Albania is an undiscovered country with a rich and deep political history. Its people are strong and passionate, and its architecture can take you on a journey through time from the recent communist state of the 20th century right back to the Ottoman empire and beyond!
Introduction to Albania
Albania is a country in the Balkans. 70% of Albania is actually mountains.
Albanian Lek ($1 = 108Lek)
Welcome to Albania
A Former Closed Country
After World War II, Albania became a closed country under a Marxist-Leninist regime, and it stayed that way for 30 years. Today, it’s open and thriving, and hopeful about to join the European Union. But Albania does have a fascinating and dark history of being conquered and closed-off. Albania has been a part of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and then finally became a self-contained communist state.
The country is maybe most famous for the Albanian Riviera (which is also sometimes called Bregu). This is an amazing strip of coastline on the southwestern corner of Albania, and it features picturesque towns, beaches, resorts, and landmarks. Like Butrint, a remnant of an ancient Greek city, and Borsh, the largest beach on all of the Ionian Sea.
Head to Berat or Gjirokaster, some of the oldest towns in Europe, and you can stay at an old Ottoman house. Both cities climb up the side of a hill and are made up mostly of perfectly uniformed, symmetrical Ottoman houses. They’re a fascinating and unique sight you can’t find elsewhere in Europe. These houses were built in the revival style during the final era of the Ottoman Empire.
Albania has a lot to offer – from the pristine white sand beaches to the quaint Ottoman houses. But it’s also home to some magical places like The Blue Eye. This place is a natural spring of sapphire-coloured water which turns into a river in the south of Albania. The deepest point is believed to be 50 metres deep (though no one knows for sure), and the whole area is more of less untouched.
When to visit
Given how hot the summers can get, not just in Albania but in all of the Balkans, it’s best to avoid the height of summer (July and August). Instead, head to Albania in the Spring – April to June – or in the Autumn – September and October. If you head to Albania in the Spring and Autumn months, it’s perfectly warm, not too stiflingly hot, but with a cooling sea breeze.
Most countries can enter Albania visa-free and stay for at least 90 days. US citizens can stay for up to one year.
- Hotel: $30-50
- Transportation: $1-10 (depending on distance)
- Activities: e.g. $5 for museum entry
- Food: $5-15
- Hello: Përshëndetje
- Thank you: Faleminderi
- Yes: Po
- No: Jo
- Bye: Mirupafshim
- Cheers: Gëzuar
Things to do in Albania
Tirana is found at the very heart of Albania. It’s surrounded by mountains, and within the city are amazing pieces of modern architecture like the Toptani Shopping Centre, Skanderbeg Square and the Cathedral of Christ’s Resurrection.
Gjirokastër is a well-preserved Ottoman town with an Old Town district protected by UNESCO. Overlooking the city is the Gjirokastër fortress, which was built before the 12th century.
#3 Albanian Riviera
This strip of the Albanian coastline makes for a beautiful adventure all by itself. Along the Albanian Riviera are fantastic beaches, old Greek and Roman towns, and resorts to stay at and relax.
Berat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site sitting beside the river Osum and built along the sides of hills. The city is defined by its Ottoman houses and its ancient citadel.
Sarandë is a beautiful coastal town at the edge of the Mediterranean. It’s known for its crystal blue waters and the nearby UNESCO-protected ancient town of Butrint.
#6 The Blue Eye
The Blue Eye or Syri i Kaltër is a deep blue natural spring of water, which turns into a river. It’s super beautiful, but please don’t swim in it. It’s not allowed for a reason.