There are only a few places in Europe that have managed to stay off the tourist radar. While its more famous neighbours Greece and Montenegro are already well established on the Central European tourist-trail, Albania somehow seems to have been largely forgotten. Is it Liam Neeson’s fault for trying to scaremonger us by fighting the Albanian mafia in “Taken”? Is it because the communist regime wasn’t exactly welcoming towards foreigners wanting to visit the country? Or is it maybe because there isn’t all that much to see or do there?
After having spent one month in the country, I can definitely say that it’s not the latter! Albania might be relatively unknown so far, it’s only a matter of time before more & more travellers will discover this Balkan beauty! Curious?
Here are the best places to visit in Albania!
1. Tirana: the capital
An intriguing mix of old and new, that’s how Tirana could best be described. Hidden communist relics, grand boulevards, a vibrant nightlife and dusty, chaotic street markets is what you can expect from a visit to the Albanian capital! If you have a soft spot for charming chaos , then Tirana will be your kind of place!
2. Berat: the town of a thousand windows
I have spent 2 weeks working at Berat Backpackers, the local youth hostel. It was a wonderful place to slow down for a while: Albania’s most famous Ottoman town doesn’t disappoint! The Mangalemi neighbourhood consists of beautiful Ottoman houses that climb up towards the castle. The Gorica neighbourhood, on the other side of the bridge, displays narrow, cobble-stoned alleys that lead to gentle tree-covered slopes. Make sure you spend a few days here to do Berat justice!
3. Gjirokastra: another Ottoman jewel
Although smaller, Gjirokastra is just as gorgeous as Berat! The well-preserved castle is definitely worth a visit, if only for the gorgeous views it offers over the slate-roofed houses. Wandering around the central streets, trying to strike up a conversation with the locals is one of my fondest memories of the place!
4. Butrint: ruins steeped in history
It seems that Albania is full of Unesco-sites, who would have guessed, right? The ancient ruins of Butrint, close to the seaside “resort” of Saranda are famous with daytrippers who take the short ferry ride from neighbouring Corfou, so you better plan your visit outside the ferry-arrivals!
Butrint has been a Greek colony and a Roman city. It has known prosperity under Byzantine administration, and has also been briefly occupied by the Venetians. It was finally abandoned in the late Middle Ages after marshes formed the area. The site is situated in a beautiful natural environment and is absolutely stunning!
5. The Albanian Riviera: Italy, minus the price tag
Love the clear blue waters on the eastern coast of Italy? Cross the Adriatic Sea and you’ll find exactly the same thing on the Albanian side, minus the price tags! Wait, no, that’s not exactly true, you will not find any over-crowded beaches on the Albanian Riviera! The area is changing rapidly though. When I was in Himara, a few years ago, it was a pretty abandoned village. Now they already seem to have their first beach resort…
Voskopoja, is a small mountain village, near Korça, south-east Albania. The place is known for its beautiful churches and fresques. They are among the most representative of 18th century ecclesiastical art in the Balkans! Unfortunately during my visit they all seemed closed…Not that it matters too much; the countryside alone is worth the trip. I feasted on a packed lunch accompanied by passing goats, donkeys, cows and chickens and occasionally the odd farmer too.
There’s plenty more to discover in Albania: the mountain peaks, Lake Ohrid, …
But don’t wait too long, Albania seems to be more than ready to establish itself firmly on the tourism market!
Over to you! Have you been? What were your favourite places to visit in Albania?
If you are planning to go, let me know in the comments!