Albania is an underrated treasure box in the Balkan.
Most of the people really don’t know too much about this amazing country, or which is even worse, have a fake imagination in their mind.
When I started to plan my Albanian trip I was forewarned by so many people who wanted to prepare me that Albania is like Hungary 50 years ago. Communism. Trash. Not caring people. So I didn’t have huge expectations when I arrived.
I finally ended up being in Albania for almost 2 months because this place is insane and the people here are just genuinely kind and helpful! Plus Albania is so breathtakingly beautiful! This place became one of my favourite countries and it is a place where I will go back for sure.
Experience it yourself before others would realize how magical and untouched place it is.
Here are your Albania travel guide and so many reasons why you should visit Albania right now.
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Culture and history
If you want to know a little bit more about Albanian history, definitely go to Tirana, visit the BunkArt and join a free walking tour. In a nutshell, Albania established its democratic system only at the end of the ‘90s. Before that, Albania was under one of the most repressive communist totalitarian regimes – even North Korea has more trade partners than Albania did just a few years ago.
Albania is a place where a lot of religions can stand next to each other without any arguing, totally in peace so you can find the presence of the most diverse religious symbols pretty close to each other.
What to wear?
Whatever you want! Really! You do not have to change your clothing style because of Albania. Although, if you are planning to go into churches and mosques, you should take a scarf or pashmina with you – just in case, unless you want to have a weird experience such as I had in Shkodra.
The Albanian language is almost as widely spoken a language as Hungarian (I am Hungarian, I can make fun of it :P), so no worries if you don’t speak that language. Although it is really nice and makes you more welcome as a tourist if you learn some basic words. The younger generation speaks in English, although you will find so many places, even in the tourism and hospitality area where they don’t speak in English at all. But no worries, because these people are so generous and will do the best for you. Beside Albanian, Greek and Italian are very popular as well.
Prices and currency
The official currency is Albanian LEK but you can pay with Euro pretty much everywhere, although it is a good idea to exchange your money or to use a card like Revolut.
Albania is cheap. Well, it depends on where you come from, so if you are – for example – from another Balkan country, you’ll probably face the same prices as back home. If you are from a Northern European country or from the States, you will be surprised at how cheap it is. And if you are from New Zealand or Australia you can live like a king – I am serious.
This website can reflect the prices of Albania pretty well but to have a better imagination right now, here is an example:
I paid 7 EUR/night for a 4-bed dorm with own bathroom in Saranda, although I was the only person in the room. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that the breakfast – which was included in the price – was like this:
Yes, Guys, I am not kidding. That was breakfast for two. Only for two people! So if you are in a hostel right now, what did you get in the morning – I mean, if you got any -?
Tap water: yes or no?
Well, there are some places where drinking tap water is not the best idea ever but I didn’t have any issues while I was there and drinking tap water. Ask the staff of the place where you are staying and they will tell you. But if you don’t want to take this risk, drink bottled water – it is cheap, like everything else.
Is Albania safe?
As a solo female traveller, I can say that Albania is safe! Yes, safe to travel around solo or as a couple or if you are a unicorn. I would say it is safer for you anywhere in Albania than in Madrid, Paris, Rome or Budapest. Street crime is uncommon, such as pickpocketing and Albanian people are honest so they won’t rip you off only because you are a tourist. Well of course, there are bad people everywhere, so don’t be insane but yes, in general, Albania is safe.
Best places to visit
Any beaches and any sites! One of the best things about Albania is that whenever you are you can meet with history, culture, nature and generous people. And the best? Without so many tourists! I can highly recommend any of the places I visited. Although I spent there almost two months which wasn’t enough time to see everything – I am an extremely slow traveller – so if you go there for a holiday 2-3 weeks should be enough to travel all across the country.
Places I didn’t get to visit so they are on my list for next time
How to get there and around
Although I started my Albanian journey in Shkodra, the capital, Tirana is a good hub to arrive and travel around. Tirana has the biggest airport in Albania so the easiest, fastest – and sometimes the cheapest – way to get to Albania is by plane. Check Kiwi.com for the cheapest prices.
However, so many Albanian cities have bus and train connections to several countries such as Kosovo or Montenegro. Flixbus doesn’t operate in Albania – like in most of the countries in the Balkan – so check Rome2Rio or GoEuro for your options.
Getting around seems to be quite tricky at first, but it is actually pretty easy.
Especially if you hire a car. But if you do, please be prepared for the Balkan driving style. Maybe the best option is to hire a van. You can camp anywhere in Albania and you do not want to miss those magical sites.
Bus/furgon and train
Such an adventure to use public transport, especially leaving Tirana behind between little villages. Be prepared to spend extra time because the process is long and slow but really is an experience so you should try it at least once. Buses are not really buses but they are furgons usually packed with more people than seats. Although there are some official bus stops, they pick you up and drop you off literally anywhere you want to and charge you according to the distance.
If you are a newbie to hitchhiking then Albania is the perfect place for a first trial. It is so easy because you really don’t have to hitchhike. Just go along the road and so many people will stop next to you to offer a ride. I don’t want to suggest just hopping into any car that stops near you! Do not do that, because it is silly but follow your guts and also some basic rules of hitchhiking and you will be fine.
What to eat
Well, every man to his taste but Albanian food is just amazing. Although Albanian cuisine is a little bit influenced by Italian, Turkish and Greek cuisine as well, it is still different and so delicious. Here are some divine, must-try foods:
- Tave Kosi – Lamb is baked in an earthenware pot with eggs and yoghurt. – sounds weird, but so delicious
- Byrek Mangalemi – it is a mix of pumpkin, potato, cottage cheese and a hint of lemon. Amazing!
- Chocolate Delight – have you ever tasted a little piece of Heaven?
- And a kind of booze – rakia. If you’ve ever been to Hungary and tried pálinka, you can imagine how this moonshine is, because it is quite similar. It is distilled typically from grapes or plums and it is a must-try, however, I am not a huge fan of it.
Best time to visit
Anytime 🙂 Seriously! But if you want to enjoy Albania’s beautiful beaches, the best time for visiting is from May to October.
My ultimate reason why you should visit Albania right now!
Besides all the things above, and including my other posts about this beautiful country, the main reason why I really loved Albania is that everything is an adventure there. Even a bus ride – especially a bus ride.
Because of the people.
It doesn’t matter that you don’t speak the same language. It doesn’t matter if it seems you have nothing in common. They are there and always ready to help you out or just make your day better.
Although in some cases you need some humour and – say – “go with the flow” type of outlook on life to be able to handle a situation – for example if you don’t have a chance to leave a place because there is no public transport and the owner of the only accommodation available is so creepy that he gets into your room while you are sleeping (true story, read about it here) – most of the local people around you would do – almost – anything to help you out.
And sometimes this help arrives in a unique way and transforms a totally normal situation into a real adventure.
+1 more reason: it is quite funny that you can find the most number of Mercedes cars in Albania which is considered as one of the poorest European countries. You can actually find more Mercedes there than anywhere else.