Albania Holiday Planning Guide
With its young bustling metropolis, networks of cobblestone pedestrianized streets, coastal beach towns, and cities of ancient ruins, Albania will continuously surprise you. As you reach each new major town and discover how completely different it is from the last, your appreciation will deepen for this tucked-away land steeped in history. Travel, eating, and accommodations here are very affordable, freeing you from budget concerns and allowing you to travel in the style that you want. Meanwhile, you may find yourself going days without spotting another tourist. While this means that many things will not be customized for visitors (non-English menus, sparse lodgings, and fewer international transportation options), the authenticity you experience on your trip to Albania will be well worth it.
Places to Visit in Albania
Regions of AlbaniaVlore County
: Scenic Vlore County attracts visitors with its dazzling beaches, turquoise waters, and the ancient ruins of castles, all set among lush greenery. Berat County
: Charming Berat County's simple promise of winding dirt roads, quaint pedestrian villages, medieval fortresses, and panoramic views of the inland mountains makes it one of the top places to visit in Albania. Shkoder County
: Shkoder County has something for everyone--spectacular scenery, historical significance, pedestrianized villages, and bohemian hotspots, all set against the dramatic Albanian landscape. Gjirokaster County
: Gjirokaster County is best known for its efforts at preserving Albanian history, as evidenced by its museums, mosques, architecture, and castles, all topping the list of Albania attractions.
Cities in AlbaniaTirana
: Tirana seamlessly blends 17th-century architectural styles with the contemporary bustle of this modern capital. Berat
: Inscribed on the World Heritage List, the city of Berat boasts a number of awe-inspiring historical sights set against a dramatic mountain backdrop, including Ottoman-style houses stacked hillside. Gjirokaster
: Another World Heritage Site, Gjirokaster is home to hundreds of 17th-century Ottoman homes and 18th-century religious sites telling tales of civilizations long ago. With something for everyone, the city also offers rich natural beauty and plenty of evidence of the town's antiquity. Saranda
: A summer tour of Albania would be incomplete without a trip to Saranda, a popular coastal destination with its Mediterranean beaches, rugged natural beauty, archaeological sites, and seaside town charm. Shkoder
: History buffs can't get enough of Shkoder, with its old town, famous fortress, and significance as a cultural and economic powerhouse.
Things to Do in Albania
Popular Albania Tourist AttractionsButrint
: Butrint boasts the largest archaeological site from the Hellenic era, amid a lush, green national park. Blue Eye (Syri Kalter)
: Brimming with natural beauty, Blue Eye (Syri Kalter) is a natural spring whose unbelievably clear, electric-blue water is a result of the minerals at the bottom of the pool. Berat Fortress
: A popular addition to any Albania itinerary, 13th-century Berat Fortress has fallen into ruins, but nevertheless stands in haunting beauty over the old town below. National History Museum
: Showcasing seven different pavilions with significant periods of Albania's history, the National History Museum explores Albania's independence, socio-political history, pre-history, communism, and iconography. Ksamil Village
: Coastal Ksamil Village is a popular Albania vacation spot for visitors looking to enjoy the sunshine, beach, and sea, all the while taking in the beautiful coastal scenery. Skanderbeg Square
: Pay reverence to national hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, commemorated in a statue in Skanderbeg Square. The square at the heart of the city symbolizes the country's unification and triumph against communism. Et`hem Bey Mosque
: An important religious site, Et`hem Bey Mosque went down history as being the 1991 site where 10,000 worshippers were allowed to enter the colorful mosque following decades of prohibition by the communists. Mount Dajti
: Take in some natural beauty on your tour of Albania by hiking along Mount Dajti. The rolling mountainside is home to all kinds of wildlife and affords visitors spectacular panoramic views. Rozafa Castle
: Follow the mythological tales surrounding Rozafa Castle and its walls that stand tall today, and take in views of the ancient town nearby. Enver Hoxha Pyramid
: Take a break from the ruins with a trip to Enver Hoxha Pyramid; the modern architectural feat was originally built in reverence of the former communist leader but now serves as a conference center.
Planning an Albania Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Albania with Kids
As a popular European holiday destination, Albania is often very crowded, especially within the bustling metropolises and seaside resorts areas. If you're planning to travel with children on your Albania vacation and want to avoid the crush of tourists, try to steer clear of such areas and head to the more relaxing spots found within the natural settings and national parks.
If you're still looking for a beach vacation, avoid spots that have beach bars, which tend to attract a rowdier set. In between Vlore
, and especially around Dhermi
, you'll find quieter alternatives with a more family-friendly atmosphere. Your Albania trip might include a stop at Dhermi Beach
for a quiet retreat.
Things to Do in Albania with Kids
Traveling families will enjoy the solitude and curious quiet of Albania's museums, where youngsters can express themselves away from the hustle and bustle of the city. When in the capital, stop by National History Museum
, where friendly staff cater to visitors of all ages.
You'll also find plenty of playgrounds and small amusement parks tucked within the cities, where youngsters can burn off some energy in between attractions. If your Albania itinerary includes a visit to Skanderbeg Square
, adjacent you'll find a large amusement park with numerous mini-train rides, trampolines, and bumper cars to pass the time.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Albania
In general, Albanians are very friendly towards children and will happily accommodate families traveling with young ones. That said, keep in mind some access issues. Historical and archaeological sites are best suited for older children, and aren't especially accessible. If you're traveling with young children, especially in a stroller, avoid the jam-packed downtown areas of cities and unlevel sites.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Albania
Cuisine of Albania
Albanian cuisine is strongly influenced by Turkish food, with hearty stews of potato, onion, and rice a staple on most dinner menus. Residents often grow their own vegetables and fruits, particularly grapes of several varieties. It is also common for residents to bake their own bread. Among traditional dishes you'll encounter on your Albania vacation is "byrek," a savory pie of spinach and feta. Lamb is the meat of choice in many Albanian dishes, and baklava the most popular dessert.
Albanians also produce many kinds of cheese, available in supermarkets and, more authentically, in village shops, with the most common being something akin to Greek feta. Lastly, Albanians are known for their pastry shops, so be sure to sweeten your Albania tour with some tasty baked goods.
Shopping in Albania
When shopping in Albania it's important to note that the national currency is the Albanian lek, sometimes expressed with an extra zero as was standard with the "old currency." However, euros are widely accepted as well.
In the downtown city areas you'll have the opportunity to browse boutique and brand-name shops for an upscale shopping experience. There you'll also find glassware and many antique objects. Perhaps more interesting are the offerings at the traditional bazaars, where you'll find local artisan works including carved wood objects, ceramics, and embroidery.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Albania
History of Albania
Albania emerged as a Balkan state around 3000 BCE, under Roman and Byzantine control until Slavic migrations of the 7th century. It was then integrated into the Bulgarian Empire in the 9th century. The Middle Ages brought the formation of the Principality of Arbër and a Sicilian dependency called the Kingdom of Albania. The territory was part of the Serbian Empire and then passed into Ottoman hands in the 15th century. Today many historical Albania attractions display fascinating remnants of these civilizations.
As the Ottoman Empire grew ever weaker in the 19th century, national consciousness emerged and strengthened among Albanians. A series of revolts marked the middle of the century, and uprisings between 1908 and 1921 set of the first Balkan War, during which Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria seized Ottoman-controlled territory in Europe--including Albania. In 1912 Ottoman control finally ended and the first Albanian state was founded.
In the turbulent early 20th century, the country saw its borders redrawn, losing territory to Serbia, Greece, and modern-day Macedonia. It became a monarchical state temporarily, and then a republic, and then a monarchy again up until 1939. During World War II, the country was occupied by Italy until the collapse of the Axis powers.
After World War II a communist government was established in Albania, leading the country into decades of isolation. In 1992 the Communist party eventually relinquished power, giving way to a multi-party democracy and coalition government. Still very much a lone wolf, Albania is working on moving towards integration with the European Union.
Customs of Albania
Albanians tend to be quite generous and hospitable, and the easygoing lifestyle here includes long walks, coffee, and active participation in nightlife festivities. Guests are highly honored in Albanian culture, and, in turn, respect is expected from the guest. With a majority of the population in Albania of Muslim background, it's important to exercise a few basic practices around the places of worship on your Albania trip. When entering a mosque, such as Et`hem Bey Mosque
, shoes must be removed before entering, shoulders must be covered, and women must cover their hair.
Holidays & Festivals in Albania
When planning your Albania itinerary, it may be helpful to know when national holidays occur; you may find attractions and businesses closed, but on the other hand you can get a glimpse of public celebrations. Having a majority Muslim population, with large minorities of Orthodox and Catholic Christians, Albania observes holidays in keeping with religious celebrations. In addition, Albanians celebrate Summer Day in March, marking the end of winter.
The country also places heavy emphasis on Nevruz Day, or Persian New Year, as is common in a Muslim-dominated country. Here Nevruz Day festivities last over the course of four days around the spring equinox. At the beginning of May, Albanians celebrate May Day with large bonfires and the start of the planting season. On October 19 Albanians pay special homage to perhaps the most famed Albanian, Mother Teresa. Independence Day and Liberation Day are also important historical holidays with many patriotic celebrations. It's important to keep in mind that many of the religious holidays were banned during the communist reign, so these celebrations are only now returning to practice.
Albania Travel Tips
Climate of Albania
Albania's coastal exposure and changing elevations yield a multitude of climates throughout the country and ever-changing weather patterns. For the most part, the coastal lowlands have typically Mediterranean weather; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate. High winds and heavy rainfalls are not uncommon, so pack some rain gear and layers in preparation for your Albania trip.
Transportation in Albania
Visitors arriving in Albania can do so by plane at the international airport in Tirana
, or by bus from neighboring countries. Though there's no train that travels in and out of the country, there are a few national lines that can get you from place to place on your Albania holiday. If you're traveling by water you can opt to take a yacht or ferry into the country. You can, of course, travel by car, which is the second-most popular mode of transportation after busing. Some visitors may opt to bike, but it's considered fairly dangerous.
Language of Albania
The official language is Albanian, but Italian is also widely understood. You'll find that English is spoken a bit in Tirana
, but most minority languages are those of immigrants from neighboring countries.
Tipping in Albania
In Albania tipping is not expected or widely practiced; it is most common to simply round up the bill at a restaurant. Tips are of course appreciated, but by no means necessary. It is even less common to tip a cab driver, unless they assist with your luggage or are of particular help. Tipping hotel cleaning and concierge staff is always appreciated.