Simultaneously a Mediterranean, Eastern European, former Soviet Bloc, Balkan, and Muslim nation, Albania’s location and history lend it a colorful blend of heritage and customs.
For a country the size of the state of Massachusetts, This often overlooked destination has something for every traveler. On a single tour, you can find yourself on snow-capped mountains, stunning beaches, ancient ruins, and vibrant cities.
Important in the Albanian culture is the notion of Mikpritja. This age-old rule of conduct places extreme importance on honoring guests and Albanians take it seriously. In Albania, you’ll find yourself greeted by genuine smiles and welcoming locals at every turn.
Albania’s diverse and rugged landscape offers countless opportunities for adventure. Here, you can trek across craggy mountain ranges, kayak to hidden Ionian coves, ski or snowshoe on undisturbed powder, and raft through some serious rapids, just to name a few. You’ll also find that these activities are significantly less expensive in Albania than in many other European destinations, meaning you can get more adrenaline for your money than you’d likely find elsewhere.
Albania is the unsung mecca of historical destinations. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and Soviets all left their footprints here. Historical tours will take you to museums in the capital of Tirana to provide an overview of the nation’s long history before you head out to a number of magnificently preserved historical towns and ruins. Given the country’s small size and the density of historical sites, you can find yourself standing in a Roman amphitheater in the morning and gazing at Ottoman monuments in the afternoon.
Albania has been a kaleidoscope of cultures for centuries. To this day, the country is known for welcoming visitors with open arms (and a kiss on the cheek). There are many cultural tours that focus on getting to know the people of this country. You’ll join Albanians on their xhiro, a regular evening stroll in which streets are closed to traffic, and try your hand at cooking tavë kosi, a delicious lamb casserole and the national dish.
Albania’s many waterways and untouched woodlands make it a great destination for birdwatchers. On a wildlife tour, you can spot such seldom seen species as the curly pelican and the national symbol, the golden eagle, as well as many others. These tours will take you to idyllic and off the beaten track locations like Maligrad Island and Lake Ohrid, where you’ll also find small village communities set among medieval buildings.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit Albania
Being off the main tourist routes, you’ll seldom have to deal with crowds in Albania, even during peak season. Winters can be cool and rainy and summers get very hot and dry. If you plan to spend most of your time at the beach, consider a summer trip. Otherwise, the shoulder seasons of spring and fall will offer you the most comfortable weather.
What to Look for in a Tour to Albania
Before you book your trip, think about what you want to get out of your time in Albania. This small country packs in too much to be fully experienced all in a single tour. Do you want to get a general overview of the country or focus on a single theme? How many castles, beaches, cities, and mountain villages do you want to see? Always read the tour’s reviews and ask the operator specific questions before signing up so you can choose the tour that’s best for you.
Typical Tour Cost
Low cost is one of the many reasons why Albania is a great destination. You’ll find that your money goes much further here than in many other places in Europe. Most tours in Albania will cost between $100 and $200 a day, depending on the type of activities and level of comfort provided. Any meals and transportation not included in your tour will be pretty manageable. For instance, a typical meal out won’t cost more than $10 per person.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Your tour provider will tell you about any particular items you should bring. Beyond that, keep in mind the different seasons in Albania. Rain gear is essential in the winter and probably will come in handy in the fall and spring. Don’t forget comfortable walking shoes and a sweater for evenings in the mountains.
Other Tips for Travel in Albania
Outside of major cities, expect to pay for everything in cash. It is very easy to exchange your money here. Just look for money changers outside banks and post-offices or withdraw lekë at an ATM.
Power outages are not uncommon in Albania. This is especially true during the summer months when the hydroelectric reservoirs receive less rainfall. Ask your hotel if they have a back-up generator.
Most visitors to Albania will not require a visa. US nationals can enter the country for up to a year visa-free. Most others have 90 days.
Health & Safety
Hospitals and pharmacies in the larger cities are generally well-equipped. This is not the case in smaller towns and rural areas, so take any necessary medication with you before heading out. It’s a good idea to stick to drinking bottled water in the cities. Tap water in the mountains is generally potable, but it’s a good idea to double check first.
Tourists are seldom the target of crime in Albania. If you take normal common sense precautions you should be just fine. The biggest safety concern will be on the roads. Albanian drivers take to the roads with a devil-may-care attitude that many outsiders find alarming. Be alert when crossing city streets and don’t assume drivers will stop for you.