8 Must-Have Experiences for a Fast-Track to Albanian Culture

1. Have Coffee in as Many Places as Possible

In Albania, drinking coffee is a rite of passage. Here, you can be sure there’s a café around every corner of every city, town and village. The capital serves any coffee from traditional Turkish-style to delicious Italian espresso and everything in between. While in Tirana, do not skimp on the affogato, a delicious espresso and ice cream concoction. Refreshing Greek-style frappes are best enjoyed in your chaise longue in the southern Riviera. Meanwhile, coffee in the seaside villages varies in its style and presentation: it can be wildly wonderful or excessively simple. Bottom line is anywhere you go, have some coffee!

2. Take a Tour into Albania’s Communist Past

Though recent developments have tried to do away with some of the country’s past, you will still feel Albania’s history in every step you take. If you’re a history buff, a simple walk around any city will reveal traces of a captivating and very distinctive history. For those who prefer more compressed information, make sure to visit at least Bunk’Art 1, House of Leaves Museum, and Enver Hoxha’s Villa in Tirana, and if time permits, take this entire tour. Bonus: Visit the statues of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin and other prominent names of the Communist period, formerly positioned along the main boulevard, now stored in the back yard of the National Gallery of Arts.

bunkart 1

Bunk’Art 1, Tirana, photo by IntoAlbania

3. Immerse Yourself in Ancient Pleasures in Butrint National Park and Ksamil Islands

Here’s a visit that gives you all you need from a vacation: extreme natural beauty, fascinating ancient history, delicious food, and peace of mind. Butrint is Albania’s own Acropolis, with lovely ancient ruins that date back to more than 2500 years ago. The Ksamil Islands are one of the hottest summer destinations mainly for their brisk and exceedingly clear waters. Bonus: As this is the most photogenic corner of Albania, your photos will drive your friends crazy with envy.

Butrint Saranda

Archeological Park of Butrint, Saranda, photo by IntoAlbania

4. Eat Delicious and Affordable Seafood

With a coastline that extends along the entire western part of the country and countless lakes, there is never any shortage of fresh seafood in Albania. The good news is that the prices reflect the substantial supply. The best news is that Albania has some of the best seafood chefs in the Balkans. For a selection of the best restaurants in the entire country, click here. Whatever you do, you must have the crudo or raw fish dishes (or “the new sushi” as The Huffington Post famously referred to it back in 2015). Crudo is a rare luxury here that the top bloggers in the country never fail to mention. Secondly, you must take the road trip to Pogradec to eat the rare, world-famous fish called Koran. This golden-skinned, salmon-colored delicacy is only found in Lake Ohrid. Even Queen Elizabeth orders it from here! And, while you are in Pogradec, why don’t you visit the picturesque villages surrounding it.

5. Visit the Most Unique Beach in the Balkans

If you have limited time and can only visit a few places along the southern Riviera, make Porto Palermo one of them. This truly matchless destination is located in the heart of the Riviera, along a particularly beautiful part of the Ionian coast, very close to Himara. During Communism, Porto Palermo was a naval base, or submarine station, as is visible from the intimidating sea tunnel you will find there. Now, it is one of the hottest summer vacation and event spots. Abandoned buildings adorned with faded Communist slogans accentuate the idyllic island scape, giving the entire place a strange and unforgettable vibe. The entire place is punctuated by Ali Pasha’s majestic castle on top of the hill. An eerily magical compressed version of Albania’s beauty and history.

Porto Palermo Castle, South Albania

Porto Palermo, Himara, Photo Credits: Fation Plaku

6. Visit at Least One of the Largest Medieval Fortresses in the Country

There is one of these in each of Albania’s major cities along with its very own fascinating legend. We recommend going to either Rozafa Castle in Shkodra, Argjiro Castle in Gjirokastra, or Berat Castle in Berat. These the largest and most beautiful fortresses in the country, and the cities situated under their wings are worth visiting, as well. In fact, in cities with such beautiful architecture, history, landscapes and delicious food, the castles are the icing on the cake. Bonus: If you find yourself at the beach in the southern Riviera, reserve a few hours to check out one of these beauties.

Rozafa Castle

Rozafa Castle, Shkodra, photo by IntoAlbania

7. Take a Long and Winding Walk around Tirana

We suggest that you take ample time to enjoy a walk (or two!) around the perfectly-sized capital of Albania. While a walk down the Main Boulevard and Promenade is mandatory, we also suggest a more off-the-beaten path experience. Brightly painted residential building facades, beautiful Italian architecture, newly renovated traditional neighborhoods and bazaars, a noticeable amount of captivating street art, the Pyramid, a variety of urban quirks, and more, much more. You will encounter this capital’s true spirit only while strolling along its roads.

Agimi Buildings

Agimi Buildings, Tirana, photo by IntoAlbania

8. See Herds of Sheep, Goats, or Cows Stop Traffic

If you are a lucky tourist, this should happen to you at least once during your visit. Whether you head north or south of the capital, the farmlands surrounding all connecting roads house a high number of farm animals that freely lord over the outskirts of towns. Any road trip within Albania is sure to provide beautiful sceneries, great food, and surprising finds. But, nothing adds the perfect touch quite like these adorable show stoppers!

 

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