I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d never heard of Durres, Albania before. After all, not many travellers make it to Albania at all. And when they do, it’s the beaches of the Albanian Riviera or the UNESCO World Heritage site, Berat, that beckons them. With good reason.
However, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself passing through Tirana at some point during your travels in Albania, and a side trip to Durres offers you a chance to mingle with local people in an authentic way. Durres might not be high on most traveller’s agendas, but it’s a special place for a lot of Albanians with fond memories of their youth.
It’s worth a visit for that reason alone. Add in an impressive history, spanning various empires, and a lovely coastline, and you can’t really afford to miss it.
Jump to what you want.
- 1 The best time to visit Durres, Albania
- 2 How to get from Tirana to Durres, Albania
- 3 Things to do in Durres, Albania
- 3.1 Tan with Albanian Families on Durres Beach
- 3.2 Chill out on Vollga Beach
- 3.3 Eat fresh seafood next to the Adriatic
- 3.4 Join the “Durres Parade”
- 3.5 Get weighed on the boardwalk
- 3.6 Enjoy a kasata
- 3.7 Seek out sufllaqe
- 3.8 Explore the ancient Durres Amphitheatre
- 3.9 See Durres Castle / Venetian Tower
- 3.10 Cool off in the Durres Archaeological Museum
- 3.11 Admire the Byzantine Forum / Market
- 3.12 Find the Mosques of Durres, Albania
- 3.13 Look for signs of Albania’s Communist past
- 3.14 Walk the Via Egnatia
- 3.15 See the view from the Royal Villa of Durres, Albania
- 4 Where to Stay in Durres
The best time to visit Durres, Albania
With its close proximity to landlocked Tirana, and the nostalgic memories that many locals have for Durres Beach, you can bet this city really comes to life in summer… and it’s undeniably the best time to visit.
That’s not to say you can’t visit in other seasons. You totally can… in fact, I’ve visited in winter myself, and found plenty of things to do in Durres. But in the hot summer months, you can experience the vibrant beach culture of the Mediterranean and mingle with Albanians relaxing on holiday.
How to get from Tirana to Durres, Albania
You’ll most likely travel from Tirana to Durres, which is 34km directly west of the capital on highway SH56. Ideally, you’ll have a car so you can drive yourself, but if you don’t, you can take a regular bus from the Southern Bus Station. Keep in mind that this is not really a station, like we think of it in North America, but more of a common location where buses stop.
These buses depart for Durres every 30 minutes in peak time and cost 130 lek.
If you arrive at the terminal, and don’t want to wait for a regular bus, you can try getting on a furgon. These are mini-buses that just leave whenever they’re full. It should be easy to find them parked near the Dogana Roundabout. Cost: 150 lek.
Things to do in Durres, Albania
In Durres, you can explore an ancient history spanning an impressive 3000 years. Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman architecture dot the centre, a relic of the monarchy watches over the city, and the Adriatic Sea with its many beaches has witnessed it all.
Here are my recommendations for things to do in Durres. Enjoy!
Tan with Albanian Families on Durres Beach
In Communist times, every citizen in the country received 15 days off per year, and Durres Beach was the place to go. Back then, this huge 10.5km stretch of sand had hotels, restaurants and even a circus for the kids! These days, the circus is gone, but Durres Beach is still a big draw for Albanian families with nostalgic memories of a time gone by.
Stretching across the entire seafront of the city, Durres Beach is located less than an hour away from Tirana, on the Adriatic sea. It only makes sense that the Plazhi i Durrësit (Beach of Durres), is the busiest beach in the entire country, and one of the top things to do in Durres.
While Durres Beach isn’t the nicest beach in the country (that’s reserved for somewhere on the Albanian Riviera), it’s always packed with families enjoying the day. There are second-to-none amenities and services nearby, chairs, umbrellas, and vendors walking along the beach. I recommend spending at least 1 day there basking in the sun, to experience the vibrant energy of Durres, Albania like a local.
Chill out on Vollga Beach
If you’d like a slightly quieter vibe, head a little north of Durres Port, to a small stretch of sand south of Currila beach. This is the beach we’ve visited, every time we’re in Albania. It’s still within city limits and easily accessible.
The Aragosta Hotel & Restaurant has sun loungers available for rent on a private beach behind the hotel. You don’t have to be staying at the hotel to use the beach, even though the gate makes it feel that way. Just barge your way on in, like the rest of the Albanians, and claim a chair. The earlier, the better.
Eat fresh seafood next to the Adriatic
Opposite the water, you’ll find a ton of restaurants serving fresh seafood, Albanian meals, and some of the best, most affordable Italian cuisine in Europe. Durres is an Albanian summer hotspot and you’ll find almost every restaurant packed with people enjoying the warm night air, lively atmosphere and sea views.
You can walk into pretty much any restaurant along the promenade, and have a satisfying meal, but check out Bar Monun, for incredibly fresh seafood and a fantastic view.
Join the “Durres Parade”
On warm summer evenings, a walk on the boardwalk next to the sea is the mandatory thing to do in Durres. You’ll find Albanian families dressed up in their evening best, participating in what I fondly call the “Durres Parade.”
If you want to be on the same schedule as the locals, spend the day on the beach, then have coffee or ice cream around 5, before heading home to shower and dress for dinner. Take a stroll on the boardwalk before finding dinner at one of the restaurants parallel to the beach around 7PM. After dinner, join the Durres Parade to walk off dinner. You can stop for another coffee or dessert before heading home for the night.
Get weighed on the boardwalk
On your evening stroll, you’ll probably see men with scales scattered along the boardwalk, and wonder what the heck they’re doing there. Well, after the fall of Communism in late 1991, the economy of Albania was essentially zero. People had no choice but to earn money in whatever way they could. Some people sold cigarettes by the pack or individually, others sold ears of grilled corn, and some weighed people for a few cents.
This is a remnant of those times. If you’re not too embarrassed by a public weighing, hand the guy a few lek, and hop on that scale. Because the truth is, he probably needs the money now as much as he did back then.
Enjoy a kasata
Kasat is a traditional Albanian ice cream that’s existed from before Communist times. It looks almost like a slice of cake, but is characterized by layers of ice cream, jam, and a soft-ish texture.
It’s getting harder and harder to find in Albania, but you can try it out in Durres, at Kasata Bllaca, which has been in business since 1930!
Seek out sufllaqe
With its proximity to Greece and Italy, one thing you can count on is delicious food from both regions. Amazing pizza and pasta can be found in pretty much any restaurant, but for a filling and tasty snack or meal, look out for a sufllaqe stand. Sufllaqe or souvlaki, is impossibly affordable on the streets of Durres, Albania.
Explore the ancient Durres Amphitheatre
I bet you’d be surprised to learn that Durres is the most ancient city in Albania, with a history dating as far back as 627 B.C. Historically, it was strategically important to various empires due to its geographic location at the mouth of the Adriatic. This makes exploring ruins and architecture one of the most worthwhile things to do in Durres, Albania.
At the Durres Amphitheatre, you can see the legacy of Roman, Christian and Byzantine empires in a single location. Originally constructed by Emperor Tragan in the 2nd century AD, it’s the 2nd largest Roman amphitheatre in the Balkans. It once held as many as 20,000 people!
By the 4th century, the Roman Empire had adopted Christianity, and a small chapel was built inside. Be sure to look for the only medieval mosaic that survives in Albania while you’re inside.
You’ll also notice the strange sight of houses built on top of parts of the Durres Amphitheatre. That’s because it wasn’t actually discovered until 1966, and excavation is ongoing.
See Durres Castle / Venetian Tower
One of the best places to see the political and religious upheavals that have centred in Albania is the Durres Castle and it’s extension, the Venetian Tower. The city held a strategic position geographically, where the Eastern Roman Empire met the Western Roman Empire, AND literally, as the Port that joined the two regions. It wouldn’t be overstating it to think of Durres as a sort of political “ground zero.”
From the 1500s to WWI, it was the geographical border between Muslim Ottomans and Christian Europe, and the frontline in the psychological battle between these factions for the hegemony of Europe.
Stroll around the Durres Castle and Venetian Tower, and take a close look at the walls. You can easily identify different empires just by examining the walls. Look for the neat brickwork of the Romans at the very base of the original walls, and the rocks and stones used by the Ottomans directly on top.
Cool off in the Durres Archaeological Museum
Durres has such a rich history that artifacts from the past are plentiful. As a teenager, Agri recalls diving under the water, and finding amphora fragments, not 30 metres away from the beach.
At the Durres Archaeological Museum, you can see these and more in a cool and quiet place. Everything in the museum is clearly labeled in English and Albanian, so you’ll have no problem understanding the exhibits about Greek, Roman
Highlights include artifacts showing the worship of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, various amphoras, gold jewelry, and markers from the Roman Via Egnatia.
A local guide can help break language barriers and provide context for what you’re seeing. This tour includes major sights, like the Durres Amphitheatre, Durres Castle, Byzantine walls, and Archaeological Museum.
Admire the Byzantine Forum / Market
The Byzantine Forum was constructed in the 5th century AD by the Roman Emperor Anastasius I. It was once the centre of the ancient city of Dyrrhachium, with fortifications, a market complex, and a rotunda. The walls of the fortifications were so strong that historians believe 4 horsemen could ride next to each other across the top of them.
It’s not possible to enter the Byzantine Forum itself, but you can still see the beautiful hand-carved columns of the original structure, surrounded by the buildings of modern day Durres.
Find the Mosques of Durres, Albania
There are 2 separate Durres mosques to seek out: the Grand Durres Mosque, and the Fatih Mosque. Fatih Mosque is smaller, but more historically significant, having been built in 1502 during the Ottoman era. It was named a Cultural Monument in 1973.
The Grand Mosque is undoubtedly the more impressive of the 2, visually. It was built atop the ruins of an Ottoman era mosque in 1931. Under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, the mosque’s minaret was torn down and destroyed. After Communism fell in 1991, the mosque was rebuilt and reopened in 1993 with the help of foreign aid.
Look for signs of Albania’s Communist past
The citizens of Albania lived under a totalitarian Communist regime from the mid 1940s – 1991. As the dictatorship solidified, thousands of people were imprisoned in work camps, those deemed “war criminals by the government,” executed, and propaganda and terror used as a method of control.
Today, Albania is a young democracy, steadily moving forward, however, signs of these Communist years can still be found all over the country. There are thousands of bunkers littering the country, and socialist realist sculptures and artwork can still be found everywhere.
Walk the Via Egnatia
The massive Via Egnatia once connected the western and eastern parts of the Roman Empire and covered a total distance of approximately 1,120km. It was so vast, it stretched all the way from Rome to modern-day Istanbul. And you can find the beginning of this ancient Roman trade route in Dyrrachium (now Durres).
Via Egnatia was constructed in the 3rd century BC, of the same large polygonal stone slabs, that all major Roman roads were made from. You can walk this cobblestoned path yourself on the first 475km of the Via Egnatia Hiking Trail, which begins in Durres, passes through other parts of Albania, and meanders through Macedonia, before ending in Thessaloniki, Greece.
See the view from the Royal Villa of Durres, Albania
Before fascism, Communism, and the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, there was an Albanian monarchy, which lasted just 11 years, from 1928-1939.
High up on a hill in Durres, Albania, you’ll find a derelict reminder of this time. The Royal Villa of Durres or Villa Zog was built as a summer palace for King Zog I. He only used it for a single year before he abdicated to Mussolini and the Italians. It was later used during Communist times, as a lavish place to welcome dignitaries such as Khrushchev and Jimmy Carter, on official visits.
The villa was unfortunately destroyed and looted after Communism fell in 1997, but it’s still possible to climb the hill next to the Royal Villa and see a panoramic view of Durres with the sea in the distance. If you can speak Albanian (or are really good at communicating with your hands), you can try asking a groundskeeper or guard to let you inside Villa Zog for a small fee. That’s how we were able to get inside to explore Villa Zog in all its ruined beauty.
Where to Stay in Durres
Overall, Albania is an incredibly affordable country to visit, but prices definitely go up during summer, especially near the beach. Durres is no exception, with Albanian diaspora returning from all over the world for some summer fun.
If you want beachfront accommodation in Durres during summer, I recommend booking as early as possible for the best selection and prices.
Mid-Range: Hotel Nais Beach
I personally stayed at the Hotel Nais Beach, and would totally recommend it. It has huge balconies, some with great sea views and spacious rooms. We stayed here very comfortably for a full week, when Naia was just 8 months old.
Mid-Range Beachfront: Vila One Beach Hotel
At Vila One Beach, you can enjoy incredible views of Durres Beach. Rooms are incredibly comfortable with rain showers, feather pillows and all the amenities you could ask for. An onsite restaurant and bar make things super easy.
Luxury Value: Palace Hotel and Spa
If you’d like a little luxury and a boutique vibe, check out the Palace Hotel and Spa. This 5 star hotel can be booked at an incredible value, so it’s one of the most popular hotels to stay at in Durres. It has a private beach, gorgeous pool, and spacious rooms, onsite restaurant + all the other trimmings you’d expect for a luxury hotel.
Best Apartment: Matin Apartment Seaview
If you’ve got a little more time to spend in Durres, an apartment is definitely the way to go. Matin Apartment has truly incredible sea views from its balcony. It’s perfect for up to 4 people.