The charming UNESCO town of Gjirokastra is a great destination for a night or two when visiting Albania. You may also know Gjirokastër as the city of stone or by its Albanian name, Gjirokastër. Often Gjirokastër is said to be the same as the other UNESCO town Berat but in fact, it deserves a visit as the two towns are different although the style of the houses might be similar.
Unlike Berat, Gjirokastra sits on top of a hill overlooking the mountains and valley below. The castle of Gjirokaster is also one of the best-preserved in the country and still has many weapons which are on display today. In my eyes, the castle of Gjirokastra is the best in Albania.
If you are looking to visit this beautiful town here’s your full guide on the best things to do, where to eat and where to stay!
How to get to Gjirokastra
You can reach Gjirokastra relatively easy from any major city or town in Albania (see timetables here).
One thing to note is that the bus stop does not go into the old town up the hill. It will drop you off at the bottom where you can either walk, catch another bus or catch a taxi to the old town. In the summer, this can be quite the mission as the temperatures are high. So, during those times I would definitely catch a bus/taxi up or you could even try hitchhiking, it’s very popular in Albania!
Things to do in Gjirokastra
1. Visit the castle
If you don’t visit the castle, you haven’t been to Gjirokastra! It’s easy to get there, you can either drive, catch a taxi or walk like I normally do. It’s a little uphill but will only take you 5 minutes to reach from the old town. It’s worth it! You could spend at least a couple of hours roaming around the castle. Within the castle is a weapon museum and prison too which you have to pay extra for (200 lek) but you can pick up and observe the old weapons found here. I definitely think it’s worth it! They have a lot of really useful information up there too. Otherwise, you can roam all of the rooms, tunnels and admire the view from the top! The clock tower is a must-see which sits on the furthest side of the castle from the entrance.
2. Wonder the Bazaar
*As of the summer of 2019 they are currently reconstructing the old cobbled roads and replacing them so expect some dirt and dust!
One of the best things to do is wander the bazaar of Gjirokaster and admire the architecture of the traditional buildings. There’s plenty of great shopping you can do in Gjirokaster too including old second-hand shops where you will find some interesting treasures!
3. Visit the Ethnographic Museum
The old dictator of the communist period Enver Hoxha was born in Gjirokaster. Nowadays the house where he was born has been turned into a museum so you can see what a traditional family home would have looked like back then.
4. Visit Zekati family house
Another great house to visit is the Zekati House which was built in 1811-1812. This house has undergone restoration and is one of the most incredible traditional houses within Gjirokastra today. With three floors, wooden carved ceilings, two twin towers and a magnificent view of the town, this is a must-see when visiting Gjirokastra. You will want to drive or take a taxi to reach here as it’s further up the hill from the bazaar.
5. Skenduli House
Not far from the ethnographic museum is the Skenduli Huse which is again, another perfect example of the traditional architecture of Gjirokastra. This house was said to built around the 1700’s!
6. Discover the underground of Gjirokastra
Underneath the castle and the town is an underground bunker which is now possible to explore! It goes down more than 80 meters deep and around over 1km long. This underground city has over 100 rooms including interrogation rooms, offices and so on as well as multiple escape routes. This is a stark reminder of the dark communist era that loomed Albania from 1944 until 1992.
Where to eat in Gjirokastra
The Barrels – Te Fucite: This restaurant came highly recommended by one of my readers and does amazing red wine as well as the best traditional food with the setting of a vineyard.
Taverna Kuka: I have eaten here once and enjoyed the food thoroughly. You can find a lot of different meals to try!
Taverna Mugana: Usually when I visit Gjirokaster I always go to this restaurant because it’s super quiet and off the path of most of the restaurants. It’s not far from the entrance to the castle and serves some amazing traditional food. I love the qofte (Albanian food) here! It’s also very affordable and sits right next to the mosque for a good view.
Where to stay in Gjirokaster
There are some stunning hotels and homestays in Gjirokastra where you can get an insight into the beautiful accommodation within the town.
Kerculla Resort: This place came highly recommended from one of my readers and upon research, it’s the top-rated hotel in the town. It’s a beautiful hotel equipped with a swimming pool and stunning views.
There are a bunch of other great hotels and homestays on Booking.com which I recommend looking at.
Hostel: The best hostel in Gjirokastra and my favourite one in Albania is Stone City Hostel. It’s a hostel which has had some incredible renovations and is possibly the most beautiful ever! I highly recommend staying here if you’re a backpacker in Albania.
Tours in Gjirokaster
There are several great tours which can teach you more about Gjirokastra’s history as well as tours to take you to some of the surrounding sites. Check out the link below to see the latest tours.
I hope you visit Gjirokastra when visiting Albania. This small UNESCO town has a lot to offer!
Other articles you will love:
- Locals Guide to Saranda, Albania (2019): Must-do’s, Food + Hotels
- Visiting Butrint, Albania: One of Albania’s Best UNESCO Sites
- Things to do in Berat, Albania (Your Ultimate Guide)
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