Is Tirana Worth Visiting? Top Reasons to Explore the Lively Albanian City

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When planning a trip to Europe, cities like Paris, Rome, and Barcelona often come to mind. However, deep in the heart of the Balkans lies Tirana, the vibrant and eclectic capital of Albania, waiting to be discovered.

Often overlooked by travelers, Tirana offers a unique blend of historical intrigue, cultural diversity, and a modern vibe. But is Tirana truly worth adding to your Albania travel itinerary?

In this post, we’ll explore the many facets of Tirana that make it a hidden gem definitely worth visiting. From its colorful streets and rich history to its lively arts scene and burgeoning culinary landscape, Tirana promises an experience that is both unexpected and unforgettable. Join us as we uncover the reasons why this dynamic city should be your next travel destination.

is Tirana worth visiting?

Why is Tirana Worth Visiting Now?

Since the death of Enver Hoxha and the fall of communism in the early 1990s, Tirana has undergone a remarkable transformation. Emerging from decades of isolation, the city has embraced modernization and revitalization.

Colorful murals and contemporary architecture now adorn the city center, reflecting a newfound vibrancy and creativity. The once-gray facades have been replaced with bright, welcoming spaces, symbolizing Tirana’s dynamic spirit and openness to the future.

The city has also developed a thriving café culture, bustling markets, and a lively arts scene, all contributing to its reputation as an emerging travel destination in the Balkans. In fact, the capital of Albania now has nearly as many hipster coffee shops and local restaurants as its infamous bunkers… which is a lot!

Albania is a hidden secret in Europe, that until recently, would rarely be considered as a tourist destination. However, things are changing, as prices rise across the most popular European destinations, and Albania is becoming more and more popular. Go now before it becomes too popular and the authenticity is lost.

As you explore Tirana, you will see the bunkers firsthand and also learn about how the locals were trapped by their communist rulers. The museums in Tirana are laid out fantastically well and offer a real insight into a different world, not so long ago.

In this Tirana travel guide, you’ll find a two day itinerary that covers the notable attractions in the city, along with some recommendations for other upcoming tourist hotspots in Albania.

We also recommend some nice spots to stay in Tirana that offer budget-friendly prices for visitors, as Albania is yet to see the rising prices of Croatia and other neighboring Balkan countries. 

man on a bicycle cycling past a modern building

Tirana Two Day Itinerary

Day One in Tirana

Your first day in Tirana should be spent close to the center, which is home to many famous landmarks, and will give you the chance to get your bearings together in a new city.

Exploring by foot is the best way to see all of the sights at a nice pace. This will also allow you to stop for food, coffee, or anywhere else that piques your interest.

Skanderbeg Square

There is only one place to start in Tirana, and that is the central square which is named after Skanderbeg, who was a national hero in Albania, for leading the independence rebellion against the Ottoman Empire.

The square is a really nice large space, which isn’t too crowded or overrun with locals trying to sell things, so it offers relaxing vibes to explore at a leisurely pace. The square does come alive at night time, and you will find more activity and a mixture of locals and tourists interacting over an evening meal or drinks.

A strong indicator of how fast Tirana is developing is the free wifi available throughout Skanderbeg Square. This was a pleasant surprise as we explored.

If you want to learn about the different landmarks around Skanderbeg Square from a local’s perspective, you should book a walking tour. We found it to be a very efficient way of visiting the landmarks, and we also visited some spots which we hadn’t planned.

white minaret and stone clock tower surrounded by trees and other buildings

Skanderbeg Statue

With the historical importance of Skanderbeg, who was also known as ‘Gjergj Kastrioti’, it is no surprise that there is also a monument dedicated to him within the square.

The 11-meter-high statue showcases Skanderbeg riding a horse and looking strong in battle. When we visited on an official tour, our Albanian tour guide explained that the statue was erected in the 1960s, which was the 500th anniversary of his death.

INSIDER TIP: You will gain more out of visiting such landmarks with a tour guide or following some prior research, so you understand the history behind them.

large statue of a man on a horse atop a large rocky plinth

Bunk Art 2 Museum

A great place to start your Albanian history lesson is in the Bunk’Art 2 Museum just off Skanderbeg Square.

Wandering around the former bunker will give you an insight into some of the propaganda that the locals had to endure for over four decades during the communist regime.

Bunkers are an iconic part of Tirana and the museums do a fantastic job of telling a difficult story. The exhibitions and commentary are displayed in English, which makes them easy to understand.

As you would expect in a former bunker, the conditions can be dinghy and a little claustrophobic, however, this adds to the storytelling inside the museum to create a more authentic experience.

As you will see when you visit this former bunker, Hoxa did not care about the aesthetics of Albania, with many bunkers dotted around in random places.

INSIDER TIP: If you decide to visit Bunk’Art 2 without a guide, we recommend that you visit early in the morning, as when the tour groups enter the bunker, it can get crowded in some of the exhibition rooms.

deep concrete bunker with two doors and a colorful sign

Namazgah Mosque

From a religious standpoint, Tirana is a very interesting city, as it is split evenly between Muslims and Christians. You will hear the call to prayer echoing around the city while walking past churches.

In the modern epicenter of Tirana, which has been designed to bring Albania in line with other capital cities, the Namazgah Mosque is an architectural juxtaposition for International visitors.

Despite only being built within the last decade to accommodate more worshippers, the ‘Great Mosque of Albania’ resembles traditional Turkish architecture similar to the religious buildings in Istanbul. This is in contrast with the high-rise buildings around the square.

You can’t enter the mosque yet as it is still under construction, however, walking around it reveals some awesome architecture.

INSIDER TIP: If you need your caffeine hit in the morning, Tirana is abundant with highly rated coffee shops following its rapid modern transformation. You can sit in and enjoy the atmosphere alongside the digital nomads, or grab a coffee to go and sit in one of the uniquely designed modern spades throughout the city. 

A more traditional coffee shop for you to consider is Komiteti – Kafe Muzeum which still retains some Albanian heritage as much of the city swiftly moves away from it.

large creamy colored mosque with four minarets and multiple domes roofs

Looking for the best SIM card deals in Europe for your trip? Check out our guide to the best data SIMs in Europe and get the best deal for your trip to Albania.

Day Two in Tirana

On your second day, you will head to the outskirts of Tirana to enjoy some beautiful nature and learn more about Albania’s infamous past.

Mount Dajti Ekspres Cable Car

A great way to see another perspective of Tirana is by riding the cable car up Dajti mountain. The ride takes about 15 minutes and covers approximately one mile up the mountain. At the top, there is a bar and restaurant, and a mini golf experience for families to enjoy.

We thought the scenic cable car ride was well worth the money, as the local natural surroundings are beautiful. It is hard to believe such natural beauty is so close to a built-up capital city. 

If you have more time in Tirana or want to explore some of Albania’s beautiful scenery, you can hike up Mount Dajti, which can take up to three hours and is challenging in parts.

INSIDER TIP: You can reach the Dajti Express by taxi if you’re in a group to split the fare. Alternatively, the main bus stop is just outside the clock tower in Skanderbeg Square. The blue L11 line takes you directly to the Dajti Express ticket office.

Bunk’Art 1 Museum is only a two minute walk from the Dajti Express ticket office, so you should head there next.

cable car about a hill covered in forest with a city in the distance

Bunk’Art 1 Museum

You would have enjoyed Bunk Art 2 in Skanderbeg Square on your first day, therefore, another bunker visit is a great way to further your understanding of the history of Tirana.

This museum also feels dinghy and gives visitors an example of some of the conditions that the former leader created in the country.

The museum will take you on a historical journey through the last century in Albania, including wartime, Albania under occupation from several countries, and most interestingly, the paranoid reign of Hoxha, who bunkered the nation.

We found it fascinating as soon as we entered the museum,  as the ambiance of the former bunker creates a very realistic example of the level of fear that Hoxha instilled in the Albanian people. There are air raid sirens echoing around the narrow halls at a very high volume, and as you wander past the different rooms, you can hear the Albanian language coming from the various exhibitions.  

Bunk Art 1 has been operating as a museum since 2016, so it is established with good facilities for visitors. Purchasing a ticket is simple, but be aware that when we visited it was cash only.

INSIDER TIP: Walking back from Dajti Express to the center is around 5km, which is a nice distance for a walk in the sunshine. We felt the essence of the city by wandering down the streets, past the local restaurants, shops, and markets. The locals were all very polite and made us feel very safe and comfortable.

inside a dome lined with images of men

Other Albania Travel Ideas

Tirana Practicalities

When to Visit Tirana

Summer

Tirana in the summer time enjoys very warm temperatures, ranging from 17° to 30° Celsius (63° to 86° Fahrenheit), with very little rainfall, creating a very nice environment for exploring.

We found the main attractions of Tirana to be within walking distance of each other. It is advisable to book accommodation with air conditioning in the summer months as it can get sticky in the evenings.

Bike rental is very popular in Tirana, so this is another good reason to visit in the summer months, as there are many beautiful parks and quiet roads to explore.

Winter

In the winter, Tirana is cold, but it is still warmer than many other European destinations. However, don’t be expecting a sunny getaway. Temperatures range from 0° to 6° Celsius (32° to 43° Fahrenheit), but snow is rare in the Albanian capital, so it is unlikely you will experience a winter wonderland.

You can replace the summer active exploring with more of a chilled trip in the winter, by enjoying the cafés and restaurants with their warm hospitality and cozy atmosphere.

If you visit in December, you can enjoy the Christmas Markets and fairs located in Skanderbeg Square. It isn’t the most established Christmas scene with half the city being Muslim, therefore, you should plan wisely.

Spring & Autumn

The shoulder seasons of spring, April to June, and autumn, September to November, provide an optimal time for visiting Tirana.

During these months, the weather is comfortably mild, ideal for strolling through the colorful streets and enjoying outdoor cafés. These seasons also see fewer tourists, ensuring a more relaxed experience while enjoying Tirana’s dynamic blend of historical charm and modern flair.

Spring brings a fresh, lively atmosphere with blossoming flowers in city parks like the Grand Park of Tirana. Fall offers a pleasant, cooler climate, perfect for visiting cultural landmarks such as Skanderbeg Square and the National History Museum.

Getting to Tirana

Flying

Tirana’s International Airport, Nënë Tereza, is growing each year as Albania increases in popularity with over 7 million passengers using it in 2023. Currently, there are around 70 daily departures to different destinations around Europe. We recommend booking through Skyscanner for live deals and the best prices.

The airport is located 17km from Tirana city centers and the easiest way to get into the city is by taxi, however, this is also the most expensive way! The cheapest option is by bus which costs just a few dollars and runs hourly until 11pm.

Road

There is a daily bus to Tirana from most cities in Albania. There is also a direct bus from Budva, and Podgorica in Montenegro, which crosses the border, therefore you will need your passport with you. There are longer bus routes from Greece also, but this option is only really viable for travelers on an extreme budget, as the bus takes a very long time.

Are you planning to rent a car in Albania? As one of the largest car hire aggregator companies in the world, we recommend Rentalcars.com because they have massive purchasing power which enables them to secure the best rental car prices, which benefits you when you’re planning a road trip.

For a real adventure, hire a motorhome or campervan in Albania. We recommend AutoEurope for their large range of fully equipped vehicles, competitive pricing, and great customer service. Use the Park4Night app to find overnight spots and campsites along the route.

RELATED POST: Albanian Road Trip: An Epic & Flexible 7-10 Day Itinerary

white motorhome ona. road following a river gorge

Is Tirana Safe?

Compared to many European cities, Tirana is deemed to be very safe for visitors. 

As the Albanian capital is a walkable city, there are many people in the streets until very late at night. We still saw many people out and about when we walked back to our hotel from a nightclub after midnight.

With the new restaurants and cafés, along with International hotels popping up at an increasing rate, the city is also very well-lit at night, so the darkness doesn’t bring danger.

A surprising aspect of the city when we explored was the cleanliness of the city. It is very well maintained and kept spotless, which gives you the perception of a safe city through the day and night.

Make sure you have travel insurance you can trust when visiting Albania. We recommend True Traveller for their 5-star TrustPilot reviews, variety of cover options, best activities cover as standard, great prices, and excellent service.

Where to Stay in Tirana

Here is a selection of centrally located accommodations for you to consider:

Luxury: Maritim Hotel Plaza Tirana is 200 meters from the square with a private bar and restaurant for guests.

Mid-Range: Hotel Europa is located on a quiet street with a 24-hour front desk and air-conditioned rooms.

Budget: Central Apartments Shoshi is a slightly cheaper option but still within a 5 minute walk of Skanderbeg Square. The rooms are fully equipped for a pleasant stay.

Hostel: Hoja Hostel is a very sociable hostel close to the main square and surrounding landmarks, and is ideal for budget or solo travelers.

Where & What to Eat in Tirana

We visited Albania following adventures around its neighboring Balkan countries, and we found the cuisine to differ greatly. Albanian food is very meat-oriented and the portions are very big and reasonably priced.

A few favorite dishes you can try in Tirana are tavë kosi, the national lamb dish of Albania served with rice and yogurt; kebabs which you’ll find everywhere; and byrek, a type of meat or vegetable pastry

ODA Restaurant

Located only 10 minutes walking distance from Skanderbeg Square, ODA Restaurant offers traditional Albanian dishes in a beautiful setting.

Many guests are unsure of what Albanian dishes to try, however, the waiters go above and beyond to explain the different dishes. The stuffed peppers are a lovely way to start before you tuck into a meaty main course.

food on a table with sausages and a basket of bread

Top Five Tirana Travel Tips

  • Cash is the preferred method of payment in Tirana, so it is advisable to carry some with you at all times. We found exchanging cash in the Bureau’s in the city offered the best rate. Card payment is also widely accepted in larger establishments though.
  • English is widely spoken in Tirana, however, we did have to use the translate app at certain points in the city as we explored off the beaten track. We also noticed some menus in smaller restaurants weren’t in English. Downloading Google Translate will help you in some situations.
  • Bartering is common in Albanian culture, so don’t accept the first offer when purchasing souvenirs in the markets. We grabbed some awesome bunker-themed coasters for a good price.
  • Staying close to Skanderbeg Square will ensure you are close to most of the attractions, restaurants, and a bus stop on the main bus route just off the square. Tirana is a walkable city for most parts of a visitor’s travel itinerary.
  • The bus is a very reliable and cheap transport option to travel between the different cities in Albania, or from neighboring Montenegro.

Other Spots in Albania to Add to Your Road Trip

By the end of your two days exploring Tirana, there is no doubt that you will be intrigued by some other spots in Albania. Here are three other popular tourist destinations in Albania to consider adding to your itinerary, after your stay in the capital:

Shkodër

Two hours north of the Albanian capital is the town of Shkoder. The small town is considered the traditional capital of Northern Albania and has been a very important strategic location for trade and defense over the centuries, due to its position close to the Montenegrin border and the Adriatic Sea.

Shkodër has its own little charm which extends from its pedestrian town centre to Rozafa Castle, and Lake Shkodër. Renting a bike is a very enjoyable way of exploring the city’s landmarks and natural beauty.

Shkodër is also a very popular spot for hikers who are heading to do the famous Theth to Valbona hike. We found most guests in the hostel we stayed in to be tackling the walking challenge during their trip.

mirror lake surrounded by hills with mountains in the background

Berat

Rugged mountains and picturesque architecture make Berat one of the most recognizable locations in Albania. There are many day trips to the UNESCO World Heritage Site from the capital, and visitors often extend their Albania itinerary to include the beautiful city.

Berat is located around 100 km south of Tirana and is the best way to enjoy some traditional Albanian heritage, with the ancient city dating back over 2000 years.

A full day in the city is enough time to explore both Kala, the Old Town, and Managelm, the New City, which have been influenced by the Romans and Ottomans over the centuries, creating a truly unique setting.

woman in a pink t-shirt looked across a river to white houses with many windows

Durres

When you think of Albania, you don’t think of beautiful beaches, do you? Times are changing though, as a growing number of tourists visit Albania for its beaches every year, seeking a cheaper alternative to Greece or Italy.

Durres is a popular tourist destination, and is only a 45 minute drive from the capital, so an ideal choice for visitors wanting to add sun, sea, and sand to their holiday.

There is also some history to explore in the second most populous city in Albania, as it has been inhabited since the 7th century BC. You can still see the Roman influence on the city through the city’s amphitheater, although it is badly damaged, and some mosaics.

We found walking down the promenade and observing the different colored buildings to be a fun and free activity.

white buldings by a beach and cliff

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