A Locals Guide to the UNESCO city of Gjirokastra, Albania
This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on and/or make a purchase through an affiliate link placed on this website, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Read the full disclosure here.
Last Updated on October 13, 2021
The charming UNESCO town of Gjirokastra, Albania is a great destination for a night or two when visiting Albania.
You may also know Gjirokastra as the city of stone or by its Albanian name, Gjirokastër (also spelt Gjirokaster). Often Gjirokastër is commonly referred to be the same as the other Albanian UNESCO town Berat but in fact, it deserves a visit as the two towns are very 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. Gjirokaster Castle is also one of the best-preserved castles in Albania and still has many weapons which are on display today. In my eyes, Gjirokastra Castle is the best castle in Albania.
If you are looking to visit this beautiful UNESCO town, here’s your full Gjirokaster guide. It covers all the best things to do, where to eat and the best hotels in Gjirokaster.
How to get to Gjirokastra, Albania
You can reach Gjirokaster relatively easy from any major city or town in Albania via bus (see timetables here). If you’re coming from Saranda, the bus cost 400lek and takes around 1 hour 45 minutes.
One thing to note is that the bus stop does not go all the way up the hill into Gjirokaster Old Town, which is where you will likely want to stay and explore. It will drop you off at the bottom where you can either walk, catch another bus or catch a taxi to the Old Town. A taxi from the new to the old part of the city is around 400lek.
In the summer, this can be quite the mission as the temperatures in Gjirokastra (and throughout Albania) are high. The walk to the old part is also uphill so keep that in mind if you do have luggage. So, during those times I would definitely catch a bus or taxi up, or you could even try hitchhiking, it’s very popular in Albania!
Things to do in Gjirokastra
If you’re wondering what to do in gjirokaster then look no further. I have been to Gjirokastra many times and it’s one of my favourite places in all of Albania. Since I live full-time in Saranda, the city of Gjirokaster is only an hour and a half drive from there!
1. Visit Gjirokaster Castle
If you don’t visit Gjirokaster Castle, you really haven’t been to Gjirokaster! It’s easy to get to the castle, 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 Gjirokastra Old Town. It’s worth it! You could spend at least a couple of hours roaming around the castle. \
If you want a deeper explanation of the history you can opt for a guided tour around the castle and surroundings.
Within Gjirokaster Castle is a weapon museum and prison too which you have to pay extra for (200 lek) but you can 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 Gjirokastra Castle from the entrance.
2. Wander the Gjirokastra Bazaar
Just around the corner from Gjirokaster Castle is the bazaar. One of the best things to do in Gjirokaster is wander through the bazaar and admire the architecture of the traditional buildings. There’s plenty of great shopping you can do in the bazaar too including old second-hand shops where you will find some interesting treasures!
If you want to pick up something unique I recommend visiting the shop Artified. Here you can buy unique 3D art pieces created by a local. This art is truly one of a kind. You can even order custom pieces too.
3. Visit the Ethnographic Museum
*As of October 2021, they are currently restoring this museum so it is closed.
The 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 Gjirokastra family home would have looked like back then.
4. Visit Zekati Family House
Another great house to visit in Gjirokaster 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
Between Gjirokastra Castle and the Ethnographic Museum is the Skenduli House. This is another perfect example of the traditional architecture of Gjirokastra. This house was said to be built around the 1700s!
There are so many rooms that it begins to feel like a maze, but it was well worth a visit. I have to say hands down, this is one of the most beautiful houses in Albania.
When you get to the house, you can opt to take a quick tour with one of the guides who can tell you what the rooms were used for and the history of the house, which I highly recommend.
Entry only costs 200lek and it’s well worth it. I ended up spending a good hour walking around and taking a tour of the house. The bonus of doing a tour is that you get to see one of the rooms that’s usually closed for the public. There’s no extra charge to take the tour too.
6. Discover the Underground of Gjirokastra
Underneath Gjirokaster Castle and Gjirokastra Old Town is an underground bunker which is now possible to explore! One of the best things to do in Gjirokastra is to visit the underground city, especially in the summer to cool off below ground.
It goes down more than 80 meters deep and is 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 over Albania from 1944 until 1992.
I have to be super transparent for a moment – Although this is one of the best places to visit in Gjirokastra, Bunk Art 1 & 2 in Tirana is far more comprehensive in terms of information and learning more about the communist period. So if you want a really in-depth look into an underground bunker, highly recommend visiting one of both if you do visit Tirana.
7. Immerse yourself in the ultimate foodie experience at The Barrels (Te Fucite)
This restaurant came highly recommended by one of my readers, and I’m so glad on my recent trip to Gjirokastra that I got to check it out myself. The Barrels is a restaurant/winery and is the perfect pick for anyone who wants to have a foodie experience in the Albanian countryside.
The Barrels make their own wine (I absolutely loved both the red and white), and offer platters like pictured above as well other seasonal dishes.
One of the best parts about this place, apart from the fantastic service, is the setting. You get to enjoy your food in the countryside looking out to the vineyards and mountains in front. The family who runs this place are incredibly lovely so make sure you take a visit and support this unique experience.
This restaurant is located between the villages of Topullaraj and Valarë which is only a 15-minute drive from the old part of Gjirokastra city. We took a taxi and to get there and back which cost us around 1000Lek.
8. Eat as much Pasha Qofte as humanly possible
I don’t think I’ve had a local dish this many times in any part of Albania so that says a lot. Pasha Qofte might be like the golden ticket of Gjirokastra.
Pasha Qofte is essentially meatballs within a milky sauce soup. Probably not the best description, and that’s why I am not a food blogger.
Nevertheless, despite my bad description, you HAVE to try this local dish because it’s one of the tastiest dishes I have had in Albania. If you’re wondering where to eat in gjirokaster to taste the best pasha qofte, you need to visit Restaurant Muço, which can be located within the side streets of the bazaar.
This restaurant is run by the loveliest couple that makes tasty homemade food at very affordable prices.
Where to Eat in Gjirokastra
The Barrels: Obviously I have to mention this restaurant within this section because it’s a must-try when visiting Gjirokastra. Make sure you try the platter of different Albanian dishes, as well as the meats and wine right from their own winery. The Barrels is one of the best restaurants in Gjirokaster.
Restaurant Muço: As mentioned above, this is one of my favourite and hands down the best restaurant in gjirokaster old town. They not only do great pasha qofte but also other traditional dishes you can only find in Albania. Plus, you have to try their raki. It’s one of the smoothest rakis I have tasted in the country.
Odaja Traditional restaurant: This place is a must-visit too! If you can, grab the balcony seats to have an amazing view of the street below. I highly recommend trying the meatballs (the best in the city), as well as the cheese with honey.
Rrapi restaurant: This is another great restaurant located within the old city. The qofte is good, as well as their stuffed peppers.
Taverna Kuka: I have eaten here once and enjoyed the food thoroughly. You can find a lot of different meals to try too.
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 Gjirokaster Castle and serves some amazing traditional food. I love the qofte here! It’s also very affordable, sits right next to the mosque and offers some of the best views of Gjirokastra.
Check-in Restaurant: Another great restaurant just off the main part of the bazaar. They do fantastic meat plates here and they have great service.
Kujtimi restaurant: This is a highly recommended restaurant within the city although I have to say, I have not tried it myself. However, friends of mine and readers of my blog have and recommend it.
The Best Hotels in Gjirokaster, Albania
There are some stunning homestays and hotels in Gjirokaster where you can get an insight into the beautiful architecture within the town.
Kerculla Resort: This hotel in Gjirokastra 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 homestays and hotels in Gjirokaster 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 Gjirokaster, Albania.
Tours in Gjirokaster
There are several great tours that can teach you more about Gjirokastra, Albania’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: Must-do’s, Food + Hotels
- Things to do in Berat, Albania (Your Ultimate Guide)
- 10 Incredible Cities in Albania to Explore
- 24 Incredibly Beautiful Places to Visit in Albania
Love this article? Pin it for later!