OUR TWO WEEK ALBANIA ITINERARY: AN EPIC ROAD TRIP WITHOUT A HIRE CAR.
We had both visited Albania before, Emma for a brief trip to Durres in 2022 and John to Tirana back in 2019. But the shortest of visits previously had left us wanting more. With the month of August totally free in our diaries, we decided that the small but delightful gem of Albania would be the perfect destination for us.
Having been before, we knew that Albania was not only an affordable country for budget travellers, but was also a very safe and welcoming place. We are always on the look out for somewhere that feels a little undiscovered with new hikes, new food and somewhere to get our teeth into and explore. Albania delivered this and more.
As I write this, I am sitting in an Albanian campsite surrounded by olive groves, with nothing but the owner of the campsite for company. As she tends to her garden, all I can hear is the gentle sound of crickets and the distant hum of a radio. We’ve spent the day at a delightful beach on the Albanian riviera, swimming in crystal clear water and basking in August rays. Later, we will be heading out to a quiet taverna beside our campsite, where a few glasses or raki will be consumed as an accompaniment to barbecued meat, fresh salad and tzatziki.
This may sound like a typical day on a Greek island, but I think it’s unfair to draw a comparison between Albanian and any of it’s neighbors like Greece and Italy, because Albania has it’s own character and its own unique and enthralling history. It has things that make it distinctly Albanian – the language, the food and the chaotic bus system.
Albania is not perfect and certainly there are some mistakes that we would not make if we visited a second time around. Albania can get extremely busy in the summer. It can feel less “undiscovered” and more spoiled by tourism in some areas, but if you look hard enough there is far more to it than sunbed wars in Ksamil. It has well and truly won us over.
Read on to find out more about our adventures and our two week Albania itinerary – a road trip without a hire car.
A quick note on spelling of locations in Albania. For ease, we have used the English translation of the place names, for example Vlora rather than Vlorë and Saranda rather than Sarandë. When you are in Albania, you will see the Albanian spellings on road signs.
Our two week Albania itinerary: a road trip without a hire car
When we found out that Albania is the approximate size of Wales, in the United Kingdom, we immediately thought about embracing the relatively small size of the country and taking a road trip to visit as much of Albania as possible.
This idea of driving around Albania with the wind in our hair, was quickly put to rest when we saw the price of a hire car. Granted, it was August (peak summer season) and we had left our planning quite last minute, but it didn’t feel we could possibly justify around 60 Euros per day for a hire car.
This is how we came to find ourselves exploring Albania “road trip style” but sans hire car. Instead, we made use of buses, which are the main mode of public transport, our own two feet, a few taxis and a token ferry ride.
This blog post sets out our two week Albania itinerary, travelling from the mountains of the North to the Albanian riviera in the South – all without a hire car.
Our two week Albania itinerary: route and map
We actually were in Albania for three weeks, extending our trip slightly to accommodate a longer stay in Saranda, a longer period in Tirana and a stay in Dhermi/ Gijepe. Our two week Albania itinerary omits this, but is adapted to include the best of the beautiful places to see in Albania.
This is our recommended two week Albania itinerary for anyone who wants a mix of hiking, relaxing on the beach and cultural stops and wants to travel on public transport We are generally budget conscious travellers, so this Albania itinerary focuses on keeping costs down but without sacrificing the top experiences.
Here’s an overview of our two week Albania itinerary:
Tirana airport to Kruja (arrived at midnight)
Day 1/ Explore Kruja and stay in Shkoder
Day 2/ Travel to Theth and hike blue eye Theth, stay in Theth
Day 3/ Hike Theth to Valbona , stay in Valbona
Day 4/ Hike Mount Rosit, stay in Valbona
Day 5/ Travel Valbona to Tirana, stay Tirana
Day 6/ Explore Tirana, travel to Berat, stay in Berat
Day 7/ Explore Berat, stay in Berat (visit nearby vineyards)
Day 8/ Travel to Himare, stay in Himare
Day 9/ Explore Gjepe Beach and Jala, stay Himare
Day 10/ Beach day in Himare, stay Himare
Day 11/ travel to Ksamil, stay in Ksamil
Day 12/ beach day in Ksamil, stay Ksamil
Day 13/ explore surrounding area of Ksamil, stay Ksamil
Day 14/ travel to Tirana airport and fly home
Our Albania itinerary day by day
Albania itinerary day one: Kruja and Shkoder
We arrived late night (01:00) into Tirana airport on a bustling flight from Rome. Initially, we considered staying in Tirana and travelling to Shkoder the next day. But, we decided to head to Kruja straight from the airport, keen not to miss any opportunities to sight see.
Kruja is a short drive from Tirana airport, a town at 600m above sea level with a quaint and historic feel to it. It is famous for being the home town of Albania’s hero Skanderbeg and the frontier for his resistance against the Ottoman empire. Today, it makes a delightful tourist pit stop on route to Shkoder and the North of Albania.
How to get there
Kruja is only around 30 minutes from Tirana airport, we took a taxi which we pre-booked with our guest house. This cost 30 Euros, perhaps a little steep but it was at the unfriendly hour of 01:00. A direct taxi from the airport is an option at whatever time of the day.
From Kruja to Shkoder can be a 1 hour 45 minute journey, or it can take up to 3 hours depending on traffic. We opted for a taxi, paying 60 Euros. An expensive trip, but we comforted ourselves with knowing this would be our last long taxi ride of the trip.
💡Tip: If you’re travelling on a budget, we suggest skipping Kruja and instead heading straight to Shkoder. You can do the journey from Tirana to Shkoder with public transport for as little as 300 LEK. You’ll need to get from Tirana airport to Tirana first, but this is an easy journey during daylight hours. Whereas travelling via Kruja requires a taxi.
What to do in Kruja
Kruja is a small town, there are a few highlights to take in whilst you visit. We started with a slow meander through the Bazaar, a market selling Albanian artifacts, from cosy slippers to traditional head wear. Be sure to ask the stall holders for information about their handmade pieces.
Next, we explored Kruja castle which is easily walkable from the Bazaar. It is a small place, you need no more than around 20 minutes to nose around. There’s an optional museum inside the castle, where you can find out more about the local hero Skanderberg. We chose not to go in, as reviews suggested there were few exhibits with English language translations and we are not fans of museums with little information. The nearby Ethnographic museum was unfortunately closed for refurbishment when we visited.
Following this, we explored a little and discovered a shrine, the largest building is under construction currently but there is a smaller shrine to visit. A local elderly man tried to offer us an “exclusive tour” to the building site, but we politely declined.
What to do in Shkoder
We didn’t have a huge amount of time to explore Shkoder. After a few drinks in our wonderful hostel, and a delightful supper, we had just enough time to walk past the modern Mosque in Shkoder and peruse the bars on Kole Idromeno Street.
Where to stay in Kruja
In Kruja, there are a number of delightful guest houses to choose from. This was our first foray into an Albanian guest house and it was something we enjoyed immensely. We stayed at Meti Guest House which has a fantastic view and very welcoming hosts. For a more mid-range, rather than budget option, we suggest Kruja Albergo Diffuso, which has a wonderful location inside Kruja castle walls.
💡Guesthouses in Albania are some of the most affordable place to stay in the country. They are family run and tend to be homes that have been opened up to guests. Most have only a handful of rooms, making them feel very welcoming. A traditional Albanian breakfast is often included in the room rate and more often than that seems to be cooked by Grandma. Staying in guesthouses can be a great way to get to know more about Albanian culture.
Where to stay in Shkoder
In Shkoder, there are a mix of hotels, hostels and apartments in the centre of town. If you’re travelling onwards to Theth, it’s best to pick accommodation in the centre of town. However, do note that the highlight of Shkoder, the lake, is 6km outside town, so if you want to spend some time there, it can be helpful to book accommodation near to the lake.
We stayed at Mi Casa es Tu Casa, which is a backpackers hostel. It’s a really fun place, with great communal space, complete with a few friendly hostel dogs roaming around. Dorm beds or private room are available. The staff here will also sort out your bus tickets for you too.
Eat and drink
In Kruja, there are a few restaurants near to the castle and the Bazaar. Prices are fairly consistent between these places and more local restaurants, despite being near to the tourist attractions.
Shkoder has decent nightlife and plenty of restaurants to choose from. We opted for Fisi Restaurant, which was near to our hostel and serving traditional and delicious Albanian grilled meats. For bars, one of the most pleasant areas of Shkoder is Kole Idromeno Street, a pedestrianized area lined with numerous bars and restaurants.
Albania itinerary day two: Travel to Theth and Hike Theth Blue Eye
On our second day, we were chomping at the bit to head up to the Albanian Alps and start hiking. We had heard wonderful things about the Alps, but it’s fair to say that the whole experience far surpassed our expectations.
We left at the crack of the dawn, and after a mad dash to the ATM, one of us nearly missed the bus. Once both safely on board, we wound our way up the mountain, bouncing up and down on a very threadbare seat in the back of an old 4 x4. Arriving in Theth at 09:00, we dropped of some luggage in our guest house and set out on the famous Theth Blue Eye Hike.
For more detailed information on all the hikes we did in the Albanian Alps, you can find our guide to walking in the Accursed Mountains here.
How to get there
Buses leave Shkoder at 07:00 bound for Theth. Rather than an organized coach/ bus, transport is provided by mini-buses in combination with 4×4 vehicles.
The journey takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes on a good day, this includes a short coffee break stop at a cafe in the mountains.
It is best to arrange a ticket with your hostel or hotel the night before. The company will put on as many vehicles as required for the number of travellers but it’s best to express your intention to get the bus the next day. Buses or 4x4s will collect you from your accommodation.
The cost of the journey is 10 Euros, but hostels may take a small commission fee to secure your ticket.
The journey to Theth is not a completely comfortable one, if you get motion sickness, you may want to consider managing this as you climb up many mountain roads and could quite easily lose your breakfast!
What to do
If you wanted to skip the Blue Eye Hike and save a day in the Alps, you could walk straight to Valbone on the Theth to Valbone hike. However, we would strongly urge you to take your time in the Alps and enjoy the Blue Eye Hike on day one.
We’ve written in detail here about the Blue Eye Hike, but in short, it is a 17km round trip to visit a glorious swimming area filled with bright blue water.
💡If you’re not into hiking, but still want to visit the North of Albania, you could visit Lake Konami and Lumi I Shales. From Shkoder you can take a bus to Koman to explore from there. Find out more on the lake Komani website here.
Where to stay
Theth is full of guest house accommodation, from basic to luxury. There are also campsites and a smattering of more upmarket hotels.
We stayed at Rupa Guest house in Theth. I chose this place as it had excellent reviews and I read about how it is run by a friendly lady in her 70s. It didn’t disappoint. The guest house is utterly charming, with the option for dinner or breakfast which can be eaten in the pretty garden.
Rates at Rupa Guest House are around 45 Euros for a double room with private bathroom. Book with Booking.com here.
Eat and drink
Theth is a hamlet, rather than a town, however there are a few places to get food and drink in the area.
There is a new food store, a small market selling sandwiches and dry foods. It’s open from 07:00 until late. Bread arrives at 11:00, so if you want some for your sandwiches for the next day, shop after 11:00! Thankfully, the shop accepts card payment too. It is a little expensive, but to be expected in a remote mountain village.
When you arrive in the morning, the mini market is the best place for food as it is the only place open. For the evening, there are a few restaurants (three), which sell basic food and drinks. We had a delicious pizza at Jezerca, served with an ice cold beer.
The other option for dinner, and the one most people take, is to eat in your guesthouse. Most will offer a typically Albanian mountain meal.
Albania itinerary day three: Theth to Valbona hike
Today was the day that we had been most excited about, the walk from Theth National Park to Valbona National Park.
The Theth to Valbona Hike is historically a mule trail, used to get across the mountains. Today, it is one of the most popular hikes, if not the most popular hike, in Albania. This gives the hike a really fun atmosphere as there are plenty of other hikers enjoying the trip.
After an initial climb, lasting around 2-3 hours, you will reach the top. There are a few cafes around on the route, but we recommend packing lunch that you can enjoy at the top. Then, stopping at one of the delightful mountain bars on the route down to Valbona to enjoy an ice cold beer. You’ll need it after the climb!
Enjoy spectacular scenery and views as far as the eye can see. This truly is a special hike and one of the best that we have ever done.
💡 it is also possible to walk from Valbona to Theth and do this circuit in reverse. We’ve written more about that option here.
How to get there
You can find the start of the trail head, just behind the supermarket here.
What to do
Theth to Valbona hike – here are the essential facts.
You can find our full guide to walking from Theth to Valbona here.
Where to stay
Valbona has guest houses or camping options. There are quaint family run places, large guest houses or mountain lodges to choose from. Do note, that the accommodation in Valbona is mostly a few kms from the trail head. You can walk or take a taxi if required. The walk is flat and easy along a quiet road.
On our first night, we stayed at Guest House HYSA. This place is on the main stretch of road through Valbona, with a spacious garden. They serve simple but great food, including an ample breakfast to set you up for a day of hiking. You can also ask to purchase a packed lunch for your hike too. Rates are around 35 Euros for two people. Book here on booking.com.
The second place we enjoyed was the tiny family run guest house Butjina Sherifaj. We paid 30 Euros for one night with a private bathroom, this included a huge breakfast. Dinner is an additional cost but inexpensive, genuine Albanian home cooking. The guest house is nestled into the mountains a little out of town, well worth the walk given the peaceful location. Book here on booking.com.
Eat and drink
Valbona is a small mountain village, it has one tiny market shop. Otherwise, food is found in guest houses. Many guest house also open a restaurant, so you don’t have to eat in the guest house you are staying in. Breakfast tends to be included in room rates and you can normally arrange a packed lunch with your guest house too.
We ate in our guesthouses on both nights in Valbona and were delighted with this choice. In expensive and local food, washed down with Raki.
Albania itinerary day four: Mount Rosit hike
For the third day of hiking, we recommend staying in Valbona and tackling the Mount Rosit Hike. This hike takes you to the base of Mount Rosit (also called Rosni peak) at the Montenegro border. This is a 19.5km “out and back” trail, with the option to climb Mount Rosit rather than just reach the base.
How to get there
What to do
The first half of the hike feels quite relentless, with little views out of the woods. But, after passing this you will be rewarded with more open views.
We recommend leaving very early in the morning to beat the heat. The hike takes between 7 and 10 hours (honestly, it’s very slow going).
You can find more information on the Mount Rosit hike here on our Albanian Alps hiking guide.
💡This could be substituted with an easier hike, or a visit to Kayak in Lake Komani or bathe in Lumi i Shales. Find out more on the Lake Komani Website here.
Where to stay
The hike returns to Valbona, so you can stay in a guesthouse there. With forward planning, we recommend booking the same guesthouse so that you can leave luggage there. Trust us, you will want your bags to be as light as possible for the hike up the mountain.
Eat and drink
There are no places for refreshment on the Mount Rosit hike. Ensure that you pack enough lunch and water for the hike. It really does take a long time to walk this route, so do not underestimate it.
Albania itinerary day five: Tirana
Today was mostly a travelling day, leaving Valbona after a leisurely breakfast and eventually arriving into Tirana at around 20:00. The journey is long, but enjoyable owing to the ferry ride into Koman accompanied by spectacular scenery.
We really loved Tirana, so much so that we’ve decided to go back and stay for an extended period in the future. Especially in the summer, Tirana has a cosmopolitan feel. The city is peppered with tree lined boulevards, with excellent bike lanes which enable scooters and cyclists to scoot around freely. Cafes by day and bars by night spill out onto the pavements. It is a city with a lived in feel, offering sharp contrast to the coastal resort towns.
How to get there
It seems like a complicated journey from Valbona to Tirana, but it is not. You can book it all as one journey and just follow the crowds as most people will be doing a similar trip.
First, you will take a minibus from Valbona at 10:00. This will collect you from your guest house. The journey is on mountain roads.
Next, you will take a ferry from Fierze to Koman which leaves around 13:00. The ferry takes three hours, but is a stunning journey. The ferry is crowded and small, but it does have a bar and bathroom. We recommend sitting inside if you want to avoid the sun!
Finally, you will take a bus from the ferry terminal in Koman to Tirana. Expect this to take around 3 to 4 hours, potentially longer in traffic.
What to do in Tirana
If you’re in Tirana for only a short time, as with this itinerary, you will only have the opportunity to visit the main sites. Here are our suggestions:
1/ Visit the House of Leaves Museum
The House of Leaves Museum is an incredibly interesting expose on surveillance in Albania’s communist era. The house itself, was once a medical clinic but during the communist period, it was taken over by secretive security forces. It then became a covert operations centre used for spying and interrogation.
It is a well curated museum, with lost of information and poignant exhibits. Well worth a visit. Tickets cost 700 LEK and we recommend spending around 90 minutes there.
2/ Visit either the National Museum or Bunkart 2
There are two further interesting attractions in Tirana. We would recommend picking one, but not both. However, if you’re on a budget, we suggest just visiting The House of Leaves Museum only.
The National Museum is in Skanderberg Square. It costs 500 LEK to get in and houses exhibits demonstrating the history of Albania, from Roman times to present day. Whilst the exhibits are interesting to look at, there is very little information in English so it’s a bit of a challenge to learn much.
Your second choice is Bunkart 2, a communist era bunker that has been turned into a sort of art gallery. Here, pictures speak a thousand words, showing the history of the police and security forces during the communist era. The cost is 400 LEK.
3/ Take yourself on walking tour
Tirana is a very walkable city, but if you don’t amble with a bit of purpose you may not find the best bits. We recommend that you take yourself on a bit of walking tour.
Start with Skanderberg Sqaure, the main square in Tirana. Next, stop for coffee on Murat Toptani Street a pretty modern promenade next to Tirana castle, which has now been turned into a cute shopping mall.
Once caffeinated, take a stroll through Taiwan Park. Then climb the Tirana pyramid (a glossy conference centre that on John’s last visit a couple of years ago was not much more than a pile of bricks with graffiti).)
Finally, head to the Blloku district, an upscale area of Tirana, housing some of the fancier bars and restaurants of the city. Personally, we preferred the low key bars and restaurants around Kavaja Street, so head there if you’re looking for a more local affair.
if you’d rather something more organised you can also book a walking tour here.
Where to stay in Tirana
You’ll want to be central in Tirana. Accommodation is inexpensive, so you should have a good amount of choice.
Budget: For a budget option, Tirana has some excellent apartments in the centre of the city. Something like this one bed place, would suit for a night.
Mid-Range: Hotel Villa Fernando Tirana is a divine opulent hotel at a mid-range price. Here traditional Albanian design meets hotel chic in the heart of the city.
Luxury: Maritim Hotel Tirana is an excellent choice for a very central 5 star hotel. It even has a rooftop bar for cocktails overlooking the city.
Eat and drink
There are some excellent places to eat and drink in Tirana. We tried a couple of different Albanian restaurants in the area of Kavaja Street where there are numerous restaurants.
Tymi King Pils became a favourite and we returned to it twice, ever creatures of habit. This is a low ley grill restaurant, with excellent fresh salads, meat and ice cold white wine.
For a pre-dinner drink, we enjoyed Goat Gastro Bar. It has wonderful seats on the pavement on a quiet Tirana street and has a good wine list. If you’re after somewhere a bit more budget, Cafe du Pont is a local joint with a bit of a dive bar (in a good way) feel.
For cocktails or an after dinner drink, we loved Hemingway Bar. Sure, it’s a little gimmicky, but we very much enjoyed a rum or two as we sat outside watching old movies on the projector screen. Find it here.
Albania itinerary day six: Tirana and Berat
We spent half a day in Tirana before heading to Berat in the early evening. Berat is a short journey from Tirana, so you can easily travel between the two in a day and still find time for sightseeing.
Berat is a UNESCO heritage site, known as the “town of a thousand windows”, because of the unique architecture. The river Osum cuts through the town, dividing the two neighbourhoods of Mangalem and Gorica.
We hadn’t quite appreciated how beautiful Berat would be, nor how popular. It really is right on the tourist trail. In part, because of the location just south of Tirana. But also because of the history and cultural significance. Plus, Berat is nestled cosily in the middle of wine country (more on that below!)
After arriving to Berat by bus (and taking a short nap!) we explored the town. On our first evening, we explored the cobbled streets of Mangalem before settling in for sunset drinks and supper on the Gorica side of the river.
How to get there
The bus from Tirana to Berat takes between two and three hours and costs 400 LEK. It is a regular bus, normally running once an hour or so. The tricky bit is getting to the bus station in the first place, which is not in the centre of town. You can find the location on Google Maps here.
When you arrive in Berat, you will also not arrive into the centre. the bus station is around 30 minutes walk or a short taxi ride from the historic centre of the town.
What to do
Berat is small and very walkable. In a day, you can easily cover the main attractions.
We suggest starting early morning to walk up to the castle, avoiding the heat of the day. There are two routes to the castle, one more scenic and one short cut (found here.) The castle is really more of a ruin of a citadel, than a castle. Spend an hour or so exploring up here, perhaps enjoying a coffee. Be sure to also see the ruins of the cistern and the Mosque too.
After this, we recommend ambling around the old town on both sides of the river. Stop by gift shops and quaint places for lunch or a drink. It’s best to be on the Gorica side of the river for sunset. You can climb a hill in Gorica to watch the sunset, or just stop for a drink in Good Vibes bar instead.
Once sun has started to set, head to the newer part of Berat to the promenade. We sat in the park here for a while, watching the locals come out for an evening stroll, kids playing and the older gentleman engaged in some uber competitive board games. Once darkness has fallen, grab drinks on the promenade (see where to eat and drink below).
Where to stay
We had read quite conflicting things about the price difference between Mangalem and Gorica, with many blogs suggesting that Gorica is much cheaper than it’s neighbour. In our experience, there really wasn’t much difference at all. In fact, accommodation in Mangalem was very inexpensive. Berat in general is one of the cheaper places to stay on our two week itinerary, so you may want to splurge a little on a luxurious spot.
Budget: Try Hava Baci Guesthouse, a low key family run space nestled into the cobbled streets of Mangalem.
Mid-Range: Guesthouse Gjergo is a spacious and well located mid-range guesthouse in the heart of Mangelam with a supurb rating on Booking.com.
Luxury: If you are looking for a luxury stay in Berat, staying within the castle wall has to be the best option. Berati Castle Hotel is just that, a 4 star hotel inside the castle walls. Total romance.
Eat and drink
Homemade food Lilli, is the top rated restaurant in Berat and a very popular place. It seemed that every tourist in town was trying to eat there, suffice to say, it is difficult to get in without a reservation.
For local food we enjoyed the grill restaurant Xhimtiku Grill, which can be found across the river. This is a very low key place, but popular with locals and tourists alike. It is handily next to a fabulous bar, Good Vibes, where you can savour a cocktail with a sunset view of the river.
The modern area of Berat has an enjoyable promenade, lined with the bars which excellent for a drink with some people viewing. Be sure to stroll here after dinner for a nightcap.
Albania itinerary day seven: Berat
We chose to spend a second day in Berat, in part because it is a lovely town, but also we were keen to visit a vineyard in the area and slow down the pace a bit from the previous couple of days of travelling.
Waking up early to beat the heat, we took a morning walk up to the castle before enjoying a slow cup of coffee in town. Once the weather had cooled, we took a (slightly hair raising) taxi ride to the Pupa vineyard to enjoy some wine tasting and food.
What to do
If you take a second day in Berat, you can continue to explore the town, visiting museums and enjoying long lunches. As an alternative, you can explore local vineyards.
Pupa Winery is a family run winery around 20 minutes from Berat. We visited for a delightful wine tasting and tour. For 150 Lek (around 15 Euros) we were treated to three wines and a glass or Raki, plus a spread of nibbles. It may not have been the best wine tasting we have ever been to, but we really enjoyed learning a little more about Albanian wine. And of course, the excuse for some afternoon wine drinking.
Nurellari Winery is a larger winery around 10 minutes walk from Pupa. We understand that they offer a wine tasting of five wines for 25 Euros. Unfortunately, you must book ahead and we weren’t able to call in for an impromptu tasting. Do book ahead if you want to to do the double and visit Nurellari as well as Pupa.
Albania itinerary day eight, none and ten: Himare and surrounds
After the Alps and the towns and cities, it’s time to retreat to the Albanian Rivieria. You could choose to base yourself anywhere along the coast, we opted for Himare as a base for a few days, in part because it is close to other beaches that can be explored on foot. But, also because it is a more laid back town and very affordable. Himare was definitely our favourite coastal area and one we would return to.
💡Another option is to base yourself in Dhermi for a few days. This makes it easier to explore Gjiepe. If you stay in Dhermi you should be able to head South to Himare or Saranda on public bus, but this may require some help from a local in the know to work out the exact timings of the bus passing Dhermi. Nevertheless we do think it is possible as numerous buses pass Dhermi on route from Vlora to Saranda every day. In Albania it is common to flag down buses and also to disembark the bus at unofficial stops. Just note, Dhermi is a little more expensive than Himare.
How to get there
From Tirana, you can take a direct bus to Himare, or two connecting buses via Vlora. We opted for the latter, as we had a plan to do some hiking from Dhermi (North of Himare). More on that below.
We would suggest opting for the direct bus to Himare if you can. It departs twice per day at 05:30 and 13:00 and costs 1000 lek. The bus departs here on the outskirts of Tirana, but arrives directly to the centre of Himare.
What to do
Beaches in Himare
Himare is such a perfect beach town. We loved how accessible the beaches are and the fact they are public.
The main one in town is Plazhi i Maraçit. But you can pretty much pitch your towel anywhere along the coast in Himare for a wonderful day of sunbathing and bobbing about in the sea.
Beaches near Himare
As we are avid hiking fans, we attempted to walk the Southern Coastal Trail along the Albanian Riviera. In classic “best laid plans” style, this was quickly aborted. In part, because it was simply too hot to hike. But also, and more importantly, because the trails are either overgrown or no longer exist.
I mention this, firstly as a warning to anyone considering walking the Southern Costal trail in Albania. And secondly because when walking parts of the trail, we discovered that there are some excellent beaches near to Himare that you can get to on foot.
Here are three of our favourite beaches in the area around Himare:
1/ Livadi Beach
Livadi Beach is a very undeveloped beach with cute tavernas, a short 30 minute walk from Hiamre. Visit here for peace and quiet and lower prices than Himare.
2/ Jala Beach
Around 30 minutes further from Livadi, you can walk on to Jala Beach. Jala was one of our favourites, albeit it is a little expensive for sunbeds. But the water is some of the nicest we found in the area. Crystal clear and calm.
3/ Gjipe Beach
Gjipe can only be reached by foot but you can get close to it by car or cab. There’s a car park 1.5km from the beach with a short trail to the beach. The main road is around 3km away, with a scenic hiking trail leading to the beach.
Gjipe is a stunning beach, rugged and a lot less developed than nearby beaches as it’s so remote. From Himare, it is difficult to get here on public transport, but you have a few options.
Firstly, you could hire a scooter for the day to explore the coastline. Secondly, you could take a taxi to and from Gjipe. Or, for the more adventurous, technically you can walk from Himare to Gjipe. It is around 14km, and a mix of trails. Some parts are difficult, with steep climbs and overgrown trails (Jala to Gjipe), but the section from Himare to Jala is easy.
For more information on the best beaches in Albania, you can visit our article here (published soon).
Where to stay
Budget: Himara Hostel is one of the best budget options in town, close to the beach and with a central location. This is a popular hostel. Camping is another alternative ( see below).
Mid-Range: Himare has lots of low key apartments, some with sea views and they are mostly quite inexpensive. Sea View Breeze is one such option. For just a little more money, Argjile Rooms is a fancier option, with a swimming pool.
Luxury: A little out of town, but perched on a hill, is Wait and Sea, a hotel with an exclusive feel.
Camping in Himare
We camped on the coast of Albania and we would really recommend this option for budget travellers, or nature lovers.
The choice for camping in Himare is excellent. We stayed at two sites and would recommend both. The bonus of camping in Albania is that you don’t need to take any camping stuff, tents, sheets and mattresses are supplied.
1/ Pine Side – this is a MEGA campsite, a totally chilled place to stay for a few days. It is particularly special because it has a swimming spot right by the tents, and you can hear the sea from your bed. We loved the simplicity of waking up, swimming and chilling out. You can also walk to town and the main beach in around 5 minutes.
2/ Olive Camping – a different vibe to Pine Side, this is a family run campsite and much quieter. Set in a field surrounded by olive groves, it is a clean, carefully run and spacious campsite. It also happened to be next to one of the best places we ate in Himare, Taverna Velco.
Eat and drink
We cooked in our campsite a few times, so didn’t eat out in Himare that much. But there are a few places we can recommend, Kafe Pasticcieria 28 is a delight for coffee and cake. Furre Himare is an excellent bakery, as everywhere in Albania, we enjoyed Burek (savoury pastry) for breakfast from here and a Baklava in the afternoon.
For dinner, the restaurants all along the seafront are comparable prices. Any tavernas and restaurants on the streets behind the sea front tend to be better food and lower prices. Our favourite taverna, Taverna Velco, was a Greek place a little out of the way, but worth it for the excellent service and food.
Albania itinerary day eleven, twelve and thirteen: Ksamil and surrounds
Which is better: Saranda or Ksamil
If you decide to travel further South, one of the decisions you will have is whether to base yourself in Saranda or Ksamil.
We had read many blogs and seen a lot about Ksamil on social media and it’s fair to say that this was one of the destinations that we were most excited to visit. However, we had quite a mixed impression of Ksamil.
On one hand, Ksamil is very beautiful, especially the water. But, the beaches have been taken over by beach clubs and apart from a few slithers of sand and a few rocks, it is difficult to find any public space on the beach. Instead, you will have to pay for sun loungers and umbrellas, which can cost anything from 10 Euros to 60 Euros! This isn’t’ usually our travel style, and it felt a little decadent but we have to admit that we did enjoy a day at a beach club. However, there is no getting away from the fact that it Ksamil is at maximum capacity in the summer, and it feels that way. Restaurants are bars along the beach tend to be overpriced, 5 Euros is standard for a wine and up to 10 Euros for a cocktail.
Conversely, we weren’t that excited to visit Saranda. But we had a really great time. It is true that Saranda does not have the prettiest beaches, it is more of a port town. But it does have beaches, they are public and have plenty of space. We loved the restaurant scene in Saranda and the nightlife. On one day we stumbled upon a beach bar hosting a day rave and over the weekend we found ourselves partying on the promenade at a free music festival. We also found that the accommodation was some of the best value during our trip and food and drink was very affordable too.
For budget travellers, in all honesty we would recommend staying in Saranda and taking a day trip to Ksamil. This way, you could take advantage of the cheaper prices in Saranda and splurge on one day of sun lounger loveliness in Ksamil. For the purpose of this itinerary, we have assumed that most readers will want to visit Ksamil, but if you want to know more about Saranda, check out our post here.
This feels like a bit of a topic of debate, so we’ve written a full piece about Saranda or Ksamil, that you can find here.
Alternative to Saranda and Ksamil
💡You can have an enjoyable time on the beaches in Albania without coming as far South as Saranda and Ksamil. If you are looking for a more relaxing final week of your Albania trip, we would recommend staying in Himare for a full six nights rather than travelling further South. Himare is much less developed, it has a really nice laid back feel and is a touch less expensive than the South. Plus, the beaches around Himare are more authentic than those in Ksamil, which are man made with imported sand.
How to get there
Travelling from Himare to Ksamil is relatively easy, but you do need to take two buses. Firstly, from Himare, head to the “bus station”, as marked on Google maps here. Not actually a bus station, just a stop. One side is for Tirana and the other in the direction of Saranda. There’s normally a man there assisting and confirming the time of the bus.
The bus from Himare to Saranda takes around 1 hour 30 minutes, depending on traffic. It’s a pretty crazy journey along the coastal roads, stunning scenery, but quite disruptive for anyone who suffers from motion sickness. Tickets cost 1000 LEK (really quite OTT pricing for Albania and definitely a bit of tourist tax included.) Bus times are a little unclear, we got one at 11:00 which seems to run every day. But, we recommend checking times the day before, if you’ve got a particular schedule to keep.
From Saranda, you can take a local bus to Ksamil. The bus leaves at a different stop to where you will be dropped off, but it’s not far at all. You can find the bus stop here (Google Maps.) In summer season, buses run every 30 minutes, on the hour and at half past. The cost is 150 LEK. In Ksamil, there are three bus stops (all marked on Google Maps), so just jump off at the one nearest to your accommodation.
What to do
Beaches in Ksamil
There are two main beach areas in Ksamil. Both are created by imported sand, they are beautiful but have a bit of an artificial feel.
This area, plazhi i ksamilit is the party beach. Music is loud, loungers are crowded, jet skis zip about during the day. We even spotted a day time foam party when we were there. It’s fun and definitely where I would want to be if I was with a big group of friends. To escape the crowds, you can walk a little further up around here. Quieter beach bars await you.
The second area, around here, is much quieter and more suitable for families and couples trying to romance. The water is calm and clear and prices are cheaper too. We recommend Paradise Beach where you can hire loungers for 10 Euros, or Ohanas Beach club, where prices are the same.
Public beach Ksamil
Contrary to what we had read online before arriving in Ksamil, there is actually a small slice of public beach and it’s really lovely. You can find it here at Paradise Beach. If you don’t have an umbrella and you want shade, there are rocks nearby with shade in the afternoon.
What to do near Ksamil
Depending on your appetite for exploring, you may be happy to spend another day on the beach in Ksamil. If not, there are a few alternative options for your last day.
If you want to try a new beach, particularly a public one, head for Gjiri i Harets. This takes less than 10 minutes on the bus from Ksamil, plus a 10 minute walk. You’ll find a delightful and much quieter public beach to enjoy all day.
Another option is to head to Butrint National Archeological Park for something a little different to a beach day. We didn’t choose to visit, so cannot comment on whether it is worth the 1000 LEK (10 Euro) entrance fee, but it is a popular destination. You can read more here on the excellent The Adventurous World blog.
Where to stay
Budget: Villa Alfio, where we stayed in Ksamil, is one of the lesat expensive accommodation options in Ksamil. Around 10 minutes from the beach, this property is quiet, spacious and well run.
Mid-Range: Hotel Meta Ksamil, is possibly one of the closest properties to the beach. It is also inexpensive for a four star property.
Luxury: Valmar Hotel is a luxury property modern and well designed, complete with a swimming pool.
Eat and drink
Restaurants and bars in Ksamil are dotted along the coast. Many are overpriced and have mixed reviews. The best that we found were Coco Beach, a low key spot for an early evening drink. Pisko Beach bar is an ideal place to enjoy the sunset with a cocktail, before eating at popular pizza restaurant Rolling Pizza next door.
Away from the beach, you’ll find the less expensive and better restaurants along the main road, which is sort of a “strip”. I am both ashamed, but also a little proud to say, that we ate Souvlaki at Beshiku taverna two days in a row and would recommend it.
Albania itinerary day fourteen: Travel home via Tirana Airport
The last day is sadly the day to pack up the bikini, throw away the leftover sunscreen and return home via Tirana airport.
How to get there
There are no direct buses from Ksamil to Tirana. Instead, you must take a bus from Ksamil to Saranda and then travel from there onward to Tirana.
In peak season, the bus between Ksamil and Saranda leaves every 30 minutes. It is difficult to predict the exact time of departure, but head to bus stop three, two or one in Ksamil and the bus will be along soon enough. Current price at time of writing is 150 LEK.
You will get dropped off near to the main terminal. If you are in a hurry, we recommend trying to get off the Ksamil bus before your fellow passengers, it’s likely that many of them will be heading to Tirana and the Tirana bus can get quite full.
Bus Saranda to Tirana
Prices are 1700 LEK per person, a significant increase on recent years and frankly a bit of a rip off.
The bus should take around 4 and a half hours but often the driver will stop for an extended break, sometimes up to an hour. Unless you have a late flight, we do not recommend risking the bus on the same day as your flight. Instead, travel to Tirana on the previous evening.
If you plan to head straight to the airport from the bus station in Tirana, you will need to take a taxi. Otherwise, you can take a bus into Tirana city centre and then a later bus from outside the Palace of Culture to the airport. This bus runs once an hour costs 400 LEK and takes only 30 minutes. You can find more information on this excellent website Albania Tour Guide.
💡In 2024, Albania will be building a new airport on Vlora, this will make it easier to fly home from the coastal towns. Until then, if you don’t fancy the journey back to Tirana, you could take a ferry from Saranda back to Corfu and fly back from there. The ferry from Saranda to Corfu takes 30 minutes and costs around 25 Euros.
Albania itinerary: FAQs and tips
Logistics and getting around
As we have shown, it is possible to get around Albania without a hire car. That said, it is certainly much more complicated and slower than if you had a hire car. The bottom line, is that it that public transport in Albania is the budget option and it does feel budget. There are no trains or fancy modes of transport, although taxis are an option in most areas.
If you decide to travel around Albania using public transport we suggest two things. Firstly, plan a little bit ahead so that you know when/ where you can get transport. Secondly, try to take the rough with the smooth – keep an open mind and expect the unexpected!
Hiring a car is a popular option – check out this great blog by Along Dusty Roads on how to drive around Albania if you plan to hire a car.
What are buses like in Albania?
Buses in Albania operate a fairly informal approach to timekeeping and collecting passengers. This is not really the type of place where one can book a seat on a bus and expect everything to work perfectly. Instead, you have to allow for delays and hiccups along the way.
Most buses are small “mini buses”, they tend to be owned by the driver and can be dated. Many don’t have aircon, or even windows that open. We have never sweated so much as we did on the drive from Berat to Vlora on a bus with literally no air! Quite often the driver will open the door to let air in (yes, even as you drive.) It’s also not uncommon to find a bus with passengers standing in the aisle or sitting in makeshift seats.
How to book buses in Albania
Short answer – you can’t really book buses in Albania. Buses operate on a much more informal system. For many, you can rock up to the bus station and hop onto a bus without booking in advance or much planning. For example, the Tirana to Berat bus or the Himare to Saranda bus. But, with others, longer buses particularly, you will need to buy a ticket and may need to wait a few hours to get onto a bus. The Saranda to Tirana bus service is a bit like this.
If you head up to the Albanian Alps, you can normally “book” a ticket through your guest house the night before. In reality, this means that your guesthouse will call a bus driver and tell him that you need to be collected the next day, but you won’t receive a formal ticket or anything like that.
How to get to Albania
The international airport in Albania is Tirana. There are regular flights to and from Tirana to most major European cities. If you’re travelling to Albania as part of a bigger European trip (why not!) then you can also travel overland into Albania. For example, buses from Montenegro into Albania are easy to arrange.
The other options for flights is to fly into Corfu, this is especially helpful if you plan to visit Saranda or Ksamil to the South of Albania, both are a short hop from Corfu. Finally, if heading to the North of Albania, you could also consider flights to Podgorica in neighboring Montenegro, which is a short hop from Shkoder.
Finally, you can also get a ferry from Italy to Albania – it’s actually a lot more fun that it sounds! Find out more here.
A few notes on the optimum Albanian itinerary
How much time to spend in the Albanian Alps
Many people arrive in the Albanian Alps just to hike from Theth to Valbona or the other way round. Although this takes two to three days of travelling, it only includes one day of hiking, which seems a shame to me.
The Albanian Alps are fairly remote and difficult to get to. If you’re going to travel all that way, why not stay for a little longer? To use a British phrase “in for a penny, in for a pound.”
I think the best itinerary for Albanian Alps hiking would be a minimum of three days of hiking, but four days total travel time. You could also spend longer if you have time and are really into hiking and the outdoors.
How long to spend in Tirana
Tirana is a fairly small city, but it if you enjoy a city break then it is very much worthwhile visiting the capital of Albania during your vacation. Even as part of a summer itinerary, we would really advocate a stop off in the capital. In the summer, the city is alive with people enjoying the weather and spilling out of cafes and bars. Despite the heat you may feel elsewhere, Tirana doesn’t generally feel too hot either, especially at night.
We would suggest that you spend at least 24 hours in Tirana, more if you can. But, our two week itinerary allows for just a short 24 hour stop off. In this time, you can see the main sites and pick a nice spot for dinner and drinks to enjoy the city. Perhaps you’ll make plans to return again in future after a brief taste of what Tirana has to offer.
Beaches in Albania
Public and private beaches in Albania
Something to consider if you’re hitting up the Albanian riviera, is the distinction between a public and a private beach. This may be an unfamiliar concept to some, but Albania has some beaches which are completely privatized. This means that they are managed by either hotels or beach clubs and you must pay to hire sun loungers and umbrellas to enjoy the beach.
Many private beaches will have security at the gate preventing passers by from using the beach, unless they pay for the pleasure. Some are more relaxed and you may be able to get away with popping onto the beach for a quick dip (I did this a few times in Ksamil), but if you dare to put your towel down you will be moved on.
Public beaches, in contrast, are free to use for anyone. You can take towels and your own umbrellas onto public beaches, just find a space and relax. Most public beaches also have life guards too, which may make them safer for people travelling with children.
You can find out more about beaches in our blog post above (Himare, Saranda and Ksamil) or in our guide to the best beaches in Albania (published soon.)
What is the currency in Albania?
Officially, the currency in Albania is LEK. However, you can almost always use Euros as well. Guesthouses, hostels and hotels will normally provide a rate in Euros and will expect most people to pay with Euros, but will of course accept LEK too. Restaurants and bars are more likely to expect LEK and you’ll find menus in LEK. However, most will accept Euros too. Sometimes you may even pay in LEK and be given Euros change, or vice versa.
Can you use credit card in Albania?
Albania is very much still a cash based society. More so than any country we have travelled to for a long time. In our entire three weeks in Albania, we were able to use a card once or twice in restaurants and supermarkets. But, the vast majority of time we had to pay cash. Every guest house, hotel and hostel operated on a cash only basis. So, prepare in advance and make sure you take cash or get cash out on arrival.
Are there ATMs in Albania?
ATMs are easy to find in Albania but we did not manage to find one that did not charge an extortionate fee. We often paid between 5 Euros (500 LEK) and 8 Euros (800 LEK) just for the pleasure of withdrawing cash. The fee is calculated on a percentage basis too. Ouch.
Is Albania expensive?
It would be difficult to call Albania expensive, but we certainly found that prices were higher than we had anticipated. In part, this may be because it is August and peak season. In part, this was also down to the fact that the LEK is currently strong against the Euro. During our trip, the LEK rose to 110LEK to 1 Euro, a near 5% increase over three weeks.
As you may expect, prices in Alania are higher in popular tourist areas, such as Ksamil in comparison to Tirana and more low-key beach resorts, like Durres and Himare. By way of example, a glass of wine in Tirana would cost around 200 LEK (around 2 Euros), versus a typical glass in Ksamil at around 500 LEK (5 Euros). Honestly, we think that prices in some tourist areas may have been raised a little too high, artificially so. It’s possible that they will come down again, but this relies on tourists voting with their feet!
The cheapest areas we stayed in in Albania were Berat, Saranda, Himare and Tirana. Whereas, the more expensive were Theth, Valbona, Dhermi and Ksamil.
Typical costs in Albania
Here’s a breakdown of typical costs in Albania as of August 2023:
|Item||Cost (Range) – 100 LEK is roughly 1 Euro|
|Large Beer||150 LEK to 400 LEK|
|Glass of wine||200 LEK to 500 LEK (often you can get a liter of house wine in restaurants for 600 to 800 LEK)|
|Coffee||100 LEK is standard|
|Bottle of water||100 LEK is a standard charge for a bottle of water, whether it is 300ml, 1.5 liter, 5 liter or even 10!|
|Meal for two in a restaurant||1500 to 3000 LEK|
|Pastry in a bakery||80 to 120 LEK|
|Pasta in a supermarket||100 LEK|
|Budget Accommodation (hostel, campsite, basic private room)||2000 to 3000 LEK|
|Mid-range Accommodation||3000 LEK to 5000 LEK|
|Luxury Accommodation||5000 LEK plus|
There are some unexpected costs in Albania to consider. For example, ATMs charge around 5 Euros per transaction for foreign cards. You also need to buy bottled water in Albania.
Culture and language
Culture in Albania
We clearly cannot profess to know a lot about Albanian culture after three weeks of travelling their, but there were a few things that we picked up on our trip:
- Topless sunbathing or nudity of any kind is not acceptable in Albania – it is not strictly illegal, but could be considered an indecent public act, which is illegal.
- Although topless bathing is considered indecent, the dress code in Albania is not strict. You can find our Albania packing list here (published soon.)
- Smoking in public places is technically banned – but in reality it is completely acceptable. Smoking is popular in Albania and ashtrays are found on most tables in cafes, bars and restaurants.
- Tipping is normal, we tended to add 10% to a restaurant bill.
- The majority of Albania’s are Muslim, bu most do not practice. That said, you will see Mosques and hear the call to prayer often. Most towns have a Mosque and a church.
Language in Albania
The language in Albania is Albanian, although there are some minorities who speak native languages like Greek. The vast majority of people speak some English, but Albanians frequently also speak Italian. In general, anyone working in the tourist industry will speak some English. The word for thank you in Albanian is “faleminderit” – it can be nice to learn this and use it during your trip.
Tech and Mobile coverage
Is there Wifi readily available in Albania?
Every guesthouse, hostel and hotel that we travelled to had WiFi. Whilst some connections were not great, we generally found most had high speed internet available for guests. Cafes, restaurants and bars tend to have WiFi available for customers and are wiling to give out the password readily.
If you are travelling to Albania and planning to drive or take public transport, we recommend having a working SIM card. We recommend Airalo SIM cards, although they are a little more expensive, we love using e-sims for ease.
Join our subscriber list for new posts with awesome travel tips. Don’t miss them!
Subscribe below to our newsletter for tips, thru hiking, adventures and insights to places unseen.
BEST BEACHES AND BEACH TOWNS IN ALBANIA: A GUIDE TO THE MUST VISIT BEACH DESTINATIONS ON THE ALBANIAN RIVIERA. A visit to Albania is not complete without dipping your toes in the cool, clear waters of the Ionian Sea. The beaches and beach towns in Albania are plentiful, making the Albanian Riviera an increasingly popular…
IS ALBANIA WORTH VISITING? 12 MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN VISITING ALBANIA TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TRIP. Albania is a small but varied country, from world class beaches to extraordinary hiking and mountain scenery. The capital, Tirana, is exciting and ever-changing. Vineyards surround UNESCO heritage sites, olive trees and pine trees adorn the coast…
CAMPING IN ALBANIA: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW Albania is a wonderful all round destination for campers, adventurers and backpackers. If you’re keen to explore Albania and sleep under canvas, read on to find out more about camping in Albania. Camping in Albania: Why it’s so hot right now It is literally, so hot right…
Most of our planning is done using other blogs, but you can’t beat a guide book at the bottom of your case. Find them here on Amazon. and get the travelling started!
USEFUL LINKS FOR FLIGHTS, ACCOMMODATION AND TRANSPORT
CHECK LATEST FLIGHTS
ACTIVITIES TO CONSIDER
FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Please note that some links on our website are partnered with affiliates. Using an affiliate links does not make it more expensive for you to purchase. We receive a small commission whenever you buy something which in turn allows us to keep writing independent travel guides and your support is greatly appreciated.