Albania holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
The official language in the country is Albanian, while Italian comes a close, unofficial second. English is not altogether popular, being primarily spoken in the capital, Tirana. In southern regions, tourists can expect to hear Greek being spoken. Additionally, Albania has a large emigrant population that speaks several different European languages.
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.
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.
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 7°C. In summer, which is hottest in July and August, the mercury rises to highs of 24°C.
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.
The country’s national carrier is Albanian Airlines, which carries most passengers to the region. Travellers from the United Kingdom can catch Albanian Airlines flights to Tirana from London-Stansted. Other airlines active in the country include British Airways, which operates services from London-Gatwick all year round, Alitalia, Belle Air, German Wings and Lufthansa. The average flight time of a direct trip between London and Tirana is 3 hours.
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.
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. Alternatively, buses (but no trains) run to Albania from surrounding nations.
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. There is also a functioning railway system which is generally not used by locals because it is very slow. Lastly, car hire is possible but rates are high when compared to neighbouring countries.
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. Popular furgon routes are from the central port in Tirana to other cities like Shkoder, Berat, Elbasan, Durres and Saranda in the south. Buses tend to be cheaper than furgons. They run on a schedule but can be slow, especially on long journeys.
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. The main railway hub is in Durres, from where trains depart to Tirana, Vlora, Shkoder and Pogradeci.
Hiring a car in Albania is simple, with most international companies operating in the country. Tourists in the region have their pick of such companies as Hertz, Europcar, Avis and Budget. The main downside to car hire is that the costs are higher here than in most European countries. While a great way to see the country, the roads are generally in poor condition.
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 ’City of 1001 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.
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 Daijti 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 southeastern region of the country, Korca is the place to be during the peak summer tourist season. Filled to brim with culture, Korca 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.
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 the Great 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.
Travellers looking to gain greater insight into the country’s past should make a stop at the National Museum of History 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. This comprehensive collection of information, exhibits and artworks is certainly one of the best in the country and well worth a visit.
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, including several old dwellings and many beautiful churches. 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 13th 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 - from childbirth to war. Political opinions aside, the art held in this museum raises several interesting questions.
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.
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 1913. 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.
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.
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.
While international fare in cities like Tirana abounds, there are a few local specialities which should be tried at least once. Koran (oven-baked trout topped with delicious sautéed onions and tomatoes) is a great dinner option, while byrek (a small savoury pie made with various fillings, including meat and onion or spinach and feta) is wonderful for a quick snack or even a light lunch.
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 called pastiçeris. 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 bough in both red and white varieties. Of course, there is always the local drink called raki, which has become somewhat of a national drink. Raki is made from red, black and green grapes, and is distilled into a clear spirit.
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.
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.
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 Daijti Mountain 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.
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.