as ‘mini Dubrovnik’ the old town of this island truly did feel like a smaller, quieter version of Dubrovnik. The beaches are also stunning and you can take water taxis to other nearby islands.

Crystal clear water of one of Korcula's beachesA boat bobs in a clear blue bay of the island of Korcula

 

 

4. Vis

Vis is the oldest town in Croatia, dating back to the 4th century BC. While not much remains of that period, the island is a beautiful and peaceful break from busier islands and the mainland.

There are two main towns; Vis town and Komiza, both with a relaxed feel and a charming combination of beautiful old buildings and crystal clear water. The island is also dotted with local vineyards, open for tastings and lunch. Hire a pushbike, car or boat to explore.

A church across the water on the island of Vis at sunset

 

 

5. Split

With the perfect mix of authentic local atmosphere, interesting old town, local beaches and great day trips options, Split was one of my favorite places in Croatia.

The heart of the tourist area is the beautiful waterfront promenade, lined with restaurants and leading into an ancient underground bazaar- full of local art, crafts and trinkets.

The old town of Split at night

 

 

6. Zagreb

Croatia’s capital is full of beautiful gardens, interesting museums (don’t miss the Museum of Broken Relationships) and much local history and culture to soak up. For the best places to explore Zagreb, see this post.

Vines climb the stone walls of Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb

 

7. Pula

Famous for the ancient Roman amphitheater and ruins, Pula also has a great camping ground and beautiful poppy-lined beaches. For activities on offer in Pula, see this post.

Ancient Roman ruins in Pula

Red poppies line the foreshore of a rocky beach in Pula

 

8. Rovinj

An extremely picturesque town on the north coast of Croatia, Rovinj is also unfortunately quite expensive. I recommend staying in nearby Pula and visiting for the day.

Stone cobbled ancient streets of Rovinj

 

9. Krka National Park

An easy day tour from Split, this National Park is a must-visit for any nature lover. I found it a tiny bit less enchanting than Plitvice, but the upside is that you can swim in the lower lake.

Emerald green lakes and waterfalls of Krka National Park

 

10. Hvar

This was simultaneously the biggest ‘party island’ and the most upmarket habour I visited in Croatia. There are some nice beaches a 30 minute walk from the main port as well as plenty of boat trips on offer.

Busy Hvar beach wit clear green water and rocky edges

The 5 Best Things To do in Montenegro

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Montenegro is famed for it’s abundant rugged mountains, beautiful coastline and historic cities. If you are a lover of the outdoors then this place is for you! The country is also a wonderful destination for solo (female) travellers, as it is both budget friendly and boasts friendly, hospitable locals.

Here are 5 activities you shouldn’t miss in Montenegro

1. Explore Kotor Bay and Old Town

Possibly the most famous region of Montenegro is Kotor Bay. Formed by a fjord, this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage listed bay is naturally divided into four smaller areas; Herceg Novi, Risan, Kotor and Tivat. 

Well positioned for trade, the Old Town of Kotor became the cultural center of the bay and is now the most popular tourist town. It can be extremely busy and hot in summer, so visiting in shoulder season is more enjoyable.

Another highlight in the bay is Perast, a stone town with views of two beautiful islets; Our Lady of the Rocks and St. Gorge. You can reach these islands by frequent water taxi for 5 euro.

Lady of the Rocks
Lady of the Rocks
Kotor Bay
Overlooking Kotor Bay and Old Town
Perast Old Town
Perast Old Town

2. Climb Above Cetinje to St. Peter’s Mausoleum

Cetinje is the old royal capital of Montenegro and is a beautiful and peaceful place to explore in itself. There are several great value restaurants serving delicious local dishes- just look for where the locals are eating.

The main draw card of the area are the stunning views of Lovcen National Park from high above the city. To get there you’ll need to drive or hire a taxi to take you up the winding road to St Peter’s Mausoleum. I’ve written another post, here, with specific details and the cost involved.

View from St Peter's Mausoleum
The view from St. Peter’s Mausoleum

View out an archway

3. Walk over Tara Bridge and Raft the Canyon Below

Falling 1,300 meters at it’s lowest point, Tara Canyon is the deepest canyon in Europe. The clear turquoise water of the canyon also makes for a beautiful place to try white water rafting. Canyoning and zip line rides are also on offer in the area.

Aside from adventure activities, Tara is a popular tourist destination due to the impressive structure of Tara Bridge. Perched 170 meters above the river, the 365 meter-long structure is both beautiful and imposing.

White Water Rafting along Tara River
White Water Rafting along Tara River
Zip line in Tara
One of the Zip lines at Tara
Tara Bridge
Tara Bridge towering over the canyon

4. Hike and Swim at Biogradska Gora

One of the last three primeval forests in Europe, Biogradska Gora National Park is a rare treasure. It’s also a lot quieter than nearby Durmitor National Park. The train from Bar to Belgrade stops at nearby Mojkovac, making the area accessible even without a car.

You can stroll through the beautiful trees and boat or swim in the central lake. Have a look here for more information.

Biogradska Gora Lake
Biogradska Gora Lake
Boat at Biogradska Gora
Biogradska Gora Lake

5. Relax on the Montenegrin Riviera

Fondly dubbed the Riviera of Montenegro, the coastal region of the country is indeed stunning and relaxing. There are three main touristic towns along the coast, each offering a slightly different experience. Below you can see some highlights from Budva, Bar and Ulcinj.

Montenegro Riviera
Montenegro’s coast is full of beautiful beaches
Budva
Budva at sunset
Waterfall above Bar
The waterfall above Bar
Ulcinj Old Town
Ulcinj Old Town

Budva

By far the most popular resort town on the coast, Budva is full of hotels, beach side bars and sundeck chairs. It can be overwhelming in summer but in the shoulder season it’s just quiet enough.

Budva Old Town is a short stroll from the beach and at over two and a half thousand years old, it’s famous for being the Old Town of Illyria. However, these days I found most shops and cafes inside to be exceedingly touristic and over-priced.

Bar

The next town along the coast is Bar. One of the main highlights is the rubble strewn old town which spans many civilisations. At 4km up hill from the coast, it’s quite a hike, but local buses and taxis frequently visit the old town and are quite cheap.

A further 40 minute hike up the hill will reward you with a small waterfall tumbling into a deep swimming hole. This spot is well known by locals but not by tourists, so it’s refreshingly cool waters are often empty. Find the trail to the waterfall on the Maps.me app.

Ulcinj

Just before the border with Albania you’ll find Ulcinj a large town with many lovely beaches and a quiet inviting old town. The best beaches are small rocky coves on the north side of the old town.

Ulcinj is much less touristy than the other coastal towns, providing a welcome respite from summer crowds. In the old town you’ll find good value seafood restaurants and bars over looking the water with perfect views of the sunset.

 

So how much should you budget for a trip to Montenegro? Have a look at this post for a detailed guide.

 

 

 

Travel Budget: Montenegro

Montenegro is incredibly beautiful- from the mountainous national parks, to the rocky coast and historic old towns, there is no shortage of variety of sights to see and activities to enjoy. The country is also a much cheaper and less touristy option than neighbouring Croatia.

Here is a breakdown of what I spent during two weeks in Montenegro.

Towns: Podgorica,  Mojkovac, Tara, Bar, Ulcinj, Budva, Kotor Bay

Travel Style: Budget

Currency: Euro

Duration: 16 nights

Season: End of Summer (August & September)

Total Spend: 720€

Daily Spend: 45€

Biogradska Gora-6

 

Accommodation:

 167€ for 16 nights

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  • 8 nights in a shared hostel dorm, averaging 10€ per night
  • 5 nights camping at 5€ per night
  • 4 nights in an AirBnB at 30€ per night split by two

 

Transport:

160€ for 16 days

Biogradska Gora-40

  • Short or shared taxi trips averaging 4€ a ride
  • Local buses, averaging 3€ a trip
  • Car hire for five days 200€ split by two (quite a high rate due to lack of credit card incurring high insurance fee)

Food & Drink:

240€ for 16 days

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Sunset seafood dinner

I spent 145€ eating out, 65€ on groceries and 30€ on alcohol.

While local ‘fast food’ can be a cheap option, it’s not very healthy and you’ll likely tire of if after a week or so. Fresh vegetables and supermarket food is relatively cheap, so if you have access to a kitchen and are looking to save money (whilst maintaining a balanced diet) this is probably the best option.

A traditional fast food staple is burek- a huge fried pastry stuffed with meat, cheese or spinach. This is often served with yogurt and the local way is to have a mouthful of burek then a sip of yogurt and mix the flavours in your mouth.

By the coast seafood is fresh and delicious and relatively cheap compared to elsewhere in Europe- around 12€ for dinner at a good value touristic place.

  • Breakfast: burek at local places should cost less than 1€. Coffee is around 1-2€
  • Lunch: a salad roll or another pastry and a drink will set you back less than 5€
  • Dinner: you can find some great local restaurants away from the tourist areas serving local dises for under 10€ with wine. My favourite was a whole fish served with local vegetables.
  • Drinks: less that 2€ to buy a large can of beer from the supermarket ,about double for a bottle of wine. 4-5€ for beer or wine in a restaurant. Cocktails are around 5-10€.

Activities

153€ for 16 days

Rafting Above
The view from Tara Bridge
Rafting
Rafting Tara Canyon
  • Cetinj National Park Entrance and St. Paul’s Mausoleum: 2€ + 5€
  • Biogradska Gora National Park Entrance: 2€
  • White Water Rafting down Tara Canyon: 110€
  • Zip Line over Tara Canyon: 20€
  • Entrance to Bar Old Town: 2€
  • Boat trip in Ulcinj through Pirate Hostel: 12€

Total spent:    720€ / 16 nights = 45€ per day

Travel Budget: Albania

Gjirokaster Castle
The old castle in Gjirokaster

If you’re planning on heading to one of the coastal countries in the Balkans, then Albania is definitely the cheapest when compared to Montenegro and Croatia! Hostels are about a third of the price of those in Croatia and the food is equally cheap- and delicious.

Here’s a breakdown of what I spent over two weeks exploring Albania solo.

Towns Visited: Shkodër, Valbone, Theth, Himare, Sarandë, Gjirokastër, Tirana

Travel Style: Budget

Currency: Albanian Lek (Euro also widely accepted)

Duration: 17 nights

Season: End of Summer (September)

Total Spend: 544€

Daily Spend: 32€

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Enjoying the southern coast of Albania

Accommodation: 

241€ for 17 nights

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One of the guesthouses I stayed at in Theth
  • 11 nights in a shared hostel dorm, averaging 9.5€ per night, the cheapest being 7.5€ per night including a large breakfast (Shkoder)
  • 2 nights in a private room at a hostel for 21€ per night
  • 2 nights in a shared room in guesthouses in Valbone (20€) and Theth (23€) including all meals
  • 2 nights in a (very nice) private AirBnB in Tirana at 27€ per night

Transport:

83€ for 17 days

Bicycles in Tirana
Getting around by bicycle is a favourite choice for locals
  • Local buses: around 2€ per hour. For example, 10€ for the 5 hour trip from Tirana to Himare. In total I spent 70€ on local buses which enabled me to see the majority of the main towns and sites in the country.
  • Boat: 7€ for the Koman ferry as part of the trip from Shkoder to Valbone
  • Bicycle hire: 3€ for the day, I hired a bike for two days to explore around Shkoder

Food & Drink: 

150€ food, 25€ alcohol for 17 days

Local Breakfast
Breakfast at guesthouses usually consists of small traditional pancakes, home made butter, jam, honey, fresh milk and strong coffee

Carbs feature heavily in the Albanian diet, as does cheese- mainly a strong form of feta. Salads are also abundant and mainly consist of cucumber, tomatoes and cheese. As these ingredients are all produced locally, the salads are delicious and fresh. There’s a strong Italian influence throughout, with pizza, pasta and gelato available everywhere, while close to the Greek border calamari and gyrus are common and delicious. Strong Balkan coffee is served everywhere.

Over the course of 17 days I spent 25€ on groceries, 125€ eating out and 25€ on alcoholic drinks.

  • Breakfast: everywhere I stayed breakfast was included the hostel or guesthouse rate
  • Coffee: 1.5€ for strong Balkan coffee, 2€ for an interpretation of cappuccino
  • Lunch: Panini and smoothie at a nice cafe will set you back around 4€
  • Beer: Very cheap. Around 0.8€ at supermarkets and 2€ at restaurants
  • Dinner: At local ‘fast food’ places you can get a filling, tasty kebab for 1-2€. In most towns dinner at a nice traditional restaurant with a selection of local specialties, a glass of wine and Raikia (local spirit) will set you back around 10€ (for everything). Near the Greek border you can get amazing seafood dinners for 5-10€ at local restaurants.

Activities:

45€ over 17 days

  • 15€ for a 4 hour boat trip along the coast from Himare
  • 8€ for a double deck chair at the beach with a large sun umbrella
  • 2-3€ entry fee for most attractions

 

Total spent:   544€ / 17 nights = 32€ per day

Top 5 Things To Do In Albania

Albania was full of surprises for me. I hadn’t really planned an itinerary and had heard mixed reviews about how easy it would be to travel through the country. It turned out to be very straightforward to get around by public transport, and I found the country to be a wonderful mix of mountain hikes, stone cities, beaches, Roman ruins and incredibly cool cafes and bars.

Here are the highlights from my 5 favouite places I visited.

1. Hike from Valbone to Theth & Visit the Blue Eye

This 6-8 hour trek takes you through stunning mountain scenery to arrive in the beautiful Theth Valley. Once you reach Theth the Blue Eye is another highlight. But possibly my favourite thing about visiting Theth was staying with local families at guest houses. You can read more about how to get to Theth and do the trek here.

2. Bicycle Around Shkodër

Pleasantly reminiscent of colonial Italian architecture and atmosphere, this relaxed town is both near the border with Montenegro and Albania’s capital Tirana. This makes Shkodër the perfect place to either start your journey in Albania or relax after the hike in Theth. A great way to see the surrounds (including the hilltop castle and lakeside villages) is to hire a bicycle for the day. Read more about Shkodër here.

3. Enjoy the Cafe Scene in Tirana

With a population of one million, the capital of Albania holds a third of the country’s residents. There is no official “downtown” yet, with much development going on in the city. However the large open Skanderbeg Square is the cultural heart of the city and is bordered by the National Library, National Opera and National Historic Museum, among other important buildings.

The famous free walking tour leaves from the steps of the opera every day at 10am and 6pm and is a great activity to learn about the city and history of Albania.

The district of Blloku was previously an area only accessible to the elite during communist times. Now, it’s a trendy restaurant, bar and cafe area with a bunch of great eateries and shops. AirBnBs are also incredibly good value in the area and I’d recommend staying here.

4. Beach Hop Along the Southern Coast

The far south of Albania is touted as the best coastline in the country- start at Himare and work your way down to Sarande. As a lot of the best beaches are not easily accessible by public transport or walking, either hire a car and stop along the coast (you’ll still need to do a fair bit of walking down and up cliff paths), or take a boat trip for the day. Unfortunately there is quite a lot of rubbish along the coastline, and you will rarely find a beach with no one on it.

Just past Sarande are the ancient ruins of Butrint, a settlement that dates back to the 8th century BC. Over the millennia the city has been ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans, providing a fascinating window to the past.

5. Relax in the Stone City of Gjirokaster

The old town of Gjirokaster is UNESCO heritage listed, mainly due to several well preserved Ottoman houses. There’s also a large fortress to explore- where a national folklore festival is held every five years. I loved the relaxed atmosphere of the town and found it the perfect place to take a break from travel for a few days. I’d highly recommend staying at Stone City Hostel, where the owner Walter is so renowned as a great host that he’s mentioned by name in the Lonely Planet guide.

How to Hike Albania’s Stunning Theth Valley Independently

One of the biggest highlights from my recent trip to Albania was hiking through the Theth Valley- between two small towns in Albania’s far north; Valbone and Theth. While it does take some effort and many travel hours to get to the location of the hike, it’s incredibly worth it, both for the natural beauty and the experience of staying with local families.

In this post I share my experience on traveling to the Theth Valley as a solo female traveller. I’ve listed 7 steps on how to get to and do the walk, followed by some of my photos from the trip.

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1. Start at Shkodër

This is the easiest jumping off point to head to the mountains. I’d recommend staying for a night or two to as there is quite a bit explore in and around Shkodër- see this post for ideas. I stayed at the Wanderers Hostel which had a great atmosphere and the hosts helped organise my transport to the mountains.

Evening river-1

2. Get to Valbone

The trip to Valbone includes a 2 hour bumpy mini bus, a three hour stunning ferry ride, followed by another shorter, less bumpy bus ride on the other end.

The Wanderers Hostel can organise tickets for a mini bus to pick you up bright and early in the morning (6.30am) from the hostel, take you to the ferry and have a mini bus waiting at the other end to take you to a guesthouse in Valbone. For all three tickets it was 23€ (8€ for each bus ride and 7€ for the ferry).

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3. Stay at a guesthouse in Valbone

The hostel also organised accommodation at the Arben Selinaj Guesthouse, a lovely home run by friendly locals, perched above a crystal clear stream. For 20€ a night you get a comfortable bed in a shared room and four home cooked meals; lunch when you arrive, dinner, breakfast and packed lunch for the walk. In summer each meal is served at a large outdoor table under the shade of a tree, with around 15 other travellers to share the meal with. It was one of the most relaxing experiences I had on my trip.  The lack of WiFi might also have contributed to the relaxation!

If you don’t book ahead there are also several other options for guesthouses in Valbone. Just take a minibus from where the port docks and walk through the town asking locals with guesthouse signs out the front of their houses.

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4. Walk from Valbone to Theth

The next morning you have the option of rising early to start the hike or spending another day at the guesthouse, swimming in the stream and exploring some small day walks around Valbone.

When you do head off for the hike it’s definitely a good idea to start early in the morning as the first few hours are in direct sunlight without much shade. After breakfast the guesthouse host will drive walkers down the road 5km to the start of the trail.

It’s then around a 12km walk to Theth, but with quite a high elevation of 1,000m. It took me and two other travellers around 6 hours, including a stop at the summit for lunch, a long break for coffee at a cafe on the way down and numerous other small water and photo breaks. We were all relatively fit and experienced walkers, so it can take several hours more if you are not so experienced. Definitely wear good walking shoes for the trek- especially on the way down there is a lot of loose gravel and it can be easy to slip.

The path is relatively well signed with white and red painted marks along the way. In peak season there are many others walkers heading in both directions and a few guesthouses and cafes on the way.  I recommend downloading Maps.me as the trail is well marked and GPS tracking is available offline.

5. Visit the Blue Eye

Once you arrive in Theth you’ll find a small, somewhat sprawling village. There are also several day walks and attractions in the area- my favourite being the trek to Blue Eye.

This incredibly blue waterhole is one of the most stunning swimming spots I’ve seen. It’s a 3 hour walk one way from Theth village but if you’re lucky as we were some fellow travellers may offer you a lift. Otherwise buses or taxis can take you for around 10€ one way. The final kilometer or so must be walked. After an icy dip in the pool you can have coffee or food at the restaurant perched above the waterhole.

I loved the place so much that I asked the restaurant owner if there was a guesthouse nearby and was overjoyed when they said we could stay in their home, a 10 minute walk further up the valley.

The next morning we swam at the Blue Eye with no one else around- it was the perfect end to my stay in Theth.

6. Stay in Theth

There are several options for guest houses in Theth, most being slightly more expensive that Valbone at around 30€ including two meals, although I did see some cheaper ones at around 15€ with breakfast.

As I mentioned above, after falling in love with the Blue Eye I ended up staying the night at the guesthouse above the waterhole. A further 10 minute hike, it had a perfect local feeling to it. For a a bed in a shared room with up to four others and a wholesome dinner and breakfast, expect to pay around 23€.

The next morning we got to see the mother of the family making bread on their fireplace in the living room, the father making Rakia (traditional Balkan brandy often made from plums) and the neighbour collecting honey from his bees. While there was no hot water or wifi (or maybe because there wasn’t) staying with this local family was my favourite part of my whole visit to Albania.

7. Take a minivan back to Shkodër

The next day we walked half the way and caught a ride with the local minibus half the way, back to the main village of Theth. Here the bus to Shkodër leaves from the main restaurant– ask a local if you are unsure of the location. A ticket is 10€ pp and there are usually two trips a day, one in the morning and again at around 1pm. Again, for more up to date times ask one of the locals- they are incredibly helpful.

 

Below are some more photos from the trip. I hope you enjoyed this post and it gives you some inspiration to travel to the north of Albania!

 

Walk-6

Walk-18

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Walk-1

Theth Morning-13

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Exploring Shkodër, Albania

Nestled in the southern corner of Lake Skadar, just across the border from Montenegro, you’ll find the small city of Shkodër. With a lingering Italian colonial feel and relaxed pace, the town is a welcome break from nearby cities. Much of the town center is solely for pedestrian and push bike use- earning Shkodër the nickname of City of Bicycles. At night, the wide paved streets come alive with al fresco dining, street stalls and rooftop bars.

Here’s what I loved most about Shkodër

Town-1

Rozafa Castle

Perched high above the river, fortifications on the hill date back to Illyrian days, over two thousand years ago. However, much of what remains of the castle today is from the Venetian period. It’s is a short bike ride from the center and you can leave your bike at the bottom of the hill and climb the rest of the way on foot. Entrance is 2€ and it’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset as you have 360° views of the river, lake and towns below.

Ride along Lake Skadar

Renting a push bike for the day only costs a few euro and it’s the perfect way to see more of the lake area. From the town center head down towards the castle then across the Bojana river and along the bank of the lake- there’s a walking/riding track most of the way. There are several small villages to stop at for coffee, lunch and beautiful views.

Head North and Hike in the Theth Valley

Shkodër is the jumping off point for the amazing hike from Valbone to Theth. The views in this full day hike are incredible and it was hands down my favorite experience in Albania. I’ll have a separate with details about the hike over the coming days.

Getting There

From Montenegro it is relatively quick and easy to take a bus from either Bar or Podgorica. The longest aspect can often be the border crossing, but outside peak tourist season this should only take around 30 minutes. From Bar the fare is 6€ and the journey takes around two hours.

From elsewhere in Albania, especially Tirana, there are very frequent minibuses. The trip to Tirana takes around two hours and costs 2.5€.

For timetables ask at local bus stations, information booths or hostels. Tickets often can’t  be bought in person before departure. Some longer trips can be bought online but be aware that you’re often required to print the ticket for it to be valid. I only ever bought my tickets on the buses and never had a problem with tickets selling out- Albanias seem to find ways to squeeze everyone in.

Where to Stay

I really recommend The Wanders Hostel, there was a great atmosphere, amazing staff and unbeatable rates (7.5€ including a huge breakfast). They rent push bikes, provide a plethora of information about activities in the area and organise the transport and first night of accommodation for the trek to Theth. There are many other good value hostels in the town.

Evening river-1.jpg

Have you been to Shkodër?

Should You Travel to Albania?

I recently spent two weeks exploring Albania as part of a larger trip through the Balkans. In this post I’m sharing some aspects of my trip and whether I’d recommend it as a travel destination- especially for solo female travelers.

Theth Morning-13

I recently spent two weeks exploring Albania as part of a larger trip through the Balkans. In this post I’m sharing some aspects of my trip and whether I’d recommend it as a travel destination- especially for solo female travelers.

Albania was the main reason I chose to come to the Balkans, as I’d heard from a friend that it was like Croatia twenty years ago- a hidden gem with a beautiful coastline, great hikes and incredibly hospitable people. So I had high expectations.

Below is an overview of my thoughts about the country, specifically touching on safety, transport, cost of living and what I liked and didn’t about the scenery. In subsequent posts I’ll share more detailed information about costs, including exactly how much I spent over two weeks, as well as and my favorite five places in the country- and how to get to them.

Mountains, Trekking and Inland Areas

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Hiking through the Theth Valley
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The Blue Eye at Theth

By far my favourite aspect of Albania was the mountains and the hiking. Not really knowing what to expect, I was blown away by Theth Valley in the north east of Albania.  I did a six hour hike from Valbona to the small town of Theth, with stunning scenery every step of the way. Once I got to Theth, the crystal clear turquoise water of the Blue Eye was another unexpected highlight. I also loved the ancient stone city of Gjirokaster, the riverside town of Shkodër and the cafe filled capital Tirana.

The Coastline

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Sunset at Ksamil Beach in the far south

While I would still consider the coast beautiful and the water an amazing blue colour, overall I found Albania’s coastline fell short of my expectations. Sadly there was a lot of rubbish all along the coast and there was hardly a spot without a tonne of people, beach umbrellas and deck chairs. Even in mid September, which is shoulder season. I found the most beautiful places were quite isolated and best reached by boat, as opposed to long bus rides followed by sweaty hour long treks. On the plus, boat trips are quite cheap- around 20€ for half a day.

Transport

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Shkodër is wonderful for bike riding

I’d heard that getting around the country was challenging and very time consuming- that there was no bus schedules and that you simply had to hail a minibus anywhere on the road to get a ride. Most of the time this was far from the truth. There are timetables and the buses are often very regular and reliable.

You can book online, however I never did, instead I got my ticket directly on the bus. The hostels I stayed at were a wealth of information about when and where the buses were going from (often a small bus stations) and this is a great reason to stay with the I Travel Balkans hostel group. Each hostel helped with my onward bus, booked my next nights accommodation and filled me in on all the great things to see in the area.

Travel times mentioned in guides like the lonely planet (especially through the center of Albania) are outdated and slower than reality. For example, a ride from Gjirokastër to Tirana is quoted at around 8 hours when it took only 3. In recent years there have been many highway upgrades and travel has vastly improved.

The coastal roads are still very windy and slow, with the longest trip I took being the bus ride from Tirana to Himare at 5.5 hours.

The roads in the north to and from Theth and Valbona are also incredibly bumpy and windy, from Theth to Shkodër it was a 3 hour, very bumpy ride.

Cost

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Albania is cheap. Especially compared to neighboring Montenegro and Croatia. One of my favorite hostels (The Wanderers in Shkodër) was 7.5€ a night including a huge breakfast. Transport was between 2-10€ for bus rides between cities and sightseeing was normally 2€. Beers were less than 2€, cocktails around 5€ and coffee around 1.5€. In most places you could eat a decent dinner for 5-10€.

Safety

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One of the local families I stayed with in Theth

When I mentioned to friends that I’d be traveling through Albania, many told me it was an unsafe place to visit and that I needed to be very careful. I took this with a grain of salt- I’ve traveled to many places throughout the world that are considered risky- especially for female solo travelers. It’s an unfortunate reality of being female that you are treated differently to men when traveling. Over the years I’ve accepted this and come to terms with the fact that I need to be more careful than male travelers.

For me, this includes respecting local customs, being aware of potential dangerous areas, being aware of my surroundings and belongings, knowing where I can find help and what the emergency numbers are, following my gut feeling, not being afraid/embarrassed to ask for help and avoiding unnecessary risks- like drinking too much or walking in dimly lit/quiet areas at night.

Having said all this, I don’t let fear stop me from experiencing the world and exploring. And I rarely feel unsafe when traveling.

During my visit to Albania I met so many like-minded travelers at the hostels I stayed at that I ended up mainly exploring the sites and catching local transport with these people, so I actually wasn’t traveling by myself very often.

The vast majority of the time I felt completely safe and comfortable. Even more so than I do at home in Australia or Finland- because the locals were so friendly and willing to help if I needed directions or anything. During my trek through the mountains I stayed with two lovely local families- they were both so welcoming and kind. There wasn’t a pushy culture of trying to sell souvenirs or day trips- just a genuine desire to be hospitable and helpful. 

However, there was one exception to this feeling- during my last days in the capital Tirana. While I was in a popular, busy cafe area in broad daylight, a man followed me on his motorbike, leering, staring and generally making me feel extremely uncomfortable. He wasn’t subtle about it at all, driving quite close to me and at one stage when I turned around and walked back in the opposite direction he still followed me.

This kept up for about 20 minutes and I debated asking him what he thought he was doing or even yelling at him to leave me alone but worried this would anger him and make things worse. So instead, when he rode ahead at one point, I ducked into a leafy cafe where I couldn’t be seen from the road, grabbed a coffee and decided to wait until he left before emerging. I started to feel better when I saw a security guard across the road outside some official looking building. I felt that I could go up to him if the man hadn’t left while I was in the cafe.

Luckily the man had gone when I emerged and I didn’t see him again. However, it was still a very unnerving experience and something that made me incredibly angry– how could someone feel that they could act like that towards another person? What was he expecting me to do? What would have happened if I hadn’t lost him in the cafe?

A very similar thing has happened to me in three other countries I’ve visited in the past- unfortunately this is not an isolated incident and it’s one of my least favourite things about travel. However this is the first time in nearly 8 years that I have had this experience, it is definitely rare for me to feel unsafe when I travel.

I am also adamant that experiences like this will not stop me from traveling and will not make me afraid of traveling solo.

 

So The Verdict?

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About to swim at the Blue Eye in Theth

 

Yes! I definitely recommend traveling to Albania and traveling there solo as a female. I felt safe, comfortable, happy and excited to be there 99% of the time. It was an amazing experience of stunning mountain scenery, ancient towns, good food, hospitable locals and all at a bargain price.

There are so many unique and beautiful places to visit, however, if you are looking for unspoilt sand beaches or private rocky coves, it might be a better choice to head to nearby Greece or Croatia. 

I’m already looking forward to returning Albania- I ‘d love to visit the south-western region that boarders Macedonia, especially Lake Ohrid and the town of Korçë.

 

Have you been to Albania? What did you think of the country?

 

 

 

My Favourite 5 Places in Italy

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After holding my breath for most of this year I can finally officially call myself Italian and will soon have my very own EU passport, something that will make life in Europe infinitely easier for me.

I’m beyond excited and grateful to become a citizen of such a beautiful country- not only do I cherish my Italian roots and everything my grandparents have taught and passed down to me, but Italy has by far been my favorite place to visit over the years. To celebrate the news I went through some of my photos from recent trips to Italy- here are the top five places in Italy that I’ve visited to date- I can’t wait to add more to the list!

In bold I’ve included links to separate posts on each of these places.

1.  The Amalfi Coast

As a beach lover this was always going to be high on my list. Stunning clear blue water dotted with islands and a coastline full of culture to explore. Highlights for me included the islands of Procida, Capri, and the castle at Ischia as well as the coastal town of Ravello, perched high above the sea.

 

2. The Aeolian Islands

Another stunning beach destination I loved visiting were the Aeolian islands off Sicily’s northern coast. The island of Lipari and the volcano and sulphur beaches of Vulcano were my favourites.

 

 

 

 

3. Venice

It wasn’t until my third trip to Italy, earlier this year that I finally got to visit one of the most romantic cities in the world. The winding maze-like canal streets were everything I had expected and hoped for. As well as the beauty surrounding me, I loved trying all the different local Bacari– cheap little bars serving delicious snacks and wine for as little as 1€ a piece.

 

 

 

4. Pompeii

Latin was my favourite subject in high school and visiting one of the most famous sites of Roman ruins in the world has been on my bucket list for decades. Last summer I finally got to the archaeological site and loved soaking up the history of the place.

Pompeii Ruins

5. Bassano del Grappa

This little town, an hour train ride from Venice is one of the Italian villages featured in Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms. I loved the enchanting old streets, buildings and bridge, as well as the stunning blue river and mountainous backdrop.

 

 

 

 

 

My first trip to Italy back in 2006… some things don’t change!

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Biogradska Gora: one of the most beautiful national parks in Montenegro

Biogradska Gora in Montenegro’s northeast is one of the country’s five national parks, and is famed for it’s extensive primeval (old growth) forests and beautiful lakes. There are over 2,000 plant species200 bird species, and a walk through the park feels like an escape to another world. Many of the trees are over 400 years old and protection of the area dates back to 1878- the second oldest protected park in the world after Yellowstone.

You can access the national park through the towns of Kolasin or Mojkovac which are both on the train line from the capital Podgorica or the coastal town of Bar. The train continues on to Belgrade and is touted as one of the most beautiful rail trips in Europe.

I stayed at Camp Rebrenovic in Mojkovac where you’ll find cabins, tent pitches and camper van spots, all nestled in a beautiful valley. Tara River is a 15 minute walk away for a refreshing swim and a 10 minute taxi ride (3€) will take you to a small but endearing town with a real local feel. I found the area to be a lot less busy and touristic than other areas in Montenegro’s mountainous north.

One of the best ways to reach the national park from the camp is to hire a push bike (5€ a day) and ride 10km to Lake Biograd. While the last 3km of the ride is purely up hill, the subsequent dip in the lake was one of the most refreshing I’ve ever had! The bike ride down the winding road past the ancient trees is also thrilling. By the lake you’ll find a cafe, restaurant and information booth, as well as row boats and canoes for hire.

After spending a few days in the area, I’d recommend getting the local bus to Tara (5€ for an hour trip along the river) where you can raft Tara Canyon and experience the incredible views of Tara Bridge and the canyon below from the thrilling zip line.