What’s it Like to Travel in Albania?

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When I decided to travel to Albania in the summer, it was the country I was most looking forward to visiting. It fit my dreams — home to a fascinating culture and some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, yet a bit of an underdog. A Balkan country I hadn’t visited yet? Sold!

But the biggest factor was meeting two lovely Albanian girls who became good friends of mine. Erisa and Bianka joined my second Central America tour. Both of them immigrated from Albania to the US when they were teenagers and both go back to visit often.

Soon our tour days were filled with stories and anecdotes from Albania, and learning from Erisa and Bianka allowed me to get to know a culture that most people only know from watching Taken.

(Side note: Erisa was watching Taken in the theater and suddenly let out a scream. One of the Albanian mobsters in the kitchen scene was played by a friend of hers. True story.)

So I wanted to enjoy my trip to Albania, but I wanted to make my friends proud, too. I wanted to give Albania a fair chance and get to see the wonderful parts, not just the negative stereotypes.

And did I EVER have a great time! I spent my time in Albania among the ancient ruins of Butrint, the wild and wacky city of Tirana, the turquoise waters of Ksamil, the eerie city of Berat that feels like it’s watching you. There is so much to see in this country, but it’s definitely not one for beginners.

Here are the things I learned — and what you should know — when traveling to Albania.

This post was most recently updated in May 2024.

What's it Really Like to Travel in Albania?

Albania is one of the least developed countries in Europe.

I’ve visited every country in Europe — yes, including the micronations and the Caucasus. Honestly, Albania is probably the least developed of all the ones I’ve seen. I would put it as less developed than Bosnia, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Bulgaria, though perhaps close to Moldova.

What does this mean? Roads are in poor condition. There are no central bus stations and public transportation is a headache (more on that later).

The water isn’t safe to drink — you should bring a Lifestraw water bottle to safely drink the water without having to buy bottled water all the time. (Albania isn’t great about recycling, either.)

Your hotel room may be very basic, and the wifi might be in-and-out.

Credit cards, though usable, are not as widely accepted as they are in other European countries.

As soon as you head outside the tourist areas, you may find very few people who speak English.

There is very little tourism infrastructure outside a bit in Saranda and Berat, though this is starting to change as Albania works to grow as an adventure travel destination.

Does that make Albania a bad place? Not at all. I’m saying this because you should know what to expect before you arrive. While they’re very different countries, the lack of development in urban Albania reminded me of Cambodia several times.

The average monthly wage in Albania is 75,000 to 93,000 Lek (about $800-1000). Assuming 22 days of work per month, that’s just $41 per day. Adding that to the difficulty of ever leaving the country and you’ve got a very tough situation for much of the population.

Albania shut itself off from the rest of the world for much of the 20th century. Today, many residents are facing economic imprisonment.

It’s not surprising that my Albanian friends’ families applied for the green card lottery in the US. It was their ticket to a better life.

The city of Tirana, with a statue of a man on a horse, a mosque with a minaret, a giant blood-red flag, a tall skyscraper, and mountains in the background.
Tirana, full of architectural contrasts.

Albania is a secular country, but most Albanians are Muslims.

This may surprise you, but about 59% of Albanians are Muslim! About 38% are Christian, and the remainder are nonbelievers or followers of other religions.

That said, it’s a largely secular Muslim country, and religion does not influence its government.

You don’t see much conservative Islam in Albania. Quite a few Albanian Muslims eat pork and drink alcohol. I could count the women I saw wearing a hijab on one hand — and that includes my time in the big city of Tirana.

The only way you’d know the prominence of Islam is that mosques are everywhere. I also noticed that it was rare to hear the call to prayer blasted out early in the morning, a big change from places like Indonesia and southern Thailand.

Greek ruins with lots of columns sticking out of the ground.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed ruins of Butrint National Park in Southern Albania.

The Albanian language is like nothing you’ve ever heard.

Don’t think a smattering of Serbo-Croatian will help you out here — Albanian, while technically an Indo-European language, is not related to any other living languages. It’s like Basque that way.

In areas like the more upscale parts of Tirana, the city center of Berat, Saranda, and Ksamil, you can get by with English; sometimes, Albanians speak Greek or Italian as their second language.

One of my favorite moments in Albania was when a taxi driver and I realized that we both spoke Italian! We went from silence to laughter instantly (and yes, many hand gestures were made!).

But like anywhere else in the world, learning a few words of the local language will delight the locals. Përshëndetje (per-shen-DET-yeh) means hello and falaminderit (fa-la-min-DAIR-eet) means thank you.

A motorboat in water with a red Albanian flag with a double-headed eagle sticking out of the back.
Get ready to see Albanian flags from every angle.

The Albanian flag is everywhere, and not just on government buildings.

My foreigner friends often rib me about how Americans always have their flags on display. But seriously, we’re not the only ones! People from South Africa, Turkey, and Norway, among others, are just as demonstrative with their country’s flag.

Ever been to Copenhagen? People at Copenhagen airport greet their loved ones with Danish flags! They even put tiny Danish flags on birthday cakes! But I digress…

Albania is another country that LOVES ITS FLAG. The blood-red Albanian flag topped with a double-headed eagle is seen everywhere throughout the country.

Not only that, they sell Albanian flag merchandise everywhere — think everything from t-shirts to posters to tea towels. They make great souvenirs!

I noticed the same thing in Kosovo, too, which is home to ethnic Albanians.

People eating at a restaurant balcony. It overlooks a river with a bridge and a city with rows and rows of houses built on hills, all of them with small square windows that look like eyes.
In a country as cheap as Albania, hit up a restaurant with a view!

Albania is cheap.

When I first visited Albania, I thought it was the cheapest country I had visited in Europe, even a bit cheaper than North Macedonia and Bulgaria. Since then, I’ve visited Ukraine (pre-war) which was even cheaper. That said, Albania is a very affordable destination to visit.

However — prices have gone up quite a bit in the last decade, so keep this in mind.

Keep in mind that like everywhere else in the world, prices are highest in cities, coastal resorts, and touristy spots, and lowest in rural and less-touristy spots.

In Tirana, the most expensive place in the country, you can get hostel beds from $18, decent hotel rooms from around $40, beers from 250 lek ($2.70), a meal in a decent restaurant from around $10.

I even went on a shopping spree in Tirana and spent around $8 per shirt and $18 per dress.

And it gets so much cheaper when you leave the city.

Just one thing — get rid of all your Albanian lek before leaving the country, because nobody will change it. (I gave mine to my Albanian friend Erisa and her cousins to spend on their next trip home!)

A rural landscape with a river, fields, and mountains rising in the distance.
Getting around Albania can be a challenge.

Public transportation can be maddening.

Cities in Albania don’t have central bus stations, nor do they have travel agencies that work with every bus company. For me, getting the right ticket from Saranda to Berat required me to go from door to door, agency to agency, listening to them telling me where to go in Albanian as I nodded without understanding, then finding another agency, again and again, until I found someone who sold those tickets!

All the buses depart at different street corners, rather than a central bus station.

Mountain bus rides can be the most beautiful and frightening of overland transportation. Albania kicks things up a notch on the ride from Saranda to Gjirokastra, where several treacherous passes are crossed without any safety precautions. The guardrails, when they exist, are barely knee-high and seem to be more symbolic than protective.

As for the quality of the buses, you definitely won’t have air conditioning and if temperatures are in the high 90s (36 C), which they very often are in Albania during the summer, it will be even hotter inside.

Finally, sometimes you’ll arrive and find out that your connecting bus doesn’t exist, which happened to me in Fier. I needed to pick up a bus to Berat and found out that nothing existed and my only option was to jump in the back of some guy’s van. More on that below.

A platter with mussels, octopus, calamari, and shrimp.
The seafood on the Albanian Riviera is as fresh as it comes.

Albanian food can be hit or miss.

You know, there were times that I really loved the food in Albania, but much of the time I found Albanian cuisine to be uninspiring.

Lots of meat pounded into patties or formed into sausages. Lots of stews. Lots of salads.

I hate to say it, but as a cheese lover, I found that most of the cheeses I tried had an unappealing flavor to them, almost like they had started to go bad. (Coming straight from Greece with its stupendous feta exacerbated my impressions, I’m sure.)

But Saranda had wonderful seafood, especially shellfish and octopus, and like elsewhere in the Balkans, you can always find good pizza.

For what it’s worth, my favorite traditional meal in Albania was stuffed zucchini and squash at a little taverna in Saranda that has since closed. But then a few days later I ordered stuffed peppers at one of the nicest places in Berat, trying to recreate the magic, and it just didn’t happen. Those odd flavors crept back in.

Groups of teenage girls walking down the street of Berat at sunset.
I love how teenagers around the world are the same.

The evening stroll is best time to see and be seen.

Like the rest of the Balkans and much of the Mediterranean, cafe culture rules in Albania, and so does the evening stroll. As soon as the sun begins to set and temperatures turn livable again, it seems like everyone comes out for the evening to stroll down the street and sit at cafes.

No matter how old or young you are, you’re there. It’s what people do.

This was most prominent in Berat. During the day, nobody would be out on the main cafe street (the super-hot summer temperatures may have been a reason), and you wouldn’t believe the difference come evening. Suddenly hundreds of people were on the streets!

People hanging out on beach lounge chairs in Albania.
Local families often have some grandparents nearby to help.

You often see children with their grandparents.

This may just be a Saranda thing, but I often saw Albanian children being cared for by their grandparents, no parents to be seen. It may be cultural, it may be just for vacation, or it might just be a coincidence.

Either way, I saw it as evidence of strong and close families.

Since then, some of my Albanian friends told me that grandparents often take care of the children while their parents work.

Stone houses in a small city on the edge of a river.
Berat has lots of pretty stone houses by the river.

Albanians might question why you’re actually there.

Over and over, Albanians were incredulous that I was visiting their country. “Why would you come here when you could go anywhere else?” they kept asking me. My friends experienced the same reactions.

No matter how much praise I heaped on the country, the kind people, the beaches, the mountains, the delicious seafood, Albanians would refuse to believe their country could be a tourist destination.

At one point, a waiter in Berat told me, “You’re lucky. All of us are stuck in this town.” “You’re right. I am,” I told him. “But this is such a beautiful town that you get to live in.” He snorted and walked away.

For what it’s worth — I believe this is less common today than it was at the time of my visit.

A purple sunset over the many high-rise apartment buildings of Tirana.
Tirana is a great place to dive into Albanian culture.

Where to Go in Albania

There are so many options for where to go in Albania. To get a decent overview of the country, I recommend basing yourself in three different regions and exploring from there.


Tirana was a huge surprise to me! I had no idea I would love Albania’s capital city so much. It felt endlessly fascinating.

I think I loved it so much in part because I stayed in the Blloku neighborhood, an upscale area which used to be exclusively for the elite of Tirana (yep, that would be Enver Hoxha and his cronies). Today, Blloku is chic, colorful and interesting.

As one of the major cities of the Balkans, I think it’s unmissable. It should be up there on your list along with Ljubljana, Dubrovnik, and Belgrade.

How to Get to Tirana: Tirana has lots of flights from all over Europe and bus connections throughout the country. If coming from Montenegro, I highly recommend taking the Montenegro Hostel shuttle.

Best Things to Do in Tirana: Some of my favorite experiences were climbing to the top of the the derelict pyramid in the center of town and having drinks on top of the Sky Tower during sunset.

And all the shopping, of course! I practically bought a new wardrobe at a Pink Woman boutique downtown and a Tally Weijl store in the Tirana East Gate (TEG) mall outside town.

You can also go on a Tirana food tour, go kayaking in Farka Lake, or do a day trip to the gorgeous town of Shkoder.

Where to Stay in Tirana: Definitely stay in the Blloku neighborhood — I loved the vibe, and it felt more upscale.

Read More: The Funk Factor of Tirana, Albania

A bridge next to the city of Berat, with white houses topped with brown roofs, all covered with lots of square windows that look almost like eyes.
It’s worth leaving the coastal regions for the gem that is Berat.


I went to Berat for to see its old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I wasn’t disappointed! Have you ever seen a place that looked like this before? It’s the city of a thousand windows! The Ottoman architecture is a major highlight of this destination.

Berat is a tiny place and you don’t need more than one full day and two nights here. Spend your time exploring the town on foot. The main cafe street comes to life around sunset — it was amazing to watch it transform from being totally empty to a swarming crowd!

How to get to Berat: There are bus connections to Tirana, Saranda, and throughout Albania. You may have to change in a nearby city like Fier.

Best Things to Do in Berat: Stroll around the town on foot, have dinner overlooking the bridge, grab a coffee or cocktail and people-watch in the late afternoon. Or if you’re adventurous, go rafting in Osumi Canyon.

Where to Stay in Berat: Berat is tiny; everything is close by. And I’m surprised that prices have gone up here so much — though it’s still a bargain compared to most of Europe! I stayed at the simple Hotel Pasarela, which was on top of a grocery store; Antipatrea Hotel is a bit more upscale. Check out more hotels in Berat here.

Dozens of tall white high-rise apartments with balconies on the edge of the sea, a sailboat in the water.
Saranda: a gem on the Ionian Sea.


Did you know that Albania is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe? Here you’ll find incredible pebbled beaches with clear turquoise water. Saranda (Sarandë) is the largest town in the region, and from here you can get direct ferries from Corfu, Greece.

Saranda, a relaxing resort town, makes a great base for exploring the south. It has a great boardwalk, beaches with free chairs and umbrellas, and several good restaurants and cafes. There wasn’t a lot to do, which made it a good place to chill out and soak up the summer.

From Saranda you can easily visit the island of Ksamil, the ancient ruins of Butrint, the Blue Eye, and far more.

I spent six nights in Saranda and could easily have stayed longer. If the internet were better (i.e. didn’t randomly stop working twice a day), I’d consider it a digital nomad hotspot for summer.

Like many resort towns on the Adriatic, summer is the only season many places will be open — don’t expect to see much open in Saranda between early October and mid-May.

How to get to Saranda: The easiest way is to fly into well-connected Corfu, Greece, and take the 30-60 minute ferry. Otherwise, there a bus connections throughout Albania.

Best Things to Do in Saranda: Visit everything in one day: Buthrotum, Ksamil, the Blue Eye, and Lekurski Castle; visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed ruins at Butrint; go hiking and snorkeling in Krorez Bay; or just head to the near-island of Ksamil and chill out on its beaches.

Other beaches worth visiting are around Himare and Drymades, or just drive up the coast and stop wherever looks good! Albania has a lot more so-called hidden gems than discovered-to-death countries like Italy.

If you’re willing to rent a car in Albania, this is the best way to explore the Albanian Riviera in depth and find your own personal favorite beach.

Where to stay in Saranda: Saranda, like most resort towns in the Balkans, is primarily apartment rentals and aparthotels.

Hotel Real Sarande is a solid hotel in the perfect location, close to everything. If you want to splurge, Demi Hotel Sarande is upscale and modern with gorgeous views. Check out more hotels in Saranda here.

Kate taking a smiling selfie in front of an Albanian bus, holding a pack of Tzatziki chips.
Forget Taken. Albania is a safe country for solo female travelers.

Is Albania safe for solo female travelers?

I traveled Albania almost entirely solo, other than a few days with my bud Jeremy in Saranda. I felt very safe in Albania and aside from guarding against theft, I don’t think there are any specific precautions that solo female travelers should take beyond the basics.

If you have experience traveling on your own as a woman, I think you’ll enjoy traveling solo in Albania.

I experienced zero sexual harassment or sexist treatment and wasn’t so much as hit on by a single Albanian man, even in bars and clubs.

Albania has a less-than-stellar reputation thanks to the fictional movie Taken and organized crime — but this is not something that women need to worry about when visiting Albania. Criminals are not lining up to kidnap women traveling in Albania.

There is one issue: for transportation to some places, you’ll have to get into an unregistered taxi, which is pretty much just a random guy with a car. I had to do this when I found out there was no bus from Fier to Berat. It was the only option.

If you get into this situation, I recommend doing what I did: I took a photo of the driver’s face, took a photo of his license plate, and pretended to make a phone call to a friend saying that I was coming soon and repeating his license plate number clearly.

I do this all over the world and it’s an extra layer of safety — the driver thinks you have someone looking out for you and knows he can’t try anything without getting caught. Is it 100% foolproof? No. Nothing is. But it helps quite a bit.

All this being said, I don’t recommend Albania for new and inexperienced travelers. It’s a challenging country in many ways for even an experienced traveler, and I recommend you cut your travel teeth on a few different countries in Europe before you travel to Albania on your own. It’s not the best place for a brand new solo traveler.

Not a super experienced traveler? I recommend you try these destinations for your first solo trip.

Read More: Solo Female Travel in the Balkans: A Guide

A white building in Tirana covered with a swirly rainbow. Men riding motorcycles in front of it.

How to Get to Albania

Albania isn’t on any major travel routes, but it’s easy enough to arrive in the country. Tirana National Airport is the only major airport in Albania, which has direct flights from all over Europe. I recommend checking Skyscanner to find the best fares.

If you’d rather start in Southern Albania, it’s easy to fly to the Greek island of Corfu and take the ferry to Saranda. Corfu is extremely well connected flights-wise. There are several different ferry companies and they take 30-60 minutes. I did this, taking a small passenger-only ferry, which felt like a bus on a boat.

If you’re coming from Montenegro, I highly recommend taking the Montenegro Hostel transfer. They run between Tirana and Theth in Albania and Kotor, Budva, Bar, and Podgorica in Montenegro. I took one between Tirana and Budva and it was a fantastic experience. We had a comfortable, air-conditioned bus; we stopped for lunch along the way; and we even stopped for photos when we passed Sveti Stefan at sunset!

The alternative would be taking several different buses from neighboring Balkan countries.

You also have a very long-distance ferry option: there are ferries to Durrës from Bari and Ancona in Italy. Know that these are long, overnight routes, and it might be more economical to take a flight.

Some people like to arrive in Albania while circling Lake Ohrid. Lake Ohrid is shared between Albania and North Macedonia, though I’ve heard that the North Macedonian side is much prettier overall.

And would you rather explore Albania on a group tour? Go for it! G Adventures has several tours including Albania, ranging from 9 to 34 days (!).

How to Get Around Albania

What’s the best way to get around Albania? If you’re taking public transportation, this is a country of buses. As I said earlier, there often aren’t any central bus stations in different cities, and sometimes you need to go to several different travel agencies before you find one that can sell you the correct bus ticket.

There are no trains in Albania, so don’t expect them!

You also have the option of renting a car in Albania. You should know ahead of time that the roads aren’t in the best condition (by European standards, at least), and the driving can be a bit crazy. But if you’re up for the challenge, this is THE way to get off the beaten path (and visit the best beaches).

Feet on a rocky beach in front of the blue ocean, Saranda, Albania
Come to Albania in the summer for vibes like these.

Best Time to Visit Albania

Albania has a Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and chilly winters. Albania is one of the sunniest countries in Europe.

The summer months are when Albanian tourism is at its peak, with travelers flocking to the mountains in the north and the beaches in the south.

If you’re looking to explore Albania in the summer, I recommend avoiding the peak months of July and August. Early June and late September would be my picks for the best time to visit Albania.

At the same time, you should keep in mind that Albanian resorts tend to shut down as soon as summer is over. I wouldn’t plan a visit before mid-May or after late September unless you’re here to work rather than explore. You can still enjoy Albania at this time of year, but the coastal resorts get very, very quiet.

If you’re coming to Albania to the hike, I would actually recommend spring or fall — ideally late spring or early fall — to enjoy nice weather without being burned by the strong summertime sun.

Kate faces away from the camera with her arms in the air in front of the turquoise water of Ksamil, Albania
I loved the gorgeous turquoise water of Ksamil, Albania!

What to Pack for Albania

Packing for Albania is fairly simple to any other kind of trip you’d be taking in Europe. If you’re going to hike, bring hiking gear. If you’re here for the beaches, bring beach gear.

But here are some items that I found particularly useful in Albania:

Comfortable sandals — As someone who needs arch support in everything, I buy my sandals from The Walking Company. They have the best support, especially the Abeo brand sandals!

Sun protection — The sun is STRONG here in the summer months. Make sure to bring good sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and these days I like a long-sleeved linen shirt for additional protection.

Portable safe — Portable safes are one of my favorite ways to keep my belongings safe. You lock up your valuables in it and lock it to something sturdy in your room. Essential for staying somewhere like an apartment or Airbnb where there isn’t a safe to use.

A decent travel purse — No, not an ugly anti-theft purse — a good-looking crossbody purse, made out of a tough material, with a zipper. You can see my in-depth guide to travel purses here.

Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf — I adore these scarves, which come with a hidden pocket perfect for your passport! They serve the same purpose as a money belt, but look so much better. They also have several lightweight scarves perfect for summer travel.

Ksamil Albania
Visit Albania soon, because it’s changing quickly.

Albania is no longer undiscovered.

For the longest time, people were saying, “Montenegro is the new Croatia, and Albania is the new Montenegro.” Is that true? Eh, maybe if we’re talking strictly numbers of western tourists, but I find that people go to these three countries for different things.

In the past decade, Albania has grown as a major travel destination. Probably the single biggest area of growth is in the Albanian Alps in Northern Albania, which are increasingly drawing adventure travelers looking for the next thing. This is an area to watch.

And the beaches of the south? They’ve BEEN discovered. Plenty of travelers are also hunkering down in Durrës and Vlorë, places that are a bit more on the gritty side, but affordable.

I’ve also seen Albania become a huge hotspot for digital nomads — thanks in part of it being in Europe, but not part of the Schengen Area, on top of being very affordable. Because of this, many digital nomads are living in Albania in the winter months, too, where you get the greatest value for money.

So will Albania ever become a major player in tourism? Well, it’s obviously not going to be on the level of Italy or Greece. But I do think that with a proper level of investment — say, improving the horrible roads, adding more accommodation at a variety of levels, and developing adventure activities — Albania could be a star.

And if that happens, the younger generation of Albania will have much more opportunity to better themselves.

The verdict? Albania is great. That’s a good reason to go now. Or go in a few years. You’ll be very glad you did.

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