Albania doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a tourist destination, but to overlook this Balkan gem, with miles of beautiful coastline, is a mistake.
For years the country was ruled with an iron fist by communist dictator Enver Hoxha making Albania as secretive as North Korea, and no one could get in or out.
But after Hoxha’s death in 1985 the country opened up and has been attracting an ever-growing number of visitors.
The charming capital Tirana is surrounded by mountains, and less than one hour’s drive from the coast at Durres.
There is plenty of interest to do and see, including some great museums, such as BunkArt, dedicated to the country’s reclusive past.
Albania has over 280 miles of coastline with serene bays, sandy beaches and small fishing villages. If that's not enough to convince you, you'll also get to admire some epic Ottoman architecture.
The unspoiled countryside is dotted with national parks, ancient castles and archaeological sites, and is home to the Albanian Alps which are perfect for hiking in summer and skiing in winter.
So, what is there to do in Albania? Plenty!
Let’s check out the best places to visit in Albania...
Getting to Albania from the rest of Europe is relatively easy as it's served by three of Europe’s biggest budget airlines; Ryanair, Easyjet and Wizz Air.
There are daily flights from European cities to Tirana and Kukes.
If visiting from farther afield then it’s best to fly to a large hub such as Frankfurt or Amsterdam and take a connecting flight for the final section.
There are daily buses to Tirana from neighboring countries. Below are a few of the most popular routes!
In addition to the regional bus companies servicing these routes, Flixbus is one of the most popular bus companies in Europe with routes covering Bulgaria both domestically and internationally.
There are no international train services between Albania and other European countries.
Hiring a car is a great way to get around Albania, and means you’ll have more freedom to explore as you please. For the best deals, check out Rental Cars!
One of the best ways to get around Albania and the rest of the Balkans is to hire a motorhome/RV.
This is a great way to travel along the beautiful Adriatic and Ionian coastline, and can save you a ton of money on hotels and restaurants too as you can cook for yourself!
Visit Motorhome Republic for the best deals!
Albania benefits from semi-regular bus services and marshrutkas (mini buses with a fixed route), though delays can be frequent. Bus travel is very cheap and can be a good way to get between major cities.
Most of Albania’s often beautiful railway routes have fallen into disrepair and been closed down. As such it’s not really possible to travel Albania by train (for the time being at least).
Albania’s charming capital Tirana is nestled within the Skanderbeg Mountain range (you’ll hear a lot about Albania’s national hero Skanderbeg while in the country) and only 23 miles from the coast at Durres.
The city is packed with interesting things to see and do from Skanderbeg Square (told you) to the bunkers that used to act as government buildings and prisons during the reign of Enver Hoxha.
The city is also full of interesting architecture (think soviet brutalist style like the Tirana Pyramid) juxtaposed with open parks, green spaces and mountain views.
Cafe culture is alive and well in Tirana and there are lots of pleasant places to sit out and drink the atmosphere of one of Europe’s most intriguing capitals.
The nearby mountains are easily reachable from the city and there is a cable car to the top of Mount Dajti. It’s also only a short hop to the Adriatic coast!
So whether you want to hike or ski in the mountains, or sunbathe at the beach, Tirana makes a great base for exploring.
This walking tour is a great way to get a feel for the city and see the top Tirana attractions, or take a look at this Tirana itinerary...
No matter how you choose to visit, this fantastic place is undoubtedly one of the best cities in Albania!
Petrela Castle is a popular tourist attraction not far from Tirana, and dates back to the 6th Century AD (though most of what you can see today was built in the 15th Century).
While Skanderbeg was off fighting the Ottoman Turks, the castle was controlled by his sister Mamica Kastrioti.
There's a restaurant located within the castle offering stunning views out across the Erzen valley and the peaks of the Skanderbeg mountains.
Petrela Castle is perched atop a 329 meter (1,079 foot) hilltop from where you can look out over the nearby olive groves.
The castle is 10 miles south of central Tirana and takes around 30 minutes to drive. Trust me, it's definitely worth visiting!
Albania’s wine making tradition dates back over 3,000 years to the Illyrians who occupied this Balkan country long before the Romans.
There are four main wine regions from the coastal plains to the mountains and Albania produces popular wines from Merlot and Pinot Grigio to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Some of the country’s most famous grape varieties include Shesh, Vlosh, Berat and Debine, and some of the seeds found date back between 4,000 and 6,000 years.
One of the best ways to experience Albania’s wine culture (apart from enjoying a glass or two with lunch), is to take a tour.
There are some great wine tours starting in Tirana which include visiting vineyards, wineries and tastings.
For lovers of viticulture and history, exploring the wine regions is one of the best things to do in Albania!
If you're planning the ultimate European road trip and you're looking for some inspiration, then head to the beautiful Douro Valley in Portugal. This is another fantastic wine region!
This central Albanian “City of a Thousand Windows” is famed for its quaint white houses dating back to the Ottoman occupation of the country.
The whitewashed stone houses of Berat cling to the hillside above the Osum River like the villages of the Amalfi coast in Italy.
With its stunning houses, narrow cobbled streets, a beautiful old castle and sumptuous mountain surroundings, it’s no wonder that Berat is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Berat is certainly one of the best places to visit in Albania and should be on the bucket list of every serious traveler.
This full day tour to Berat from Tirana is a great way to experience the city if your time is limited, but otherwise you should allow at least two to three days to discover this Balkan gem.
The palm-lined city of Vlore sits on a stretch of beautiful coastline where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea.
Here you’ll find Turquoize waters that lap at golden sandy beaches backed by lush, green mountains.
Like many cities in the region, Vlore has a rich and varied history from the Illyrians to the Greeks, Romans and Ottomans.
Vlore was once the capital of Albania and is the city in which the country’s independence was declared in 1912.
You’ll find plenty of interesting museums here, such as the Ethnographic Museum dedicated to the folk costumes and traditions of the region.
The hot Mediterranean climate means the city is perfect for hitting the many nearby beaches for some sun, sea and serious relaxation.
One of the best beaches is Bora Bora which has golden sand, clear blue waters, plenty of entertainment and dining options, and is patrolled by lifeguards making it perfect for families.
Here are some more things to do in Vlore...
The Llogara Pass is a mountain pass in Llogara National Park.
It's located high up in the Ceraunian Mountains close to the coastline of the Albanian Riviera!
This winding coastal road offers incredible views overlooking the Ionian Sea and rustic villages far below. The pass tops out at a staggering 1,043 meters (3,422 feet), so it’s not your average stretch of highway.
The Llogara Pass forms part of the SH-8 highway between Dhermi and Dukat i Ri and stretches for around 20 miles.
Driving the Llogara Pass is definitely one of the more fun things to do in Albania, but given the high altitude, sharp turns and occasional lack of barriers, concentration is needed when navigating this stunning stretch of road, especially in winter.
The Llogara National Park is also well worth a visit for its beautiful scenery of alpine meadows, rocky outcrops, rivers, lakes and forest. In winter the park transforms into a snowy wonderland.
No matter when you visit, there's a reason that this national park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.
The Canyon of Gjipe is an 800-meter long canyon formed by the Ionian Sea on the Albanian Riviera.
The coastal waters of the canyon are home to loggerhead turtles among other interesting flora and fauna. It's also considered an important plant area thanks to some rare and endemic species found here.
Adrenaline junkies can have a go at canyoning or abseiling at Gjipe, and then finish up at the beach.
The canyon opens up at Gjipe beach which is one of the most stunning stretches of coastline in all of Albania (and indeed the Balkan peninsula).
As Gjipe beach is only accessible on foot or by boat, it doesn’t get anywhere near the same number of tourists as other famous beaches in Albania.
If you’re looking for translucent, turquoise waters and a quiet, sandy beach to relax on, then it’s worth the extra effort to get there. For sure one of the best places to visit in Albania!
To get to Gjipe you’ll need to take the SH8 (Llogara Pass) and turn off at a sign for the beach car park. From the car park, it’s a 45 minute walk along a rocky path down to the beach.
Porto Palermo is a large bay on the Albanian Riviera famed for its beaches and 19th Century castle.
Porto Palermo castle sits on a small peninsula that's all but cut off from the mainland save for a tiny strip of land by which to access the fortress.
The imposing triangular-shaped fortress once held a military prison, and it’s possible to explore the well-preserved buildings here.
There is a small, pebble beach with a restaurant and basic facilities. The water is clear and blue, and this quiet stretch doesn’t get very busy compared to other spots along this stretch of coastline.
If you're looking to admire Albania's natural beauty then I'd definitely recommend exploring this part of the country!
Gjirokaster’s beautiful old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its authentic Ottoman era buildings. It's also the birthplace of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha!
This “City of Stone” is a real hidden gem and features a large medieval castle overlooking the town, Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques and an ancient bazaar that has been trading for hundreds of years.
Be sure to check out the Artisan’s Center where you can browse handmade goods and souvenirs made using traditional methods.
Foodies will also love the city thanks to its unique cuisine which includes local specialities such as Qifqi; a baked rice and egg dish. Not only that, but Gjirakaster is famed for its white cheese and dairy products.
With so much on offer, there's no doubt that this old town is one of the best places to see in Albania!
Here's some more information on things to do in Gjirokaster if you're planning a visit...
The Blue Eye (known locally as the Springs of Bistrice, as it forms the Bistrice River) is a freshwater spring in Theth National Park, Southern Albania.
The spring is famed for its translucent waters that can be seen to a depth of 50 meters. It’s not clear exactly how deep the spring is, as divers have never been below the 50 meter mark and no one has ever reached the bottom.
Taking a dip in the chilly, fresh waters of the Blue Eye is one of the best things to do in Albania, and the surrounding forested countryside is stunningly beautiful.
The spring is located 14 miles northeast of the city of Sarande and takes 30 minutes to drive. Another option is to take a tour which includes plenty of time for swimming, and also takes in nearby Lekursi Castle.
Here's some more information about visiting The Blue Eye!
Sarande is another resort town on the Albanian Riviera that's located on a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay.
To the west is the Ionian Sea and to the east, the foothills are covered in olive groves and a mountain landscape beyond.
The ocean around Sarande is known for its clear, turquoise waters which are perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
Above the town you’ll find the ruins of Lekursi Castle which offers stunning views out across the bay and islands, making it one of the best places to visit in Albania.
There's a restaurant next to the castle which is the perfect place to enjoy dinner and a glass of wine with a fantastic sunset.
In town, the Ethnographic Museum and old synagogue are worth a visit, and there are lots of pleasant cafes, bars and restaurants (though none beat the one at Lekursi for the views).
Here's a fantastic Saranda itinerary if you're interested...
The village of Ksamil lies 9 miles south of Sarande and is home to some of the best beaches in all of the Balkans (think Greece or Italy but a fraction of the cost).
In this stunning section of the Albanian Riviera, you’ll find azure, blue seas, sandy beaches and plenty of entertainment and dining options.
The village forms part of the Butrint National Park, so as well as idyllic beaches, there's also plenty of beautiful countryside to explore from islands and wetlands to freshwater lakes and more.
Ksamil is one of the best places to visit in Albania, and even the whole of Europe thanks to its beauty, low prices and Mediterranean weather.
You won't run out of things to do in Ksamil so what are you waiting for? This village is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Albania so don't leave it off your itinerary.
Siars Hotel is the perfect place to stay in Ksamil because many of the rooms offer a private balcony where you can enjoy the sea views. Not only will you be staying in a beautiful area, but there's also free private parking.
Rozafa Castle (also known as Shkoder Castle) was an Ilyrian stronghold thanks to its location 130 meters above the surrounding countryside.
Within the ruins of the castle lies the 13th Century St. Stephen’s Church which was later converted into a mosque during the Ottoman era.
There is an old legend surrounding the castle that tells the story of Rozafa, the wife of a builder who was immured within the walls in a secret pact. There's even a lifesize sculpture of Rozafa trapped with the walls at the castle museum.
The castle commands impressive views across the city of Shkoder and the lake of the same name.
Rozafa Castle is 3 miles from the city of Shkoder which was once the capital of Northern Albania and is well worth checking out.
Albania is a great summer destination thanks to its warm climate (similar to Greece) and miles of sandy beach.
Autumn/fall is great too with temperatures still warm enough to swim well into October.
As the country has up to six ski resorts, Albania makes a great destination for winter sports and will cost a fraction of the price compared to resorts in the Alps.
One week is a good length of stay for discovering Tirana and the Adriatic coastline. If you wish to explore the mountains too then 10 days would be more reasonable.
There are so many incredible places to visit in Albania that you could spend months there and not even scratch the surface.
Just be sure to include some of the beautiful locations on the Albanian Riviera on your itinerary!
Albania is one of the cheapest countries in Europe and a daily budget of $50 will suffice if staying in modest accommodation.
Food and drink are cheap, and you can enjoy a meal in a restaurant for under $10 if you avoid obvious tourist-traps.
Many wonderful hotels cost as little as $30 per night, which is almost unheard of in the rest of Europe. And this doesn’t mean that standards are lower either!
Albania has something of a bad reputation, in part thanks to its years being closed off from the rest of Europe.
However the people are helpful and friendly, and the country is no less safe than other parts of Europe, with one major exception.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) are present in the northeast of the country along the border with Kosovo.
Don't venture off the beaten path in these areas and check with locals where is safe (even then, mines may have moved due to flooding and other natural phenomenons).
Provided you avoid the border area with Kosovo, and take the usual traveler precautions of not flashing valuables, you should have a worry-free time in this incredible country.
There are a few good tours that take in some of the best places in Albania, from Tirana to the Riviera and national parks.
Below are a couple of the best picks:
Albania is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Europe, but there's so much more waiting for you on its doorstep...
Due to its location in southeast Europe, there are endless options for onward travel.
North Macedonia would be the obvious choice, with the beautiful Lake Ohrid just three hours by bus from Tirana.
It’s also easy to get to Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia, each very affordable but equally beautiful in their own right.
Alternatively, head across to Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey; each filled with beautiful beaches, mountains and tonnes of history.
For more help, check out these other useful guides that we have on Europe:
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