Albania is still a fairly untouched place when it comes to western tourists traveling Europe. And why? Because no one really knows much about it and neither did we. After spending a week travelling the coast, the amount of beautiful surprises the country threw our way, we can safely say it’s one of our favourite destinations and one you shouldn’t look past on your European adventures too.
We were asked many questions during our travels through Albania. Is it safe? Is it cheap? What are the best beaches? The best towns & villages? But mostly we received comments from people (you guys) who couldn’t believe Albania was so breathtakingly beautiful. In response to all this, we’ve created an Albanian Travel Guide to inform you, or inspire you, to visit this amazing little country. Keep in mind that we only really travelled the coastline, but I’ll be sure to throw in some of the popular inland destinations too.
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So for a little recent history…
Albania was until recent times (the last 25ish years), under the rule of communism which explains why many don’t know much about the country. In 1990 the voice of change was already wide spread throughout the country and the collapse of communism was well under way. With the government granting the people of Albania permission to travel abroad (1990) and allowing us to travel in, we were able to gain a much wider insight to the history of this country. Albania only established a democratic system in 1998 based upon the rule of law and the protection of human rights. For a far more factual recap on the history of Albania – a free walking tour in Tirana will tell you everything you need to know.
How to get to Albania?
Fly – Flying into Tirana from any European city is easy and we always use skyscanner.com to find the best deals! If you’re only wanting to visit the southern beaches (as they’re the most beautiful as I’ll explain later), then you can actually fly to Corfu Island in Greece and catch the 30min fast boat over to Sarandë.
Bus – If you’re already in Eastern Europe, busing is your cheapest option! We caught the bus from Montenegro to Tirana.
Albania travel plan
(can be done in 1-2 weeks)
Tirana is the capital of Albania and the city you’ll probably find yourself in upon first arrival. We got in late and only stayed overnight, leaving early the next morning as we were itching for the coast – but if we had a little more time, we would have spent one day visiting the city.
In terms of what to do here, 100% do the free walking tour Tirana. Best way to learn about the history of Albania before you kick off your adventures towards the coast.
Accomodation >>> Homstel Albania. We heard it was great vibes from some Kiwi friends and they said it really made their stay in Tirana that much better.
We picked up a rental car in Tirana and headed south to Vlore (I explain more about where to pick up the rental car below). We were going to stay here but after realising it was a pretty big city, we decided to kick on with the drive. We were looking for smaller, more secluded towns and with the freedom you get with your own car hire and no locked in accomodation plans, this was care-free.
To explain a little more about Vlore: Vlore is a harbour city that has a peninsula jutting out across the bay. It’s a booming spot among tourists (comes in second behind Tirana) so the nightlife here is wicked if that’s your thing. If you’re just cruising through like us, the drive down the coast is cool too so make sure you stop off wherever you like to have a swim, grab a drink or just enjoy the view back towards Vlore.
Accomodation >>> Booking.com/Vlore. There are so many places here to suit everyones budget. Some of the B&B’s look amazing, perched on secluded beaches with crystal clear waters so check them out.
One of the best beaches in Albania is Dhërmi Beach, hands down. A short hour and a half drive south from Vlore and you’ll arrive. With nothing to do but swim, relax and explore the beach, this was the best place to stop for lunch and chill for a few hours. We copped Dhermi on a windy day but still, the blue waters were magical and it was well worth it.
Accomodation >>> You can stay here in Dhermi, but prices are a little higher than the rest of Albania (though still pretty cheap). I would day trip here from Vlore if you’re staying there, or do as we did and just stop through while on your drive south.
Our first stop for the night and here we stayed for 3 more. We arrived around 4pm and the golden hour glow had just set in across the bay. Wow this sleepy town was exactly what we were looking for. After a sunset swim in the gorgeous bay, we wandered along the promenade full of local restaurants, shops, fruit stalls, local pubs, gelato stalls, market nick nacks and more. You really get a taste for the laid back, local way of life here in this Albanian town but you’ve also got the tourists too. Nothing too mental though, this was still far quieter than towns across Europe. Make sure to have dinner at Lefteri’s Tavern, next door to the hostel mentioned below – such amazing seafood for such cheap prices!
Accomodation >>> Himare Downtown Hostel. An intimate family run hostel, super chill vibes and helpful staff. A two minute walk from the beach and right in the relaxed town of Himare. The breakfast in the morning is crazy good too 🙌🏼
Gjipe Beach (Day trip from Himare)
20 minutes drive from Himare is Gjipe Beach, the MOST BEAUTIFUL beach in Albania and one of the best beaches we’ve come across in Europe. This is a must must must so no matter what route you take, Gjipe beach needs to be on it. Fairly secluded, there’s a good 20min walk to the beach from the car park and to my knowledge there’s no busses that take you here (so hitchhiking from Himare if you don’t have a car is the way to go). When you reach the small pebbled beach & turquoise waters, just let it sink it that this is Albania and this is living!! So mind blowingly beautiful – our day trip here was a highlight of the trip and the pics below will show you why…
Following the coast further south, we headed for Sarandë. The sought after spot in Albania, known for clear beaches, a vibrant town, amazing seafood and ocean cruises – a relaxing holiday destination, that’s for sure. Sarandë is smaller than Vlore, but bigger than Himare and with epic day trip destinations nearby, it’s a no brainer to stay here for around 2-4 nights to experience it all.
Spend a day chilling at the beach on the loungers. It’s packed with people but the clear view out to Corfu Island on the horizon is pretty sweet. Make sure you have a cocktail or 5 at Jericho right in the heart of the town, the vibes here are cool and the watermelon cocktail is YUM. Wander up and down the promenade both during the day and at night, stopping to eat at one of the many local restaurants you’ll come across. The nightlife (although we didnt experience it) seems to be ‘wanna be Ibiza styles’ with big beach clubs, strobe lights & loud techno music.
Accomodation >>> We booked our stay through Booking.com/sarandë as we wanted a private room after so many days spent in hostel bunk beds! We also had 2 Kiwi friends with us, so grabbed ourselves a 2 bedroom which definitely did not break the bank. If you want the hostel vibes, there’s a hostel called the Hairy Lemon Hostel which a lot of backpackers stay at too!
Ksamil Islands (day trip from Sarandë)
Punch “Ksamil Islands” into the map and let the road lead the way. Ksamil is only a little further south from Sarandë but feels as though you’ve been transported to the Maldives. So many little inlets and bays to choose from, just wander towards the beach, choose some loungers and set up for the day. The little islands, a short distance out from the beach are so picturesque in their island style, it was a wonderful suprise – we seriously never knew Albania looked like this…did you?!
Accomodation >>> You can totally stay here in Ksamil but we decided to just stay put in one place and visit for the day. Booking.com always have our backs, so check out the Ksamil accomodation options here.
Pasqyra Beach (visit on your way back to Sarandë from Ksamil)
If you want to visit another beautiful and picturesque bay then stop off here. The drive down to the beach is uneven and bumpy AF, but popping out to this fairly secluded spot is again…full of surprise. We climbed over the rocks around the right side of the bay, chilled out in the afternoon sun, taking pics and jumping into the water. How good.
The Blue Eye (day trip from Sarandë)
Everybody says “go to the Blue Eye,” so of course we had to see the spring for ourselves. I’m sad to say this was totally overrated. Sure, the crystal blue spring waters are very pretty, but honestly the beaches are far better. The spring itself is pretty small, with no space to lay down your towel and chill. Basically your only option is to stand around staring at the spring with hundreds of other people, jump in (which was the funnest part for sure) and then leave. I’d say if timing is an issue, or it’s in the too hard basket – missing the Blue Eye isn’t the end of the world.
Places we didn’t get to visit that are on the list for next time
- Prokletije (Albanian Alps) – read more on where to visit and what to expect HERE
- Berat – a UNESCO world heritage site, known for it’s white Ottoman houses
- Shkodra – Close to the boarder of Montenegro so perfect if you’re catching the bus down
Best way to travel around Albania?
Car hire – As mentioned above, this is what we did and think it’s the best way to travel for sure! We wanted to drive down the coast with no exact plan, stopping and swimming whenever and wherever we liked and the beauty of hiring your own car is that you can do just that 🙌🏼 You’re on no schedule, no particular pick up or drop off points and you have your own freedom to roam.
We picked up a brand spanking new car from Ace Rent A Car which we found on rentalcars.com. The whole process was easier than any other rental car we’ve hired in Europe (we’ve hired around 8 cars over our 2 years traveling) so it was a great start to the adventure.
Bus – If you don’t want to hire a car or if that’s not an option, most people use the bus systems to get around the country. They’ll pretty much get you everywhere you want to go, but just plan on extra travel time as the process is long and slow. At most hostels you’ll be able to get info on the bus schedules so don’t stress too much with pre-planning these things…#gowiththeflow
Is Albania Safe?
We got this question a lot actually…like a lot a lot, so in a nutshell well sum it up. YES 100% YES. Petty crime and even pickpocketing are pretty unheard of and the Albanian people are totally welcoming to tourists. The people are friendly and even though they may look at you with a straight face at first glance, once you crack a smile at them, a big smile will come back your way with a “hello” and a big wave. Like any country, always have your wits about you and think smart, but we felt totally safe in Albania.
Best time to visit Albania?
It’s best to visit during the summer months (May-September). Most days expect clear blue skies, crystal clear waters, low wind and temperatures around 24-32degrees. In the South, temperatures creep up around 35degrees, sometimes higher. BEAUT ☀
Why is Albania so cheap + what is the currency?
As one of the poorest countries in Europe, Albania is therefore one of the cheapest. But why? Long story short, the fall of communism and the transition to a democratic republic has weighted heavily on the people of Albania. The country battles against the strength of the Euro in neighbouring countries which allows tourists to travel for seriously cheap.
The currency used in Albania is the Albanian lek. 1 Euro = 125 Lek (current conversion rate August 2018)
Can I drink the water in Albania?
We brushed our teeth in the tap water but didn’t drink it. Drink only bottled water just to be safe team ☺ Ps – Use a reusable drink bottle and fill up at water stations that are around #nosingleuseplastic
What should I wear in Albania?
You can totally dress as you normally would throughout Albania, especially the coast. Most people were just in shorts, singlets and general western clothing.
Anything we’ve missed that you want to know? Hit us up and well add them to the post!!
Albania really was the ultimate surprise and I think all you followers felt the same ✨ Definitely chuck it on your European bucket list because it most definitely not disappoint.
Leah | FREE & ADDICTED
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