Solo travel in Western Balkans – 24h in and around Tirana, Albania

I travelled to Tirana in December 2017 to participate in a work-related conference. The presentations finished already Friday mid -day and I was left with about 24 h to explore a bit of the city and surroundings before my flight back on Saturday PM.

Tirana itself is nothing too spectacular and similar in look with other former communist capitals from the European Eastern block. The architecture is mainly greyish appartment buildings with falling facades. The only notable exception are a few streets surrounding  Skanderbeg Square, now turned a pedestrian zone. In December, a small Christmas market and several carrousels were occupying the square.

This square marks the very center of the capital and many important buildings are bordering it. The Tirana International Hotel (photo above), the Palace of Culture, the National Opera, the National Library, the National Bank, the Ethem Bey Mosque, the Clock Tower, the City Hall, the Ministry of Infrastructure, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Energy and the National Historical Museum are all situated at the square.

Expect many construction sites in the central area which makes  for a congested and very noisy traffic, especially in the morning. The entire area is under modernisation and should soon provide for more green spaces and a farmer’s market.

After checking out the square and its monument, put aside a couple of hours for the National History Museum. Above the entrance of the museum is a large mural mosaic named ‘The Albanians’ that depicts ancient to modern figures from Albania’s history. The museum includes the following pavilions: Antiquity, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Independence, Iconography, National Liberation Antifascist War, Communist Terror, and Mother Teresa. I enjoyed the one with artefacts from Antiquity the most, especially as many elements were perfectly preserved.

After this visit, you can stop by the Clock Tower of Tirana, a sort of symbol of the city. You can climb the 90 steps to the top free of charge.

I concluded my Tirana visit with a walk up and down the Rruga e Durresit (Durres Street) and Bulevardi Zogu I. Both streets are filled with shops, banks and supermarkets. Note however that major credit cards were not always accepted by the ATM or carried a minimum withdrawal amount.

The next day, I woke up bright and early and did my check out from the Tirana International Hotel. I then took a taxi (arranged by the hotel) to Durres. This is a coastal city at about 35 km from Tirana but it feels worlds away from the greyish capital. The taxi fare was about 40 Euro.

Durrës is one of the oldest Abanian cities and home of one of the largest amphitheatres in the Balkan peninsula, the Durrës Amphitheatre once having a capacity of 20,000 people. It is located in the centre of the city and is only half unearthed. It is a pity however that modern buildings are located very close to the monument and ruining a bit the charm.

A great stop, if you are into antique history, is the newly renovated Archaeological Museum. When I visited, you could book a guide, which is highly recommended considering the amount of objects. It is also much more entertaining to hear their stories about where different pieces were found and their significance. The museum even had a corner where (older) children activities were organised like building a mosaic depicting a cat. It looked like great fun!

After a short walk on the promenade, I stoped for lunch at Ventus Harbour, a restaurant perched at the end of a jetty with beautiful views of the Adriatic sea. They had great sea food and risotto.  Red wine was also excellent.

Unfortunatelly my visit was too short to venture further afield. There are some amazing UNESCO listed towns that should be on the top of you list if you find yourself in Albania for about a week. The ancient city of Butrinti, Berat and Gjirokastra  would each deserve half a day of exploration. Then, bordering Macedonia, is the tectonic Ohrid lake. This is an area particularly popular with families. Finally, the Albanian riviera has some great beaches, some of them with a very easy slope (Durres beach for example).

The natural beauty of Albania is already attracting visitors although they tend to be more from neighbouring countries at this point. I am sure it is about to change. Given the affordable prices, developping infrastructure, nice beaches and the (still) unspoiled natural parks, it has the potential to turn into a tourism hotspot of the region.

Happy travels!


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