How to get around
Once you’ve landed in Tirana, which is where the only airport in the country lies, avoid expensive local taxis and go straight to the Rinas Express’s bus station. The bus connects the Tirana Mother Teresa Airport to the city centre, near Skanderbeg Square, and takes about 20 minutes for just 250 lekë (2€). A taxi is more expensive, costing about 2,500 lekë (20€), one-way. Tirana is connected to the main Albanian towns only by bus, as Albania doesn’t have railways. While buses are always cheap, the journeys can sometimes be quite long, so keep this in mind if you need to get somewhere in a hurry.
The best time to visit
Albania is still relatively unspoiled by travellers when compared to neighbouring countries. The beautiful outdoors and picturesque villages of the ‘land of the eagles’ are best enjoyed when the weather is sunny and warm from April to October. For those who want to avoid the crowds, spring and fall are the best times of the year to visit as prices are lower than in summer, but the weather is still great.
Where to stay
Albania has many classy hotels that cost less than those in the rest of Europe. Staying in a double room at the Lot Boutique Hotel can cost as little as 60€ a night and is conveniently located right behind Skanderbeg Square, within easy walking distance from the main historical attractions. For something more affordable, Destil Hostel Tirana is a cool hostel centrally located, with rooms available at an inexpensive price (15€ including breakfast).
Things to see and do
Have fun in colourful Tirana
With a young and vibrant atmosphere, the lively capital city of Tirana is a perfect place to start your Albanian adventure. The must-see attractions of the tourist circuit include Skanderbeg Square, the National Historical Museum, the stunning structure of the Pyramid of Enver Hoxha, BunkArt, the majestic converted bunker turned into a contemporary art museum, and Blloku district, the coolest area of Tirana.
Chill out on the beach
The best attractions in south Albania are where the sea meets the sand (or stone). Whether you are adventuring or taking it easy, Albania’s beaches are famous for a reason. Lay out a towel and relax, or take part in the numerous water sports, such as kayaking, diving and kitesurfing, without spending a fortune.
Saranda and Himara may be tourist traps during summertime, but they are also two of the most charming places to visit in the country. So, they’re definitely worth checking out in the off-season when activities are cheaper. These towns are also the best places to try the tastiest freshly caught fish in Albania for only a few euros a meal.
Get ready for a wild adventure
Albania is an excellent destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Rent a 4×4, which costs about 15€ per day (in the off-season), and go straight to the north of the country, in the spectacular region of the Albanian Alps. Explore Valbona National Park, Theth, Vermosh and Blue Eye, and learn about the fascinating tradition of northern Albania.
With the money you have saved on accommodation costs, go river rafting through Osumi Canyon, in the south of the country, for an unforgettable experience. End your adventure at Përmet hot springs – the most famous thermal hub in Albania – which are free to enter for a relaxing soak.
History lesson: Visit Berat, Gjirokastër and Butrint
Albania is an ancient land where Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and Venetians, among others, lived. The country is home to two of the most beautiful towns in the Balkan Peninsula, Berat and Gjirokastër. Both on UNESCO’s heritage list, the towns are known for their Ottoman-era architecture, castles, mosques, churches and ethnographic museums, which all cost less than 3€ to enter. History lovers should also make it their priority to visit Butrint, another UNESCO gem, which is the largest archaeological park in the Balkans. Limitless Albania organises a great UNESCO tour that passes through the three destinations.
Enjoy the local cuisine
Two of Albania’s most iconic dishes are byrek, a pie made with filo pastry and stuffed with spinach, cheese or meat, and tavë kosi, a casserole with lamb, flour (or rice) and yoghurt sauce.
One must-try dining experience in the country is at Mullixhiu – a Nordic-style restaurant located in Tirana near the artificial lake – which honours the values of Albanian cuisine at the incredible price of just 15€ for the standard menu.
By: Francesca Masotti – www.theculturetrip.com