13 fantastic things to do in Gjirokaster, Albania (2024)

Looking for the best things to do in Gjirokaster, Albania? You’ve come to the right place. I’ve listed all my favorite sights in Albania’s Stone City here.

Gjirokaster (in Albanian: Gjirokastra or Gjirokastër) stretches upwards on sloping cobblestoned streets with unique stone houses, which kind of look like small fortresses.

For that reason, the town is known as “The City of Stone”.

Gjirokaster is the most charming town in Albania if you ask me. I loved spending time here and would love to help you do the same.

So, in this post, you’ll find activities, where to eat, and where to stay so you can plan your vacation.

Let’s dig in.

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About Gjirokaster, Albania

Gjirokaster is a hilltop town in southern Albania with around 62,000 inhabitants.

It has well-preserved Ottoman-era architecture and stone houses.

The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often referred to as the “City of Stone” due to its rich cultural heritage and historical significance.

things to do in Gjirokaster

Things to do in Gjirokaster Albania

1. Admire the houses

The first thing that hit me was the houses.

I’ve seen medieval fairy tale houses around Europe before (in France, Bosnia, and Denmark), but none like these.

These two-story Ottoman houses are located in or near the bazaar and date back to the 17th and 19th centuries. They have such integrity.

Albanians are proud of Gjirokaster and it’s easy to see why.

Besides the beauty, they consider it an important cultural city because it’s the birthplace of the most famous Albanian writer of all time, Ismail Kadare. He captured the spirit of Gjirokaster in many of his novels.

things to do in Gjirokastre

2. Gjirokaster Castle

Entrance fee: 200 lek (€1.60) – an additional 200 lek to enter the museums

The next place to visit in Gjirokaster is the castle. Mainly because it’s the best vantage point of the town and the entire valley.

So, a little background:

Gjirokaster castle is sometimes referred to as Argjiro, after a legendary princess in Albanian folklore. According to local tales, she lived in the 15th century and jumped off Gjirokastër Castle with her baby to avoid being caught alive by the Ottoman enemies.

Make no mistake – the Turks were not welcome here.

Albania has struggled for independence for decades, and the castle has been shaped by various dictators and rulers. From the Ottoman invasion (14th century) up to the early 1800s and the time of the dead-seriously-named King Zog, who besides sounding like a supervillain from Krypton, survived no less than 55 assassination attempts throughout his life.

He died peacefully in bed at old age, but before that, he converted the castle into a prison (1930s). You can still see the cells where he held members of the resistance forces captive until 1968.

..and the Turks rushed
to catch the star alive
but how can a star be caught?
The quick Argjiro
with her baby
leapt into the air like a bird
plunging from the castle into the abyss.
She fell like a star,
but her light shone on.

Ismail Kadare – “Princesha Argjiro”

3. The US Air Force jet

Next to one of the castle towers, there’s also a recovered US Air Force jet that was shot down during the communist era. The pilot was believed to be a spy but was later sent home, safe and sound.

You can spot the plane in the background in the below photo.


4. The Cold War Tunnel

In the castle, you’ll find old tanks, cannons, and more artillery from bygone war times.

Another attraction inside – or rather below – the castle is The Cold War Tunnel; a giant tunnel bunker used for transportation during the Cold War. Built in secret during the 1960s, it has 80 rooms and the locals didn’t know about it until the 1990s.

You can book a guided tour from the tourist information booth on the main square. But if you’re claustrophobic, this trail under the mountain is probably not for you.

Read next: Basic Albanian phrases and words you need to know


5. Visit the Gjirokaster Museum

Also, don’t miss the Gjirokaster Museum in the castle. It offers a deep dive into the city’s history and stories of current residents.

The exhibits are engaging, and you’ll need at least 1-1.5 hours to explore. You can skip the upstairs Military Museum, though – its’ more for war history buffs.

Open 8 am-5 pm in summer, 4 pm in winter, with a 200 lek entrance fee.

6. Gjirokaster Old Town

Once you’re done exploring Gjirokastër castle, you’ll be making your way back down to the Old Town. 

And as soon as you step onto its streets, you’ll understand why Gjirokastër is considered – by yours truly – to be the most beautiful place in Albania.

Those winding, little limestone streets with a unique zig-zag snakey pattern – there’s just so much personality and character to Gjirokaster.

In Old Town Gjirokaster, you’ll find several sights. Like, the bazaar, the Zekate house, and the Skenduli house.

The Old Town also hosts an old mosque. And about that… At one point there were 15 mosques in town, but when the communists took over after the war, they destroyed all but one.


7. Gjirokaster Bazaar

So, at first, I thought Gjirokaster bazaar referred to an enclosed marketplace with artisanal workshops and tourist souvenir shops.

After all, “bazaar” originates from the Persian word bāzār, which means “market”. Just like a Middle-Eastern souk.

While you will find shops at Gjirokaster bazaar, it’s not a bazaar in the traditional meaning.

Here, it refers to a district – the center of the Old Town – with a few remains of the ancient bazaar: a dressmaker, a souvenir shop, carpet shops, some cafes, and heavy traffic.


8. Take a cooking class

One of my favorite things to do in a new country is taking a cooking class. And in Gjirokaster, it’s hosted by a local, Teta Marjeta, in her house so you’ll get the real deal.

You’ll prepare a 3-course dinner, taste home-made raki, and conclude with a communal meal and wine. It’s the best way to connect with the culture and meet new people.

Book here – Cooking class with Teta Marjeta

Albanian food
Qifqi (rice balls with mint) – a Gjirokaster specialty

9. Zekate House

Entrance fee: € 1.00

The most impressive building in Gjirokastër is undoubtedly Zekate House, a majestic three-story house with a double-arched facade and twin towers.

This beautiful house was built 200 years ago for a general in the Ottoman army. The house is now uninhabited and serves as a museum.

Zekate House is said to be one of the most fascinating examples of Ottoman style in the Balkans. It’s similar to the Muslibegovic House in Mostar (also an old Ottoman house) and gives a great insight into traditional Albanian life and culture.

To get here, follow the signs past the Hotel Kalemi and go up the hill. There’s no electric light inside, so make sure to visit during the day.

Photo by Patrick Müller

10. Join a guided tour of Gjirokaster

If you’re visiting Gjirokaster, you probably want to see everything the town has to offer. I couldn’t agree more and it’s a beautiful town to visit.

If you only have limited time in Gjirokaster, taking a guided tour is a good way to maximize your time as the guide knows where all the sights are located and will give you the history and background behind the places.

This full-day tour of Gjirokaster takes you around the best sights in town, and later you will try home-cooked Albanian food and coffee.


11. Taste Albanian food

Gjirokaster has a great selection of restaurants, most of which are located around the old bazaar. The town’s special is qifqi – baked rice ball with egg, fresh mint, and seasonings.

Gjoça: The best place to try qifqi and have a taste of Albanian food and hospitality is at Gjoça. It’s a charming little restaurant on the main street, and Chef Gjoça is the nicest. This is authentic Albanian cooking, guys. And everything is cooked at the counter on a small gas stove.

Kujtimi Restaurant: (Price:500/600 Lek (cash only)) Another good place is Kujtimi, where you can eat outside in a cozy garden. There’s an English menu, a vegetarian menu, and the staff speaks English.

Restaurant Gjorca + the owner

12. Ali Pasha’s Bridge

In Gjirokaster, don’t miss hiking to the Ali Pasha Bridge. It’s a 45-minute walk, partly on a rocky path.

This ‘bridge’ is actually part of an old aqueduct, built by Ali Pasha for the castle’s water supply. Most of it was dismantled in the 1930s, but a piece still stands.

A word of advice: Don’t climb it – it’s old and pretty remote.

13. Skenduli House

Skenduli House was built in the early 1700s.

It costs 300 LEK for a tour with the ninth-generation caretaker, who speaks French and German.

Open 9 am-7 pm, you’ll explore the house’s bunker, designed for cannon fire protection, its six Hamam baths, 12 rooms for different seasons, and a hidden mezzanine for spying.

Where to stay in Gjirokaster

If you’ve got time, I recommend spending a night or two in Gjirokastra Albania. Sure, you can see everything in a day, but it’s just such an enchanting place.

It’s the place you’d want to wake up and enjoy your breakfast while looking over the valley and old Ottoman houses.

Gjirokaster is divided between The Old Town (uphill) and the New Town (downhill). The Old Town is the place to stay.

  • Hotel Kastro is this charming little hotel with traditional wooden furniture and an amazing view from the rooms. Find the latest prices here.
  • Hotel Gjirokastra is another great option with bright rooms and a lovely terrace right behind the bazaar mosque. It’s a very homely environment. Find the latest prices here.
Hotel Kastro

Driving in Albania

Personally, I think renting a car is the best way to get around in Albania.

That’s what we did.

While you have the luxury of taking it at your own pace and stopping for photos whenever you like, it’s also not that expensive.

Get to Gjirokaster by bus

Gjirokastër is just an hour away from Sarandë. And on the way, you’ll pass the mysterious Blue Eye (Syri i Kaltër) – a rare natural phenomenon.

I’ve listed the bus connections below, and while they’re updated at the time of writing, they might change. Make sure to check with locals or at the bus station once you’re there.

From Tirana: Buses to Gjirokaster leave Tirana’s southbound bus terminal at 11 a.m., 12, 13, 14:30, 18:30 and 20:30 p.m. The trip takes around 6-7 hours and costs 1.000 lek ($9).

From Sarandë: The trip takes a little over an hour and costs 400 lek ($3.60). The bus drops you off in lower Gjirokaster (the new city) from where you can either walk 30 minutes up to the Old Town or take a 5-minute taxi ride.


FAQ – Things to do in Gjirokaster

Is Gjirokaster worth visiting?

Absolutely, Gjirokastër Albania is worth visiting. It’s rich in history, culture, and unique architecture, making it a captivating destination.

Is Gjirokaster safe for tourists?

Yes, in my experience Gjirokaster is safe for tourists. Like in any travel destination, you should take standard safety precautions, but I found it a secure and welcoming place.

How long do you need in Gjirokaster?

You’ll need at least one to two days to fully experience Gijrokaster.

Can you drink the water in Gjirokaster?

No. The primary health issues for foreigners in Albania are water-borne. Stick to bottled water to avoid any problems.

What is better: Gjirokaster vs. Berat

Gjirokastër is often connected to the other Albanian UNESCO town, Berat.

That’s because they’re similar in many ways. They both have the unique Ottoman architecture that you’ll also find in Mostar and Lake Ohrid. They’re also equally beautiful.

Before going to Albania, I read somewhere that they’re so alike that you don’t need to visit them both. But that’s not true.

They each have their charm, and while they’re similar, they also very much have their own style. I highly recommend visiting both Girokaster and Berat.


More about Albania:

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Gjirokaster (in Albanian: Gjirokastra or Gjirokastër) stretches upwards on sloping cobblestoned streets with unique stone houses, which kind of look like small fortresses. This UNESCO town is a beautiful and easy day trip from Sarande or Corfu. Get all the info you need here.

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  1. Miriam thankyou for the review. As i was.scared of going to Albania because of Albania mafia gangs. Albanian gangs cause alot of trouble in Europe.

    Did you get trouble from Albanians ?. .

    1. Dear George,
      You have nothing to fear.

      In my experience, Albanians are very warm and welcoming people that wish you no harm. Like many other countries, Albania has organised crime, but it’s not something you see or experience as a visitor. The country has some catching up to do (particularly when it comes to infrastructure and driving), because it’s been closed off for many years. But as far as general safety is concerned, it’s absolutely safe! Random acts of crime are practically unheard of, and organised crime involving tourists even less.

  2. Dear miriam
    Very good post,helpful.Can I have a question: Did you know about the last bus leaving saranda to Gjirokaster?
    Thanks in advance

  3. bonjour miriam
    je suis moi meme un voyageur et vraiment ton repportage photo sur l albanie est superbe
    j ais traverse ce pays 4 ou 5 fois sans vraiment m y arrete .
    je precise toujours avec a voiture perso pour ce qui est de la conduite albanaise pas de probleme pour moi..
    m ais aujourdhui je suis en grece et demain en albanie je vais prendre le temps de visite un peu.
    cordialement philipe

    1. Salut Philipe

      J’espère que vous ferez l’expérience de l’Albanie. C’est un pays fantastique, en particulier Gjirokaster, Berat et la côte.

      Tout le meilleur, M.

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