Ever since I visited Albania back in September 2018, I have not stopped talking about how incredible it is. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve told people that they simply must go to Albania, or ranted about how Albanian people are the best people I’ve ever met. Albania is one of those places that makes every single person who visits it fall head over heels, but the only trouble is that because it’s often seen as the Wild West of Europe, not very many people actually bother giving Albania a chance.
In fact, for most people, Albania is not even on their radar when they plan a summer vacation in Europe, and I think that this is such a shame as Albania really is one of Europe’s last undiscovered gems.
To find out just what makes Albania so special, read on for my 37 reasons why you have to visit Albania!
1. Albania is cheap
Let’s get the elephant out of the room: Albania is an incredibly affordable country for Western backpackers. Coffee in a high street cafe is around 40 cents, a nice meal in a restaurant will always be under 5 EU, and a beer is around 1 EU. This doesn’t mean that you should run around Albania shouting about how cheap it is, because most of the locals are not even making 200 EU a month, so for them it isn’t cheap at all. However, as long as you enjoy Albanian prices respectfully, you are sure to be satisfied with how much things cost here.
I’ve written before about my love for this homemade Balkan fruit brandy – every Balkan country produces their own version of raki/rakija/rakia (in Albania it is raki), which is a fruit brandy, often made by somebody’s granny in her back garden.
Albanians LOVE raki and you will find it impossible to avoid it if you travel to Albania. Almost every hostel will give you a welcome shot, strangers on the street will invite you into their homes to try their raki, and the roadside sellers will insist on you sampling their product even if you have no intention of buying! Just make sure to enjoy raki responsibly – my friend MAY have consumed a little too much and ended up in an Albanian hospital by 7pm…
3. Albanians are SO friendly
Albanians LOVE foreigners, and nothing makes an Albanian happier than welcoming somebody into their country. When I was in Albania, people were always desperate to talk to me. They would come up to me at markets advising me about prices, they would give me their seat on the bus, they would carry my bags and just generally go out of their way to make sure I was happy and comfortable in their country.
An old Albanian adage says that ‘An Albanian’s house is the dwelling of God and the guest,’ and for this reason Albanians will not rest until you are fed, watered and comfortable. What’s more, because Albania was closed to foreigners for so long. Albanians are delighted to see people exploring their country, and they often can’t believe that people have travelled all the way from Australia (for example) to see Albania. In 4 years of full time travel, I have never encountered people as warm and welcoming as the people in Albania.
4. Albanians are desperate to change their image
Albanians are well aware that films such as Taken portray them in a bad light, and it doesn’t help that lots of Albanians living in the Netherlands, the USA and the UK are indeed often involved in people, drugs and arms trafficking. Frustrated by the fact that the whole world sees them as gangsters, Albanians are eager to show tourists in Albania that they are not like this, and this desire to change public perception of them just makes them even more hospitable.
While it may be the case that your local drug dealer in your home country is Albanian, this could not be further from what Albanian people in Albania are like. In Albania, middle aged men are more likely to be playing dominos or tending to their goats than trafficking girls for sex, and if you’re still not convinced then ask yourself this: what would the Albanian mafia gain from being in Albania? The Albanian mafia is where the money is, and that sure isn’t Albania.
5. Albania has the best beaches in Europe
Sorry Spain and Croatia – when it comes to beaches, Albania has it covered. With almost 300 miles of stunning coastline and white sand beaches, Albania is the best place in Europe if you’re a beach bum, and because Albania is still relatively undiscovered, you won’t struggle to find a place to sunbathe (with the exception of Ksamil, which was very crowded when I went in September).
Not only is accommodation on the Albanian Riviera very cheap, but there are also lots of ‘secret’ beaches that you can camp out on – beaches that you’ll only find if you hire a car and do your own road trip down the coast. If you’d like to read my guide to the Albanian Riviera then please click here!
6. The mountains are equally as beautiful
If you’re more of a mountain person, then fear not because you will not be disappointed in Albania. I spent the night in a log cabin in Valbona National Park, and I could not believe the views surrounding me when I woke up in the morning.
For fans of hiking then there are also ample hiking trails in Albania, the most popular among backpackers being the Theth to Valbona hike, open seasonally.
Fun fact for Harry Potter nerds – Voldemort actually hid out in the Albanian mountains so it’s super cool to go here as a HP fan and picture He Who Must Not Be Named enjoying the Albanian nature!
7. Albania is a vegetarian’s paradise
If you’ve travelled in the Balkans then you’ll know that the food is very meat heavy and it can be tough to find veggie options. However, Albania incorporates vegetarian dishes into its cuisine in a way that its Balkan counterparts do not, and you’ll find dishes such as stuffed peppers or aubergines, baked okra and more on Albanian menus.
8. Albania has very little petty crime
In other European countries, petty crime is a huge problem. If you walk down the streets of Paris or Barcelona, there’s a high chance that you’re going to fall prey to pickpockets, but in Albania petty crime is pretty much nonexistant.
Not only that but random outbreaks of violence are rare and street harassment for women is practically nil also. I never once got harassed while out walking in Albania, even late at night.
9. Albania is home to tonnes of castles and fortresses
Barely a day went by on my trip to Albania that I wasn’t exploring a castle or walking up to a fortress overlooking the city. This is not only great for history buffs but it gives a great insight into Albanian culture as the fortresses are popular places to watch the sun set and drink a beer with friends.
The lack of tourism in Albania also means that you won’t be stuck behind hordes of Chinese tourists with selfie sticks or Americans with paper maps and bum bags. Most of the people that you see enjoying the views from the fortresses will be young Albanians.
10. Hitchhiking in Albania is easy and safe
I’d never hitchhiked before coming to Albania but it’s so common there that I just had to give it a try! EVERYONE hitchhikes in Albania, and even if you’re not actually looking for a ride, be prepared for cars to stop and ask you if you need a lift somewhere.
Due to the fairly limited public transport, hitchhiking is often the only way to get to certain beaches or waterfalls, and I highly recommend that you abandon your reservations and give it a go!
11. Albanian coffee culture
Sometimes I swear Albanians survive on a diet of espresso and cigarettes! No matter where you are in Albania, the cafes will be choc-full of men chain smoking and nursing espressos for hours, and this is definitely a culture that I can get down with!
My coffee of choice is always sweet Turkish coffee, a welcome leftover from the Ottoman rule, and you can get an espresso or Turkish coffee for around 40 cents at most bars and cafes!
12. The evening stroll
Hand in hand with the Albanian love of coffee is their nightly walk. Every city in Albania has a pedestrian street lined with bars and coffee shops, and each evening at about 7/8pm, every Albanian comes out for a stroll. This is the busiest time in Albania, and it is the perfect time to catch up with friends, indulge in a spot of people watching, and – you’ve guessed it – drink coffee.
13. Wine tasting
Albania may not be the first place you think of when you think about wine, but Albania actually produces delicious wine and wine tasting was one of my favourite pastimes in Albania! After the fall of communism, the Albanian people were given back their land, and many of them used the fertile ground to grow grapes and produce lovely wines and raki.
I visited the Fiska family up at Kantina Alpeta in the village of Roshnik, and I had such a wonderful time eating their home grown tomatoes, figs and olives and sampling their wine that I actually ended up going back about four times! You can read my full review of wine tasting in Roshnik here, but for now I will just say that I was very impressed and wine tasting in Albania was one of the highlights of my trip.
14. Albania has a fascinating recent history
Not so long ago, Albania was actually more closed off to the world than North Korea is today, to the point where, once Albania opened its doors to the world, bananas and Coca Cola would be displayed on people’s mantelpieces to show off their flashy Western purchases.
Not only that but Enver Hoxha was so crazy paranoid that he had 700,000 bunkers built all around the country, which you can still see today as you drive through the countryside or walk down the street. There are actually two bunker museums in Tirana (Bunk’Art and Bunk’Art 2) which tell the fascinating story of communist Albania.
To read my guide to Tirana then just click here!
All the way down the coast of Albania you can buy delicious fresh seafood at a fraction of the price that you would pay basically anywhere else in the world. Need I say more?!
16. The twin UNESCO cities of Berat and Gjirokaster
I fell in love with both Berat and Gjirokaster – the city of a thousand windows and the city of a thousand steps. Both cities are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and it isn’t difficult to see why – the cobbled streets, the stunning architecture and the abundance of museums, not to mention glorious views and beautifully preserved castles in both cities make them both well worth spending time in.
To read my guides to Berat and Gjirokaster then just click here and here!
17. Religious tolerance
Under communism, Albania was an atheist country, and now even though it is technically a Muslim country, for all intents and purposes it is very secular. Most people eat pork and drink alcohol, and it is rare to see women wearing headscarves (although the women that do choose to wear the hijab are not judged for it). My tour guide actually joked that even though more than 50% of the population is Muslim, 99% have never stepped foot inside a mosque!
Despite its secular nature, Albania is very proud of its religious tolerance. Mosques stand next to Orthodox churches, interfaith marriages are common and people will never argue about religion here. I honestly think that other countries could learn a lot from Albania’s religious tolerance!
18. Albania has the best Italian food outside of Italy
Because of its close proximity to Italy and the amount of Italians that come here, Albania has excellent Italian food, and some even say that it has the best pizza outside of Italy!
19. Albania is safe!
Did I mention that Albania is safe?? Albanian people do not want to rob you, rape you or steal your organs. All they want to do is force feed you raki and make sure you’re never hungry.
For solo female travellers, I cannot recommend Albania enough, and I don’t say that lightly. It infuriates me when I see travel bloggers telling women that they will be safe wherever they go, because that truly isn’t the case, but you will be safe in Albania, I promise.
I actually wrote an entire article about safety in Albania which you can read here if you’re interested.
20. Albania has the best souvenirs
When I was in Gjirokaster I couldn’t believe how many lovely souvenir shops there were dotted around everywhere. The souvenirs that you will buy in Albania are beautiful, from silk purses to colourful jewellery, Turkish tea sets and handmade traditional rugs, and you will always pay a fair price.
21. Roman ruins
Where else can you see beautifully preserved Roman ruins without hordes of crowds all clamouring for that perfect picture? Albania! I took a day trip to Butrint National Park from Saranda and I couldn’t believe that this entire Roman city was in such good condition, and there were barely any tourists around! If you’re an Ancient History nerd, Albania is the place for you.
22. Organic food
Rest assured that pretty much all the food that you will find in Albania has been raised on a farm close by. The goat’s cheese you’re eating? It probably came from the goat that just ambled past. I actually went to a restaurant in Roshnik (Restaurant Roshniku) that prides itself on serving whatever it has hunted, from birds of prey to venison. All the food is slow cooked with home grown veggies and homemade cheese – yum! If that isn’t enough to get your mouth watering then know that all of the fruits and veggies in Albania taste delicious because they have been allowed to grow naturally with no pesticides.
23. The Albanian flag
The Albanian flag is the most badass flag I’ve ever seen and it’s EVERYWHERE. A double headed black eagle on a blood red background? Yes. Just yes.
24. Albania is off the beaten path
With overtourism destroying destinations, it is more important now than ever to visit those paths less trodden. Not only is visiting Albania great because it takes some of the strain off neighbouring countries and boosts their economy, but BECAUSE not many people travel to Albania, you will be able to have a truly ‘Albanian’ experience without the crowds that places such as Dubrovnik or Corfu attract.
25. Greek food
Because of its proximity to Greece, lots of Greek dishes have made their way into Albanian cuisine. When I was in Himara, there were so many Greek restaurants, I was spoilt for choice, and the boys that I was travelling with practically lived off gyros, which were always around 1.50 EUR!
26. Private islands
On my birthday I took a trip to Ksamil from Saranda, but even though it was mid-September, all of the beaches were super crowded and people were packed together like sardines (which was odd because Saranda was pretty much empty!).
However, just as we were giving up hope of finding a quiet spot, a guy approached us and said that if we liked, we could take a boat to a nearby private island for just 20 EUR between us (both ways!). The boat ride only took a few minutes and we found ourselves on this stunning island with golden sand and calm waters. There was nothing on it aside from a makeshift wooden bar selling cans of beer and soft drinks, and aside from a handful of Italian tourists, we had the whole beach to ourselves!
What made everything even better was the fact that I actually got a pizza delivered to me BY BOAT from the mainland for only 7 EUR! Is there a better way to spend a birthday than getting pizza delivered to you on a private beach?!
27. Albania has excellent hostels
As Albania is yet to make its way onto the mainstream tourist track, I wasn’t expecting much from the hostels there – oh how naive I was! From Trip’N in Tirana, with its own brewery and free breakfast cooked to order, to Berat Backpackers in Berat which is actually a 300 year old UNESCO protected building and Stone City Hostel in Gjirokaster which is quite possibly the most beautiful hostel I’ve ever stayed in, hostels in Albania are difficult to beat.
28. The weather
If you’re anything like me, you love the sun, and being in the south of Europe and so close to Greece, Albania will not let you down!
29. Local buses
Never have I enjoyed public transport quite as much as in Albania. On Albania’s buses (which are usually mini buses, or furgons), you will not find WiFi and air-conditioning. However, what you WILL find is a system that really should not work, but yet it always seems to! Online timetables are nonexistant in Albania, and even bus stops are a rarity!
When you eventually manage to get on a bus, don’t be surprised if your bus driver pulls over to buy bags of onions from an old lady on the side of the road, unceremoniously dumps you on the side of the highway and tells you that you need to catch another bus, or picks up random parcels from people waiting on the side of the road before hurling them out of the window when they reach their presumed destination.
I am aware that all of this sounds very scary, and not a reason to visit Albania, but trust me, bus rides in Albania are the craziest and most entertaining way to spend your time there, and as I said – it shouldn’t work, but it does.
30. Weird communist architecture
There sure are a lot of weird buildings in Albania that hark back to communism, but my favourite is the Pyramid, or Piramida in Tirana. Designed by communist leader Enver Hoxha’s daughter 3 years after his death, the pyramid was once a museum all about Hoxha’s life, but since 2001 it has been part television broadcasting centre, part carpark and part tourist attraction, with local kids and tourists climbing to the top. Regardless of whether you choose to climb the Pyramid or not, it’s still a super interesting building and worth checking out.
31. Old men
Old Albanian men are the cutest, and the streets in Albania are always lined with groups of them playing cards, chess or dominos, smoking and drinking espresso. Every park in Albania is guaranteed to be full of old men gathered in groups of 6 or 8 and engrossed in whatever game they’re playing, and it made my heart sing to see them.
32. The Blue Eye
Albania’s famous Blue Eye (Syri i Kalter) is a water spring and natural phenomenon that you can’t miss if you visit Albania. More than 50-metres deep (nobody actually knows how deep the Blue Eye is because divers haven’t been able to reach the bottom), the water in the Blue Eye is so clear that you can see right to the bottom! Surrounded by oak and sycamore trees and a turquoise river, the Blue Eye is an enchanting place.
Just be careful if you decide to go for a swim – the water is freezing!
33. Albanian KFC throws the ultimate shade to communism
For the most part, American fast-food chains have yet to make their way into Albania (which is a blessing!). However, the lone KFC in Albania’s capital, Tirana, sits proudly opposite the old mansion of the former dictator, Enver Hoxha. If that isn’t throwing shade, then I don’t know what is!
When I stayed at Stone City Hostel in Gjirokaster, one of the owners, Brenna, took myself and a few of the other guests off-roading in the countryside, and we were able to find old Roman ruins, as well as stunning waterfalls and mosques that just aren’t possible to reach without the insider knowledge of a local.
Butrint National Park may be THE place to go if you want to see well-preserved ruins with information plaques detailing exactly what they used to function as, but there is something extra special about being in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains and miles away from civilisation and seeing an ancient amphitheatre!
35. Flea markets
Whilst in Berat, I paid a visit to the local flea market.* At this huge weekend market you can buy just about anything, and as well as coming home with bags full of clothes (I didn’t pay more than 25 cents for anything, and I didn’t even have to haggle – this was the original price!), it was a real cultural experience to see the stalls piled high with everything you can possibly imagine, ran by fierce old ladies with forearm tattoos, long skirts and countless hoop earrings in each ear.
*The flea market is known as the ‘gypsy market’ to locals. I shy away from the term because it’s a racial slur, but I am including it here in case you want to find it – locals won’t know what you mean if you call it the ‘flea market.’
36. Ethnographic museums
I find ethnographic museums fascinating, and luckily for me, Albania has an abundance of them! The Ethnographic Museum in Berat is inside a beautifully restored old house, and you can wander around the rooms and see just how they would have looked hundreds of years ago, as well as learning about traditional Albanian life. For instance, did you know that rich families always kept a spare bedroom made up in case weary travellers passing through the town needed a place to stay?
It’s especially interesting to wander through the Skendulate house in Gjirokaster. One of the Skendulate family themselves will show you around and explain what all of the rooms were used for over the centuries, and it’s a wonderful glimpse into the Albania of years gone by.
37. Albania deserves tourism!
Last but certainly not least, Albania really deserves tourism! Albania is a country that has been through so much over the years, and it really has so much to offer that it deserves your time. Albanian people absolutely love welcoming foreigners into their country and into their homes, and their economy could benefit so much from the extra boost that a little more tourism would provide.
Albania is not yet able to handle the millions of tourists that other destinations get every year, and it would honestly be a shame if Albania DID become a major tourist hub, but I really believe that if just a few more people added Albania to their travel itineraries, then this precious little country would benefit a great deal.
So there we have it!
I hope that in this article, I’ve managed to show you that Albania is not some backwards, mafia-infested hovel but that it is actually a rich and diverse land with SO much to offer, from its wonderful people to awe-inspiring nature, mouthwatering cuisine and the melting pot of cultures that have come together over the years to form modern day Albania.
Albania has been the most surprising country that I’ve ever visited in over 4 years of travel, and I cannot recommend this magical place enough.
Have you ever been to Albania? What did you like about it? Please let me know in the comments section if I missed anything off the list!