Explore Albania, a budget-friendly paradise! Discover stunning beaches, ancient cities, and hidden gems with this comprehensive Albania travel guide.

Albania? What’s in Albania?

A common question I get. Often, these people know absolutely nothing about Albania, and that’s why they don’t know what they’re missing. If you’ve been to Albania, you almost feel offended. Like a big brother sticking up for a sibling. But that’s because we know how great the small Balkan country is.

Arriving in Albania, I knew next to nothing about it. I struggled to say hello — Përshëndetje. I didn’t know the capital until days prior — Tirana. And I didn’t know what the food was like — delectable.

It’s a rising country on the tourist scene. In 2014, the country received 3.5 million visitors. By 2019, this number had increased to 6.3 million, a 74% increase. The largest increase? Holiday tourists who recently discovered the beauty awaiting them in this small country.

The capital, Tirana, buzzes with new development. Young people fill the streets, while museums like Bunk’Art offer a glimpse into the country’s complex history.

Down south, the Albanian Riviera is a slice of paradise. Picture-perfect villages like Saranda and Dhermi cling to cliffsides above the sparkling blue Ionian Sea. Family-run restaurants serve up the freshest food — think grilled meats, piles of veggies, and flaky pastries. After, relax on a beautiful beach or explore ancient Roman ruins at Butrint, imagining centuries of history.

For adventure, head north to Theth National Park and The Accursed Mountains! Hike from Theth to Valbona for incredible views, or take a (really cold!) dip in the crystal-clear Blue Eye. Meanwhile, Shkodër gives you a taste of everyday Albanian life, with old Ottoman bridges and castles adding a touch of the past.

Albania is still a bit of a secret, but that’s changing fast. So we’ll have to wait and see what the future has for Albania. But Albanians seem to have a sound mind about it. They’re okay with being patient and letting things unfold.

As my Airbnb host told me as we rode from the airport to the apartment, “Avash, avash.”

Slowly, slowly.

As for my future in Albania? Well, I know I’ll be visiting many times.

What to see and do in Albania

1. Explore the capital, Tirana

This vibrant city is a fascinating mix of old and new.

A trip to Skanderbeg Square is on every Albania travel guide

Stroll through Skanderbeg Square, the heart of Tirana, and take in the colorful buildings and lively atmosphere. Check out the trendy Blloku neighborhood, once reserved for the communist elite and now filled with cafes, shops, and nightlife. For a sobering look at Albania’s past, visit Bunk’Art, a former bunker turned into a museum exploring the country’s communist history. Even if you only have one day in Tirana, it’s more than enough to get a dose of the city and its vibe.

And, for my outdoor lovers, Mount Dajti and Grand Park of Tirana are your go-to places. And if you lean more toward luxury, then Tirana’s luxury hotels will be right up your alley.

Things to see:

  • National History Museum
  • Pyramid of Tirana (a quirky piece of communist-era architecture)
  • Mount Dajti (cable car ride for panoramic views)

2. Head south to explore the Albanian Riviera

This stunning coastline is where crystal-clear turquoise waters meet dramatic mountains.

Explore charming villages like Saranda, Dhermi, and Ksamil, each with its unique vibe. Enjoy incredible seafood at family-run restaurants, sunbathe on pristine beaches, and swim in secluded coves. For adventure, rent a boat and explore the islands off the coast, or head inland to the Blue Eye natural spring with its shockingly cold water.

Albania landscape

And stop by The Mussel House in Ksamil for a fantastic lunch or dinner on a stunning lake.

Things to see:

  • The beaches themselves! (The beaches around Ksamil and Saranda are my favorites)
  • Butrint National Park (ancient Roman ruins right on the coast)
  • Lekursi Castle (Saranda, for stunning views)

3. Explore the mountains of Theth National Park

Escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the dramatic beauty of Albania’s Accursed Mountains.

Theth National Park is a hiker’s paradise, with trails winding through lush valleys and up to panoramic viewpoints. The iconic hike from Theth to Valbona is a must-do for adventurous travelers, offering breathtaking scenery and a glimpse into traditional Albanian mountain life. If you’re short on time, you can still experience the magic of the hike like I did – tackle it as far as the stunning peak, then head back down to Theth.

A view of the Albanian mountains with a man standing at a viewpoint

Plus, The Blue Eye and Grunas Waterfall are great options to cool off in the summer.

Overall, the northern part of the country alone makes Albania worth visiting for me.

Things to see:

  • Theth to Valbona trail (or even a part of the hike for incredible views)
  • The Blue Eye (hike from Theth for an adventure or access by car)
  • Grunas Waterfall
  • Shorter hikes for all fitness levels

4. Get a dose of culture in Shkodër

Shkodër isn’t quite a city, not quite a town – it’s a place where time seems to slow down.

Imagine a place where everyone seems to know each other, friendly faces zipping by on bicycles, and life unfolds leisurely. This is the magic of Shkodër, Albania’s unofficial cultural capital. Wander the pedestrianized streets, a sensory feast of colorful Ottoman architecture, and soak up the relaxed atmosphere. Order a coffee at a sidewalk cafe and become part of the scene, watching the world go by in this charming corner of Albania.

A landscape shot of Shkoder

For a history buff’s fix, visit Rozafa Castle, perched dramatically on a hill with stunning city and landscape views. And just outside the city you can visit the Mes Bridge, an old Ottoman-style bridge that’s a photographer’s dream.

Things to see:

  • Rozafa Castle
  • Marubi National Museum of Photography
  • The pedestrianized center for its local charm and laid-back vibes

5. Travel back in time at Butrint National Park

Experience the weight of history at Butrint National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site showcasing remarkably well-preserved ruins.

Walk among ancient Greek temples, a Roman amphitheater, Byzantine churches, and even Venetian fortifications. Imagine the thriving city that once stood here, a crossroads of civilizations that shaped Albania over centuries. From The Lion Gate to the Venetian Triangular Castle to artifacts at the Butrint Museum, there’s plenty to enjoy a morning or afternoon.

The Roman ampitheater

Its coastal location adds to the drama, the Ionian Sea stretching out before you as you journey through time. (and just a beautiful view.

Things to see:

  • The Roman theater
  • The Lion Gate
  • The Venetian Triangular Castle
  • Butrint Museum (for artifacts and more profound history)

Important note: While generally walkable, some terrain is uneven, potentially limiting accessibility for some visitors.

6. Check out the City of a Thousand Windows, Berat

Step back in time in Berat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its stunning Ottoman-era houses.

The white-washed facades and countless windows stacked up the hillside create a truly unique sight. Explore the Mangalem and Gorica neighborhoods, wandering cobblestone streets and marveling at the architectural beauty that has earned Berat its nickname.

Visit Berat Castle, a well-preserved fortress with incredible city views and surrounding landscapes. It offers a glimpse into Albania’s rich history.

Things to see:

  • Mangalem & Gorica neighborhoods
  • Berat Castle
  • Onufri National Iconographic Museum (for those interested in religious art)

Albania travel costs

Albania is one of Europe’s most budget-friendly destinations, offering incredible value for your travel dollars. While prices can be slightly higher in popular tourist areas, the overall affordability makes it an enticing choice for travelers on all budgets.

Here’s a general breakdown of typical costs:

  • Accommodation:
    • Dorms: $10-15 per night
    • Budget hotels: $25-40 for a double room
    • Mid-range hotels: $50-80 for modern comforts
    • Luxury hotels: Can reach $100+ per night, but still far less than comparable destinations
  • Food:
    • Local restaurants: Hearty meals for $5-10
    • Street food/snacks: Under $5
    • Groceries: Fresh produce, staples, and snacks are very affordable
  • Transportation:
    • Buses: Extremely inexpensive for long-distance travel (a few dollars)
    • Taxis/Ride-hailing: Negotiate prices, but generally still affordable
    • Car rentals: Start around $30/day, an excellent way to explore independently
  • Activities:
    • Entrance fees (museums, castles): Usually $5 or less
    • Guided tours: Can vary but offer great value if you want local expertise

Tips for Saving:

  • Travel in the shoulder season (spring/fall) for lower prices
  • Eat where the locals eat for authentic food and the best deals
  • Consider self-catering if you have access to a kitchen
  • Learn a few words of Albanian – effort is appreciated and can lead to better deals!

Albania proves that incredible travel experiences don’t have to break the bank. With careful planning and an adventurous spirit, you can discover all this amazing country has to offer without sacrificing comfort.

Albania travel tips

First time to Albania?

Then there are a few things you should know in advance to help make your trip easier:

  1. Cash is king: While cards are increasingly accepted in larger cities and tourist areas, smaller towns and villages rely heavily on cash (Albanian Lek). Have some local currency handy for meals, transportation, and souvenirs.
  2. Learn a few words: Albanian may be intimidating, but locals appreciate the effort. “Hello” (Tungjatjeta) and “Thank you” (Faleminderit) go a long way and can even open doors to friendly interactions.
  3. Tap water varies: In major cities, it’s usually safe to drink. In smaller towns, bottled water is best to avoid stomach upset. When in doubt, ask for your accommodation.
  4. Tipping isn’t mandatory: A small tip (rounding up the bill, a few coins) is appreciated for good service, but it is not expected, as in some countries.
  5. Modest dress is respectful. Cover your shoulders and knees, particularly when visiting religious sites or smaller villages. This shows cultural sensitivity and avoids unwanted attention.
  6. Road rules are…flexible: Driving in Albania can be an adventure! Expect the unexpected, be extra cautious, and consider hiring a driver for longer journeys if you’re not experienced in those conditions.
  7. Embrace the unexpected: Albania is still developing its tourism infrastructure. Go with the flow, embrace unexpected moments, and you’ll be rewarded with the warmth of the Albanian people and the thrill of discovering a country off the beaten path.pen_spark

How to get around Albania

Albania offers various ways to get around, perfect for different budgets and travel styles.

Buses (furgons) are the most affordable and widely used transportation, allowing you to reach major cities and smaller towns. Be prepared for possible delays and crowded conditions — part of the Albanian experience!

Taxis are easily found in cities and a good option for short trips, but always agree on a price upfront. If you prefer the convenience of ride-hailing apps, these services are available in major cities.

Renting a car is perfect for independent explorers, allowing you to discover the beautiful Albanian countryside at your own pace. Just remember that roads outside major cities can be challenging, so drive cautiously.

Best time to visit Albania

Albania’s Mediterranean climate means warm summers and mild winters, making travel most of the year enjoyable. The specific “best” time depends on what you want from your trip:

  • Peak Season (July-August): The beaches are buzzing, the mountains are perfect for hiking, and the weather is reliably warm and sunny. Expect crowds and higher prices, especially in popular coastal destinations.
  • Shoulder Seasons (May-June & September-October): Offers a perfect balance of pleasant weather, smaller crowds, and more affordable prices. They are ideal if you want to explore cities and cultural sites and do some hiking without the summer rush.
  • Low Season (November-April): This is the least crowded season, offering the most authentic experience in cities and towns. Due to weather, some mountain areas may be inaccessible, and beach destinations will be quiet. This season is great for budget travelers and those seeking to experience local life.