10 reasons to visit Albania while it’s still a hidden gem



Called the Land of Eagles, or Shqipëria to its citizens, Albania is a vastly underrated Balkan country adjoining the Mediterranean. Although not yet quite the titan of tourism like France or Spain, this humble European nation is about to experience a boom; the world will soon discover its clean sandy beaches, bustling modern cities and seemingly endless mountain ranges.

Fans of Italy and Greece, in particular, should make it a point to visit Albania. If you love the archaeological sites and historic architecture of the Ionian Peninsula, there are plenty of attractions in Albania to get you excited. And if you’ve fallen in love with Italy’s food, wine and coffee culture, you’ll be delighted to find that they all enjoy these delights in spades just across the Adriatic.

If you need more convincing, read on. More than the sum of its parts, Albania is a fascinating country to explore, and here are a few reasons why you should plan to visit right away.

You’ll get more for your money

Why visit Albania

The dollar, euro and pound are all quite strong against the Albanian leke, so a trip to Albania can be extremely economical. This is a country where rooms in luxury hotels can be found for as little as €50 and a draft beer in a bar is usually around €2 or less. When you consider all there is to see in the country, this presents incredible value.

You will meet generous and friendly locals

Friendly locals in Albania
Photo: posztos/depositphotos.com

Although known for their heated debates and loud personalities, Albanians are actually very welcoming to tourists. They are genuinely happy to share their unique lands and traditions and enjoy people visiting, especially if you enjoy lively conversation over food, drink and coffee.

Like other countries in the Balkans and around the Mediterranean, Albanians are social people: they are known to linger to chat with shopkeepers and are adept at night strolls, sometimes just to see who they might bump into. Even if you don’t speak Albanian, a smile and a wave will go a long way and you could be invited to the table.

You will find many spirits

The traditional Albanian drink

It’s no secret that Albanians love to drink; alcohol is part of holidays, gatherings, and often a regular evening. But alcohol production in Albania has a long and storied history, with their viticulture alone spanning at least the past 3,000 years.

It may come as a surprise that Albania has several wine regions, but it’s a country with similar climate, topography and latitude to neighboring Italy, long a titan of wine production. While Albania claims fame for a few of its notable red grape varieties like Vlosh, Serinë and Kallmet, they are by no means strangers to white wines.

The real star here, however, is their unofficial national drink: raki. These types of liqueurs distilled from fruit are popular throughout the Balkans, and Albania’s starter is most often made from grapes or plums, although there are areas where they use berries, apples or stone fruits. Commercial varieties are readily available in bars and grocery stores, but be careful if you try the homemade stuff: they are known to be much stronger than you might think, sometimes up to 50% alcohol.

But one of their most beloved glasses isn’t local at all, but rather on loan from Italy. The beloved Fernet Branca might be more popular in Albania than where it’s produced, and even small bars will usually have at least one bottle on hand. Although the flavor is divisive, it is usually enjoyed after dinner and you can use your time in Albania to get used to it.

You can explore its incredible capital

Skanderbeg Square, Tirana

Shrouded in mystery during the country’s years under socialist rule, Albania’s colorful capital, Tirana, is today a vibrant and bustling city that attracts tourists. With plenty of freelance businesses, co-working spaces, an established café and cocktail culture, and a strong connection to the arts, Tirana could be the perfect European capital to enjoy a city break.

In the summer, produce stalls and farmers’ markets brim with fresh local produce, and buskers dot Skanderbeg Square. In winter, the Dajti Express funicular, departing just 15 minutes from central Tirana, can take you to the upper echelons of the region’s highest peak for a fun-filled day in the snow.

You can satisfy your appetite

Albanian traditional pie

Combining the best of classic Mediterranean and Balkan cuisines, Albanian food culture is a multi-ethnic journey that even the most discerning palates will enjoy. Fans of Turkish kofte, Serbian burek or Greek baklava will be delighted to learn that Albania has its own delicious version and that many Italian dishes are very popular and often exquisitely prepared.

There is no shortage of domestic delights either. Sarmacabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice, and tave kosi, chicken or lamb, cooked in yogurt, are found on the menus of most traditional restaurants, especially at lunchtime. And the country’s seaside location means you can sample some of the freshest seafood in the world. A trip to Albania is worth it just to try kaçkavall only; it’s a yellow farmhouse cheese that can be added to a salad, cooked until gooey, or even more decadent, fried until golden.

You can get away from it all

Lake Bovilla, Albania

In the breathtaking landscape of Albania are 15 shocking national parks with all different terrains: some are mountainous, some border the beach, others are full of archaeological treasures or are home to an adventure park for children. While the variety of parks certainly provide options to suit almost anyone’s tastes, they’re uniquely packaged in this relatively small country, allowing you to see many even if you’re only coming for a short trip.

You’ll never leave without a buzz

Coffee and rakia

Like any other nation bordering the Mediterranean, coffee culture in Albania is an integral part of life. While home-brewed coffee will almost always be brewed on the stovetop in a xhezve, the Albanian version of a Turkish coffee maker, when you’re on the go, you’ll have many more options. Borrowing traditions from Italy and recently embracing the western third wave, Albanian coffees are varied and plentiful.

If you really want to have your morning cup the Albanian way, you’ll want to accompany your small black coffee with a tiny bit of raki. If you’re not used to such a strong drink so soon, it may take some getting used to, but it’s said to be good for your health and courage, according to Albanian tradition.

You will work on your tan

Lukove Beach

In southern Albania along the Ionian Sea are some of the most pristine beaches, turquoise waters and picturesque towns in all of Europe. There are two distinct main regions, one centered around Sarandë and the other around Vlorë. Outside of Tirana, these are the most visited cities in the country, so you’ll find plenty of visitor amenities like hotels, exchange offices and travel agencies, but without the crowds of Thessaloniki and Santorini. Collectively called Bruga, the southern coast of Albania offers everything you could want for a beach holiday, without hordes of tourists.

You can hit the slopes

Mountains in Albania

If you’ve never visited Albania, you might be surprised to learn that over 70% of the country is covered in mountains and has an average elevation of over 2,000 feet. Albania’s highest peak is Korab, which straddles the border with North Macedonia to the north, and is over 9,000 feet high.

As in many countries, mountain rhymes with skiing. Most ski resorts in Albania are located near Korca and are known to be among the most affordable in Europe. One of the most popular ski areas is right next to Dardhë: the ski resort of Bigëll. With just two ski lifts – one of which is a simple tow rope – it may not be the most extravagant resort in Europe, but with easy runs, comfortable lodges and bargain prices, this might be the perfect place to bring the whole family.

You can find history all around you

Butrint Archaeological Park

What we now call Albania has seen many different occupations, rulers and visitors, with a long and rich history of wars and conquests. Even as a visitor today, you can see these stories with your own eyes, whether visiting the amphitheater in Durrës or ogling Soviet buildings in Tirana.

At Butrint Archaeological Park in southern Albania, you will find ruins built by the Greeks, Romans, Venetians and Byzantines, all spread over one of the largest archaeological parks in the Balkans. And showing more recent evidence of Albania’s convoluted history, you can still find thousands of concrete bunkers that still dot the country, remnants of the Hoxha administration.


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