Once Europe’s most secretive and isolated countries, Albania still stirs up uneasy feelings with those unfamiliar with it.
While the fall of communism ushered in a period of instability and organized crime, the reality is that today's Albania is one of the continent’s last hidden gems.
The capital, Tirana, is the ideal starting point for your trip.
Check out Skanderbeg Square, where you can brush up on Albanian history at the National Historic Museum, or peruse the National Library.
Take a stroll to the Blloku district, off limits to the public during communism, where you can have a coffee, check out an art gallery, or lounge near the lake of Tirana’s Grand Park.
If the weather permits, catch a cable car ride up to nearby Mt. Dajti to watch a magnificent sunset over the Adriatic.
If the mountains are calling you, head north to Shkodër, the gateway to Albania’s Alps. Here, you can arrange trips to popular trekking destinations including Thethi and Vermosh, where you can stay at traditional family style guesthouses in between jaunts to the rugged peaks.
Before you leave Shkodër, explore stunning Rozafa Castle, nearby Lake Shkodra (the largest lake in the Balkans), and the impressive 18th-century Ottoman Mesi Bridge.
Albania’s south has a different feel entirely. The coastline boasts beaches as beautiful as Italy or Greece but with far fewer tourists. Vlorë and Sarandë are major coastal hubs, but you should also visit quieter towns like the Greek-speaking villages of Dhërmi and Ksamil.
Inland, you’ll find Gjirokaster and Berat, with UNESCO World Heritage old towns that offer stunningly preserved Ottoman buildings.
The hostel industry has been booming in Albania in recent years, so budget-minded travelers are now spoiled for options in major tourist destinations including Tirana, Shkodër, and Sarandë.
You’ll have the most choice in Tirana, where established, backpacker-favorites like Trip’n Hostel and Milingona offer a familiar cozy vibe, while newcomers such as Destil Hostel provide a more modern minimalist environment.
Smaller towns, especially along the coast, may not have many options for hostels, but hotels are ubiquitous around the country and sometimes don't cost much more than a hostel bed.
You’ll need to be wary of some locations, however, as sanitary conditions can vary, and staff may not speak English everywhere. When in doubt, ask for recommendations at a hostel/hotel in Tirana, as they can find reputable accommodation elsewhere.
Travelers can have an amazing time in Albania without breaking the bank.
Be prepared for amazing hospitality, it’s a strong component of Albanian culture. Locals may not understand you, but they will always try to help and are genuinely interested in foreigners. You’ll probably be offered lots of tea and coffee along the way.
Some prescription medicines which may be safe at home can be considered illegal in other countries. By following a few easy tips, you'll breeze through customs in no time.
Albania's tourism has continued to flourish since the end of communism in the early '90s. Most locals are friendly, welcoming and willing to help. Is there anything to worry about?