Nestled below Croatia and Montenegro, Albania may not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of the Adriatic coast, but with its rugged mountain scenery, myriad of heritage listed sites and untouched beaches it should be! Read on to discover why this European gem should be on your travel bucket list with our four favourite Albanian destinations.
Crowned the unofficial capital of the Albanian riviera, Sarandë is a sleepy beach town just north of the Greek border. While the small city comes to life in the summer with its busy nightlife and cluster of beachfront eateries, it’s the perfect base for exploring the best destinations in southern Albania. Visit the Blue Eye Spring, just twenty two kilometres inland from the seaside city, which is quietly renowned for its hypnotic blue waters that resemble the iris of an eye. If you’re not in the mood for an invigorating dip in the ice-cold spring, set aside a few hours to explore the tranquil ruins of Butrint, just eighteen kilometres south of Sarandë. The ruins, which contain relics from Greek and Roman periods, document 2,500 years of civilisation and are UNESCO heritage listed.
Tirana is the bright, bustling capital of Albania. Once a monochrome city during the country’s communist era, the grey buildings were drenched with bold colours and geometric patterns just before the turn of the twenty-first century. With socialist-era murals, art galleries and museums dotted between sprawling public parks, sculptures, cosy cafes and slick bars, there’s always something to learn and explore in this charismatic city. We recommend taking a walking tour down the city’s vibrant boulevards to learn more about its history and explore its photogenic streetscape.
Located at the north-east tip of Albania, Shkodër is one of the oldest cities in the Balkans. Once an important economic centre in classical times, Shkodër is now the perfect place to unwind and explore. Stroll through the cafe-lined streets of the old city or settle down for an alfresco Albanian feast at one of the many traditional eateries. With breathtaking horizon-to-horizon views, the Rozafa Fortress, which is dotted with eerie overgrown ruins, is the perfect place to watch the sunset over the city and the vast Lake Shkodër.
Nestled between otherworldly mountain ranges, the historic hillside town of Gjirokastër is the ideal destination for the traveller who prefers to avoid the crowd. Enjoy breakfast in one of the old city’s traditional bakeries or wander up the winding, limestone-paved streets to Gjirokastër castle, which is one of the largest remaining fortresses in the Balkans. Pick your way through the castle’s quirky corridors, which exhibit relics from twentieth century wars such as tanks and a shot-down US Air Force jet, to the grassy plateau that boats stunning panoramic views of the valley, city and mountains as far as the eye can see.