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5 Essential Things to do 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.

5 ESSENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN TIRANA

I’m by no means an expert on Albanian travel, but being in the city with people who actually LIVE in the city, has given me a window into some unique things to do in Tirana while you’re there.

This list of things to do in Tirana includes a few touristy places, like Mount Dajti, but it also includes some under the radar experiences too. I hope you’ll enjoy discovering them, as much as I did.

VISIT MOUNT DAJTI, THE BALCONY OF TIRANA

For a birds-eye view of Tirana, ascend up to the peak of 1,613 metre Mount 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 one of the most popular things to do in Tirana during winter time. 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 IN TIRANA 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 massage in Tirana 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.

Sure, getting a reflexology massage probably wasn’t at the top of your list of things to do in Tirana, but trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Make an appointment by contacting Ana at: +355 66 809 7888. (she speaks some english, so you’re good to go!)

Our tip: Schedule your massage in Tirana after a long day of exploring the city 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 byrek me mish (with meat), but “byrek me djathë” (with cheese) is more common. You could also try byrek me spinaq (with spinach), byrek me kungull (with zucchini), byrek me presh (with leeks).

If you leave Tirana without trying qofte, you’d be missing out on one of the country’s gastronomic delights. Eat qofte 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 sitting in a cafe is a great thing to do in Tirana for a window into local culture.

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, a Tirana cafe might just be your idea of nirvana.

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Të dehun nga rakia dhe dashnia….❤

A post shared by Komiteti Kafe Muzeum (@komiteti_kafe_muzeum) on

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.

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 Mullixhiu. It’s one of Tirana’s best restaurants. Chef Bledar Kola’s 8 course Degustation menu 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 do you think are the best things to do in Tirana? Tell us all about them in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you! <3

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  1. I’ve been eyeing Albania for a long time – and your blog post is an encouragement to make that happen soon! Too bad we don’t have any cheap connections to Albania from Poland yet. The food, qofte, looks delicious! And the prices sound ridiculously cheap – that’s amazing hehe. I am especially amazed by their stunning coastline.
    I suspect it will be overrun with tourists like Croatia, once people start discovering about the country, which I think will happen sooner than later!

    March 1, 2018
    • Haha, I think it’s already overrun with Italian tourists because of that coastline! Do you have cheap connection to Italy? Because we’ve always flown from there or Greece, and there are budget airlines that go back and forth. Not SUPER cheap, but not bad. Check out Blue Panorama far in advance (and maybe even Alitalia), and you might find a good deal! 🙂 It’s def worth visiting, and SO cheap once you get there.

      March 2, 2018
      • I didn’t know that it was already so popular with Italians hehe! Yes we do have lot of budget airline connections to Greece and Italy. I had an idea of taking a ferry from Corfu to Albania a few years back, maybe I will make that happen one day! Thanks for the tips 🙂

        March 2, 2018
        • Haha, yeah it’s overrun! And apparently there’s something like 18,000 Italian expats in the city already. Going from Corfu would be SO easy – it’s so close, it literally looks like you could swim there. 😉

          March 3, 2018
  2. I don’t know much about Albania at all, let alone Tirana! It does sound like a place very different from many cities in Asia and places like Australia and New York. It was so interesting to read about the Chinese reflexology master there. He probably is the most famous one in the town 🙂 Didn’t know that coffee was a big over there too. To some people, the more coffee the better and no rush in enjoying it. Apart from the food, I think I will have a good time there just walking around and taking in the sights like any other place I visit 🙂

    March 1, 2018
    • Haha, I think he’s the ONLY Chinese reflexology master there. There are not too many Asians wandering around Albania at all. I’ve literally gone weeks and weeks without seeing a single other Asian person – I get a lot of staring and looks – especially since I’m always there with locals and my Albanian extended family. Coffee there is a national pastime…and I enjoy the cafe culture there, more than in Italy. It’s soooo rushed in Italy, and there are so many “rules” around coffee, whereas in Albania, it’s very relaxed!

      March 2, 2018
  3. Oooh yes please to the meat morsels haha. I have been hearing about Albania more and more lately, my alma mater just set up a study abroad there to help with tourism and the photos look gorgeous. The tricky part seems to be finding flights there!

    March 1, 2018
    • I wouldn’t mind a plate of those meat morsels myself! They’re delicious! I feel like I’ve been hearing about Albania as the next hot tourist destination FOREVER, but whenever I’ve been there, it’s still been so quiet and def not touristy at all. A rarity these days, I think. We’ve always flown from Italy or Greece, and there seems to be quite a few flights from those countries – maybe because of the number of Albanian immigrants?

      March 2, 2018
  4. I almost made it to Tirana a few years while roaming the Balkans with my daughter … but now I would not skip it for sure, and the main reasons are the coffee and the reflexology! Two very different forms of heaven, but oh so appealing.

    March 2, 2018
    • Oooh, that reflexology is seriously the best. The first time I did, I was literally in a trance for the full hour…sooo relaxing. 🙂 And the cafe culture in Albania is just next level – way better than Italy if you ask me, and with coffee just as good! You’ll def have to make it there one day…

      March 2, 2018
  5. Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic countries are now THE destinations to visit, so I’m not surprised to learn that Albania is an upcoming travel destination. Food is definitely one way to experience local culture – I would love to try out Albanian food – and spending time at the cafes is the best way to people-watch 🙂 Cool post! #FarawayFiles

    March 2, 2018
    • It seems like Albania’s been up and coming for so long, but somehow it’s always so quiet and non-touristy when I go there. Of course, I don’t really go to touristy places when we visit, but still… I’ve hardly even seen any tourists there at all. You could literally spend an entire day just going from cafe to cafe – and a latte would only cost you about 75 cents! 🙂

      March 3, 2018
  6. A friend of mine went to Albania to teach at an international school a couple years ago and I’ve been curious about it ever since. I never thought of Albania as a place with a huge cafe culture– that is an awesome little surprise.
    In a way, I hope it doesn’t blow up too much. Smaller spots that suddenly blow up (like Iceland in recent years) often end up suffering because of it. And those affordable treats might suddenly become less affordable and authentic when tourist industry booms.
    Thanks for the tips!

    March 3, 2018
    • Oh nice! Which one? We’re seriously thinking about moving to Albania at the end of the year, partially because international school is so affordable there! The cafe culture in Tirana is epic, and better than Italy’s in my mind, because you can just sit and hang out all day. In Blloku in Tirana, there’s a huge concentration of bars, cafes and clubs – def the place for nightlife should you ever visit. Albania’s got a ways to go before it gets crazy (for example my hubby went paragliding for just 50 euros a few summers ago) – and it was a pretty touristy thing to do. Def go as soon as you can though…especially since you have a local contact! 🙂

      March 3, 2018
      • Oh yeah, in Italy it’s all about grabbing a shot of espresso and getting out! I’m more the hang out all day sort.
        I think she’s in the international school in Tirana actually. She’s been there for a couple years and seems to really enjoy it.

        March 5, 2018
  7. Albania is definitely having a travel moment and I can see why. Looks like a great foodie destination too though I think I might have a bit of trouble with the pronunciation of some of those words! Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

    March 3, 2018
    • Haha, yeah, the language is definitely unique – but I’ve never known a people more able to just pick up language. Almost every Albanian I know speaks some english and Italian – mostly without any formal education. If you know where and what to eat in Albania, it can definitely be delicious!

      March 3, 2018
  8. I’ve never thought of traveling here but I’m always up for new travels to add to the list! This is a great list of things to do when I go! I think it’s always good to get suggestions for travel from locals you have experiences you wouldn’t normally have as a tourist and get a look in on the real culture of a place. Thanks for sharing I’ll definitely keep it for later!

    March 3, 2018
    • I’ve been lucky when visiting Albania cuz some of my hubby’s family lives there, plus some good friends. My experience there has always been a local one, and it’s undeniably the best way to travel and learn about a culture! Would def recommend a visit there if you can swing it one day… 🙂

      March 6, 2018
  9. Tirana has never been on my radar, but it is now! I’m a huge coffee lover as well, and any place with the coffee culture you described would be one where I can feel at home 🙂 That, and byrek sounds fantastic.

    Thanks for the tips!

    March 3, 2018
    • Tirana and Albania should definitely be on your radar! It’s so great to travel somewhere that isn’t totally jaded by tourists… Dukagjini (the Albanian Alps) are off the beaten path and the mountains are super high, with amazing outdoor activities!

      March 6, 2018
  10. Albania seems like a marvel! Your post definitely has put this country on my radar. The food, the relaxation, everything looks great. Eastern Europe should really be more on my radar! Looks like this is going to be the next big thing!

    March 4, 2018
    • I think what makes Albania a great place to visit, besides it being pretty off-the-heathen path still, is that it’s unique. It has its own language that’s not rooted in Slavic or Latin, and has only been open to the world since communism fell in 1991 – it should def be on your radar! 🙂

      March 7, 2018
  11. The reflexology session looks pretty neat. I’d definitely visit while there. Nice insights into the local cuisine and note on the thriving coffee culture there too.

    March 4, 2018
    • I dream about having another reflexology session there…I was literally in a trance. I’m lucky to have only visited there with locals who could show me exactly what to eat and where. I’d have been totally lost without them!

      March 7, 2018
  12. Albania sounds great, you had me at $7 massages and 15 euro 5 course meals. BUT their language seems impossible, so many consonants jumbled together, I just hope that many of them are silent 😛 Were the accommodations and transportation just as inexpensive?

    March 4, 2018
    • Haha, yeah the language is crazy. I’m just lucky I’ve been able to travel there with Albanian speakers (of which, there are not too many in the world!) Yeah, accommodation and transport is also very affordable, though it is a developing country, so you have to be prepared for what you’re gonna get ( despite the huge number of Mercedes on the roads there…). 😉

      March 8, 2018
  13. wrpalomo #

    I’m not even a big traveler so Albania isn’t like one of those places that pop up when one thinks of vacation. Not in your post but in one of your responses, I’d say: Good luck to your planned move to Albania for your LO’s education. She will be a multilingual with all those languages she will be exposed to!

    March 4, 2018
    • Yeah, Albania definitely wouldn’t be at the top of your list if you weren’t a big traveler…it’s for sure a bit of a challenging destination, but that’s what makes it so great. It’s currently overrun with Italians, due to its gorgeous beaches – so they’ve at least discovered the country! 🙂 My LO is 29 months now and STILL not speaking in sentences (though she talks a lot – mostly unintelligible to me haha) – I’m guessing it’s all the languages in her head. Poor baby must be so confused! 😉

      March 8, 2018
  14. i like the sound of that tasting menu for 15 Euros, perhaps worth visiting Albania just for that! Interesting that publications continue to herald Albania’s “moment” but it never quite happens. Cape Verde is a bit like that. Any ideas why Albania hasn’t reached the popularity of some of its near neighbours? #MondayEscapes

    March 6, 2018
    • Albania has become quite popular with Italians now (especially the beaches in the south, which as good as Greece/Italy, but much less crowded and affordable), but from what I gather, there aren’t good flight connections to the country yet from other European destinations. It’s just hard to get to… it could also be that there’s a perception among Europeans that it’s a “dangerous” place (the movie Taken for example) – communism fell in 1991, and it was pretty crazy for awhile I think – people were desperate… but just a guess on my part. 🙂

      March 8, 2018
  15. What a wonderful post. I have never thought of Albania, for travel. Your travel experiences are so lovely to read, I often like to read the travels blogs to read about the experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the post. I like reflexology, I have got on my bucket list now to try reflexology in Albania. Happy travelling #mondayescapes

    March 7, 2018
    • Thanks so much! I’ve been so lucky to visit Albania with locals and get access to experiences like these. The reflexology in Tirana was so surprisingly amazing – I hope you get to enjoy it one day soon! 🙂

      March 8, 2018
  16. Cool post! Sadly I know very little about this part of the world, but you’ve definitely piqued my interest – and also my appetite! lol #citytripping

    March 8, 2018
    • It’s definitely a relatively unexplored part of the world – but well worth a visit. If you’re a meat-eater, Albania has incredible food – amazing lamb, goat etc… and Italian food that rivals Italy, because so many Albanians have connections in Italy, not to mention all the Italian expats that have opened businesses in Tirana…

      March 8, 2018
  17. It is an absolute treat to visit a place that has not been taken over by mass tourism yet! I’d better make it to Tirana before this changes… Looks like there is a wonderful café culture so I’d love to while away the hours at one of the street cafés just watching the world pass by.

    March 8, 2018
    • It really is, isn’t it Birgit! I remember visiting Sri Lanka immediately after the war had ended there, and it was SO amazing to be there. Sure, there were military checkpoints all over the place, but people were just so happy to see tourists visiting their country again. Def one of my top travel experiences ever – and I feel like you can still get something similar in Albania – especially if you get off the beaten path there as well…

      March 9, 2018
      • What an amazing experience you had in Sri Lanka … another country on my wishlist. Yes, getting off the beaten path is the perfect way to discover the hidden little gems of a destination!

        March 9, 2018
  18. I never thought of Albania much of a tourist destination. I’m glad you did this write up as it definitely shows one of those places worth going to.
    #citytripping

    March 8, 2018
    • If you’re a fan of getting to places that aren’t completely jaded by tourism, Albania’s a great place to visit (never mind all the Italians on the beaches). 😉

      March 9, 2018
  19. I’ve been thinking Albania is somewhere I really have to visit before too long – I know so little about it, it’s incredible to think of a part of Europe so close to where I have explore, which is so undiscovered. Borek would definitely be on my wishlist, but lovely to get more tips of what to do and experience there. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    March 9, 2018
    • Yes! Get there before it changes too much. There’s so much to do in such a tiny little country – amazing mountains, incredible beaches, and it’s all so affordable still. 🙂

      March 9, 2018
  20. I didn’t know Tirana was so interesting! Thanks for sharing. We drove through Tirana on our way to Peja/Pec. It was a bursting city under construction. Looks like quite the happening place!

    March 10, 2018
    • Ah sweet! You’re in Albania now? Did you enjoy your trip there? I think all cities usually take more time to really get to know (outside of the obvious tourist sites)…and Tirana more than most, because the language is pretty indecipherable to most people!

      March 10, 2018
  21. It looks like you had a wonderful trip. I’ll defiantly take the time to look out for the colourful buildings.

    March 15, 2018
    • Karen, I have no idea how I missed responding to this comment, but here I am (a month late!) 🙁 The colourful buildings are all over Tirana, and it’s amazing to see what they come up with next! 🙂

      April 17, 2018
  22. Oohhh albania”…… surely one of the quaintest country if have been to. And its cafe are class apart. They have mastered the art of nothingness when it comes to chilling in cafes.

    April 15, 2018
    • Haha, you said it totally right: “the art of nothingness.” Though it’s probably better when you’re visiting as a tourist, and not there all day because you can’t find work. 🙁

      April 17, 2018
  23. Oh man… the food looks BEYOND tasty – or maybe I’m just hungry?? The qofte looks unreal! Thanks for sharing this spot. I’m always looking for places that are a bit off the beaten track and often less expensive by association. This makes me the only Asian a lot of the time too, but then again in Asian countries people assume I’m local!

    April 19, 2018
    • It’s weird to be the only Asian anywhere, since we’re basically EVERYWHERE haha. I’m pretty introverted, so the staring gets to me sometimes. Fortunately, I have my hubby to hide behind usually. 😉 Qofte is one of the first things I make sure to eat whenever we visit Albania!

      April 22, 2018
  24. Tirana does sound like a great destination. Particularly for a family vacation or a relaxation trip. Who doesn’t want great relaxing massages and good food on their vacation!! Those are two things that make you feel really pampered 🙂

    April 19, 2018
    • Good food and relaxing massages are top of my list for ANY trip that I take. Even better when it’s as cheap as it is in Albania! 🙂

      April 22, 2018
  25. I have never considered visiting Albania before, but your post is making me rethink that…low tourists? Good food? Good views? Sign me up!

    April 19, 2018
    • I’d totally recommend a trip there for something a little different…and especially before it really gets overrun with tourists, and I’m sure it will one day soon.

      April 22, 2018
  26. Liz #

    I’ve never been to Albania but a friend lived there for a year and she loved it. Thanks for this really comprehensive post. Maybe I manage to go to Tirana soon!

    April 19, 2018
    • Yes! I think it’s definitely worth visiting… not the prettiest of cities, but a REAL travel experience – something that’s becoming harder and harder to find these days.

      April 22, 2018
  27. Massages. Great food. What an awesome way to experience Tirana. Count me in!

    April 19, 2018
  28. I love how all these countries in this part of Europe have so many similarities food wise. Those little meat qofte are called in Romania “mici” and are one of the many traditional meals here. The burek or byrek is popular also in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, the sour soups same.. Traveling this part of Europe makes me feel like home 🙂

    April 19, 2018
    • It’s so true that every country has some version of “meatball,” or byrek – just by different names. I’d love to visit all of these places one day to compare… 😉

      April 22, 2018
  29. The majority of people I know who had the opportunity to visit Tirana don’t have the best opinion about the city 🙂 Well, to be honest these opinions made me even more excited to visit Tirana ! The city seems to be a colorful capital with a street art scene booming.There are numerous funky sculptures around that seem very random but altogether fit very well to the city, ha, ha. And I would certainly enjoy the amazing cafe culture 🙂

    April 19, 2018
    • Honestly, I think if I’d visited by myself, I’d feel the same. It’d be pretty difficult to know what to do beyond surface level touristy stuff, and the language is pretty much inaccessible. But I’ve been so lucky to only visit with Albanian family and friends, and thus my experience has been as local as it gets – my favourite way to travel!

      April 22, 2018
  30. I just love destinations that the mass crowds haven’t yet discovered. Looks like a wonderful place to visit with some really great food options. Good food and a massage, sounds like a great trip to me!

    April 20, 2018
    • Me too! They’re getting harder and harder to find these days – the beaches in the south of the country are already overrun with Italian tourists!

      April 22, 2018
  31. Not a lot of people write about Albania. I’m quite intrigue, it looks interesting. Would love to visit soon.

    April 20, 2018
    • I really need to write a lot more about the country I think. I’ve been there 4x now, and am lucky to have Albanian friends and family to explain the culture and take me around properly.

      April 22, 2018
  32. Albania is one of those countries you just never hear anything about but living in the UK, it really isn’t that far from me! And even better that there aren’t too many tourists. Thanks for enlightening me with this post 🙂

    April 20, 2018
    • Albania is super close to you!! Communism only fell there in 1991, so I guess it hasn’t had time to be as touristed as other places – but I expect that will all change sooner than later. The beaches in the south are already overrun with Italian tourists – since they are just as beautiful and much, much cheaper!

      April 22, 2018
  33. So many great ideas about Tirana guys! I was only driving through the city once but would love to give it a proper visit. Albanian food is absolutely amazing! I tried Albanian byrek and loved it! Thanks for sharing your experience 🙂

    April 20, 2018
    • Albanian food is soooo satisfying. I love the qofte with salc koci, and the it’s the only country where I’ll eat baby goat! I hope you make it back one day to explore properly.

      April 22, 2018
  34. Albania is a country unspoiled by the tourist Industry. Thanks for sharing!

    May 21, 2018
    • Shelley @Travel-Stained #

      Let’s hope it remains that way! 🤗

      May 21, 2018

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