Albania Travel Guide for First Timers: Everything You Need!
As Albania’s tourism is slowly increasing the demand for information is increasing too. Unfortunately, as tourism is still so new, it can be hard to come across factual and up-to-date information. For example, bus timetables can change with a click of the fingers, and the only people who would know would be the locals.
Therefore, I have created this full Albania travel guide with all the information you need if you plan to visit Albania for the first time. Albania is full of beautiful surprises. I have lots of great information for you to use during your travels to Albania.
**2020 update** As of August 2020, there are little to no restrictions when travelling to Albania. The government has put a restriction for all bars and clubs to not play music after 8 pm to try and discourage gatherings, however in Saranda at least, that hasn’t stopped anyone. Masks are to be worn in all banks and government buildings. I do recommend wearing a mask when you are in confined spaces as Albania’s cases are high and to try and limit the spread, it is advised to be safe and remain respectful.
Here’s your full Albania Travel guide!
Why should you trust my information? I have lived in Albania since 2017, so I have a great knowledge of the do’s the don’ts and the best local spots to visit and the ones you should avoid! I also have a local insight as my boyfriend is Albanian!
Where is Albania?
Great question, and one that I’m often asked when talking to foreigners outside of Albania. Where the heck is Albania?!
Albania lies in South-Eastern Europe. Its neighbours are Greece to the south, Montenegro to the north and Kosovo and Macedonia to the east(ish).
Albania sits on the coast of the Adriatic Sea and is home to some of the best beaches in Europe.
Some of the best beaches are found in the Albanian Riviera which stretches from the city of Vlora (Vlore in Albanian) and the popular tourist city of Saranda (Sarandë in Albanian).
How to get to Albania
Albania can be reached in many ways from air, bus and ferry.
Flying to Albania
There is one international airport which is Tirana. There is another currently being built in Vlora but who knows if/when that will be finished. I’ll keep you updated!
Flights in and out of Tirana are usually expensive. The airport is owned by a private company who are controlling the prices and availability.
In 2018 there was some good news as Wizz Air started a service which means sometimes you can grab budget-friendly flights to and from Tirana in the summertime. Check the latest prices and availability of flights to Tirana here.
Overland from Greece
You can easily catch a bus from Athens to Saranda. It takes about 9 hours and costs around €25. You can also catch a bus from Ioannina which stops at Gjirokastër from there you can catch a bus elsewhere in Albania.
Ferry from Greece
Another way which is incredibly easy is Corfu! The island of Corfu is only a 20-minute ferry ride from Saranda.
- 1st Jan – 15th April: 9:00 every day
- 15th April – 15th May: 9:00 & 18.30 every day
- 16th May – 31st June: 9:00, 13:00 & 19:00 every day
- 1st July – 31st August: 7:30, 09:00, 11:45, 13:00, 17:15 & 19:00 every day
- 1st Septemeber – 25th October: 09:00, 13:30 & 19:00 every day
- 26th October – 30th October – 09:00 & 19:00 every day
The prices vary depending on the season. See below:
|HIGH SEASON 01/07/2019 – 25/10/2019||LOW SEASON
01/01/2019 – 31/06/2019 26/10/2019 – 31/12/2019
Corfu does direct flights to a bunch of other European countries. If I want to fly to the UK I will fly out of Corfu as EasyJet do cheap and direct flights from there!
This can be a great way to get to Albania with a quick stopover in Corfu. Usually, you will have to stay in Corfu the night depending on when your flight is but it’s a good excuse to explore the island as it’s very beautiful too. Check the prices and availability of flights to Corfu here.
Read more: How to get from Corfu to Saranda
Overland from Montenegro
If you’re coming from Montenegro there are buses between Kotor and Podgorica to Shkodër and Tirana. If you want to head towards the south, you will have to change buses in Tirana.
Overland from Macedonia
There are 3 buses from Skopje to Tirana (6am, 9am and 7pm). Please check with your accommodation that these are still the times that the bus leaves as in the Balkans bus timetables frequently change!
Overland from Kosovo
If you are coming from Kosovo there are regular buses from Pristina to Tirana. In the summer there is a bus running from Saranda to Pristina. This is only available during the peak season (July and August).
Boat from Italy
You can catch a boat from Durres to Bari and Ancona. There are several crossings per week but it’s best to contact the ferries themselves as crossings and prices change from month to month.
If you can weirdly transport yourself to Albania using time travel then I don’t have any information for you, but congratulations, that’s an awesome skill to have!
Recent history of Albania
Albania’s history is beyond fascinating compared to some other countries in the world. From 1941 to 1992 Albania was under a strict communist rule of the leader Enver Hoxha. Everything was controlled, from food to housing and jobs.
Some compare it to North Korea, but only those who lived through communism will know. There were labour camps where political prisoners were sent if they said something that the communist leader did not like. The prisoners built the infrastructure that Albania sees today.
After the collapse of communism, Albania saw itself in democracy.
Unfortunately, in 1997 the government collapsed after a dodgy pyramid scheme. Over 2/3rds of the population invested their life savings into this scheme which meant most people lost everything they had worked hard for all those years.
The civil unrest saw a lot of anger and violence from the citizens of Albania, many fled from the country for a better life.
The civil unrest went on for 6 months and when visiting Albania, you will see for yourself that Albania is still recovering.
There is still a lot of corruption within government sectors today. It seems every day there is a new person whose corruption has been exposed.
Ancient history of Albania
Many only discuss communism and the civil war as the history of Albania but the real history dives way older than that. If you move to Albania, you will find yourself in many conversations with locals about ancient Albania and the Illyrians who many believe are the same/ older than the ancient Greeks.
There is so much that hasn’t been uncovered and publicized about Albania’s ancient history.
The ancient site of Apollonia which is in Fier and is a popular site to see if anyone who loves ancient history, is less than 5% excavated.
One of the biggest ancient graves have been found near Korca in 2018 which archaeologist believe are more than 5000 years old!
Read more: Visiting Butrint
Language of Albania
Shqip is one of the most fascinating languages I have come across and one of the hardest to learn (in my eyes!). It’s an Indo-European language which relates to no other language in the world, it has its own roots.
The North and South speak different dialects. In the south they speak Tosk, and, in the north, they speak Gheg.
Usually, the two different parts can understand each other a little. I found myself in a hostel in Kosovo with a girl from the north and a girl from the south and they were speaking English together because they could not speak Albanian together!
The younger generation in Albania mostly knows some English as they are taught in school. The older generation you will find speak none such as the adorable Albanian grandmothers.
You don’t have to worry about the language barrier when you travel to Albania as you can always get passed it with some English and sign language.
If you really want to impress the locals when you come to Albania it’s a great idea to learn a few words. They love it when people try and speak their language. It’s always met with a smile and a little giggle.
- Pershentdejte – Hello
- Faleminderit – Thank you
- Gazuar – Cheers or Salut!
Capital of Albania
The capital of Albania is Tirana. There’s a lot to see and do in Tirana and it’s fast becoming a tourist mecca of trendy cafes and bars and a great place to learn about the recent history of Albania.
I have a full Albania travel guide on the best things to do in Tirana as well as my recommendations on restaurants and hotels below.
Read more: 19 things to do in Tirana
When should I visit Albania?
I have a full article on the best times to visit Albania below. My favourite time is spring but below I go into detail on the pros and cons of travelling at any time of the year.
Read more: The best time to visit Albania
Travel insurance in Albania
I personally would look into World Nomads Travel Insurance, you can read more about it here. They have two great plans whether you are on a budget or want a more comprehensive insurance plan. No matter where in the world you are from, or where you are going, they can hook you up with the best deal!
Albania Holidays and celebrations
1st January – New Year’s: As Albanians generally don’t celebrate Christmas like elsewhere in Europe and other parts of the world, they go all out for New Years!
They usually gift presents and see the New Year in with their family then go out and party until the sun rises.
Apparently, this tradition came from communism as all religion was outlawed and the only holiday that isn’t religious is New Years. So, because of that, Albanians only could celebrate one holiday a year.
14th March – Dita e Verës (Summer Day): This is one of my favourite days in Albania, as it’s the start of spring, is always a great day!
This is the biggest pagan holiday and an important holiday for Albanians and throughout the Balkans. It celebrates the first day of the Albanian ancient calendar as well as the end of winter and the start of summer and rejuvenation of nature.
If you want to celebrate this day then head to Elbasan. Here is the centre of celebrations with concerts and festivities for the day. People also make and eat ballakume – a sweet cookie.
You will notice people wearing a 2-string red and white bracelet named ‘verore’ which many start to wear March 1st. After dita e vere is over they then tie the bracelet to a tree for good luck.
28th November – Flag and Independence Day: This is the day that Albania declared its independence from The Ottoman empire. It was proclaimed in Vlore in 1912.
Only 6 days later the first government of Albania was created and led by Ismail Qemali.
A prominent moment was when Ismail waved the first flag of independent Albania from the balcony of the assembly of Vlora. This flag was inspired by Skanderbeg’s (a national hero) flag which had been used 400 years beforehand.
29th November – Liberation Day: The day after Independence Day Albanians also celebrate liberation day.
This day celebrates when the country was liberated from Nazi Germany during World War 2.
25th December – Christmas Day: Albanians don’t celebrate Christmas day like other countries. New Year is more celebrated.
On Christmas day all the shops run as normal and the day continues like any other day. However, New Year’s is a different story.
Read more: Festivals in Albania
Prices in Albania
Albania is an incredibly affordable destination. This is the reason why many choose Albania as their holiday destination.
You can grab a beer for about €1 and a meal between €3-5. A hostel bed with breakfast and a beer can cost as low as €5 and a hotel room for around €20.
There are many great options for all budgets, whether you’re a backpacker or prefer a more luxury holiday.
If you are thinking of a more permanent move then you check out my article where I go through the prices of renting, food and utilities.
It’s also helpful if you are just visiting as it gives you an idea of what you should pay for different things.
Read more: Cost of Living in Albania
Read more: Getting a long-term visa in Albania
Best places to stay in Albania
There are several accommodation options for travellers coming to Albania. In each of my destination Albania travel guides, I recommend the best places to stay in that city or town.
Here are some destination guides that will be helpful during your stay in Albania:
- Tirana Guide
- The Most Incredible Hotels in Tirana
- Saranda Guide
- 20 Incredible Hotels in Saranda
- Ksamil Guide
- Qeparo Guide
- Himara Guide
- Kruja Guide
- Cape of Rodon (Durres) Guide
- Ali Pasha Castle (Butrint)
- Visiting the Beautiful Blue Eye, Albania (Syri i Kalter)
- Best things to do in Gjirokaster
- Your ultimate guide to Berat
- Best Hostels in Albania
What it’s like to travel to Albania
Travelling in Albania is something you may have never expected. Many expect Albania to be dangerous, not friendly and ugly but people are surprised that none of those is true.
Albania is safe for tourists. The Albanians are some of the friendliest and most welcoming in the world. They will treat you like one of their own.
Albania is far from ugly. The beaches, mountains and people confirm that. Albania tourism is thriving!
When you travel Albania, you shouldn’t plan too far ahead. Everything is flexible, from bus timetables to itineraries.
I would suggest having a rough plan but the option to be a little flexible with it.
Read more: 35 Unique Things to do in Albania
Where to go in Albania
Albania is full of scenic, historic and interesting places to visit. You can see the article below which goes into detail of the best places to visit including tourist and local spots which most tourists don’t even know about.
The best beaches in Albania
My favourite part of Albania are the beaches. It’s what made me fall in love with Albania in the first place. I have tried and tested just about all the beaches in Albania and all the beaches located within the Albanian Riviera.
Below you can check out the ones I recommend visiting.
Read more: 17 of the most beautiful beaches in Albania
I am currently developing more itineraries for people who want to travel Albania and only have a certain amount of time to do so. Below you can read how to spend 1 week in Albania and how to spend 10 days exploring the country!
Read more: How to spend 1 week in Albania
Facts about Albania
There are many interesting things to learn about Albania. I have included them all in the article below. Click to check them out!
Read more: Facts about Albania
Health and safety in Albania
Is Albania safe? This is such a popular question and one of my most viewed articles on Albania answers just that and goes into detail (read below).
Yes, Albania is safe to travel whether you’re a family, couple or a solo traveller (female and male). Pickpocketing is non-existent.
You will notice that Albanians have the best hospitality, maybe in the world! Everyone is very helpful and if you’re very stuck in a situation there will most likely always be someone to help you.
Read more: Is Albania safe?
Wi-Fi in Albania and getting a sim card
Believe it or not, I have found Albania to have better Wi-Fi than in New Zealand. It’s fast and reliable.
As I now live in Albania, I have a Wi-Fi router which was free to set up and cost me 2000 lek per month. Most accommodation options and restaurants will have Wi-Fi.
If you would like to get a sim card you can do so at any of the Vodafone shops around. There’s one at the airport if you fly into Tirana. They will get you set up on a local sim fast and easily.
For under €10 you can get 5MB of data and I have found that you will most likely get another 5MB free!
Can you drink the water in Albania?
I wouldn’t recommend drinking the water in Albania. The water throughout the country has high levels of chloride and heavy metals. I used to drink the water myself but noticed after a couple of months I started to experience bad stomach pains. Then, I found that none of the locals drink the water, that’s when you know to not drink it!
Cultural norms in Albania
Staring: In Albania, it’s totally normal and encouraged to stare. You may find at the start it might be a bit uncomfortable, but you will have to get used to it!
I have had old men stop in the middle of the street to just stare at me. Nowadays I just try and laugh and give a good old stare back!
Expressing: Albanians are very expressive. They love to move their hands when they talk.
Albanians are also very loud. Most of the time they are just having a conversation but sound like they are arguing.
The headshake: In some parts of Albania, they will shake their head side to side for a yes and up and down for a no.
They also shake their head side to side when they are listening in a conversation. It can get very confusing, especially if you’re asking a question and the answer is yes but their head is saying something else.
Grunting: Upon my observations, while living in Albania, I have noticed that Albanians grunt a lot.
In fact, I have listened to a whole conversation once with just grunting and noises instead of words. Super interesting.
Communication: If you want to know about how your weight is doing, ask an Albanian. Don’t be offended if Albanians say that you look thin or fat.
Weight is not something that’s a taboo subject to them. I still struggle with this if I’m honest. Although, when I’m having a skinny day, it’s the best confidence boost.
Dress: you’re welcome to wear whatever you like during your time in Albania. The women make a big effort when it comes to dressing up.
They love to wear big high heels and dresses that I would only wear once in my lifetime, to the local club. I always feel underdressed at a club or sometimes even walking down the street.
The older men usually wear suits, yes suits! Just for having a coffee! Pretty impressive huh.
You may notice that most of the older women in Albania are wearing all black. There is a reason for this. This is to pay respects to loved ones that have passed. They usually wear this for as long as 10-20 years after that person has passed away.
Greetings: Albanians will usually greet you with a kiss on each cheek or a handshake.
When older women greet younger women, you will normally get a million kisses, a pinch on the cheek and squeezed until you can’t breathe.
Dating: Some families still arrange marriage but nowadays this not common at all. Sometimes the family will be open to their son/daughter dating a foreigner. I have only heard from one girl I met that it was a problem for her, and she wasn’t accepted into the family.
From personal experience, I have an Albanian boyfriend and his family have welcomed me like I’m their daughter.
However, dating is not really something that Albanians do. But saying that, if you’re looking for an Albanian boyfriend you will easily find one.
If a single man goes out with a single woman, it’s usually considered that they are together. So, ladies, if you do go to dinner with a man make it clear that you want to get to know each other and going for dinner doesn’t mean you’re boyfriend and girlfriend.
Men generally don’t like women who have dated many other men in that city/town too.
Albanian men will do anything for their girls and can usually be quite possessive. They will get jealous easily if you do have guy friends. Don’t take offence to this though, it just means they care and they will openly tell you that.
Gender roles: Albanian women generally look after the house and the men work for the family.
This is how most families work in Albania but today it’s now common for women to be working too. Gender roles are still very much prominent in Albanian society.
As unemployment in Albania is very high, a lot of men will sit in coffee shops for much of the day.
Albanian flexy time: If someone says to meet at a particular time it usually means at least half an hour after that. It’s considered polite to be late.
Even Dr/dentist appointments are merely suggestions. No wonder nothing gets done in Albania quickly.
Albanians don’t like commitment so arranging things ahead of time probably won’t end well.
I’m currently constructing an article on Albanian beliefs. In the south, there are many things that Albanians believe in. For example:
- If you have finished a glass of raki and you order another, the waiter will pour the raki into the cup you are already using. They will never give you a new cup. This is because if you change the cup, you can lovers!
- You may notice stuffed toys hanging outside houses/apartments. This is to ward off bad spirits.
I have an article coming soon on more interesting beliefs that many Albanians have!
Corruption in Albania
Unfortunately, corruption in Albania is still alive and well. It’s not something that you really have to think about unless you do something that’s illegal. Corruption is slowing down though if you compare it to five years ago, or maybe it’s that you just can’t see it as obvious anymore.
Driving in Albania
If you visit Albania it can be a great idea to hire a car in Albania.That way you will see more of the country and get to stop at all the great hidden spots most tourists would completely miss.
When it comes to driving in Albania, it should come with caution as signs and road laws seem to be merely suggestions for Albanians.
Speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, overtaking on blind corners etc is very common. When driving in Albania always drive with caution and beware of all sides of the car as people can and will overtake you without your knowledge.
You MUST put your lights on when driving in Albania. There is a law that states it. Whether the law is followed through, that’s another story. Better to leave them on than not.
Another thing that they are very tough on is always carrying your drivers’ license. Albanians can be put straight into jail if they don’t have their license on them when an officer asks. This applies to foreigners.
I have had friends who didn’t have their licences on them and it was a horrible experience. There was a lot of shouting, taken ‘hostage’ in a police station and a huge hassle! So please, always carry your licence.
Read more: How to Hire a Car in Albania
Religion in Albania
Talk to just about any Albanian and they will tell you that religion doesn’t matter. They don’t care what you believe in, it’s your choice.
Albania is a Christian country, then after the Ottoman empire, it became predominately Muslim. However, during communism, all religion was banned so it became the first atheist country. Nowadays many online articles say that the Albanian population is predominantly Muslim, which is somewhat untrue.
If you do come across someone that is a Muslim you probably won’t even notice because pork is eaten, alcohol is drunken, and no one follows any sort of rules.
Drone flying in Albania
You can fly your drone everywhere except near Tirana airport of course. As of now, there are no laws on drone flying in Albania.
There was speculation that there was, but my partner has personally checked with officials and you can fly anywhere that’s not airspace.
I have a full article on transportation below! The most popular way of getting around is by bus.
You can also hire a car if you feel comfortable enough to drive.
Backpackers quite often hitchhike through the country which is completely safe. Albanians often hitchhike themselves so it’s very common.
Read more: Getting around Albania
Read more: Albania bus timetables 2019/2020
What to eat in Albania
There are many delicious foods you should try during your time in Albania. Albania’s cuisine is fresh and very delicious.
They use a lot of olive oil, white (feta) cheese and eat lots of fruit. Albania also does great Italian food as many Albanians moved to Italy after communism and the civil war and brought back their skills of Italian pizza and pasta. Greek food is also readily available.
In the south and along the coast of Albania they eat a lot of seafood.
What I love about Albanian food is everything is fresh and comes from the local garden, so you always feel full and amazing after a meal!
Read more: 39 Delicious Albanian Dishes to Try!
What to drink in Albania
Raki is the national drink. It’s an alcoholic spirit which can be between 20-80% and the dangerous thing is, you never really know how strong it is.
Many families brew their own raki. You will see old men with their glass of raki with their morning coffee. They use it for health and to ‘keep strong’.
They also use raki is hospitals as a serializer for wounds. If you have a cough or cold, someone will probably recommend that you drink Raki.
Albania also has its own beer. There’s one called Korca and one called Elbar.
There are also some good wineries in Albania. There are 3 around the town of Berat. My favourite is Çobo. You can go there for a tasting and for €14 taste 4 wines and a little food platter with olives, cheeses and bread!
Join my travelling Albania Facebook group!
I have created a group on Facebook called ‘Travelling Albania’. It’s a great group where we help each other on any questions you may have about travelling or living in Albania. Make sure you join below!
If there’s something else that you didn’t find in this Albania travel guide then let me know in the comments so I can be sure to add it!
Other Albanian articles you will love:
- How to Find an Apartment to Rent in Saranda, Albania
- Travel Albania: 15 Beautiful Photos of Albania
- Reasons Why I Love Albania
- 9 Reasons Why You Need To Visit Albania
- Backpacking Through the Balkans: From Bosnia to Albania
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