If someone explained that they were taking a beach trip to Montenegro, or a historical expedition to Greece, you’d likely get vicariously excited for them. If they said they were headed to Albania, however, you might ask why they were being forced to head to such an out of the way location. Well, if you’ve never visited the country that’s sandwiched right between Greece and Montenegro, then you’re missing out. There is so much more to a trip to Albania than you might think, and not least because it’s 40 percent cheaper than a Greek vacation. Here are some of the country’s can’t miss destinations when you’re headed to this gorgeous Balkan nation.
1. The Albanian Riviera
Yeah, that might sound like something of a contradiction in terms, but the beautiful stretch of beach in Albania is an affordable alternative that sacrifices almost none of the frills. When you’re not lounging on the beach, the Albanian Riviera is also a hot spot for nightlife including a robust bar scene and a growing reputation for quality live music.
You don’t have to go far to find a little piece of ancient Greece among the ruins of Albania. That’s no more evident than in Apollonia, an ancient city dedicated to the god Apollo. It’s a bit of a drive to get there, but the museum and amenities are well worth the drive, especially if you have a thing for the Hellenic tradition.
3. The National History Museum
If you’re not familiar with the rich history and culture of Albania, then you might find some time to visit the National History Museum in the capital city of Tirana. The surprisingly engaging (and in-depth) exposition offers great insight into Albania’s expansive history. Albanians claim that their country is the oldest in the Balkans, and their national museum’s historical collection goes a long way toward proving that point.
4. Mount Dajti Ekspres
If you need a short reprieve from the uncommonly pretty beaches, then you can head to Mt. Dajti, a popular tourist attraction that’s practically in the middle of Tirana. Best of all, you don’t need to be a particularly skilled hiker, because the Dajti Ekspres — the mountain’s cable car — shouldn’t be passed up. A 15 minute trip provides one-of-a-kind views of the city as it slowly yields to the natural beauty atop Mt. Dajti. Stay for a meal or a few nights, the choice is up to you.
5. Rozafa Castle
Thanks to its medieval influence, Albania is also home to a whole lot of interesting castles. Hands down the best, however, is Rozafa Castle in Shkoder. The well-preserved ruins give you insight into an often overlooked period of history, while the stunning views of Lake Shkoder provide a natural beauty you don’t need a historical bent to appreciate.
6. Skanderbeg Square
At the exact center of the city sits Skanderbeg Square. You likely won’t need to make a direct trip to see it as some of Albania’s coolest attractions are right next door. In other words, you’ll likely just end up at Skanderbeg Square. Even so, it’s worth taking some time to admire the effortlessly beautiful mix of traditional carved statues and contemporary fountains replete with brightly colored streams of water.
If you find yourself in Tirana, you’re making a big mistake if you don’t plan to spend at least one full day at Bunk’Art, a five-floor underground bunker that’s filled with amazing art as well as a historical expedition through Albania’s half-century as a communist nation. Seriously, this museum is truly unlike anything else in the world. It’s not to be missed.
You’re on vacation, right? So why not spend a day or two simply basking in the Balkan sun in Ksamil, a series of small islands whose most prominent features are gorgeous beaches and succulent food. What’s not inviting about a few days in this paradise?
9. Skenduli House
First erected during the Ottoman rule in Albania, Skenduli House has recently been restored to the decor of the house during its heyday. The guided tours are led by the original owner’s grandson, who has a world-famous grasp of several languages as well as the complete history of the estate itself.
10. Et`hem Bey Mosque
Another of the attractions in Tirana that are worth a visit is Et`hem Bey Mosque. Albania itself is nearly 60 percent Muslim, so its Islamic sites are very well tended. What’s more, this small mosque is known for its welcoming worshippers and charming interior. If you find yourself in Skanderbeg Square, it’s worth a visit.
11. Berat Fortress
Another of the aged fortresses scattered throughout Albania, Berat Fortress was built in the 13th century. Today, the well-restored fortress is home to an array of beautiful Byzantine churches that are sure to impress even the most cynical of tourists.
12. Syri i Kalter
Located outside the city of Saranda, Syri i Kalter — which translates to “Blue Eye” — is a naturally occurring water spring known for its beautiful views and its crisp, cold water. It’ll take a little time to get there from the city, but the destination is absolutely worth the effort.
13. Butrint National Park
Gorgeous Butrint National Park is well worth a half-day of your time, whether you want to walk though its sprawling eucalyptus forests or you’re there for the ruins of a once great civilization (or, preferably, both). Museums, hikes, and boat rides are all on offer at Butrint National Park, which means you should have not trouble finding something to love.
14. National Ethnographic Museum
With two locations in Kruje and Berat, the National Ethnographic Museum is a treat for people of every age. A knowledgeably curated selection of items showcases Albania’s broad and varied cultural history. For a glimpse into the formation of Albania’s modern day look and feel, the National Ethnographic Museum is well worth your time.