Albania (Albanian: Shqipëria) is a country in the Balkans with unspoiled beaches, mountainous landscapes, traditional cuisine, archaeological artifacts, unique traditions, low prices and the wild atmosphere of the countryside. It is one of the sunniest countries in Europe. The country has an extensive archaeological heritage; it was part of Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire until its first declaration of independence in 1912, becoming a kingdom and then a communist dictatorship before becoming a democratic republic. Albania is one of the few majority Muslim nations in Europe.
|Coastal Albania, Albanian Riviera |
the long narrow strip between about 10 and 30 km wide along the whole Albanian coast, bordering both the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea
|Northeastern Albania |
the inland region to the north of the Shkumbin River, bordering Montenegro, Kosovo and North Macedonia.
|Southeastern Albania |
the inland region to the south of the Shkumbin River bordering North Macedonia and Greece, and including the great border lakes, Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa.
- 1 Tirana (Tiranë) — the capital. Trees and mountains surround the city. Mt. Dajt is a popular tourist site for a great view of the city.
- 2 Durrës - Albania's second-largest city and largest port, with historic ruins, current-day cultural institutions and beaches
- 3 Berat — Thought to be one of the oldest towns in Albania, it is a new member of the UNESCO world heritage list. Berat has long been known as the "city of 1001 windows" because of its unique Ottoman/Albanian architecture. It has a well preserved castle with residents still living inside its protective walls.
- 4 Fier — Lively seaside city, and only about 8 km (5 mi) away from the ruins of the ancient Illyrian city of Apollonia.
- 5 Gjirokastër — another UNESCO city, located in the south is known for its unique Ottoman period architecture. There is a large castle on the hill in the middle of the city which served as a jail for many generations. A Military Museum and Art Gallery are now located inside. Gjirokastër is also the birthplace of former communist Leader, Enver Hoxha, as well as Albania's most internationally famous author, Ismail Kadare, their homes now serve as museums.
- 6 Korçë (Korça) — 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 Korça Brewery (famous throughout Albania) which sponsors a week long Beer Festival every August!
- 7 Kruje (Krujë) — ancient city of the national hero Skanderbeg. It consists of beautiful mountains; Skanderbeg's castle is now a museum. Kruje also contains an old style bazaar with shops selling traditional goods amid cobblestone streets. Kruje is known for its carpet craftworks.
- 8 Shkodër — the biggest town in Northern Albania. Shkodër is considered the capital of Albanian culture. The local "Migjeni" Theatre was the first in Albania and also held the first cyclic race, the first football match and is where the first Albanian photograph was developed (by Marubi). The Rozafa Castle is a major tourist attraction here, but also "The Great Cathedral", "The mosque Ebu Beker" and several others.
- 9 Vlorë — Lively seaside city, nice beaches south of town. Passenger ferries to and from Italy dock here.
- 1 Albanian Alps — This mountainous complex on the north of the country forms the border between Albania and Montenegro. Rich on rainfalls, sheep, bare rocks and scenic views it is one of the places in Albania you should see. One of the places where you can be less than 10 km away from the nearest village and still have a day long trip there.
- 2 Albanian Riviera — Featuring crystal clear waters, unspoiled beaches, and picturesque villages, this is the Mediterranean coastline as it once was.
- 4 Butrint — Largest archaeological site from Greek era in Albania. It lies on the coast in the southernmost tip of the country, near the Greek border. Minibuses are available from Saranda.
- 5 Lura National Park — A 20,242 hectare national park with high mountains, big meadows, and glacial lakes.
- 6 Pustec contains Albania's share of Lake Prespa, which forms Prespa National Park. This is also an area of much history, evidenced by the multiple cave churches found near its villages as well as on the island of Maligrad.
- 7 Thethi — National park and village in Northern Albania
- 8 Tomorr — Mountain ridge in the southern part of Albania, not far from Berat. This part of the country is formed by parallel mountain ridges (up to around 2000–2500 m) separated by valleys. Although the ridges are not very long, they offer few days of hiking with enormous scenic beauty and fantastic panoramic views. Tomorri is one of the most known ridges with a Bektash monastery and chapel on the very top.
|Currency||Albanian lek (ALL)|
|Population||3 million (2014)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Schuko, Europlug)|
|Time zone||Central European Time to UTC+02:00 and Europe/Tirane|
|Emergencies||112, +355-127 (emergency medical services), 128 (fire department), +355-129 (police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
While the relative majority of the people in Albania are of Muslim heritage (55-65%), according to the polls, around 35% of the Albanians are agnostics; 22% are atheists; 19% are Muslim; 15% are Orthodox; 8% are Catholics and 1% are of other religions. Mixed marriages are very common.
Traditional Albanian culture honors the role and person of the guest. In return for this place of honor, respect is expected from the guest. Albanians enjoy the long walks in the city streets, drinking coffee, and among the younger generations, participating in nightlife activities such as cafe lounging and dancing.
Albania is a poor country by European standards.
The English name Albania comes from Albanoi, the Greek name of an Illyrian tribe which lived in the area in during antiquity. Albanians call their own country Shqipëria, which means "Land of the Eagles". The name comes from an old myth that Albanians descend from a black eagle. A double headed black eagle was used as an insignia by the "Father of the Nation" Skanderberg as early as the 15th century, and can still be seen on the country's flag.
Beginning in 1385, the Ottoman Empire was able to take control of what is now Albania. In 1443, a revolt started, led by George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. This revolt was stamped out only in 1479. The end of Ottoman rule in Albania occurred in 1912, and Albania became a country again.
In 1939, Albania was conquered by Fascist Italy and was subsequently occupied by Nazi Germany. Albanians very effectively shielded their small local Jewish population and a few hundred foreign Jews, giving Albania the distinction of being the only country occupied by the Nazis to end World War II with more Jews than before the war.
Following the defeat of the Axis powers at the end of World War II, a Communist government was established, presided over by resistance leader Enver Hoxha. Albania was known for its isolation, not just from the market-run democracies of Western Europe but from the Soviet Union, China, and even neighboring Yugoslavia. Hoxha also declared Albania to be the first "atheist state", and thus the anti-clericalism found in many communist parties was even more pronounced in Albania. Even as the Iron Curtain came down and communists lost power throughout Eastern and Central Europe, Albania seemed intent on staying the course, alone.
But in 1992, several years after the death of Hoxha, the Communist Party relinquished power and Albania established a multi-party democracy with a coalition government. The transition has proven difficult, as governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread organized crime, and disruptive political opponents. Catalyzed by the failure of a widespread pyramid scheme, a civil war broke out in 1997, resulting in UN intervention. Today Albania is moving closer towards neo-liberalism, with EU integration as its goal; Albania signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in 2006, and became an official candidate country in 2014, thus completing the first major step towards joining. In 2008, Albania received an invitation to join NATO.
With its coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas, its highlands backed upon the elevated Balkan landmass, and the entire country lying at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns during the winter and summer seasons, Albania has a high number of climatic regions for so small an area. The coastal lowlands have typically Mediterranean weather; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate. In the lowlands and the interior, the weather varies markedly from north to south.
The lowlands have mild winters, averaging about 7°C (45°F). Summer temperatures average 24°C (75°F). In the southern lowlands, temperatures average about 5°C (9°F) higher throughout the year. The difference is greater than 5°C (9°F) during the summer and somewhat less during the winter.
Inland temperatures are affected more by differences in elevation than by latitude or any other factor. Low winter temperatures in the mountains are caused by the continental air mass that dominates the weather in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Northerly and northeasterly winds blow much of the time. 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.
Average precipitation is heavy, a result of the convergence of the prevailing airflow from the Mediterranean Sea and the continental air mass. Because they usually meet at the point where the terrain rises, the heaviest rain falls in the central uplands. Vertical currents initiated when the Mediterranean air is uplifted also cause frequent thunderstorms. Many of these storms are accompanied by high local winds and torrential downpours.
- January 1: New Year's Day
- March 7: Teacher's Day
- March 14: Summer Festival
- Easter (moveable)
- Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha (Islamic high holidays)
- October 19: Mother Teresa Day
- November 28: Independence Day
- November 29: Liberation Day
- December 8: Youth Day
- December 25: Christmas
All road and tourist taxes (upon entering or leaving) the country have been lifted as of 2021.
There is no longer a visa charge for any foreigners entering Albania.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, nationals of the following countries/territories can enter Albania without a visa: Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia *, Austria *, Azerbaijan, Belgium *, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria*, Canada *, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus *, Czech Republic*, Denmark*, Estonia *, Finland *, France*, Germany *, Greece *, Holy See, Hong Kong SAR, Hungary *, Ireland *, Iceland *, Israel, Italy *, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Latvia *, Liechtenstein, Lithuania *, Luxembourg *, Malaysia, Malta *, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands *, New Zealand *, North Macedonia, Norway *, Poland *, Portugal *, Romania *, San Marino *, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia*, Slovenia *, South Korea, Spain *, Sweden *, Switzerland *, Taiwan (Republic of China), Turkey, United Kingdom *, USA *, Ukraine. (Passport-holders from countries with an asterisk can enter with an ID card.)
States whose citizens may enter without visas due to their visa liberalization with Schengen area: Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Brunei, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Mauritius, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, El Salvador, Seychelles, St. Kitts and Nevis, Uruguay, Venezuela, Macao (China). For staying more than 90 days within the period of six months, they need to get visa type D.
Tirana's "Mother Teresa" International Airport TIA IATA is located just 15 minutes away from the city. It is served by numerous European carriers such as British Airways, ITA Airways, Lufthansa, Austrian, and the low cost carriers Eurowings and Belle Air. There is a large and modern terminal and a tourist information center.
You can book your taxi online with MerrTaxi Tirana 24/7 and it will cost you €11. The national toll-free number to call a taxi is 0800 5555. The international number to call a taxi is ☏ .
At the airport exit there are also numerous taxis 24/7 that can take you to the city. The taxi fee to the city center is €11-15 (1500 - 2000 lek). Taxi fees to other locations are available here.
There is a bus that runs once an hour between the airport and Skanderbeg Square, called Rinas Express. It costs 250 lek each way and leaves on the hour from both the airport and from Skanderbeg Square. It runs from about 08:00 to 19:00. The trip takes around 25-30 minutes. From the airport exit doors, walk towards the parking lot past the taxi touts to find the bus stop. At Skanderbeg Square, the bus stop is located around the northwest corner, near other bus stops. The bus is not only punctual but sometimes even early, so plan to be there a few minutes in advance. Do not be intimidated by the signs not mentioning "airport" or any variation of it at the Skanderbeg Square stop. "Rinas" means the bus goes to the airport. If in doubt, ask the locals, who will be happy to point you to the correct bus.
Another cheaper and convenient way to reach the Albanian Riviera in Southern Albania is by landing in Corfu and taking the hydrofoil to Saranda.
It is not possible to enter or leave Albania via train. The only international connection, Podgorica - Shkoder, is freight only. See the following section for domestic trains.
You can reach Tirana by coach from
- Istanbul, Turkey (20 hr, €35 one-way)
- Athens, Greece (12 hr, €30-35)
- Tetovo, North Macedonia (7 hr, €15)
- Prishtina, Kosovo (4½ hr, €10)
- Sofia, Bulgaria (12 hr, €35)
There are 3 daily buses from Ulcinj in Montenegro to Shkodër. They depart at 07:00, 12:30 and 16:30 at Ulcinj bus station and traveling time is between 2 and 3 hours depending on the time needed to cross the border. The 12:30 bus tend to get full very quickly during the high season. Shared taxis (mini-busses) are also an option to go to Albania from Ulcinj. They depart from the parking place next to the market in Ulcinj. It goes at 13:00 and costs €5; it takes 1½ hr. The stop is not marked, a reservation can only be made by finding the driver in the cafe at the corner of the parking place. Ask around and be persistent, as not all the locals know about this.
There are buses running daily from Ioannina to the border at Kakavia (9 daily, €5.70, 1 hour). From there it's a short walk between the Greek and Albanian checkpoints. Just make sure you don't delay, as the furgon (minibus) to Gjirokastra won't wait for one extra passenger and you will be forced to haggle with predatory cab drivers. In Gjirokaster you can buy a bus ticket to Athens, Greece or anywhere in between. The buses are new, cheap, air conditioned, and stop along some gas stations.
- Ferries to Durrës arrive from Bari (9 hr, daily, €50), Ancona (19 hr, triweekly, €70) and Trieste (14 hr, weekly, only during high season). Full price information
- A high-speed service operates from Bari (3 hr, €60).
- There are also two reliable overnight ferry services operated by Skenderbeg Lines and European Seaways from Brindisi to Vlore.
- Ferries from Corfu to Saranda every day.
- Ferry between Brindisi and Shengjin by European Seaways operating twice a week in the summer (2015).
- Orikum Marina. Private boats can be anchored at Albania's only marina in Orikum, south of Vlore.
To enter the country, ensure that your International Motor Insurance Card (called Green Card) is valid for Albania (AL) along with the Vehicle Registration and a Power of Attorney from the owner if the car is not yours. The border guards are very strict about allowing cars through without these documents. Be sure to print those out, since border guards are quite reluctant to recognize small text PDFs on your phone.
The road between Ioannina, Greece and Tirana (E853/SH4) is of sufficient quality. Construction works between Tepelene and Fier are mostly finished (2014). The new portion between Rrogozhine and Durres is also mostly complete (2014). This is the main north–south route between Montenegro and Greece.
The road between Krystallopigi (Greece) and Billisht is of very good quality. On the Greek side there is a paid 2-lane highway A29, which has very small traffic. The Albanian side has COVID-19 testing labs. The Greek border control tests all people for antibodies upon entering (as of November 2021).
The road between Struga, North Macedonia and Tirana (E852/SH3) is of a sufficient quality. There are a lot of slow moving vehicles along the curvy mountainous route so extra caution must be exercised especially around corners or during over-taking. A new motorway is being constructed between Elbasan and Tirana (2011).
The road between Prizren (Kosovo) and Tirana (Albania) (E851/A1/SH5) is to the levels of quality found in other parts of Europe. Extra caution should be exercised along some bridges near the Kosovo border, as they have not been widened while uncontrolled access points are becoming dangerous. Also beware that cows run free on the motorway: there is no fence and before dusk they return home using the motorway itself.
The road between Shkoder (border of Montenegro) and Tirana (E762/SH1) is of sufficient quality for driving but there are a lot of slow moving vehicles and uncontrolled access points so extra caution must be exercised especially during over-taking. A portion between Milot and Thumane has been widened to dual carriageway standard.
There are two border control points in the north of Albania with Montenegro. The narrow windy road from Ulcinj, Montenegro to Shkoder via Muriqan/Sukobin (E851/SH41) is used mainly by locals. There is a new Montenegrin section near the Albanian border. However, it is worth a try to avoid heavier traffic on the newly built main road (E762/SH1) between Hani Hotit and Shkoder. Ask any police officer to point you in the right direction from Shkoder. They are helpful, courteous and friendly.
Albania is geographically a small country and as such it is possible to leave by taxi.
A taxi from downtown Pogradec to North Macedonia's border at Sveti Naum is about €5 (and less than 10 minutes). After Albanian exit procedures, walk about 500 m down the road to the North Macedonia border control. The beautiful Sveti Naum church is very close by, and from there you can get a bus north around the lake to Ohrid (110 Macedonian denars). (prices April 2010)
A taxi from Ulcinj in Montenegro to Shkoder in northern Albania costs about €30. It takes 1 hr. You do not have to change at the border, the taxi will bring you all the way (2010).
Some taxis can take you into Greece; however most will not go further then Ioannina.
Buses and furgons (minibuses) are generally the best method for travelling within Albania, but they are not in the best of shape. There are few bus companies; many are operated by individual drivers. Buses are more comfortable and cheaper, and although slower, they run on a time schedule and are generally well regulated. Drivers are supposed to leave when it's time, but sometimes they leave earlier when full. So, arrive sufficiently ahead of time.
Furgons have no timetable (they depart when they are full) and in addition to big cities provide access to some smaller towns where buses don't frequently run. Furgon stations aren't always in obvious locations, so you can ask around to find them, or keep an eye out for groups of white or red minivans gathered together. Destination place names are generally displayed on the dashboard, prices are never posted (but to get an idea, Tirane to Vlore is about 600 lek, or check the website below). Furgons are loosely regulated, and provide a real "Albanian" experience.
From Tirana, many buses and furgons a day depart to Shkodër, Durres, Elbasan, Fier and Berat. Furgons departing to the south like Gjirokaster or Saranda tend to depart fairly early in the morning. Generally, furgons cost a little more and go a little faster, but can be uncomfortable over long distances because of the close quarters with other passengers.
A good website to find the latest bus times (and prices), even for cross border transport, is gjirafa.com. Prices are indicative and each bus (driver) should have a proper stack of tickets with him, where you could identify the right price. Note that city names of other countries might be spelled differently in Albanian when searching. So, not finding a city does not mean that there is no connection.
Although Albania's railway network is the youngest in Europe, the tracks and rolling stock are in poor condition. Nonetheless this should not deter you from taking trains within Albania, as doing so is an experience in itself. The railway operator has imposed a 45 km/h limit on trains due to the condition of the tracks, so you ought not worry about any accidents. Though travelling by bus is more popular and convenient, trains offer more space than often overloaded minibuses.
A train ride is a must-do, as there are few such enjoyments in Europe these days. Tickets are very cheap (as little as €2) and the journeys can take a few hours, but the views and the atmosphere are usually priceless. Among the things you will see on your journey are people manually toiling the land, beautiful landscapes and wild terrain, houses under construction in very close vicinity to the track, a chance to meet locals on the train. In most stations you'll find people selling sunflower seeds, fruits, chewing gum and many other different things - very unusual in Europe. Unofficial sellers are known to jump aboard offering drinks and snacks.
Because all lines run via Durrës, the train is a great option from there. Although passenger services to Fier are suspended (as of Jan 2021), you can take the Elbasan train as far as Rrogozhinë and then by bus from there. If you're in Tirana, taking the train to Elbasan (30 km apart) would require you to travel via Durres, so unless you have a lot of time on your hands, taking a bus is much more sensible.
A very limited passenger service is in operation. An unofficial Facebook page provides regular updates on passenger services. The pictures on this page will give you a good insight into what's to be expected. You should verify all times/info at the train station. The main passenger routes are as follows:
- Durres - Tirana (Kashar) (two daily trains each way)
- Durres - Elbasan (two daily trains each way)
- Durres - Shkoder (suspended as of November 2020 due to damaged bridge)
- Durres - Fier (no service in 2020)
Schedule see picture to the right.
The roads between the important destinations have been repaved and fixed, and offer most of the security measures one would expect on a highway. However be aware that some highways are not fully completed, and contain uncontrolled entry-exit points. There are no fees for using the highways.
Beware of minor roads. Road surfaces can be poor, deeply pitted, or non-existent, and sometimes a decent paving can suddenly disappear, necessitating a U-turn and lengthy doubling-back. It seems all the expensive cars in Albania are SUVs, rather than low-slung sports cars - and for good reason. Ask the locals in advance if travelling away from a highway.
Highways have frequent changes in speed limit (sometimes with little apparent reason). And there are frequent police mobile speed checks. Police will also stop you if you have not turned on your car lights.
Car-driving behavior on the highways is not as orderly as elsewhere in Europe. Expect cars to pull out in front of you, little use of indicators, and hair-raising overtaking. Lanes on dual or triple carriageways tend to be observed. Also expect pedestrians, horses or donkeys cross highways or walk on them. In the mountains, roads can be quite tight and windy with hairpins and serpentines requiring frequent gear shifting and braking. Drivers are encouraged to always keep a spare tire in case of emergency, and check engine liquid levels to avoid overheating.
Navigation is pretty easy although some maps of the country are out of date or contain errors. It is strongly recommended to have an up to date GPS, as new roads are being constantly added to the Albanian road network. In case the GPS does not work, its good to have an alternative good paper or internet-based map.
In the cities, and especially Tirana, many roads are being upgraded, fixed, and renamed. Because of that, traveling by car inside the city will be slow and difficult. Tirana suffers from great traffic congestion during mornings and midday.
A very nice ride is the SH8 Vlorë-Saranda mountain road. It is a typical Mediterranean road and offers an amazing view of the sea from the mountains. The road to the top of Dajti mountain is very bad, though does not (just about) require a 4x4.
Beggars and beggar children may approach your car at major stop lights. Nudge slightly forward to get them off your car and if necessary go into the traffic intersection to get rid of them. The locals will understand.
Around Greek holiday seasons, including Orthodox Easter, the roads leading to/from Greece can be crowded with cars with Greek plates of Albanian immigrants going to Albania or returning to Greece after their holidays.
Renting a car is a good option to choose, but the practice is fairly new in the country. Rental companies are available mainly in Tirana Airport, and Tirana proper. Various travel agencies may offer such services as well.
Ensure you travel with driving licenses and insurance documents (ask your car hire company for these) to present to the police.
There are no toll roads in Albania.
Snow chains are allowed in conjunction with summer tires from November 1 to April 30. They must be present on at least 2 driving wheels. Snow chains are only allowed if the road is completely covered with snow or ice. Studded tires are permitted. The use of winter tires is optional.
Dipped headlights are not mandatory for daytime driving, but are mandatory when driving at night or when visibility is poor due to bad weather conditions.
The maximum permitted level of alcohol is 0.1‰.
There is a lack of respect for people riding on bikes on most streets. Also, there are few places to put your bike. These and other challenges make Albania a difficult cycling destination, but a rewarding one. Often, asking around to see if you can stay in somebody's home or camp in their garden is the only option. Check out hospitality services in Albania, some have an existing community, and it is easy to find places to stay.
Food and water are easily available in the frequent roadside cafes and bars.
It is OK to camp in all not strictly private places, and even if the places are private there should be no problems with your stay, ask if you doubt.
It's very hard to get parts or repairs of modern bicycles outside of Tirana.
Albania is quite good for hitchhiking, even though locals won't rarely do it.
The best way to obtain a ride is to wait by the side of the highway where there is open space for a car to easily pull off from, and use your whole hand to point down the road in the direction you want to go—the thumb is not that common.
Like anywhere, exercise normal caution and don't hitchhike at night or in the 'wrong part of town'. Good info on what it's like to hitch in Albania can be found here.
Albania has varied cultural influences. In the south you can see the legacy of the Turks and Greeks, whereas in the north you can see many ancient Illyrian ruins.
- The coastline is always a place to go, with its clear turquoise seas, and its many islands cast upon it, like in Saranda, the southern most coastal city in Albania. Along the Albanian Riviera, from Vlore to about Qeparo there exist mainly wooden villa complexes, bed and breakfasts, camping sites and a few beach resorts as accommodation facilities. Llogara Pass is a mountain pass located near Llogara National Park offering a majestic view of the riviera from above. Nearby is found Cesar's Pass, the place where Julius Cesar passed in his pursuit of Pompey.
- Dajti Mountain, a popular sight in Tirana allows you to get a whole green view of the capital.
- A walk around southern cities like Butrint, a UNESCO world heritage site, is always ideal and memorable. Butrint is home to many ancient ruins.
- Castles are in many cities in Albania. Their beauty reminds anyone of the ancient times of Albania, and the world. There is Petrela Castle near Tirana, Rozafa castle in Shkodër, the inhabited castle of Berat, and Skanderbeg Castle in Kruje, (named after the national hero and now a popular museum holding his belongings).
- Albania has thousands upon thousands of bunkers, many of which are scattered in cities and across the countryside.
Beaches and swimming
Including various lagoons and harbors, the coast stretches for a total of 450 km and touches two seas: the Ionian in the south and the Adriatic in the north.
- Half of the coastline stretching to the north of Vlore and up to the Montenegrin border (at the Buna River delta) is washed by Adriatic Sea. It contains fine-grained sandy beaches, sloping gently into the water, which makes them ideal for families with children. But the water is murky green and not suited for snorkeling. There are almost no algae or jellyfish near the coast. Due to the shallow depth, the water warms up well, so the beach season in local resorts starts early, in the first weeks of May.
- While the Albanian Riviera stretching south of Vlore washed by Ionian sea up to the Albanian-Greek border with Stillo Cape. It is made up of rocky beaches and steep sea bottom, but the water is crystal clear and has turquoise color.
The entire coastline and beaches belong to municipalities and is free and open to anyone. But sun loungers and umbrellas are paid here and belong to restaurants located somewhere nearby. For a day, you will have to pay around €3 for one set. But no one can prohibit sitting on the sand on one's towel or bedspread under one's own umbrella. During the high season in July and August beaches are cramped with locals and tourists, but on the 1st of September you would see very few people swimming - although water temperature is still around 23—25°C, apparently it's too cold for locals.
Almost two-thirds of Albania's geography is either hilly or mountainous. These enable outdoor recreation potential and of course impressing off-road cycling. There is a renewed interest in adventurer tourism in Albanian famous attractions. Various destinations in the Northern Alps, with elevations as high as 2,700 m, beckon to all types of “adventure seekers”. Specifically, the towns of Vermosh, Thethi, Razëm, Bogë, and Valbona can all serve as destination points for expeditions.
Thermal springs and baths
Not many will know that Albania has numerous hot springs and a mentionable thermal and spa culture. While this industry has suffered in recent years, still many sites can be visited all around Albania.
- The spa towns Llixhat and Tregan near Elbasan with numerous spa hotels.
- The thermal river pools of Benjë near Përmet.
- The thermal baths of Kozani-8 well south of Tirana.
- The spa facilities in Peshkopi.
- The many natural hot springs all around the country like Holta, Postenan and Sarandoporo (also interesting nature destination) as well as Shupali and Mamurras (less popular/known).
... there are many more. Even though, the hottest ones are listed above.
A great read on the topic, if you want to discover more, is "Thermal and Mineral Waters of Albania" by Romeo Eftimi and Alfred Frashëri (ISBN: 978-99943-2-346-3).
- See also: Albanian phrasebook
- Albanian is the official language.
- Italian is often viewed as the second language due to various Italian occupations, the most famous being during World War II.
- English is understood in Tirana and to a lesser extent in frequented tourist cities.
- Greek can be encountered in the southernmost areas of the country. Albania has a lot of immigrants in Greece, from which around 200,000 people have returned and now live in Albania. Albania is also home to an ethnic Greek minority.
- Macedonian is also occasionally understood in areas near Pogradec and Korca.
From a country of 3 million, there have been about 1.2 million emigrants, and many of them have returned to Albania from countries such as Germany, France, Greece (especially those in the south of Albania) and Italy so you'll find a lot of people who speak the respective languages. Older people may speak Russian as it was a compulsory second language in schools during the communist era.
Exchange rates for Albanian lek
As of January 2022:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from xe.com
The national currency is the lek (plural lekë, symbol L, ISO code: ALL). During the communist regime, the government redenominated the old lek into the new lek at a ratio of 1 to 10 (replaced previous Lek banknotes with new ones, 1000 old lek became 100 new lek). According to a recent survey, despite the change taking place in 1965, the majority (80%) of citizens still use “old lek” as of 2021, leading to a great confusion for both locals and tourists. The survey also revealed that almost 30% of financial institutions workers use the term, and 40% of public administration. In supermarkets and big shops prices are mostly as new Lëk, but small shops and in markets still use old leks and ask 10 times more than the necessary price you'd expect.
As of October 2021 at least Alpha Bank and Credins Bank do not charge an additional fee for withdrawal (besides what your own bank demands).
The euro is very widely accepted and such a request to pay in euro is met with understanding and sometimes eager. If you don't speak Albanian or Italian, then the easiest way to haggle or ask for the price is to show hundreds of leks with your fingers -- the locals would understand, you're not the first one not understanding their language.
Many convenience stores and even supermarkets will not accept any other method of payment other than cash. However, big supermarkets, expensive boutique stores will accept credit or debit cards. The most widely accepted cards are Visa, MasterCard and Diner's Club. Albanian shops are open at 09:00-20:00 usually, and until 22:00 at summer. Most of the shops open on Sunday.
In all the Albanian cities you can find numerous shops, which offer different goods, of well known marks, glasses, antique objects, etc. Of great interest for the tourists are the traditional bazaars of Kruja, Korca, Shkodër, Gjirokastra and Tirana, where you can find the artisan works produced by locals. You can buy wooden carved objects, ceramics, embroidery with popular motifs and also copper objects. Souvenirs: raki, alabaster bunker ashtrays.
Online you can try MerrJeb.al for various used goods—Ebay or Facebook Market (or any Facebook Groups for that matter) do not seem to be very common or highly frequented.
Tipping has not become a custom in Albania and it is not expected; in some cases it might even confuse a waiter/ess. If dining in a westernised restaurant in the capital you may round up the bill.
- See also: Balkan cuisines
Restaurants are very easy to find. 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. Influences since the fall of communism in the early 1990s have been from Italy and Western Europe in general. Most of what is available in neighboring countries such as Greece and Italy will be available in Albania, particularly in the larger cities.
Many people grow fruits and vegetables around their houses, most popularly all kinds of grapes, (red, black, green), that are used to make raki.
Albania is a very mountainous country, and these mountains have scattered olive trees that influence Albanian cuisine. Salads are usually made with fresh tomato and onion. 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 dinners. These stews are easy to make, and flexible with ingredients. They include potatoes, onion, rice, etc.
If going to Albania, expect lamb to be the main meat in many places. Lamb there is naturally fed, and does not have any odor like it does in North America. Two byreks and an ayran is a very common breakfast, so try it to understand why.
- Byrek - a type of savory pie is also common, and is made in different ways. Byrek Shqipëtar me perime (with spinach and feta cheese) is often considered the national dish. Another type sold everywhere is with ground meat and onion (byrek me mish). Everywhere in the country one piece of pie costs 30 lek, so in many places bakers don't even bother writing down the price.
- Tavë kosi - It is a simple dish of baked lamb and rice, served with a yogurt sauce. It is sometimes referred to as a national dish in Albania.
- Qofte të fërguara - Albanian fried meatballs with feta cheese. Traditionally served with fried potatoes or rice.
Desserts and snacks - Don't forget to check out the many pastry shops (pastiçeri) offering a wide variety of tasty pastry including delicious cakes and:
- Baklava is a popular dessert and is always made as a dessert during New Year's Eve.
- Oshaf - A fig and sheep's milk pudding
- In many cities you may find portable grills, where a freshly grilled corn is sold for 50 lek.
- young cheese (djathë i bardhë) - there are lots of different types but mostly young cheese (white and soft feta-like). In village shops be prepared that you'll get the cheese in less hygienic way then in supermarkets but it's worth to try as it's usually fresh and delicious. Such cheese is sold for a very good price (600-800 leke, €5+/kg; try those higher priced first), which in the rest of Europe can't be bought for less than €15/kg.
- cow cheese - djathë lope (400 lek / kg)
- sheep cheese - djathë dele (800 lek / kg)
- goat cheese - djathë dhie (700 lek / kg)
- The "Gjirofarm" feta cheese is similar to the Greek feta cheese, although a bit more expensive. However, most of the restaurants, especially in Tirana and the southern part of the country, use this cheese. It's very delicious, and it's one of the few cheeses that are exported from Albania.
- hard cheese (kaçkavalli) of good quality is not easy to find. It is advised to look for products imported from Italy
- cottage cheese (gjizë) is a type of dry curded cheese, made from yogurt and citric acid (200 lek / kg)
Fruits and vegetables
Albania is a perfect place to try fresh local produce from local farmers. They would never cheat you or try to sell bad quality products; instead they are usually happy to see foreigners and they try to choose for you the best that they have. You get cheaper and higher-quality produce when buying in green-groceries or farmers on the street, so don't even bother buying greenery in the supermarket.
Vegetables and greens:
- pepper (piper, spec) - 70 lek / kg
- tomato (domatja) - 50-100 lek / kg
- okra or bamia (bamje) - 200-300 lek / kg
- onion (qepa)
- potato (patatja, patate) - 45 lek / kg
- aubergine (patëllxhani) - 70-100 lek/ kg
- cabbage (lakër) - 30 lek / kg
- watermelon (shalqi) - 15 lek / kg
- melon (pjepër) - 80-100 lek / kg
- grapes (rrushi) - 100-120 lek / kg
- persimmon (hurmë) - 70 lek / kg
The preferred alcoholic hard drink is raki that is locally produced in small towns as well as in many homes in the countryside; in some instances you may see men washing down breakfast with a few shots. Try the mulberry rakia, Albanians are the only people that produce this drink with mulberry and plum, and it's delicious, especially around Gjirokaster.
Beer and wine
The number of homemade beers and wines is as varied as the population itself; the quality of these drinks is as varied as the quantity available.
Mountain tea (species: Sideritis scardica, local name: çay mali) is a very popular herbal tea in the Balkans and especially Albania. The dried flowers and stems can be bought in most local market. It is often prepared with honey and lemon and has a pleasant taste but does not contain any caffeine.
Non-alcoholic drinks range from the well-known international and regional soft drink brands to the locally produced ones. You can find any type of soft drink in Albania, as well as natural mineral water, energy drinks, etc. Qafshtama water is considered the best water and found in much of the country.
- Boza, a popular sweet drink made from maize (corn) and wheat is a traditional drink in the Balkans. The most famous of which is Pacara Boza, ☏ . 1 bottle of 1.5 l ~ 100 lek.
- dhallë, a kefir-like drink closely linked to ayran
- kos, a yogurt-like drink very similar to matsoni in the Caucasus (100-160 lek/L)
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 (e.g., 1000 lek). 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.
Albania is generally a safe place to visit but there are some safety precautions you have to take before visiting the country.
- In some Albanian cities like Berat there are no traffic lights and thus crossing on the road can be dangerous
- Avoid places that are deemed as slums and are sketchy, things like pickpocket can happen and also violence can occur, so avoid bringing valuables in those areas.
- Albania does have speed limits, but most people do not follow them. If you are driving on the highway, you have to pay extra attention to avoid car crashes . If you are not a good driver it is highly recommended that you take a bus.
It's best to drink bottled water, but potted water is usually drinkable too. The food in Albania is mostly healthy anywhere you go in the country but be aware in the summer months whether the food has been properly refrigerated as it gets very hot. You can walk around to stay fit, as many people do in the capital, especially around the Artificial Lake but be aware that the city suffers from severe air pollution. At summer, insect repellent should be taken as the mosquito season is very active especially near former swamps and along the Western lowland. Be careful at the beaches because shards of glass and sea urchins are common on the sea floor. Also, pharmacies and other stores are closed from about 12:00-16:00; so, bring all necessary medicine with you. Health clinics in small towns or village areas are not well equipped, so trips to nearby cities can be expected. Also, many Albanians smoke cigarettes. It is a normal thing and expect it everywhere. The government has banned smoking in restaurants but this is not really observed.
Albanians are very hospitable. Even more so than the rest of the Balkans, elder males expect to be shown respect on account of their age. Men of the family have to be respected in particular. Shake hands with them and do not argue about topics such as religion and politics. Certain topics are strictly taboo, homosexuality is one good example. Don't speak about gay rights, no matter what. The situation changes a lot according to the location (village or city) and the people with whom you speak as well. Of course, in the hidden north, avoid topics that go beyond local understanding, but be sure that in Tirana you will find very cosmopolitan people that are as open to new ideas as the citizens of Western Europe.
Sometimes, if you stay for a night or so at someone's house, don't be surprised if you see a AK-47 Kalashnikov hanging at the wall. It's pretty normal for Albanians to keep guns in the house.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Albania during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
In Albania it's common for men to kiss cheeks of males of their age or younger, even the first time they meet them. This is especially true for the regions of Fier, Tepelena, Vlora and Gjirokastra. In Northern Albania, they will simply touch each other's cheeks, but not kiss them. Women also kiss one another, sometimes from the first time they meet, but men and women do not kiss each other on the cheek unless they have been friends for a long time. Kissing cheeks between young people, 15–20 years old, is however very common. If you are a man, or a woman with a group of men, don't compliment females, unless they are under 10–12 years.
If a baby is in the family, always ask to see him or her, and don't forget to add a compliment (usually "Genka i shendetshem, me jete te gjate" or "What a sweet baby" works best).
If you speak a language where there are different formal and informal words for "you" in singular and "you" (like Italian, Greek, German, etc.), be aware that some Albanians do not use the formal form in their language. Sometimes, even the prime-minister is addressed with "ti" (the informal word for "you", "tu" in Italian, "Du" in German or "Esi" in Greek), if the journalist is a friend of him. However, when meeting people for the first time, it's better if you address them with the formal word, although they will shortly after ask you to address them with the informal one.
Policemen in Albania are often polite. They usually never stop foreign cars, but if you rent a car, they may stop you. However, when they see you are a foreign tourist, they will immediately tell you to go on (usually with a "Ec, ec, rruge te mbare" which can be translated in "Go on. Have a nice trip"). When this happens, it's very polite if you respond with a "Faleminderit" ("thank you" in Albanian).
Albanians love dancing, especially during weddings. If you are attending a party, don't be afraid to dance. Maybe you don't know the traditional dances, but try to learn.
Officially 220 V 50 Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian visitors should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Albania.
Unexpected power outages without prior warnings are common in Albania. This is largely dependent on the amount of rainfall the country receives in any given year, as virtually all of electricity is generated from hydro plants in Albania. However this is becoming more and more rare. Only in Tirana you will not have power outages but expect so in other cities. Although all major cities and most of the towns have back-up generators, however it is best to err on the side of the caution and ask whether the place has a generator or not beforehand in order not to, say, get stuck in an elevator.
You can buy a local Vodafone or ALBtelecom prepaid sim card starting from 600 lek. You need to provide a passport to purchase a prepaid sim.
You can go from Shkoder in northern Albania to Ulcinj in Montenegro by taxi or vans. Fares can be negotiated between €15 and €20, it takes between 1 and 2 hours. There are buses leaving from Shkoder to other places in Montenegro (Podgorica, Budva and Kotor), departing at 10:00 or 13:20 From Ulcinj you can also take busses to other cities in Montenegro.
Crossing into North Macedonia at the border between Pogradec and Ohrid, North Macedonia is fairly straightforward. From Pogradec, one can take a taxi to the border - this will likely cost around €5 and take around 10 minutes. Once you get to the border, it is possible to walk into North Macedonia, but do not expect to find taxis on the other side of the border. Instead, hire a taxi on the Albanian side (€25, 40 minutes to Ohrid) or wait for the minibus that turns around at the border. This bus comes every few hours and is the same bus that services the Sveti Naum Monastery, which lies a few kilometers from the border. If the bus does not show up, your best option would be to head to monastery's parking lot a few kilometers distant to find the bus (check Google Earth first to get a fix on its location).
You can go to Kosovo from Kukes on the new highway.
You can go to Greece by Gjirokaster at the border crossing at Kavavi.