Albania is for many a relatively unknown destination. Located in southeast Europe, bordering Greece and the Republic of Macedonia, Albania has a long and often tempestuous history. Today, the remnants of this history as well as the country’s natural beauty make Albania a fascinating destination that is still very much off-the-beaten path. Here are a few tips for things to see and do in Albania to get you started.
Albania as a nation was subject to the pre-history of the Greeks, the Illyrians, the Romans and later the Ottomans. The result of these influences is an amalgam of culturally diverse architectural features such as places of worship and aristocratic or royal residences. Once such place is the Et’Hem Bay Mosque in the centre of the Albanian capital Tirana. The mosque certainly warrants a visit because of its astounding beauty and historical worth. Skanderberg Square in Tirana offers an abundance of this history, being the typically Albanian mix-up of cultural influences with an ancient cobbled square shaped as a horseshoe, surrounded by Mussolini’s 1930’s government buildings.
For the history buffs, the National Museum of History in Tirana has extensive collections of Albania’s turbulent cultural past, with articles pre-dating 95,000 BC offering a fascinating show of tangible, not to mention stunning regional cultural history. There is also the Archaeological Museum near Durrës, set along the waterfront of this magnificent coast, and offering a full range of Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman artefacts.
A trip to Albania would not be complete without a visit to one of its ancient fortresses such as the fascinating Rozafa Fortress near Shkodra and the museum town of Berat, with its beautiful Ottoman houses in a striking mountain setting.
The Ionian Coast in Albania is one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in Eastern Europe and is even said to contend with Croatia’s awe-inspiring Dalmatian Coast. This stunning part of Albania’s coastline features steep crags, towering mountains and a string of hidden coves and beaches. One of Albania’s most charming seaside towns, Saranda, is located here. Nearby attractions include the Syri i Katterc spring and gorgeous beaches near the village of Ksamili. There are a range of sea- and land-based activities along the Ionian Coast like kayaking and hiking to get involved with thanks to the tour company ‘Outdoor Albania’, who promote eco-tourism along this stretch of Adriatic and Ionian coastline. Tours include sea-kayaking excursions with stays in traditional villages along the coast.
In the north, the Albanian Alps are famous for its dramatic peaks, crystalline lakes and quaint villages. A ride on the ferry across Komani lake is a great way to enjoy the rugged scenery and mingle with the locals. ‘Outdoor Albania’ also offers hiking trips in the Albanian Alps.
Sit back and relax or join the party
Two of the country’s most popular drinking holes couldn’t be more different. Bar Torra, located in the city of Durrës, is a chic bar and café with a stunning view. Located inside a fortified Venetian tower, Bar Torra was one of the very first privately owned cafés to be set up in Albania, and it owes its existence to a team of keen local artists who took the time to decorate and revive this structure into what is today a vibrant and cool destination. Sit back, enjoy the view and one of the local brews.
For a memorable night out, the Oxygen Beach-bar in Pogradec on the shores of Lake Ohrid is one of the most popular party destinations with a private pool and beach, as well as the very best dance music.
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