Those who set out for Albania will experience cultural treasures of Christian, Muslim and ancient origin, Mediterranean coastal landscapes, the mountain world of the Gramos chain with its lakes and spectacular gorges as well as a Greek-Italian influenced cuisine. We present the best sights of Albania.
Albania is a country with ancient traditions that are still alive today. Forty years of dictatorship, extreme isolation and hard-to-reach areas have contributed to this. However, the population meets the still rare visitors warmly, and traveling in Albania is safe. The best conditions for discovering Albania’s sights – from the sandy beaches of the Adriatic to barren rocky landscapes dotted with wildflowers to the grassy high plateau with snow-capped mountain peaks as a backdrop. Here is our list of the 22 best places to visit in Albania.
The villages in the northern part of the coast are very picturesque. Dhermi, Vuno and the old part of Himara offer compact historic districts, almost somewhat reminiscent of Greece. Decayed buildings remind us of the many emigrants to Greece. Dhermi, apart from the small village of Palasa, is the first place you reach after the pass.
In Dhermi and region there are numerous churches and chapels, but many are dilapidated or inaccessible. Worth seeing is the church of St. Mary above the village, which is probably 600 years old. Two other churches can also be visited.
However, Dhermi is especially popular for its beaches. Below the village, numerous hotels have been built in recent years – some directly on the beach, others further up the slope. Deep below Dhermi lies the beach of the village. A nice boardwalk with cafes invites you to linger and stroll. A little further north is the long beach of Drymades.
Not long ago, Ksamil was a dreamy little village on the way to Butrint. Because of its beautiful beaches, however, it quickly developed from an insider tip to a popular vacation destination. There has been a lot of construction – there is hardly any free space left.
From mid-July to the end of August, it gets so crowded in Ksamil that not only are most of the accommodations fully booked, but space on the beach also becomes scarce. Outside the high season, however, it is still possible to enjoy the beach: The beaches near the center of town are probably the most beautiful in Albania – crystal-clear water and light sandy beaches are reminiscent of the Caribbean. The view to the offshore islands and Corfu, which is within reach, is fantastic. Occasionally ferry boats pass by. Restaurants invite for refreshments and good meals.
Along the peninsula north of Ksamil there are – besides an old monastery and ancient defensive walls – several beaches, as well as at the southwestern end of the peninsula. Of course, the other sights of the regions can be easily reached from here.
Durres is the second largest city in Albania after the capital Tirana and also the most important port of the entire country. For this reason, this resort for booking a hotel for vacation offers both a variety of attractions and an exceptionally lively atmosphere. For tourism, Durres is even more significant because of its location on the picturesque Adriatic coast. This is because most people from abroad who want to spend a beach vacation in Albania choose to stay in a hotel in this tourist area.
Although, especially for families, the beautiful beaches of the Adriatic Sea are the main reason for booking accommodation in Durres, the sights from ancient times and later eras also attract numerous tourists to the big city. Because in the course of time, buildings with a very different style were erected there by the most diverse peoples.
The Greeks and Romans as well as the Ottomans, Italians and the Soviet Union shaped the architecture of Durres. Some of the most important landmarks that numerous hotel guests visit on vacation include the Amphitheater and the Fatih Mosque. Equally worth seeing are the Venetian Tower and the city walls of Durres. The exploration of the former royal villa Zogu is also worthwhile.
Theth is the heart of the Albanian Alps: a magnificent valley surrounded by the highest peaks of the mountains. The small village is secluded between the mountains – with the national park the village is the destination of many visitors. High peaks and rock walls surround the impressive basin at the end of the Shala valley. The village is well suited as a starting point for smaller and larger hikes and sightseeing.
Tourism in Theth is booming. Everywhere new accommodations are built, existing houses are extended, new paths are laid out. Thus, the quality of the offer is also increasing. Nevertheless, one is still stuck in the middle of a wild mountain world.
Besides the many possibilities for hiking, there are of course also some sights in Theth. For example, the Tower of Isolation in Theth (also called the Tower of Blood). In former times men who were affected by the blood revenge sought shelter here. They often had to stay here for months until a reconciliation agreement was reached between the families concerned.
Worth seeing is the Blue Eye, a blue-green shining giant pool in the mountains. Cold crystal-clear water invites probably only on the very hot days to cool down. You can only get there on foot. Touristically the Blue Eye is probably attributed to Theth, probably because it is organized as a day hike from there.
The hike to the Blue Eye takes 40 minutes, along narrow paths, exposed footsteps and over wooden ladders. The short strain is worth it. The reward is a really worth seeing, idyllic place to stay a little longer.
When the Albanian thinks of vacation, he probably thinks first of Sarande. Here there is even more sun and even more warmth than elsewhere in Albania. And here the sea is especially beautiful.
Also more and more foreign tourists discover Sarande, attracted by the great coast, the good weather and the ruins in Butrint. Thus, the city offers a rich tourist offer: the pretty waterfront and numerous restaurants with a view of the sea and the Greek island of Corfu in the background.
The crystal clear waters and beautiful beaches of Ksamil, decent accommodation at very good prices, good nightlife and decent cuisine convince more and more vacationers.
The town itself is rather small and doesn’t offer too many sights. However, the lively seaside resort is well suited for relaxing by the sea – and not only for bathing tourists. The long promenade invites you to stroll, the restaurants offer delicious food and the sea beckons. In addition, the region of southern Albania is very rich in beautiful landscapes and historical heritage, which can be explored from Sarande. The cityscape is characterized by numerous new hotel buildings – the construction boom continues. The sleepy seaside resort has become a steadily growing city, and in high summer Sarande is bursting at the seams.
The first Albanian UNESCO World Heritage Site is located about 20 kilometers south of Saranda. The drive takes about half an hour.
The Greek colony and important Roman city is picturesquely situated on a small peninsula in Lake Butrint, which is connected to the sea by a short channel. From the ancient city founded by Greek colonists, the ruins of various buildings such as dwellings, churches, baptistery and baths, the theater and the city wall with gates are still preserved. The area is now wooded, which contrasts nicely with the ruins. The beautiful mosaic of the Baptistery is unfortunately often covered with sand to protect it. Partly the ruins are under water, especially during or after bad weather.
A tour leads from the entrance first along the main path past a Venetian tower. It is then best to turn towards the theater and go around the hill counterclockwise before going up to the castle. In this way you will pass all the important buildings, such as the sanctuary of Asklepios, Roman buildings, the Gymnasion, the Trikonchos Palace, remains of the aqueduct, the Baptistery, the Nymphaeum, the early Christian basilica and the city walls with the Sea and Lion Gates.
On the Acroppolis, a Venetian castle from the Middle Ages houses the museum, which displays statues and other excavated objects and presents the history of the region.
In the north of Albania, between the rivers Drin, Buna and Kir and Lake Scutari, lies one of the oldest cities in Albania – Shkoder. Shkoder is one of the most important economic and cultural centers of Albania. The 2400 year old city in northern Albania is also the center of Catholicism in the country and the inhabitants of the ancient city live every day to the rest of the world impressively that a peaceful and respectful coexistence of different religions is possible.
Shkoder is historically the oldest city in Albania. For a long time Shkoder was responsible for the protection of the trade routes of the rivers Buna and Drin. The good location of the city is still of high strategic importance today, because all trade routes to the center and south of the country run along the city. This special position often brought the city wealth in the past, but also made it the center of conflicts of competing powers.
Once the capital of Illyria, the city was first taken by the Romans and later by the Turks. It was only after the First Balkan War in 1912 that Shkoder became part of Albania. The strong ties of the city’s many Catholic inhabitants with Austria and Italy were very beneficial to the city’s development. Schools were opened by monks and the country’s first newspaper was published in Shkoder. Today the town remains the traditional market center for the northern Albanian mountain area.
Besides Rozafa Castle, the lead mosque in Shkoder is an important historical building. The mosque, built in 1773 in Ottoman style, owes its name to its beautiful lead domes, which also decorate the courtyard and the apse in a smaller form.
15. Llogara Pass
The road from Vlora winds from Orikum, first leisurely, then increasingly steeply up to the Llogara Pass. The top of the pass is at 1027 meters. If the visibility is clear, there is a beautiful view of the Albanian Riviera from here: deep down lies the turquoise sea with beautiful beaches, on the left you look up to the highest peaks of the Ceraunian Mountains with high rock walls. In long bends the road winds down to the coast. Caesar is said to have passed through here when he went to war against Pompey.
The mountain forest on the north side of the pass is protected as a national park. There are a few restaurants here as well as a new visitor center with information about the nature reserve. Some of the pines and pine trees even have names because of their striking shapes. The Llogara National Park is also a refuge for small and large mammals. In contrast to the wild forest is the almost vegetationless south side of the pass.
The flora-rich mountain world offers a cool alternative to the heat of the sea. There are a few restaurants on the top of the pass and on the north side, so there’s really no reason not to stop here. There are also hotels on the climb north of the pass.
Korca is an up-and-coming, flourishing city and is characterized by a wide variety of ethnicities and cultural influences. This is due, among other things, to the intensive trade with Central Europe and the independence movement of Albania in the 19th and 20th centuries.
On the large square in front of the Cathedral of the Resurrection, people stroll along numerous cafes, bars and restaurants. These compete around the boulevard, in the pedestrian zone and in the old bazaar district for the favor of the guests.
Korca attracts its guests with several museums, several festivals, impressive places of worship and, above all, with the most delicious Albanian beer.
The city center is a patchwork of airy, wide streets and original cobbled, narrow alleys of the old town. Ottoman stone houses, the old Ottoman bazaar district and the Mirahor Mosque are among the sights, as is the city’s extremely handsome cathedral.
As (allegedly) the largest house of worship in Albania, the imposing domed building with its two towers fits perfectly into the image of a city whose Mediterranean flair wafts around the nose of every visitor.
The plain of Borsh is even slightly larger than that of Qeparo. The beach is wide and several kilometers long. Here, too, there are several hotels, especially in the southern part of the bay. The village at the foot of the slope, clearly set back from the coast, is known above all for its restaurant “Ujëvara”: above the restaurant numerous springs rise, the water flows in cascades through the garden shaded by trees and then as a strong stream under the restaurant towards the sea.
At Borsh, a road branches off that leads over a 600 meter high pass into the valley of the Shushica behind the Ceraunian Mountains. This unpaved route is a popular detour for 4×4 drivers. Not quite a kilometer and a half after the turnoff in the village- at the end of the asphalt – you reach the castle of Borsh, also called Sopot. A good path leads up to the fortress analge, which impresses with a massive gate analge and a dilapidated mosque. And again there is a magnificent panorama to admire with the sea and the mountains in the hinterland.
The more than 2000 years old city of Berat is located about 70 km south of the capital Tirana in the mountainous region of central Albania. Not only the picturesque landscape, characterized by steep slopes and the Osum River, but also its unique architecture make it one of the most beautiful cities in Albania. The excellently preserved old town buildings, which look down on the river valley, also give it the nickname “City of a Thousand Windows”.
After Berat had already been officially designated a museum city in 1961, the city was finally awarded the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. In order to preserve the historic townscape with its unusual mixture of different styles, new buildings are largely prohibited in the old town of Berat to this day.
Already visible from afar is the castle of Berat, built on a rocky hill above the Osum River and accessible only from the south. The present complex, which dates back to Roman and Byzantine predecessor buildings, was essentially built in its present form in the 13th century.
Directly below the castle nestles the district of Mangalem. In this district you can find the typical houses for which Berat is known. Due to their narrow construction and large windows, from a distance they look like toy buildings stacked on top of each other by children.
Pogradec is a small town at the southern end of Lake Ohrid, which is embedded in a very beautiful mountain landscape. Despite its long history, the town does not offer many sights. However, the lake promenade and a pedestrian zone have been nicely spruced up. Pogradec is well suited to explore the surrounding area from here in a relaxed way. Many Albanians spend their summer bathing vacations here.
Pogradec is located in southeastern Albania directly on the shore of Lake Ohrid – as one of the oldest freshwater lakes in the world a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the opposite shore is Northern Macedonia, and Korça is also not far away. The surrounding countryside is quite mountainous. Thanks to its location at over 700 meters, the lake and town are a popular place to stay to escape the heat during the summer months in the Albanian plains. The lake is nevertheless warm enough for swimming well into the fall.
Himara is the center of the Albanian Riviera. The historical village is located on the top of a hill. The “new town” on the beach is called Spile. The center of the village with promenade is located in the northern part of the bay. Along the southern part, separated by a small rock, there are mainly hotel complexes.
Despite the small harbor, Himara is primarily a seaside resort. The sandy beach stretches along the entire bay, behind it a newly designed beach promenade with numerous restaurants and cafes.
The historical heritage of Himara lies on the hill: Old Himara – today called the “village” – is enthroned on a hill above the new town. This location, about two kilometers from the coast, used to offer security when danger from pirates was a constant threat. Today it is rather sleepy here, as many people have left the region in recent decades. Narrow alleys lead through the village. In the meantime, some houses have been restored.
The Orthodox church with monastery buildings and the adjacent Greek school have been spruced up. At the end of the hill there are the ruins of the old castle of Himara. In addition, the remains of a small chapel hide between the walls. Most visitors come not so much for the old walls, but for the magnificent view of Himara and its surroundings. Small cafes are suitable to admire the sunset over the Ionian Sea.
9. Porto Palermo
Probably the most visited historical sight along the coast is the Porto Palermo fortress a few kilometers south of Himara. The fortress is located on a small peninsula in the middle of the well-protected bay. The despot Ali Pasha Tepelena had the fortress built – or at least expanded – at the beginning of the 19th century based on a model in Italy. An expedition through the dark vaults leads to the roof of the fortress, which offers a beautiful view of the book.
The area including the historical fortress was still used for military purposes by the communists. There are still plenty of clues both in the casemates of the fortress and in the buildings at the beginning of the peninsula. In the meantime, a chapel was improvised in one of the military buildings.
The northern part of the bay is still a restricted military area. Easily visible from the road is the tunnel that used to house the Albanian Navy’s submarines – a huge bunker.
Vlore is one of the largest cities in Albania and also a popular seaside resort. The city is located at the junction of the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea, at the transition from the Central Albanian coastal plain to the Southern Albanian coastal mountains. The bay of Vlore, which forms a natural harbor, was popular with Greeks, Romans, Turks and Soviets – today bathers flock here. But the surrounding area also offers a lot of history and nature for travelers.
The sights of Vlore are mainly gathered around the Flag Square (Sheshi Flamurti) in the city center, where there are museums to visit in addition to the historical center.
After that, a walk along the main street leading to the port is a good idea. The nicely designed boulevard offers a glimpse into the daily life of the city. At the other end is the Independence Museum and just beyond that begins the long waterfront promenade with many cafes and restaurants, which is soon joined by the city beaches. The further south you go, the more secluded and beautiful it becomes.
Even from a distance, you can see it, the town of Gjirokaster, whose stone houses climb steeply up the slopes of Mali i Gjerë, a mountain range whose imposing peaks rise to 1800 meters above sea level. Steep is also the road that leads all the way up to the old town of Gjirokaster. Only in certain places is the main road wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass at the same time. Gjirokaster is also called the “city of a thousand steps” and it is fair to say that it lives up to this name. None of the narrow streets simply lead straight ahead. They lead up and down, around curves and corners – Gjirokaster, the somewhat different city.
The famous Albanian writer Ismail Kadare, who was born and raised in Gjirokaster, once described his hometown as “strange.” A travel guide, on the other hand, as amazing. The town has a truly idiosyncratic appearance, with its houses clinging to the steep hillside, its sometimes gloomy narrow streets and quaint, dreamy alleys. The center of the old town, high up on the mountain seems almost enchanted and from many places offers a magnificent view over the beautiful Drino Valley. The oldest of the houses are situated at 480 meters above the Adriatic Sea. In the old town you can find many old, traditional Albanian houses, in the style of the so-called Balkan architecture.
Apollonia was a Greek colony that flourished as an important city, especially in Roman times. At that time, the town still had a river port – the Vjosa changed its course after an earthquake – and, along with Durrës, was the starting point of the Via Egnatia, which connected the eastern Adriatic coast with Constantinople. Today Apollonia is one of the most important archaeological sites in Albania.
Where at that time a large city stretched over the entire hill, today only an Orthodox monastery stands next to the ruins. The area has not yet been completely excavated – remains of the ancient city can be found everywhere: From the foot of the hill up to the acropollis. The Agora with the Odeon (theater) and the partially restored ruins of the Buleuterion are particularly impressive. Large walls can also still be seen. It is worthwhile to follow the paths through the often overgrown vegetation and to come across old walls again and again.
In the monastery there is still a small museum where excavated statues can be seen. The old orthodox monastery with St. Mary’s church and bell tower would be worth a visit otherwise. The monastery courtyard with the little church in the center is a tranquil place. Various Roman columns were built into the church.
In the center of northern Albania lies the small town and municipality of Kruja. The name of the small town means “spring” or “well” in Albanian and first appeared as Kroaí in Byzantine written traditions during the town’s beginnings. Turks during the Ottoman era called the city Akçahisar, translated as “white castle”. Thus, Kruja is located about 500 m above sea level and 35 km from the Adriatic coast. Kruja is known today mainly for its fortress, the construction of which is said to mark historically the early days of the city.
The castle of Kruje from the early 6th century is considered a historical treasure in Albania. The Skanderbeg Museum or National Museum is located inside the fortress and looks like a medieval fortress, but is a new building from the 80s, at which time it was opened. The museum honors the national hero Skanderbeg and his significant achievements. Kruje was once considered a center of Albanian Bektashites, which is why it had several tekken (temples), of which the Dollmatekke in the fortress, built in 1788, still exists. An ethnographic museum and a Turkish bath can also be found in the fortress. Below the fortress is a restored Krujes bazaar street with 19th century buildings in Krujes typical style of the surrounding mountain area. The bazaar mosque from the Ottoman period is located above the bazaar outside the fortress and is therefore named “Suburban Mosque” or “Murad Bey Mosque” after its builder. It was built in 1533/34 and restored in 1837/38. It has colorful frescoes inside and a roof truss supported by 6 m high columns.
4. Lake Koman
Koman Reservoir is located in the north of Albania, in the middle of the Albanian Alps. In the vernacular, these are also called “Prokletije”, which can also be translated as “enchanted mountains”. This name already says something about the magic of the country.
The Koman reservoir and the surrounding countryside are characterized by the typical, strongly fissured, towering rock faces and a tree-free, but nevertheless mostly green vegetation. While evergreen Mediterranean hardwoods are found at lower altitudes, deciduous shrubs increase as the altitude rises.
The Koman reservoir runs through the Malgun gorge, which is called Gryka e Malgunit by the locals. Among the widespread animal species are genera that also feel at home in our Central European climate. These include foxes, deer and badgers. But also the brown bear or the golden eagle can be found in the rugged mountain ranges. With a little luck, even chamois and otters can be observed in their natural environment.
The capital of Albania, Tirana, is the political, economic and cultural center of the country. The city is located on the western shore of the local mountain Dajti (1,611 m) in central Albania. A cable car ride up the mountain is available. Founded in 1614, Tirana was not declared the capital until 1920. The center of the city is Skanderbeg Square. It is surrounded by many public buildings, the National Historical Museum, the Opera, which is located in the Palace of Culture, and the Et’hem Bey Mosque, among others.
From here the streets continue in a star shape. The city’s landmark is also located here: the Skanderbeg Monument, dedicated to the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg. Tirana is usually the starting point for Albania round trips, as the international airport is also located here. It is about 17 kilometers from the city center. The name of the airport translates as “Mother Theresa”.
Qeparo’s surroundings are especially noticeable for the many olive trees. Worth a stop is the olive oil production plant in the village center – a nice souvenir. As in Himara, the center of the village has shifted over the decades: the old village is on the mountain, the center is now at the foot of the mountain, while for some years now it is mainly the area on the coast that has been developing. Qeparo now even has an attractive pedestrian promenade along the narrow beach, where fresh springs flow out everywhere. New hotels are being built, and the simple beach bars are great for a sunset drink.
Old Qeparo is reached by a narrow and steep road that curves off at the eastern end. The village, at 450 meters above sea level, is virtually extinct, but offers an impressive substance of old buildings and a church. A little to the north are the ruins of the old castle complex. Of course, one is rewarded with a magnificent view here as well.
Lin is a small fishing village with Slavic population on the western shore of Lake Ohrid. It is located 20 kilometers north of Pogradec on a small strip of land between the shore and a hill that extends out into the lake as a peninsula.
Ancient settlement remains have been found on the hill during excavations, including a pretty mosaic from Roman times. Visitors can climb up to the excavations (the mosaic is often covered for its protection, but the view is worthwhile), wander through the village’s alleyways, and have a leisurely drink or meal on the shore of the lake.
Lin is located on the main road from Pogradec north to Elbasan. Before the road climbs to the pass, just turn right down to the lake. There are also furgons on the route. Between Pogradec and Lin there are numerous restaurants and some hotels directly at the lake, where it is good to relax by the water. There are also a few simpler accommodations in Lin.