The 25 Best things to do in Tirana, Albania’s Capital City
The ultimate list of the best things to do in Albania’s capital city any time of year. The city center of Tirana is a perfect place for a walking tour. Many of the touristic highlights are close to Tirana’s main square called Skanderbeg Square. All the places for sightseeing have been described below into detail. Furthermore, there are also a few recommendations for day-trips from Tirana, like Kruja Castle, the Caves of Pellumbas, Preza Castle or Petrela Castle.
1. Museum of Secret Surveillance: “House of Leaves”
The Museum of Secret Surveillance is the former headquarters of the National Intelligence Service. It is one of the best things to do in Tirana. You cannot imagine that the unremarkable villa was the “House of Spies”. During World War II, the secret police of the German Nazis used the villa. After the war, the Albanian secret service of the communist regime took over the villa. You can see the bugs, monitoring equipment, wiretapping phones and laboratories inside the museum. As a result, you will have a unique experience of what it is like to be a spy.
2. Skanderbeg Square & the Skanderbeg Statue
The main square in the middle of Tirana is Skanderbeg Square. Skanderbeg is the national hero of Albania. When the Ottoman Turks ruled Albania, Skanderbeg fought for Albania’s independence. There is a big statue of the Skanderbeg on his horse on the middle of the square. Around the square you can see many touristic sights like the National History Museum, the Et’hem Bey Mosque, the Clock Tower, the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet, the National Bank, the City Hall and the Ministries of Infrastructure, Agriculture, Economy and Energy. One of the best things to do in Albanian capital is to spend an afternoon on the central square of the city and simply wander around the center.
3. The Clock Tower Tirana
The Clock Tower is in the centre of Tirana next to Skanderbeg Square. It is one of the best things to do in Tirana. You can climb the 90 stairs of the tower and when you reach the top you can enjoy a lovely view of the square. Molla Bey, an Albanian religious leader, started the construction of the Clock Tower in 1822. At that time, the Ottoman Turks ruled Albania. Furthermore, Molla Bey also constructed the Et’hem Bey Mosque, which is next to the Clock Tower.
4. Et’hem Bey Mosque
The Et’hem Bey Mosque is one of the touristic sights located at Skanderbeg Square. You should visit the mosque, because it has beautiful frescoes of trees, waterfalls and bridges. This decoration is unusual for Islamic Art. Molla Bey, an Albanian religious leader, built the mosque in the 18th century. However, the communists closed the mosque during their rule. Furthermore, the communists closed and destroyed many churches and mosques. Therefore, it is a miracle that the Et’hem Bey Mosque survived. On the 18th of January 1991, the Albanian public re-opened the mosque against the will of the communist government. Shortly after, the communist regime ended.
5. Bunk Art Museum
The Bunk Art museum is inside a bunker and it is one of the touristic highlights of Tirana. The former dictator ruling Albania, called Enver Hoxha, was paranoid. He feared a nuclear attack on Albania. Therefore, he constructed thousands of bunkers all over Albania to protect the population. He also built a large bunker to protect the government during a nuclear attack. The nuclear attack never took place, therefore, nobody used the bunker. But you can visit it because the bunker has been transformed into a museum. The bunker museum brings you back to the communist rule of Albania, with displays of nuclear equipment, voice recordings of the dictator and photographs of concentration camps. The museum in the bunker is fascinating, incredibly impressive and very creepy.
6. The Cave of Pellumbas
The Cave of Pellumbas is one of the best things to do in Tirana for adventurous travelers. After a 45-minute drive from Tirana you will reach the village of Pellumbas. From the village, you can hike for about 1 hour towards the Cave. The hiking trail offers an amazing view of the mountainside and the Erzen River down below. About 10.000 years ago, cave bears lived in the cave. Furthermore, during the World Wars, the locals kept the cave a secret, so that they could hide in the cave. During your visit, you will see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, but be aware of the bats flying around in the cave. After the visit you can have swim in the nearby Erzen River.
7. Tanners bridge Tirana
Tanners bridge is a beautiful stone bridge in the centre of Tirana. The Ottoman Turks built the bridge in the 18th century. The bridge was a part of the road between Tirana and the highlands in the east. At the time, farmers used the bridge to bring livestock into the city. In the past, there was water from the Lane river underneath the bridge. But the river was diverted later, therefore, there is no water underneath the bridge today. Nowadays, the bridge is a monument and can only be used by pedestrians.
8. The Grand Park Tirana
The Grand Park is one of the best things to do in Tirana, if you are looking for a place to relax with your family. The park has a beautiful path around the large lake, which is a popular running route. The park also offers restaurants, several playgrounds and a little amphitheatre. The view from the park across the lake is beautiful, especially when the sun shines on the lake across the mountains.
9. Cable Car to Dajti Mountain
Just outside the city centre of Tirana, you can take a cable car up the Dajti Mountain. The 15 minute journey up the mountain side offers a breath-taking view. From the cable car you can see the forest, farms, hilltops, bunkers and city centre in the distance. Once you arrive on the mountain top, there is a fantastic cabin restaurant where you can enjoy a lovely glass of wine and a roasted dish. Furthermore, the top station also offers entertainment like target shooting, phony riding, outdoor fitness equipment and a playground. If you feel up to it you can go for a hike on the trails, a mountain biking trip or you can go paragliding. In short, the Dajti Cable Car is a perfect destination for a day trip from Tirana city.
10. Blloku Area
The Blloku Area is a high-end area in Tirana. The area is famous for the trendy bars, boutiques, upscale restaurants and cafes. In the past, the communists restricted the Albanian public from entering the Blloku area. Because, the Blloku area was a residential area for the communist elite. Therefore, the communists made maps without the Blloku area on it. Nowadays, the Blloku area is a vibrant area with expensive apartments and a busy nightlife. It is one of the best things to do in Tirana.
11. Former Residence of Enver Hoxha
The former residence of Enver Hoxha, Albania’s former communist dictator, is in the Blloku area. During the regime, the communists restricted the Albanian public from the Blloku area. Therefore, after the fall of the communist rule, the Albanians were very curious to see the residence. The villa has three-stories and is unfortunately not open to the public. However, the Blloku area is a lovely area to relax, so you may just pass by the residence on your way to a café.
12. National Gallery of Arts Tirana & The Cloud Artwork
Tirana’s National Gallery of Arts is located on the main boulevard in Tirana. The artwork inside the gallery, made by Albanian Artists, gives you a unique inside into Albania’s past. During the communist regime, the artists worked under strict censorship. The government forced artists to create work that idealized the communist dictator. Furthermore, the art work had to glorify the second World War victory of the dictator. As a result, the dictator sent several Albanian artists to prison, because they created inappropriate art. Ironically, you can see the inappropriate artworks in the Gallery now. The Gallery is worth a visit as it tells the history of Albania through arts. Furthermore, in front of the gallery, you will see an art installation, called “The Cloud”. The white installation is transparent and looks like a cloud. Moreover, the Cloud is a popular place to take photographs.
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13. Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard
The Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard is the main street in Tirana. The boulevard is very wide and it has impressive buildings along side the road. You can see the Presidential palace, the Prime-Minister’s office, the Palace of Congress and the University of Tirana. An Italian architect designed the boulevard while Albania was occupied by the Italian government. It is one of the best things to do in Tirana.
14. The Canyon of the Erzen River
The Canyon of the Erzen River are an excellent destination for a day-trip from Tirana. From the city, it is about a 45-minute drive to the Pellumbas Village. The village has a hiking trail that leads to two destinations: The Cave of Pellumbas and The Canyon of the Erzen River. The hike to the canyon takes around 1 hour. You will see that the canyon is spectacular. Moreover, you can also visit the beautiful waterfalls and natural pools around the canyon. It is a perfect place to take a bath or swim in the summer.
15. The National History Museum
The National History Museum is one of Albania’s top museums. The museum has a very prominent location on the central Skanderbeg square. The outside of the museum has a beautiful mosaic called “the Albanians”. The mosaic shows the Albanian people throughout history. The most interesting display to see inside the museum is pavilion about the communist terror. The room is full of images, documents and videos of persecutions during the communist regime. There is also a replica of the massive sword of the national hero Skanderbeg. It is one of the best things to do in Tirana.
16. Pyramid Tirana
The Pyramid building in Tirana’s main boulevard is a very strange building. The daughter and son-in-law of the communist dictator constructed the pyramid in 1988, to honor his memory. But in 1991, the communist regime ended and as a result the museum closed. Afterwards, the government gave the building a new purpose several times. The pyramid was a convention center, then a night club, then an office for NATO during the Kosovo war and finally a radio and television center. There were plans to demolish the Pyramid, but Albanian people protested against it.
The Pyramid is a Landmark for Albania
Even through the Pyramid reminds the Albanian people of the dark communism past, the building has also become a landmark. It is one of the best things to do in Tirana. In fact, it is quite popular to climb on top of the Pyramid. Because top of the pyramid offers a beautiful 360 degrees view of Tirana. At this moment in time, the “landmark” is in a state of despair and in need of maintenance. But the government has not decided on the future of the pyramid yet.
17. The Peace Bell
The Peach Bell is an art installation in front of the Pyramid building. The monument is a reminder of the collapse of the pyramid schemes in Albania. In short, after the communist regime ended in 1991, the Albanian population had no experience with private ownership and investing money. Private operators started “Ponzi Schemes or Pyramid Schemes” with very high interest rates. The operators were basically taking money from new investors and paying it out to earlier investors. Then in 1997 all the Ponzi schemes collapsed. As a result, unrest and riots hit the street leading to the death of hundreds of people. The peace bell monument is a landmark. Children from Shkodra collected gun shells from the street. The artist melted the gun shells create the Peace Bell.
18. The Murat Toptani Street
The Murat Toptani Street is a beautiful pedestrian street with leafy trees. It is the ultimate place to relax, to have a cup of coffee and to sit down on a terrace. It is one of the best things to do in Tirana. There is a beautiful stone wall along the street. The wall was a part of the Castle of Tirana during the Turkish Ottoman empire. Unfortunately, the wall is the only remaining part of the former castle, but it has been incorporated beautifully in the pedestrian street.
19. Spille Beach
Spille Beach is about an hour drive from Tirana. To reach Spille Beach, you should follow the road to Durres and then follow directions to Kavaje. The water is relatively calm and the sand is perfectly white. You may want to consider this beach site instead of the popular Durres, so that you can avoid the crowds. There is a lovely promenade, a pine tree forest and there are restaurants that serve fresh fish.
20. Rinia Park
Rinia Park is a green area in Tirana. The park has a large entertainment complex called Taivani or the Taiwan Center. The Taiwan building has a bowling alley, a casino, several restaurants and a cafe. The cafe is incredibly popular among locals because it looks over the beautiful fountain in the park.
21. The New Bazaar
The New Bazaar (called Pazari i Ri) is a market place with little cafes and restaurants. It is one of the best things to do in Tirana. The market place offers a variety of olives, cheeses, fresh figs, wine, raki and meats. It is a great place to visit and mix with the locals. You will be able to see a lively Balkan style market and to observe the local Albanians bargain for the best price.
22. Toptani Shopping Centre
The Toptani Shopping Center is a 7-floor shopping mall in the center of Tirana. It offers international shops and mostly Italian branded stores. As a tourist, the best place to go is the top floor, where there is variety of cafes with a beautiful view of the city. The perfect location to relax.
23. Kruja Castle
Kruja Castle is an excellent destination for a day-trip from Tirana. The village of Kruja is only 45 minutes from Tirana city. The castle is on top of the mountain, therefore it has a beautiful panoramic view over the area below. From the castle garden you can see the mountains, Tirana City, Kruja and the sea side in the distance. Furthermore, there is a the bazaar market on the hill side with lovely souvenirs and handicraft products. Moreover, you can visit the museum inside the castle walls. The museum is dedicated to Albania’s national hero Skanderbeg.
24. Preza Castle
Preza is a lesser-known destination for a day-trip from Albania. The Preza village is on the top of a mountain. The journey to Preza will take you around 45 minutes by car from the center of Tirana. The castle is all the way on the top of the hill. The ruins of the castle are lovely, but not impressive. However, the reason why you should visit Preza is the unimaginably panoramic view. Furthermore, since Preza is not crowded by tourists, you will most likely have the place to yourself. Therefore, Preza is an excellent place for a quite relaxing afternoon in the sunshine with a beautiful view and a lovely picnic lunch.
25. Petrela Castle
The Petrela village is just 30 minutes outside of Tirana by car. Even though, Petrela is incredibly close to the city, the atmosphere is completely different. Once you have arrived to the village you can drive up the winding road to the castle on the hilltop. Petrela castle is on the top of a massive rock. You must climb the stone path up the hill to reach the castle. But the view is worth it when you reach the top. There is also a little coffee house inside the castle, which is an excellent place to relax.
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I am an Albania Tour Guide, who organizes 1-day, 2-day or multiple day private tours in Albania.
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