Albania is one of the friendliest countries I have visited. This Albania travel guide shows what there is to see and do in the most misunderstood country in the Balkans.
Plan a trip to Albania
Albania – Misunderstood, misrepresented, misconstrued, and other words beginning with ‘mis'. You may very well have an opinion on Albania, without ever having visited the country.
What do you actually know about Albania though? Time to set the record straight with this Albania travel guide.
Consider this your Albania 101 course – a primer on what to expect when you travel to Albania.
Albania is a small country in the Balkans with a population of just over 3 million people. It's bordered by Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece.
The coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian seas is gorgeous, and there are plenty of beaches to relax on. The Albanian Riviera is a thing, and a cheaper alternative in the summer compared to places like Greece or Croatia.
Albania Travel Information
Where is Albania located? – Albania, or Shqiperia as the Albanian people like to call it, is a small country located in the south-west Balkans.
To the west, lay the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, to the south is Greece, to the East is Macedonia (FYROM), to the north-east is Kosovo, and to the north is Montenegro. If you are planning an Albania travel adventure, this map might help.
A Brief History of Albania
Curious about the history of Albania? – The country has been inhabited since the paleolithic era, with the first known inhabitants being the Illyrian tribes.
The Illyrians were a group of Indo-European tribes who lived in the western Balkans in classical antiquity. Albanian culture and language is said to have derived from the Illyrians.
The Illyrian Kingdoms were established around 1000 BCE, and by the 7th century BCE, the Illyrians had become the dominant group in the region.
In 168 BCE, the Roman Empire began their conquest of Illyria which led to Albania becoming a province of Rome. After the division of the Roman Empire in 395 CE, Albania became part of the Byzantine Empire.
In the late Middle Ages, Albania was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and remained under their rule for almost 500 years.
The Albanian Renaissance began in the late 19th century and continued into the early 20th century. This was a period of national awakening for the Albanian people.
After World War I, Albania declared independence from the Ottoman Empire. However, this independence was short-lived as the country was occupied by Italy in 1939 and then annexed by Nazi Germany in 1943.
Albania became a communist state after World War II and remained isolated from the rest of the world for almost 50 years.
Communism ended in Albania in 1992. Since then, the country has been building itself up from nothing. There is currently a boom in development in regards to infrastructure such as roads, utilities, and telecommunications.
What is the Capital of Albania?
The capital of Albania is Tirana and has a population of around 500,000 people.
Tirana is a city undergoing rapid development, and is neat, tidy, and orderly. Well, the centre is, in any case. With its wide pavements, pedestrian crossings which drivers for the most part respect, and lack of graffiti, it is a stark contrast to my hometown of noisy and chaotic Athens!
Skanderberg Square is the heart of Tirana, Albania. Most points of interest within the city are within easy walking distance of one another from here. It is perfectly possible to see the major attractions with 2 days in Tirana, and there are some quirky attractions!
On my first trip to Albania, I stayed four nights in Tirana, as well as a week seeing the rest of the country. On another trip, I cycled through Albania on my way from Greece to England.
A View of Tirana at Night from the Sky Tower
How to Get to Albania
You can get to Albania by air, sea, and land. We flew in to Tirana International Airport (sometimes known as TIA airport, or Mother Teresa airport) from Athens. There are numerous other international connections.
By land, there are border crossings with all the neighbouring countries, and we chose to travel by bus from Tirana to Pristina, Kosovo as part of our onward journey.
There are various different methods of getting to Albania by sea. Ferry services run from Greece (Corfu), and Italy. Major ports are located at Durres and Saranda.
How to travel around Albania
Up until only a few years ago, only the brave would choose to drive in Albania. The road system was a shambolic mess, and drivers had a reputation of being a little bit crazy. To some extent, this put us off taking our car, especially in the winter months.
Having seen Albania for ourselves though, I can tell you that this reputation and information is totally out of date. A well made, sealed, mainly flat road runs from the north of the country to the south, and also connects with Kosovo.
What traffic there is on it is no crazier than elsewhere in the Balkans. We will definitely take our car the next time we plan an Albania travel adventure!
People choosing not to use their own car or hire a car in Albania, will have to travel by bus. There are all sorts of buses connecting the small towns with Tirana. Due to the relatively small size of the country, it is pretty easy to get anywhere within a day.
Where to Stay in Albania
Albania is still learning and developing when it comes to tourism, but there are plenty of places to stay in all the major tourist destinations around the country.
You'll find plenty of accommodation on Booking and AirBnB. Facebook groups dedicated to Albania (such as expat groups) are also a good place to find places to stay, especially for longer term rentals.
What is the currency of Albania
The currency of Albania is the Lek. It is best to carry euros as well when visiting Albania, as they are accepted in many places – or can at least be changed easily. ATMs can be found in the capital Tirana and other major cities, but outside of these areas, they are few and far between.
What is the climate like in Albania?
The climate in Albania varies depending on which region you are visiting. The coast has a Mediterranean climate with warm dry summers and mild winters. The inland areas have a more continental climate with hot summers and cold winters.
What is the best time to visit Albania?
The best time to visit Albania is from May to October when the weather is warm and sunny. This is also the peak tourist season so accommodation and flights will be more expensive. If you are looking for a cheaper option, then visiting in the shoulder season of April or November can be a good option.
What is the traditional Albanian food like?
The Albanian cuisine is similar to other Balkan countries and features a lot of meat and vegetables. Some popular dishes include Byrek (a pies made with filo pastry), Baklava (a sweet dessert made with filo pastry and nuts), and Tave kosi (a lamb and rice dish).
Is Albania a safe country to visit?,
Albania is a very safe country to visit. The capital city of Tirana is very safe and there is little crime. However, as with any destination, it is always best to take precautions and be aware of your surroundings.
The number of Albanian people who have achieved world wide fame includes Mother Teresa (although she is also claimed by at least 4 other countries in the world!), John and James Belushi (well, they are Albanian by descent if that counts), and Eliza Dushku (again by descent, but as her character Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer was cool we will let her off). If you know any more, please leave a comment below!
What did I think about Albania?
I want to sum my experience of Albania up in short, to the point words, keeping in mind that we really only visited Tirana, Durres and Berat, and only travelled on the main, brand new roads.
So, I thought that Albania was safe, orderly, tidy, had a sense of optimism, had direction, has massive potential. I found the Albanian people to be friendly and helpful. All in all, I really enjoyed my stay there, and would have liked to have spent longer in Albania.
Albania Travel Guide
Here are some more in-depth travel guides to Albania. I hope they help you plan a trip to Albania that is as enjoyable as mine have been!
Pin this Albania Guide for later
And that I think, is a good enough introduction for Albania travel. It is a country which I loved travelling through, and one which I returned to again later in the year. This time, it was bicycle touring in Albania. For more alternative short break ideas in Europe, take a look here.