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Tirana is the capital city of Albania, a country located on the Balkan peninsula in Europe. Albania’s efforts over recent years to join the EU and re-introduce tourism to the country, has made it an up and coming destination in Europe for those looking for cheap places to visit in Europe.
This Tirana guide includes everything you need to know for your trip to the Albanian capital, including, what to do in Tirana, Tirana attractions and sightseeing. As well as recommendations for accommodation and hotels in Tirana and where to eat. I was completely smitten by Albania as a whole and I cannot recommend Tirana enough, so I hope this guide helps you plan your Tirana itinerary whether you’re visiting for a weekend or part of a longer Albania road trip itinerary.
Where is Tirana, Albania?
Albania is a relatively small country in southeastern Europe. With its Balkan neighbours, it shares an Adriatic coastline with Montenegro and an Ionian coastline with Greece. The capital of Tirana is located in the middle of the country, slightly to the west and around a 40 minute drive from the coast.
Tirana is famous for its colourful buildings which were the efforts of former Tirana Mayor and now Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama. Rama believed that the colours would not only revitalise the look of the city, but also make its residences more proud of their city and incentivise them to care for the city they lived in. Indeed, incidents of crime, anti-social behaviour like graffiti and littering did decrease.
Another reason for the colourful buildings is the brutalist architecture that the city is home to. WIth a mixture of Soviet-era and Ottoman architecture, the city has obvious architectural influence from the two totalitarian regimes it has been subject to: under Mussolini during WWII, followed by the communist regime of Enver Hoxha until the 1990s.
Tirana is 2.5 hours drive from the Montenegro border and around 2 hours drive from the border it shares with North Macedonia.
Is Tirana worth visiting?
In a word, absolutely. Maybe people question the safety of Albania and whether Tirana and the country itself are worth visiting. The whole country itself has so much to offer in terms of nature, hikes, mountains, historical sights and incredible beaches.
But Tirana itself offers everything that a relatively new and upcoming city can, it’s a young and vibrant city, eager to welcome international visitors and broaden its horizons. The city is full of art, culture and an awareness of their own history in order to ensure they continue to develop and move forward.
Albania is one of the few countries that doesn’t have a McDonalds. In fact, their one KFC in Tirana often has queues because the concept of western capitalist franchises are still so foreign after the recent overthrowing of the communist regime in the 1990s. So if you’re someone who needs a Starbucks every morning, perhaps Tirana isn’t for you. However, what you will find is lots of local businesses, up-and-coming bars, cafes, restaurants and craft stores, eager to make their own living and offer something unique to the culture of Tirana.
Is Albania expensive?
No at all! If accommodation for under £30 a night and a pint of beer for 70p sounds good to you, then you’re going to love Albania.
Although the prices in Tirana may be slightly more if you visit high-end bars and restaurants, you will still find incredibly reasonable prices all over the city. Tirana is one of the best value European cities I’ve ever visited.
I paid £30 per night for two people, for a hotel room with a private ensuite. Local domestic beers start from around 60p up to £1. Meals eating out cost around £10 for two people, if you get food from street food vendors, this will be even less.
The main thing to bear in mind when visiting Albania is that nowhere uses credit cards or debit cards. The country is cash only, in fact you’ll rarely even see a cash till, a lot of local stores still record purchases by hand. There is still a distrust of credit cards and not paying in cash, particularly in the older generations. So I would suggest getting your currency before you travel, or exchange it once you arrive at the airport.
There are a select few cash machines around the city which our hostel helped us find when we got stuck!
Where to stay in Tirana
The great thing about Tirana is that you’re going to get a great deal on accommodation regardless of where you stay!
Budget accommodation - hostels
Milingona Hostel City Centre from £14/ US$19 per night - We stayed in a private room with an ensuite for £27 per night in the city centre. This hostel had a great chilled out vibe with a cool outdoor area and breakfast included. We were also able to park for free.
Hotel Vila e Arte City Center from £30 / US$40 per night - in a great location and with breakfast included.
Rooftop Tirana - Choose Balkans from £35 per night - this is a great self-catering option as it’s an apartment complex with amazing views and a great price.
Hotel Stela Center from £50 per night - super chic and modern rooms with a great city location and breakfast included.
Maritim Hotel Plaza Tirana from £144 per night - even at £144 this is still a steal for two people! This hotel is super modern and sleek with huge rooms and the Double Deluxe rooms even come with a freestanding bath tube with a view of the city.
Xheko Imperial Luxury Boutique Hotel from £136 per night - this boutique hotel is full of lavish, decadent interiors and beautiful rooms. It’s in the very stylish boutique and shopping district of Blloku which also has modern cafes and bars everywhere, so you’ll have plenty to do within walking distance.
Tirana Guide: What to do in Tirana
In my opinion, 2 days is the perfect amount of time to see and explore Tirana attractions and things to do in Tirana city itself. If you want to take day trips to Sarandë, Berat, Durrës or even to Montenegro or North Macedonia then I would suggest staying longer.
This is everything I did during a 2 day Tirana itinerary.
Tirana city free walking tour
If you’ve ever read some of my other blog posts and itineraries you’ll know what a huge fan I am of free walking tours. Free walking tours are great for several reasons.
They’re daily or sometimes twice daily so they’ll always fit your schedule somehow.
The tours are free and only operate on tips, so they’re budget friendly
They’re usually always run by locals so you get a local perspective and insight that you wouldn’t get from externally organised tours
They’re a great way to see the city and get your bearings when you first arrive
I did the Tirana Free Tour which was led by a very friendly, local Tirana resident who was also studying at the university. His dad had been in the communist government when Enver Hoxha was in power so he had an incredible insight into life under a communist government and within the government too.
He was so informative about Albania’s history, which he was also studying at university. His insights into growing up as Albania transitioned away from the Communist era and about how the older generations (his parents) transitioned having spent most of their lives under one regime were incredibly moving and eye opening when I previously knew so little about recent Albanian history.
The walking tours are a great way to start your Tirana sightseeing and to orientate yourself in the city. I suggest taking the tours either first thing in the morning or the evening 6pm tour if you’re visiting during summer as the middle of the day can get extremely hot.
Bunk’Art 1 and 2
Bunk’Art 1 and 2 are old nuclear bunkers which have been converted and repurposed into contemporary art and history museums which showcase the history of Albania.
Bunk’Art 1 is outside of the city so you will need to take a bus, taxi or have a car to get there. It covers the history of Albania under fascist Italian occupation in WWII followed by German occupation, then through to Albanian liberation in the 1990s.
Bunk’Art 2 is right in the city centre, near the main square, so you can easily walk to this one. It focuses on the law enforcement and security forces from fascism to communism to liberation throughout the 20th century.
The bunkers are a network of tunnels underground which really are fascinating to see all over the city too.
National History Museum
Even if you decide not to go into the National History Museum, you can’t miss the building! It’s a huge stone building with a giant mural on the front depicting Albanian history in the main square.
This Communist-era building covers the entire history of Albania and costs just 500 lek which is around £3.60 for a ticket per person, another budget friendly attraction in Tirana!
Visit the cool neighbourhood of Pazari i Ri
This was by far my favourite neighbourhood in Tirana and one that I discovered because it was so nearby my accommodation.
Pazari i Ri is a very hip and alternative neighbourhood full of cafes, bars and pop-up exhibitions and shops. We found some really interesting antique type stores here too which were full of Balkan and soviet era items, as well as traditional Albanian shawls, blankets and decor.
Head to the main square and surrounding area for freshly baked goods and produce and a huge range of restaurants from Greek and Italian to traditional Albanian. I highly recommend Oda restaurant which is traditional Albanian and eastern European cuisine.
Markata e Peshkut is also a nice spot with a sophisticated interior and seafood options.
We grabbed our morning coffees from this area as we walked past into the city in the morning.
See one of the best views over the city at the Sky Tower
Sky Tower is a hotel and business centre in the city centre but it also has a rooftop bar at the top which has amazing views over the city and it’s colourful architecture.
The viewing deck is open every day, weather permitting. There is an entrance onto the viewing deck before you have to enter the bar area, so you can enjoy the view without even having to buy a drink!
Pyramid of Tirana
Probably the most well-known landmark in TIrana, this brutalist pyramid structure was built by Enver Hoxha’s daughter as a museum to honour him and his memory. This symbol of Communism remained until the fall of the Communist government in 1991 when it became a convention centre, a NATO base, a broadcasting station and then eventually fell into disrepair.
Its symbolic association with the dark days of communism in Albania’s all-to-recent history has made it a controversial topic with some calling for it to be torn down completely. It’s been abandoned for years, converted in graffiti, local youths climb on the roof and windows are smashed.
However recent decisions have been made to convert it into an education centre, which seems symbolic of the progressive intentions of the countries, now democratic politics and culture.
You can currently climb the sides of the pyramid, although there are no stairs and the sides are steep. Apparently the new design plans to incorporate stairs so people can see access the roof in a safer manner.
Blloku neighbourhood is the upscale and cool area of Tirana city, with all the city's best shopping, nightlife and cool bars and cafes found here. Luxury shopping boutiques and large residential housing make this an interesting neighbourhood to explore, particularly as the area is home to the Enver Hoxha’s former residence which you can visit.
It’s interesting to see the comparative luxury that Enver Hoxha was living in while the rest of Albania suffered under his communist regime.
Blloku us where you’ll find the Sky Tower, or if you’re really craving fast food, it’s the location of the only KFC in Albania!
Explore the colourful streets
If you’re wanting to find the most colourful areas of the city, you’ll find pockets of colour all over the place. The area next to the main square and towards Bunk’Art 2 is particularly colourful, around the Palace of Culture and the Opera and Ballet Theatre. The neighbourhood of Pazari i Ri that I mentioned previously has lots of colourful residential buildings. There are also some interesting colourful blocks along the river.
I hope this Tirana Guide helps you plan what to do in Tirana, whether you’re there for two days or longer! If you use this guide, please let me know.
You might also be interested in these posts to help you plan your onward travel in Albania or the surrounding countries:
Save this post for later to help you plan your future trip!
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