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One of my favorite trips of last year was visiting Albania. We only had a week in Albania, which is a bit on the low side, but enough to get you hooked on visiting this beautiful country in the Balkans, but I’ve expanded this itinerary to include the best things to do in Albania with the help of friends. I include a complete itinerary for our trip to Albania, which was done entirely by bus besides one organized trip to Valbona. I hope that this Albania itinerary inspires you to visit this beautiful country!
Start off your trip in Albania. If you’re flying into Albania, you’ll be arriving in Tirana, Albania’s capital. I intended for this Albania itinerary to be starting in Tirana with heading North prior to heading South. If you’re coming from Montenegro to Albania, start off this itinerary for traveling in Albania at Day 2 and head south. Some people might be interested in stepping off after Berat prior to heading east towards Macedonia or Kosovo. I’ll be detailing exit routes to other countries when necessary.
You should keep in mind that traveling in the Balkans is not like traveling in Western Europe. People are ridiculously friendly, however things go at their own pace. As a result, if you’re taking the buses, find out the schedule 1-2 days ahead and keep mind that the bus may not be perfectly on time. Don’t overplan your trip as Albania is not well-suited to planning down to the moment. This itinerary is a bit sped up and it’s easy to spend a week in Albania although I’d say that two weeks would be perfect as it would allow you some extra time to explore the stunning nature as well as the cities.
Most hotels and tours state their price in euros, so you will get a slightly better rate if you end up having euros with you. If you have plans to visit Kosovo after Albania, save some of those euros. Lek is accepted everywhere in Albania while euros are accepted at nicer restaurants (who sometimes list the prices in euros) and hotels. I didn’t use my credit card once. If you pay in lek, the exchange rate varies depending on the hotel.
Day 1: Tirana
How to get from Tirana Airport to Tirana City Center
You can take the bus to the city center of Tirana from the Tirana airport using the Rinas Express bus, which costs 250 lek. Look for the shuttle on the side of the airport, close to the outdoor patios of the restaurants. There’s no need for a taxi if you come between 6am and 6pm although you may need to wait for the bus. Traffic can be very bad in Tirana, so leave early if you must be at the airport for a flight.
Tirana is a modern capital city with a lot of communist architecture. Admittedly, it’s not the most beautiful city in Albania, however you’ll find a lot of culture here. If you have limited time in Tirana, it will be harder to get into the further reaches of the city without a car, but it’s possible. I broke up our time in Tirana into two to ensure that we had enough time to go up to Theth (sometimes called Thethi) and Valbona. Due to the way that the buses and tours are done, it’s often better to get somewhere prior to booking a tour. You’ll get a better price locally, so if you’re set on going north, be sure to have an extra 4 days in your Albania itinerary at minimum. Also, have cash. Cash is essential.
What to do in Tirana in one day
Don’t miss the abandoned pyramid built by Enver Hoxha’s daughter in his memory after his death. The Pyramid of Tirana was the most expensive building built in Albanian history. Now it sits semi-abandoned. Locals and tourists alike are curious about climbing to the top, which is harder than you may realize.
Those interested in the history of communism should consider visiting BunkArt 2 and the Museum of Leaves to learn about the oppression under the communist regime. BunkArt2 allows you into the most secret bunker that was used for the Ministry of Interior Affairs to see art and read about individuals targeted by the Hoxha regime for no reason, including saying something he didn’t like on the radio. Of course, you cannot miss Skanderbeg Square, the main square of Tirana, and the cloud art exhibition. We spent most of our first day just wandering around the city.
For more about Tirana, I recommend my friend Lavdi’s guide on tips on what to do and eat in Tirana. She often visits as she lives in Kosovo.
Where to stay in Tirana
You’ll find many good hotel and hostel options in Tirana. It was cheaper to get a private room (for about 25 euros) than to stay in a hostel with two people at the time that we were traveling. We opted for Bujtina Shqiptare, a cozy home-style stay with a wonderful host who made the most delicious vegan byrek after discovering that I can’t have dairy. The room was very clean with good air conditioning and it was right around the corner from Skanderbeg Square. Just be aware that the ride from the airport is not free. For those looking for something more luxurious, consider Hotel Gloria. D1 Hostel came highly recommended to me by a friend, but you’ll struggle to decide which hostel to choose as there are so many.
Day 2: Shkodra
I recommend starting off this day fairly early if you’re going between Shkodra and Tirana. I’ve marked on the map where you’ll find the bus station towards Shkodra. Keep in mind that there are two bus stations, one with buses going North and one with buses going South. They’re in different locations and it’s a long thirty minute walk between them with a great byrek place in the middle (also marked!). At the bottom, you’ll find a map with the Tirana bus stop locations. Save them on your phone. The bus to Shkoder runs fairly regularly and the bus trip should take about 1.5-2 hours. I paid about 400 lek for my ticket although this varies.
Shkodra is considered one of the cultural capitals of Albania. Shkodra is famous for its music as well as its cultural influences. The historic city center is really charming and worth visiting. I so recommend Il Piacere, a cozy Albanian bakery in Shkodra recommended by friends. You’ll find tons of great options for Albanian food along the main street in center.
One of the main reasons that I recommend visiting Shodra is that it’s the best way to visit the Albanian Alps. Once here, it’s easy to book a tour to Theth or Valbona, so ask at your hotel. We paid upfront 25 euros per person for the entire journey to/from Theth and Valbona with the leisure boat back to Shodra. Ten euros per person is a good price one way to Theth from Shkodra and you’ll pay less if you can find others going.
If you’re feeling ambitious, take a bus towards Rozafa castle for epic views over the city at this castle dating back to Roman times. Although the fortifications are a bit newer, it’s a stunning castle worth visiting. Alternatively, you can take a taxi out towards Mes Bridge for stunning views of this historic stone bridge.
Where to stay in Shkodra
I ended up booking a hotel in Shkodra for two nights with the intention of leaving my large 50L backpack at the hotel, however the initial hotel had no working air conditioning (they gave us a miniature fan) and the smell from the bathroom was so atrocious that I canceled the second night. I ended up moving to Hotel Shkodra L, which was clean with delicious breakfast and a central location. For a hostel in Shkodra, Bulldog Hostel came recommended to us. I recommend booking the same hotel for when you return to Shkodra, so you can hike with a daypack and leave the bulk of your stuff in Shkodra.
Day 3: Theth
You’ll need to set out early for Thethi, one of Albania’s most stunning village in the middle of Albania’s most beautiful national parks. Depending on your love of hiking, you might want to expand your time here to include an extra couple of days enjoying the challenging hiking here. We ended up getting out early in order to hike to the Blue Eye of Thethi, a stunning and freezing cold spring that is a popular attraction. The hike from the main road to the Blue Eye of Thethi is challenging, but beautiful.
Once you reach the Blue Eye of Theth, it’s a long easy walk to Theth. This mountain village is well-versed in legends, tradition, and natural beauty. The Northern part of Albania has long had their own set of laws and rules called the Kanun. You can still see the tower houses (kulla) in this region where families would retreat in order to be safe from blood feuds. The one in Theth is notable as families would go inside in order to discuss the resolution of blood feuds. (The history of this region is fascinating, so I’ll be writing more about it soon.)
I absolutely loved staying in Theth and I wish that we had stayed here a few more days. If you’re not rushing your time in Albania, consider staying here at least two days. The scenery is beautiful, the food is ridiculously affordable/fresh (made with local produce), and the hiking is first-rate. In summer, it’s best to book ahead. I booked Bujtina Berishta Theth, a cozy homestay with comfortable beds and endless food for a reasonable price. It’s truly a stunning area and it’s worth making a detour to visit Theth.
Day 4: Theth to Valbona
I’m not the world’s best hiker, however I really wanted to challenge myself to hike the trail between Theth and Valbona. It’s a one day trail, however when you combine with hiking in Theth the previous day, it’s quite a hike. It’s best to rest up and choose which direction you’re going to hike it rather than doing it both ways. We ended up doing Theth to Valbona rather than Valbona to Theth. I’ve heard both ways are fine, but I preferred hiking uphill on the solid ground and going downhill on the more difficult terrain around Valbona peak.
I recommend staying an extra day in Valbona, if you can, as the hiking in the Albanian Alps is one of the best things to do in Albania without question. You’ll need to be aware of weather, so it’s best to build in an extra day in case of rain. It’s a stunning area with high peaks around you, similar to what you’d find in Slovenia or Austria. I see why Albanians are so proud of this area. The water tastes delicious and you’ll find natural springs along the way.
We stayed at Hotel Margjeka, a charming family-style resort in Valbona, with a great dining room. For a more luxurious experience, you can stay elsewhere, but the staff was wonderful and the beds were comfortable. There are no elevators. Be warned that hotel prices in Valbona tend to be a bit higher than elsewhere in Albania as there aren’t that many options, especially in summer. Theth has more options for accommodation, however there’s no road between the two, so you’ll have to hike across (potentially with a mule if you have luggage). Plan accordingly and book ahead.
Day 5: Fierza / Lake Komani / Shkodra
From Valbona, organize transport to Fierza (or Kosovo if you plan ahead). 15 euros is a good rate for a rate including a ride to the Fierza ferry, the ferry, and the bus back to Shkodra. Most organizers of Shkodra to Theth/Valbona trips will offer to plan the round-trip journey if you choose to although you can do this at your hotel once you arrive in Valbona. You’ll need to organize a taxi to bring you from Valbona to Fierza to catch the stunning leisure ferry along Lake Komani as well as the last leg back to Shkodra. It should take about four hours.
I thought that Lake Komani Ferry was a short boat ferry down the river, but it’s more of a fun day activity for Albanians who come to admire the stunning nature in this part of Albania. Lake Komani is actually not a natural lake, but a lake formed in the 1990s to help prevent flooding in Shkodra. The ride is idyllic and absolutely beautiful. Plan to book accommodation in Shkodra that evening. It might be better to book the same hotel as your previous one, so you can pick up your belongings at the previous hotel.
Day 6: Shkodra -> Tirana -> Berat
This day is really a travel day and you’ll have a long day of bus rides ahead of you. We ended up staying the night in Tirana while still tending to our sore legs, however I’d recommend using your time more effectively by heading out early from Shkodra towards Tirana (300 lek). In Tirana, you’ll need to head to the Southern bus station to catch the bus towards Berat. The bus took about three hours with stops and cost about 400 lek. You’ll still have most of the afternoon to play with if you set out early and luck out with the bus schedule.
Note, if you have extra time, consider adding an extra 1-2 days in Krujë, an Albanian city a little outside of Tirana with a stunning castle. The castle in Krujë dates back to medieval times and famously withstood three Ottoman sieges. It’s now possible to stay inside the ruins this castle at a guesthouse, Rooms Emiliano, recommended by a fellow traveler.
Berat is a beautiful UNESCO-recognized city that is over 2,000 years old. I was lucky enough to meet up with Cherene while we were in Berat and we had a blast exploring the old fortified city. I’ll have a full guide to Berat’s most historic sights soon, but I really encourage you to visit this beautiful fortified city. Cherene, who visited both Gjirokaster and Berat, preferred Berat as it was less touristic and there were no entry fees to the historic part of the castle. You’ll find many friendly cats too. Despite being known as one of the best things to do in Albania, the Berat fortress is still not so touristy with a few locals and tourists.
The bus station is fairly far from the city and the walk up to Berat Castle is … tough, but doable, with large bags. You’ll find affordable food along the way, however if you’re on a budget, the walk is doable. However, it’s best to organize transport from the bus station if you’re not feeling up for the long walk. It’s shorter if you’re staying along the base of Berat Castle rather than in the fortress.
We stayed in Hotel Klea, a beautiful historic hotel in the heart of the castle of Berat that was only 25 euros per night. The hotel is decorated in a traditional Albanian way and the building itself is a beautiful stone building. The bathroom had the most stunning view and the staff even gave us a ride to the bus station (it’s a long walk up the hill!). We also checked out Cherene’s hostel, Berat Backpackers Hostel, which was a nice option for backpackers on a budget.
Day 7: Berat / surrounding area around Berat
If you have a flight back to your home, you’ll want to give yourself enough time to return and to head to the airport in case of traffic. If you have an extra day, I recommend relaxing in Berat and using it as a base for a day trip. I didn’t realize this until we were in Berat, but you’ll find very affordable tours (15-20 euros) out to the surrounding mountains for adventure travel, including rafting, climbing, hiking, and other adventure activities. These activities are easy to book once you’re in Berat.
If you’re not so much for adventure tourism, consider taking a bus out towards Çobo Winery, which is an easy day trip from Berat. This is a well-known Albanian winery that has been making wine for many years, however the communist government forced them to produce wine for the government. Now, they’re back to producing high quality wines and raki. Ask at your hostel and/or call for an appointment prior to going (+355 3612 2088).
If you’re interested in heading towards Macedonia or Kosovo, take the bus towards Elbasan or Ohrid. Click for more advice about Kosovo.
If you have more time in Albania….
Day 8: Vlore
Highly recommended by Lavdi, this seaside Albanian resort is a favorite of Albanians who love the beach and the mountains. From here, you can hike in the mountains with pristine views over the sea. When we met Freddy, our first host, I asked him what was his favorite thing about Albania. He told me that it was that you can visit the beach and hike up a snowy mountain the same day. The beaches are famous within Albania although I’ve heard that compared to Greece, Albania has the beauty of the coastline without the crowds. Also consider giving yourself an extra day to take a day trip up to Vuno village, a town along the coast with 25+ churches and old stone buildings.
Day 9: Gjirokastër
Gjirokastër is one of the most famous cities in Albania and its old town is recognized by UNESCO for its well-preserved Ottoman architecture. The city walls around the fortress date back to the third century. It’s possible to visit Gjirokastër Fortress although there’s a fee for entry. The castle was used during communist times for imprisoning political prisoners, however it’s a museum today.
Day 9/10/11: Sarandë
From Sarandë, it’s possible to catch the ferry to Corfu if you’re interested in heading onwards towards Greece. This was the way that a lot of people that we met were heading, however we ended up needing to save this part of the trip for another day. Most Albanians swear that you must head to the South to truly see Albania, so I recommend including this breathtaking city along the sea on your itinerary as it makes a great base for day trips. Click for a well-researched guide to Sarandë, written by a blogger who spent months living in Sarandë.
If you end up visiting Sarandë, be sure to admire the stunning beaches (including Pulebardha beach). Also, consider taking a day trip to visit the Blue Eye (Syri I Kalter). There’s two blue eyes in Albania, both with freezing cold water, so if you’re keen on seeing the best of Albania, give yourself time to head south. You can also visit the UNESCO-recognized ruins at Butrint, which are some of the best preserved ruins in Albania, dating back to Greek rule over 2,500 years ago.
Have you been to Albania? Any other things to do in Albania that you’d recommend?
Map of the best things to do in Albania
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