In this article, we will discover some of the top things to do in Tirana, Albania in the Balkans.
Tirana is the capital city of Albania and is located 12 miles east of the Adriatic Sea. It is the largest city in the country with a population of nearly one million. Considering the total population of Albania stands at around three million, that is pretty impressive.
Although Tirana hasn’t always had a great history, tourism has started to increase. After the collapse of communism in 1992, crime started to rise and the city gained an even worse reputation. However, today Tirana is a pleasant city full of culture, tasty dishes and lots of history.
This article will go through all the information you need to visit this awesome city including the top things to do in Tirana, the dishes you need to try and the best ways to get around the city.
Skanderbeg Square is the main plaza in the city of Tirana and is actually named after Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu. He was a military commander and a national hero of Albania, and so had this square built in his honour. His nickname was ‘Skanderbeg’ and there is a Skanderbeg monument found in the middle of the square.
Skanderbeg square is home to many important and historical buildings including the National Opera, National library, the Clock Tower, the City Hall, the Palace of Culture and the National Historical Museum. If you are an architecture buff, then visiting Skanderbeg Square is one of the best things to do in Tirana.
The National History Museum
The National History Museum found here is actually the largest museum in Albania and is the place to go if you want to learn all about the history of this beautiful country. The museum is divided into eight sections which include information about the renaissance, communist terror and the National Liberation Anti-fascism war.
This museum holds many incredible artefacts and archaeological treasures including a replica of Skanderbeg’s sword. If you want to make the most of this place, then it’s best to give yourself about three hours.
Pyramid of Tirana
Visiting the Pyramid is one of the more unique things to do in Tirana. It actually opened as a museum in 1988 and was dedicated to the legacy of Enver Hoxha, who was the leader of Communist Albania.
At the time this unique structure was actually said to be one of the most expensive structures ever built in Albania.
Afterwards, the Pyramid of Tirana then became a conference centre in 1991 after the collapse of communism. Then the building was used as a NATO base during the Kosovo War. The building has plenty of history and is now one of the most popular Tirana attractions.
Bunk’Art is found underneath the city of Tirana and was once used as a cold war bunker to protect the communist leader Enver Hoxha. The shelter was built in the 1970s, and its intended use was to protect Hoxha and the cabinet if a nuclear attack was to ever take place.
The ironic thing is that Hoxha actually died before the shelter was fully completed, so it was never actually used although it did remain a secret to the public for years.
Today, however, the shelter is used as a museum and contemporary art shelter to remember the dark history of Albania. The bunker is actually made up of five stories and over 100 rooms, and the living quarters and meeting rooms are staged as they would have been during that time.
You will also get to see photographs and important documents, whilst getting to learn more about Albania’s history. This unique attraction is one of the best places to visit in Tirana and one you shouldn’t miss.
The Dajti Ekspres is Albania’s most popular tourist attraction, and it isn’t hard to see why. The Dajti Ekspress is a cable car that takes you up to the top of Dajti Mountain. It is the longest cable car journey in the Balkans and offers incredible views on the way up to the top.
Getting to the top takes about 15 minutes, and once you reach the Dajti Mountain balcony you will be at a height of about 1613m.
Once you get to the top of Dajti Mountain you will find a complex with plenty of places to visit. You can choose to stay at the Dajti Tower Hotel if you wish or have a tasty meal at the Cliff-top restaurant.
Other activities up here include paragliding, mini-golf and an adventure park that is home to nets, ropes and zip lines. If you are looking for a simpler experience when reaching the top, then why not hike to Tujani peak. If you are looking for fun things to do in Tirana, then this is it!
The Grand Park
The Grand Park of Tirana is located in the south of the city and is an impressive 289-hectare park for the public to enjoy. There is a huge artificial lake found here, and many other places to visit including the Presidential Palace and the Saint Procopius Church.
There are also memorials located here for fallen soldiers that sadly gave their lives during World War II and a Holocaust memorial to remember those who protected the Jews from the Nazi’s and to honour the dead.
It is one of the most relaxing spots in the city and is the perfect place to take a picnic. There is a Botanical Garden located at the southern end of the park, where you will find almost 120 species of flower, bushes and trees with many being common to the Albanian environment.
Bektashi World Centre
The Bektashi World Centre is an important religious centre and is the home of the Bektashi order. The Bektashi order was founded by Balim Sultan and attracted people from all walks of life.
However, it was banned briefly in 1826, and then again in 1923 after the Republic of Turkey was founded. This caused them to move their headquarters to Albania in 1925.
The Bektashi World Centre is found in the north of Tirana and offers beautiful architecture, so is a must-visit during your trip. It has an impressive tekke with a museum which will give you the opportunity to learn all about the history of the Bektashi.
Go up the Clock Tower
The Clock Tower of Tirana was built in 1822 by Haxhi Et’hem Beu. Until 1970 the clock tower was actually the highest building in the capital city at a height of 30m. Originally the clock tower’s bell was from Venice until it was replaced in 1928 by a German clock.
During World War II the clock tower was damaged by bombs, but it was then restored in July 1946. The tower has since undergone renovation in 1981 and again in 1999, and today you can head up to the top of the tower free of charge.
Wander through Tirana’s New Bazaar
The New Bazaar in Tirana is also known as Pazari I Ri and has undergone huge renovations recently. The square has been updated with a modern look with the marketplace being located in the centre.
Here around 300 farmers from the surrounding areas of Tirana come to sell their fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood among other things, so you will find plenty of amazing food here.
Visiting the New Bazaar is one of the top things to do in Tirana as it’s a hotspot for both tourists and locals. Aside from the markets, there are countless bars and restaurants that sell incredible authentic cuisine and freshly brewed beer.
Walk across Tanner’s Bridge
Tanner’s Bridge is an Ottoman period footbridge bridge that was built during the 18th century. This bridge was once part of the Saint George road which connected the city of Tirana and the Eastern highlands, and this is where produce and livestock used to enter the city.
After the bridge fell into disrepair, it was renovated in the 1990s and is now one of the most popular spots to visit in the city.
Day Trips from Tirana
There are plenty of other destinations you can visit as a day trip from Tirana. Here are just a few of the popular ones!
Take a dip in the Adriatic at Durres
If you fancy a dip in the Adriatic, The Coastal resort town of Durres lies 40km west of Tirana and is easily reachable by bus and taxi. There are a number of lovely beaches in Durres with beachside cafes, bars and restaurants, making it a worthwhile day trip from Tirana.
Kruje Castle is located within the city of Kruje, which is just over an hour’s drive from the city of Tirana. This castle is famously known as the centre of Skanderbeg’s rebellion against the Ottoman empire, and so is considered to be one of the most important historical sites In the country.
There are plenty of things to see within Kruje Castle including the National Skanderbeg museum, a Turkish bath, the remains of the Faith Sultan Mehmed mosque and the Teqe of Dollme of the Bektashi. Public buses run from the city centre of Tirana to Kruje quite frequently, so it’s an easy destination to get to.
The city of Berat is located within central Albania and lies on the Osum River. It is known as the ‘town of a thousand windows’ thanks to the row of Ottoman houses that can be found on the hill up to Berat castle. As you walk up the street it’s impossible not to notice the endless row of windows – hence the nickname.
There are two parts of Berat; the old town and the new city, however, most of the sights that you will want to see are located within the old town. Some of the most popular places to visit in the city include Kala Castle, the Saint Demetrius Cathedral and Bachelors Mosque. Berat is a city of historic importance and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 because it is a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town.
Kepi I Rodonit
Kepi I Rodonit is a rocky cape found just to the north of Durres on the Adriatic coast. Otherwise known as the Cape of Rodon or the Cape of Skanderbeg, this spot is popular with tourists and locals alike. Rodoni castle is also found here and was built by Skanderbeg in 1463.
Today, part of the castle is even submerged in the water which offers an interesting experience.
If you love nature, visiting this place is a must. This area of Albania offers stunning views, wild landscapes and plenty of nature for you to enjoy. There are plenty of hiking routes in the area, lots of places to take a bike and you can even kayak around the cape if you are feeling adventurous.
Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest and deepest lakes in Europe and is the perfect day trip to take from Tirana. The Lake is located on the border between Albania and North Macedonia and is the deepest lake in the Balkans with an impressive depth of 288m.
Due to its cultural heritage and conservation successes, both Macedonia and Albania’s sides of the lake were designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. This beautiful lake is not only a wonder to witness, but is of incredible aquatic importance with over 200 endemic species.
The best food dishes to try in Tirana
There are plenty of tasty food dishes to try in Tirana, but here are some of the most popular ones!
Kaçkavall – Kaçkavall is an Albanian cheese that is often served as a side dish or snack. It is one of the most popular cheeses in the country and can be served either fried or raw depending on your preference.
Tavë Kosi – Tavë Kosi originally came from the town of Elbasan and is now one of Albania’s national dishes. It is a quiche-like dish that is made with eggs, rice, lamb and yoghurt, and when baked in the oven will have a soft creamy interior.
Fërgesë Tirane – Fërgesë Tirane is one of the most popular dishes in Albania and is a typical Tirana food. It is made from bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and cheeses including feta and cottage cheese. After being seasoned with various spices, the dish is put in the oven until it has a thick texture. You will often find this dish served alongside bread in restaurants.
Getting to Tirana
The city of Tirana is found within the heart of Albania and is easily accessible from all directions. Tirana International airport is only 30 minutes away from the city centre, and you can also catch a public bus from neighbouring countries including Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Greece.
If you are already travelling through Albania, every city in the country has bus links to the capital or you can hire a car.
Getting Around Tirana
The city of Tirana is small enough to walk around on foot but beware of the pavement here as they are not very well maintained so often have lots of potholes and can be very narrow.
If you want to travel around using public transport then there are a few intra-city bus lines within Tirana and a bus line that does a loop around the city centre. Taxis are available but you have to choose carefully.
Official taxi companies will have a fare sheet in the vehicle or will use a meter. However, some taxi’s won’t so you will have to negotiate a price first before getting in.
The weather in Tirana
The weather can vary considerably throughout the year, but typically Tirana has a Mediterranean climate as it’s located only 30km from the coast. Due to the high-pressure systems, the summer’s in Tirana are usually very dry and hot, with temperatures reaching up to around 31°C during the peak months of July and August. Tirana’s winters are known to be very long, cold and wet with temperatures hitting lows of -5°C.
The best time to visit Tirana
The city of Tirana offers something special to travellers whichever time you choose to visit. Depending on the time of year, you will be spoilt with festivals, markets and plenty of events to enjoy.
However, many people choose to visit Tirana during the summer months when the weather is at its hottest, especially as the coast is only a 30-minute drive away.
Is Tirana Safe to Visit?
The city of Tirana is as safe to visit as any other city in Europe. However, similar to other cities located within Europe like Barcelona and Paris, pickpocketing is common along with other scams. Aside from these mild issues, Tirana is pretty safe to travel around with crime rates being low, and people being very friendly.
Ensure you proper cover for your trip. Although Albania is a very safe country, it pays to have a policy in place to cover you should the unexpected happen. Our partners at World Nomads are experts in travel insurance for adventurous travellers. You can get a free, no-obligation quote here.
Accommodation in Tirana
There are plenty of accommodation choices in Tirana to choose from, with many of the popular stays being located very close to the city centre. I stayed at the Jolly City Centre Hotel which had a lovely loft-style room with a private bathroom, and a ten-minute walk to Skanderbeg Square.
Here are some other accommodation options for each budget:
Budget accommodation: Tufina Hostel (A dorm bed within a hostel for budget backpackers)
Mid-budget accommodation: Garden B&B (a little B&B with breakfast included)
Luxury accommodation: Rooftop Tirana – Choose Balkans (a superior apartment with balcony)
So, should you visit Tirana? If you are a fan of beautiful architecture, incredible food and lots of history, then this city is definitely a must-visit. You can take a wander around the city on foot, taste some of Albania’s national dishes and even take a day trip out to a majestic castle. There are so many incredible things to do in Tirana, so you won’t ever get bored!
About the author
Steve Rohan, originally from England, has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog, The Trip Goes On, as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.