ALBANIA TRAVEL GUIDE
Apart from some vague memories of Albania's communist past, few travellers seem to know much about it. After decades of isolationist rule this land somehow still doesn't quite seem to fit in with the rest of the continent and its immediate neighbours.
Albania offers a remarkable array of unique attractions, not least due to this very isolation: alluring azure lakes, surrounded by mountains and picturesque valleys littered with Roman ruins and charming Ottoman towns largely undiscovered by mainstream tourism. With its stunning mountain scenery, a thriving capital in Tirana, and beaches to rival anywhere else in the Mediterranean, Albania has become the sleeper hit of the Balkans.
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ALBANIA QUICK FACTS
Currency: Lek (ALL)
Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European plug)
Language: Albanian (There are two dialects: Gheg and Tosk)
Religion: Muslim 56.7%, Roman Catholic 10%, Orthodox 6.8%, atheist 2.5%, Bektashi (a Sufi order) 2.1%, other 5.7%, unspecified 16.2%
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ALBANIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 14 March, Summer Day
- 22 March, Nevruz Day
- 1 May, May Day.
- 19 October, Beatification of Mother Teresa
- 28 November, Independence Day
- 29 November, Liberation Day (World War II)
- 8 December, National Youth Day
Also, Good Friday, Easter, Orthodox Easter, Easter Monday, Eid al- Fitr, and Eid al-Adha.
BEST TIME TO VISIT ALBANIA
For a relatively small area, Albania has a high number of climatic regions. The country lies at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns throughout all seasons and with a coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas along with its highlands along the Balkan mass it creates remarkable diversity.
The coastal lowlands experience more typical Mediterranean weather; with the highlands a Mediterranean continental climate. In both the lowlands and the interior, the weather can again vary markedly from north to south. The lowlands have much milder winters, averaging about 7 °C with summer temperatures averaging around 24 °C. Northerly and northeasterly winds blow much of the time and the best winds for kite-surfing in Albania are usually from March to November.
Inland temperatures are affected more by differences in elevation and low winter temperatures in the mountain regions are caused by the continental air mass that dominates the weather in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Average summer temperatures are lower than in the coastal areas and much lower at higher elevations, but daily fluctuations are greater. Daytime maximum temperatures in the interior basins and river valleys are very high, but the nights are almost always cool. During the rainy season, precipitation can be heavy with many storms accompanied by high winds and torrential downpours.
June - Enjoy the perfect Mediterranean climate and deserted beaches.
August - Albania's beaches may be packed, but this is a great time to explore the mountains.
December - See features and shorts at the Tirana Film Festival, while the intrepid can snowshoe to Theth.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN ALBANIA
The snow sports season in Albania is relatively short, from December until the end of February with the most consistent snow in the months of January and February. It is however a wonderfully affordable ski destination in comparison to Western Europe.
HIKING & CYCLING IN ALBANIA
The best time for outdoor activities in Albania is from April to October, although the months of July and August can be unbearably hot if you're not at the higher altitudes.
BEACH OPTIONS IN ALBANIA
Albania has beautiful beaches with a summer beach season stretching from April to October with July and August by far being the hottest and busiest months.
SURFING IN ALBANIA
It is rare to get decent swell in Albania, but when you do it can be fun. The most consistent waves are near Shëngjin but the best quality beach breaks are near Velipojë.
KITESURF IN ALBANIA
The best winds for kitesurfing in Albania are usually from March to November. Check with a local regarding the weather conditions and suitable kitesurfing locations and never go out alone!
ALBANIA TRAVEL COSTS
Albania is relatively inexpensive for Western tourists, especially when compared to some of the nearby countries like Croatia and Italy.
You will find accommodation for a reasonable price and plenty of great cheap food options. Museum tickets and public transportation fares are also very affordable. Some prices could go up slightly during the summer, especially in seaside towns, since that’s the peak of the season.
ALBANIA TRAVEL TIPS
If you find yourself landing in Tirana, which is where the only airport in the country lies, avoid expensive local taxis and head straight to the Rinas Express’s bus station. The bus connects the Tirana Mother Teresa Airport to the city centre, near Skanderbeg Square, and takes about 20 minutes for 300 Albanian Lek.
Tiranë - TIA: every one hour starting from 07:00 until 23:00
TIA - Tiranë: every one hour starting from 08:00 until 24:00
A taxi is much more expensive, costing about 2,500 lekë (20€), one-way.
Tirana is connected to the main Albanian towns only by bus, as Albania doesn’t have railways. While buses are always cheap, the journeys can sometimes be quite long, so keep this in mind if you need to get somewhere in a hurry.
To enter Albania with your own vehicle you'll need a Green Card (proof of third-party insurance, issued by your insurer); check that your insurance covers Albania.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF ALBANIA
Not surprisingly most visitors to Albania makes their way straight to the capital of Tirana - nowadays a buzzing city with a mash-up collection of traditional restaurants and trendy bars amongst wonderfully garish painted buildings. To seek the true Albania you should head to its mountains and explore drowsy hillside towns filled with friendly locals - Berat and Gjirokastra can easily be mistaken as open-air museums of life during the Ottoman times. For hiking head to the stunning valley of Valbona where the limestone mountains tower offers incredible biodiversity.
From an affordable ski destination at the snow-capped peaks of the interior to its Ionian coastline with immaculate, undeveloped beaches Albania will be a revelation. In a mountainous country with a long coastline, the main activity attractions are pretty obvious – there are some amazing places to swim along the Ionian coast, while the most accessible hiking is in the national park area of Mount Dajti.
Tirana - Albania’s colourful, chaotic capital is better for strolling than sightseeing, but there’s plenty to keep you occupied and you should take the time to sit down and sip an espresso while watching the world go by. The looming Mount Dajti is easily visible from Tirana and city dwellers head to its forested slopes in droves over sunny days. The mountain’s network of paths feels surprisingly remote even though you’re only 25km from Tirana.
Kruja - This ancient city is the hilltop scene of national hero Skanderbeg’s resistance to the Ottoman invasions of the fifteenth century. Surrounded by beautiful mountains, Skanderbeg's castle is a tourist focal point that contains museums, restaurants, even a hotel. Kruje also has an old-style Ottoman bazaar with shops selling traditional and vintage goods amid its cobblestone streets.
Berat - The 'town of the thousand windows' is known for its pretty rows of Ottoman houses lining the hills. Thought to be one of the oldest towns in Albania, it is now a new member of the UNESCO World Heritage List. Berat has a well-preserved citadel with residents still living inside its protective walls. The 14th-century Kalasa citadel towers above the town and is accessed via a steep, cobbled road.
Gjirokastra - Another UNESCO-listed city located in the south which is known for its unique Ottoman period architecture. Gjirokastra is one of Albania’s most attractive towns and home to some of its friendliest people. It's the birthplace of former communist leader Enver Hoxha and Albania's most internationally famous author, Ismail Kadare who's homes both now serve as museums. Other than the imposing 6th-century castle dominating the town skyline, Gjirokastra's most appealing sight is its collection of Ottoman-style houses.
Korce - Located in southeast Albania, several miles from the Greek border, this city is full of life during the summer, when you can find couples and families strolling through the city's main park, Parku Rinia. You can hike to the top of the beautiful mountain Moravia and view the city and its surrounding landscape. Don't miss the Korca Brewery, famous throughout Albania, which has a nice beer garden.
WHAT TO EAT IN ALBANIA
Albania, like the Balkans in general, has a primarily Turkish influence in its cuisine. This influence stems from over 400 years of Ottoman rule in the region. Recent influences after the fall of communism in the early 1990s have been from Italy and Western Europe in general. Most Albanian people make their own bread, but going out for meals is very common. Some sort of hearty stew is commonly included in Albanian suppers - easy to make, and flexible with ingredients which usually include potatoes, onion, and rice.
Byrek - a common type of savoury pie made in different ways depending on the region. Some variations include spinach and feta cheese or ground meat and onion.
Tavë kosi -a simple dish of baked lamb and rice served with a yogurt sauce. It is often referred to as the national dish of Albania.
Qofte të fërguara - Albanian fried meatballs with feta cheese. Traditionally served with fried potatoes or rice.
Ayran - a drink served with food is made by mixing yogurt with chilled or iced water (sometimes carbonated) then seasoned with mint. Two byreks and an ayran is a very common breakfast option!
Gjirofarma - cheese is similar to the Greek feta cheese and one of the few cheeses that are exported from Albania.
Don't forget to check out the many pastry shops (pastiçeri) offering a wide variety of tasty pastry including delicious cakes.
Baklava - is a popular dessert and is usually made as a dessert during New Year's Eve.
Oshaf – A fig and sheep’s milk pudding
WHERE TO STAY IN ALBANIA
Inside the cities, hotels are abundant and prices per night start as low as €15. Hotels are usually clean and their staff in major cities generally speak English and/or Italian.
Outside the big cities, hotels are less common, but in places like Gjirokastra can be excellent value. There is a great opportunity to experience local traditions, hospitality and cuisine by staying at one of the guesthouses in the North. The price of full board accommodation will not be more than €25 a person. If, for any reason, you find nowhere to sleep, the Albanian people have always been known for their hospitality, and will treat you like royalty as you stay with them.