Albania holidays

Experience Albania

Best Places to Visit

The UNESCO World Heritage sites of Berat and Gjirokaster are the oldest towns in the country, and house some interesting and informative sites. Berat is an architecture buff's dream. Known as the 'town of a thousand windows', Berat features many buildings which display magnificent examples of Ottoman design. The same can be said for Gjirokaster, whose castles, museums and art galleries define the Ottoman period in the country's past.

Albania is home to several castles and other ancient archaeological sites which make for a difficult decision when choosing what to see. There is one site, the Rozafa Castle, however, which should definitely be paid a visit. Located near the city of Shkoder and standing on an impressive hill, the castle was used as recently as 1912. Not only does the castle provide a great vantage point from which the city of Shkoder can be seen, but the building itself provides great insight into the Albania of old.

Tirana is the capital city of Albania and probably the first experience of the country that most tourists will have. Tirana is one of the more naturally beautiful cities, being surrounded by a plethora of luscious trees and gorgeous mountains. Mount Dajti is one of the most popular tourist sites in the country, offering a stunning view of the city from its summit, which can be reached via an exciting ride in a cable car.

Located in the south-eastern region of the country, Korce is the place to be during the peak summer tourist season. Filled to the brim with culture, Korce is the best place to experience authentic Albanian music and dance. It is also home to a mountain, from which the stunning landscape can be viewed. The highlight for most travellers to the region in August is the annual Beer Festival which is hosted by the local brewery, and offers a chance to immerse yourself in some local culture - and local colour.

Travellers looking for a burst of culture should make their way to Shkoder, the largest town in the north of the country. The city boasts several attractions, including the popular Rozafa Castle and Shkoder Cathedral. In addition to these architectural gems, the city is known as a pioneer of many events. The first football match in the country was held here and the city's Migjeni theatre was the first theatre established countrywide.

Top Landmarks

Travellers looking to gain greater insight into the country's past should make a stop at the National History Museum in Tirana. The museum is home to many archaeological finds and chronicles the country's past to as far back as 100,000 BC. There are also many exhibits dedicated to Albania's history of communism, most evident in the socialist-realist mosaic adorning the front of the building.

The well-preserved Citadel of Berat is one of the more popular landmarks in the country. Today, the citadel provides protection to a host of buildings with its large, ancient stone walls. Within the boundaries of the walls is the informative Onufri museum, which is the perfect location for anyone wanting to learn more about the region.

Art lovers will indeed be pleased with the National Gallery in Tirana. The gallery houses an extensive collection of Albanian art, ranging from 19th century masterpieces to modern-day gems. The most popular exhibit tends to be the socialist realist canvases which highlight the central role of women in all aspects of life.

One of the most famous natural attractions in the country, the Blue Eye Spring, or Syri I Kalter as it is known locally, is Albania's pride and joy. This deep natural pool filled with hypnotic blue water and surrounded by an almost neon blue-green rim is a wonderful spot for a restful afternoon away from the city. The pool feeds the Bistrica River and is one of the most mesmerising bodies of water in the region.

Entertainment

Most of the country's entertainment and nightlife scenes exist in the large city centres of Tirana and the like. As tourists move further afield to more remote areas, they will find that nightlife is virtually non-existent. One exception is the coastal towns, which seem to liven up around peak holiday seasons. During this time, music and dancing can be enjoyed at most of the big coastal hotels.

Tirana offers travellers a vibrant nightlife ranging from all sorts of establishments like clubs and discos to karaoke bars and traditional pubs. One of the most enjoyable parts of the evening for many is, in fact, not the clubbing itself, but rather what is called xhiro, which refers to a mass evening stroll taken by most residents in city to get dinner or visit the nearest watering hole.

There are also many cultural activities that take place in Tirana which are perfect for travellers who are not interested in partying until the break of dawn. Many of the local theatres have shows throughout the year, but the main attraction is the country's amazing standard of classical music performances. Performances of favourite opera and ballet shows, and even a few orchestral concerts, can be taken in in Tirana's theatres.

Tourists looking for a quiet night could always try going out for a film. The best cinema chain in Tirana is Millennium, which screens mainly Hollywood blockbusters. There is the occasional Albanian film screened with subtitles, which makes for an interesting and entertaining cultural experience.

Dining

Albania's history is reflected in its cuisine, which is a wonderful amalgamation of Turkish and Italian influences. Many restaurants serve authentic Albanian dishes and the large cities have a range of international options as well. As travellers make their way to more remote areas, the options become more limited.

Meat is a large part of the Albanian diet so vegetarian travellers may have a difficult time when it comes to meals. Fresh vegetables in the country are, however, some of the best Europe, which is some consolation. While many Albanians make their own breads and stews, there is also a large culture of dining out, making meal times interesting and vibrant.

Albanians know how to make their desserts, which include such delights as baklava (a Turkish-inspired dessert made with layers of filo pastry, nuts and syrup) and a wide variety of pastries which are available from local pastry shops. Here, travellers can feast on everything from delicate croissants to delicious large cakes.

Albania is a producer of top quality wines including such varieties as Kallmet, which comes from deep red grapes, to Shesh, which can be bought in both red and white varieties.

Beach

There is no shortage of beaches in Albania and each beach has something different to offer tourists. There are a few which stand out, however. The beaches in the Albanian Riviera town of Sarande, close to the Greek island of Corfu, are some of the most picturesque in the country. Ksamil Beach boasts the whitest sands and the bluest waters, while Bunec Beach is home to several underwater caves simply waiting to be explored.

Romance

Albania's small cities are bursting with rustic charm and quaint guesthouses which are the perfect places for a romantic getaway for two. Gjirokaster in particular has a wonderful selection of old-style inns and candle-lit restaurants set within ancient castles.

Family

While there are plenty of activities on offer in Albania, some may not be appealing to families travelling with children. Once the kids have tired of seeing the sights, parents should consider taking them on a cable ride to the top of Mount Dajti in Tirana. Not only is this a great way to see the city, but it's an exciting ride for the little ones. Alternatively, the beaches on Albania's Riviera are family-friendly in the summer months.  

Adventure

There are many opportunities for adventure in the country's varied and exciting terrain but one of the most popular activities is white water rafting along the Osumi River. This river has some of the most spectacular canyons, which are home to the most beautiful and most challenging white water rapids in the country. There are several tour companies which organise excursions in the region depending on the abilities of those involved.

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Need to know

Language

The official language of Albania is Albanian, while Italian is also commonly used. English is not altogether popular, only primarily spoken in the capital, Tirana. In southern regions, tourists can expect to hear Greek. Additionally, Albania has a large emigrant population that speaks several different European languages. Stick to the main tourist resorts if you want to avoid any language barriers.

Currency

Albania's official currency is the Albanian lek (L), which comes in denominations of L5,000, 1,000, 500, 200 and 100 notes. Currency can be exchanged at large banks in most cities and at official bureaux de change offices in large towns. ATMs are readily available, with even the smallest of towns boasting at least one, and accept most major credit and debit cards. Credit cards are accepted at luxury hotels and some restaurants, while international prepaid currency cards should also provide a handy alternative.

Visas

Citizens of countries belonging to the European Union, including citizens of the United Kingdom, are permitted to enter Albania visa-free for a period of no longer than 90 days. These travellers still need to be in possession of a valid passport or national ID card. All other nationals should check with their nearest Albanian embassy prior to departure as to whether a visa is necessary or not, as should Brits who want to stay for longer than the permitted 90 days visa-free.

Climate

Albania has a varied climate, being heavily influenced by the Adriatic Sea to its south, the Balkan landmass to its north and its high-lying latitude. Coastal regions near the Adriatic tend to display Mediterranean weather characteristics, while the climate inland is more continental. Winters, which are harshest in November and December, are quite mild inland, boasting temperatures no lower than 7C. In summer, which is hottest in July and August, the mercury rises to highs of 24C. This should still be quite pleasant if you stay out of direct sunlight for extended periods during the hottest part of the day - take sun cream and light, loose cotton clothing.

Main Airports

The country's main gateway is Tirana International Airport, or Mother Teresa International Airport as it is more commonly known. This is the only international gateway in the country and many international carriers have services here. While there are other domestic airports in the country, there are no regular domestic flight services at present, which means that transfers to other regions need to be completed overland.

Flight Options

Travellers from the United Kingdom can catch flights from a number of carriers to Tirana, from both Manchester and London. The average flight time of a direct trip between London and Tirana is 3 hours.

Travel Advice

Albania is increasingly becoming a popular tourist destination and during the peak summer season, especially in the months which coincide with UK school holidays, attractions here become busy. It is advisable to book both flights and accommodation far in advance to avoid sharp rises in prices.

Other Transport Options

It is possible to take a ferry to Albania from one of the surrounding ports. Travellers from the UK need to make their way to Italy, from where sea connections to Albania depart. The ports of Bari, Ancona and Trieste all have connections to the Albanian port of Durres. Travellers have a choice of catamaran, ferry or hydrofoil services.

Getting Around

There are no commercial internal flights even though there are domestic airports, meaning all travel within the country needs to completed overland. There is a comprehensive network of regular public buses and private minibuses which cover more areas.

Bus

There are two main types of bus in the country, which are used by both locals and tourists. The first type is regular public buses, while the second type is furgons, privately-owned minibuses. Furgons are convenient because they tend to be faster than regular public buses but they do not operate on a timetable and leave only once the vehicle is full.

Car

Hiring a car in Albania is simple, with most international companies operating in the country. The main downside to car hire is that the costs can be higher here than in most European countries.

Train

Trains are not the most popular form of local transport because they are extremely slow. Most train passengers are therefore not Albanian, but rather tourists getting a taste of the country. While trains offer passengers more space than say, a crowded furgon, they can be in poor condition.

MAP

ALBANIA`S WEATHER TODAY

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MONTHS

AVERAGE RAINFALL (mm)

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FACTS

  1. In the early 1990s, Albania had three million residents but only around 5,000 privately owned cars, as they were illegal under communist rule - there are far more cars in the country today.
  2. There's one home comfort you won't get while in Albania, as the country - along with Armenia and Vatican City - famously has no branches of McDonald's.
  3. Don't rely on body language to bridge the language barrier, as in Albania a shake of the head means yes, and a nod means no - which has caused its fair share of problems for tourists over the years.

FACTS

  1. In the early 1990s, Albania had three million residents but only around 5,000 privately owned cars, as they were illegal under communist rule - there are far more cars in the country today.
  2. There's one home comfort you won't get while in Albania, as the country - along with Armenia and Vatican City - famously has no branches of McDonald's.
  3. Don't rely on body language to bridge the language barrier, as in Albania a shake of the head means yes, and a nod means no - which has caused its fair share of problems for tourists over the years.

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