Albania is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Though it increases in popularity each year, the country is largely ignored by tourists, who still think of it as a post-communist backwater (as if the world hasn’t changed in the last 30 years).
Yet this is a land of untouched natural beauty, with a rich history dating back to the ancient Illyrians and Greeks. It has become a solid favorite of backpackers looking for an affordable, off-the-beaten-path destination to explore.
I absolutely loved my time visiting Albania. It’s a country full of good food and welcoming people. I enjoyed it so much that I extended my stay.
Hikers and nature lovers can partake of all the hiking and trekking here, beach lovers have the Albanian Riviera along the Ionian coast, and history buffs can wander the uncrowded UNESCO sites such as Butrint (an ancient Roman city), Berat, and Gjirokastër.
Albania is on the up and up, with more tourists visiting each year. I think will become as popular (and expensive) as Croatia in the next couple of years, so visit now before the crowds come.
This travel guide to Albania can help you plan the perfect trip there without blowing your budget.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Albania
1. Explore Tirana
2. Visit the historic town of Berat
3. Drive the Llogara Pass
4. Hike from Valbona to Theth
5. Wander around Gjirokastër
Other Things to See and Do in Albania
1. Relax on the Albanian Riviera
Pristine beaches, turquoise water, cheap and delicious seafood — the Albanian coast has all the beauty and wonders of Croatia without the high prices and crowds (for now). Dhërmi and Ksamil are considered to have the best beaches in the country, with miles of white, sandy beachfront. If you want a busier beach destination, go to Himarë, where the beach has a promenade lined with cafés and bars. For something more off the beaten path, make your way to Gjipe Beach. For a bustling, developed beach town, visit Sarandë, which is packed with hotels, restaurants, and go-go nightlife.
2. Enjoy the view from Rozafa Castle
Situated near Shkodër in northwestern Albania, the 4th-century Rozafa Castle has panoramic views of the area, including the Buna and Drin Rivers. The fortifications here originally date to the 10th century BCE, when the Illyrians lived in the area (the current castle replaced those fortifications). Legend has it that a young woman sacrificed her life to imbue the castle walls with longevity. There isn’t a whole lot to see here, but the ruins are impressive, and it’s a good spot from which to watch the sunset. The Shkodër History Museum gives a great overview of the castle’s past, including the background of the medieval families who lived here. Admission is 150 LEK.
3. Visit the National Museum of History
The National Museum of History in Tirana offers a view of the country’s rich history and is divided into eight sections: antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, independence, iconography, the National Liberation Anti-Fascism War, the Communist Terror, and Mother Teresa (who was born in Albania). There’s a remarkable collection of ancient Greek and Roman mosaics, columns, and statues unearthed in Albania as well. The collection is extensive, so give yourself around three hours here. Admission is 400 LEK.
4. Explore the ancient ruins of Butrint
Greeks from nearby Corfu settled Butrint in the 6th century BCE. It quickly became a large trading city that was still prosperous even when the Romans took over in 167 BCE. Nowadays, you can wander the pathways between what’s left of the city, including well-preserved arches and colonnades. In 2003, Butrint, was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. It makes for an ideal day trip from Sarandë. I took my time there and spent about three hours exploring the ruins. The entrance fee is 1000 LEK and the 45-minute bus ride costs 100 LEK.
5. Admire the art at Bunk’Art
Bunk’Art 1 and 2 are former bunkers that have been turned into museums and galleries underneath Tirana. Built in the 1970s for Albania’s elite, the bunkers’ 100 rooms have now been transformed into a museum and art space. Bunk’Art 1, located on the outskirts of Tirana, focuses on Albania’s communist past and the lives of average people under communism. Bunk’Art 2, the more recent addition, is located right in Tirana; it focuses more on the secret police that were used by the regime to terrorize the population and maintain order. Admission is 500 LEK.
6. See the ancient ruins at Apollonia
Like Butrint, Apollonia was one of the most important cities in the ancient world. The Greeks founded it in 588 BCE, and it grew fast into a city-state with a huge slave trade (just like Butrint). The Romans took over in 229 BCE, when it became a cultural center with an important philosophy school. Even Julius Caesar sent his nephew (Octavius, who became Emperor Augustus) to study there. Today you can visit the ruins (a UNESCO Heritage Site), which include a theater and the restored façade of the administrative center. Admission is 300 LEK.
7. Visit Shkodër
As the largest town in the north (and home to the Rozafa Castle), it plays host to many of the country’s biggest festivals like Carnival, Lake Day, and the Shkodra Jazz Festival. The city’s Old Town is filled with picturesque, pastel-colored homes and buildings. A lot of people breeze through Shkodër on their way to Montenegro from Tirana, but I recommend spending a day or two here.
8. Cruise Lake Komani
Most people see the lake as part of the Valbonë-to-Theth hike, since you cruise the lake to get to Valbonë. If you don’t want to do that, there are day trips around the lake. You’ll spend a couple of hours on the lake before going up the Shala River, where you’ll be able to eat lunch, rent a kayak, or chill on the “beach” (the rocky embankment). The mountain water of the Shala is super clear and clean; it looks almost tropical. The restaurants here also rent rooms (or let you camp for free) if you want to stay the night.
9. Go hiking
Albania has lots of incredibly scenic hikes. If you spend most of your time in the south, you’ll get your pick of coastal hikes along the Ionian Sea, including Mount Çika and through the Ceraunian Mountains. Routes vary in length, and difficulty and trekking information isn’t readily available — large parts of these hikes are still undeveloped, so hire a guide if you want to explore. Outdoor Albania has lots of options to help you get started.
10. Take a wine tour
Albania has one of the oldest winemaking traditions in all of Europe. Albanian wine makes use of incredibly rare grapes, and some of the traditional practices date back to the Bronze Age. You can take wine tours from Berat, Lezhë, and Tirana, on which you can sample some of the country’s finest. Expect to pay 6,500 LEK for a day trip.
11. Get spooked at Sazan
The “ghost” island of Sazan is a 30-minute boat ride from the southern port town of Vlorë. It served as a Soviet military base and chemical weapons facility for many years before being abandoned. In 2017, the government opened it for tourism, although officially it remains a military base. The rooms in this vast network of nuclear bunkers and tunnels are still stocked with beds and kitchen supplies, and you can still find abandoned gas masks in the valley nearby. Tours don’t run all the time, so you need to ask in the tourist information office in Vlorë. They can book you onto a tour if they are running. Expect to pay around 2,500 LEK for a day tour to the island.
12. Visit the Durrës Archaeological Museum
As the largest archaeological museum in Albania, this is worth checking out if you are visiting Durrës. The museum is divided into two sections: Greek and Roman; highlights include small coins, sculptures, amphoras (large vessels) found on the ocean floor, giant tombstones, and fine gold jewelry. Don’t miss it if you’re a history buff like me! Admission is 300 LEK.
13. Hike Osumi Canyon
This gorgeous river canyon in southern Albania makes for the perfect day trip from Berat. It is over three million years old, stretches for 40 kilometers, and towers 40 meters above the river. The most popular way to see it up close is with a rafting tour. Tours are available February-June and start at 7,900 LEK per person, which includes transportation from Berat, lunch, and 3.5–4 hours on the water.
14. Visit the House of Leaves
The Museum of Secret Surveillance, aka the House of Leaves, is an award-winning museum in Tirana located in the old Sigurimi building (the Sigurimi were the secret police). The building was originally used by the Gestapo during the German occupation, continuing as a base of operations for the secret police until 1991. The exhibitions highlight what life was like under German and then communist rule, shedding light on the methods used to spy on, prosecute, and execute enemies of the regime. It’s sobering but incredibly insightful. Admission is 700 LEK.
Albania Travel Costs
Accommodation – There’s a growing hostel scene in Albania so you’ll find a lot of options in your travels. Dorm rooms are usually around 1,220-1,340 LEK per night. For a private room in a hostel, expect to pay 2,450-3,050 LEK per night, though, at some of the nicer, more upscale ones in Tirana, it can be as high as 4,876 LEK. Most hostels offer breakfast too and have kitchen facilities. In real small cities, you might get lucky and find dorms for as low as 975 LEK, but that’s pretty rare.
Budget hotels can be as cheap as 3,050 LEK per night for a double or twin with a private bathroom and A/C. More realistically, you’ll probably pay around 4,875-6,100 LEK per night. Most hotels offer a fairly large breakfast too.
Airbnb is another great budget option, with private rooms averaging about 3,600 LEK per night. Expect to pay around 4,900 LEK for a full apartment or home.
For anyone traveling with a tent, camping is available around the country, and it is perfectly legal to wild camp (i.e., pitch your tent anywhere on public land)! If you prefer sticking to campsites, prices are usually less than 1,200 LEK per night for a basic plot for two people and a tent without electricity.
Food – Like its Mediterranean neighbors, Albanian cuisine relies heavily on fish, olive oil, and local produce (especially onions). Breakfast is usually bread, cheese, and yogurt. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. Meat stew, grilled sausage, meat pies, and fresh salads are some of the more traditional dishes. Beef, trout, calamari, and sea bass are all popular staples. Goulash is also popular, though mostly in the mountain regions.
Food in Albania is very cheap. Traditional Albanian food costs 150–250 LEK per dish. For a meal at a sit-down restaurant, expect to pay 500-700 LEK for an appetizer, wine, and main course. For a really “nice” restaurant (or maybe one serving fish or sushi), you’re likely to spend 1,400-2,000 LEK. The most expensive meal I had in Albania was at this high-end fish restaurant in Tirana — it cost me 3,500 LEK, which is only $34 USD. That included fish, oysters, and wine!
Pizza starts at 550 LEK, while non-European food like Indian, Thai, or Chinese costs around 600-900 LEK for a main dish. Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 500 LEK.
Expect to pay around 100 LEK for a beer, 150-250 LEK for a glass of wine, 50 LEK for a bottle of water, and 140 LEK for a coffee.
If you are planning to cook your own food, a week’s worth of groceries cost about 3,200 LEK. This gets you basic staples like pasta, rice, vegetables, and some meat.
Backpacking Albania Suggested Budgets
If you are backpacking Albania, expect to spend about 3,350 LEK per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, cooking some meals, limiting your drinking, using public transportation, and sticking to free and cheap activities, like hiking and free tours. If you plan on drinking a lot (Sarandë and Tirana are big party spots), add another 500-1,000 LEK to your daily budget.
On a mid-range budget of around 9,000 LEK per day, you can stay in private hostel rooms or private Airbnbs, eat out for all your meals, see all the sites you want, do day tours, and take taxis where you want. This budget will get you whatever you want, within limits. You won’t be restricted, but you won’t be living the lux life.
On a “luxury” budget of around 14,800 LEK per day, you can basically do whatever you want here. The country is super cheap, and if you’re spending this amount of money per day, the sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get an idea of how much you need to budget daily. Keep in mind that these are daily averages — some days you may spend more, some days less (or you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in LEK (1 LEK = $0.97 USD).
Albania Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Albania is already a cheap country. You’ll be hard-pressed to spend a lot of money, even if you’re staying in private rooms or hotels. You really have to go out of your way to spend money here. I didn’t find the country expensive at all and I wasn’t even trying to budget here. If you are looking to save a few LEK, here are some tips:
- Take a free walking tour – Tirana Free Tour offers a free walking tour, which is a great way to get familiar with the city and its sites, learn some history, and ask a local guide all your questions. There are also free walking tours in Berat and Shokdër.
- Cook your own meals – Many hostels here include kitchen facilities, so if you want to save money, cook your own meals! Groceries are cheap here and you’ll find a lot of farmer’s markets around.
- Stay with a local – Staying with a local via Couchsurfing is a great way to not only save money but to meet a knowledgeable local who can help you better understand the city and its people.
- Walk everywhere – Most towns and cities in Albania are walkable, so skip the public transportation and taxis to save money.
- Enjoy the outdoors – There are plenty of free hiking trails and outdoor activities around the country that can fill your days.
- Take advantage of wild camping – As it is legal to camp anywhere in Albania, traveling with a tent, or in a camper van, is the perfect way to save money on accommodation.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here usually isn’t safe to drink, so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand, as its bottles have built-in filters to ensure that your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Albania
You won’t find many hostels outside of the main tourists cities, but private guesthouses are pretty cheap in the countryside anyway. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Albania:
How to Get Around Albania
Public Transportation – In most towns and cities, almost everywhere is accessible on foot. Otherwise, take the bus. The fares costs 30-40 LEK per ride.
To get from the airport to Tirana, the cheapest way is via the airport shuttle. It runs from 6am until 6pm and drops you off near the National Museum of Tirana. It costs 300 LEK (one way) and takes around 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can take a taxi for 2,500 LEK.
Taxis – Taxis are readily available in all the major cities. Expect to pay 250 LEK to turn on the meter plus another 250 LEK for every kilometer. A lot of taxis will just quote you a price, which will be overly inflated. Make sure they put on the meter!
Trains – Albania has a small rail network, but I never saw or heard of anyone taking it. The locals I talked to say it is too unreliable and slow. Use the bus network instead, as it has a far bigger reach, and is faster, cheaper, and more reliable.
Bus – Buses go everywhere in Albania and are the main form of transportation. They loosely follow a timetable. From major cities and starting points, they tend to leave on time. But getting to your destination? Add an hour buffer just to be safe. The roads are always jammed and aren’t in great shape, so on-time arrivals are rare.
Buses cost from 300 to over 1000 LEK depending on how are far you go. A bus from Sarandë to Tirana costs about 1,300 LEK, while Berat to Tirana costs about 400 LEK and takes under three hours. The two-hour journey from Vlorë to Berat is around 400 LEK.
For international bus travel, you can find buses to or from Sofia for 3,000 LEK on the slow bus (12 hours) or 7,750 LEK on the fast bus (8.5 hours). The 3.5-hour bus journey from Montenegro costs around 2,000 LEK.
Pre-booking is never necessary. Just show up at the bus station and grab your ticket.
Car Rental – Car rentals start at 2,000 LEK per day. The roads are in bad shape, so be sure to drive carefully. Drivers need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to rent a car here.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking is generally safe in Albania. It’s very common, and you’ll see lots of travelers doing it. It’s pretty easy to find a ride here. HitchWiki is the best website for more hitchhiking info.
When to Go to Albania
Albania has a Mediterranean climate, which means super hot summers (July-August), with a daily temperature averaging over 90°F (32°C), mild winters on the coast, and cold winters in the mountains (November-February).
The best time to visit Albania is during the spring (May-June) or fall (September-October). During this time, the weather is mild, with average daily temperatures around 70°F (21°F), making it perfect for hiking and other outdoor activities.
Of course, if you want to enjoy Albania’s incredible coastline, the best time to come is during the summer. Albania is not yet a huge tourism draw in Europe, so it is rare to find sites and attractions too crowded, and prices don’t inflate much during peak season. It will be sweltering, however, so come prepared for hot weather!
How to Stay Safe in Albania
Albania is generally a very safe country to visit, though, like everywhere, there is petty crime. Don’t flaunt your possessions, and make sure your valuables are out of reach while on crowded buses. If you go out at night, avoid walking home alone if you’re intoxicated.
Locals are really proud of their country, and Albanian culture has a long tradition of guest hospitality, even to their enemies. They don’t treat guests poorly, so you rarely see any crime against tourists. Moreover, Albania is a “nighttime” country (i.e., people stay out late), so there are always eyes and ears out, keeping would-be criminals in check. Many of the women I met there told me they feel very safe walking around at night for that reason.
The main danger in Albania is reckless driving. Albania has some of the highest road fatality rates per capita in all of Europe, so be sure to pay extra attention when driving or while walking near busy roads.
Near the border with Kosovo, landmines can still be found. Avoid hiking off the marked trails there, and keep an eye out for signs and warnings.
Scams aren’t super common, but they do occur. Read about some of the most common travel scams.
Always trust your gut instinct. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in Albania!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. This protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancelations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Albania Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Europe. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. It searches small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. It is hands-down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine, because it searches such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking it too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. It has a no-money-down policy, a great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, it’s always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. It offers good small-group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you can get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there, as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. It has great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using World Nomads since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Albania Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Albania Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Who the Hell is Albania?, by E.L. Bono
Who the Hell is Albania? is an honest depiction of the real Albania. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the dangerous country it is so often portrayed as. This book is a fast read and the perfect starting point for anyone wanting to learn a bit more about the country and its people, traditions, and culture before a trip.
Enver Hoxha: The Iron Fist of Albania, by Peter Vergo
While the rest of Europe let go of Stalinism upon the tyrant’s death in 1953, one country stood firm: Albania. The politics of the country remained virtually unchanged, thanks to the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, until the 1990s. Three decades after his death, still little is known about Hoxha. This book is the first biography about him available in English and is essential reading for anyone interested in learning more about this dark time in Albania’s past.
Modern Albania: From Dictatorship to Democracy in Europe, by Fred C. Abrahams
Modern Albania brings to life the history of the Albanian communist regime’s fall. From the last Politburo meetings and the first student revolts to the fall of the Stalinist regime and the refugee crises that followed, Abrahams weaves together his 20-year experience in Albania with interviews from people who played a role in the country’s evolving politics. What is great about this book is that it is narrative driven and rich in detail, painting a very vivid picture of how Albania became the country it is today.
No Greater Love, by Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa is quite possibly Albania’s most well-known person. As one of the world’s most iconic spiritual leaders, she inspired millions with her compassionate and selfless work with people in need. While there are a lot of controversies about her practices, No Greater Love offers the most accessible and inspirational collection of her teachings published to date.
Albania Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Europe and continue planning your trip: