Tirana is not somewhere that usually features on the itineraries of people backpacking through Europe.
It isn’t the glitziest of destinations, and Albania in general is not the easiest country to travel around as a novice backpacker.
What’s more, the infrastructure in Tirana is pretty poor, things don’t always run on schedule and it isn’t yet used to catering to hordes of international tourists.
However, I believe that Albania is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe, and with its vast array of things to see and do, not to mention it’s budget-friendly nature, Tirana is a great European city break (plus, it’s not Schengen, so if you’re like me and aren’t lucky enough to come from an EU member nation, you don’t have to worry about it counting towards your 90 days).
With all of this in mind, I decided to put together this Tirana itinerary and guide to the city, that will cover the best things to do in Tirana, as well as help you to plan your visit and hopefully answer any questions you may have.
So, with all that being said, let’s get into it.
A Tirana Itinerary – Visiting the Edgy Capital of Albania
How many days in Tirana?
So, you’re probably wondering how many days to spend in Tirana.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this, but I recommend booking a minimum of 3 nights, giving yourself a full 2 days in Tirana to see what Albania’s capital has to offer.
If you want to spend longer then you certainly won’t be bored, but 3 days in Tirana is enough to see all of the main Tirana attractions.
What is Tirana like?
Albania is a mystery to most people, so you’d be forgiven for wondering what to expect when visiting Tirana for the first time.
First things first, Tirana is a pretty walkable city, and you can walk from one side to the other in 20 minutes or so.
It is a lively city that never seems to sleep, and the coffee shops are still full at 11:00pm at night.
Tirana is also a city of contrasts.
Old men sit in the park smoking and playing chess with one another, as business people hurry past in designer clothes and expensive watches.
Mercs with blacked-out windows cruise the narrow potholed streets, snaking their way past the dilapidated buildings and the men grilling corn on the cob on every corner.
What used to be drab communist apartment buildings have been painted in all the colours of the rainbow to make the city a happier place to live, and there is a huge golden carousel on the main square, which kids run around and their parents socialise.
If you like your coffee or work remotely, you’ll be pleased to know that café culture in Tirana is booming, with more coffee shops per capita than anywhere else in Europe!
Tirana is also a very secular city.
You see, while Albania is technically a Muslim country, the call to prayer is really the only thing that feels remotely Islamic in Tirana.
The women don’t cover their hair and the men drink and smoke to their heart’s content.
In fact, as my Albanian friend once said ‘You should never go into the mosque drunk, but I’ve never been in there sober!’
Does all of this sound a bit weird and wonderful?
It should, because that’s exactly what Tirana is.
What to do in Tirana in 3 days
Ambling round, drinking coffee and finding cafes full of hearty Balkan food are the kind of simple pleasure that Tirana lends itself to nicely, but if you’re determined to put your tourist hat on and explore, there are definitely a few things to do in Tirana that you shouldn’t miss.
I’ve put together a Tirana itinerary that assumes you are spending 3 days in Tirana.
It will allow you to explore the main things that the city has to offer without feeling too rushed, but if you only have 2 days in Tirana, you will still be able to squeeze most of these things in.
If you have 4 days in Tirana, I have included some fun tours that you can do at the end of this article that will allow you to see even more of Albania.
If you want a more in-depth guide about all of the Tirana attractions, then check out my post on 23 Quirky Things to Do in Tirana.
Assuming that you’ve just checked into your hotel or hostel and are in need of a sit down and a bite to eat, one of the first places to visit in Tirana is the quirky and colourful Pazari i Ri, which translates to ‘New Market.’
Here you can find fresh fruit and vegetables, local street food such as pickled green tomatoes and fresh figs, plus an abundance of Albanian souvenirs.
Pazari i Ri is also home to dozens of coffee shops, bars and restaurants and you won’t be stuck for somewhere to find a bite to eat.
You can find Pazari i Ri at Rruga Hoxha Tahsin, Pazari i Ri, Tirana.
Next, make your way down to the city centre and admire Skanderberg Square, the main plaza of Tirana.
Between 2008 and 2011 the mayor, Edi Rama, commissioned a total restoration of the square in order to tidy up the city and make it feel more ‘European.’
Using paving stones from all over Albania they created this 40,000 square metre square, which is actually very slightly sloped (2.5%) up in the shape of a pyramid.
Here you will find a fountain, a huge statue of Skanderberg himself, and gardens surrounding the square.
You will also find the National History Museum of Albania, the Opera House and take a ride on the huge carousel.
While you’re in the area, make sure to puzzle over The Cloud.
Reja, or ‘The Cloud’ is a popular selfie spot and modern art installation designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto. It’s also an open-air cinema venue, as well as being a popular hangout for young Albanians.
For dinner, head to Tek Zgara Tirones, for huge portions of meat, vegetables, salads, beans and goat’s cheese at rock bottom prices, with super friendly staff to boot.
A hearty meal for two (with numerous plates each, tapas style), with bottled water and two beers cost my boyfriend and I just 14 EUR, so we ended up coming back here almost every day!
Tek Zgara Tirones can be found on Kavaja St.
When you’re finished, wander around the centre and pick any one of the elegant coffee shops for your nightcap.
Although these places are technically coffee shops, they all serve beer, wine and raki, and are buzzing late into the night with LED lighting, music and glamorous locals all spending their nights out here.
On your first full day in the capital of Albania, get up early and head to Skanderbeg Square for the 10am free walking tour!
I love free walking tours as they are a great way to find out some background information about the city that you’re visiting, as well as see most of the major attractions.
I especially recommend doing the walking tour in Tirana because Albania is a place with a long and rich history that most foreigners know little about, and I got a much better appreciation of Tirana thanks to the free walking tour, which I’ve actually done twice!
The Tirana Free Walking Tour takes place at 10am and 6pm every day from the steps of the Opera House on Skanderbeg Square. It lasts for around 2 hours and is tip-based.
If your walking tour has piqued your interest about the history of Albania then why not climb the Pyramid of Tirana?
Originally a museum dedicated to the former Communist leader of Albania, Enver Hoxha, the Pyramid of Tirana is now dilapidated and mostly unused.
However, local kids and tourists often climb the 20m structure for a bit of fun and to watch the sunset from the top, making it one of the main Tirana attractions.
If you’re going to climb the Pyramid of Tirana, just make sure you wear sensible shoes and be prepared to slide down on your butt!
In the park across from the Pyramid of Tirana, you can actually find a fragment of the original Berlin wall!
The fragment is part of a memorial, named PostBlokku, and you will also find a mushroom-shaped bunker and some concrete pillars from a former forced labour camp.
The memorial is the combined work of writer and former political dissident Fatos Lubonja and painter Ardian Isufi, and is definitely worth checking out while you’re in the area.
Next, head to either Bunk’Art 2 or the House of Leaves Secret Surveillance museum.
Bunk’Art 2 is a former nuclear bunker which has been transformed into a history museum about Albania’s Communist past. It is the smaller of the 2 Bunk’Art museums, and worth paying a visit if you have a couple of hours to spare.
The House of Leaves museum is in the building that temporarily housed Gestapo during Albanian occupation in WW2, and it provides an eerie look into what secrets the building holds and methods of secret surveillance used on Albanian citizens in the past.
For a fancy dinner, head to Rozafa Fish Restaurant.
With white glove service, a stunning outdoor seating area and an ever-changing seasonal menu, you can’t go wrong with Rozafa.
I enjoyed a very shrimpy dinner of shrimps baked with garlic (1000 ALL) followed by spaghetti with shrimp (700 ALL).
This is a little pricier than other Tirana restaurants, but more than worth it, and still less than you’d pay anywhere else.
You can find Rozafa Fish Restaurant at Ruga Luigj gurakuqi 2.
When you’re done, head to the hipster area of Blokku to experience the real Tirana nightlife.
Blokku is full of quirky cocktail bars, and while it is definitely more expensive than other areas of Tirana, it’s worth going for a night to party with the Tirana locals.
One of my favourite bars in Tirana was Hemingway Bar, a cosy cocktail bar with live jazz music that sits just outside of Blokku.
For your final day in Tirana, you’re heading a 20 minute bus ride out of town to the main Bunk’Art museum.
Bunk’Art museum is another museum dedicated to the history of Communism in Albania, but this one has 106 rooms and goes 5 storeys deep underground.
This anti-nuclear bunker is stuffed to the gills with information about Enver Hoxha’s life as a Communist dictator, with lots of interactive exhibits to keep you occupied.
If you’re a true history buff then you could very easily spend the entire day in Bunk’Art!
After you’ve got your fill of history, walk the 10 minutes to the Dajti Ekspres cable cars.
For 8 EUR, you get a return ticket to the top of Dajti Mountain across the longest cable car ride in the Balkans.
There are a few restaurants and lots of hiking trails and other outdoor activities up there so leave yourself some time to make the most out of your trip!
Where to stay in Tirana
My favourite hostel in Tirana is Trip’n’Hostel – I’ve stayed there twice, and it is the place to be if you’re a backpacker looking to meet people in Tirana.
Not only are the owners lovely and super helpful but the hostel also has its very own microbrewery.
Breakfast is free and cooked to order, there is a lovely garden outside (complete with cats and a tortoise!) and it is also a super sociable hostel, making it easy to meet people as a solo traveller.
Another Tirana hostel that I’ve heard great things about is Tirana Backpacker Hostel.
They offer free breakfast, vegan dinners and have a huge backyard with hammocks where you can relax and hang out.
Tirana Backpackers is still a sociable hostel but not as much of a party hostel as Trip’N.
When it comes to cheap hotels in Tirana, Center Elite Tirana is the best all-rounder there is.
At the time of writing, a double room was just 20 EUR and it is smack bang in the centre of the city (as the name would suggest).
This 2-star hotel has private balconies, room service, a currency exchange service and 24-hour front desk, with English-speaking staff available to answer any questions you may have.
All rooms come with towels, slippers, flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning, a hairdryer, toiletries and an electric kettle, so all your basic needs are covered.
If it’s a mid-range hotel you’re looking for, the 4-star Hotel Boutique Restaurant Gloria pairs style and comfort with affordability (a double room was 40 EUR at the time of writing).
Price includes breakfast and there is also a wonderful restaurant and bar in the building if you don’t fancy going far.
The 5-star Maritim Hotel Plaza Tirana is the perfect choice if you want a high end hotel.
The Maritim is where you go to indulge, and with a spa centre, sauna, hot tub and high end restaurant, you’ll have no problem doing just that.
It is situated right in the centre of the city, just a few steps away from the Clock Tower and Skanderberg Square.
The currency in Albania is the Albanian Lek (ALL). You cannot legally get it outside of Albania so you should either bring euros to exchange, or just use ATMs to withdraw money.
Although some places accept card payments, Albania is largely a cash society and you should always have some cash with you. ATMs usually take Visa OR MasterCard, not both. Never use Euronet ATMs!
3 days is the perfect amount of time to see all of the main sights in Tirana without feeling too rushed.
YES, Albania is one of the most underrated countries in Europe with a stunning landscape, great cuisine and hospitable locals.
The best time to visit Albania is in the summer, when the sun is out and everybody flocks to the beach. Tirana is probably best during the shoulder-season, when the students are still in the city.
Yes, although Albania is technically a Muslim country, most people (especially men) drink alcohol and it is not frowned upon to do so.
The Albanian language is shqip and it is different to any language you’ve ever heard before! While many Albanians in hospitality speak English, speaking Italian is your best bet as many Albanians (even the older generations) speak Italian. Albanians also nod their head ‘yes’ when they mean ‘no’!
Is Tirana safe?
Despite Albania’s reputation, Tirana is incredibly safe.
Pickpocketing and random acts of violence are practically unheard of in Albania, and perhaps because the country is so unused to tourism, locals are more likely to help you out and ask questions about where you’re from than they are to try and scam you.
While the Albanian mafia is very much alive and kicking, their crimes don’t affect tourists at all and Tirana honestly feels more like a sleepy town than a capital city.
With that said, if you’re planning a trip to Albania, then I strongly recommend buying travel insurance.
I NEVER travel without insurance, and I’ve seen too many others get landed with huge medical bills as a result of not having had insurance, that it’s something I’ll never neglect to buy. My recommendation for great travel insurance is World Nomads or SafetyWing.
You can read my article about safety in Albania here.
Budgeting for Tirana
Is Albania expensive?
Albania is an incredibly cheap country, and while the Albanian capital is more expensive than other parts of Albania, it is still an extremely affordable city for most backpackers.
Average cost of a bed in a hostel dorm room: 700-1100 ALL (7 – 9 EUR).
Average cost of a pint of beer: 150-200 ALL (1.22 – 1.62 EUR) but expect to pay double this in the hipster area of Blloku.
Cost of a meal in a mid-range restaurant: 300-800 ALL (3.44 – 6.50 EUR).
Tours in Albania…
When I travel, I always like to support small local businesses and learn more about a culture by taking part in a small organised tour. Here are some of the best tours that you can do in Albania:
Go wine tasting and stay at an agrotourism farm in the village of Roshnik, near Berat. Options include horse riding, mountain trekking, swimming in the lake, wine and food tasting.
Enjoy a half-day cruise of Skadar Lake and the River of Crnojevic.
Hike Gamti Mountain and enjoy views over Bovilla Lake.
Head to the magical city of Prizren in Kosovo for the day.
Visit Osum Canyon and Bogove Waterfall in Berat.
Visit The Blue Eye and Lekuresi Castle from Saranda.
Enjoy a 2-day private tour of Theth National Park.
Enjoy a guided tour of Apollonia National Park from Vlora.
Experience a full-day tour of Zvernec Monastery with lunch (from Vlora).
Take part in a half-day tour of Llogara National Park.
Enjoy a private tour of Butrint Archaeological Park.
Take a day trip from Tirana to Berat.
Of course, there are plenty more tours on offer in Albania but these are my top recommendations!
Tirana Itinerary | Final thoughts
Tirana might not be the most beautiful city in the world, but it is a really good place to learn about Albanian history from the people who have lived through it, and there is also a thriving food and nightlife scene, with tonnes of fantastic restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
If you have longer than 3 days in Albania (and I definitely hope you do!) then be sure to head to Berat, Gjirokaster, and the beaches of the Albanian Riviera.
Are you planning a trip to Tirana? Let me know if you found my guide useful in the comments below!
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