Where is Albania?
Are you wondering where exactly to find Albania on a map? You’re not alone. Albania’s desirability is heavily rooted in its anonymity.
Albania is located north of Greece and shares its beautiful Ionian coastline. The Greek island of Corfu is a stone’s throw off the coast of southern Albania and Italy spans the horizon beyond Corfu.
Cheap flights to Tirana (the capital of Albania) are available from many cities and Tirana is the only major international airport in Albania. Fortunately, Albania has some of the world’s best neighbors.
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How do I get to Albania?
Ferries run from Corfu, Greece and from Brindisi, Italy into the southern Albania seaports of Saranda and Vlorë. Flying into Montenegro or Pristina, Kosovo, it takes a few hours to get to the north of Albania (see below about Shkodër and the Alps!). Flying into Skopje, Macedonia or Thessaloniki, Greece, Albania is under a 5-hour drive.
Buses are also available between Albania and all its neighboring countries.
The beautiful countries of Greece, Macedonia, Italy, Kosovo, and Montenegro all provide the opportunity to easily combine multiples destinations into one trip.
Where in Albania should I go?
You don’t truly know beach-perfection until you visit the Albanian Riviera.
South of Vlorë, the coastal highway zigzags up and down the mountains. Weaving south towards the popular port city of Saranda, you pass a scattering of small beach towns. Even the most popular of the Albanian beaches are still in their developmental infancy. This means cheap, seaside accommodation on clean, uncrowded shoreline.
Wild camping is popular and easily accessible in Albania. For many of the very best beaches, (especially the stunning, remote Gjipe Beach), camping is your only option for accommodation.
Other favorite Albanian beaches?
- Dhermi/Drimades: A long coastline means a place for yourself on the white stones and crystal clear water of these beaches. Dhermi is great for nightlife and many hotels, hostels, and tent camping rentals are available.
- Himara: A quaint town with a small, picturesque beach and many waterfront restaurants.
- Borsh: The longest beach and least-discovered by tourists.
- Ksamil: Ksamil is popular and can get very crowded during peak season. It is a series of cove beaches with stunning waters and multiple islands directly offshore. Swimming from Ksamil to the islands is easily done.
The Albanian Alps
Albania’s most popular northern city – Shkodër – is a peaceful town. A wide pedestrian street runs through the center and many local eateries offer full meals for less than $5. A vivid white and gold Mosque dominates the city center while Catholic churches are scattered nearby.
Hiking from Theth to Valbona (or vice-versa)
From Shkodër, a combination of shuttle buses and ferries takes you to either Theth or Valbona. (Beware: the ride involves lots of narrow, unpaved mountain roads with steep drop-offs and lots of twists and turns).
On the contrary, the sleepy towns of Theth and Valbona, nestled among the Albanian Alps, offer utter tranquility. Wild horses drink from crystal clear streams and guesthouses are spread-out, tucked amidst fields of wildflowers.
Most travelers head to these towns for the hike. The challenging hike (approximately seven hours) leads you over the mountain between the two villages and through the jaw-dropping scenery of the Alps. You venture from steep, forested mountainsides through lazy, meandering fields and along rocky riverbeds.
Not into hiking? The trip to Valbona is still worth the journey, simply for the ferry ride across the impossibly-green Lake Skadar to get there.
Tirana (The capital of Albania)
The trendier areas of Tirana are indistinguishable from the likes of London or Berlin. Cozy, local-food spots and ultra-modern, upscale restaurants are all at the top of the culinary game (but without the price tags to match). The Blloku neighborhood of Tirana is the spot to head to at night for the most modern cafes, eateries, and nightlife.
In a shocking contrast to the city’s dreary communist past, many buildings in Tirana now sport bold, bright paint jobs. Squares, parks, and open-air markets are all abundant in the city center.
Nearly 200,000 concrete-domed military bunkers dot the Albanian landscape, but Tirana has transformed some of their abandoned bunkers into museums commemorating the victims of communism.
Who are the Albanian People?
As mentioned above, communism was the only thing Albanian people knew until a couple decades ago. The older generation of Albanian people spent most of their lives with nearly no knowledge about the world outside of Albania.
Peaceful protests are still a common sight in Tirana as Albanian people remain proactive about their rights. Nowadays, Albanian people are focusing their hopes on eventually joining the European Union.
Religion in Albania
The vast majority of Albanian people identify as Muslim, but few consider themselves to be religious. Religion was historically banned in the country and many citizens remain indifferent today. Visiting Albania during Ramadan you will find nearly everything open as usual during the day, unlike in most Muslim countries.
Hitchhiking in Albania
Albanian people, generally speaking, are extraordinarily kind and welcoming. Hitchhiking, in particular, is highly common among Albanian people and in many cases, it’s the easiest form of transportation for tourists as well.
A bus system exists between all major cities and towns, but it can be cramped, unreliable, and notoriously hard to figure out exact times and stops.
You won’t have to wait long for a ride when hitchhiking in Albania. Most Albanians are happy to let you hop in the back. The roads generally lead in one direction in Albania, so little communication is required.