City breaks in Albania
Shkodra: The gateway to Albanian Alps
Shkodra is located in northwest Albania, near the lake with the same name, which is the largest lake in the Balkan Peninsula. Shkodra is an ancient city founded in the fourth century B.C. as the main center of the Illyrian Labeat tribe and was originally named “Scodra”. Shkodra is one of the main centers of Albanian culture and history. The main attraction visited by tourists is the Rozafa Castle, which dates back to the Illyrian period. The castle was built on a rocky hill located in the west side of the city, surrounded by three rivers: the Drini, Buna, and Kir. Other interesting and historical places to visit inside the city are the Historical Museum, the Marubi atelier of photography, the Lead Mosque, built by Bushatlliu in 1774, the Englishman’s Clock (Sahati i Inglizit), the Great Coffee (Kafja e Madhe), designed and built in 1900 by the local architect Kolë Idromeno, the typical quarters of Gjuhadoli and Serreq, built with venetian architecture, the Cathedral Church, the Franciscan Church (Kisha e Fretërve), and much more. There is a great number of natural and architectural places surrounding the city to be visited, such as Velipoja beach, Lake Shkodra, with the picturesque villages of Shiroka and Zogaj where you can enjoy the unique cooking of the carp dish Tava e Krapit, the bridge Ura e Mesit on the river Kir, and the ruins of the medieval city of Sarda in the Vau Dejës lake. Shkodra is also the gateway to the magnificent Albanian Alps.
Gjirokastra: The City of Stone
The city of Gjirokastra is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and is one of the most attractive tourist sites of the country. Perched on the eastern side of the Wide Mountain (Mali i Gjërë), the city began as a fourth century castle, which is today the greatest castle in the whole country. Inside the fortress is the Museum of Weapons, where weapons of different periods up until the Second World War are displayed. Gjirokastra is known as “The City of Stone,” and some of the main tourist attractions are old houses, built by stone to resemble small castles, and streets paved with cobblestone. While visiting, you can visit the Ethnographic Museum, located in the house where the former communist dictator Enver Hoxha was born. The city is a very good starting point for reaching the archaeological park of Antigonea, the Tekke of Melan, near the village of Nepravishta, and the untouched natural areas of the Fir of Sotira in Dropull and the water sources of Viroi.
Berat: 2400 Year Old Museum City
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, Berat, a “2400 year old museum,” is located 120 km away from Tirana. Built alongside the Osumi River, the city lies by the foot of the Tomorri Mountain, considered in antiquity as a sacred place. Named, “one on top of the other windows” city, Berat has three characteristic quarters, Mangalem, Kala (the castle) and Gorica, and is described as a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman city located in central Albania. Part of the city is the castle, which was built in the thirteenth century, but the origins of the site date back to the fourth century B.C. The center of the castle quarter is rich with many Byzantine churches; most of them unique for the wall paintings, icons and the values they hold. The cathedral of St. Mary houses the Onufri National Iconographic Museum. Berat is also home to a considerable number of mosques that were built in the Ottoman period.The King’s Mosque (Xhamia e Mbretit) is the oldest one, built in the fifteenth century at the time of Bayazid II, notable for its fine ceiling.
Durrës: The Adriatic Tavern
Mentioned by the Roman poet Katulus as “The Adriatic tavern”, Durrës is one of the oldest cities of Albania with 3000 years of history. Founded in the year 627 B.C. by colons from Korinth and Korkyra, its ancient name was “Epidamnos” and later “Duyrrachium”.
Currently, Durrës is the country’s principal port and is daily connected by ferry lines to the Italian ports of Bari, Trieste and Ancona. More relaxingly, Durrës is known for its nearby sea resort, which is the largest and most popular in Albania. During the summer season it becomes home to thousands of tourists coming in particular form the regional market and also plays host to many day visitors. In the southern part of the Durrës beach is the “Kavaja crag,” known in Roman times as “Petra”. It was here that the last battle between Julius Caesar and Pompey took place. The most important monument to be visited in Durrës is the Roman Amphitheatre, built in the second century A.D. It is the second largest monument of this type in the Balkans. Other things of interest include the archeological museum, the rotunda (the Byzantine forum), the Roman baths, the castle walls, the small Venetian fortress, and much more.
Kruja: The city of Scanderbeg
Kruja is just 32 km away from Tirana and very close to Tirana International Airport. This historic city is 608 m above sea level and offers an open vista to an amazing panoramic view. The name and the importance of the city are closely related to the 25 years of activity of our national hero, Skanderbeg, who in the fifteenth century made Kruja a bastion of uncompromising resistance against the Ottoman. The Gjergj Kastrioti Museum is situated inside the castle walls, which date back to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. The museum itself was inaugurated in 1981. Within the walls of the castle are also the Ethnographic Museum and the Dollma Tekke. Near the castle’s entrance is a traditional market, which dates back to the period of Skanderbeg. Here, tourists can find Albanian craft products such as embroidery, carpeting, silver objects, copper, alabaster, filigree, traditional clothing, antiques, etc.
Korça: The City of Serenades
The city of Korça is one of the largest and most important cultural and economical centers of Albania, located in the southeastern part of the country. The city is known for its typical quarters, composed of low houses and villas, which are paved with cobblestone. The city of Korça has a range of museums such as “The Education Museum”(located in the building where the first Albanian school opened in 1887), “The National Museum of Medieval Art”, “The Prehistoric Museum”, the house-museum of the famous landscape-painter, Vangjush Mio, the museum of the Oriental Art “Bratko”, etc. In the vicinity of the city is the cemetery of French soldiers killed during the First World War. Apart from the museums and monuments, Korça is the city where the largest carnival in Albania is organized, taking place before Orthodox Easter. Musically, the city is known for the local songs, called “serenata” In the city you will find many taverns with tasteful traditional cooking such as various types of pie which perfectly combines with the good music and the traditional drink, raki. Korça is a very good base for exploring many tourist points located in the nearby mountains such as Voskopoja, Dardha, Vithkuqi and Boboshtica. These villages are well known for offering the possibility to practice many outdoor sports and activities. The area is also famous for the Byzantine churches of Vithkuqi and Voskpoja, whose walls were painted by famous medieval Albanian painters. Close to Korça you can visit Prespa Lake (which is the country’s largest National Park), Drenova National Park, the Neolithic tombs of Kamenica, etc.
Pogradec: Family Tourism
The city of Pogradec was built on the southwestern shores of Lake Ohrid and is one of the most notable cities of Albania for its tradition in hosting “family tourism” and for the pleasant, fresh climate during the summer season. The tectonic lake is four million years old and is the deepest of its kind in the Balkan Peninsula reaching a maximum depth of approximately 300 meters. The lake environment is a natural habitat for a variety of old flora and fauna. It houses the rare fish “Koran,” a kind of trout, impossible to find in almost any other lake in the world. Lake Ohrid is part of the Natural and Cultural Heritage List of UNESCO. The most visited tourist spots around the lake are Lin, Pojskë, Hudenisht and Tushemisht. Worth visiting are the Driloni water sources, located 5 km from Pogradec. Don’t forget about the wonderful restaurants in the area, constructed from wood and offering some of the most delicious dishes of the region; don’t miss the Koran’s dish (Tavë Korani). Besides nature, Pogradec and its surroundings provide a big number of historical sites such as the Basilica of Lin, with the multicolored mosaic, and the monumental tombs of the Lower Selca.
Vlora: Beach and Rocky Sand
Vlora is an old city founded in the sixth century B.C., originally known by the name Aulona. Vlora is situated in a beautiful location, in the front of the Karaburun peninsula and Sazan Island and surrounded by beaches and rocky sand. The city carries historical importance to Albania as it hosted the First National Assembly, which declared the country’s independence from Ottoman rule on November 28th, 1912. The Museum of Independence is dedicated to this historic event. Other museums include the ethnographic and historic ones. Highly recommended is the Muradije Mosque, the only work remaining in Albania from the famous architect Sinan the Great, built in 1542. On the top of the hill overlooking the city is the religious point of Kuzum Baba. Vlora is the starting point of the Albanian Riviera and is one of the most frequented areas of Albanian “Sun and Sea” tourism. Located in this region are the Orikum and Amantia archeological parks, and the Llogara national park.
Saranda: Sunny weather and young people
The city of Saranda is located along the Ionian coast, near the Greek island of Corfu. These two locations are connected via ferries, making it possible for tourists to visit all the marvelous sites of the city of Saranda. The city was mentioned in the first century B.C. with the name Onhezmus. This ancient city was unfortunately destroyed by the barbarian invasions, but some ruins remained and today it is possible to visit the old settlement as well as the old synagogue. Saranda is well known for its sunny weather and has traditionally been the ideal destination for honeymooners and young people.
In the city and surrounding areas, there are some small and very clean beaches like Ksamil, Krorëz, Kakome, etc., which offer great opportunities for different water activities. The area around Saranda is also blessed with a number of archaeological sites. The most important of these is most certainly Butrint. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1992, Butrint is only 18 km away Saranda and includes such sights as the Askelapius temple, the theater, the stoa, the portals, the baptistery, the Venetian fortress, and more. The ecosystem surrounding the area is a national park, offering you the opportunity to walk in a real Mediterranean “jungle”. Other important sites around Saranda are the ruins of the 40 Saints Monastery, (which denominates the modern city of Saranda), the Mesopotam Church and the small castle near the mouth of the Vivari channel. Only 2 km south of Saranda, on top of a high hill, is the Lëkursi castle, which is a wonderful place to enjoy a meal while enjoying the extraordinary Ionian landscape. Other places of interest are the “Blue Eye” water source, the ruins of the ancient city of Phoinice (Finiq), a former settlement of the Chaonians tribe, etc.
Elbasan: The City of Summer Festival
Elbasani is the country’s third largest city and was once a settlement and a station on the ancient Via Egnatia (Egnatia Road). The city was originally known as Skampa but was changed to Ilbasan (“to rule the country”) during the rebuilding of the castle by Sultan Mehmed the II in 1466. The city’s name would only later be transformed to what we know today: Elbasan. Some of the most interesting objects in the city are the walls of the old castle, which encircle residential quarters. Within the walls, one can visit the Church of St. Mary, complete with very beautiful iconostas, and the King Mosque (Xhamia Mbret). Other objects of interest are the Ethnographic Museum and the thermal waters in the vicinity of the city, which have been used since Roman times. Four km away from the city is the Monastery of St. John Vladimir, built by the Albanian Prince Carl Topia in 1382. Actually the remains are kept at the Orthodox Church in Tirana. In this monastery were found the buried remains of the ruler of Duklja, (Serbian Principality) prince Vladimir, which were respected by local residents by performing sacred processions Other sites near Elbasan are the churches of Shelcan and Valësh, which were pain by the famous Albanian iconographer, Onufri.
Touristic Map of Albania