Tirana, Albania: A Complete Guide To Albania's Capital City
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
Located in central Albania, Tirana has been the country’s capital since 1920. And although it experienced political turmoil until 1991, the city has now evolved into the cultural and entertainment center of the country. In fact, it is often referred to as one of the most underrated cities in Europe. And while we agree that it isn’t one of the most beautiful capital cities in Eastern Europe terms of its architecture, it certainly is one of the most interesting ones. Let’s explore the important things to know before going, where to eat and drink, where to stay, and the best things to do in and around the fascinating city of Tirana.
Check out our video on Tirana to get a sense of what it's like there!
Tirana Table Of Contents
Important Things To Know
Best time to travel to Tirana
The best time to travel to Tirana is from April to June or from September to October. In June, Tirana hosts an open-air electronic music festival and in October they have the Tirana Literature festival. Definitely go check them out if you're in the city at that time.
Cost & currency in Tirana
In general, Tirana is a bit more expensive than the other places in Albania, but it is still very affordable. In Albania, they use the Albanian Lek so if you plan on going, keep an eye out for the exchange rates to save more money. Withdraw your money at the Credins Bank for the best rate (and no extra fees!).
Safety in Tirana
The Tirana city center 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 ourselves.
Where To stay in Tirana
When you visit Tirana make sure you stay in downtown Tirana to be close to everything. Here are some suggestions:
Prime Hotel: only 80 meters from the Skanderbeg Square it has the perfect location.
Villa Center: a great option if you don't want to spend too much on accommodation.
LINA Apartment: where we stayed, has a kitchen and very good location near the New Bazaar.
Where To Eat And Drink
Everything inside the Tirana Castle has a really good atmosphere and tasty food. Also, the Zgaras around the New Bazaar are great!
Tartuf Restaurant: an awesome pasta/truffle restaurant in the Tirana Castle
Zgara Te Pazari: the zgara we went to, which is close to the New Bazaar
Greek Snacks: has good crepes
Oda: traditional Albanian food
Era: popular restaurant in the Blloku area, can get very crowded so come in time to get a spot!
Best Things To Do In Tirana
We recommend staying in Tirana for 3-4 days. This is enough time to get to know the city and atmosphere and visit all the places we mention below without having to rush.
If you're traveling to Tirana and want to save time searching for directions to all of the places we mention in this article, then look no further than our custom map. Simply click on a point in the map below to get directions there for yourself!
8. Do a free walking tour
The first and foremost thing you should do in Tirana is going on a free walking tour. During the 2.5 hour tour, you explore Tirana’s downtown area while learning about the city and country’s turbulent history, art, and everyday life. The tour starts at Skanderbeg Square. Other highlights include the Clock Tower, and various mosques and cathedrals. It’s not only a great introduction to the country but also provides a deeper understanding of Albanian culture. The tour runs every day from the Opera House in both English and Spanish. You can reserve your spot on the free walking tour here.
7. Visit the New Bazaar
Tirana’s New Bazaar (Pazari ri Bazaar) is a newly renovated market that offers fresh fruits, vegetables, as well as souvenirs, local wine, and raki. Around the bazaar, you will find several bars and restaurants to drink and eat at. Many of these places are called ‘zgara’s’, which literally translates to ‘grill’. And as the name suggests, these local grill houses offer a variety of grilled meats and other dishes.
6. Go on a day trip to Kruja
If you are looking for a nice day trip outside of the Albanian Capital city, then the picturesque town of Kruja might be for you. Located only 20 km north of Tirana, Kruja can easily be reached by public bus from the “South and North Albania Bus Terminal”. Kruja played a crucial role in the 15th century when it was the center of the Albanian opposition, led by the national hero Skanderbeg during the Ottoman invasion. Skenderbeg is still celebrated here today and there is even an entire museum dedicated to him. You can find this museum inside the castle that overlooks the town. Also check out the beautiful bazaar located in front of the castle.
5. Wine & dine at Tirana Castle
Tirana also has its very own castle, located in the heart of the city. Only this fortress has been transformed into a commercial space, filled with restaurants, wine bars, art, and souvenir shops. It’s a great place to have dinner with a glass of wine, and we found it quite affordable. The pedestrian street right next to the castle is one of the most charming streets you’ll find in the city.
You can find more castle destinations in our full Albania Travel Guide.
4. Explore Blloku
Another great area for entertainment in Tirana is Blloku. This small neighborhood really comes alive at night and is a trendy spot among locals. In addition to a variety of hip bars, nightclubs, and cafés, you can also find some of the best restaurants in Tirana here (such as Era!). This area became very attractive after the fall of communism, because during that period only communist elites were living there. Today, you can still find the former residence of Albania’s communist leader Enver Hoxha.
3. Take the Dajti Ekspres
Located in the outskirts of Tirana, the Dajti Ekspres cable car takes you to Dajti National Park which is 1,613m above sea level. It’s easy to get to the cable car station by public bus. Just hop on the blue bus near the clock tower next to Skanderbeg square. Find more details on how to get there by public transportation here. Once you’re in the cable car, the ride offers panoramic views of Tirana and the nature around it.
2. Visit Bunk’art
Combine your visit to Mount Dajti with a visit to Bunk’art 1, as they are basically right next to each other. Bunk’art 1 is a large bunker with five levels, which was meant to be used by communist leader Hoxha and his regime in case of a nuclear attack. Videos weren’t allowed inside, but pictures were. The bunker has now been converted into a museum, which covers the history of Albania’s past century in great detail. But it’s the preserved rooms, conceptual art, and sound effects that really bring the story to life. This was our favorite museum in all of Tirana and even though the history is heartbreaking, it’s absolutely worth visiting. Alternatively, you can visit other communist museums closer to the center, such as the House of Leaves and Bunk’art 2.
1. Hike Lake Bovilla
We kept the most beautiful sight for last! Lake Bovilla is a stunning reservoir that lies within Dajti National Park. Surrounded by two mountain ranges, hiking is the best activity you can do here. Gamti Mountain offers the most spectacular views of the lake and doesn’t require any experience. There are even some man-made stairs that help you get to the top, which are easily reachable from the Dajti Restaurant. To get to Lake Bovilla from Tirana, you need your own rental car. If you don’t have one, we suggest booking a guided tour.
Use These Websites To Save Money On Your Trip To Tirana
Booking.com for places to stay
Skyscanner for cheap flights
GetYourGuide for local tours
Rentalcars.com for affordable car rentals
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Other Top Tirana resources:
If you're looking for some other suggestions and tips on Tirana, here are some great articles that will help you:
15 Best Things To Do in Tirana, Albania by Goats On The Road
The 15 Best Things to do in Tirana, Albania by Wandering Wheatleys
Ultimate travel guide to Tirana by Travelling King