Naturally, this made me curious – is there a reason for this? Should I be visiting Albania at all?
After being absolute enthralled by Croatia’s beauty on a previous 8-day roadtrip, I decided I had to give Albania a chance. And oh boy, I’m glad I did.
Being less visited means Albania is such an affordable destination
As I started booking everything in Albania, I realized just how awesome this was. I stayed in the best-rated hotels in each town for not more than 40 Euro a night, paid 15 Euro a day for my rental car through Hertz, and had super cheap flights in and out the country. And I didn’t even try.
When I walked out the best restaurant in Tirana after a 5-course meal having paid less than $25, I came to a radical conclusion about Albania: it’s one of the most underrated countries I’ve ever been to.
Another underrated country you should visit: 7 Days in Bangladesh: The Ultimate 1-Week Off the Beaten Path Adventure
The Most Epic Road Trip Itinerary to Explore Albania in 6 Days
There’s so much to see an do on a road trip around Albania, but I truly feel 6 days is the sweet spot to maximize your time here.
Day 1: Tirana: by foot and by taste bud
Day 2: Berat | An insanely quintessential Byzantine mountain city & the most epic Albanian waterfall all to yourself
Day 3: Epic Canyoning at Kanionet e Osumit
Day 4: Gjirokaster: sleeping in a fairytale castle surrounded by amazing scenery
Day 5: Butrit, Himare, & Orikum: incredible Albanian Riviera beaches, fortresses, and fantastic views
Day 6: Krujë: an epic final castle visit before flying home
If you end up with an extra day or two, head to the Mesi bridge in Shkoder right on the border with Croatia! If you want to continue onto Serbia, Kosovo, and North Macedonia, make sure to read about my previous epic Balkans road trip.
Note: if you have less than 6 days and land early in the day, I would skip Tirana. I found it the least interesting city in Albania.
Alternative 6-Day Albania Road Trip Itinerary
If you’re looking for more of an inland and authentic Albanian experience in only 6 days, this alternative itinerary is perfect for that.
Visiting Tirana: a booming capital
A booming a flourishing city, Tirana is quickly becoming a center of attention in the Balkans. If anything, it’s a great metaphor for all of Albania.
Healing from a brutal civil war and a decade of government corruption and financial failure in the 90s leading to a population decline of over 40%, Albania has reeled itself back from the brink year after year.
And Tirana, now witnessing the moving in of giant hotel brands, new massive parks being built, and a flourishing of restaurants and shopping, is truly becoming a city of hope and proof that tenacity works. Albanians, if anything, are tenacious.
So let’s explore this fine Balkan city, and see everything it has to offer.
The Top 9 Places You Need to See in Tirana
From a unique Cold War bunker turned art museum to a castle, Tirana has a quirky charm that’s hard to resist.
- BUNK’ART – former Cold War bunker turned into a contemporary art & history museum
- Et’hem Bej Mosque – a beauty and gem, particularly at night
- The Tirana Castle (Kalaja e Tiranës) – a castle dating to the 13th century turned into a shopping and dining alley
- Resurrection Cathedral – One of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the Balkans
- House of Leaves Museum – Actually the house of secret surveillance, it’s one of the most unique museums in the world
- The National Historical Museum – 27,000+ square meters filled with expos
- Grand Park of Tirana – Hiking paths with sprawling views of Tirana, cafes, and an artificial lake
- Dajti Express – A cable car just outside the city with epic views
- Skanderbeg Square – The central square of the city, showcasing beautiful monuments and lined with restaurants. Make sure to head up the clock tower!
Where to stay in Tirana
$$$ The Plaza: The best hotel in Tirana
The Top 5 Places to Eat Authentic Albanian Food in Tirana
- Ceren Ismet Shehu – A wonderful 5-dish menu of local food, and my favorite in Tirana.
- Tymi Ver Reci – Best kebab, steaks, and meat
- Oda – The most authentic local dishes
- Era Vila – Considered the locals’ favorite
- Mullixhiu – Ranked by Forbes as one of Europe’s Top 50 hottest restaurants
Berat: an incredible, quintessential Byzantine mountain town where you can sleep in a fortress
I arrived at this fascinating mountain town at sunset, and immediately marveled at its beauty. Situated on a perfect little mountain surrounded by lush, green river valleys, Berat seems a Byzantine-era town untouched by time. Well-kept, there is not a single stone out of place.
Berat is the real deal.
What to see and do in Berat
Albanians call Berat the “One above another Windows”, and it offers a reconstructed medieval bazaar, gorgeous Byzantine churches, and even a National Museum.
It’s worth staying here the night just to see the sunset from the top of the fortress. Places to visit here include:
- The Holy Trinity Church
- All of Old Town and its restaurants, cafes, hotels, and narrow alleyways
- Berat Castle and its epic views of the surrounding mountains
- The Iconography Museum of Onufri
- The Ethnographic Museum
- Ruins of the Red Mosque
- Saint Demetrius Cathedral
- Church of St Thomas
- Kanionet e Osumit, an incredible river gorge with waterfalls where you can go rafting
Where to stay in Berat
$$ Hotel Colombo Berat: I can’t even believe how beautiful this hotel is.
Visiting a massive, stupendous waterfall you won’t believe exists in Albania – way off the beaten path
On the way from Tirana to Berat, I took a sliiiight detour. I took my little tiny European 2WD rental car off road to a waterfall with almost no information available – and none in English.
And boy was I glad I did. What I found was a series of massive multi-layer waterfalls landing in a crystal clear pool – and I had it all to myself.
The name of the waterfall? It’s the Sotires Ujevara (which means waterfall in Albanian), and it’s about an hour of dirt road and a 45 minute walk to get there, but it’s totally worth it. If you have a 4×4, you could drive the entire way there.
Pro Tip: the best time to visit is the morning for sunshine. And you can hike down to the bathing pool at the bottom for an awesome swim!
An awesome Balkan experience: fantastic white water canyoning
On your way out from Berat, I highly highly recommend stopping by the Kanionet e Osumit (Osumit Canyon) for an adrenaline-racing, heart-pumping white water rafting adventure.
Or you can simply enjoy hiking around the river, relaxing in the sun, and going for a fresh dip to stay cool in the afternoon sun. In any case, it’s a stupendously beautiful spot to enjoy Albania’s glory.
Gjirokaster: a fairytale city – and my favorite in Albania
I loved walking through the old town and up to the castle of Gjirokaster, and exploring its museum with 360 degree mountaintop views. And I certainly didn’t mind having the best authentic Albanian food of my entire trip here, basking in the views and the glory of this magnificent city.
What to see and do in Gjirokaster
The true reason you came to Gjirokaster, is, as the name implies, for the castle! Built during the 12th century, the Castle of Gjirokaster sits atop a mountain with incredible views on the surrounding valleys and mountains.
It includes an incredible museum detailing Albania’s resistance against the Germans, how an American fighter jet got lost in the clouds and ended up here, and a bunch of rare and stunning tanks.
Other places of interest in Gjirokaster include:
- The main Bazaar
- Old Town Gjirokastra
- The Archeological Park of Antigonea
Where to stay in Gjirokaster
$$ Hotel Fantasy: wonderful views outside the castle
$$$ Resort Kerculla: an epic, authentic estate with massive pool and wonderful rooms overlooking the city
Where to eat in Gjirokaster
While here, you have to try the Taverna Tradicionale KARDHASHI. It’s some of the best food not just in Gjirokaster, but in all of Albania, with incredible tourist-centric service. It’s just outside the Castle, so you might have to hike up a little – but it’s worth it just for the delicious Raki and Moussaka.
The Albania Riviera (“Bregu”/Mediterranean Coast): a glorious and enthralling place for a road trip
A couple years ago, I completed a delightful 8-day road trip all the way across Croatia. What I found was delightful, beyond-words beauty. So I was hoping that Albania would naturally share that same essence.
What I found was astounding. Crystal clear water, beautiful beaches, insane mountain viewpoints, fantastic hiking, wonderful seaside towns. I even went swimming – in March!
The cities you’ll not want to miss include:
- Butrint for it Roman Archeological Park on an island
- Ksamil for some of the best secluded beaches and fun nightlife
- Porto Palermo and it’s fortress
- Orikum for an incredible, calm, peninsula protected bay of amazing beaches and great restaurants
You may have noticed I left off Sarande and Vlore, but I found these cities a bit too big and not as charming. They do both offer nice boardwalks and plenty of hotels and places to eat, as well as nightlife – but I don’t feel they’re as authentically Albanian.
Durres is a quite nice bigger city, featuring gorgeous mosques, churches, and even a Roman amphitheater.
The best beaches to visit on your road trip
Overall, I’d say crystal clear water, white sand beaches, gorgeous mountains, delightful boardwalks, and amazing drives make Albania’s coastline a real competitor to that of Croatia’s.
Some of the best beaches in Albania include:
- Gjiri i Akuariumit
- Livadi Beach
- Plazhi i Borshit
- Plazhi i Pasqyrave
- Grama Bay- possibly the best beach here, but quite out of the way
An epic fortress island you can’t miss
Butrint Archeological Park is an entire island that could be considered the sister to Corfu as seen by the Roman Empire. It’s very well preserved, offering everything from massive estates to an amphitheater to a mountain top fortress – all connected by walking trails.
It’s a must see if you have the time.
The most flabbergasting viewpoint on Albania’s coast
Panorama Llogara makes it worth it to take the longer road back towards Tirana. Why? It’s simply the best view on the entire coast of Albania.
Perched high up in the mountains, with seemingly endless views over the coast and neighboring giants of mountains, the viewpoint often sits above any clouds.
The perfect Instagram spot.
Where to stay in Himare
$ Himara ’28 Hotel: a great deal for nearly beachfront property with breakfast
$$ Arxontico: for the best sea views from your beachfront balcony
Where to stay in Orikum
$ A&G Hotel – an awesome beachfront hotel
$ Bel Ami Suita – excellent value
Krujë: one last castle before you leave Albania
If you have time before your flight, you should definitely visit the Castle of Kruja. It’s one of the most beautiful in Albania and only a 40 minute drive from Tirana airport.
Other notable mentions of epic destinations to visit in Albania
- Valbona Valley (and its National Park)
- Shkoder and the Mesi Bridge
- Fir of Hotova and its thermal springs, river rafting, and hiking
- Korce – a gorgeous city surrounded by the Morova Mountains
- Lake Ohrid area – this was my favorite place in the Balkans last year
Other road trips you should consider
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