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Hello, and welcome to the only Albania travel guide you need to read to get you psyched about backpacking Albania. In the next few minutes, I will tell you in detail about the most beautiful places to visit in Albania and help you sort out all travel-related logistics. This is the ultimate guide to backpacking Albania on a budget, and you may just decide to sell all your possessions and live in Albania for the rest of your life (I am only half-joking.)
Albanians love Americans more than any other nationality. This is because of American support for Kosovo during the Serbian conflict in the late 90s, when the USA defended and encouraged independence for the ethnic Albanian enclave. Streets are named after George W. Bush in Tirana, and there is a statue of Hillary Clinton in Saranda, so the proof is in the pudding. Because of this, there are no visa requirements for Americans, so the first step in backpacking in Albania is free. Americans can stay in the country for a year before they have to go somewhere else, but this is rarely enforced. Better to play it safe, however, and skip over to Kosovo for a week or two before getting back to the beach.
EU, British, Australian, and Canadian citizens can enter and remain in Albania for a maximum of 90 days in every 6-month period without a visa.
Things have changed drastically in the last 30 years in Albania. What was once a closed, Communist country has opened up to the outside world in dramatic fashion over the last several decades. Hotels are being built at a rapid pace, and an infrastructure that caters to tourists is materializing in front of the world’s eyes. The country still has a reputation for mafia influence and drug trafficking, both of which still linger in the darker corners of the country; but for the tourist, this world is rarely, if ever seen. Of course, there are common sense measures a traveler should take in a foreign land, such as not being alone at night on certain dark avenues, but for the most part, Albania is as safe as any country in Europe.
- 1 Albanian Phrases You Should Know
- 2 Best Places to Stay in Albania
- 3 Get Insured Before Backpacking Albania
- 4 More Information on Backpacking Albania
Albanian Phrases You Should Know
- Hello! – Përshëndetje! / Tungjatjeta
- Good morning. – Mirëmëngjes.
- Good afternoon. – Mirëdita.
- Good evening. – Mirëmbrëma.
- Goodbye. – Mirupafshim.
- How are you? – Si Jeni?
- How much is it? – Sa kushton?
- Where is the toilet / bathroom? – Ku është tualeti / banjoja?
- How do I get to ….? – Si mund të shkoj te …?
- I don’t understand. – (Unë) nuk kuptoj.
- Please. – Ju lutem.
- Thank you! – Faleminderit!
- Yes. / No. – Po. / Jo.
Tourist season in Albania kicks off at the end of May and lasts until the end of September – or, to put it another way, when the sun is hot and the beach is hopping. But backpacking in Albania in the shoulder season is a good option if you want to run into minimal crowds at the beach and enjoy half-priced accommodation. April and October are the magic months, when the weather is warm, the beaches are empty, and the price is right.
Backpacking in Albania is the cheapest way to experience Mediterranean beaches and Italian-style mountain ranges in all of Europe. I spent an average of $30 a day, and that was with a private room, three restaurant meals, a half dozen espresso shots, and a handful of beers on a café patio each day, and transportation to any destination I felt like seeing. You can spend half of that if you find an apartment with a kitchen and cook all your meals.
Expect to pay about $10 for a bed in a dorm at a hostel in Albania. Private rooms with queen-size beds run about $20–$25. You can book beds and rooms on Hostelworld and Airbnb, or you can walk up and check the place out before you commit. In the more touristy towns, there are usually a number of options, so if you are picky about where you sleep, check a few out before putting your bag down. In the smaller towns that don’t see many tourists, walk around for a while and look for signs advertising a guesthouse. If you don’t see any, sit at a café and ask around. Someone will definitely know someone who has a room for rent, and most of the time it’s only $10.
Food is super cheap in Albania, so you can eat like a king no matter where you find yourself. Most hostels offer free breakfast, but if they don’t, hit up a bakery and grab a byrek (a flaky filo pastry filled with cheese, spinach, and sometimes meat) and an espresso for about $1.50. Lunch plates of grilled meats and potatoes and Greek salads are under $5, and dinner is about the same. If you are on a tight budget, go to a local farmers market and spend nickels on bags full of fresh vegetables and fruit. Feta is fresh, abundant, and cheap (a kilo for $3), and if you dare buy freshly butchered lamb complete with eyeballs, you’ll be able to feed the whole guesthouse for under $10. Some guesthouses in the smaller towns provide three meals a day for only a few extra dollars on top of the cost for accommodation.
Furgons (Albanian minibuses) are the way the locals get around Albania, and it’s the way you should, too. Most destinations only cost a few dollars to reach, and the country is small, so no destination is more than three hours away. Schedules are not always followed, and many times if you don’t catch a ride by 3:00 p.m., you’ll have to hitchhike or tweak your route to another city to catch a furgon from there, but there is always a way to get where you need to go if you are patient enough. Locals are very helpful about pointing you in the right direction, and if you miss the bus, many will offer you a ride. Be sure the ride is free before you get in the car because sometimes they expect you to pay them as if they are a taxi. Furgons are a great way to see how Albanians get around, and many times the driver bumps Albanian music while zipping you from place to place, so you will always be entertained.
Here are some tips on how to backpack Albania on a budget.
1. Eat Where the Locals Eat
Get off the tourist drag when you want to eat or have a drink. This goes for almost anywhere in the world, but especially in Albania, where tourism is low and prices double in the restaurants where only tourists frequent. Venture a street or two away from the tourist zone, and look for busy restaurants full of locals. It could be the best meal you have on your whole trip.
2. Take Furgons
Taxis aren’t expensive, but compared to local transportation, they seem outrageous. A furgon may have a distant city as its final destination, but it will drop passengers off almost anywhere along the way and only costs a couple dollars. Identify the driver’s assistant, and let them know where you are going so that they can tell the driver where to stop. Hitchhiking is also an option, but some people don’t feel too comfortable with the idea. After a week or two, this may change.
3. Negotiate Prices for Private Guesthouses
Many private guesthouse owners will be thrilled that a tourist has stumbled upon their place. Negotiate the price with them, and let them know that you will stay longer if the price is lower. If it’s the off-season, you should usually be able to get a private room with a kitchen for $10 or less. If you are an expert at haggling, see if they will throw in a free breakfast.
Best Places to Stay in Albania
Below are some of my favorite hostels in Albania. For even more options check out Hostelworld or Booking.com.
I’m starting with the capital, Tirana, because there’s a good chance this will be the first place you visit when backpacking Albania, as Tirana hosts the international airport. With direct flights to Tirana from dozens of European cities, there’s a good chance that no matter where you are in Europe, there’s an airport nearby that will get you to Albania quickly and cheaply, sometimes for as little as $15.
After you land in Tirana, jump on the airport shuttle and take it downtown to the National Museum for $3. Check into a hostel (I stayed at Trip’n’Hostel, which offers free breakfast and a hip bar), and then wander around the city to get your bearings and a feel for the modern, young, cosmopolitan Albania you’ve just immersed yourself in. Grab lunch, and then hop on a bus to tour Bunk’Art, a five-story underground bunker built in the 1970s during the dark dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. This museum is a must-see destination to get you up to speed on the recent history of Albania. The bunkers are eerie and a little unsettling, but they are not to be missed.
After the bunker tour, stroll around Skanderbeg Square and take in the many sights. The early 19th-century Et’hem Bey Mosque is not only aesthetically pleasing but holds an important place in Albania’s history, when in 1991, after half a century of ironfisted secularism, 10,000 people gathered to celebrate their new freedom to again worship Islam. The early 19th-century Clock Tower stands watch nearby and has a staircase you can take to the top if you want to get a bird’s eye view of the city. If you’re lucky you can time your climb to watch the sunset and hear the call to prayer from the mosque. Also, during summer nights, the square often fills with locals and tourists catching a live concert.
The cuisine scene in Tirana is the best in Albania when it comes to variety. By all means, indulge. The best place to find the highest concentration of restaurants and bars is the tree-shaded pedestrian street, Rruga Murat Toptani. Grab a seat on a patio, order everything on the menu, and spend the next few hours eating like a king for a price affordable to a pauper. People-watching is limitless here as well.
If you’re a night person, hit the club and stay up until the wee hours with all of your hostel friends, dancing to Albanian pop and rap and everything else you come to expect from a European disco. Try to get to sleep before the sun rises.
Just north of Tirana is the bike-friendly city of Shkodra. Your furgon from Tirana will get you there in only a couple of hours and for only a couple of dollars, and will drop you right in the center of the city. Stroll along the main shopping avenue on your way to your hostel (The Wanderer’s Hostel is a good choice), and stop for a coffee at one of the many cafés along the way. After you put your bag down, chill out in a hammock in the large garden with the other backpackers, or hire a bike from the hostel and ride out to the Montenegrin-shared Shkodra Lake, the largest lake in southern Europe. Look for the last pelicans in all of Europe, and then go for a swim. After returning to your hostel, arrange a trip to the Albanian Alps.
3. Albanian Alps
Your hostel in Shkodra will no doubt attempt to sell you on the Albanian Alps as soon as you check in. Do not be put off by the hard sell – the Albanian Alps might be the coolest thing you do while backpacking in Albania. For around $23, the hostel will store your luggage, arrange for a private van to take you to the ferry terminal two hours away, reserve a seat on the ferry that takes you across the magical Komani Lake, reserve a taxi at the end of the ferry ride, and arrange a night at a guesthouse in a mountain village in Valbona Valley. It will be a long day, but the crisp mountain air and icy, glacier-fed river running alongside the stone house will make it all worth it. Explore the tiny village before dinner is served on the wrap-around porch with views of the Albanian Alps. Get to bed early because you will be waking up with the sun to begin your journey to the remote village of Theth.
The hike is not grueling, but it isn’t easy. Make sure you pack light before you leave from Shkodra, but don’t skimp on warm clothes because it gets downright cold at night. The hike through Valbona Valley to Theth National Park is awe-inspiring. Take as many breaks as you need to drink in the views. In contrast to most wilderness hikes, here there are tiny cafés spread out along the way, so you can relax with a cold Coca-Cola or beer when you need to rest your feet and recharge your batteries.
After eight hours of hiking, the village of Theth will be a welcome sight. A centuries-old stone farmhouse will be your home for the night, and the hosts will welcome you with a glass of wine and a giant meal of fried fish and Greek salad, and after the sun goes down, the raki will flow and the dancing will begin. The next day, a 4×4 will drive you back to Shkodra, and you’ll wonder if it was all a dream.
4. Albanian Riviera
After spending a few days in the chilly air of the Albanian Alps, the warm beaches along the Albanian Riviera will be calling your name. Take a furgon from Shkodra to Tirana and then another one to Vlore. Depending on how early in the day you begin your journey, you may have to stay the night in Vlore. This isn’t a bad thing as the fifth largest city in Albania is located right on the sea, and the miles-long boulevard is lively and bursting with shops, cafés, restaurants, and bars. But do not linger too long in Vlore. As soon as possible, find a furgon to Dhermi.
Why would anyone ever want to leave Dhermi, with its perfect water, perfect beach, and room with a view? Spend a few days here lounging and swimming, and then venture further south. Vuno is a good stop. Find a room in the small town, grab lunch, and then hike through Gjipe Canyon to an incredible beach. If you don’t feel like leaving anytime soon, camp there for the night and sleep under a billion stars. Next on your Riviera tour is the world-class Jale Beach. Then go to Himare. Stay in this lively beach town for a few days – swimming, eating, sleeping, repeating. After a week in the Riviera, you’ll wonder why Greece is getting all the press, but then you realize it’s because Albania is supposed to be kept a secret.
After tanning on the glorious beaches of the Albanian Riviera, stay a night or two in Saranda to bring yourself back down to earth. Busy avenues buzz with motorcycles, markets, and shoppers, while restaurants, cafés, and bars line the people-watching-friendly boulevard hugging the gentle sea. Stay at a hostel and hop around bars with other backpackers, or find a quiet room to yourself with a terrace looking out over the city. Grab a big dinner and wander the streets until the locals call it a night and stillness replaces the bustle. The next day, hike to the top of the hill and catch a dramatic view of the city, sea, and valley from Lekursi Castle, or take a taxi to the Blue Eye, a deep, freshwater spring of the clearest, coldest water imaginable that appears to reach the core of the earth.
Ksamil was my first stop when backpacking in Albania, and it is hard to think of anywhere better I have been since. Dirt roads and black-clad widows dominate the town, but a world-class beach at the mouth of Lake Butrint dominates the experience. Time it in the shoulder season, and you’re all alone on a powder-white blanket lapped by turquoise, paying $10 a night for a seaview apartment and enjoying local seafood. It’s an easy place to imagine never leaving.
7. Butrint National Park
A visit to Ksamil wouldn’t be complete without an afternoon at Butrint National Park, an archaeological wonderland near the Greek border. An hour’s stroll south from the village of Ksamil along dirt roads that pass through vineyards and olive tree groves is the ideal way to arrive at one of the most popular tourist attractions in Albania, but there is an hourly bus that will pick you up on the highway and drop you at the gates if you prefer. Greek, Roman, and medieval history stack on top of each other on the tiny peninsula jutting into the Channel of Vivari, which separates Butrint Lake from the sea. The channel also serves as the demarcation line between the Ionian and Adriatic seas. Protected brackish wetlands house a variety of birds, and the unique mixture of fresh and saltwater make mollusk farming an all-too-easy industry. After exploring the peninsula, order a bowl of mussels for lunch and maybe take a dip between the two seas.
The first natural stop after leaving Ksamil is Gjirokaster. A hilly, cobblestoned city with an amazing fortress looking down on everything, Gjirokaster oozes with history. Pay the couple of dollars to get inside the walls of the fortress, and walk over every inch of it. The views of the valley are refreshing after you’ve lived at sea level for the last week. Wander back out into the streets, try to find the blackout tunnel that burrows underneath the giant fortress, and bravely walk the entire length. Get a big dinner out, and try not to let the proprietor stuff you full. Then find a room in an old, stone house, and feel like you’re traveling back in time.
Permet is a secret town located just east of Gjirokaster and an easy furgon ride to the past. Situated alongside a deep, milky-white river that seems to silence the town, Permet provides an easy way to soak in culture while soaking in mineral pools. Find a guesthouse for the night, and then grab a taxi to the Benja thermal baths in Langarica Canyon, where you can steep yourself in sulfur-rich water for a few hours while listening to the quiet sounds of nature. Back in town, walk the promenade and grab a bite to eat. Have dessert and an espresso at a café after the sun goes down and really get to meet the locals.
Arguably the most beautiful city in Albania is Berat, the so-called City of Windows. The entire city is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you will see why when you catch your first glimpse of the hillside stacked with centuries-old Ottoman-style houses and their windows glittering like diamonds. History, culture, and the friendliest people you will ever meet fill the city. The cuisine scene is outdone only by Tirana. Vegetable markets, bakeries, and cafés galore will keep you busy for days on end. You could spend a whole month in Berat and only experience a fraction of what the region has to offer, from day hikes, villages hidden in the hills, and white water rafting to wineries and a religious pilgrimage to the top of Mount Tomorri. This place is magical and not to be missed.
If you’ve been spending time in Gjirokaster, Permet, and Berat, Korce is a good stepping stone back from the Albanian past. It’s not quite as cosmopolitan as Tirana, but it has modern restaurants and a more youthful population. Close to Lake Prespa, Korce is a fun city to spend a night or two before heading out on a village trek. Walk along Boulevard Shen Gjergji to get a feel for the city, and then spend the rest of the afternoon exploring and shopping in the 400-year-old bazaar, getting lunch on a patio and chatting with locals. After lunch, take a tour of the Korce brewery, the largest brewery in Albania and producer of the country’s most ubiquitous beer. Watch the sunset from a rooftop bar before finding a hip joint to have dinner.
12. Lake Prespa
After reacclimating to the modern world for a few nights, transport yourself back in time again by visiting beautiful Lake Prespa. Here you can experience the sight of a deep blue lake shared by three countries and more goats than people. Unfortunately, furgons don’t run from Korce to Lake Prespa, so you will have to hitchhike; but rest assured, in Albania, hitchhiking is safe and easy. The only challenge is communicating with someone who doesn’t speak a word of English. It’s all part of the adventure.
The only reason you would be in Pogradec is to see Lake Ohrid. Five million years old and one of the oldest lakes in Europe, it is a geological gem, with its clear, deep water devoid of motorboats and its empty, sandy beaches. Pogradec, in contrast, is a busy city with a waterfront and carnival rides. For sleeping, it’s preferable to venture east toward the Macedonian border to the hamlet of Tushemisht. Guesthouses subtly advertise their existence, but find one and you’ve hit the jackpot. For $10 a night, I stayed at a beachfront honey farm surrounded by grapevines and rose bushes. Every morning I swam in the most inviting lake I have ever laid eyes on. Meals were prepared for me, and I was in heaven. I borrowed a bicycle and rode into Macedonia and stopped for lunch at the Monastery of St. Naum, a 1,100-year-old stone church built on the edge of the lake. Then I took a bus into Ohrid, also in Macedonia, and spent the afternoon exploring the cobblestoned lakeside jewel. It was hard to imagine ever leaving the fairytale lake and returning to the real world.
For even more recommendations, check out our list of the best places to visit in Albania.
Get Insured Before Backpacking Albania
No matter how long or short your trip, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you don’t wanna get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
More Information on Backpacking Albania
If you are more of a book person and would rather carry a physical guide with you while backpacking Albania, we recommend Lonely Planet Western Balkans or Bradt’s Albania. Remember though, don’t follow it step by step, use it as a guide instead.
I could go on and on about this magnificent country, but I have a feeling I have already convinced you to backpack in Albania, and you have undoubtedly already begun looking at photos of these stunning beaches and sublime, snow-peaked mountains. Summer is the busiest time to visit, and the beaches will be lively, but it will be nothing like Spain, Italy, or Greece, so don’t worry about crowds. If you can’t get there before summer is over, fall is just as magical, the water is just as warm, and the people are just as friendly. Head over to Skyscanner to book your flight, and start planning on your adventure backpacking Albania.