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
These horses were hanging out near the city center!
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
Getting around by bicycle is a favourite choice for locals
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
Enjoying the southern coast of Albania
One of the private coves you can enjoy on a boat trip along Albania’s 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 castle in 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.