Hang out in Albania’s capital of Tirana (2 to 3 days). When traveling, big cities are not really my thing. They’re usually just a port of entry and exit and I try to spend most of my time in less crowded areas. Still, Tirana is a beautiful city with rich history. It’s youthful, lively and Albanians are truly hospitable. I felt safe and welcomed here.
Visit BUNKART, a former bunker turned museum depicting images of Albania’s dark history and Communist times, underground and explore the 5 levels. Great for rainy or hot days.
Take the Dajti Xpres, a cablecar ride up to the Dajti Mountain for great views. Eat at the restaurant or spend your time exploring the grounds, having a picnic under the shady trees on the well maintained lawns.
Take the walking tour. Takes about two hours, tip based and sometimes goes beyond that. You’ll also get to meet other travelers and make friends while taking in sights and learning all about the city.
Highly recommend renting a car to get out of Tirana so you can explore the gorgeous sights. Rent an automatic or know how to drive manual.
Otherwise, if you’re a slower paced traveler and on a budget, enjoy utilizing the massive bus network to get around. I noticed in many countries outside of the US, bus transport (coach buses) is the easiest and most cost effective way to get around. You rarely have to prebook a ticket. Just show up at the bus station and hop on. They usually wait for the bus to fill up or will follow a schedule loosely. Makes for great adventuring and last minute planning if you don’t like to preplan your trips in advance or want to be flexible.
I stayed at Trip’N’Hostel. It’s a little hidden but made for a quiet time and met some great travelers. The people there were also really helpful in giving advice on where to go and what to see.
Catch a gorgeous sunset at Zvernec Beach. I noticed a lot of people camping there, so if that’s your thing, make it a beach trip. Catch a view of St. Mary’s Monastery too.
At Zvernec, while watching sunset, we met the owners of Hotel Kraal, who invited us to stay there. It’s a gorgeous luxurious option if you’re in Vlore. We didn’t meet many travelers there as it seemed more of a family/Albanian crowd.
Take a small boat organized by your hotel front desk or go to the pier to ask around for 25EUR per person. Go to Haxhi Ali Cave and Shen Vasil Bay.
When you get to Shen Vasil Bay, instead of heading right to the resort and lounge chairs, take the small hidden trail behind the makeshift shade shack and head to more remote and quieter spots.
Drive through the Llogara Pass and make a stop at the Llogara National Park to take a scenic hike. We did the Thanas Peak Hike. Take some pitstops for panoramic photos of gorgeous Albania landscapes before driving to Dhermi to make it in time for a delicious seafood dinner at Luciano.
The next morning, head over to Gjipe Beach where you’ll park your car and hike an easy trail 20 minutes to beautiful crystal waters.
After swimming and having lunch, enjoy a hike through the canyon where you’ll climb over rocks and use ropes to swing your bodyweight up the obstacles. Go as far as you can, bring plenty of water, pack light and make sure you bring a partner to keep safe. Some of the ropes were worn, so exercise some common sense and use your intuition.
Explore Vlorë Castle before it gets dark and enjoy a coffee and homemade cake at Butterfly Cafe, nestled in one of the narrow streets with beautiful views.
Sun Bakers Hostel. Explore the town. Become a beach bum. Chill out.
Skip Sarande and Ksamil if resorts and tourist crowds aren’t your thing and head over to the Blue Eye.
The most touristic place I’ve been the entire trip but well worth it. You get to swim (or jump into, if you’re feeling up for it) in 10 degree Celsius water. There was a plank that we jumped off of and it was so refreshing. I love the cold water, so I felt invigorated and soooo alive!
Drive to Gjirokaster and explore the UNESCO World Heritage site. Find the hidden arched doorway that leads you to the obelisk for some beautiful views before strolling around the Bazaar, people watching. Get oshaf, a traditional fig pudding, from Gliko Snack and Pastries.
Stay at Stone City Hostel. Marco’s grandmother was making burek in the kitchen as we checked in.
The next morning, go to Gjirokaster Castle. Explore one of the old ottoman era houses. I feel like Gjirokaster is one of those places I could spend at least a month in, slowly taking in the beauty and ambience.
Drive to Berat. Stayed at Berat Backpackers (their sister hostel Maya Hostel). Miri was amazing but the crowd at Berat Backpackers is a huge drinking and weed smoking culture, so find your own tribe or go solo if that’s not really your thing. The free walking tour is amazing. Berat Walking Tour.
At Berat Castle, stay at the top and have dinner at Temi Albanian Food, a family run joint where the meals are homecooked by the mom, restaurant is managed by the dad and the intimate digs are waitressed by their daughter.
Head back to Tirana to catch a bus to Shkoder.
Stay overnight at Hotel Kaduka or Wanderer’s Hostel.
Head up to Shkoder to do a thru hike on the Valbone to Theth trail.
Hang out in Theth for a slow paced hangout in the country side where time moves like molasses.
Back to Shkoder
The next day, head back to Shkoder to rest and explore. Rent a bicycle to get around and catch a sunset around Shkodra Lake.
Climb up to Rozafa Castle to catch a gorgeous view of the
If you’re feeling up for another adventure, take a bus or shared private taxi from Shkoder for 5EUR to Montenegro, the next Balkan destination right across the border.
Albania is underrated, though I foresee tourism increasing as crowds disperse from more popular destinations. The people are kind, hospitable and warm…reminiscent of my own close knit family. I think that’s why Albania is a favorite destination of mine. It gives me a sense of home. The food is fresh, delicious and affordable. Everywhere I go, I see the same scene: families and friends enjoying their meals together, laughing, chatting happily. Spending precious time together. The natural beauty that Albania has to offer is unprecedented. There are so many other wonderful spots to visit, so take the time to explore and see what calls to you. Play around with your itinerary and let life surprise you.