Last updated: 29th July 2021
Tirana, Albania. Not a place where many people decide to spend their holidays, and it doesn’t usually feature on the itineraries of people backpacking through Europe.
Tirana isn’t the glitziest of destinations, nor is Albania the easiest country to travel around as a novice backpacker.
Its infrastructure is pretty poor, things don’t always run on schedule and it isn’t yet used to catering to hordes of international tourists.
Added to that, Albanians have a bit of a reputation of being the tough guys of Europe, with the Albanian mafia having ‘one of the highest criminal capacities in the world.‘ Albania then, is a country that many people consider to be undeveloped, dangerous, and not worth the hassle.
However, despite this, I believe that Albania is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe, and as its capital, Tirana, is the first port of call for many tourists, I decided to put together this mini-guide to the city and the best things to do in Tirana!
Visiting Tirana – A Guide to the Edgy Capital of Albania
How long to stay in Tirana
I would recommend booking 3 nights in Tirana, giving yourself 2 full days to see what Albania’s capital has to offer.
If you like, you can always extend, but 3 days in Tirana is enough to see all of the main Tirana attractions.
My go-to for hotels in Tirana would be Booking and if you prefer to choose from the best hostels in Tirana then go for HostelWorld.
My favourite hostel in Tirana is Trip’n’Hostel – I’ve stayed there twice! Not only are the staff 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.
Visiting Tirana – First Impressions
When I crossed the border from Montenegro to Albania, I instantly noticed a change. As the bus drew closer to Tirana, my surroundings were more reminiscent of my time in Southeast Asia than anywhere I’ve been to in Europe.
However, visiting Tirana opened my eyes to the fact that the Albanian capital is a city of contrasts.
Old men sit in the park smoking and playing chess with one another, just a few steps from elegant coffee bars full of Beautiful People 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 café culture in Tirana is booming, with more coffee shops per capita than anywhere else in Europe!
Something else that may surprise you when visiting Tirana is how secular it feels. While Albania is 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!’
What to do in Tirana
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 an itinerary that assumes you just have 3 days in Albania and plan to spend them all in Tirana. I definitely recommend spending much longer in this wonderful country, but for many people, 3 days in Albania is all they have!
This itinerary will allow you to explore the main things that the city has to offer without feeling too rushed.
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.
3 Days in Albania – Day 1 in Tirana
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, and an abundance of cheap souvenirs.
Pazari i Ri is home to dozens of coffee shops, bars and restaurants and is a great place to while away an afternoon!
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 a huge carousel.
3 Days in Albania – Day 2 in Tirana
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!
To experience Tirana nightlife, head to the hipster area of Blokku for some quirky cocktail bars. The price of a beer in Blokku was around 3x the price of a beer in some of the other city centre bars (similar to UK prices), but 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.
3 Days in Albania – Day 3 in Tirana
One of the most important things to do in Tirana is visit the Bunk’Art 2 museum. Located a 20 minute bus ride out of the centre of town (40 ALL), the Bunk’Art 2 museum is a museum dedicated to the history of Communism in Albania.
With 106 rooms spread across 5 storeys underground in this anti-nuclear bunker, there is a tonne of information all about Enver Hoxha’s life as a Communist dictator, as well as lots of interactive parts, and if you’re a true history buff then you could very easily spend the entire day down there!
If you don’t have time to dedicate so much of your day to Albanian history then you can visit Bunk’Art 1 which is a slightly smaller museum that is located in the city centre, or the House of Leaves Secret Surveillance museum.
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. Unfortunately on my visit, my friend and I didn’t have enough time to properly explore the mountain but there are a few restaurants and lots of hiking trails and other outdoor activities up there so research what you’d like to do before you do!
Know before you go – Things you should know before visiting Tirana
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.
ATMs usually take Visa OR MasterCard, not both. Never use Euronet ATMs!
Although some places accept card payments, Albania is largely a cash society and you should always have some cash with you. Tirana is the capital of Albania, and so more and more places are beginning to take card payments but it is always better to be on the safe side.
What’s more, if you pay in euros then you will always get a bad exchange rate.
Albanians are incredibly welcoming and hospitable, and you WILL be offered food, coffee and raki (homemade brandy) wherever you go. Albanians love tourists and will go out of their way to help you whenever possible.
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’!
Public transport in Albania is super jerky and unreliable. Contrary to what some people will tell you, there is a bus station in Tirana, but you have to take a bus to get there, and once there, you will not find any kind of timetables or ticket office – just lots of Albanian men yelling out city names and trying to ferry you into their minibuses!
With that said, you CAN reach Tirana by Flixbus from many other cities in the region. Flixbus is the most extensive bus network worldwide and all Flix buses have Wi-Fi, extra legroom, charging ports and the ability to modify your booking just 15 minutes before departure! Click here to book your Flixbus to Tirana.
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. You can read my World Nomads review here.
You can read my article about safety in Albania here.
Budgeting for Tirana
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.
I would say that Albania and Ukraine are the cheapest places that I’ve been outside Southeast Asia.
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!
Visiting Tirana – Final thoughts…
Tirana isn’t the most beautiul city in the world and there isn’t a tonne of things to do there, but it is definitely worth paying a visit.
Tirana 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, Himara and Saranda.
guide to Berat, the UNESCO city of a thousand windows here.
guide to Gjirokaster, UNESCO city of a thousand steps, is here.
guide to the best beaches in albania can be found here!
And, in case you weren’t already convinced, here are 37 reasons to visit Albania right now!
travelling in albania – the ultimate guide
albanian wine and i – an unlikely love story
Are you planning a trip to Tirana? Let me know if you found my guide useful in the comments below!
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