Albania is a small country with stunning coastline and mountains in the Balkans area of Europe.
The country has a long history and is still largely unaffected by the mass tourism of its neighbouring countries such as Greece to the South and further north Croatia. One of the most common responses I received when announcing that I would be visiting Albania was “why would you want to go there” and “is it safe?” Yes Albania is totally safe and if you haven’t visited Albania you are missing out.
Here’s what I love about Albania and why you should visit Albania NOW. There are so many must see and things to do in Albania.
Lack of tourists
If you are looking to visit a European country full of history and beauty without the crowds you need to head to Albania. In fact, it is a very strange feeling to be visiting a World Heritage Site and to be one of the only tourists visiting. Being able to enjoy the Albanian beaches without competing with hoards of tourists for a spot is unbelievable. Tourism in Albania is on the rise though and now is definitely the time to visit. In 2014, around 3 million tourists visited the country which has seen tourism numbers steadily rise over the past decade. You must visit Albania now!
The Interesting History
Recent Albania history is one of the most diverse in Europe. Not long after the World War II, the dictator Enver Hoxha took power and closed off the country to the rest of the world and has been compared to modern day North Korea. This remained the case until the early 1990’s when the Communist Party was removed from power and the country slowly recovered. One of the most recognised symbols of Hoxha’s reign is the 700,000 bunkers around the country that were constructed in case of invasion by the West. There are many historical sites to see in Albania.
It’s incredibly cheap
There is no denying it, there is little that appeals to me more than an affordable country to visit. Albania is one of the cheapest countries to visit in Europe. Not yet a member of the EU, the currency of Albania is the LEK. Quality hotels in the capital of Tirana will cost you no more than Euro 80 per night and you can certainly find cheaper (alot cheaper). A decent meal in a nice restaurant anywhere from 500 – 1000 LEK ($3.50 – $6 US)
Albania has a bit of everything. Stunning beaches, beautiful mountains, sweeping countryside and everything in between. The country is so unspoilt it is difficult not to love every aspect of it. There are castles, churches, historic buildings, rivers and so much more to see and do in Albania. The best beaches in Albania are located in the south around Sarande, but there is so much more to see in this country than just the wonderful beaches.
World Heritage Sites
Albania is home to two World Heritage Sites. The Butrint Ruins in the south of the country and the historic centres of Berat and Gjirokastra (jointly) in Central Albania. Both these towns exhibit examples of architecture typical in the Ottoman period and Berat is known as the town of a thousand windows. Berat features a fortress high above the surrounding area which is unusual in that it contains a town inside. There are many homes, guesthouses and restaurants contained within the fortress of Kala. Gjirokastra town is set high in the hills and also has a castle which dates back to the 12th century.
The Butrint Ruins are located about 20km outside of Saranda. The ruins are said to have been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric. The ruins are well maintained and archeological work has long been undertaken to preserve these for future generations.
Albania was long shut off from the rest of the world when under the rule of Enver Hoxha and it was not until the early 90s when citizens were able to travel abroad. Even since that time, there has not been a huge influx of tourists so the Albanian people are incredibly welcoming to foreigners and even ask why you would want to visit their country. Never in all my travels have I encountered more friendly, welcoming and helpful locals.
The beaches of Albania are stunning to say the least. Think Croatia and Greece but without the tourists and this is pretty much what you get in Albania. With 476km of coastline and very tourists, it is not difficult to find a secluded area to spend a day. The further south you head the busier it gets. Saranda is the main city of the Albanian Riviera and the beaches of this area more crowded (but still beautiful). The beaches alone are worth planning a trip to Albania.
To the north of Albania, are the Accursed Mountains. This area is remote, unspoilt and truly spectacular. In this area you can explore by day hikes or head further into the wilderness by undertaking a multi day hike. No matter what you choose you will be amazed by the scenery.
It’s a little quirky
There is a certain amount of quirkiness and madness to Albania particularly Tirana, the capital of Albania. The cities of Albania are vibrant and lively. The traffic and drivers are a little crazy and public transport is interesting. All of this though adds to the feel of the country and is part of its strange allure.
Despite Tirana being largely filled with unattractive communist type buildings which are surrounded by churches and mosques and other large apartment style buildings which are rapidly being developed, there is just something special about the place. There are many restaurants which sprawl onto the sidewalks and visitors to the city will find a bustling nightlife.
The food in Albania is diverse and delicious. Albanian food is largely influenced by Greek food and lamb and pork are a popular choice. The best gyro I had in Europe was in Albania. Seafood is also a hugely popular meal choice due to the close proximity of cities to the coast. Being so close to Italy, alot of food resembles Italian food – think pizza and pasta. No matter what you choose, the ingredients are fresh and the meals delicious.
One thing is for sure, Albania should be on your bucketlist. To truly see and experience this country, now is the time to visit. While still unspoilt by mass tourism, there is no doubt word will soon get out about this amazing country. There are so many places to see in Albania. Go now! Visit Albania!