Should we travel Albania in 2018? The only answer to this question is YES. Here is why and how we packed our suitcases and jumped on the plane to Tirana as soon as we could.
We could literally not wait. When Greg and I decided to fill up some free time in April with a trip to Albania, we knew little about this country. Our excitement was based entirely on the following assumption: A place between Greece and Croatia that had NOT yet been conquered by tourists, simply had to be an amazing travel destination!
From the day we decided to travel Albania to the day of our arrival in Tirana, our excitement grew continuously. For the most part, this was due to the reaction of family, friends and fellow travelers who we mentioned our trip to. You can probably imagine what my grandma thought about Albania: It must be dangerous!
Luckily, the way people think about Albania has changed rapidly over the past decade. The end of the communist dictatorship in the 1990’s finally allowed the country to connect with Europe and the rest of the world. Yet tourism in Albania is still hesitant which is mainly owed to a lack of knowledge and information. In this sense, I would like to encourage every curious traveler to write Albania on their bucket list – it is truly a hidden gem of a travel destination!
The weather in Albania is relatively stable and mild all year around. However, best travel months are probably May, September and October. Because the country is still relatively unknown in comparison to its neighbours Greece and Croatia, you won’t have to fear large amounts of tourists any time of the year.
We went to Albania in early April and had a fantastic time, with sun and 20 degrees almost every day.
2.) Transportation – How to Travel Albania
As the title gives away, this is more of a Road Trip Guide to travel Albania. Of course, that does not rule out the possibility to to it differently. We have been told that traveling by bus is as economic and saves you some the hassle of renting a car.
Our car, a small Ford Fiesta was perfect for driving in the city and through the countryside. Drivers shall be warned that traffic rules are not taken all too serious in Albania. The right lane is almost always occupied by randomly parking cars, so try to stay on the left.
Driving in Albania can be challenging and is nothing for nervous drivers. Apart from driving skills you should bring time. The maximum speed is 90 km/hour and most roads are either very windy or covered in pot holes. Nevertheless, we enjoyed having the freedom of a rental car especially along the coast.
3.) Currency & Language
The Albanian currency is called LEKE and weaker than the Euro. When we did our road trip 1€ was about 130 L, but the rate changes daily. Luckily, most hotels and restaurants in the cities in Tirana (and other major cities) will accept Euros.
Locals speak Albanian, which I personally really enjoyed listening to. Here some basics that will make every Albanian smile:
Mirupafshim – Good bye/ See you later Faleminderit – Thank you! Si eni? – How are you? Mir. – Good. Po. – yes/ okay
English is a hit or miss. Most young people speak pretty decent English, but it is also likely to meet locals with absolutely no knowledge of the English language. However, don’t worry about the language barrier. Locals will make up for anything with their kindness and will go out of their way to understand what you need.
4.) Accommodation – Where to Stay
For a country that has yet to be conquered by tourists, Albania really knows good customer service. More so, our hosts in Albania were all exceptionally friendly and helpful. We usually prefer finding accommodation as we go or book through airbnb, yet during our road trip we used booking.com a lot.
I will list a few places for you that were not only very affordable but great finds for the following locations:
Facilities: Comfortable and spacious rooms, fully equipped kitchen, excellent breakfast included, garden & common spaces
Price: 18€ (private room)
5.) Albanian Cuisine – Food & Drinks
After a couple of days in the country, we took notice of the strong Italian influence in Albania. We loved the excellent strong coffee and gelato ice cream on every corner. Speaking of sweets, a must try is also the desert Trilece, a light soft cake topped with caramel glaze. Bakeries offer a vast variety of pastries that are all incredibly sweet, but well worth trying.
For a tasty and quick bite to eat the go to is Burek. These ridiculously cheap (70ct) pastries come in all kinds of shapes, filled with meat, cheese or vegetables.
One of our best culinary experiences was with fresh Seafood. We could not resist but taste everything from mussel pot and baked deep-sea shrimp to seafood risotto. My mouth is still watering thinking about these dishes.
All in all, food and drinks in Albania are very affordable, if not cheap. Here a list of average prices for daily food expenses.
Espresso – 60 ct Cappuchino – 1 € Beer – 1.50 € Wine – 1.20 -2 € Seafood Dinner for two (2 dishes and 2 glasses of wine) – 10 €
6.) Places to Visit
Like I mentioned before, there is endless hidden gems to explore when you travel Albania. The following were the highlights from our 5-day itinerary.
The first place you will likely get to see when you travel Albania is the capital. The city has its charm and is worth a day or two. Spend your time walking around, learn some Albanian and drink the unbelievably good espresso. When driving however, Tirana is not the most enjoyable place. The traffic is hectic and you will have to constantly watch out for randomly parking and pulling out cars to avoid an accident.
We finished our little road trip adventure in Shkodër, before taking the bus to Dubrovnik, Croatia. The city was a great place to finish off and a good place to be if you are looking to continue your trip towards Montenegro or Croatia.
A must-see in Shkodër is the old Rozafa Castle. You can hike up to the top, which will take about 40 minutes from the city centre or park your car closer to the entrance. The entrance fee is 200 LEKE and views are especially spectacular around sunset.
The entire coast of Albania is stunning, but there is a few stretches that are especially beautiful. The drive from Vlorë is very scening and worth a stop for lunch or even to spend a night. Stay with the guys from Vila Aqua Marina if you are looking for affordable waterfront accommodation with impeccable service!
From Orikum, 20 minutes south of Vlorë, the road cuts inland and begins to climb. Crossing Mount Çika will take almost two hours, but once you have passed the summit, you can expect exceptional views. Even on this narrow, windy road there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the view.
The old town of Himarë is situated on the hill before the road descents into the actual village. Make sure to check out these old ruins when you travel Albania. Try to catch the sunset light peaking through the holes of the ancient city wall – it makes a stunning photograph!
And Now? Travel Albania!
Albania is a completely underrated country and it is only a matter of time until tourism will hit this part of the Adriatic Sea. I wish we had had more time to explore this beautiful place and I am almost certain that I will be back one day. For now I can only encourage you to plan your trip to Albania asap – get there before every one else does!!
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