Written by Bradt Travel Guides
Albania has something to suit all tastes. Nature lovers can admire the picturesque peaks of the Albanian Alps, explore fantastic hiking and cycling trails, or observe birds at one of the country’s outstanding wetlands. For those interested in culture and history, it is home to ancient cities and archaeological and communist heritage sites. The following itineraries can be done on public transport, although the occasional taxi or hire car will speed things up considerably.
A long weekend in Albania is just enough time to visit the main sites of Tirana, the country’s capital. Spend your first day familiarising yourself with the city on foot. A half-hour walk beginning at Skanderbeg Square will allow you to take in many architectural highlights, inlcuding the city’s clock tower, National Theatre, the Albanian Parliament and the 19th-century Tanner’s Bridge. Back in the square you’ll find the National Historical Museum, with its huge mosaic mural above the entrance. Exhibitions are dedicated to different periods of history, including prehistory, the National Renaissance, World War II and the communist era. You should allow an absolute minimum of 2 hours to look round the whole museum. If you have more time to spare, the National Gallery of Arts has a fascinating collection of Albanian art, which puts into context the Socialist Realist work that can be seen in so many public spaces around the country.
Skanderbeg Square is at the heart of Tirana, Albania’s capital city © Alla Simacheva, Shutterstock
The following day, a visit to one or all of Tirana’s museums of the communist period will allow you to learn more about this difficult and controversial era of Albanian history. In the afternoon, venture slightly out of the city on the bus or minibus to the Pëllumbasi Cave. From the road, it’s a pleasant hike up to the cave, which is 360m long and has chambers filled with wonderful stalagmites and stalactites. There are also, as one would expect, many bats.
Explore the chambers of the 360m-long Pëllumbasi Cave © Albinfo, Wikimedia Commons
In the evening, either return to Tirana or stay the night in Durrësi, where you will find a lovely beach, many archaeological sites and a museum. On your final day in Albania, travel to Kruja, which has been fortified since ancient times. The buildings and museums within Kruja’s castle walls, combined with the attractively restored bazaar area just outside them, provide an excellent introduction to Albanian history and traditions. From Kruja, you can travel directly to the airport for your return flight.
Exploring Kruja is the ideal way to end your time in Albania © ollirg, Shutterstock
If you have a week to spend in Albania, you’ll be able to visit a number of important sites. Spend your first day in the country exploring Tirana and then head to Berati, one of the country’s oldest and most attractive cities. Here, you can climb the cobbled road through Mangalemi, one of the city’s protected ‘museum zones’, to Berati Castle, where a walk around the perimeter walls to the viewpoint will give you a feel for the size and layout of the castle, as well as offering great views of the city below and the mountains across the river. The city’s Ethnographic Museum is also worth a visit as it provides an excellent opportunity to learn about Berati architecture and find out more about people’s way of life until only a few decades ago.
Berati is often referred to as one of Albania’s most beautiful cities © milosk50, Shutterstock
Spend the night in Berati and then travel to Byllis, a vast archaeological site spread over 30ha of hilltop overlooking the River Vjosa. It’s easy to spend an entire day here, discovering the Theatre which would have held about 7,500 spectators, the Cathedral and the five excavated basilicae.
The Cathedral is the largest and most impressive Byzantine structure at Byllis © Albinfo, Wikimedia Commons
On day four, head back to Tirana via Elbasani and explore the old town, where one of the oldest mosques in Albania and a fine Orthodox church lie within the castle walls. If you have time, spend an hour or so at the Ethnographic Museum, home to several interesting displays with special attention given to the city’s traditional crafts, furniture and costumes.
Spend the remainder of your week in and around Tirana, where other must-do activities include taking the cable-car up the 1,613m Mount Dajti, exploring the Archaeological Museum and visiting the famous Tirana Mosaic, Tirana’s only visible Roman remains.
If you have two weeks to spend in Albania, follow the One week itinerary described above until day five, after which you can travel from Elbasani to Korça and spend some time exploring the town. Here, those interested in history will find a number of archaeological sites, while nature lovers can head to the Prespa Lakes which are home to the largest population of Dalmatian pelicans in the world.
From Korça, travel to Gjirokastra where you can admire the beautiful and unique 19th-century houses and discover the castle, town hall air-raid shelter and more archaeological sites including Hadrianopolis – the remains of a classical theatre that has retained many of its original features. If you’re lucky you may be able to catch a show, as performances are occasionally staged there.
The castle of Gjirokastra still broods on its hill, overlooking the whole city and the river valley below © Lev Levin, Shutterstock
Spend the night in Gjirokastra before travelleing to Saranda. Saranda has an excellent climate, averaging around 290 sunny days a year, making its nearby beaches the ideal places to spend some time relaxing.
The beaches near Saranda are the perfect destinations for a relaxing day © Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH, Shutterstock
Once you’ve recharged your batteries, a trip to Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited archaeological site in the country, will allow you to reimmerse yourself in Albania’s past. From here, head back to Tirana via the beautiful beaches and crystalline waters of the Riviera.
The ancient city of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is far and away the most visited archaeological site in Albania © VVlasovs, Shutterstock
The remainder of your time can be spent in Tirana, but if you want to take a further excursion, Lezha, where you’ll discover the Illyrian fortifications and citadel, and Drishti, home to a historically significant fortress, can be explored over the course of a day. Alternatively, travel to Shkodra and spend some time at the well-known Rozafa Castle. Although it’s a long way from the centre of town to the castle, once you get there the views from the citadel are wonderful, across Lake Shkodra to Montenegro, out to the Adriatic, and down towards Lezha.
It’s a stiff climb up from the town to Rozafa Castle but it is well worth the effort to see one of Albania’s best historical sites © Pargovski Jove, Shutterstock
Three weeks in Albania will allow you to further extend the above itineraties. You will have time for a day trip from Tirana to Voskopoja to visit some of the few churches that survived through the 18th century when the city was destroyed. On your way back to Tirana you can make a detour via Selca e Poshtme to see the attractive Ottoman bridge. With three weeks you can easily spend an extra day or two in Korça in order to explore the National Museum of Medieval Art, the Archaeological Museum and the Bratko Museum of Oriental Art, among other interesting sites.
Relish the country life in Boga near Thethi © Mehmet, Shutterstock
From Tirana, you can also take a couple of nights to visit Thethi and the nearby village of Boga for hikes in the national park and fantastic birdwatching opportunities, or Puka to absorb the beautiful scenery among the surrounding mountains and lakes. Likewise, the district of Mirdita is an enchanting blend of wild mountain scenery and centuries of unique religious and cultural history which shouldn’t be left off your list.
A month in Albania will allow you to explore the Albanian Alps © Lenar Musin, Shutterstock
If you are lucky enough to have a whole month to spend in Albania, you will probably have torn up any itinerary by the end of your first week. Those who like mountains will want to spend more time in the Albanian Alps or perhaps explore Puka in more depth to take in the breath-taking views and wildlife in the area. On the beautiful Valbona River you can visit the highest mountain in Albania, Mount Jerezca, hike through the rolling hills and visit a number of ancient caves in the area.
Relax in one of Albania’s natural thermal spas © Dritan Zaimi, Shutterstock
Those interested in cultural heritage may want to spend an extra day or two in Shkodra and then visit Mati and Mirdita, to visit ancient buildings such as a 500-year-old church, set in magnificent scenery in the village of Oroshi. Likewise, you could take some time to relax in one of Albania’s most famous thermal spas just outside Peshkopia. Or perhaps you will have had enough of travelling and just want to relax on the Riviera or at one of the lakes. It is worth repeating that Albania has something for almost everyone.
Inspired to visit our Destination of the Month, Albania? Don’t forget to pack our guide: