Incredible Locals Guide to Saranda (2020): Must-do’s, Food + Hotels
*Updated Oct 2019
Located in the southern part of the Albanian Riviera lies the coastal city of Saranda/Sarandë. During the summer months, Saranda is buzzing with people, in fact, apparently the usual Saranda population is around 30,000, but during the summer that figure can spiral up to 300,000.
Great restaurants, a beautiful coastline and the perfect base to explore other breath-taking places nearby, is the main reasons tourists flock here during the summer. It’s very affordable so if you’re a backpacker this place is heaven. The crystal clear turquoise water and affordability make this the perfect holiday destination for solo travellers, couples, and families.
I have spent most of my time in Albania solely located in Saranda, and I am even renting an apartment and permanently living here.
As September rolls around the tourists slowly leave and the population drops, but this shouldn’t stop you from coming here. In fact, Saranda, in my eyes, is a different city during those times. There are fewer beach chairs, a lot less partying as the clubs close, and Saranda prices drop, even when you thought Albania was affordable enough, just wait until the winter.
Saranda turns into a sleepy coastal city as most of the summer season workers head back to their hometowns, most move to Tirana to study or find work there and then it’s Tirana’s turn for the partying scene.
So, is it Saranda or Sarandë or Sarande? It’s all three. Sarandë is the Albanian official way to spell it. Sarande is the lazy Albanian way of spelling it and Saranda is the English spelling of the city.
Here’s your local Saranda guide!
*Note: Some of the restaurants and accommodation options close in the winter months but I have stated if they are open or not in their descriptions.
Where is Saranda?
Saranda is a coastal city located right in the south of Albania. It’s very close to the Greek border, in fact, a ferry to the Greek island Corfu is only a 30-minute trip! Saranda is a good start to an Albanian road trip along the Albanian Riviera.
How to get to Saranda, Albania?
The quickest and easiest way to get to Saranda is to fly into Corfu, Greece and catch the Corfu to Saranda ferry. Depending on where you are coming from in the first place, Corfu is usually quite cheap to fly into from the likes of the UK.
In the summer there are two different ferries that make the trip from Greece to Albania. One is slow and one is the fast ferry. There is also a few companies offering trips. You can find timetables and prices here. The fast ferry takes around 1 1/2 hours and the fast is just 25 minutes. Prices vary from season to season.
Things to do in Saranda, Albania
Wondering what to do in Saranda? Here are 9 of the top things to do in the city! As Saranda tourism is slowly growing there are more and more great things to do popping up, so every month I always update this guide with the latest of things to do.
1. Walk the boulevard
During the summer months, and especially as the cruise ships start to port in Saranda, the boulevard is pumping with people. Take some time to wander through the boulevard day or night and enjoy the scenery. During the summer there are markets, which are a great place to get some souvenirs. Also, you may notice in the distance on the Saranda beach there is even an obstacle course (Summer only) set up if you’re up for a bit of fun. Yes, you can go on as an adult and yes, your whole body will hurt in the morning, trust me from experience.
2. Visit Lëkurësi Castle at sunset
Nestled at the top of the hill and overlooking Saranda is Lëkurësi Castle. Although the castle is not that impressive as it has now been turned into a restaurant, the views overlooking Saranda and even into the farmland nearby, are stunning and well worth the trip. It’s one of the best Saranda attractions that you can see!
You can hike up which takes about 45 minutes to an hour. I took a taxi, just remember to haggle for the price as I was overcharged on the way there. A lot of travellers even hitchhike back to the city centre. This is one of Saranda’s top sunset spots!
3. Butrint (UNESCO site)
Butrint is a site full of ancient ruins located not far from Ksamil. It was habited before the Greeks settled, and after that, the Romans took over. It will take 2 or 3 hours to explore and costs 700 Lek entry. You will want to visit in the morning or late afternoon as the sun can be overbearing in the summer, and you will appreciate it a lot more in the cooler weather.
The bus to Butrint cost 100 Lek. It’s the same bus that stops off at Ksamil beforehand.
4. Ali Pasha’s castle
This is my personal favourite castle near Saranda. Ali Pasha’s castle is hidden and most tourists completely miss it when visiting the nearby site of Butrint. About 1 minute before the UNESCO site of Butrint, on the same road, there is a turnoff with a carpark and a viewing deck. From the viewing deck, you can see the castle from a distance, but I recommend taking the road down to see the castle from close by!
The castle dates back to the late 17th century and belonged to a man called Ali Pasha who was later beheaded. The setting is what makes it so unique. It definitely shouldn’t be missed if you’re making a trip to the nearby city of Saranda or the town of Ksamil. It’s one of the best things to do in Albania.
5. Visit blue eye (Syri i kaltër)
The blue eye is a natural phenomenon. Divers have tried to discover how deep the spring is but have only gone down 50 meters deep and still to this day cannot find the source or how far down the spring goes. Usually, people spend an hour or two. There is nothing else to do other than look at the spring or to go swimming if you’re brave. The water year-round is 10 degrees!
Nowadays there is a little camping spot right in front of it as well as a couple of souvenir shops. There are also a few restaurants. I highly recommend having a drink at the restaurant with the platforms over the water for a beautiful view!
6. Visit Mirror Beach
Just before Ksamil is Mirror beach (or Pasqyra in Albanian). It’s a more secluded affair with just as beautiful beaches as Ksamil. The road is not the best at all. In the summer months as it gets full it can be quite a pain getting in/out because the road is mostly one-way and it’s a very bumpy dirt road. The hassle of getting there is worth it though as it’s been named one of the top beaches in Albania.
7. Visit Ksamil
Ksamil is the most popular destination along the Albanian Riveria. It is hugely popular during the summer months; the beaches are full of beach chairs and all of the bars and restaurants are thriving. You can spend the day relaxing, eating and even swimming to the two nearby islands.
8. Explore the seafood scene
As Saranda is a coastal city, seafood is prominent in just about every restaurant and damn is it good. The fish restaurants on the other side of town are where the fishing boats land. You can come down here at around 6 pm and buy fresh seafood off the boats or try it at one of the two restaurants – Fishland or Taverna Peshkatari.
These are the restaurants who receive the seafood first and then it filters down to the restaurants right in the city. If you’re looking for a restaurant in the city that does good seafood try Anchor Bar which is right opposite a big restaurant called Limani. Fishland is open all year round but anchor bar closes during the off-season.
9. Discover ancient Saranda
Right in the centre believe it or not, are ancient ruins of a synagogue that used to be there dating back to the 5th century. In the 6th century, these buildings were converted into a basilica but later were destroyed due to an earthquake. These ruins were only discovered in 1984.
You can read 26 more things to do in Saranda here. I have lots of local recommendations, some that tourists have no idea about! If you only have one day in Saranda then you could do Butrint, Ksamil and then go to Lekuresi Castle for sunset.
Where to eat in Saranda
Taverna Laberia: This is one of my favourite restaurants in Saranda. This family-run restaurant serves quality Saranda food and generous portions. My favourite is the open souvlaki, pork pancetta and the Greek salad. The family know how to cook a fantastic meal for a very reasonable price. Open all year, only cash.
Limani: Located right on the water is a restaurant called Limani. They serve a huge variety of food and is the most commercial restaurant in the city. however they do lots of dishes amazingly well like the seafood, traditional meals, pastas and pizza – I can highly recommend the carbonara one (yes that’s carbonara on pizza!), and the Caesar salad (600 Lek) too. They also, of course, serve seafood and traditional meals. Their menu is huge so you will definitely find something you like here. Open all year-round and takes EFTPOS.
Anchor Bar & Restaurant: When I arrived into Saranda in March, this place was just a bar but now they have turned it into a restaurant here serving their speciality, seafood. This is a fabulous family-run restaurant. What I love about this place is the view over the boulevard and their beer prices are the most reasonable that I have come across throughout the city. I would highly recommend checking out this humble gem if you are walking down the boulevard. Kitchen open summer only, open all year for drinks. Also takes Eftpos.
Fishland: This is one of the restaurants that are right where the fishermen come to dock, so expect super fresh seafood here! I can recommend the seafood risotto, it’s delicious. Open all year.
Cocktail Dreams: Located nearly right on my front doorstep is Cocktail Dreams. This is not only a good place for a cocktail but their food is good too. I enjoy the carbonara, 4 cheese ravioli and the grilled chicken with mushroom sauce (mmmmm). Open from May-Sept.
Maria Magdalena (Summer only): If you’re a pizza lover like me then you will love Maria Magdalena. They do the best pizzas I have ever tasted. One of the reasons I really love it in Albania is they have a big Italian influence which means they absolutely nail Italian food right on the head! I can recommend the 4-cheese (700 Lek), margarita (400 Lek) and special pizza (750 Lek) although I am confident every single pizza on that menu is delicious.
All day Grill: This restaurant does great souvlakis, sqepasti, pite arabe and lots more. It’s located right in the heart of the city along the boulevard. Open all year-round.
Like Creperie: This little café serves great coffee, delicious crepes, and amazing sandwiches. My personal favourite is the paninis, they are seriously delicious and perfect if you’re craving a different food that’s not Albanian, Greek or Italian. Open all year-round.
Kasandro: Again, great for takeaway souvlakis (180 Lek) and if you’re staying at the Hairy Lemon Hostel then this is just across the road. Summer Only.
Sunset: Here they do great pizzas, perfect for a takeaway. Also great seafood! Open all year round.
Te Beau: If you’re looking for traditional Albanian food then this is your place! It’s great food and very affordable. Open all year-round.
Salad Farm: If you’re vegan, vegetarian or you just love a salad and want to try something new, then try out Salad Farm. It’s located near Santa Quaranta. They do a really nice Chinese chicken salad, Falafel salad (my favourite) and Thai beef salad as well as smoothies! Open summer only.
You can find more recommendations in detail by reading this post about my favourite places to eat in Saranda here.
Where to drink and party in Saranda –
Here are my top recommendations for Saranda Nightlife!
Mango (Summer only): This is the most popular club located just out of the Saranda city centre. You will need to catch a taxi or hitchhike as its quite a walk, especially if you’re staying on the other side of the city. There is usually an entry fee (500 Lek) but sometimes you don’t have to pay, don’t ask why. The whole city just about forms at mango on any given night during the summer. This is closed during the winter but usually opens back up on the 1st of April to celebrate the opening of the season.
Factory (Summer Only): This club is even further out of the city. It’s essentially a huge warehouse with music.
Orange (summer only): This is located just a walk away from the boulevard. It’s right on the beach, has good music and an easy option if you don’t want to trek all the way to mango.
Jericho (summer only): Right on the boulevard is Jericho which is famous for their cocktails. It serves a great view over the boulevard.
Space Bar/Rei Bar: (Open all year) This bar is nestled looking over the boulevard. There’s a cool atmosphere, the drinks are good and it’s a great place to come to chill out for a few drinks. There is a rooftop open in summer but in the winter you can have your coffee inside downstairs.
21 Bar: (Open all year) This is a popular intimate hangout in the centre. Trendy bar with a cool ambience!
City lounge (summer only): This is another great bar which is a local favourite too. Right on the water and near Orange bar.
Where to stay in Saranda
Hostel: Hairy Lemon Hostel – Hands down the best place to stay if you’re a backpacker! This hostel is fun, intimate and relaxed. If you make your way to the Apollo Hotel then head up the vertical like street. It is the first building on the right. Catch the elevator to the 8th floor, turn left as you leave the elevator, and you will find the Hairy Lemon. It serves an incredible view and the beach below is only a 1-minute walk.
Although it’s not right in the city it’s a good place to locate yourself because you have one of the best beaches not far and good local restaurants within a 5 or 10-minute walk such as Fishland and Laberia. With the bed, you get a free pancake breakfast on arrival. The Hairy Lemon closes October and opens back up in April 2020
Hotel: Dream Hotel – A small intimate hotel located right on the beach, about a 15-minute walk from the heart of the city. If you’re looking for pure relaxation then choose this hotel. Not only do you have the beach on your doorstep but also the cocktail bar and restaurant! Closes in winter.
Luxury Hotel: Santa Quaranta Premium Resort – Located right on the beachfront this beautiful hotel is the perfect pick if you’re looking for some luxury. It’s where the rich and famous stay when they come to Saranda!
Where to from Saranda
Note the times and frequency vary from winter to summer. These are the summer times unless otherwise stated. I have to stress that these times change regularly. It’s best to go to the bus station the day before and ask for exact times. I do have an article which I keep updated with the bus timetables leaving Saranda here.
Saranda Travel Timetables Around Albania
Saranda to Tirana (1300 Lek)– 5am, 6.30am, 8.30am, 9.30am, 10.30am, 2pm, 10pm (night bus)
Saranda to Himare – 10 am, 11.30am, 2 pm
Saranda to Gijrokastёr – 6am, 8am, 11.30am,12pm, 1pm
Butrint & Ksamil (100 Lek) – Every hour on the half hour. The last bus coming back is at 5.30pm
Saranda to Berat – 8 am, 10.15am, 2.30pm
Saranda to Vlore – 11.30am, 2.30 pm
Saranda to Borsh – 12.3o midday
Albania to Greece
Ferry to Corfu from Saranda (€23 but it’s cheaper in the winter) – 10.30am and 4 pm. (In the winter there is just one leaving at 1 pm)
Bus to Athens from Saranda– 6.30am and 6.30pm
Hitchhiking in Albania
It is extremely popular and normal to hitchhike from city to city. I used to always hitchhike to the clubs and have never had a problem or felt unsafe. Albanians are very trustworthy and they are usually happy to help you to get somewhere.
Shopping in Saranda
You won’t find any big malls in Saranda (yet) but there is shopping right in the centre. If you walk on the road that is horizontal to the boulevard you will find clothing, souvenir shops and anything you are looking for.
Saranda Boat Rental
If you walk on the boulevard between restaurant Limani and Centralli you will find many boar rental companies with signs. You can go and ask about prices, negotiate and ask them what they can offer you for your budget!
Winter vs Summer in Ksamil
Saranda in the winter
Although a lot of the businesses shut up shop for the winter all the restaurants right in the city will still be open. As you can imagine the city is comparably quiet when the tourist season is over. But that shouldn’t stop you from coming here at that time. The prices drop even further, the beaches are empty and it never gets colder than 8 degrees.
There is plenty of sunshine so it’s the perfect place to escape a wet and cold winter if you’re from the UK or other northern European countries. Saranda typically has 320 days of sunshine a year. Everything is half price – food, beer and hotels! If you’re looking for a more relaxing holiday then maybe Saranda might be for you. You can experience the country with little to no tourists.
That’s it! There’s your HUGE guide and things to do in Saranda with hopefully all the information you will need to enjoy a holiday here. Don’t be afraid to ask questions below if there’s something else you would like to know. or want some more Saranda tips. I am currently living in Saranda so ask away!
Other articles you might love:
- Athens to Saranda, Albania / Saranda to Athens, Greece
- 20 Incredible Hotels in Saranda, Albania
- Saranda Restaurants: The Best Places to Eat in Saranda [Albania]
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