Save BIG on Travel – Visit Albania while it’s Cheap and Unspoiled

by Michael Gimm Holdensen

We went to Albania, with a funny feeling in our stomachs, after having been to Corfu, Paxos, and Antipaxos. Perhaps mostly me, as my last visit to the country was in 2002 as a soldier deployed in Kosovo. 

It was supposed to be a drive-through, to spend most of the summer in Croatia – but it didn’t quite work out that way.

Others we’d met along the way had told us Albania was special, but we’d probably been a bit sceptical.

It turned out, however, that Albania was an almost perfect mix of everything we wanted to experience when we travelled. Great people and hospitality, great nature experiences, exciting cities and beautiful beaches. All at half the price or less of what it costs in many other places.

In this post, I will tell you about our experiences and try to convince you why you should visit Albania now and not in 10 years when it has become the new Croatia.

I’ve included the cities and places I think are worth a visit. If you are also interested in some background knowledge about the country, read my post on the history of the Albania people.

How to get to Albania by car

You can get around to everything by car in Albania. Most of the roads are quite good.

How to get to Albania

Getting to Albania is relatively easy and whether you fly to Tirana, drive from Croatia in the north or Greece in the south is a matter of preference. This country, in Eastern Europe, is not that big, and you can get around in 4-5 hours, as long as you don’t drive in the mountains.

If you want to sail, you can take the ferry from several places in Italy – but also Corfu in Greece. Here you sail to either Durrës, Vlorë or Sarandë. The journey from Corfu to Sarandë takes just 35 minutes.
The most popular route is Bari to Durrës.

Flights to Tiranë are often cheap, as is car hire in Albania. Hiring a car is a must to get around and see everything, and you shouldn’t be nervous about the roads. They are very similar to Greece and other European countries to the south.

Do you go by car or a horse carriage in Albania?

We did not see many horse-drawn carriages in Albania compared to what we have seen in other countries. Albanians have a taste for expensive car brands and somewhere between 25-50% of all the cars we saw were Mercedes! 

I spoke to an Albanian about it, and he said it’s because the biggest means first! So the bigger the car, the easier to get around.

From my days as a soldier in Kosovo, I remember something similar about the cars. There were also many big and beautiful cars driving around. At the same time, the roads (at that time) were destroyed. Rubbish was piled up along the road, and houses were at best completed. Just as often, they looked like something you would tear down in Denmark with government support.

In Kosovo, I heard that the link between big cars and dilapidated houses was linked to the car being a status symbol to show off. The house is not. 

Since Kosovars and Albanians have a lot in common, I think it’s a combination of the two. The biggest comes first, and the car is a status symbol. Houses, in fact, are still not something that Albanians spend a lot of resources on.

Butrint National Park

We entered the country from Greece to the south after driving around the Peloponnese for a month and a half. It was easy, although the Albanian and greek border crossing is not like what you see elsewhere. It looked a little less established, like so many other things in the country.

The road from Greece to Southern Albania passes by the first of several national parks in Albania. We had several other things on the agenda and chose to save the national park experience for Komani Lake, Valbonë and Teth.

Ksamil beach

Ksamil Beach is so close to Corfu, that you can almost swim there. The sand and water is perfect, like other places in the Ionian Sea.

Ksamil town and beach

Our first stop was Ksamil. Ksamil is a small town located next to the Ionian Sea, just 2 km from Corfu across the sea. It is mostly known for a nice beach area where the water reminds you of Corfu and Zakynthos.

For others who come directly here, it’s certainly awesome. We had already swum on the most beautiful beaches in Crete, snorkelled in Zakynthos and bathed in the Caribbean of Europe at Antipaxos when we arrived. So although it was beautiful, there were other things we’d rather experience.

We spent the first night at Ksamil Camping and tasted the Albanian hospitality.

At the campsite, we were welcomed with frappe, sweets, water and juice for the children. The nice host couple helped us to get settled.

It was a very small place, but it was cosy. With nice outdoor showers and toilets, as well as kitchen facilities and clean drinking water. Campsites in Albania are generally quite small.

We only stayed one night, but that was mostly because we wanted to move on and see some other things. The site was super nice and highly recommended, but probably best in a motorhome. The price for us was 15 Euro for one night, including everything.

Sarandë

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Albania and only a 20-minute drive from Ksamil is Albania’s Riviera, Sarandë. There is no airport yet (2022), but it is easily accessible by car. 

The beaches are similar to those you’ll find in Greece, as the area faces the Ionian Sea, and the city’s coastline is unofficially named the capital of the Albanian Riviera.

Gjirokastër hometown og Enver Hoxha

Old town square of Gjirokastër. The hometown of long term Albanian communist leader, Enver Hoxha.

Gjirokastër

The city was, for us, the first big experience in Albania. Not so much the new town but the old town built by the peasants when they were under the Ottomans. The whole place is incredibly well maintained, and the area could be in any Hollywood movie of that era. In 2005, Gjirokastër was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We booked an apartment in the lower part of the old town and walked up to the beautiful and exciting site several times. It is very steep, so remember good footwear. 

Once you stand at a small crossroads between the streets and look around, you will see how beautiful this place is. 

By the way, this is Enver Hoxha’s hometown, which is an important part of Albania’s history, but it is not because of him you should visit.

If you choose to book an apartment in the old town and bring a car, be aware that while you CAN actually drive up the hills, you may not WANT to. The roads are narrow and very inclined, and you can easily end up in a situation with an oncoming car where one of you has to turn back.

Syri i Kaltër - The Blue Eye

Syri i Kaltër or the Blue Eye in English, is a natural phenomenon. This is the view from the platform, but you have to experience it to capture its beauty.

Syri i Kaltër – The Blue Eye

On your way to Gjirokastër, you will pass Syri in Kaltër. Sounds strange? Maybe.

The Blue Eye or “Syri i Kaltër”, which is the Albanian name for “The Blue Eye”, is an underground waterfall. That is water that flows from the underground up to the surface. The water is 10 degrees all year round. Although several divers have tried to dive down, no one knows how deep the hole is.

Above the eye, a platform with a glass bottom has been built so you can look down into the eye. You’re also allowed to swim there, which of course I had to try. A cool experience on a hot summer day but still pretty cold. The water pressure from below makes it very difficult to get all the way to the middle of the hole where the water comes up.

Unlike Croatia, where EVERYTHING costs money, this place was free (June 2022). Something we actually experienced with all the outdoor experiences in Albania and something that is definitely going to change as tourism increases.

You will find something similar in several places in Albania. This “Syri i Kaltër” is located in the south, about 35 minutes by car from Sarandë. This is a MUST-see in Albania! 

In northernmost Albania, there is also a blue eye at the Teth National Park. Here, however, the water comes from both above and below, so it’s probably a bit harder to swim.

The blue eye in Kaltër is located by driving to a small parking area where you leave your car. Then it’s a short 15 minutes walk from there.

Kadiut Bridge, Benje, Permet

Kadiut Bridge is an Ottoman build bridge that leads to a hot spring with all year round temperature of 27 degrees.

Kadiut Bridge and hot springs

An hour and a half drive from Gjirokastër is a riverside area with hot springs. The water is a constant 26-27 degrees and smells slightly of sulphur. But it should be good for the body to bathe in, and the pool view is phenomenal!

The first time we tried hot spring bathing was in Budapest, which was indoors. The second time was during our skiing holiday in Bansko in the neighbouring town of Banya. Here it was outdoors but as part of a SPA or hotel.

In Albania, it was 100% natural! You drive to the area through the beautiful landscape of mountains and rivers, to a place where the old Kaduit Bridge is. A bridge that was built in the time of the Ottoman Empire. It is stunning!

You can get across the bridge by foot or even cross the river, which is not too deep. We all walked across the bridge, and Liva and Emma walked across the river back.

Celebrating Carla's 4th birthday in Dhërmi

In Dhërmi we spent most of the time at Perivolos Apartments, celebrating Carlas 4th birthday. Matheo, whose family owns the place, was incredibly helpful and provided this delicious cake for Carla’s birthday.

Dhërmi

The next stop was along the coast. This time we had booked a place with a big pool, as we were celebrating Carla’s birthday and her biggest wish was to be able to swim in a pool.

When we arrived, however, quite a disappointment awaited. The apartment was super nice, and the pool was huge – but it was empty… 

We agreed with the management that we would cancel our booking and look for something else. Luckily we found a place 500 meters away that was perfect. A small family-run hotel with great rooms and sea views and a pool big enough to satisfy Carla’s biggest wish.

I think there was only one or maybe two groups of guests besides us at the hotel and funnily enough, one of them was Danish! Rie and Rene from Southern Jutland and their kids that ours could play with, yeah!

The hotel Perivolos Apartments is highly recommended, and Matheo, who was both receptionist, waiter and tourist guide, was extremely helpful, and we learned many good things from him about Albania and Albanians.

Gjipe Beach in Dhërmi

Gjipe Beach is a Beautiful beach near Dhërmi in Southern Albania. Only accessible by foot or boat.

Gjipe Beach

Dhërmi is not a large area, but it is located next to the beautiful coastline, experiencing increasing tourist interest. The whole area along the coast was being developed with large hotels during our stay.

There are several beaches here, but the most iconic is Gjipe Beach. Getting here requires a bit of effort and is only possible on foot or by boat. If you choose the walk like us, drive to the parking area and walk down to the beach. It is very uneven, so don’t walk in your slippers.

It is not a child-friendly beach as it gets deep very quickly. But it is absolutely beautiful with the clear water and the big rock formations in the background. Liva and I swam to some of the rocks on the right side of the beach to do some cliff diving, which was pretty cool.

Kuzum Baba viewpoint in Vlorë

Kuzum Baba is the highest point in Vlorë and has a nice view of the city and sea.

Vlorë

The way from Dhërmi to Vlorë is via the Llogora Pass. It is 1000 metres above sea level and overlooks the entire coastline. If you are into paragliding, you should do it here. 

We were advised to drive past Llogora Tourist Village on the way to Vlorë. The area is known for really good food and in particular meat. There is a nice little playground with free roaming “bambies”, which the kids loved!

Vlorë is a town of about 130,000 people, and there is plenty of activity and fun along the seafront. There aren’t too many interesting things to see here, but I can recommend a walk up to the Kuzum Baba lookout point as well as the old town with the pretty pastel-coloured houses.

If you stay along the beach, it’s a great place to swim with the kids. You can easily go 100 metres out and still be only into your legs. There are also plenty of good restaurants, bars and cafes alongside the promenade.

Vlorë Beach area

View from our apartment at Jimi Apartments in Vlorë.

Where to stay in Vlorë?

The area north of the harbour can seem intimidating to western tourists. We had initially booked an apartment there but cancelled it on arrival. It was probably safe enough to stay, but we saw several inhabited buildings about to collapse and didn’t want to take the chance.

Instead, we booked an apartment with Jimi Apartments through Booking.com and got a nice apartment with ocean views in the area near all the restaurants. We stayed here for a week and got a little ahead with school and otherwise just had a good time. Rie and I even had a night out at a restaurant close to the apartment. Albania is a safe place for children byt the way.

Berat - The City of a thousand windows

Berat with the odd looking houses and windows. A beautiful small city though.

Berat – The City of a thousand windows

The next stop was Berat, which goes by the name of “the city of a thousand windows”. Throughout history, there have been many battles here due to its central location. The city also has a large castle area.

Berat was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008, as it is one of the few cities in the world to be kept in such a distinctly Ottoman style, so many years after the Ottomans left.

It is a small city of around 40,000 inhabitants, and you can easily find a place to stay, with quick access to see the city’s sights.

We had a one-night stay on the south side of the river at Hotel Ajka and ate at the Antigoni restaurant next door in the evening, with an absolutely stunning view of the houses with the many windows! Both are highly recommended, and the restaurant shows Albanian cuisine at its best.

Berat Castle

On our way down from the castle. A steep walk but a great view.

Once you visit, take a walk up to the castle, where there is a great view of the entire area. People still live in the castle area, and you will also find small shops with local goods. At one end of the castle there are often activities and when we visited there was going to be a concert in the evening.

Apart from the castle, there is a nice mosque by the old town and some nice bridges, but otherwise, it is the view of the many windows that is the most famous thing about this town.

Tiranë - The youth capital

Tiranë is the capital of Albania. The city is quite young compared to other cities in the country.

Tiranë – The Albanian capital of youth

The capital of Albania is Tiranë, an exciting city with a lot to offer. It is home to around 500,000 people (2021), and the people you see on the streets are predominantly young people.

When we visited the city’s National Museum, we were surprised that Tiranë was not on the historical maps of the country. This is because the city was merely founded in the early 1800s by a Turkish-Ottoman general. Tiranë just became the official capital of Albania in 1920.

It was above 35 degrees (Celsius) when we were in Tiranë; therefore, it was a bit hard to motivate the kids to walk around and see a lot.

For the same reason, we had chosen to stay in the city’s centre – the “Zona 1”. Here you can walk around most things, and you get a good feel of the city vibe. This website also has a few good suggestions on where to stay and why (in English).

Bunkart 2 in Tiranë

The entrance to Bunkart 2 in Tiranë. A museum dedicated to the victims of the communist era, during Enver Hoxha.

Besides walking around the city and experiencing the vibe, I would recommend seeing the following in the city centre:

  1. The National Museum which tells the history of Albania from ancient times up to the present day.
  2. BunkArt2 in the city centre which tells about the communist era during Enver Hoxha, which I also included in the post about Albania’s history. Alternatively, BunkArt1 on the outskirts of the city.
  3. Skanderbeg Square is near the National Museum, where a statue of the city’s hero has been erected.
  4. Et’hem Bej Mosque. A very impressive mosque in central Skanderbeg Square.
  5. The resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral. A very nice Orthodox church – both inside and outside.
  6. Pyramid of Tirane. Built as a tribute to Enver Hoxha three years after his death. It was designed by his daughter and her husband. A rather communist-looking and VERY expensive building, which most Albanians would rather get rid of.
  7. Mother Teresa is Albanian; therefore, there is also a memorial at the south end of the city – Mother Teresa Square.
Durrës Villa Pascucci

We prefer adventures over expensive hotels, but in Albania it’s possible to try 5 star luxury on a budget. So that’s what we did at Villa Pascucci in Durrës.

Durrës

Durrës is the main seaport of Albania and is located 45 minutes drive west of Tiranë. Founded around the 7th century BC by the Greeks from the Corinth area, it has been a strategically important city for the changing empires of the country.

In Durrës, we stayed, for the first time ever, in a 5-star hotel just outside the town. It was a fun experience and something quite different from our usual accommodations.

We stayed for two nights with a huge delicious breakfast buffet, lunch by the pool and dinner at the restaurant. The price for everything was only 460 Euro for the five of us.

I wonder what two nights at Cabinn in Copenhagen (the cheapest hotel in Copenhagen) costs for five people 🤔 Probably the same, but only for a small room and no food or drinks.

Krujë Castle

After your visit to either Durrës or Tiranë, you can continue north, where you will pass Krujë Castle. A famous castle that is closely associated with Albania’s national hero, Skanderbeg, who from this castle, held back the Ottoman Turks until his death.

Valbone national park

The view from a small cabin in Valbone.

Valbone and Theth National Park

Valbone and Theth National Park are the two major parks which are an absolute must experience in Albania. Most of it is on foot, and the experience depends a bit on how good a hiker you are. Also, whether you are travelling with children or not. But the whole area is truly amazing, and even if you’re not a big hiker, it’s definitely worth a visit.

The national parks are free to enter, and you won’t experience an “entrance” where you have to pay an entrance fee. Also, when we visited Valbone, there were few people, and we had the feeling of having it all to ourselves.

In comparison, you easily pay 100 Euro for a family in one of the parks in Croatia, which are also very crowded – especially during peak season.

How to get to Valbone National Park by car

You can drive to Valbone or Theth, but you can’t drive across the mountain pass from one area to the other. This is only possible on foot or by donkey. If you want to bring your car, you have to go all the way back.

The starting point is typically the town of Shkodër, and the journey from there is about 5 hours. Be prepared for a lot of mountain driving. The roads are okay, but it winds a lot; in our case, a few got quite car sick.

Komani Lake ferry

Sailing the beautiful Komani lake with the ferry, together with other travellers.

To Valbone via Komani Lake

On the way back, we boarded a small ferry from Komanilakeferry in Fierze and sailed to Koman. The drive from Valbone to the ferry in Fierze takes about an hour. The boat trip takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. 

The last stretch from the ferry in Koman to Shkodër takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The ride from the port to Shkodër is beautiful but VERY bumpy for the first hour.

If you want to take the ferry, you should book tickets via the ferry’s website to ensure you can get on. Especially if you have your car with you. We booked just one day in advance, but it was in June. There is only room for a few cars on the ferry which only runs once a day.

The trip is insanely beautiful, with mountains and vegetation on all sides of the beautiful Komani River. Definitely one of the highlights of our trip through Albania.

Lake Shkodër

This is actually not the Shkodër Lake, but the Bojana lake that leads to it. It is close though.

Shkodër

We went to Shkodër after Valbone National Park to experience Shkodër Lake and the area around it. We stayed at a campsite south of Rosafa Castle. A nice little campsite with a pool and a view of Rosafa Castle, and within walking distance of the lake.

Another alternative is the campsite Lake Shkodra Resort outside the town to the north. Here you can stay right by the lake.

The most interesting things about Shkodër are the lake and Rosafa Castle.

Some mixed tips and tricks for your trip around Albania

Don’t prepare your own food! We found it difficult to find good places to shop and eat out every night. The price for eating out with five people was typically around 4,000 – 5,000 LEK (34-43 EUR), including drinks at a restaurant. But we also ate for less in several places. The Albanian cuisine is quite excellent, but there are also a lot of other choices.

In many locations, you can book accommodation, including breakfast. Prices vary a bit depending on the city you stay in, but for the 5 of us, it was typically between 50-100 Euros per night, including breakfast, in reasonable places.

Don’t worry about getting your car washed at one of the many “Lavazh” locations. We paid 100 LEK (0,85 EUR) for a car wash for our big VW California. In Denmark, I, later on, paid 25 EUR and even had to wash the car myself 😆

The first thing to remember when you get to Albania is to find a Vodafone dealer. There are many of them, so it won’t be a problem. They have the best mobile coverage, and since your subscription probably won’t do it here, it’s hard to do without.

Our Lebara subscription didn’t work or only worked to a very limited extent, so we bought a single SIM card and put it in our mobile wifi hotspot

WIFI is available in most cafes, which are everywhere, so you can easily find free wifi. The code is typically 1-8 (12345678Going to Albania

Going to Albania?

I hope this post has inspired you to travel to Albania on your next holiday. Most people are sceptical when mentioning Albania as a travel destination, but we didn’t regret our trip here and were glad we prioritized Albania over Croatia this time around.

Feel free to ask questions or comment below if you have something on your mind. Thanks for reading 😀

Albanien – Juni 2022

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8 comments

Lis 29 August 2022 - 12:26

Tak for en fin beskrivelse af Albanien og omgivelserne .
Vi rejser der ned d 24/9 vores plan er 2 dage i Tirana og 4 dage ved Kasmil og tilbage til Tirana . Vi vil rejse med de lokale busser . Vi er rejse vante, men vores første tur til Albanien .
Planen er næste år fra 6/5 at rejse i 2 mdr nede i det område .
Kender du noget til at sejle dernede i egen sejlbåd .

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 29 August 2022 - 12:36

Hej Lis
Det lyder da dejligt og jeg tror vejret er lidt mildere end da vi var der. Og meget spændende at I rejser rundt med bus! Det må du lige fortælle om bagefter 😀
Med hensyn til at rejse i båd, så drømmer vi selv lidt om at sejle på et tidspunkt. Men jeg ved ikke hvordan det er at sejle omkring Albanien. Men strækningen omkring Kroatien og de Ioniske øer ved Grækenland er lækker 😀

Reply
Bjørn Nielsen 13 December 2022 - 04:24

Hej Michael .

Tusind tak for din meget fine beskrivelse af jeres oplevelser i Albanien .
Jeg har ikke lagt mærke til hvornår dit indlæg er fra, men det er heller ikke så vigtigt.
Jeg er virkelig blevet inspireret til at bruge noget mere tid der, end det var planen, på en lidt længere mc. tur jeg er ved at planlægge i det kommende forår / efterår.
Ved du om det er lovligt / forsvarligt at fricampere i Albanien ?

Bh. Bjørn.

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 13 December 2022 - 09:04

Hej Bjørn
Dejligt hvis du kan bruge den 🙂
Jeg tror helt sikkert det er lovligt, men jeg ved det ikke.
Vi gjorde det ikke selv, da det hele var så billigt der. Men det føles trygt at rejse i Albanien så jeg ville ikke være bekymret for det.

Du kan hente app’en Park4night, som vi også har brugt en hel del. Her kan du se hvor andre har overnattet i hele Albanien og hvilke steder der er gode og dårlige.

Rigtig god tur og bare det var mig!
Mvh. Michael

Reply
Tina 24 December 2022 - 13:11

Spændende læsning, og meget inspirerende med jeres nye livsstil.
Hvis i skulle vælge ét sted ved havet hvor i har været på jeres tur gennem øst europa, som i kunne komme tilbage til og være i 6 uger, hvor skulle det så være?
Vi vil afsted i skolernes sommerferie, med vores tvillinger på 6 og storesøster på 8. Vi tænker på en fast base og så tage den derfra med ture ud. Men kunne godt tænke at høre hvad i faldt mest for eller hvad jeres børn faldt mest for 🙂
Glædelig jul og pøj pøj med jeres videre tur rundt i verden.

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 24 December 2022 - 14:11

Hej Tina
Uhh den er ikke nem! Jeg tror vi kunne komme tilbage til det hele 😀
Men siden du spørger på indlægget omkring Albanien, så kunne et godt bud være omkring Sarandë. Det er nok det sted der er længst fremme i Albanien ift turisme.

Det ligger ud til det ioniske hav og har det samme lækre badevand som du finder ved den græske del.
I kan også nemt køre på udflugter og se nogle ret fede steder eller evt tage en lille sejltur til Korfu.

Flyv til Tiranë og lej en bil. Herfra er der knap 4 timer til Sarandë, men den tur kunne evt splittes op med et stop i enten Vlorë (ved kysten) eller Berat (inde i landet).
Albanien er virkeligt spændende, nemt at rejse i og du får meget for pengene.

Et af de lækreste steder vi ellers har været er Paxos, Grækenland. Her kan du komme til fra Korfu eller Igoumenitsa med båd.
Her er der knap så meget at lave men det er nok det tætteste man kommer på Caribiske tilstande i Europa. Særligt Anti Paxos, som du sejler til fra Paxos.

Held og lykke med turen!

Reply
Michael 23 January 2023 - 18:11

Hej Michael
Tak for de gode og inspirerende beretninger om jeres oplevelser. Vi overvejer at holde noget af vores kommende sommerferie på Korfu og derfra sejle videre til Sarandë i Albanien. Du har i hvert fald skærpet appetitten! Kan du svare på, om vi skal indsende pasoplysninger/blanketter på forhånd, når vi som danskere med 2 børn under 18 år rejser med færgen fra Korfu til Serandë?

Mvh. Michael

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 23 January 2023 - 19:11

Hej Michael
Dejligt at høre!

Vi har ikke sejlet den tur, så det ved jeg desværre ikke. Da vi kørte fra Grækenland ind i Albanien, viste vi bare pas ved en grænseovergang.
Selvom Albanien ikke er med i EU, så er det ikke anderledes end at rejse mellem de andre EU lande. Du skal heller ikke søge visum hvis du tager på ferie dertil. Men der er vidst en 90 dages regel.

God tur!

Reply

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