With its ancient history, stunning Ottoman-era houses, a majestic fortress and an old bazaar, Gjirokastër is no doubt considered to be one of the most beautiful towns in Albania. Visiting this UNESCO city is a must-do for everyone who travels to Albania. Read our list of the seven best things to see and do in this lovely enchanting town.
The first place to visit in town is the castle, for two reasons: the first one is that it is the main landmark of the city. The second is that it is located on the top of a hill, so there’s a little bit of a workout to reach it, but then you can relax while strolling through its streets. The castle hosts a recovered US Air Force jet that was shot down during the communist era and a military museum with artifacts and memorabilia dating from the Italian occupation.
Not everyone knows that Gjirokastër is the hometown of the most famous Albanian man of modern history, Enver Hoxha. Yes, you read right: the former dictator of Albania was a native of this charming town. He grew up in a beautiful Ottoman-house located in the middle of the old town. Today it is home to an interesting ethnographic museum that hosts a superb collection of local arts and crafts.
Albanians consider Gjirokastër an important cultural city not just for its beauty, but also because it is the birthplace of the most famous Albanian writer of all time, Ismail Kadare. He lived here and used the town as a setting for one of his most important novels, Chronicles in Stone. We strongly suggest reading this book just before or during your visit. It will change the way you see the city.
The most impressive building in Gjirokastër is undoubtedly Zekate House, a majestic three-story house with twin towers and a double-arched facade. This enchanting palace, with gorgeous interiors, galleries and rooms, dates back to 1800 and is one of the most fascinating examples of an Ottoman-era house in the Balkan Peninsula.
As you wander through the Land of the Eagles, you’ll see bunkers and lots of them. They are literally everywhere, sticking out on beaches, hidden in forests, situated in front of lakes and squatting in the middle of towns. Gjirokastër has its own bunker too. Built inside the castle’s perimeter in the 60s, the Cold War Tunel was a giant tunnel bunker used for transportation during the Cold War. It still has 80 rooms and is completely empty. You can book a guided tour from the tourist information center located in the main square of the town.
Gjirokastër Museum takes pride in sharing the fascinating and ancient history of the town. Walking through the museum’s rooms, visitors can read interesting facts about the most important characters linked with the town, such as Enver Hoxha, Lord Byron, Ali Pasha and Edward Lear. Include it in your tour if you are interested to learn about this unique town.
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