It’s strange to think that in this day and age there are any parts of Europe overlooked by travelers, but one glaringly obvious candidate is the country of Albania. Only recently have international tourists realized how much this Balkan nation northwest of Greece has to offer. From gorgeous beaches to epic mountain hikes and charmingly traditional towns, the most popular tourist attractions in Albania really deliver something for everyone.
To show you what we mean, we’ve put together this list of the best places to visit in Albania. When you’re done reading, you’ll no doubt want to start planning a trip there ASAP, which should be pretty easy as you’ll have plenty of ideas for what to do in Albania when you go.
When visiting Albania, it’s hard to pass over the national capital, Tirana. Not only is it the largest city in Albania and the easiest place to start your journey from, Tirana is a fun, lively place to dive into the country’s culture and history. Skanderbeg Square is a worthy starting point as it sits right in the heart of the city and is home to the exceptional National History Museum, identified by the gigantic mosaic on its facade. Other fascinating historical attractions in the city center include the 18th-century Et’hem Bey Mosque and Bunkart 2, one of two Cold War bunkers in Tirana cleverly converted into art and history museums. The city is also full of cafés, bars, and restaurants that create a rich yet affordable nightlife for visitors to joyfully explore.
With its incredible Ottoman-style houses, it’s easy to see why the town of Berat is one of the most adored destinations in Albania. The charming buildings have earned Berat the nickname The City of a Thousand Windows, while its thousands of years of history has earned the town a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Beyond admiring its gorgeous scenery, visitors will also delight in exploring the remains of Berat Castle and wandering down to the intricate Gorica Bridge. Further impressive historical sites around Berat include the 13th-century Church of the Holy Trinity, the last remnants of the Red Mosque, and the artifacts inside the Onufri National Iconographic Museum.
Resting right at the southern end of Albania’s considerable coastline, you’ll find the resort city of Saranda and some of the best beaches in Albania. Saranda combines brilliant beaches, pumping nightlife, and interesting historical sights to ensure that it has something for everyone who visits. Mango Beach and Saranda Beach are the two central beach areas that come alive during summer, although the seaside at Pulëbardha Beach is also quite lovely. In terms of attractions, Lekursi Castle sits at the top of the list, both for its hilltop ruins but also its epic sunset views. Visitors to Saranda also have the option to pop over to Greece for the day, as the popular island of Corfu is just a short ferry ride away.
4. The Albanian Riviera
Although Saranda may be the best known beach destination on Albania’s coast, there are a whole host of smaller towns and beach resorts in Albania that are collectively known as the Albanian Riviera. The area generally refers to the stretch of coast on the Ionian Sea that starts at Saranda and continues all the way north to Llogara National Park. Besides Saranda, Dhërmi is probably the most popular beach town on the Albanian Riviera thanks to its nightlife and the various music festivals that it hosts. However, there are plenty of quieter towns along the Albanian Riviera where you can easily spend a few days relaxing by the beach, such as Himara, Borsh, Palase, and Vuno.
Gjirokastra is one of the best places to go in Albania if you want to see the country’s more traditional side. This small inland city is the other historical city alongside Berat that is recognized by UNESCO for its exceptionally well-preserved character. Walking through its cobblestone streets past the bazaar and gorgeous Ottoman architecture, you’ll surely feel transported back in time. Things only get better when you journey up to Gjirokastra Castle, where you’ll find a weapon museum and mesmerizing views of the nearby mountains. Gjirokastra has ties to two major Albanian figures: the acclaimed writer Ismail Kadare and the former Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, both of whose homes are now museums.
While often included with other destinations as part of the Albanian Riviera, the seaside village of Ksamil certainly deserves its own mention on this list. Ksamil is found to the south of Saranda and is widely considered among the prettiest vacation spots in Albania due to its idyllic seaside surroundings. Crystal clear water, fine sand beaches, and four small islands just off the coast have led people to draw unlikely comparisons between Ksamil and the Maldives! Rest and relaxation is definitely on the cards with a visit to Ksamil, whether that means sunbathing, swimming, or taking to the water with a paddleboard.
For an Albanian city with a distinctly different look and feel, look to the northern city of Shkodra. Generally considered the cultural capital of Albania, Shkodra hosts a variety of festivals, some enlightening local museums, and the celebrated Migjeni Theater. However, what often intrigues visitors the most are the pastel colors of the buildings in the city center as they give the old town an unexpected Italian feel. In terms of attractions, the two most noteworthy are Rozafa Castle with its local legends and the elegant Ebu Bekër Mosque. Just a few miles from the center of Shkodra lies Shkodra Lake, where you can do tours out on the water. Shkodra also often acts as a gateway for travelers to the Albanian Alps in the north.
As the main port city in Albania, it could be easy to dismiss Durrës as not worthy of your hard-earned vacation days. But Durrës definitely deserves a closer look as it’s packed with impressive historical sites and home to the closest beaches to the capital, Tirana. Without question the most significant attraction in the city is the Durrës Amphitheater, the largest of its kind in the Balkans, but the Venetian Tower of Durrës and the Archaeological Museum of Durrës are also quite interesting. As for beaches, to the south lies the popular Plazhi i Golemit beachfront, while to the north there are the much quieter beaches on the Bay of Lalzi.
9. Albanian Alps
Just as gorgeous as Albania’s coastline are the country’s incredible mountains that make up the Albanian Alps. These soaring mountains, often also known as the Accursed Mountains, lie in the far north of Albania by the border with Montenegro. The Alps are home to two of Albania’s most beloved national parks, Theth National Park and Valbona Valley National Park, widely agreed to be two of the most beautiful places in Albania. These regions are perfect for travelers interested in hiking and nature, with plenty of trails that pass through dense forest and past waterfalls and springs. For accommodation in the Albanian Alps, look to the small mountain villages of Theth and Valbona as they are excellent bases for exploration.
10. Lake Ohrid & Pogradec
Lake Ohrid may be better known as a popular destination in neighboring North Macedonia thanks to the city of Ohrid, but the Albanian side of the lake is just as worth visiting. The city of Pogradec is the main Albanian destination on the lake, making it the obvious choice if you want to spend time cruising around Lake Ohrid while in Albania. But Pogradec has a few things to offer, too, from its generous beachfront to the wonderful views from its hilltop castle ruins. For something a little different, come in June for the city’s Puppet Theater Festival, whose popularity has inspired further festivals across the Balkans.
Those who really want to dive into the history and culture of Albania can’t miss the small town of Kruja. Found just north of Tirana, Kruja is home to some of the best museums in Albania and has deep ties with national hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. After all, it was from Kruja Castle that Skanderbeg rebuffed the Ottomans for decades, a feat that made him a national symbol. It’s unsurprising then that the town’s castle is now home to the Skanderbeg Museum, dedicated to the man. While up at the castle, don’t overlook the Ethnographic Museum of Kruja, set inside a gorgeous Ottoman house that gives visitors insight into what life was like for a wealthy family of the era.
12. Llogara National Park
Not all of Albania’s mountains are found in the country’s north as the breathtaking scenery of Llogara National Park shows. If you follow the coast north of the Albanian Riviera, you soon reach this mountainous national park and its spellbinding views of the country’s coastline. And, yet, the park is perhaps best known for the Llogara Pass, a mountain pass that reaches 1,027 meters (3,370 feet) in elevation and is home to Albania’s best stretches of road. Even if the road didn’t take you to panoramic viewpoints, the drive through the Llogara Pass would be well worth the journey. Other activities in Llogara National Park to keep you entertained include hiking and wildlife spotting, with chamois, golden eagles, and European wildcats native to the area.
Vlorë is another perfectly well-rounded place to visit when vacationing in Albania due to the diverse range of things to do there. The popular resort city lies on Albania’s south coast and boasts plenty of beaches, bountiful nightlife, and its fair share of interesting historical curiosities. For beaches, there’s the long stretch of sand at Plazhi i Ri or the more central beachfront at Plazhi i Vjeter. Nightlife isn’t hard to come by in Vlorë, but the Cold Water area at Uji i Ftohte has become particularly popular in recent years. Finally, on the history front, there’s the Independence Proclamation Building, where Albania declared its independence in 1912, as well as the ruins of Kanina Castle.
Albania is full of fascinating historical sites, but easily one of its most impressive is the ancient ruins of Apollonia. Located near the small city of Fier just inland of the central coast, the Apollonia Archaeological Park features the remains of the ancient Greek and Roman city founded around 600 BCE. Today, Apollonia is a UNESCO world heritage site that still features archaeologists uncovering new ruins and artifacts. Noteworthy landmarks at Apollonia include the theater, the House of Mosaics, and the former facade to the Monument to Agonothetes, while the archaeological park’s museum is housed inside an equally special and historic monastery building.
15. Butrint National Park
Even though Butrint National Park is situated just outside, and easily visited from, the town of Ksamil, this protected area most definitely deserves its own entry on this list. Butrint is a national park on the coast of southern Albania that is home to a fantastic collection of historical sites from different eras in the region’s history. With an array of monumental relics from the ancient Greeks, Romans, Venetians, and Ottomans on display around the national park, it’s no surprise that UNESCO recognized Butrint with world heritage status in 1992. The core sights to see, such as the ruins of the Great Basilica and the Venetian Tower, are found around the Butrint Ancient Theater, but don’t miss the Ali Pasha Castle out to the west.
By far one of the prettiest cities in Albania you’ll come across is Korçë. What’s interesting is that Korçë is most famous among tourists for being the home of Korça beer, which is commonly found throughout the country. Those who go beyond a tour of the city’s brewery, however, discover that Korçë is a low-key gem. Walking around the city you’ll find lots of traditional Ottoman architecture, making it quite an enjoyable place to explore on foot. Local attractions include the city’s old-fashioned bazaar, the deceptively modern Resurrection of Christ Cathedral of Korçë, and the eye-opening exhibits inside the National Museum of Medieval Art.
17. Përmet & Benja Thermal Baths
A small, out-of-the-way town in the south of Albania, Përmet might seem an unlikely choice to include on this list. But Përmet has a secret weapon, just up the river from it – the marvelous Benja Thermal Baths. Here, the water from nearby geothermal springs is diverted into man-made pools, allowing visitors the opportunity to soak in the soothing water while appreciating the blissful nature of the valley around them. The baths are found by Katiu Bridge, a gorgeous old stone bridge that offers stunning views of the distant mountain ranges.
18. Lake Koman
If you think you’ve already got a handle on the breathtaking diversity of Albania, wait until you see the beauty of Lake Koman. This reservoir in northern Albania is surrounded by steep mountain walls and features vibrant, crystal clear water, the combination of which has naturally fostered comparisons with the majestic fjords of Norway. The best way to see the scenery of the lake is with a journey on the famous Lake Koman Ferry, which transports you from the town of Koman to Fierza further along the Drin River. It’s a great way to slow down your sightseeing for a spell and just take in the splendor of the Albanian countryside.
19. The Blue Eye
One Albanian attraction that travelers will need to see with their own eyes is the country’s famous Blue Eye. Found inland of Saranda near the village of Muzinë, the Blue Eye is a water spring with unbelievably clear blue water. The spring emerges through a karst hole that’s more than 50 meters (164 feet) deep, but visitors are able to see surprisingly far down into the hole thanks to the impeccable clarity of the water. To reach the spring, visitors first walk through a forest of oak and sycamore trees before eventually reaching a viewing platform by the water. Although there are signs warning against swimming in the icy water of the Blue Eye, many visitors opt to dip their feet in.
20. Lake Prespa
Spanning the borders of Albania, North Macedonia, and Greece, Lake Prespa is the third and final border lake to make this list. Technically, though, it’s a system of two lakes, with Great Prespa Lake and Little Prespa Lake separated by a small isthmus. While there are a variety of places to visit around the lake across the different countries, in Albania the shoreline is dominated by Prespa National Park. The park is wetlands, marsh, forest, and nearby meadows, making it an especially good place for birdwatching. One attraction that is worth venturing out onto the lake to see is Maligrad Island, where you’ll find the remote Church of St. Mary inside a cave.
There’s really no way you’re going to run out of places to visit in Albania, because even just getting through the places on this list is going to take a while. The good news, though, is that you now have somewhere to start when planning your visit there.