An under-explored region of Eastern Europe, our Albania adventure tours offer you the chance to discover this small mountainous country in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula in the heart of the Mediterranean. Relatively insulated from globalisation and isolated by communism for many years, travelling the country on an Albania adventure tour offers a fascinating experience.
Albania is a largely Muslim country, known as much for its determination to go it alone after the disintegration of the Communist Bloc, as for its centuries-old policy of honouring its guests with the warmest possible hospitality. City of birth to Mother Theresa, the compact capital of Tirana is very walkable and you can enjoy wonderful views over the city from Mt Dajt before visiting little-known medieval churches with beautiful frescoes. During your Albania adventure tour you can enjoy a walk down the city’s grand, leafy boulevards where Turkish and Italian influences are apparent in the architecture. The Et'hem Bey Mosque is also a must-see for its intricate wall paintings.
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Albania Travel Guide
Albania Travel Guide
Relatively new to tourism, Albania is a small country that makes up the Balkans peninsula. It boasts spectacular natural beauty from snow-capped mountains to perfect Mediterranean-like beaches. It’s capital, Tirana, is home to a huge amount of cultural highlights including Skanderbeg Square, named after the Albanian hero who led the rebellion against the Ottoman empire. While Albania has had a fascinating and often tubulent history, the country has transformed into vibrant place to explore.
The monetary unit in Albania is the lekë (ALL). All major currencies can be exchanged at banks and bureaux de change. Currency markets operate on the street in front of the main post office or bank in most towns, a perfectly legal way to exchange your money and avoid bank commission. You will not be able to exchange lekë outside of Albania so make sure you exchange before you leave.
While most rural towns still deal exclusively in cash, supermarkets in cities, the better bookstores and the better boutique stores will generally accept credit or debit cards. The most widely accepted credit cards are VISA, Mastercard, and Diner's Club. Most banks will give cash advances on credit cards with a passport. There are ATMs in most towns which you can use to withdraw cash from most international Visa and Mastercard credit or debit cards. Traveller's cheques can be changed in banks in most larger towns. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in US dollars or Euros. The main banks in Albania who serve tourists are Raiffeisen Bank, American Bank of Albania, Pro Credit Bank and Tirana Bank.
Major Cities and Towns in Albania
Albania’s main city is its capital, Tirana. It is home to a huge amount of cultural sights and is bursting with colour. It has undergone a huge transformation since the 1990s, and you can now enjoy lively bars and,fascinating museums plus galleries and relics from its Ottoman, Communist and Italian past.
Another Albanian gem is the small town of Berat, situated in the middle of Albania. Nestled on the mountainside this town has been listed as a UNESCO Heritage site since 2008. White picturesque Ottoman houses line the hillside, giving it the nickname “the town of a thousand windows.” One of its major highlights is the ruins of the original castle built here.
ElectricityElectricity supply in Albania is 230 volts and the most common plug socket is for two round-prong plugs such as that used in Europe.If in doubt, take a universal adaptor to cover your bases especially if you are travelling on a multi-country tour.
Etiquette and Culture
Albania is a largely Muslim country, but it is also made up of a number of different minority groups including Bulgarians, Greek, Romanian and Macedonian. Albanians are extremely hospitable and traditional cultures honour guests. Therefore they are welcoming and smiling towards tourists, especially as tourism is still a relatively new concept. Sometimes body language may be different than what you may be used to. Shaking the head means ‘yes’ whilst a nod means ‘no’.
GeographyAlbania is bordered by Montenegro to the north, Kosovo to the northeast, Macedonia to the east and Greece to the southeast. It also has a coast on the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea. About 70% of the country is mountainous and over a third of the territory is forested.
HistoryThe country known to us as the Republic of Albania is known locally as Shqipëria. The heritage of Albanians can be traced back to prehistoric times, when the area was ruled by Illyrian tribes. The country was later taken over by Greeks, followed by Romans who occupied the land from 168 BC and incorporated it into the Roman Empire. Albania became part of the Byzantine Empire when the Roman Empire divided into east and west in 395 AD. During the 14th century AD the territory was turned over to the Ottoman Turks, who ruled throughout the medieval era into the Middle Ages subduing all resistance in the Balkan region, including the small strip of Albanian coastline which was famously crushed after staging a fierce but futile battle against the occupiers in the 15th century. Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912 after five hundred years of domination, but fell to Italian rule under Mussolini in 1939. Communist partisans later liberated Albania from Italian control and in 1941 Enver Hoxha became leader of the ruling Albanian Communist Party, a position he held until his death in 1985. Albania was free of German control in 1944 and then allied itself with the USSR until 1960, followed by China until 1978. In the early 1990s, Albania ended 46 years of Communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. Albania is a member of the United Nations, NATO, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, World Trade Organisation, and is a potential candidate for EU accession and formally applied for membership in 2009.
Best time to travel in Albania
The climate is generally pleasant and mild, with cool, cloudy, wet winters and hot, dry, clear summers. It’s generally drier towards the coastal lowlands where there’s a more Mediterranean climate, whereas the interior is much hotter in summer and wetter as altitude increases.
When to Travel
As summer in Albania gets very hot, the best time to go to would be in Spring and also between September-October when the heat is more bearable for sightseeing.
Guide to food in Albania
Albanian cuisine is colourful and flavoursome and features a lot of Italian, Greek and Turkish influences. You will find plenty of tasty, spicy dishes to tempt you, Keep a look out for Mediterranean fish such as sea-bream and sea-bass, as well as eel. Traditional dishes often use vegetables and yoghurt or curd cheese to make the meat go further.
You may want to try national specialities such as Koran, a species of trout unique to the Ohrid and Prespa lakes. If you’re feeling daring, you could try Paçë koke (sheep's head soup). You may also come across Kukurec (sheep's innards in a gut casing). Vegetarians will find no shortage of fresh salads on offer.
Albania offers many high-quality wines, some of it from indigenous grapes such as Kallmet (red) and Shesh (red and white). National drinks include: raki, a clear spirit made of grapes. Coffee is also very popular and is mostly served as cappuccino or espresso in bars and restaurants, or prepared the traditional Balkan way, with grounds and sugar brewed together, when served at home. All drinks such as bottled water or soft drinks are at your own expense at all times and are fairly inexpensive. Alcoholic drinks vary in price, with wine and beer generally being the cheapest options.
Top 10 Highlights of Albania
The colourful capital Tirana is packed with museums and galleries to spend your days. Sip a coffee and people-watch at Skanderbeg Square, Tirana’s most popular meeting point.
The ‘town of a thousand windows’ is a picturesque UNESCO Heritage site for anyone interested in history. Climb the hill to the castle where you can enjoy views over this Ottoman town.
3. Kruja Castle
The small town of Kruja showcases the important history of national hero Skanderbeg. Explore Kruja Castle which was the centre of the battle against the Ottoman empire and visit the museum found here too.
Named after the god Apollo, Apollonia was one of the most important cities in the ancient world. The ruins are still accessible and there are beautiful countryside views to admire.
5. Albanian Riviera
For a more affordable option to the popular Italian Riviera, the Albanian Riviera offers beautiful beaches flanked by spectacular mountainside landscapes.
6. Blue Eye (Syri I Kalter)
Known as the ‘Blue Eye’ this is a natural water spring found in the Vlorë County. The ‘Eye’ itself is a natural phenomenon as the water surges upwards from within the earth. You can swim in the crystal-clear water, around the eye.
One of Europe’s oldest cities, Shkodër is found on the shores of Lake Skadar. It has a number of cultural gems including the old town, the bazaar and the Museum of Memory.
8. Valbonë Valley National Park
Known as the “Albanian Miracle of the Alps”, this national park covers Valbona Valley and Valbona River. It is an incredibly beautiful corner of the world, with a huge amount of hiking trails.
Another UNESCO heritage site, this Ottoman town has charming cobbled streets and beautiful converted Ottoman buildings. You can visit the castle which offers stunning views over the Drino Valley.
Butrint is an ancient city found in the region of Saranda. It showcases ruins from the Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Byzantine periods. During the Communist Era, tourists were allowed to visit but Albanian citizens were not with fears they may swim to neighbouring Greece.
10 interesting facts about Albania
1. Tirana has a surprising number of ‘luxury’ branded cars. When the Communism period was lifted, Albanians were able to buy luxuries like Mercedes Benz etc which created a buying surge. For a relatively low-economic country you may be surprised with the amount of cars found!
2. Mother Theresa was born is Skopje which is now considered Macedonian. However, during the Ottoman Empire, Skopje was part of Albania leading to Mother Teresa being one of the only Albanian Nobel Prize winners.
3. You won’t find a McDonald’s in Tirana - it is one of the only European capitals that doesnt have one (especially since the introduction of the Vatican City McDonalds in 2016!). This is a great opportunity to try some of the local delicacies instead!
4. During the Communist rule of Enver Hoxha, Albania was named the first athiest state in 1967.
5. There is an official evening walk known as ‘xhiro’ where in many towns, roads will close for cars. Residents take this opportunity to meet their friends and take a stroll.
6. When the Communist Regime collapsed in the early 90s, many Albanians emigrated. This has meant that there are more Albanians living outside the country than within!
7. There are more than 750,000 bunkers scattered across Albania. During the Communist Regime, Enver Hoxha was paranoid of attack and built them even though many were rarely used. Today, some of these have been converted into galleries and cafes.
8. Known for its natural beauty, Albania has more the 3,250 species of plants.
9. Albanians name for Albania is actually Shqipëri.
10. British poet, Lord Byron, was a huge fan of Albania stating the women have “the most magnificent dresses in the world”.