That perfect summer holiday can be difficult to plan, particularly when everyone else has the same idea of where to go. Whilst destinations like Italy and Greece are coveted for good reason, venturing elsewhere can create the best travel memories. Far from ordinary, romantic Albania is that Mediterranean fantasy sprung to life. Cascading mountains and Ottoman architecture meet dreamy beaches in a country whose cities never sleep. The only thing more stunning than Albania’s varying landscape is just how affordable everything is.
Total daily travel costs average at around €42 per person. Budget Your Trip estimates double accommodation at €32 a night. Meanwhile, meals to cover one day comes to €13.
Please keep in mind that depending on what part of Albania you are visiting, prices are subject to change. Cities and resort towns like Tirana and Sarandë may be more expensive, as well as surrounding beaches like Ksamil and Dhërmi.
Despite this, Albania is still one of the most low-budget friendly destinations in Europe. With travel costs being so cheap, why not see everything this country has to offer? Here are just six places in Albania that may pique your interest, which have been broken down into three categories: culture & history, sun & sea, and sightseeing & nightlife.
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Best for… Culture & History
In the 2,413 years that Berat has been around, the city of a thousand windows offers a glimpse into the lesser known chapters of history.
Few are aware that Albania was the only Nazi-occupied territory whose Jewish population increased during the Second World War. Despite the danger involved, hundreds of families opened their homes and saved almost 2,000 Jewish people. This brave act of kindness and Besa code of honour can be uncovered in Berat’s modest Solomon Museum, which is currently the sole museum in Albania dedicated to the country’s Jewish history.
Perhaps more famous are Berat’s rows of white houses, revealing the Ottoman Empire’s undeniable influence on the city. Whilst wandering through the Old Town during the day is magical, you will want to descend downhill before dark. Once the sun has truly set, those same white walls illuminate the night-sky as a finishing touch.
The second of Albania’s ‘Museum Towns’, UNESCO-protected Gjirokastër is an uncut diamond. Carved almost entirely out of stone, this city has no shortage of photogenic spots.
Despite over 150 castles and fortresses existing in Albania, the Gjirokastër Castle is easily one of the greatest. If not for the incredible panoramic view of the city, then for the unexpected finds. From a now recovered U.S. ‘spy plane’ to a bunker hidden underneath the castle, these remnants reflect Albania’s experience of the Cold War.
As you stroll down that steep hill, be sure to check Gjirokastër’s bazaar: situated in the centre of town. Whilst some shops are a little touristy, exploring these colourful cobblestone streets is certainly a novelty experience.
Best for… Sun & Sea
Not quite on the beaten track, the Albanian Riviera is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. Whilst this means that several beaches are going to be overcrowded, hope is not lost for those who crave peace and quiet.
Unlike the party-towns of Dhërmi and Ksamil, Himarë is far more secluded and laidback. Its white-sand beaches stretch for miles, giving you all the space you need to unwind. If snoozing and swimming ever grows old, then make use of the local board shops where you can hire a kayak.
As you might expect from a coastal town, the fresh seafood here is an absolute highlight. The list of quality restaurants in Himarë only goes on and on, including a few Italian pizzerias. And whilst Himarë is club-free, enjoying a cocktail right by the sea is pretty hard to beat.
Tucked beneath a canyon, one of Gjipe Beach’s selling points are its eclipsing caves. They can be found either by swimming or on a kayak, but only at low tide — so always check with the local staff first whether it is safe to explore.
The turquoise waters are mesmerising, but its beauty goes beyond the surface. Due to its gravel seabed, Gjipe Beach is considered to be one of Albania’s best spots for scuba-diving.
Getting to Gjipe Beach can be a bit of a challenge. Without a 4x4 to drive you down to the beach, it requires a 45 minute hike each way in the sun. A more expensive (but also far more convenient) option is to arrive by a private boat transfer.
There are no hotels in sight either, but you can sleep under the stars. Either hire a tent for around 1,500 Lek (€13,5) or pack your own, free of charge.
Best for… Sightseeing & Nightlife
Eccentric and eclectic, capital city Tirana is the beating heart of Albania. Attractions that should not go together somehow do, making sightseeing in this city a tour throughout the ages and faces of Tirana. But its most unusual attraction is underground; whilst there are countless Soviet bunkers scattered throughout Albania, Tirana’s BUNK’ART is the most immense.
Once you exhausted the several museums on display, why not treat yourself to a historical shopping trip inside Tirana Castle? A Byzantine castle turned mall, this fortress is an exciting spot for treating yourself to a traditional meal and picking up souvenirs.
There are plenty of places to unwind in the evening, but Hemingway Tirana is one of Tirana’s hidden gems. Here you can enjoy 1 of 300 different types of rum to the sound of 1920s jazz. Oh, and there is a cat.
Conveniently located in Albania’s deep south, Sarandë is perfect as a hop-off point to the archaeological Butrint National Park, the baffling Blue Eye, and the white-sand paradise that is Ksamil. You can even spot Greece’s Corfu from here, making Sarandë an ideal location for multi-country island hopping.
But even if you never venture out of this town, you can still have a blast. As Albania’s most famous resort town, Sarandë shines in the summer. Strolling along the beachfront boulevard is a simple pleasure, as is trying out this town’s bustling beach bars.
One of Sarandë’s more underrated clubs has to be Rooftop Saranda, where you can take in the city view over a martini. And if you prefer Rock ’n’ Roll to Hot 100, then stopping by Rock Cafe Saranda may just be the secret ingredient for an unforgettable trip.