Locals Guide to the Albanian Riviera (2021)
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Last Updated on July 26, 2021
The Albanian Riviera is fast becoming one of the most popular spots in Europe and for a good reason. The abundance of beautiful beaches, incredible scenery, delicious food and more than hospitable locals, means the Albania Riviera should be at the top of your must-see travel list.
In my experience, almost everyone who holidays in Albania, falls in love with it, especially the Albanian Riviera. But finding any information on the internet about Albania can be a headache, which is why I decided to create this comprehensive Albanian Riviera guide as a reference for you. In this guide, I cover transport, the best beaches in Albania, great accommodation and other highlights you shouldn’t miss on your trip here.
The Albanian Riviera runs from a city called Vlore, down south to the city of Saranda. The Riviera has one of the most beautiful coastal drives I have ever experienced. Although the region is full of history and beauty, it is the ideal spot for a relaxing Albania beach holiday.
Although you can spend a day or two on the beach, if you’re a total beach bum like me, I also have a 10 day itinerary of South Albania so you can get the most out of your Albanian Riviera holidays. Clearly, there is plenty to see and do here so let’s get into it!
How to get around the Albanian Riviera
Public buses and minibuses are the most popular option for many travellers coming to Albania. The main annoyance is the timetables so the best way to find out when a bus will leave is by asking a local. 9 times out of 10 the bus driver will be a cousin of the person your asking – this has happened to me more times than I can count (not even kidding).
Another great mode of transportation for any Albanian Riviera holidays is to hire a car. Here you get the freedom of where to stop off, and especially since there are many hidden spots within the Albania Riviera, you will make plenty of unexpected spots I’m sure.
The negative of hiring a car within Albania is driving. Driving in Albania is unpredictable. Half of the population speeds excessively and no one really sticks to any sort of rules. This can make it dangerous for foreign drivers as you may not be used to this sort of driving.
One of the most popular ways of getting around in the Riviera and all-around Albania is in fact hitchhiking. It’s extremely common practice between locals and foreigners. Most people never have to wait for more than 10 minutes to find a ride. It’s completely safe. Albanians are extremely friendly people and are always willing to help. You can read more about safety in Albania here.
Best places to visit in the Albanian Riviera
1. Palase Beach – Secluded Beach paradise
Palase beach will absolutely take your breath away. This 1km beach will be a fantastic start to your Albania beach holiday in the Riviera. It is also said that Julius Caesar and his troops arrived in Palase during the Roman Civil War in 48 BCE. You can still find archaeological evidence of this today! Not only a beautiful place but lots of interesting history here too. This is one of the best Albanian Riviera beaches you will come across!
Palase beach is the first beach as you come off the Llogara Pass which is mentioned below. There is a new development here in Palase so there can be quite a lot of construction going on, unfortunately. There is a road leading all the way to the beach. There are also a few restaurants and bars where you can enjoy a bite to eat or have a drink on the beach. Sun beds are also available to rent.
Where to stay in Palase: Although Palase is beautiful I wouldn’t recommend staying there. You are much better staying at one of the nearby towns so you have a good choice of restaurants and nearby places to see. Palase is a great option for camping if you have a tent or campervan, however.
2. National Park of Llogara
If you have the time, you should explore more of what Llogara park has to offer. There are great hiking options, restaurants, log cabins and you can even take part in paragliding! The Llogara pass is a fantastic drive and at the top of the pass, you get the most magnificent breath-taking view.
It is from Llogara that you can start hikes for Karaburun Peninsula – completely untouched and undeveloped part of the Albanian Riviera (for now). Hiking here is not easy and takes around 4-6 hours one way so you have to be prepared! If you don’t want to hike you can catch a boat to the beaches.
Most people would say that no Albania beach holiday is complete without at least a visit to Dhermi! Dhermi has beautiful beaches, coves and hidden bays. One of the most picturesque is Drymades which is my personal favourite. This has been named one of the top beach hangout spots in the Albanian Riviera. There are plenty of good Albanian Riviera beaches in Dhermi but this one especially! The village is a great base to explore the surroundings as there’s plenty of restaurant options and bars on the beach.
One of the most popular hangouts is at Drymades Bungalow. During the summer they have Kometit Kafe (which is an awesome bar in Tirana) come to the beach and serve drinks. It’s a fun little place to hang out with bean bags, fairy lights and the like.
Where to stay in Dhermi: Dhermi has its share of popular Albania beach resorts, but one of the most highly recommended places to stay in Drymades Bungalows, famous for its bright blue cabins! Another great place which is also highly recommended is Sofo Hotel. It’s near Dhermi beach and comes with continental breakfast.
This sleepy beach town is one you should plan to stay in for a few days at least. Himare also has some stunning beaches nearby. If you want a fantastic view over Himare and the surroundings, then make your way towards the castle. From here you get a stunning view! Click here to read my travel guide on Himare.
Where to stay in Himara: There are loads of great Albania beach resorts to stay at in Himare, including ARXONTIKO, a luxury hotel right on the water or Ionian Terrace which is a superb bed and breakfast which is again, right on the water!
If you’re a backpacker then stay at Himare Hostel!
5. Porto Palermo Castle
This impressive castle is regularly said to be built in the 19th century but it has been found that this castle was mentioned by ancient Greek and Roman authors in text dating back to the 5th century BC. The exact date is unknown but nevertheless, it is worth the stop. Nearby is a tunnel which was used during communism as a submarine bunker. The castle is located only a few km from Himarë.
Where to stay near Porto Palermo: Palermiti Luxury Rooms is only a hop, skip and a jump from the castle. If you’re lucky you will stay in the rooms where you can get a beautiful view of the castle. The hotel is located within walking distance of some beautiful Albanian Riviera beaches.
This is the longest strip of unbroken beach in the Albanian Riviera. So if you’re looking for a bigger scale beach for your Albania beach holiday, then try this one! There are a few restaurants here too.
I highly recommend visiting Borsh Castle which is on the hill overlooking the beach. Not a lot of tourists bother to visit or even know about this castle which is a real shame because I found it to be one of the most beautiful – even if it is mostly in ruins.
Where to stay in Borsh: Sole Luna hotel is a great option which is right on Borsh beach. There are also plenty of places to camp if that’s your thing!
Lukove is worth a stopover if you’re visiting the Albania Riviera. The village itself is small but the beach is lovely, and you can catch some of the best sunsets from here. The beach is called Shpella and is about a 5-10 minute drive from the village downhill.
Where to stay in Lukove: There are no direct hotels on the beach however there is lots of room for camping here as there’s a field with trees behind the beach.
Kakome is one of the most beautiful beaches along the Albanian Riviera but there are some issues with accessing it by road as the road is marked ‘private’. However, you can easily reach the beach via boat from Saranda. Near Kakome there is another beautiful beach called Krorez Beach but also a monastery to check out too. You can only access the beach by boat, hike or by horseback.
I am currently based in Saranda and I absolutely love it, it is definitely one of my favourite places in the whole Albanian Riviera. In the summer months its extremely busy because a lot of cruise ships dock here and use it as a base to explore the surroundings. There are great restaurants, the best nightlife in Albania during the summer months, and some nice beaches if you search other than the centre.
I might be biased, but I think any Albania beach holiday is complete without visiting Sarande. Make sure you read my complete guide on Saranda here, don’t forget to try the seafood – it’s mouth-watering (actually Albanian food in general is delicious)!
Where to stay in Saranda: Illyrian Boutique Hotel is a great choice as it’s right in the centre and has a really great rooftop bar. Another great option is Glow Boutique Hotel and Suites if you’re looking for a boutique hotel with a pool!
If you’re a backpacker be sure to stay at Hasta La Vista
Only 20km from Saranda is Ksamil, the place with the busiest beaches in all the Albanian Riviera in my opinion. During July and August, this place is absolutely packed, so if you’re hoping for a quiet, relaxing Albania beach holiday I would recommend avoiding it and picking somewhere nearby. Ksamil is absolutely stunning though with its (artificial) sand beaches.
You can also swim in the nearby 3 islands. Ksamil is super close to Corfu, Greece! The beaches in the centre are beautiful but you should also explore the other beaches nearby such as Mirror beach and Monastery beach. Read my full Ksamil travel guide here.
Where to stay in Ksamil: Hotel Mira Mare is a fabulous option which is right on the water and has a beautiful view! Definitely one of my favourite Albania beach resorts!
Only 20km from Saranda is the UNESCO site Butrint, which dates to prehistoric times. It has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric. If you want a taste of Mediterranean history, then you need to see Butrint during your trip to the Albanian Riviera.
Nearby Butrint is Ali Pasha’s fortress which is actually one of my favourite secret spots around Saranda. Read this to find out the details on where exactly Ali Pasha is and how to see it!
12. Upper Qeparo
This is a new favourite village of mine and one well worth including in any holiday in Albania. Upper Qeparo is located on top of a mountain overlooking the sea. The village is unique because it’s half abandoned. After communism fell many Albanians fled the village and the country leaving the buildings to crumble and become derelict.
Nowadays some properties have been refurbished but many still lay there soul-less. It’s a really incredible place to get a peek into a traditional Albanian village. The views are incredible and there’s a lot of history within the crumbling walls. Qepara is one of the most unique places to visit along the Albania Riviera and definitely worth a visit! You can read my Qeparo guide here.
Where to stay in Qeparo: I highly recommend staying at Hotel Riviera which is located in lower Qeparo right on the beach.
Vuno is a sleepy village that sits on the edge of a hill. This is not a beach town but it has incredible views and is possibly the most quaint Albanian village ever. If you want to experience Albanian life and get off the tourist trail then stop here for a night or two.
There are Albania Riviera beaches close by which can be accessed by public transport or hitchhiking. The village has recently undergone beautiful renovations so nearly all the houses are white with yellow shutters and it’s stunning!
Where to stay in Vuno: I recommend checking out Airbnb for accommodation as it’s very limited.
14. Gjipe Beach
Gjipe is a sort of hidden beach which can only be accessed by foot or by 4×4. The beach is unique because it is formed within a canyon. I would highly recommend a stop here during your holidays in Albania. Read my full guide on Gjipe Beach.
Where to stay in Gjipe: There are no hotels in Gjipe but if you love camping then this is a great spot to do so!
Jale is slowly becoming more popular as it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway in the Albanian Riviera. Tourism for Jale has grown fast so the main beaches in the summer will be a little crowded. The best thing to do is to hire a kayak and explore the secluded beach coves. You can also kayak to Gjipe beach from here!
Let me know if this guide convinced you to visit the Albanian Riviera or spend any of your upcoming holidays in Albania! If you have any questions, then do leave them below and I will try and answer them as best as I can for you.
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