Albania and Tirana travel guide: Unique culture and nature

Albania?

Definitely worth a visit, worth a holiday trip. A unique culture and incredible, monstrous, attractions. You will be pleasantly surprised – also with local food and wine.

Who wants to go to Albania? My family asked me.
Normally we visit Mallorca for family holidays, and when you have not been to Albania, you do not know what to expect …

Albania Marina Aagaard blog travel travel

But I have wanted to come here for a long time, ever since I (pictured here at The Cloud in Tirana) visited the country years ago on a 1-day sightseeing bus trip. Here I met exuberantly friendly and helpful Albanians and ate well at insanely low prices, which, however, have crept up a bit in the meantime.

The nature seen on my first visit was mostly flat field landscapes and low, “rustic” buildings, so I did not have the highest expectations, but the landscape wins when you go west or east, which I experienced, when I visited Albania again.

Here you can read about Albania and get special travel tips for travelers with a taste for culture, nature and good food.

Republic of Albania

The Republic of Albania is one of the Balkan countries located in the south-eastern part of Europe.
The northern part of Albania borders Kosovo to the northeast and Montenegro to the northwest, Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south.
To the west, the coast faces the Adriatic Sea with the Ionian Sea to the southwest.

Albania has had a tumultuous history. In recent times a long, cruel period under the dictator Enver Hoxa: A man who built a bunker system with 175,000 bunkers (5.7 per sqm!) To prevent both intrusion and escape and who considered foreign guests hippies and spies who should be monitored at hotels and attractions.

There are bunkers everywhere. In the city, in the countryside and by the water.

Photo Albanian Trip Bunkers and Beaches
Photo Albanian Trip Bunkers and Beaches

The country is divided into 36 different districts and the capital is Tirana.

Since the 90’s a developing country and friendly Albanians who welcome foreign guests with open arms, with respect, kindness and helpfulness in a class of their own.

The capital Tirana

A lively city, lots of traffic, with large boulevards, and smaller streets, but no pedestrian areas or narrow alleys. Very mixed construction from older dilapidated properties to pompous old and new buildings as well as monuments from the time of the dictatorship.

There are several museums. In addition, the walks in the city provide lots of experiences with vastly different architecture, art and street art. There is something for everyone in a discreet mix of big and small surprises. There are a number of green areas as well as a large park with restaurant, outdoor fitness facility and a large lake that you can walk, run and bike around.

A walk in the park. Always a pleasure.

Albania nature

Albania is hilly and mountainous, and the climate is temperate with cold winters and hot summers.
There are many beautiful beaches on the Ionian Sea, which is part of the Mediterranean.

You can drive your own tours or sign up for different types of tours. Either cultural tours with visits to UNESCO cities and areas or outdoor tours with, for example, hiking in the mountains.

Language

The language is Albanian, but most hotel staff speak English. According to an Albanian tip, one can also try in Italian as the Albanians can take the Italian TV channels.

Travel and transportation

Fly

It may not be possible to fly directly Albania (it wasn’t from Denmark). Usually you stop in Germany or the countries around: Slovenia, Serbia or Turkey. Therefore, one should be aware of the travel time that can be long when having a stopover at an airport. If you can accept that, there are a lot of affordable trips.
Be out well in advance, as there are still only a limited number of departures to Albania, so the price is rising sharply towards departure. Search e.g. at Skyscanner or Momondo.

Car

Depending on where you live, you can drive to Albania by car (from Denmark it is a long journey), and you get to see a lot. If you drive a car in the Balkans, be aware that you must have the car’s original registration documents with you and, of course, passports and possibly cash, local currency or euros, for sudden expenses (eg insurance or similar) at the borders.

The roads in Albania fluctuate from really good to very bad. The major roads are in reasonable condition, while the country roads can be very poor with larger rocks or potholes. There may be power outages, temporary power outages, making it dark to drive and outside the cities there are often no light poles. Therefore, if you drive at night, you must be extremely aware of potholes in the road, road work and other vehicles (without lights).

The traffic is quite chaotic in cities and in the countryside: Road users of all kinds have a very relaxed relationship with traffic rules; for many, it is a matter of getting out of the intersection first, regardless of the color of the traffic light. Pay close attention in traffic.

There are good opportunities to rent a car as the international car rental companies have branches in Tirana (Airport). A local tip, however, is that it may pay better to book a car with a local driver.

Note that if you rent a car in a Balkan country – or neighboring country – that in several cases it is not possible to cross the border in the rental car. In some cases, you can buy a supplementary insurance and then get a paper to take with you to the border. However, some companies do not allow you to cross the border at all, so check it out in advance.
Be aware that the different companies charge different rates – also for the possibility of crossing borders. 

Bus

There are country buses and city buses that are very cheap, but most often also of older model and rather crowded.

Taxi

In the larger cities there is ample opportunity to catch a taxi.

Took

Trains run between the major cities of Tirana, Durrës, Shkodra, Vlora, Rrogozhinë and Fier.
However, many of the trains are old and slow, and rarely run exactly according to schedule.
An alternative is to take a bus or a tourist bus if you want to go sightseeing in other cities.

Bike

It is also possible to cycle around, rent a bike and go on bike rides.

Bicycle rental system, however out of order this day. Casino in the background.

Sleepover

In Tirana there are many accommodation options, from absolutely low budget around 100 DKK up to many thousands of kroner at the big hotels. You can stay in bed and breakfasts, private homes (AirBNB), hostels, family-run guesthouses (especially in the countryside), large, mass tourism concrete hotels or Albanian and international luxury-look hotels.

In the tourist areas of Vlora, Durresi and Saranda there are good hotels and resorts.

Food and drinks

Do not drink the water in Albania, buy bottled water for safety.

The food and wine, on the other hand, are almost an – affordable – attraction in themselves:
tasty both in small cafes and snack bars as well as in hotels and restaurants.

Smoothie and vegetarian pancake at smart cafe:

A tasty meal at Hotel Xheko Restaurant.

A delicious meal at Restaurant +39 in Tirana.

An even more delicious meal at Restaurant Padam, Padam Boutique Hotel.

Albania and Tirana Fitness Wellness World Marina Aagaard travel photo

Passport and visa

You must have a passport that is valid for 6 months in addition to the duration of the stay. On the other hand, the country is visa-free for visits of up to 90 days. For safety reasons, check the applicable rules at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Albanian Embassy , well in advance of travel.

Travel insurance

The yellow and blue health insurance card does not apply in Albania, therefore you must take out private insurance if you travel to the country so that you are insured against illness or accidents.

Vaccination

I traveled without vaccinations, but Albanian sources recommend that you have hepatitis A and diphtheria / tetanus vaccination. For longer periods, hepatitis B vaccination may also be required. Note that vaccinations often need to be done at least a few weeks before departure.

Currency in Albania

The currency in Albania is Albanian LEK, which you can only use and exchange there – it is not possible to exchange LEK outside the country. Therefore, use all your LEK on the trip or make sure to change before returning home. There are ATMs in all the major cities and Visa and Mastercard are accepted in many places. However, have local currency in cash for cafes, bars and smaller restaurants and shops.

Price level and gratuity

The price level in Albania is generally low. You get a lot for your money, for example in hotels and restaurants.

It is normal to give 10-15% in gratuity.

Shopping? Price level is from low to high. There are small shops with cheap (not very good) goods and in Tirana international luxury shops with very high prices. Just like in other big cities. Albanian cheeses, wines and olive oils are good.

Sightseeing – sights

Bjeshkat e nemura (Cursed Mountains). Beautiful mountain landscape in northwestern Albania.

Bunker Art In . Huge piles just outside Tirana center. Depressing but worth seeing.

Bunker Art II . Large underground pile right in the center of Tirana. Depressing but worth seeing.

Butrint.  Ruinby near the Greek border; UNESCO World Heritage List.

Gjirokaster . Picturesque town with cobbled streets and castle. Great view. UNESCO World Heritage List.

Mount Dajti . Mountain and national park in central Albania (near Tirana). Beautiful nature and good cable car ride.

Palace. Town near Llogara National Park with beautiful nature and good beaches.

Rozafa slot . with its view,

Ksamil (former municipality) town and ‘riviera’ beaches with crystal blue water and fine sand. In the south.

Syri Kalter ( The Blue Eye ). A beautiful natural spring near Sarandë in the south of Albania.

Tirana . An exciting city with varied architecture and good hotels and restaurants.

For a longer stay you can take a trip across the border to Kosovo, to see the beautiful city of Prizren.
The trip only takes about two hours because a new highway has arrived.

Climate

The climate is pleasant. Albania has hot and dry summers and wet winters in the lowlands.
In the highlands, snow can fall from November to March.

Safety

Albania is a fairly safe travel country to travel with limited petty crime. According to locals, there is no drinking culture in the country, so it is unlikely, that one would be assaulted by drunk people. On the other hand, there are problems with organized crime, which one should be aware of.

Photography

As in other Balkan countries, when visiting churches and other religious sites, one should cover the shoulders and knees. It is not legal to photograph in religious buildings and it is generally not legal to photograph government buildings (apart from the obvious attractions). 
Check for signs/posters just to be on the safe side.

Read more:

Outdooralbania

Albania


Photos 6 and 7: Albanian Trip Bunkers and Beaches

Graphics card. Wikipedia.

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