5 Essential Travel Experiences in Tirana, Albania
It seems like Albania is always on the verge of having a real travel “moment.” In 2011, it was Lonely Planet’s #1 destination to visit, and in 2014, it made New York Times’ list of 52 Places to Go. And it continues to pop up pretty regularly as a hot new travel destination in this, that or the other publication. In fact, it just showed up AGAIN on Nat Geo’s Best Trips for 2018 list at #17.
And yet, most of the country, including its capital – Tirana – is blessedly free of mass tourism. On my multiple trips there, I’ve gone days and days without running into or seeing a single other traveler.
Sure, usually this makes me the only Asian around for miles and miles, and I sometimes feel like an animal in the zoo, but this doesn’t make the country any less of a favourite, especially since so many wonderful people I know, call it home.
I’m by no means an expert on Albanian travel, but being in Tirana with people who actually LIVE in the city, has given me a window into some unique things to do while you’re there.
VISIT DAJTI, THE BALCONY OF TIRANA
For a birds-eye view of Tirana, ascend up to the peak of 1,613 metre Dajti, part of the Skanderbeg range of mountains. Covered in pine, oak and beech trees, and populated with canyons, waterfalls, caves, a lake and an ancient castle, it’s an especially popular place to visit in winter time, since it’s one of the few places in the city where you can actually experience snow.
Head towards the Fusha e Dajtit, for a panoramic view of Tirana, coffee, and a bite to eat.
Our tip: There are multiple ways to reach the top, but the Dajti Ekspres will get you there in just 15 minutes. It’s the first and only cableway in Albania, and the longest cableway in all of the Balkans. Closed on Tuesdays, and busier when there’s a snowfall, tickets can only be purchased at the lower station of the cableway.
GET A REFLEXOLOGY MASSAGE FROM A MASTER
How does a Chinese reflexology master end up in Tirana, Albania? Well, your guess is as good as mine, since both languages are totally impenetrable to me and I haven’t been able to properly ask.
All you need to know though, is that this hour long reflexology treatment is the best I’ve had the world over…and I’ve had plenty, in places like Malaysia, China and Thailand. Costing around 800LEK, you’ll be floating off into a dream-like trance that is only bested by the total focus and concentration of the guy treating your feet like they’re made of gold.
Make an appointment by contacting Ana at: +355 66 809 7888. (she speaks some english, so you’re good to go!)
Our tip: Schedule an appointment after a long day of exploring Tirana by foot. Your feet will thank you.
EAT ALL THE QOFTE AND BYREK
Byrek is as representative of Albania as the double headed eagle on the country’s flag. Eaten all day long, and made from scratch in pretty much every household in the country, it’s layers of flaky dough filled with a variety of fillings. My personal favourite is ground beef, but “byrek me djathë” (with cheese) is more common.
If you leave Tirana without trying qofte, you’d be missing out on one of the country’s gastronomic delights. Eat it anywhere from street stalls to grocery stores to restaurants, but no matter where you get it from, it’ll be super-affordable, flavourful and have you asking for seconds.
Our tip: Byrektores are found in absolutely every neighbourhood, but try out local favourite LEJ&LAJ, which is located at Rruga Petro Nini Luarasi, Mbi Shkollen e Baletit. For qofte, get it from a Zgare and make sure you order some garlicky salc kosi (similar to tzatziki) for dipping.
WHILE THE DAY AWAY IN AN ALBANIAN CAFE
There’s a joke in Albania that goes something like this: one half of the country is serving coffee, and the other half is drinking it.
It’s a lighthearted nod at the high rate of joblessness that still affects the country 30 years after the fall of Communism, but it also means that there’s a seriously epic concentration of cafes available to service the population.
And unlike Italy, sitting in a cafe for hours on end isn’t frowned upon AND you can get a coffee that requires more than 3 sips to drink. If you’re a coffee lover like me, Tirana might just be your idea of nirvana.
Our tip: Step back in time at Komiteti (The Committee). Decorated fully in objects and furniture from Albania’s Communist Era, it’s a soul-stirring place for locals remembering a tumultuous time from their very recent history.
LOOK FOR QUIRKILY PAINTED BUILDINGS
Tirana might not be the most attractive of cities, but it’s definitely unique, due to the quirkily painted buildings that randomly populate its streets.
One of the quirkiest things about #Tirana is the buildings painted in interesting ways. It's always funny to spot one standing out amongst all the other boring buildings. 🌟⭐️ This started in the late 90s, when the then mayor, Edi Rama, started a beautification project with zero budget. Whether it's beautiful or not is up to you, but it's definitely uniquely #Albanian. 😉❤ #travel #Albania
Our tip: Try to find the green building with yellow arrows painted all over it!
BONUS: EAT AT MULLIXHIU
If you have no idea what makes up Albanian food, you wouldn’t be alone. To get a modern and delicious interpretation, visit Chef Bledar Kola’s Mullixhiu for an 8 course Degustation menu that costs just 15 euros.
Our tip: Make sure you reserve in advance, and be sure to take home some of the restaurant’s freshly baked bread, which is milled right on site.
Would you visit Albania? What interests you about the country? If you’ve already been, do you have any must-do experiences to share? Tell us all about them in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you! <3
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