A complete Albania travel guide with all the information you need regarding hotels, restaurants, transportation and the best beaches in the country. We’ve also included three different itineraries with everything you should see and do in Albania in 7, 10 or 14 days.
A country with a truly sad and captivating recent history, nowadays it’s hard to believe that Albania was once dubbed as the European equivalent of North Korea. For decades, Albania remained completely cut off from the rest of the world, all thanks to one of the most eccentric dictators in memory (and trust me, there have been quite a few), who went so far as to build literally hundreds of bunkers all across the nation’s territory. However, times have changed, and Albania has been awakening to the world for the past 30 years – now, it’s time for said world to appreciate Albania’s uniqueness.
A nation of beaches and mountains and a deeply rooted Ottoman cultural heritage, offering warm-hearted people, mouthwatering cuisine and affordable prices – what more could one ask for? Albania is undeniably a country unlike any other. Its language stands on its own, unrelated to any specific family of languages, the majority of Albanians enjoy both alcohol and pork, despite being predominantly Muslim, and it’s probably the only place on Earth where you’ll find Islam coexisting harmoniously with miniskirts and where the enchanting sound of the Adhan blends with the thumping beats of techno music. Personally, I find it to be my favorite country!
So, if you’re planning a trip to this stunning destination, our ultimate Albania travel guide is here to help. In addition to practical information about hotels, restaurants, transportation and beaches, we’ve also put together three comprehensive itineraries, including all the places you must see and visit in Malta in 7, 10 or 14 days.
Although a new airport in the city of Vlore is scheduled to be completed in 2024, and the secondary airport of Kukes gets a few international flights from Switzerland, pretty much every single air passenger arrives in Albania through the capital’s air hub: the Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza.
Unfortunately, there are no direct flights between Ireland and Albania, so the only way to fly to Tirana is by having a layover in one of several European cities. You can even opt for low-cost airlines like Easyjet, which operates flights from London-Gatwick and Geneva, or choose Wizzair, offering connections from nearly 40 European destinations, such as Berlin, Barcelona, Madrid, Budapest, Charleroi, Bergamo and Milan-Malpensa.
Alternatively, you can fly to Bari (Italy) and then hop on an overnight ferry to Durres, in the Albanian coast. This ferry ride takes about 9 hours and costs around 48€ per passenger. Another option by sea is to fly to the Greek island of Corfu, where you can catch a ferry to Sarande, the largest city on the Albanian Riviera. The ferry ride takes 60 to 90 minutes, and prices range from 15€-20€. You can purchase tickets and find all the information on the websites of Finikas Lines and Ionian Seaways.
Finally, you may also choose to fly to one of the neighboring capitals – such as Skopje, Pristina or even Belgrade – and then continue your journey overland to Tirana.
Over the past few years, especially in the post-pandemic era, Albania has been attracting more and more tourists, which is no wonder given the breathtaking beauty of its coastline. While the country offers so much more beyond the classic beach and sun experience, there’s no denying that it remains a major draw for Albanian tourism.
With its affordability for the average European traveler, the best time to explore Albania is during the hottest months from June to September. It’s the perfect time not only for those looking to indulge in the coastal paradise but also for mountain enthusiasts, as the popular trails in the “Albanian Alps” become accessible from May/June onwards. Just keep in mind that Tirana, the capital, can get scorching during this period, with temperatures soaring up to 40ºC on the hottest days. It’s a small price to pay for the ideal conditions throughout the rest of the country!
Even though Albania is not a member, they’ve had an agreement in place with the EU since 2009. This agreement allows citizens from EU countries to enter Albania without the need to present a passport.
So, whether you choose to arrive in Albania by air, land, or sea, all you need is your Irish Passport Card, as long as it’s valid for at least 3 months from your departure date.
Since there is no special agreement in place between Ireland and Albania regarding international communications and roaming fees, using your regular phone plan is a big no-no!
Therefore, our recommendation is that you either get an Esim before leaving the homeland or buy a physical SIM card upon landing in your destination. You can do so after going through customs in the arrivals’ terminal. In Albania, there are 3 big companies that pretty much run the mobile data market: ALB Telecom, Vodafone e One Telecom.
With the lek (LEK) as Albania’s official currency, any withdrawal using an Irish bank card might incur in the payment of several different fees. Besides the percentual fee referring to the currency conversion, some Irish banks may also charge a flat commission for withdrawals made outside the country. In some instances, you may well end up paying 5%-6% of your original withdrawal in banking fees.
On the other hand, exchanging money before your trip is not a viable solution either. Besides not being any cheaper, it’s also not safe or wise to carry so much money on you during your trip. As such, we recommend using the services of online banking fintech companies such as Revolut, N26 or Monzo.
Although each have their own limitations and fees, they allow you to withdraw a certain amount in foreign currency without any fees involved. And even after that threshold is reached, costs are much smaller when compared to traditional banks. Sign up for Revolut for free >> to get 3 months of Premium.
When it comes to negative stereotypes, and alongside the Romanians, the Albanian people are probably among the most misunderstood in the continent, being often perceived and portrayed as abrasive, dangerous and dishonest in countries with sizable communities. Unfortunately, these stereotypes stem from a period of Civil War in the late 90s, when the country was left in chaos and under the influence of organized crime groups, (commonly known as the Albanian Mafias), due to governmental inaction and incompetence.
However, from the extensive time I had the opportunity to spend in Albania, I never encountered any problems, regardless of the city or time of day. In fact, I can confidently say that the Albanian people were the most hospitable I’ve ever come across in Europe!
So, when you visit Albania, there’s truly no reason to fear for your safety. As with any other city in the world, just use common sense and you’ll be all right. We only recommend that you pay special attention to your belongings around crowded areas or at the beach, and never accept a taxi ride where the meter is not working.
As several Albanians have put it, the real tricksters in the country are the ones wearing suits and ties!
If you’re looking out for a place to stay on our Albania travel guide, then we got you covered! As we’ve mentioned before, Albania is a pretty affordable country by western European standards, and even if tourism is clearly on the rise (especially along the Riviera) this can still be considered a cheap tourist destination.
That being said, here are some options based on the cities we recommend you to stay at:
When it comes to dining in Albania, you’ll find that restaurants are generally budget-friendly, though tourist areas, as one might expect, ought to be a bit pricier. What makes it even better is that Albanian cuisine is incredibly diverse, drawing inspiration from Greek, Turkish and Balkan dishes. For the icing on the cake, Italy’s significant influence, just a stone’s throw away across the Adriatic, has left its mark on the country, which can be seen not only in the language (it’s astonishing how many Albanians speak Italian) but also in the habits, mentality and especially in the mouthwatering gastronomy. Some even claim that the best Italian food outside of Italy is prepared right here in Albania!
In the mountain regions like Valbona and Theth, restaurants are few and far between, but most guesthouses offer delicious homemade meals cooked by the friendly families running these establishments.
So, apart from these two specific destinations, our Albania travel guide has some great restaurant options at reasonable prices for each of the other cities mentioned in the itinerary:
While putting together the itineraries for this Albania travel guide, we stipulated that all of them begin and end in the vibrant capital of Tirana. That being said, let’s explore the various transportation options to get you from the airport to the city center.
Tirana Airport is located approximately 19 km away from the heart of the city. Since there’s no metro or tram system in Tirana, your main choice for public transport is the bus, which conveniently departs right from the arrivals terminal. These minibuses run from 08h00 to midnight, leaving every hour on the clock. A one-way ticket costs 300 LEK, and if you prefer, you can also pay in euros (3,00€). The journey takes around 30 minutes, getting you to the lively Skanderbeg Square, considered the heart of the city.
Alternatively, if you arrive later in the evening or if there’s still a long wait to the next bus, taxis are readily available. As is common in many airports, taxis offer a fixed price for the trip to the city center, which currently sits at around 20,00€. To ensure you’re riding with an official taxi, look for the distinctive yellow sign that reads “Auto Holiday Albania“, the designated operator for airport taxi services.
Lastly, you can also opt for private transport through an app. While Uber isn’t available in Albania, you can use Speed Taxi, a reliable company that operates in Tirana and Shkoder. With this option, you can enjoy a comfortable ride from the airport to the city center for around 10,00€!
If you want to explore certain areas within Albania, then renting a car is practically a must!
While it’s true that traveling between major cities can be done by bus or minivan, relying on public transportation becomes quite challenging when wishing to explore the breathtaking Albanian Riviera, which is the country’s top tourist destination. For those specific routes, your options might be limited to booking a tour or taking a taxi, but keep in mind that this can significantly increase your expenses and restrict your flexibility.
Furthermore, if you decide to rent a car solely for the Riviera region, you’ll need to return the vehicle to the same location where you picked it up. For example, if you rent a car from a local operator in Sarande, chances are that this small company won’t have facilities in Vlore, the endpoint of the Riviera, where you could easily catch a bus to your next destination. Consequently, you’ll have to return to Sarande to drop off the car. And even if you opt for a company that has facilities in both cities (a rare find), you’ll still face a substantial extra cost for the convenience of picking up the car in one place and returning it in another.
Below, you can see a comparison of prices in the same company for renting the same car for 3 days, with options for pick-up and drop-off in Sarande or pick-up in Sarande and drop-off in Vlore. You can easily compare prices and rent your vehicle online through Rentalcars.com.
Lastly, travelers coming from the US, Canada or any country within the EU, don’t need an International Driving Permit. Your regular driving license will be sufficient in Albania. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to UK citizens/residents.
Recommended for: all journeys across Albania. However, it becomes particularly useful for traveling along the Riviera (Sarande-Borsh-Upper Qeparo-Himare-Gjipe-Vuno-Dhermi-Llogara Pass-Vlore).
If renting a car isn’t your thing, you can still use the bus the complete most of your journeys. As mentioned earlier, traveling between major cities in Albania is a breeze with various ground transportation options available.
To plan your trip accordingly, you can rely on Gjirafa, a platform that provides information on ground transportation in Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia.
However, it’s worth noting that there are two specific routes not listed on the Gjirafa platform, which are Shkoder-Koman and Theth-Shkoder. For the Shkoder-Koman route, it’s managed by Berisha, the company operating the Koman Lake Ferry, offering a sort of “tour”. The vans conveniently pick you up in Shkoder at 6h45 for just 7,00€, which need to be paid in advance via PayPal. If you prefer to pay for the entire journey, including the bus ride to Koman, the ferry and the transfer from the port to Valbona to the village, the price goes up to 21,00€. You can easily book your spot through their official website.
As for the Theth-Shkoder route, while it may not appear on Gjirafa, local semi-touristic operators still serve it daily. These minivans depart from Theth at around 11h00, collecting passengers from various accommodations in the village. To secure your seat, simply request pickup directly from your guesthouse, and they will make the necessary arrangements. The journey costs 10,00€ and takes about 2 hours to reach Shkoder.
Interestingly, these are the only two routes where you will need to use public transportation, even if you’ve rented a car. Since the trek between Valbona and Theth doesn’t require a return to the starting point, it’s not possible to take your vehicle to the endpoint. Hence, for those days in the mountain, our suggestion is to leave the rented car in Shkoder for 48 hours until you return to the city.
Recommended for (in case you don’t want to rent a car):
Finally, there might be occasions where, either due to limited options or personal preferences, hiring a transfer, tour or taxi service is the ideal transportation choice.
As we mentioned earlier, this can be the perfect solution for getting around the different spots along the Albanian Riviera, particularly if you prefer not to rent a car.
Recommended for: Albanian Riviera (Sarande – Borsh – Upper Qeparo – Himare – Gjipe – Vuno – Dhermi – Llogara Pass – Vlore), if you don’t want to rent a car.
So that this blog post doesn’t turn into an encyclopedia, we’ve decided to create separate articles for each itinerary.
You can check them through the following links: