Gjirokaster, Albania: The Best Things To Do
Updated: Mar 3
Gjirokaster is located on a hillside in the south of Albania, overlooking a stunning river valley. It’s known for its ancient history, Ottoman-style architecture and imposing castle, which is one of the biggest in the Balkans. From the first moment you set foot in its cobbled streets, you’ll be enchanted with this place. And while many people choose to visit Gjirokaster as a quick day trip, we highly recommend staying at least a few days here if you can. This UNESCO World Heritage town has a diverse mix of things to do. In this article, we'll talk about the important things to know before going to Gjirokaster, where to stay, where to eat and drink, and the best things to do in Gjirokaster.
Check out our video on Gjirokaster to get a sense of what it's like there!
Gjirokaster Table Of Contents
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Important Things To Know
Best time to travel to Gjirokaster
Gjirokaster has great weather all year round. We do recommend going in the spring or fall because in the summer it can get very hot (with temperatures sometimes reaching above 40°C or 110F).
Cost & currency in Gjirokaster
Everything in Gjirokaster is very affordable, from food and drinks to housing. In Albania, they use the Albanian Lek so if you plan on going, keep an eye out on the exchange rates to save more money. Withdraw your money at the Credins Bank for the best rate (and no extra fees!).
Safety in Gjirokaster
Gjirokaster is very safe. Albania doesn't have the best image among tourists yet, but we never felt unsafe during our entire trip. Even at night, we felt safe and didn't encounter any problems.
Where To Stay
Villa 70: We stayed here and highly recommend it. The room was very cozy and the breakfast was superb! It's at the bottom of the old town so you have to walk a little bit uphill to get to the bazaar.
Hotel Fantasy: Great location and has everything you need in the hotel.
Where To Eat And Drink
Odaja: try the traditional rice balls here! The baked cheese, köfte with yoghurt, and moussaka were also great.
Taverna Kuka: Nice selection of wines and local + international dishes
The Barrels: located among idyllic vineyards not far from Gjirokaster. Both the food and wine are made with products from the farm here.
S&P Restaurant: cheap and good food
Best things to do in Gjirokaster
Even though Gjirokaster is small, there are so many things to do. So without further ado let's jump into the 7 best things to do in Gjirokaster.
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7. Stroll around the Old Bazaar
The Old Bazaar is the most picturesque area in Gjirokaster and strolling around it is an experience in itself. There are many souvenir shops, traditional cafés, restaurants, and some beautiful Ottoman-era houses. You’ll quickly understand why Gjirokaster is considered one of the most beautiful places in all of Albania. So bring your camera and spend time taking in the atmosphere.
6. Visit the Castle
Dominating the town, the castle is the most-visited tourist attraction in Gjirokaster for a good reason. While it’s still unclear when this fortification was exactly built, there’s no doubt that it witnessed the turbulent history of the region across centuries. Inside the castle, you can see the Clock Tower, an Aritallary Gallery, and a US Air Force plane that made an emergency landing in Albania during the Cold War. The Castle’s Museum is also a must-do when inside. It displays archaeological objects alongside an explanation of the history of Gjirokaster and the region. And to top it off, the castle walls offer superb views of the valley and town below.
5. Take a look inside Zekate house
After visiting the castle, you should head to Zekate House, a traditional Ottoman-era house that dates back to the early 1800s. It’s a typical tower house, belonging to the wealthy families of 19th-century Gjirokaster. Zekate is a 3-storey house and has gorgeous interiors and rooms, which can all be accessed. To really understand the history and what the rooms were used for, we recommend going on a guided tour here. We booked a tour that covered both the Zekate house as well as the old bazaar and the castle.
4. Try the local specialties
Gjirokaster has its own produce and unique culinary traditions. The town’s signature dish includes baked rice balls, and you can find it in almost every restaurant in the city. We tried them at Odaja restaurant together with some other delicacies. You can find other great places to eat above.
3. Walk to the Ali Pasha bridge
Another great thing to do in Gjirokaster is to hike to Ali Pasha’s bridge, which is set in a narrow gorge right outside of town. It’s actually not a bridge, even though it’s commonly referred to that way. It’s actually a small portion of an aqueduct that used to channel water to Gjirokaster castle’s cistern from the mountain’s springs at the beginning of the 19th century. It takes about 45 minutes of uphill walking to reach the aqueduct from the castle. But if you have a rental car, it might be easier to drive the first part, which is a mostly paved road.
You can find more Albanian hiking destinations in our full Albania Travel Guide article.
2. Learn about the Cold War Tunnels
When traveling around Albania you’ll discover many bunkers that were built during the Cold War. Gjirokaster has its own version of a bunker, which sits underneath the castle. The Cold War Tunnel was a secret 800-meter long tunnel bunker that has been transformed into a small museum. A guide at the entrance will take you through the assembly rooms, which were built in fear of a nuclear attack. They were never actually used and today it serves as a reminder of former communist times in Albania.
1. Watch the sunset from the Obelisk
Given Gjirokaster’s hilly character, it’s no wonder that there are many beautiful viewpoints to enjoy. Our favorite one was from the Obelisk monument in the heart of the old town. From here, you can oversee the entire town, castle, and valley. The best moment to come here is right before sunset, when the sun starts to descend behind the hill, lighting up the valley in the distance. Alternatively, you can watch the sunset from the castle itself! However, keep in mind the closing hours as they change throughout the year.
Use These Websites To Save Money On Your Trip To Gjirokaster
Booking.com for places to stay
Skyscanner for cheap flights
GetYourGuide for local tours
Rentalcars.com for affordable car rentals
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