Best places to visit in Albania: A one week itinerary

Soaring alpine peaks, centuries-old castles, dramatic canyons and shimmering, sun-soaked bays are just some of the incredible wonders of Albania, which makes this one of the best kept secrets in the Balkans.

The compact country is blissfully off the well-trodden European tourist circuit, and a great option for backpackers thanks to its relatively budget-friendly tours, public transportation and accommodation options.

Shkoder, Albania

Shkoder, Albania

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While many travellers try and combine a quick trip here with its more popular neighbours like Greece, Italy and Montenegro, there are so many places to visit in Albania that it’s easy to fill up a whole week and still hardly scratch the surface.

I should know; I spent nine days exploring from north to south, and still didn’t quite manage to tick everything off of my to-do list (I’m looking at you, Albanian Alps hiking trip).

So, what’s the best way to see this Balkan nation’s top spots if you only have one week for your Albania trip? Here are the greatest hits.

Day 1: Tirana

Most people kick off their Albania itinerary in Tirana, since the capital is home to the international airport and is well connected by bus with other destinations throughout the country. It’s also possible to see all of the main attractions in a single day, since they’re quite close together in the walkable city centre.

One of the top places to visit in Tirana is Skanderbeg Square, a large, pedestrian-only plaza with a huge statue of a military commander on horseback, and a couple of museums including the National Historic Museum. This is also home to landmarks like the Clock Tower, and picturesque Et’hem Bey Mosque.

Be sure to take a quick walk through the Castle of Tirana, a former fortress that now holds trendy bars, boutiques and restaurants within its walls.

Skanderbeg Square

Skanderbeg Square

The Castle of Tirana

The Castle of Tirana

One of the top Tirana attractions is Grand Park (also known as the Artificial Lake) where a busy promenade winds around the manmade lake. Here, you’ll enjoy great city views, a botanical garden, forested trails, a pool, zoo and playgrounds, as well as restaurants and cafes overlooking the water.

Grand Park of Tirana

Grand Park of Tirana

Other spots to see include Bunk’Art which is a former bunker-turned-gallery accessed by tunnels, the Pyramid, and the Dajti Ekspres which is the longest cableway in the Balkans at 4,670 metres high.

 
Bunk’Art

Where to stay in Tirana

  • Hotel Mondial: With its central location, large outdoor pool and wallet-friendly room rates, Hotel Mondial is a traveller-favourite in Tirana and the traditional furnishings are a nice nod to Albanian heritage. Click here to book
  • The Rooms Apartments Tirana: Super clean, updated rooms, friendly service and a location just around the corner from the Artificial Lake make this a great option for Tirana accommodations–especially if you’re doing a short-term stay and have time to take advantage of the ensuite kitchens, gym access and laundry facilities. Click here to book
  • Maritim Hotel Plaza Tirana: Beautiful modern rooms and suites make this a standout spot in Tirana, with on-site amenities like a gym, spa and rooftop restaurant. The Maritim Hotel Plaza is just a few blocks from top attractions like Skanderbeg Square, making it a good base for exploring the city. Click here to book
Skanderbeg Square

A merry go round in Skanderbeg Square

Day 2: Shkodër

One of the prettiest Albania tourist attractions is the city of Shkodër, which is a two hour drive north of Tirana en route to the towering Albanian Alps. It lies on the end of Lake Shkodra (also called Lake Skadar and Lake Scutari), and is so close to the border that it’s possible to see Montenegro across the water.

Shkoder, Albania

Shkoder

The highlight of a visit to Shkodër is Rozafa Castle, a grand, 4000-year-old fortification perched high on a hillside overlooking the entire city and the meandering Drin and Buna rivers. Crumbling stone walls and arched doorways peek out into the horizon, and the centuries-old masterpiece combinated with the stunning surroundings make this spot photo heaven.

The castle is a half hour walk from downtown and taxis aren’t easily available, so plan accordingly if you’re meeting a guided tour or need to take a bus back to Tirana. Admission is 200 lek (about $2)

Shkoder Castle in Albania

Shkoder Castle

Back in the old town, pastel facades line the pedestrian-only streets where there are restaurants, cafes and some small shops. It’s impossible to miss the Ebu Bekër Mosque which was built in the ‘90s to replace one that was destroyed during communist rule, and there are also a handful of sun-soaked parks complete with palm trees.

Shkoder, Albania

Shkoder, Albania

Public buses go back and forth all day long, which depart from the main bus terminal in Tirana and drop riders off in downtown Shkodër a few blocks from the mosque. It costs 350 lek on the way there and 400 lek back, which works out to about $4 each way.

Shkoder, Albania

Shkoder, Albania

Shkodër is just one of the great day trips from Tirana: some other options include visiting the Castle of Kruja, cruising along the gem-toned Shala river and hiking up Mount Gamti for an incredible view of Bovila Lake:

 

Shkoder, Albania

Day 3: Berat

Known as the ‘City of a Thousand Windows’, Berat city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most enchanting destinations in Albania thanks to its towering castle, pretty patchwork of window frames and perch along the banks of the Osum River.

Berat Albanina

Dating back to the Ottoman era, Berat is located in the Berati region which is known for marble mining, olive groves and producing the famous Albanian alcohol raki. There are also vineyards including Alpeta Winery which has been making wine and raki since the 90s, and the family-run Cibo Winery which opened the first tasting room in Albania.

Book a wine tour in Berat:

 

Albanian wine

Start your day here exploring the medieval centre, which is a maze of hilly cobblestone streets and notable structures like the Leaden Mosque which dates back to the 16th century, and the Gate of the Pasha.

 
Gate of the Pasha in Berat Albanina

Gate of the Pasha

The main attraction is the 13th century Berat Castle (Kalaja e Beratit), a complex with crumbling churches, Ottoman mosques and panoramic viewpoint overlooking the city. At one point there were 44 churches and two mosques here, but most were reduced to rubble during wars and destruction at the hands of the communist leader Enver Hoxha.

Today, some of the ruins remain and there are also a handful of restaurants and shops at the top.

Berat Castle in Berat Albania

Berat Castle

Berat Castle

A winding road from the city centre leads up the hill, and there’s also a more adventurous footpath starting from a small set of stairs on the north side of Rruga Antipatrea, between Gorica Bridge and the one near the Old Town.

It takes about 30 minutes to do the climb, and the effort is rewarded with great vantage points of the windowed houses and St. Michael’s Church.

Berat Albania

Berat, Albania

St. Michael's Church in Berat Albania

St. Michael’s Church

End the day with a stroll along Bulevardi Republika which is lined with cafes, bars, ice cream shops and restaurants. The pedestrian-only street is across from the river and a beautiful park, and is the busiest spot in town each night which makes it perfect for people watching.

Where to stay in Berat

  • Hotel Republika Berat: This is one of the best Berat hotels, thanks to its large, clean rooms, friendly staff and a perfect location in the middle of the city. Click here to book
  • Hotel Rezidenca Desaret: This top ranked option is located near the walkway up to Berat Castle, and has views of the Gorica and Mangalemi boroughs and an excellent on-site restaurant. Click here to book

View of Berat Albanina

Day 4: Osumi Canyon and Bogove waterfall

One of the best day trips from Berat is the wild, wet adventure through the Osumi Canyon (also known as Osum Canyon) which is a 90 minute drive from the city.

Osumi Canyon in Berat Albania

Osumi Canyon

The ‘Grand Canyon of Albania’ boasts dramatic scenery, sweeping views of the Osumi Valley and thrilling activities on the water including rafting trips and canyoning.

Osumi Canyon in Berat Albania

Book a one day Osumi Canyon tour, which starts with a couple of sightseeing stops en route, then heads right to the base of the canyon. Prepare to get soaking wet as you hike for about an hour through the pristine gorge and swim in the azure water.

While the water is cold and the rocks underfoot can make it a challenge, the intense experience is unforgettable and absolutely stunning which makes this one of the best things to do in Albania.

Osumi Canyon in Berat Albania

On the way back to Berat, most groups stop at the cascading Bogove waterfall, which just so happens to be almost unbearably cold with a water temperature of six degrees celsius.

It takes about 20 minutes to hike along the dusty road through Tomorri Mountain National Park with some suspect bridge crossings, which is well worth it to see the breathtaking falls which are tucked away in a cluster of sandstone rocks and cascade into a turquoise pool.

Book an Osumi Canyon tour:

 

Bogove Waterfall in Berat Albania

Bogove Waterfall

Day 5: Gjirokaster

With architecture dating back to the Ottoman-era, a memorable historic centre and sweeping views from the hilltop fortress, the southern city of Gjirokastër is one of the best places to visit in Albania.

Gjirokaster, Albania

Gjirokaster, Albania

The ‘Stone City’ is a UNESCO site beloved for its outdoor bazaar and Ottoman-era homes. Narrow streets wind up to the imposing Gjirokastër Castle which dates back to the 12th century, and is perched more than 300 metres high.

Highlights include cannons tucked inside stone tunnels, a giant clock tower, lookout points that have a birds-eye view of the entire valley, and even a former US air force plane that was captured back in the 1950s.

Gjirokaster Castle

Gjirokaster Castle

Gjirokaster Castle

While some visitors are happy to spend a few days here exploring the maze of streets, Gjirokastër’s attractions are mostly centered around the historic old town which makes it possible to see the top spots in the city in just a few hours if time is tight. It’s also the perfect pit stop while travelling between Berat and the Albanian Riviera.

Gjirokaster, Albania

The bazaar in Gjirokaster, Albania

Other things to do in Gjirokaster include:

  • Hike to the Ali Pasha Bridge, a photogenic aqueduct that spans across a narrow gorge
  • Admire the Gjirokaster Mosque (Bazaar Mosque) which dates back to the 1700s and is one of only a few original mosques that remain in Albania
  • Walk through the 800-metre long Cold War Tunnel which runs under the castle and now houses a museum

Book a tour of Gjirokastër:

 

 

Exploring Gjirokaster Castle

Exploring Gjirokaster Castle

Day 6 + 7: Albanian Riviera

With idyllic bays, a rugged coastline and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lounging on the sun-soaked beaches of the Albanian Riviera is the perfect way to cap off an Albania trip.

Ksamil Beach

The city of Sarande (or Sarande as it’s also known) is framed by the dazzling Ionian Sea, and most visitors opt to make this their base for exploring the area. Music thumps all day long at the beach clubs, the promenade is prime for people watching, and boats whisk visitors off to the surrounding islands and islets for a day of fun in the sun.

Saranda, Albania

The most popular beaches in the Albanian Riviera include Dhërmi, Himare, Borsh and Porto Palermo, which are a 1-2 hour drive from the city. A closer option is Ksamil which is an absolute stunner thanks to its turquoise waters, and has fun activities like pedal boats, jet skiing and lots of different areas with sun loungers.

 

Ksamil Beach

Ksamil, Albaniai

Ksamil

Other must-see spots in the area are:

  • Lekuresi Castle, which has panoramic views of Saranda and the Greek island of Corfu and is mesmerizing at sunset.
  • Butrint Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which has been to a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric (diocese) since prehistoric times.
  • The mysterious Blue Eye (Syri i Kaltër), a freshwater spring that’s an estimated 50 metres deep in one spot. The natural phenomenon creates a sphere-shaped area of water with a cerulean hue that constantly swirls around in circles.
 

The Blue Eye in Albania

The Blue Eye

The view of Saranda from Lekuresi Castle

The view of Saranda from Lekuresi Castle

Where to stay in Saranda, Albania

  • Hotel Bahamas: Guests love the huge outdoor pools, and rave about the stunning sea views. You’ll want a car since the hotel is 10 km from Saranda, and it’s a good spot for a family vacation since you can lounge around at the property instead of having to drive to a beach. Click here to book
  • Hotel Porto Eda: This hotel is smack dab in the middle of Saranda, which makes it the ideal location for guests wanting easy access to the cafes and bars. Balconies overlook the marina; however, parking can be a challenge. Click here to book

Saranda, Albania

Got extra time to spare on your Albania trip? Spend a few more days exploring the best places to visit in Albania like the coastal city of Vlore, beach hopping along the Albanian Riviera or hiking in the impressive Albanian Alps.

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