Touring Tirana, And Those Around It
Bordered by the Adriatic Sea at one side and the Dajti Mountain on another, Tirana stands as the capital city of Albania as well as its econo-political centers. Its ideal location not only makes it an epicenter of national activity, it also imparts a rich history. Early human settlements from the Paleolithic age made their way to present-day Tirana. These progressed through the eons, giving the city a rich tourist landscape consisting of buildings and relics of the past interspersed with those of modern importance.
Tirana was on my way from Montenegro to Greece. I found cheap flights from Tirana and decided to stay a few days.
But of course, we’re concerned with just the lovely things to see around Tirana! Here is a list of must see in Tirana, Albania
First Stop: Walking Tour & Tirana Must-Dos
To start off, there is a free walking-tour around the city that starts at 10AM everyday. The tour group usually meets in the Skanderbeg Square, which was being renovated during the time I was there. Before its reopening in June, the guide said they will be meeting in front of the Opera House. The walking tour is really good since you will be able to appreciate the sites and their history. Tirana is pretty small, so you can see the best places without going too far.
One thing, though — do not get your hopes high too much. I have heard fellow tourists say that Tirana isn’t beautiful, and I can sort of see why. Against the places I have seen so far, Tirana pales in comparison. What it lacks in raw beauty, however, it makes up for in significance. This let me enjoy my 4-day stay. While most people are just here for a day (or a few hours, even, just catching a flight or a bus out), I decided to take the slow pace. I was also going to catch a plane from Tirana to Athens, but while I was there, I might as well enjoy the sights!
Here are the places you will see when you’re in the walking tour:
St. Mother Teresa’s House
Despite Albania’s anti-religious stance during its stint as a Communist country, Tirana had a deep religious — especially Christian — history. One can say that Mother Teresa was its ultimate fruit for the Albanians. Three places in Tirana were named after her — a hospital, a square, and an airport.
The Cloud Pavilion
This outdoor art can be seen outside Tirana’s National Art Gallery. It was made by Sou Fujimoto, a Japanese architect, out of steel! It is located in a park, which in itself is a relaxing place.
National Theatre of Opera and Ballet
Albania’s national Opera House, this is the largest theater in the country. First opened in 1953, there are performances of song and dance here year-round.
The Clock Tower of Tirana was originally erected in 1811, and was replaced in 1946 after it was destroyed by World War II bombs. One can reach the top by going up the spiral flight of stairs.
Known locally as “Blloku”, this was opened to the public in 1991 and has since then been the center of nightlife in the area. Before that it had been reserved solely for Communist officials, and common people were not allowed to enter!
During the war, Tirana was well-defended with thousands of bunkers in a circular pattern. Many of these bunkers still survive, and we got to see one of them. In relation, we also got to see the Bunk’Art 2, a new bunk-themed museum which took us through the chilling past of Albania. In particular, we were acquainted with the number of people who died during the oppressive rule of Communist leader Enver Hoxha.
The Grand Park of Tirana was built around an artificial lake. The park is humongous — 230 hectares! — and includes other tourist spots such as the Presidential Palace, Saint Procopius Church, a zoo, and a botanical garden.
Second Stop: Dajti Mountain Cable Car & Bunk’art 1
This ride goes up the Dajti Mountain, and it is well-visited by a lot of tourists. The ride itself isn’t long, though, and if you have a full day you can go both through the walking tour and this one.
The cable car ride can be reached just behind the clock tower and a little to the left. There, you will see blue buses which will drop you off at Dajti. This is the easiest and most common route. The Linze buses cost only 0.30 EUR, so it’s really cheap! If you keep an eye on the road, you will see the stop where there is a free express van. I had seen it at first, but I thought it was a tour group so I had ignored it.
While the bus driver lacked English, he did manage to explain where to get off and what to ride after when I showed him pictures of the place I want to go. Just get off the last stop, then do an uphill walk until you reach the cable car. This is quite steep, and the walk takes around 7-8 minutes.
Another way is to take the Kinostudio bus, which will take you to the free express van on its last stop. Or, you can take a cab which costs 15 EUR for a one-way trip.
The cable car ride itself costs 800 Leke (6 EUR), and lasts for around 15 minutes. If you just want the view and you have a car, you can even drive to the top of the mountain! It’s amazing to see the city views getting smaller and smaller, and disappearing into a vista of nature. At the top, there is the hotel Belvedere and a pizza store. The view point, which supposedly has the best views, had been hazy the past few days. The day I was there, there was hardly even any view! The cable car had a better outlook, so the top of Dajti turned out to be too boring. The slow day also meant there weren’t many tourists.
At the top, there is also a shooting range and a horse-riding activity. Other than that, there wasn’t any reason for me to stay up. The cable car ride is still worth, a visit, though. In the end, I stayed for half an hour and got an ice cream and beer before going down. That was another 15 minutes — if only there was something else I could do up there!
After my visit here, I visited the first “branch” of the Bunk Art Museum. It’s a downhill walk this time, about 5-7 minutes of it, so it’s no problem. The entrance looks like a tunnel, and it had the ticket booth (ticket is 500 Leke, roughly 3.71 EUR). It’s 700 Leke if you will be availing of the studio guide, though in reality the panels on the walls are sufficient to explain everything. The cool thing is that the panels are written in many languages! At least my trip to Djati was worth this.
The museum, just like its second branch, is an old bunker that was built during the War. It seems the idea of turning it into a museum came from North Korea. The underground portions narrated the history of both Tirana and Albania, and showed the various rooms where war was carried out. It was interesting, cold, mildly depressing, and cool all at the same time. I recommend a visit here! Just make sure you come any other day except Monday or Tuesday, since it’s closed then (the cable car is closed Tuesdays, too!). I had originally wanted to go here when I joined the walking tour before, and it was a good thing the guide mentioned the schedule.
Third Stop: Krujë
Instead, I decided to go to Krujë on that Tuesday walking tour. Krujë is about 20 kilometers north of Tirana, and nestled against Mount Krujë. To get there, you can take the North Bus Station and get off at Fushe Krujë (60 Leke) then take the van from there to Krujë itself (70 Leke). One thing to note is that unlike many of its neighbors, the public transport system in Albania is quite unorganized. It’s either late, or the people you ask directions from will point you in many different directions.
An example of the latter is when our guide pointed us to Kamez, and to go to the bus station there. It turns out this goes south, the other way around. We had to walk for around a kilometer just to find the right bus stop! It turned out that there is a bus stop across the south bus terminal, and we could have taken it from there. Take note of this fact if you will be visiting the place.
Everyone during the trip was friendly, but they barely spoke English except for this young girl who was very helpful. The rest held up a conversation through charades, some of which I couldn’t pick up. I find Albanian to be quite difficult, since it’s different from the neighboring languages I have heard so far. There were four of us in the trip, all speaking different languages, and we just couldn’t understand what each was saying!
When we arrived at the destination, I saw that it was worth the trouble. Here are some of the things to see.
The market still retained its traditional structure, and the quaint setting makes for a very relaxed shopping experience.
This white fortress was built ages ago, and it became an important battle site during the Ottoman wars of the 1400s. Today, it stands as a monument and a source of national pride for the Albanians.
Located within the castle, the museum serves to honor Albania’s national hero. It also has a restored house dating from the Ottoman era.
This is located in a building that dates back to the mid-1700s. It has objects of art, all coming from the early cultures of Albania.
The whole area can be toured in half a day, and it is really cheap, too! You can eat directly in the middle of tourist attractions, and the food and beer are all reasonably priced. It was 1.5 EUR for beer in the marketplace below the castle! The restos were also really nice, with food going at 3-5 EUR.
Going back from Krujë, however, was another piece of work. The bus was not there, so we took a minivan down to Fushë-Krujë (100 Leke). We then took the public bus to Tirana. The last bus was supposed to be until 7:30, but given Albania’s public transport, this happens a lot. Don’t stay out too late!
Another option would, of course, be a taxi. For four people, it would have cost 20 EUR which isn’t bad. Also, it would help if you are tired of being pointed to different directions.
I had wanted to drive to the south of Tirana and enjoy the beaches of Albania but then I didn’t have time anymore. Maybe for next time,
Where to Stay in Tirana
I stayed in the Cosy Hostel for my trip. Many travelers choose the Trip N Hostel, even some of my friends. It was all nice and fun there, but I wanted a more quiet place because I needed to do some work and errands. I didn’t regret my decision! Arbi and Eno — the owners — were really fantastic! They really got out of their way to help, especially Arbi. He helped me sort out my DHL, call a cab to the airport, and everything else! He also answered the ton of questions I had.
It must have been really low season when I got there, because the first two nights I was alone in a room for 6. I only paid 10 EUR, which comes with a huge breakfast of hardboiled egg, Nutella, bread, croissant, ham, and cheese! The host also shares his dinner with me, since he eats there and I was alone. He’s also a great conversationalist. I further loved the massage chair within the hostel, which was perfect for relaxing after each day!
As for the place, it’s got great reviews for a reason. Everything you need is just within a 10-minute walk of the place. There’s a post office, restos, bars, a market, shops, and whatnot. There was even a money exchange, though this one was on a 3rd floor so expect lots of steps — as is usual in this side of Europe.
Wrapping up the Tour
Many people say Albania isn’t worth the trouble of visiting, with the many countries around. But for me, it was a good time. Prices were affordable, and I even think I would go back next time! Berat would be a good destination… so would Gjirokaster, and the south side. I was enamored by the videos shown by our host!
Another thing is that we had been warned to keep our guards up while in the country. But I found everyone I interacted with to be friendly enough, even if they didn’t understand me. I had tons of questions and they all helped, even when I wanted to do (relatively) complicated stuff like sending post. If I appear to be lost (I have a poor sense of direction), passers by would also try to help.
Overall, I can’t really see a reason why you shouldn’t drop by!