Albania – the small Balkan country is still completely underestimated by many and often left aside during holiday planning. I’ll show you today the beautiful and original Albania with its unique sights and beaches. From now on you will surely see the country with completely different eyes!
Albania is located on the Ionian and Adriatic Sea, so ideal conditions for sun-seeking holidaymakers to spend an unforgettable beach holiday. Why do you actually hear so little about Albania as a destination? That’s exactly what I asked myself and made me look for the most beautiful places in the country. I found a (still) undiscovered pearl of the Balkans. I show you in my travel magazine those places and landscapes that fascinated me and ultimately convinced me of Albania as a holiday destination.
Albania – A portrait of tourism
Albania is a very small country on the so-called Balkan peninsula in the southeast of Europe. Countries such as Greece, Bulgaria and Croatia, which are also on the Balkan Peninsula, are now well-known to every holidaymaker. For a long time, Albania was under the strict communist regime of dictator Enver Hoxhas.
Only his death and the subsequent overthrow of the regime made it possible to open a country that had previously led an existence almost completely isolated from the Western world. However, the peace that had taken hold did not last long, because in 1997, six years after the first free election, the lottery revolt brought about the collapse of economic and political structures, many Albanians lost their entire fortune thanks to dubious investments. Albania was hit by the Kosovo conflict in 1999, and thousands of Albanians fled the then Serbian territory of Yugoslavia. After the conflict ended 16 years ago, tourism flourished slowly and tourism was recognized as a pillar of the emerging economy. Since then, the popular bathing regions of the country, such as Ksamil, more hotels built and also the restaurants and the locals are becoming more and more popular with visitors from around the world. Albania is considered as safe travel destination; German citizens can easily enter with a passport and move 30 days without a visa throughout the country. Since 2014, Albania has also been an official candidate for accession to the European Union. It is paid officially here with the Albanian Lek, but also the euro is a welcome means of payment. It makes more sense, however, to pay in the local currency, as you are guaranteed to pay the lowest price. One Euro currently equals about 133 Lekke, ATMs and bureaux de change can be found in every major village.
How to get to Albania?
There are several ways to travel to Albania. The fastest way is as often the airway. Albania’s capital Tirana has an airport, which is served by several German airports. The flight takes just over 2 hours, the prices are comparable to those of a flight to Greece. Speaking of Greece: Who for example makes a holiday on the popular island of Corfu and plans a one- or multi-day trip to Albania, can take the daily ferry from Corfu to Saranda climb and is in a maximum of 2 hours in the popular seaside resort. Such a crossing costs you around 20 € and can be easily booked directly at the port of Corfu. If you prefer a guided day trip, there are many agencies in Corfu Town that can help you with the organization. For all who would like to test the country first, this is certainly a good option! Incidentally, there are also other ferry connections from the Italian coast. For example, you can travel directly to Albania from Bari or Brindisi.
A much more arduous way of getting to Albania is by land. However, you will also pass other interesting countries such as Austria, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro . In this variant, you must be aware that the road conditions often do not correspond to those of the German roads and her progress is slower, especially in Albania. For those who love road trips and adventure, traveling overland is a great way to see more of the world.
Albania’s most beautiful places
After the small introduction to the history of the country and the explanation of how you come to Albania, I would now like to show you why you should travel to the country. Anyone who has ever been in the Ionian during a holiday in Greece knows about the beauty of the beaches and the water, which is so clear and turquoise blue that it reminds of the Caribbean Ocean. You will also find in Albania these great beaches and bathing bays, only these are much more untouched and also more original. At many of these beaches, you can almost expect to have them almost for you alone. Especially popular among bathing tourists is the coastal section in the southwest of the country, also known as the Albanian Riviera referred to as. From Saranda, the Riviera stretches to Vlora, where the Ionian Sea becomes the Adriatic Sea. A particularly popular seaside resort is Ksamil, not far from Saranda. To Ksamil belong next to the place also four small islands that are picturesquely located off the southern coast of Albania. The distance to the opposite Greek island of Corfu is so low that you can even see it from the coast. However, you will not find great hotels in Ksamil and the Albanian Riviera, because until now the great panorama has been spared from the buildings of big hotel chains. A small hotel or guesthouse but you definitely find and the best thing is that they are not only mostly lovingly and family-run, but also more than affordable. During my holiday in Albania, I always booked my accommodations through Airbnb . The apartments were super modern and rarely cost more than 50 € per night. Incidentally, the high season in Albania is in the months of June and July when you can even expect more crowded beaches here.
The seaside resort Ksamil in Albania
In the south of Albania, you will find the village of Ksamil, one of the most beautiful seaside resorts in the country. If you travel from Saranda, you can easily reach Ksamil after a one-hour bus ride that does not even cost you € 0.70. Alternatively, you can take a taxi for just under 10 € or rent a car or scooter in Saranda. Arrived in Ksamil, you cannot miss the beach sections around Ksamil Beach. Sun loungers and umbrellas you can borrow directly at the adjacent tavernas. Since most of the beaches are gravel and stone beaches, you should go with swimming shoes equip, then bathing in the clear waters of the Ionian Sea is no longer a problem. Directly off the coast are three small islands to which you can swim or be translated by boat.
If you are looking for a nice restaurant in Ksamil at lunchtime or in the evening, I can offer you the Beach Bar Korali to the heart. On the terrace directly over the sea you can enjoy delicious seafood such as mussels, which are bred in southern Albania and always fresh on the plate and enjoy the magnificent view. I was also surprised by the good Italian food that is conjured up in many restaurants. The pizza comes juicy occupied from the traditional stone oven and the pasta can easily compete with the original Italian. You will find Italian influences again and again in Albania and not only when eating. But dare to approach the typical Albanian cuisine. This is usually a bit heartier, but really delicious! Of course, then the raki must not be missing after the meal! 😉 The prices in the bars and restaurants are a huge plus for a holiday in Albania,
The ancient site Butrint
Especially popular with day tourists is the National Park Butrint, which is located near Ksamil. Here you can admire the ancient site of Butrint, a ruined city amidst ancient trees, which witnessed different cultures such as the ancient Romans and Greeks, but also the Ottomans. The traces of these cultures can still be found today in Butrint. In the 1990s, the ruined city, one of Albania’s most important monuments, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO levied. I recommend you to visit the site in the early afternoon, because then the hosts of tourists have already left and you can visit the highlights, such as the well-preserved amphitheater, in peace. For example, you can travel with the same bus that goes to Ksamil, as it runs once an hour between Saranda and Butrint. Admission costs 700 Lek, just under 5 €, and serves to preserve this unique site.
The port city of Saranda in Albania
If you come by ferry from Corfu to Albania, Saranda is your starting point. If the port city does not look very pretty at first glance, its true strengths are evident in the evenings. Particularly beautiful is the beautiful promenade that leads you past small markets where you can buy fruit and souvenirs, and numerous restaurants and bars. I especially recommend the restaurant Mare Nostrum , which is one of the best in the city. Incidentally, you do not have to dig deep into your pocket for the exquisite dishes here, because fresh fish dishes are available for just 10 €, half a liter of house wine costs 5 €. You should definitely treat yourself, if you are in Saranda!
Excursion to the mountain lake Syri I Kalter
Saranda is also the perfect starting point for trips to the mountain lake Syri I Kalter, the blue eye of Albania. However, since there is no bus on the route, you should take a rental car or take a taxi for about 10 € each way. The trip takes about half an hour and leads you over more or less well-developed serpentine into the interior. A sign points to the mountain lake, you cannot move. The entrance fee to the small park is 100 Lek per person, which equals 0,80 €. After a short walk you will find the 12-degree cold spring of the mountain lake, which thanks to its color bears the name “Blue Eye”. If you are undaunted, you can even swim here. In any case, almost my legs were frozen off when I got into the old water. Bold ones!
Gjirokaster – The City of the Thousand Stages
Also, worth seeing is the city of Gjirokaster, which is considered the cultural center of Albania. The city of stones and a thousand steps, as Gjirokaster is also called, is characterized above all by their small houses with pyramid-shaped roofs in the old town. In any case, take the short effort on you and walk the steep path up to the old castle of Gjirokaster, which used among other things, the Nazis during the Second World War as a fortress. Different guns and an old airplane wreck are reminiscent of warlike times, but the view you can enjoy here is quite peaceful and truly breathtaking.
Albania has a lot to offer culturally
If you would like to learn about Albanian history, you can visit the ethnographic museum here. In addition to the castle and the museums, there are also old mosques to admire in the city, which date back to the time of the Ottomans. Even today, about half of Albanians are devout Muslims, peaceful coexistence with other religions and drinking alcohol (especially raki) is no problem for the inhabitants at all. At the foot of the castle you will find numerous souvenir shops as well as the Hotel Kodra, from whose restaurant you have a great view of the castle and the city below.
I combined my excursion to Gjirokaster with a detour to the Blue Eye, as the mountain lake lies halfway to Gjirokaster. Just follow the steep hairpin bends and soon you will come across a sign that will take you to the city of a thousand steps. The views of the mountains and valleys that accompany you on this trip are simply breathtaking! As you can see, Albania has a lot to offer culturally. A stroll through the towns and small villages will not only take you past these treasures but will immerse you in the many markets and in the sidewalk cafes in the eclectic culture.
Berat – The City of the Thousand Windows
No less interesting is the city of Berat, which is one of the oldest cities in Albania and with its historic houses makes a really great sight. Thanks to the many small typical Ottoman houses, the city by the way bears the nickname “City of a thousand windows”, with a view of the backdrop of the formerly purely Muslim quarter Mangalem, the name explains itself. Tourist attraction point of the city is the castle district of Berat. The castle fortress, which stands above the rooftops of the city, is the symbol of the city. In the castle area you can visit various churches and the ruins of mosques. Who does not care, the best is simply the great view over the city Berat.
Albania’s lively capital Tirana
If you spend your holidays in Albania, you will hardly miss the capital Tirana. Located in the west of the country, for example, the city can be both the starting point and the end of your journey. If you have been able to enjoy deserted beaches on the Albanian Riviera, Tirana offers a true contrast program with cultural highlights and a lively, modern day-to-day life. Definitely worth seeing here is the Historical National Museum, where you can inform yourself about the Albanian history and culture. In this museum you also learn a lot about the national hero Skanderbeg that seems omnipresent in Tirana. Even the central square of the capital, located in front of the museum, bears his name and is adorned with a large statue of the hero. Stroll a bit over the square and then pay a visit to the magnificent Et’hem Bey Mosque. The sacred building can also be visited from the inside if you are interested.
Another iconic building in Tirana is the Enver Hoxha Museum, nowadays mostly referred to as “the pyramid”, which houses an exhibition about the dictator who ruled Albania for a long time. Although the building is so well-known, it is likely to be demolished soon and replaced by a more modern structure. So, we can be curious about what awaits us in Tirana in the next few years.
Hiking in Albania
Albania is not just a destination for sun worshipers and culture lovers. Especially nature lovers and active vacationers will get their money’s worth here. For example, the mountains in the north of the country attract hikers who want to enjoy the untouched nature of Albania. 15 different national parks attract nature lovers, who can look forward to beautiful and varied landscapes from mountain ranges to ancient sites to large forest areas. Especially popular are tours in the Dajti Mountain National Park, which is located near the capital Tirana. Trained guides will show you the most beautiful sides of this green country on well-organized tours.
Albania – The Land of Bunkers
Surely you will come across one or the other mushroom-shaped bunker on your journey through Albania. More than 170,000 pieces adorn the landscape of the small Balkan country today. Each one recalls the rule of dictator Enver Hoxhas, who had the bunkers built to protect against capitalist enemies throughout the country. Some stand on the sprawling beaches, others in the mountains and others in the middle of the city.
The bunkers are the secret landmark of the country
Although some of the bunkers have been destroyed in the meantime, the Albanians have also recognized the potential of the secret landmarks of their country and now live with the concrete blocks that are not only a living testimony to the history of Albania, but also real tourist magnets. A few bunkers were even converted into small walk-in museums. Photos are shot, many a vacationer even climbs into the small, sometimes pretty well-hidden mushrooms. It’s just part of a holiday in Albania!
Albania – worth more than just a trip!
Albania is still an insider tip among visitors who want to holiday away from the tourist hype, traded. Nevertheless, or just because, Albania is becoming increasingly popular. Even the “bible of individual tourists” Lonely Planet chose Albania as an absolute dream destination. So if you are looking for a vacation out of the beaten track, you should put the Balkan country at the top of your bucket list! Anyway, I’m thrilled with this patch of earth, full of surprises, sights and nice people! I’ll be back!