For most purposes, the best times of year to visit Albania are spring and autumn. In early spring, apple and cherry blossoms form little pastel-toned drifts by the roadside. By May, the snow is melting on the high mountain passes, water starts to flow again in the rivers and roses bloom in the lowlands. The long evenings of early summer are a good time to enjoy the terrace cafés in Tirana and the coastal towns. In June and September, the beaches are at their best, without the crowds of the peak tourist season, and the sea temperature is still comfortably high. By late autumn, the orchards start to blaze with bright orange persimmons and golden pomegranates.
Albania has a Mediterranean climate and in the lowlands it never gets really cold, although most buildings are poorly insulated and it often feels colder indoors than out. In Tirana, it is unusual for temperatures to stay below zero for more than a few days at a time. The southwest coast in particular is very clement, with average winter temperatures of 8–10°C. Most of Albania’s annual rainfall occurs between late autumn and early spring. Minor roads are not well drained and can become muddy and slippery during and after rain.
In the highlands, winter is a much more serious proposition. High-level hiking should only be attempted between June and September. Snow on arterial highways is usually cleared quickly, but the high passes on minor roads are normally closed for two or three months – or even longer in a harsh winter. Mountain towns such as Korça and Peshkopia are very cold at this time of year.
July and August are the warmest months and inland towns can become oppressively hot. In Gjirokastra and Berati, for example, summer temperatures are usually in the high 30°Cs and, with climate change, there are increasingly more days when the thermometer tops 40°C. Hotels and restaurants of a reasonable standard have air conditioning, but museums do not. Sightseeing in high summer is an exhausting business. On the coast, sea breezes keep the average temperatures down to a more tolerable 25–30°C. The best place to be at the height of summer is in the high mountains. Hikers and cyclists should be sure to have enough water with them; everyone else will never be far from a café.
Public holidays and festivals
Albania shuts down pretty much completely on 1 and 2 January (New Year) and 28 November (Independence Day). Particularly on 1 January, only a handful of cafés and restaurants open and all shops are closed.
On other public holidays, banks, museums and government offices are closed, while shops, restaurants, bureaux de change and other private businesses generally stay open. The major feast days of each of Albania’s religions or, if they fall on a Sunday, the Monday following them, are public holidays. The two which have fixed dates are the Bektashi festival of Nevruz, on 22 March, and 25 December, when both the Catholic and Albanian Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas. Moveable religious holidays are Catholic and Orthodox Easters (usually on different Sundays), Eid al-Fitr (Bajram i Vogël, the end of Ramadan) and Eid ul-Adha (Bajram i Madh).
Other holidays include Summer Day (14 March), International Workers’ Day (1 May), Mother Teresa Day (19 October) and Liberation Day (29 November). The last commemorates liberation from the Germans at the end of WWII which, since it was immediately followed by 45 years of communist rule, not everybody in Albania agrees is a reason for celebration.