Skip to main content

Micro Guide: Albania

Traveling to Europe can have a been there, done that feel. Finding an off-the-beaten track destination on a continent filled with well-known places can be a bit challenging. Still, there are countries and cities many Americans haven’t seen or know much about. Thanks to the New York Times—which named it a must-see destination for 2014—and jetsetters in the know, Albania is finally on the travel radar.

Situated between Montenegro and Greece, Albania is Europe’s latest hotspot. Think Croatia circa 1990 or Greece without the crowds. Communism closed off the country from the rest of the world for many decades and much of the infrastructure reflects that: Roads can be a bit dicey—potholes and gravel galore—and much of the architecture in big cities such as Tirana and Shkodër has a utilitarian feel that isn’t very attractive. But don’t let that hinder you from traveling around this beautiful and varied land. The locals love Americans and are ready to help you in any way. Here are the highlights:

Tirana: Tirana is the capital city and can be a bit of a mess to get around. Traffic jams are de rigeur as are crazy drivers behind the wheels of souped up vintage Mercedes. They’re everywhere. Traversing the busy streets can be difficult so hire a driver to take you around, or better yet, walk. Tirana doesn’t have a subway and taking a bus around town could take hours. Eating and drinking is inexpensive with most meals setting you back only $10. Stay at The Rooms, a chic boutique hotel with Wifi (a rarity in this town) near many of the hotspots. Pepper Lounge is a hit with 20-somethings looking to mingle with pretty people but Radio Cafe has a much cooler vibe—think Greenpoint, Brooklyn—with cheap drinks and good music.

Shkodër: Tirana’s redheaded stepchild but it’s actually more attractive and easier to traverse. If you’re heading to the Albanian Alps or Kosovo, stop off here for a rest period between journeys (Traveling seemingly short distances in Albania can take hours). Hotel Tradita affords guests lovely rooms with original stone walls and woven textiles. Dine on grilled fish and beef at the cozy restaurant in the hotel. Shkodër’s beautiful stone streets weave around lovely gardens and cafes at which one can relax. If you’re heading to the Alps, take the minibus to Koman Lake and enjoy the views as you wind your way through the fjords over a 3 1/2 hour ride. The only jarring sight are the mountains of plastic bottles and trash littering the beautiful lake. Another minibus in Fierze will take you to Valbone, a picturesque Alpine village that time seems to have forgotten. Stay at one of the many guesthouses such as Burimi i Valbones. Hire a guide to lead you on a seven-hour hike to Theth, another Alpine village known for its amazing waterfalls. Travel back to Tirana via Kosovo and make sure the border agent stamps your passport! It’s Europe’s newest country after all.

Gjirokastra: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a Ottoman town trapped in time. Cobblestone streets, homes with flat-dressed stone roofs and beautifully preserved ruins make it a hotspot for Albanians in the summer. Situated four hours by bus from Tirana, it’s a world apart from that busy city. Artisans still craft their wares in small storefronts and locals hang out at the well preserved 16th century mosque, the only one in town that wasn’t destroyed by the communists. Gjirokastra Castle shouldn’t be missed as it affords beautiful views of the town and valley beyond. Check out the Ethnographic Museum for vintage textiles. Wander the streets and admire the old houses. Dine al fresco on authentic Albanian food at Kjutimi. Rest your head at the cute and comfortable Hotel Gjirokaster, which has easy access to the bazaar and the old part of town.

Dhermi: Albania’s Ionian coast boasts myriad beach towns with plenty of space to relax by the water. While Vlore gets most of the beachgoers in summer, further south on the winding, seaside road lies Dhermi, as hip as Vlore but with fewer crowds. Small and large pebbles dot the beach, which can make traversing the shore a bit of a challenge but the cerulean waters are worth the challenge. Many Albanians head here in July and early August but late summer offers much of the same weather but more tranquility. Stay at the Altea Beach Lodge, self-contained little homes on the beach. Check out Andrra Beach bar and have a drink with Vjosa, the bar owner. It’s a great way to end a trip.

Getting Around: Flights connect through many European gateways such as Munich, Vienna and Istanbul to Tirana. Traveling around Albania can be a challenge with no train service and roads needing repair, although the latter is changing. Minibuses can take travelers to most destinations but leave infrequently (think one 7 a.m. departure a day, especially in more isolated alpine regions). Don’t be surprised if the driver stops and picks up passengers along the way. You may find yourself squeezed into the very back of a minibus built for 10 but carrying more than 20 people.

Shandana A. Durrani
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Shandana A. Durrani has been a magazine editor and travel writer for more than two decades. Her work has appeared in numerous…
Travel report says this surprising spot is where you can find the bluest water
Which beaches topped the list?
Blue waters

Have you ever wondered which corner of the globe boasts the most mesmerizingly blue waters? The answer might just surprise you. In a quest to uncover the world’s bluest waters, CV Villas embarked on a unique study. To find this information, the company scrutinized unedited Google Maps screenshots of 200 beaches worldwide, employing a color dropper tool to unveil the RGB code of each body of water. They then cross-referenced these findings with the RGB code of the world’s bluest shade of blue, YInMn Blue, a hue that was officially declared the bluest shade by Oregon State University in 2016. 

Using a color calculator, CV Villas determined which locations’ waters came closest to the coveted YInMn Blue, thus crowning them as the beaches with the world’s bluest waters. Contrary to the assumption that tropical paradises like the Caribbean or Bora Bora would dominate the rankings, CV Villas’ findings paint a different picture altogether. Nearly all of the destinations on the list are located within Europe, which is a surprising revelation to many. 
The world’s bluest water

Read more
Travel tips: Why you need to set a flight alert even after you book a flight
Set a flight alert (even after you book) so you won't miss out
man holding smartphone in white shirt

When you finally book those plane tickets after weeks of research and price tracking, it can be tempting to kick back and stop monitoring flight prices. After all, you locked in your airfare and your travel dates, so why keep checking?

Here's why -- setting flight alerts for your booked itinerary can end up saving you a good chunk of money, preventing a lot of hassle, or both. Airlines constantly adjust pricing, and sometimes lower fares become available even after you purchase tickets. 
How do flight alerts work?

Read more
This luxury cruise is perfect for Aston Martin, F1 fans
Aston Martin and F1 take to the seas
Side view of Aston Martin Formula 1 car

The Aston Martin nameplate evokes images of style, sophistication, and performance. From the legendary DB5 to today’s Vantage, the company’s vehicles have a combination of muscle and verve that’s hard to match. Sultry bodywork and roaring powerplants make a scene, whether on the road or track.

Similarly, Formula 1 inspires passion and excitement like few sports can. Racecars on the leading edge of tech compete on storied circuits, requiring lightning-quick reflexes from the world’s best drivers. Each race brings tension and drama, as drivers and machines explore the limits of performance. 

Read more