5 best Albania Unesco Sites to Visit

Last Updated on March 30, 2024

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The Balkan region is not unknown to the ones fond of travelling or those backpacking across Europe.

The natural beauty of this majestic region and its cultural significance attracts tourists from all over the world, especially those with a knack for visiting historical destinations.

People who have witnessed the beauty of the Balkans know the revitalising experience it offers.

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The Balkans is one of the most visited areas in Europe.

It comprises eleven countries – North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Romania, Slovenia, Kosovo, Turkey, Moldova and Albania.

Most of these countries are on the bucket list for most travellers, but the one that only a few people visit or know of is Albania.

See Butrint and other Albania UNESCO sites, top down view of circular ruined building with central pillar base surrounded by smaller pillars

Like you, when I first thought of travelling to Albania, there wasn’t a lot of authentic and useful information available.

Though times have changed now, many more people visit Albania for travelling than perhaps a decade earlier.

Instead of packing and trip planning tips, those interested in travelling to Albania are interested in knowing what they can do in Albania.

Folks who love culture and history and take that as the sole purpose of their travelling expeditions would love the many cultural hotspots in Albania.

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Despite being the perfect escape for anyone who wants a contemporary take on time travelling, Albania hasn’t been discovered by mass tourism yet, the way Croatia or Turkey are.

To preserve the cultural sanctity of this Balkan country, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has reserved the following five places due to their cultural and historical significance.

For my culturally-driven travel enthusiasts Albania is perfect for those waiting to be filled with curiosity and amazement by Albania’s castle towns, historical villages and bazaars!

Enjoy this guide to the five UNESCO sites in Albania that you should visit.

How many UNESCO sites are there in Albania?

Albania has a lengthy and complex history that spans over four millennia.

It was conquered and occupied by many civilizations and empires like the Romans, Huns, Normans, Goths, Bulgars and Serbs.

However, the Ottoman Empire ruled Albania for more than four centuries.

Therefore, you’ll find remnants of all cultures and empires that lasted in Albania in its architecture, cultural traditions and society to this date.

Although Albania became independent in the 20th century, it was under communist rule from 1944 until the till 90s.

In a nutshell, Albania’s people and culture are a delight for travellers looking for culturally enriched destinations.

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Historically and culturally significant monuments or sites are bound to deteriorate over time.

To preserve their architectural history and magnificence, Butrint, Ohrid, Berat and Gjirokastra have been declared as important Albania UNESCO sites.

As of now, there are four Albania UNESCO sites on the list. However, four other sites are on the tentative list for nomination as culturally and historically significant.

These are as follows:

  • The Ancient City of Apollonia
  • Les tombes de la Basse Selca
  • L’amphithéâtre de Durres
  • The Castle of Bashtova
A Locals Guide to the UNESCO city of Gjirokastra, Albania, cobbled street with shops and restaurants either side with man walking down

Despite not officially being on the Albania UNESCO sites list, I highly recommend that you visit Apollonia, and other tentative sites on your trip to Albania.

Every town, village or site in Albania is known for its unique contribution to its history and culture.

It’s easy to have a preconceived notion that historical and cultural sites are no fun, but trust me on this – Albania UNESCO sites are different.

It’s not just the beautiful landscape or backdrop for your photographs, but the general vibe of the place and its people that makes you want to rethink your decision of going back to wherever you came from.

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It’s also, why I chose to make Albania my home for the years to come!

Albania is a vibrant and exciting place for history lovers and those just fond of backpacking across Europe.

I am excited to reveal the fun things you can do in these five Albania UNESCO sites and why they’re so important.

Albania’s World Heritage Sites

Although the Albania UNESCO sites are known for their history and cultural importance, it doesn’t imply that there is nothing else to do except for look at intricately designed buildings or visit a souvenir shop.

Especially in the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid Region or the Butrint National Park where you can soak in the Albanian sun or take beautiful pictures and immerse yourself in its beauty.

Though two of the Albania UNESCO sites have a shared region with neighbouring countries, this article only focuses on the Albanian region.

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1. The city of Berat

UNESCO world heritage site of Berat Albania, aerial view of hillside village with white buildings and brown roofs

Also known as the “City of 1000 windows, ” is perhaps the most famous among Albania UNESCO sites.

This picturesque and culturally-rich city is nestled in the mountainous terrain of southern Albania.

Together, Berat and Gjirokastra are recognized collectively as the “Historic Centres of Berat and Gjirokastra.”

However, their individual importance as sites under UNESCO in Albania makes them worthy of visiting, even if it’s a one-day thing.

Berat is lined with white Ottoman-style houses with brown brick rooftops and their tiny windows peeking through – that’s where it gets the name of “city of 1000 windows.”

This 2400-year-old town is a small settlement, yet holds thousands of years’ worth of history and culture to take your breath away.

This UNESCO world heritage site is one of the few cities where inhabitants still reside within the castle’s walls.

Of course, the main attraction spot in this Albania UNESCO site is the Berat Castle. It is meaningless to book a trip to Berat without walking or driving up to the Berat Castle.

Also known as the Berat Fortress has been standing tall since the 4th century, though most of its remnants are from the 13th century.

Since the Castle was occupied by Ottoman and Byzantine empires, a glimpse of both empires and their style of architecture can be seen at this Albania UNESCO site.

Most Albania UNESCO sites offer a mix of religions, cultures and civilizations that inhabited them once. Since different empires ruled the Berat castle, you’ll find old churches and mosques on site.

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The Holy Trinity Church is an impressive tourist spot at this Albania UNESCO site. This Byzantine church is from the 13th century.

The cross-shaped structure, with its beautiful frescoes and altar, is reminiscent of Byzantine and Western architecture juxtaposed.

Roaming around the old yet sightly Albania UNESCO sites is why backpackers love coming to Albania.

You can also visit Gorica, a famous Albanian neighbourhood in Berat with some of the best hostels for staying in Berat.

To make your trip to Berat as infused with culture and history as possible, you must visit the Ethnographic Museum in Berat.

Those staying in Berat for longer than a day can also visit the Bogova Waterfall. A 50-minute drive from Berat, the village of Bogova can also be reached by bus or walk.

If you’re visiting in summer, don’t shy away from stepping in the cold water and letting your travel blues wash away!

It’s impossible to fit everything you can do at Albania UNESCO sites in one blog post; therefore, check out the one I’ve dedicated especially to things to do in Berat!

2. The city of Gjirokastra

Find your favourite Albania UNESCO sites to visit, Gjirokastra castle with stone walls and large rectangular clock tower overlooking valley with many modern buildings next to large rolling hillside under a cloudy sky

Along with Berat, this Albania UNESCO site has also been recognised for its cultural and natural heritage. Gjirokastra is another Albanian city perfect for a night’s stay.

Also called the “city of stone” because of its cobblestone architecture and white houses with brown rooftops, Gjirokastra is known for the Gjirokaster Castle.

The Castle is one of the most well-preserved castles in Albania and, to this day, houses armour and weapons from historical times.

To reach Gjirokastra, you can take a bus from any major town or city in Albania. Though often compared with Berat, Gjirokastra sits atop a hill between the Drino River and the Gjere Mountains.

Since I live in Saranda, Gjirokastra is one of those Albania UNESCO sites which is my weekend getaway spot because it’s less than an hour drive away.

When visiting Gjirokastra for the first time, I recommend seeing the castle. It’s easy to reach it by cab or taking a walk (that’s what I usually do!).

Since it’s a weapon museum and used to be a prison, it’s an exciting site for spending an hour or two. You can also visit the tunnels and rooms inside the castle or look at the clock tower.

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Another delightful spot in this Albania UNESCO site is the Zekati Family House, built in the early 1800s.

Despite undergoing restoration a few times, the original architecture from the early times, wooden carved ceilings and its twin towers still exist.

Similarly, you can also visit the Skenduli House, located right between the Ethnographic Museum and the Gjirokastra Castle.

The Skenduli House goes back to the 1700s and is so intricately designed that it almost feels like a maze!

One of the unique features of this Albania UNESCO site is the underground bunker.

The bunker is an underground city 80 meters deep underneath the ground and has more than a hundred rooms and escape routes – a dark reminder of Albania’s communist era but a thrilling experience.

A few steps from the Castle is the Gjirokastra Bazaar, the best place for finding interesting Albanian souvenirs.

Even if you’re on a no-spending spree, just roaming around the bazaar is enough to admire its architectural magnificence.

You can also stop at Gjirokastra’s many food stops and enjoy Albanian delights like Albanian wine or Pasha Qofte!

3. Butrint National Park

Visiting Butrint National Park Albania, aerial shot of Butrint National Park with ruins and ancient buildings nestled amongst trees and green areas all surrounded by clear blue water

The 2500-year-old ancient town of Butrint is close to Saranda and a popular summer holiday spot for those travelling to Albania. Butrint is the first Albania UNESCO site recognised in 1992.

A beautiful mess of architectural ruins from historical times, Butrint has remnants from the Greek, Roman and Byzantine civilisations and the Venetians.

Though it’s recommended that you book a guided tour of Albania UNESCO sites for an informational yet fun-filled experience, you can enjoy Butrint National Park Albania on its own.

The main attractions at Butrint are the Greek amphitheatre, the ancient baptistery, and a 9th-century basilica.

Over the years, Butrint’s cultural landscape has evolved, thanks to the many civilisations that conquered it.

What stands in front of you now is a beautiful amalgamation of every civilisation and culture that stepped on its ground.

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Like other Albania UNESCO sites, Butrint underwent restoration and reconstruction through every civilisation and empire that stepped in.

The defence system surrounding Butrint was strengthened by constructing a network of defensive works to withstand external attacks and threats.

Ali Pasha, a renowned Albanian ruler, built one of such fortresses in the 19th century next to the Vivari Channel.

A day trip from Saranda to Butrint National Park can be an exciting experience. The National Park is a well-maintained site, or you can visit the ruins of Ali Pasha Castle.

4. Lake Ohrid

Another one of Albania UNESCO sites is Lake Ohrid, located on a territory shared by Albania and North Macedonia – we’ll only talk about the part in Albania!

Though the lake is considered a UNESCO world heritage site, the town of Ohrid is as beautiful as its history. In 2019, the town’s boundaries were extended to include the region of Pogradec next to it.

Ohrid was of geographical importance in the 5th century when it provided a safe passage route for the Illyrians, Romans and the Slavs.

If you’re in Tirana, stop by Ohrid and Pogradec to see the historical ruins of 19th-century Albanian architecture.

The lake spans a wide region, and you’ll see tiny boats and yachts floating on its surface. Ohrid has a calm and relaxed atmosphere that you can soak in a while also being amazed by its historical sites.

The town has several restaurants and cafes, making it the perfect tourist spot for a night’s stay.

5. Apollonia

Top UNESCO sites in Albania, ruins of concrete building in Greek style surrounded by green grass with trees in background under a blue sky and clouds
Photo by Sara Darcaj on Unsplash

The last destination is not on the official list of Albania UNESCO sites. But, since it is on UNESCO’s tentative list and is worth it, I recommend you check it out when visiting Albania.

Apollonia’s breathtaking landscape and its archaeological park, which have been preserved and are in good condition to this date, are worth the visit.

You can see the remains of Albanian history in its monuments and natural sites.

Often dubbed by tourists as a perfectly quiet place for meditation or relaxing, Apollonia was an antique Illyrian settlement.

Since it was close to the Adriatic Sea, Apollonia was of strategic importance.

Why Visit Albania

The Balkans are slowly gaining momentum among travellers and those backpacking across Europe, and countries like Albania are getting the footfall that expects from tourists.

Some of the main reasons why travellers come to Albania are its rich culture and history, all of which can be witnessed by visiting Albania UNESCO sites.

For a more detailed account of what you can do in Berat and Gjirokaster, I have separate blog posts that you can check out.

Albania UNESCO sites are not just great for a solo backpacking trip, but also when travelling in groups with friends or family. Historical and cultural tourist spots are always fun travel destinations.

Frequently Asked Questions

✅ How many UNESCO sites are there in Albania?

There are only 4 official Albania UNESCO sites. However, there are also a handful of sites on the tentative list.

✅ When did Albania join UNESCO?

Albania officially joined UNESCO on 16 October 1958.

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