Why You Should Visit Albania, the Mediterranean’s Hidden Gem

 
blue waters and a small beach cove in albania
 
 
 

Albania, just south of Montenegro and north of Greece, is often considered the hidden gem of the Mediterranean. An uncommon alternative to the overcrowded and touristy destinations of its nearby countries, Albania is a more cost-effective option and suits every style of traveler. With almost 300 miles of Adriatic coastline and the Albanian Alps lining its borders, the beautiful variety in landscape is destined to excite ocean and nature-lovers alike.

 
village lin near ohrid lake albania
 

The Mediterranean’s Best Kept Secret Should be Your Next Trip

 
amazing view of mountain lakes in the albanian alps
 

After being under the influence of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires and a communist state until the early 1990s, Albania has an interesting culture that has been preserved and is present today. Although it is a small country of roughly three million people, there are many beautiful and unique sites to explore including 13th century ruins, national parks, and the beaches of the Riviera. The people are known for being extremely friendly and welcoming and the towns are renowned for their rustic beauty. A Mediterranean vacation that doesn’t break the bank and has all the charm? Sounds surreal.

Where to Go & What to See

 
 

Tirana

Albania’s capital city, Tirana, is home to Albania’s only international airport and is known for its pastel architecture and charming feel. You will most likely stop here at some point during your travels anyway, so take advantage of it and explore the city! Tirana was also where the anti-communist protests began and proved to be successful during the early 1990s when the country adopted a democratic system. It’s a walkable city filled with museums, parks, and historical monuments that can easily be conquered after two days of exploring. 

Visitors are fond of the cafe culture and delicious coffee as well as the laid-back nightlife scene. A must-try when in Albania is Tavë Kosi, their national dish, which is a lamb, egg, and yogurt-based sauce casserole, similar to a quiche. For dessert you must try a piece of flakey Baklava and the Albanian version of tres leches, or “three milks”, cake called trilece. To wash it all down try Raki, a strong and sweetened grape alcohol, considered to be the national spirit while tea and coffee are also widespread.

 
aerial view of tirana albania
 

The city is centered around Skanderberg Square, which is home to the must-see National Historical Museum and 18th century Et’hem Bey Mosque. Grand Park, the Tirana equivalent of New York City’s Central Park, gives you a relaxing look at life as a typical Albanian. Tirana, although small, is not overwhelming and has many interesting sights to visit. 

Berat

 
panorama of the historic city of berat albania
 

South of the capital Tirana is Berat, an ancient fortress town with remnants dating all the way back to the Ottoman Empire. It’s a relaxed town that gives you a feel for the authentic and friendly Albanian culture -- you can even rent out rooms from locals, AirBnB style, to get a sense of what a real day-in-the-life entails! Berat’s top destinations include a 13th century hilltop castle remains and the Byzantine-style Holy Trinity Church. One whole day spent in Berat is plenty of time to experience all that the small town has to offer. Although not a bustling city, travelers are attracted to Berat for its stunning natural beauty and historical sites. 

Lake Skadar

 
green pyramid at a bend of the rijeka crnojevica river
 

The largest lake in southern Europe, at about 200 square miles, Lake Skadar is absolutely stunning and a destination you cannot miss when in Albania. You may hear of the lake referred to by a few different names, including Shkodër, Scutari, and Shkodra, but it is most commonly called Skadar. Lake Skadar is especially convenient if you are also visiting Montenegro, as the lake is on the border of the two countries. 

Here you can enjoy the slow and relaxed local style of living and can even rent wooden fisherman’s boats to paddle throughout the lake. Not only is the lake home to a diverse variety of flora and fauna, but there are 15 species of fish that can only be found here and no other place in the world! Many different bird species are also abundant here and help to set the ambiance for this calming paradise. Lake Skadar is still completely untouched and it is an absolutely gorgeous must-see! 

 
ruins of rozafa castle in shkoder albania
 

While visiting Skadar, it is worth stopping over to Shkodër, a region in Northern Albania that borders the lake from the southeast end. Shkodër is home to the Rozafa Castle, one of the most enchanting and longstanding sites in Albania. This hilltop fortress is accompanied by a beloved legend and offers some of the best views of the beautiful town and its natural surroundings.  Also worth visiting while in the northern region is nearby Theth National Park.  The park is located among the Albanian Alps and is a perfect stop if you are looking for hiking and your fix of nature. 

Albanian Riviera

 
calm blue waters at ksamil albania beach
 

Last, but certainly not least, is the Albanian Riviera. Perfect for beach lovers seeking the warm Mediterranean waters without the crowds of Italy and Greece, the Riviera is notably the top destination in Albania. There’s a variety of beaches worth checking out when you visit, each with their own unique feel. Ksamil, one of the most popular beaches on the Riviera, lies close to Greece and has three small islands bordered by turquoise waters. 

Nearby is the town of Sarandë, home to the famous Butrint National Park Ruins, which have outlasted the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine empires. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered to be one of the best ancient Roman destinations of the world. Visitors recommend bringing a picnic lunch to the grounds to truly let the beauty and historical significance soak in before you spend the rest of your day at the water. 

Another spot on the Riviera worth visiting is Dhërmi, a small coastal town with incredible crystal clear beaches. Himara is another quaint beach town known for attracting the “bohemian backpacker” type and is a great option if you’re interested in renting kayaks and paddleboards for an active day in the water! If you’re seeking a quieter and more relaxed beach, we’d recommend Palasa, which has still maintained its local, quiet appeal. 

Regardless of which beach towns you choose to visit, you will always be guaranteed white sand beaches that have not been overrun with sky-high resort buildings yet. The Albanian Riviera has all of the allure of the Amalfi Coast and Greek islands without the crowds and outrageous costs. 

 
sailboat in the cove of grama bay in albania
 

It’s easy to see why more and more travelers are opting to take their next adventure to Albania. If you’re searching for an all-encompassing getaway complete with beaches, mountainous hiking, museums, culture, and good eats, look no further than Albania. There is something for every type of traveler to enjoy without the large tourist crowds and hefty price tag. Get started planning your Albanian adventure today!


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