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Albania isn’t the most popular country in the Balkans. If you asked Europeans to place it on a map, there’s a good chance they couldn’t. However, what it lacks in popularity, it makes up for in majestic, unspoiled secrets, which will make you continue to beg for more. In this post, we’ll discover the best places to visit in Albania on a weekend break.
Standing below epic Albania sites such as fragmented castles and war-torn forts, you will feel the history and the mystery of this country, which, until of late, has been held as enchanting hearsay to the rest of the world. It will make you feel as though you have discovered new frontiers waiting to be uncovered.
Albania is a country with a dark past and a relatively curious recent history. Tucked in the Balkans and surrounded by four countries (Greece, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro) with two seas meeting at its western coast, there is a lot of reason to be intrigued by this undervalued destination.
Many travelers don’t bat an eye at it, though, which is a travesty of its own. However, the few adventurers who make it a point to travel the less-traveled will be rewarded with Albania’s ultimate prize. Its glistening seafront, relaxing beaches, elusive fairy-tale castles, towering mountainsides, shackled culture, and impenetrable people will leave you in love with a country you possibly didn’t even know anything about before.
Please take a look at our guide below, where you’ll find all you need to know about the best places to go in Albania for a weekend trip. We’ll discuss transportation in Albania, suggested times to visit the country, the best cities in Albania, and other amazing tourist spots in Albania.
Albania Travel: Know Before You Go
The best part about Albania as a holiday destination is undoubtedly the unknown. Not everyone has weighed in on their experiences, but those who’ve been there know what it’s like. Those who haven’t can only guess.
Hopefully, the following information will allow you to paint a clearer picture of the best of Albania and where to go in Albania.
Transportation In Albania
When it comes to transportation to get to the best destinations in Albania, your experience can vary greatly depending on what type of vehicle you travel by.
On the one hand, trains were introduced in Albania during the communist reign in the 1940s and don’t seem to have been updated since.
There are some routes like the central north-to-south route, which isn’t bad in quality and offers unparalleled scenic views for a super low price.
Taxis are frequent in Albania’s main cities, but you will probably struggle to find them in the countryside. Ensure you negotiate the price before getting in the cab as there are no meters in Albanian taxis.
As a rule of thumb, Mercedes-Benz taxis of all shapes and conditions are decent and safe. So are yellow taxis. Generally speaking, you can hail a ride almost anywhere within the city for less than $5.
There are two choices of buses in Albania, both of which are run privately with improving routes every year. There are inexpensive buses that run less frequently, while the alternative furgons are mini-buses that run more often but don’t leave until the bus is full.
You can always rent a car, too. And that may just be your best option for seeing small towns and more rural parts of Albania. Just keep in mind that the infrastructure is not in the same condition in all regions of the country. Sometimes, you may have to deal with less than likable road conditions.
You can rent a compact vehicle in Albania for around $8-10 per day.
Other Expenses In Albania
Accommodation in Albania is sometimes hard to come by in the small towns. Make sure you plan ahead. You can usually find a budget hotel in most places for around $20 per night. Likewise, you can share a dorm in a hostel for less than $10.
Food in Albania, along with sharing some qualities of Balkan countries such as heavy stews and smoked meats, also follows a Mediterranean diet with many oiled roasted vegetables and feta cheese, and pieces of bread. If you’re wondering what to do in Albania, trust us when we say that indulging in local cuisine will be a highlight of your weekend trip in Albania!
You can find an inexpensive meal in Albania for under $5, or you can dine at a mid-range restaurant which will give you a good idea of the cuisine with a plethora of options for around $10.
Albania Weekend Itineraries – Places To Go In Albania
Here are a few examples of how to spend the weekend exploring the top sites in Albania. We’ve also listed longer itineraries for travelers who appreciate fresh air and discovering some more of the many beautiful places in Albania for more than a weekend.
2 or 3 days: Start in Theth for a day, travel down to Schkodra for a day.
4 to 5 days: Start in Theth for a day, travel down to Schkodra for a day, and Kruja for a day before ending up in the capital city Tirana.
7 days: Start in Theth for a day, travel down to Schkodra for a day, and Kruja for a day. Drive to Berat and stay there for two days. Finish the trip by driving to Ksamil (the southernmost Albanian town on this itinerary) while stopping in Gjirokastra.
Best Time To Visit Albania
Unlike some of the other magnificent places to explore in the Balkans, Albania isn’t best left for the summer heat.
Instead, we advise traveling either between April and June or September and October. During these months, you will avoid the heat and what rush of tourism Albania is starting to receive. You will have the entirety of the country at your fingertips, most times in solitude.
Albania is a country with amazing great outdoors. In fact, many of the best places to visit in Albania are outside in nature. The Albania national parks feature natural scenery straight out of a movie, which means the more time you can spend outside, the better. July and August are the hottest months, but it usually rains the least during these months if you can withstand the heat.
The sea is best, believe it or not, in the late summer range. Toward the end of August and into September and October is when the sea finally reaches its peak warmth, and the beaches begin to cool off and clear out. That would be the best time to explore the stunning Albanian Riviera, including destinations like Saranda and Ksamil.
There is no wrong time to visit Albania, though, and any time away from work you can get, you should visit this mesmerizing Balkan country.
Top Places To Visit In Albania – The Most Beautiful Places In Albania
So, where to go in Albania? Much of Albania feels like a small town. Whether it is because fewer tourists and more people are going about their everyday life or the fact that it is relatively unpopulated, we don’t know. However, here are some small towns that we know you will fall in love with.
Gjirokastra, also known as Gjirokaster of the “City of Stone,” is a town in south Albania scrunched up in the Drino River Valley between the Drino River and the Gjere Mountains. It is a rare former Ottoman town, well-preserved at its former glory.
That is because it is the hometown of former communist leader Enver Hoxha who made sure the town stayed in exceptional shape throughout his reign.
There are about 25,000 people who call Gjirokastër home, which is nearly as many tourists as it sees annually. One of the country’s oldest towns settled over 2,500 years ago, and this is one of those must-see places in Albania. It is nothing short of good fortune that this town is still the sight it is today and without a doubt one of the best tourist places in Albania.
No matter which vantage point you view the city, whether from its streets, from the valley below, or looking down upon the river, Gjirokastra is one of the most beautiful places in the Balkans.
The cobblestone streets wind throughout the town, all leading to its most renowned attraction: the Castle of Girokastra, one of the top attractions in Albania.
Go ahead and stay for a night or two. Here are some of your best options in Gjirokastra when it comes to a place to rest your head at night:
- Hotel Lord Byron
- Resort Kerculla
- Hotel Old Bazaar 1790
On paper and in person, Kruja is an ideal small-town road trip destination. It is small enough to be seen in a short afternoon or evening with loads of local history and beautiful Albania scenery to go with it. Not to mention, it is less than an hour away from the country’s capital, Tirana.
The population is around 60,000, which is to be expected in the suburbs of Albania’s biggest city. As such, there is enough entertainment and things to do to occupy as long as you would like, however, there is no need to spend more than a few hours if you prefer.
Kruja is the hometown of an Albanian hero, a man named Skanderbeg, whose memory isn’t lost in the hearts of the Albanian people.
Whether it is the Skanderbeg Museum which juts out of the largest attraction in the city, the majestic castle on the hill, or his plaques and statues dedicated to his memory, you will surely become educated on Albania’s one and true hero while visiting. It’s one of the top 10 things to do in Albania for history buffs, no question.
It is just a small hillside town whose roads are as sloped as they are jagged from the worn cobblestone. You will have fun walking the streets for the afternoon and stopping at a cafe for a local fix.
Krujë is just an hour away from Tirana, remember, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Albania. With that being said, you would be much better off finding a place to sleep in the capital city.
Here are some of our favorites there:
About one and a half hours south of Tirana, Berat is located on the banks of the Osum River in the southern half of Albania. It has nearly 60,000 people living in its boundaries, and many people visit each year to see the delicately preserved Ottoman architecture.
The entire city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for being an extraordinarily beautiful and great insight into what some describe as a mixing pot of architectural style. This is why Berat is easily one of the greatest Albania cities to visit, whether on a weekend trip or an extended holiday.
It is easy to read Berat’s history just from a stroll around its Old Town. Many influences played a part in modern-day Berat, with art and murals to add to it.
The best view in the neighborhood of white homes with orange roofs climbing the hill up to the famous castle. It all seems so symmetrical and planned.
The wild mountains that surround the area are even more magical at dusk. If you are around for sunset, the local people would be glad to point you to the best spot to watch the sun go down.
There is no shortage of excellent accommodations in Berat. Here are a few we think you would like that are all on an affordable budget.
Perhaps you might like to stay at one:
- Hotel Klea
- Hotel Vila Aleksander
- Hotel Mangalemi
Ksamil is the perfect Ionian Sea beach escape down on Albania’s very southern tip on the border with Greece, the ultimate Albania holiday destination. Over the past decade, it has decidedly become one of the hottest tourist destinations in south Albania. That doesn’t mean the small coastal village is overrun with tourists, though. It just means this beautiful country is vastly underappreciated.
There are less than 3,000 people in town, but it can seem like many more than that depending on when you visit.
Down along the beach in Ksamil are several seaside bars and restaurants along with crystal clear, turquoise waters. Across from shore are four picturesque uninhabited islands within swimming distance of mainland Albania. Between the islands is beautiful snorkeling water and fun things to see.
The village itself sits along a renowned lagoon for mussels and other fishing so that you won’t be disappointed with the lovely seafood cuisine while there. And the nearby ruins in Butrint National Park, one of the undisputed top things to see in Albania, is well worth the day trip from Ksamil, making the argument for visiting the village even stronger. All in all, this is easily one of the top places of interest in Albania, both for beach life and fascinating history.
If you have time to make it, we suggest avoiding the peak season and instead visit around late September or early October. Don’t worry, that water is still warm at this time! That way, you can avoid the hordes of tourists who wash up ashore and ruin the enchantment that is Ksamil.
Ksamil has a plethora of accommodation options, all as quaint as you would expect from such a charming town.
Take a look at these places:
- Studio Eno Ksamil
- Hotel Luxury
- Villa August Ksamil
Sitting on the other side of the country from Ksamil, in north Albania along the Montenegro border, perched in the Albanian Alps is the small village of Theth. Anyone looking to explore the spectacular Albania nature should zoom in on this small mountain destination.
Theth is quite the opposite of Ksamil in that instead of the warmer climate of southern Albania on the beach, Theth is more frigid, especially the higher you get in the mountains and quite a distance from any beaches.
Theth is a village for mountain enthusiasts whose love for serene vistas and views for miles on end excites them more than the journey itself. It has, perhaps, the best and most inspiring views in all of Albania. In terms of natural scenery, this is easily one of the most beautiful places in Albania.
In Thethi National Park, you will find deep waterfalls, mountain valleys further than the eye can see, and lush green forest to create a pleasing contrast of nature. Avid outdoors, people will find hiking around Theth one of the best things to do in Albania, for sure.
You can even hike from Theth to Valbona – but it’s a multiple-day venture!
Theth has accommodation options of all shapes and sizes. If you’d rather, maybe there is an Airbnb spot which would suit your fancy.
However, we think one of these three options should do the trick:
- Thethi Paradise
- Hotel Vellezrit Guri
- Boga Alpine Resort
Located just an hour and a half north of the capital city, Shkodër (also written as Shkoder) is a stunning city nestled on the shores of Lake Shkodra at the intersection of three prominent rivers.
Standing in Rozafa Castle’s ruins, high up in the hills above the town, you look down on the quaint town streets and across for a supreme bird’s eye view of the impressively large Lake Shkodra. This is one of the best cities in Albania for a combination of wonderful nature, historical sites, great food, and cultural immersion.
Though the lake is the main attraction in town, it is by no means the only perk of visiting Shkodra. As a matter of fact, you will love Old Town Shkodër even more. Its pastel-colored buildings with faint paint jobs will remind you of a small coastal town in Italy. And the museums and mountains are more than enough to hold your appetite for the rest of the country until you have thoroughly explored the traditional center of Gheg culture.
The superb location in north Albania makes this place easy to visit on any road trip through Albania. Spend a day or two here before moving on to Tirana or heading north.
A super-popular place to visit in Albania, Shkodra is a backpacker’s town with luxuries any traveler would appreciate. It hosts various accommodation choices whether you want to stay under budget at a hostel or spoil yourself on a resort.
These are our favorites in town:
- The Wanderer’s Hostel
- Hotel Legjenda
- Petit Hotel Elita
Though a recent history of communism has darkened this country’s reputation and probably will falsely remain a part of its identity for decades to come, Albania is a completely safe country with some of the warmest people you will ever encounter.
Those willing to risk going into the unknown will thank themselves immensely once they discover what Albanians are all about. And those people will love the natural gems this place has to offer, as well, as these best places to visit in Albania on a weekend break clearly show.
Take a chance, take a short dip in Albania and let your senses overcome you.
If you have any questions about what to see in Albania or general travel in Albania, don’t hesitate to reach us. We will do our best at using our knowledge to answer all of your questions and concerns.