Albania is one of the most interesting countries in Europe and one of the friendliest. It is also the place to visit if you want to live a real adventure. The country will surprise you with its gorgeous beaches, pristine valleys, delicious food and friendly people. Here are 11 things to know before travelling to Albania.
Albania is an amazing country, that’s true, but one of the best things about travelling to the land of the eagles is that wherever you go, from the capital city to the Riviera, from the mountains to the historical towns, you are going to be welcomed by the locals. Albania is one of the friendliest countries you’ll visit in your life. So, if you are travelling to Albania, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance, there will always be someone that will help you find what you are looking for, be it accommodation, a place to eat, or anything else.
One of the first things you need to know before booking a trip to Albania is that the country is a very safe place to travel in. You can travel with children, with a loved one or by yourself (women included) without worrying about your safety like you might in other countries. Health concerns, crime and threats of terrorism are low, even in the big cities. As we said, locals are super hospitable and they will make sure you feel like you are home.
There is a good reason why the largest percentage of tourists visiting Albania come to its beaches: the Albanian Riviera has some of the finest beaches in Europe. These pebbly or sandy shores line crystal blue waters that would stand toe-to-toe in a beauty contest with the beaches in Italy, Greece or Croatia. The best beaches on the riviera are Drymades and Ksamil, but you’ll find gorgeous stretches of sand all along the coast.
Although the Albanian Riviera and its stunning beaches are the reason why many flock to Albania, the country has so much more to offer visitors. It is full of mountains, archaeological sites, lakes and rivers, forests and ancient towns that will take your breath away. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore the country and its many wonders when planning your trip.
Compared to its neighboring nations, Albania is a very cheap destination. You can spend a phenomenal week travelling through the country without breaking the bank. A double room in a 4-star hotel is about 50€ ($62/£44) per night with breakfast included. Tirana is the most expensive town in the country, but you still won’t spend too much compared to other eastern European cities. For example, a fancy restaurant costs 15-20€ ($19-25/£13-18) per person, but if you prefer a meal at a café, you could spend 5€ ($6/£5).
When it comes to activities, parks are free, while museums require tickets to enter, but the fees are very low, about 3-5€. For shopping, keep in mind that many shops usually take only leke (Albanian currency), but hotels take euros as well. Credit cards are not accepted everywhere, so be sure to have some cash with you. So, if you want to visit beautiful places without spending a fortune, you know what you have to do: book a trip to Albania as soon as possible!
Bring a pair of stretchy pants with you ‘cause Albanian cuisine is fantastic! The best dishes are tasty and affordable. Make sure to try as many dishes as you can while you’re here, but start your culinary experience with Fëgesë (a slow cooked stew made of peppers, onions, spices, tomatoes and cottage cheese), Tavë Kosi (lamb and rice baked with yogurt and eggs), Byrek (flaky phyllo dough stuffed with savory fillings), Speca me Gjize (peppers in cottage cheese), Baklava (a sweet layered pastry covered in syrup) and Trilece (three milk cake).
Bad day? Drink raki. Good day? Drink raki. Don’t feel good? Drink raki. Have something to celebrate? Drink raki. For Albanians raki is the answer to everything, but what is it? Raki is an intense aromatic liquor very similar to grappa as it is made from grape pomace. It is often flavored with aniseed. You’ll find it throughout Albania and the Balkans.
Many European languages originate from Greek, Latin or Slavic families, but not Albanian. This ancient language has its own branch on the linguistic tree. Shqip (the Albanian word for the language) is unrelated to any other language in Europe, and even if there are a few words that are similar to phrases in Italian, English or other languages, it is unique. Albanians are very proud of their language, so try to learn few words, they will really appreciate it. Here are some basics: përshëndetje (hello), faleminderit (thank you), mirë (it’s ok), naten e mirë (goodnight), mirupafshim (goodbye).
A trip to Albania is a real adventure. If you do not like travelling off the beaten path, change your plans and go elsewhere. Why? Albania is a place for adventurous people; if you rent a car, you’ll understand what we are talking about. People tend to cross the road when they want, drivers do whatever they want and animals love to relax and sleep in the middle of the streets. Needless to say, driving in the country can be quite harrowing.
The other option, if you don’t want to rent a car, is to travel through the country by bus. In Albania there are no official timetables, so fortify yourself with patience and ask locals where the bus stops are. Unless you don’t have a license to drive a car, we strongly suggest renting a car because buses don’t always reach the places you may want to go.
Albania is a small country with around three million inhabitants living there, most of them in the capital city, Tirana. But outside Albania, mostly in the neighboring countries of Italy, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro, there are over 10 million Albanians. Many people have settled in the US, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and Turkey as well.
One of the most beautiful things about Albania is that it is a religiously tolerant nation. Christians, Muslims and Jews feel safe and welcome here. In every town, you’ll see an Orthodox church and a Catholic church within a few meters of a mosque.