Is Tirana worth visiting? 19 reasons to visit Tirana
This week, I received a message asking: Is Tirana worth visiting? Therefore, I decided to give you an overview of all the reasons why Tirana is worth visiting. Not only does this list include attractions inside Tirana, but also day trips you can make if you are staying in Tirana.
1. The Cyclops’ Eye (Syri i Ciklopit)
The Cyclops’ Eye is one of the most gorgeous natural attractions close to Tirana. And it is a quiet and hidden spot, because only the locals know about this hidden gem.
Essentially, the Cyclops’ Eye (in Albanian Syri i Ciklopit) is a natural pool in the middle nature. The small heart-shaped pool is filled with emerald coloured water. The natural pool is 20 meters wide and 120 meters deep. It is surrounded by wild nature and rock formations.
To get to the Cyclops’ Eye, you must drive along the national road from Tirana in the direction of Elbasan city. The Cyclops’ eye is located about 4 kilometers from the Krabbe village. From Tirana, it will take you approximately 1,5 hour to drive to Krabbe. Then you must hike for 1 hour to reach the Cyclops’ Eye.
Visiting the Cyclops’ Eye is perfect, if you enjoy going on an adventure. You will walk through a beautiful natural landscape. And at the end of the trail, you will be rewarded with a stunning view.
Moreover, in the summer months, you can swim in the Cyclops’ Eye, so be sure to bring some swimgear!
2. Experience Rugged Nature at the Cape of Rodon
If anyone asks me about the best place to visit near Tirana, I always recommend visiting the Cape of Rodon.
Basically, the Cape of Rodon is a peninsula that points into the Adriatic Sea. The cape of Rodon is an absolutely stunning natural sight.
What makes the Cape of Rodon so special is that it is completely untouched. At the Cape of Rodon, you can see rugged nature. The cape is surrounded by wild beaches. And there are no hotels, restaurants or villas at the cape.
Since the Cape of Rodon is only a 2 hour drive from Tirana, it is a great place to visit on a day trip from the capital city.
Moreover, along the same road, you can also visit the Bay of Lalzi. Which is a stunning and quiet beach.
Be sure to wear good walking shoes, because on your arrival, you must hike for about 40 minutes through the hills to get to the Cape of Rodon. But the hiking effort is definitely worth it, because at the end of the trail, you have a stunning panoramic view of the Cape of Rodon.
At the Cape of Rodon, you can also explore the ruins of the Castle of Skanderbeg. This castle was built by Albania’s National Hero Skanderbeg. He believed this strategic coastal location could help him in his fight against the invasion of the Ottoman Turks. But soon after its construction the castle was conquered by the Ottoman Turks.
Please bear in mind that the Cape of Rodon is not so much a swimming and sunbathing location. Instead it is a beautiful natural sight that you can explore. If you do want to go for a swim on the same day, I recommend you stop at the Bay of Lalzi on your way back to Tirana.
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3. Learn about Albania’s Secret Police and Spies
One of Tirana’s most exciting new museums is the Museum of Secret Surveillance.
From 1944 to 1992, Albania was ruled by the communist dictator Enver Hoxha. During the communist regime, the Albanian people were oppressed. Religion for instance was forbidden. Another example is that the Albanian artists were only allowed to produce artwork that idealized the communist ideas.
During the communist regime, the dictator used the Albanian secret police to gather information about the Albanian citizens.
The Albanian secret police was called the “Sigurimi”. And recently, the current Albanian government has transformed the former headquarters of the Sigurimi, into the Museum of Secret Surveillance. The museum opens up about Albania’s dark history.
Inside the Museum of Secret Surveillance, you can see a series of bugs. These bugs were very advanced for their time. The Albanian secret police used these bugs to literally listen in on the population.
Apart from the bugs, the secret police also intercepted telephones and the foreign mail, in order to check what the Albanian people were discussing.
The secret police gathered information on anyone who did not follow the rules and regulations set by the communist government. During the strict communist rule, it was dangerous to have an opposing opinion, as it could lead a forced labour camp, imprisonment or execution.
The Museum of Secret Surveillance is also called “House of Leaves”, because it is set in a very unasuming house covered by trees right in the center of Tirana. If you did not know the former headquarters of the secret police was there, you would never even notice the building!
4. Taste the best BIO food on Pazari i Ri
Another exiting place to visit in Tirana is “Pazari i Ri” or “the New Bazaar market”.
This central market place is a great place to visit for foodies. The market brings local farmers together, as they sell produce, honey, fresh fruit and handicraft items.
If you want to get an unique insight into the food that is being produced in Albania, then the New Bazaar Market is a must.
It is a great place to taste some of the excellent honey from Albania. This honey is not like the sugar mixure you can buy in the grocery store, but rather a 100% real raw honey. Or if you are up for it, you can try the homemade wines or raki.
After strolling through the food market, you can go for a coffee or lunch at one of the many terraces surrounding the market place.
Pazari i Ri is a place where the locals go for their coffee, so if you want to experience authentic Albanian culture, this is a great place to visit.
5. Experience the Coffee culture at Rruga Murat Toptani in Tirana
The best place to experience the Albanian coffee culture is at Rruga Murat Toptani.
The Murat Toptani street is a lovely pedestrian street right in the middle of Tirana. It is a side street of the main government street, close to the National Arts Gallery. This is one of the places, where the locals go for their coffee in Tirana.
The pedestrian street is lined with gorgeous green trees, which offer shade from the hot sun in the summer months. And on both sides of the streets, there is a variety of lovely coffee houses with terraces.
In the Albanian culture, the men usually invite each other to go for a coffee, to show that they respect the other man and their family.
Bear in mind that the Albanian people drink “Turkish coffee” rather than filter coffee. So don’t be surprised, if you receive a turkish coffee. Obviously, filter coffee is available, but be sure to specify, you are looking for an Americano or Espresso, if that’s what you are after.
And if you really want to experience the authentic Albanian culture, be sure to order some Baklava. Because this traditional pastry dessert is what all the Albanian women bake for their family on a weekly basis.
6. Relax in the Grand Park of Tirana
One of my favorite places to relax in Tirana is at the Grand Park.
If you are staying in Tirana for at least one night, you will definitely spend some time walking around the city center and you can visit the Grand Park of Tirana during your walking tour.
The classic walking tour through Tirana usually starts at the central Skanderbeg. From Skanderbeg Square, you can walk into the main government street. At the end of the government street, you will see the Grand Park of Tirana.
The Grand Park of Tirana has a gorgeous artificial lake. Around the lake, there is a popular walking and running track. There is also a variety of lakefront restaurants and coffee houses, with a beautiful view of the lake.
On a hot summer afternoon, the Grand Park of Tirana is the perfect place to relax.
7. Go on day tour to the UNESCO City Berat
Although there are lovely sightseeing locations inside the city, Tirana is also a great hub, from where you can make day trips to nearby cities.
And one of the classic day trips you can make from Tirana is visiting Berat city. Berat city is only 2.5 hours by car from Tirana, so you can easily go and come back on the same day.
Berat is a historical city with a beautiful old town center. The city is known for the little white houses, that were built on the slope of the hill.
The traditional houses were constructed, when Albania was a part of the Ottoman empire. During the Ottoman empire, it was mostly merchants that lived in the little white houses. Nowadays, the little houses have been converted into restaurants, hotels and cafes.
The beauty of visiting Berat is that it is like walking through a real life museum. You can explore the old town center by foot and see the history come alive. The old town has beautiful streets laid with cobblestones and it has a very “Italian” atmosphere.
Apart from the old neighbourhoods on the slope of the hill, there is also an impressive hilltop castle, called “Berat Castle”.
From Berat Castle, you will have a fantastic panoramic view. You can see the impressive Mount Tomorr, the green lowlands, the bright river and the old town center.
Berat’s city center is a crowned UNESCO World Heritage site. And when you visit this beautiful town, you will immediately understand why this city is such a highlight for visitors in Albania.
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8. Go on a day trip to the seaside from Tirana
Although Tirana is not a coastal town, you can easily make a day trip to the beach, if you are staying in Tirana.
The closest and most famous beach town near Tirana is Durres. Durres is a large coastal town with many hotels and resorts. The main reason why Durres is so popular is its vicinity to Tirana, since it is only a 45 minute drive. Moreover, from the central Skanderbeg Square in Tirana, you can follow direct road to get to Durres.
However, Durres is a large coastal town with many hotels, resorts and restaurants surrounding the beach. And perhaps, you are more interested in a smaller, quieter and more private beach. In that case, I would recommend visiting the Bay of Lalzi.
Similar to Durres, the Bay of Lalzi is also a 45 minute drive from Tirana. However, the beach of Lalzi is the complete opposite. Whereas Durres beach is surrounded by hotels and resorts. The Bay of Lalzi is a wild beach, which is surrounded by pine trees. Since less tourists know about the Bay of Lalzi, this beach is mostly visited by the locals. And apart from a little shack restaurant, there are no facilities at this beach.
The Bay of Lalzi is close to the Cape of Rodon, so it makes sense to combine the two attractions during a one day trip from Tirana.
9. Take the Dajti Ekspres Cable Car for an amazing view of Tirana
The number one sightseeing attraction in Tirana is the Dajti Express Cable Car.
The Dajti Express is a Cable Car that takes you from Tirana city up the Dajti Mountain. The Dajti Mountain is the closest mountain to Tirana city. And from the Dajti Mountain balcony, you have a stunning view over the capital city.
To get to the Dajti Express, you must take a taxi from Tirana’s city center for approximately 20 minutes.
Your cable car journey starts at the Lower Station. From there, the Dajti Express takes you to a height of 1613 meters above sealevel in approximately 15 minutes.
The journey with the cable car is absolutely stunning. You fly accross treetops and by the mountains cliffs. If you look down, you will see little farmhouses on the outskirts of Tirana and beautiful mountain lakes. And the higher you fly, you will get a beautiful view of Tirana’s city center. At the end of you cable car journey, you will arrive at the Dajti Mountain balcony.
On the Dajti Mountain balcony, there is a variety of entertainment. The top attraction is the Ballkoni Restaurant. This is a wooden cabin style restaurant at the top of the cliff. The restaurant has floor to ceiling windows, so you will have a table with a stunning view.
Apart from the restaurant, you can also visit the viewing deck on the top of the Dajti Hotel. Or enter the rotating bar in the Dajti Hotel, which turns 360 degrees in about 45 minutes.
There is also outdoor entertainment, like target shooting, horse riding, carting and mini-golf.
The Dajti Express is an absolute must, if you are staying in Tirana. You can plan this as a full day trip and have lunch in the Ballkoni Restaurant. Or you can start your day by visiting the nearby Bunk’Art 1 Museum and take the cable car in the afternoon.
10. Experience local life in a nearby hilltown village of Preze
Although Tirana has many sightseeing locations, you may want to get out of the city to experience the local life in Albania. In that case, I recommend you visit the Preze village.
The Preze village is a little village about 45 minutes from Tirana city. The village is one of the most picturesque villages in the region.
When you enter the village, you will drive up the winding road. The village is located on a hill and there is a Medieval castle on the top of the hill.
Along the road, you will see many traditional stone houses, with beautiful flowers and scenic views everywhere.
When you get to the top of the hill, you will immediately be taken by the very impressive panoramic view of Tirana city, Kruje city and the mountainous landscape.
The castle of Preze itself is mostly in ruins, but there is one remaining watchtower. You can enter the watchtower, and enjoy a cup of coffee from the restaurant inside the castle’s walls.
The castle of Preze was built in the 14th and 15th century. It used to belong to the Thopias family. But the castle is mostly known for its role as a defence stronghold. From 1443 until 1468, Albania’s military commander Skanderbeg used the castle as one of the strongholds in his fight against the Ottoman invasion.
Nowadays, the main reason to visit Preze is the spectacular scenery and the idylic location. Go to Preze to experience Albania, drink a coffee and enjoy the endless views. Whereas the nearby Kruje Castle is very well known amongst tourists, Preze Castle is more quiet and authentic.
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11. Climb the Clock Tower for an amazing view of Tirana’s center
One of my favorite attractions in the city center of Tirana is the Clock Tower.
The Clock Tower is a 35 meter high tower right in the center of Tirana. It is located on the central Skanderbeg Square.
I always recommend tourists to enter the Clock Tower, as it gives you a beautiful view of the city center.
When you enter the tower, you must climb the 90 step staircase to the viewing balcony. From the viewing balcony, you can see Skanderbeg Square, the National History Museum, the Palace of Culture, the Et’hem Bey Mosque and the main government street.
The Clock tower was constructed when Albania was a part of the Ottoman empire. It was built by a poet called Haxhi Et’hem Bey in 1822.
12. Hike to the hidden black cave
If you are staying in Tirana and you enjoy going for a hike in nature, then the Black Cave is a great place to go.
The Black Cave or the Pellumbas Cave is a large cave located in the Pellumbas village. From Tirana, you must drive for about 45 minutes to get to the Pellumbas village.
Then from the village, you will start hiking along the 2 kilometer long trail through the hills. The trail is marked well and it can be hiked by a person of average fitness. From the trail, you will have beautiful views of the valley and the Erzen river.
At the end of the trail, you can enter the large Black Cave. Be sure to rent a light at the beginning of the trail, so that you can explore the inside of the cave.
The cave is one of the earliest prehistoric settlements in the area. Inside archaeologists found tools and artifacts from the Neolith, Bronze and Iron eras. And there were fossils from the cave bears, that lived in the cave more than 10.000 years ago.
After your visit to the Pellumbas cave, you can enjoy a lovely lunch of local dishes in the village or have a turkish coffee. Overall, the black cave is a lovely sight to visit for adventurous tourists in the vicinity of Tirana.
13. Participate in the Albanian traditional dance
Every week, I receive emails from people who would like to experience the authentic Albanian culture. And in my opinion, the best way to see the true Albanian culture, is by participating in the Albanian traditional dance.
The Albanian traditional dance is a folk dance. All dancers hold each others hands, as they dance around the room. For someone who never saw the Albanian traditional dance, it is popably best to think about a traditional Greek dance.
Actually, all the different regions in Albania have their own particular folk dance. And with the traditional dance, comes the traditional costume from that region.
Albanian people usually wear their traditional costumes and dance the traditional dance at a wedding. However, the Albanian people absolutely love to dance, so when they hear the Albanian dance music, they will dance wherever they are.
If you would like to experience the Albanian dance culture, you can go to one of the traditional Albanian restaurants. Some of these restaurants, like Restaurant Serenata Korcare in Tirana, play the Albanian music live and invite their guests to dance.
14. Visit the vibrant Blloku area
If you are interested in nightlife or going out for an evening, then you must go to the Blloku area in Tirana.
During the communist rule, the Blloku area was a restricted area. Only the Albanian government elite, were allowed to enter the area. And it was the area, where the former communist dictator lived. After the fall of the communism, the area was opened to the public.
The Blloku area has changed dramatically, since the fall of the communism. But the reputation of “exclusivety” has remained.
Nowadays, the Blloku area is known as the expensive and most desirable area in the capital city. The neighbourhood is full of high end restaurants, lively bars and exclusive shops. This is the area in Tirana, where the locals go out. The locals dress up in their best outfit and go to Blloku to entertain themselves.
15. Go on a walking tour to Tirana’s city center
Whilst you are visiting Tirana, it is worth planning about 2-3 hours to go on a walking tour through the city center.
The center of Tirana is Skanderbeg Square. Skanderbeg Square is the main plaza with all the most important landmarks of the city. Surrounding the square, you can see the National History Museum, the Tirana International Hotel, the Palace of Culture, the Et’hem Bey Mosque and the Clock Tower of Tirana.
Then from Skanderbeg Square, you can walk into the main government street. This street is called: Bulevardi Deshmoret e Kombit. Along this street, you can see the government buildings and the presidential office. Moreover, there are other highlights along this street, like the Pyramid of Tirana and the National Arts Gallery.
Then at the end of the government street, you can visit the Grand Park of Tirana.
Other highlights that are worth exploring on a walking tour through the city center are the New Bazaar Market, which has a variety of cafes and local food. The Murat Toptani Street is a great stopping place for a coffee on the terrace. And the Blloku Area, where you can see the house of the former dictator.
For a walking tour through the city center, you do not need more than 3 hours. So on the day of your walking tour, you can plan to visit another attraction in the afternoon, like the Dajti Cable Car or the Bunk’Art Museum, for instance.
16. Visit the Pyramid of Tirana
The Pyramid of Tirana is the most important landmark in Albania.
The Pyramid was originally designed as a museum about Albania’s former dictator Enver Hoxha. The “Enver Hoxha Museum” was opened in 1988 after the death of the former dictator. It was designed by the dictator’s daughter and her husband.
However, soon after the opening of the Enver Hoxha Museum, the communist regime in Albania ended. Therefore, the Pyramid of Tirana stopped being a museum.
Throughout the next two decades, the Pyramid of Tirana served many different purposes. It was a convention center, a TV studio, a NATO base during the Kosovo war, a night club and the list goes on.
At some point, there were plans to break down the Pyramid of Tirana. However, a study showed that most of the Albanian citizens were against demolishing the pyramid. Because the pyramid afterall is a symbol of Albania’s history, however, dark this history may be.
The most recent plans are to turn the Pyramid of Tirana into an IT center for young people. Whilst the Pyramid of Tirana awaits its next purpose and a needed refurbishment. It has fallen into dispair. The landmark is covered in graffiti and in a bad state.
It is almost symbolic, because Albania is still trying to deal with the quite recent communist history. And the current state of the Pyramid of Tirana only one example.
17. Innovative Bunk’Art museum
Bunk’Art is the most exciting museum in Tirana.
As in any capital city, Tirana has a large variety of museums. Including, the National History Museum, the National Arts Gallery and the Archaeological Museum.
However, the Bunk’Art Museum is without a doubt the best museum of Tirana.
Bunk’Art is literally a museum inside a bunker. The massive bunker was built by the former communist dictator Enver Hoxha. He built it as a hiding spot for himself and the government elite, in case of a foreign attack on Albania.
In fact, the former dictator Enver Hoxha was so convinced that a foreign (nuclear) attack was imminent, that he built 750.000 bunkers all over Albania. The foreign attack never took place, the dictator died and the communist regime ended. But the thousands of bunkers remain all over the country.
Recently, the large bunker in the outskirts of Tirana has been converted in a fascinating museum.
Inside Bunk’Art, you can experience what communism was like for Albania. You can visit the sanitation room, to wash off any nuclear waste. You can see the fencing that was built on the borders, to keep the Albanian people from leaving. And see the way that people, who did not agree with the regime, were imprisoned.
Bunk’Art is a fenominal museum, that gives you a unique insight into live during the communist period in Albania. Would you dare to enter this massive bunker and explore Albania’s dark history?
18. Go on a day trip to the Albania’s arts & culture city
Only two hours to the North of Tirana, you can visit the city of Shkoder. Shkodra is known in Albania for its artistic and cultural vibe.
Shkoder is a beautiful historical city. It is also the home of many Albanian artists. From Tirana, it will take you only 2 hours to drive to Shkoder.
One of the most exciting new attractions in Shkoder is the Venice Art Mask Factory. The Venice Art Mask Factory was started by the Albanian business man called Edmond Angoni. Angoni spend many years abroad in Venice, and upon his return he started the factory. The factory produces handicraft Venetian masks, that are solt all over the world. You can browse the collection or buy a unique souvenir!
Another highlight is the central Kole Idromeno boulevard. This beautiful pedestrian street was designed by the famous artist Kole Idromeno. Idromeno was schooled in Venice and you can see this in the design of the street, with its many decorative details. The street is lined with beautiful coffee houses and terraces, therefore, it is the perfect place to relax.
And finally, another must-see attraction is the Marubi Museum of Photography. This lovely photography museum displays a series of photographs taken by three generations of photographers from the Marubi family. The three generations captured Albania’s history and tradition in photographs, and they give you an unique insight in Albania’s past.
19. Experience the Ottoman Empire in Kruje
One of the classic day trips to make, when you are staying in Tirana, is visiting Kruje. Kruje is a hillside town about 45 minutes from Tirana.
The main attraction is the Kruje castle, which has a stunning panoramic view of the entire valley and Tirana city.
Within the Kruje castle’s walls, you can also visit the Skanderbeg Museum. This museum is dedicated to Albania’s national hero Skanderbeg. He was a military commander, who united the Albanian people in a fight against the Ottoman invasion. Skanderbeg was based inside the Kruje castle and built a defense network of the different castle’s in the region.
Another highlight is the Ethnographic Museum. This museum is essentially a traditional house that belonged to a rich family during the Ottoman empire. You can see how self sufficient the family was and you get a unique insight in the Albanian lifestyle.
And finally, you can stroll through the Old Bazaar Market. This lovely bazaar market has local souvenirs and handicraft items. And it is a beautifully representation of an old market place with wooden stalls and a street laid with cobblestones.
Kruje is touristic and usually buzzing with travellers, but the view from the castle and the surrounding attractions make this a lovely day trip from Tirana.
I am an Albania Tour Guide, who organizes 1-day, 2-day or multiple day private tours in Albania. I arrange your transportation and I am your English speaking guide. So that, you get to experience the most beautiful places in Albania!
Kind regards, Manon
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