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Are you looking for Albania facts? Here’s a list of 22 fun facts about Albania that you probably didn’t know.
Albania is one of the least visited countries in Europe. More than 20 years after the fall of the country’s Communist regime, tourism here is still relatively low key. But – given Albania’s amazing location on the Adriatic, I doubt how much longer the Albanian riviera and the rest of Albania’s beauty will remain a secret.
Albania is affordable, it has stunning nature and so many unique places (like the Blue Eye) that cannot be found anywhere else. I’d say, now is the time to visit.
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Fun Albania Facts
If you’re heading to Albania or just want to know some of Albania facts, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ve covered some of the funniest and most interesting facts about Albania – from the gazillion bunkers to the teddy bear superstitions.
So, here are some facts you probably didn’t know about this small country where Google maps or any GPS cannot be trusted (you can have that fact for free).
1. What’s “Albania”?
First and foremost, Albanians don’t call their country Albania. Instead they call themselves Shqiptar and the country Shqipëri – “land of eagles”.
2. 750,000 Bunkers
Albania has bunkers. And lots of them. The bunkers were built on the orders of Communist dictator Enver Hoxha from 1967 –1986, and they were in use until 1991.
Read next: Gjirokaster: A fairy tale hillside town
Hoxha was so paranoid of an invasion that he ordered the build of thousands of these bunkers. More than 750,000 bunkers to be more exact, which is an average of 5.7 bunkers for every square kilometre. Some of the bunkers have been turned into museums today, but most of them are demolished and the rest a reminder of Albania’s communist past.
3. More Albanians live outside of Albania than inside
Around 3 million people live in Albania, but because it’s difficult to find work here, more Albanians live outside of the country.
4. Tirana has no McDonald’s
5. Teddy bears are used to ward off evil
Aaw, so cute. Someone’s kid must have forgotten teddy outside, right? Wrong.
In Albania, it’s common to use teddy bears, smurfs or dolls as scarecrows, known locally as dordolec. You’ll se them hanging (sometimes in a noose) from balconies, trees and fences – not to fence off birds like the traditional scarecrow. They’re there to prevent envy and jealousy between people. They’re everywhere in Albania, so look closely and you’ll see.
6. 40 years of communism
Not a fun fact, but an important fact nonetheless: When communist dictator Enver Hoxha allied with Russia from the end of WW2 until the 1990s, he turned Albania into one of the world’s most isolated and secretive countries. There were reported to be several thousand political prisoners during his iron rule (as high as 40,000), including priests and others who refused to bow to his version of Socialist purity.
Today, Albania is catching up and hoping to enter EU soon.
7. 3000 cars in total
After the fall of the communist era, there were only 3000 cars for a population of three million in Albania. Under communist rule, private cars were illegal, and only government officials were allowed to drive. This meant that more of less everyone had to learn how to drive and how to behave in traffic in the 1990s. In Shkodër, there’s not even a single traffic light. This goes a long way to explaining the renowned reckless driving in Albania.
8. Mercedes is king
Speaking of cars.. Albanians love Mercedes! And since cars are a new thing in Albania, most locals go for the best. For them, the best is Mercedes.
If you like strong alcohol, you’ll love this one. Raki is the local drink made from grapes, and it’s serious business! Be aware if you decide to try some. It took me a handful of visits to the Balkans before I got used to the strong taste, but now I actually like it.
10. The Evening Walks
After dinner, most locals go for an evening stroll (known as ‘xhiro’) with their friends and family. Some dress up to really nice and walk slowly to chat with neighbours or keep-up-to-date with their loved ones – very friendly. Some of the roads in some towns are even closed for locals to take strolls.
11. It has one Nobel Prize winner
… And you know her already. Of course, I’m talking about Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, also known as Mother Teresa. Although she was born in what is now known as Skopje, Macedonia, her parents were Albanian. In Albania, there’s even an airport – Nene Tereza – named after her.
12. Yes means no and no means yes
So, this is one of the most fun and useful Albania facts: In Albania, a nod means no and a shake side to side means yes. Confused? To avoid any trouble, use the word ‘po’ to say yes, and ‘jo’ to say no.
13. Their former king survived 55 assassination attempts
Ever heard of King Zog I?
Besides sounding like a supervillain from Krypton, King Zog I was the leader of Albania from 1922 to 1939. What’s special about him is that he survived no less than 55 assassination attempts! As you can imagine, he eventually got sort of paranoid and only surrounded himself with his most loyal guards who were members of his family or inner circle. And it worked. He died peacefully in bed at old age in 1961.
14. Once home to the “cannanis capital of Europe”
Just a stone’s throw from Gjirokastër is the former “cannabis capital of Europe.” Up until 2014, the village made Albania the largest exporter of cannabis in Europe. Most of that pot made its way to Western Europe, where it had an annual street value of as much as ($5.24 billion), according to police.
15. One of Europe’s prettiest towns (according to Japan)
Now, this one isn’t hard to believe if you’ve been to Berat! This beautiful Albanian town and its UNESCO-prescribed Old Town was rated as one of the most beautiful places in Europe, according to, no other than, the Japanese tourist board.
Read next: 10 things to do in Berat
16. Get a haircut and a slap on the neck
If you get a haircut, don’t be surprised if the stylist slaps you when you’re done. The slapper might also say “me shëndet”, which means “on your health.” It’s all for good luck. Nothing personal.
17. UNESCO Sites
18. 70% of Albania is covered by mountains
70% of Albania is actually mountains, which makes it one of the most mountainous countries in Europe. Theth and Valbona are the most beautiful places in the Albanian Alps.
As I mentioned, Albanians in general are superstitious people. Here are just some of the funniest superstitions:
- Touching your throat when you have a sore throat will make the illness worse
- If your hands aren’t cold, you’re not being honest
- If a pregnant woman doesn’t give in to a craving, the baby will be born with a birthmark (love this one!)
- Spilt coffee will increase your bank account
- If you don’t hold on to your hair after spotting a dead mouse, your hair will fall out (uhm, what?!)
20. The Albanian Language is one of a kind
Albanian or ‘shqip’ has no close languages – at all. It’s an Indo-European language alright, but it has its own branch and is not really related to any other languages in Europe. It’s hard to learn because the words are long and the sounds are difficult to pronounce.
21. World’s first atheist state
In 1967, Albania became the world’s first atheist state. This happened under the leadership of Enver Hoxha. Nowadays, Albania is considered a very tolerant country when it comes to religion, and everyone lives peacefully together.
22. It’s all about the eagle
For Albanians, the eagle — shqiponja — is a proud historical symbol, dating from the 11th century. Remember I mentioned that the word for “Albania” is “Shqipëri” and the word for “Albanians” is “Shqiptar”, which means “land of eagles”?
So to Albanians, the eagle encapsulates their national flag and identity.