The Best Things to Do, Restaurants, and Hotels in Albania

Discover things to do, places to eat, and hotels to stay in with this travel guide to Albania.

Sarandë, Albania
First discovered in the 1980s and then excavated and restored in the early 2000s, the 5th-century synagogue in the center of Sarandë belonged to a prosperous Jewish community in what was then called Oncheasmos. The ruins that visitors can see today consist of two mosaic floors, one depicting a menorah, the other a ram’s-horn shofar and animals. By the 6th century, the synagogue was converted into a basilica, though it was later destroyed—most likely either by an earthquake or invading Slavs. Who knows what further planned excavations will bring to light?
Sarandë, Albania
Built by none other than Süleyman the Magnificent, Lekursi Castle dominates the hill above the city with optimal views of the Greek island of Corfu as well as Albania’s tiny Ksamil Islands. It’s especially stunning at sunset when the fading light reflects off the stones. The finely preserved structures—with a main house and turret plus a few 20th-century gun batteries rusting outside—can be reached on foot from the city center in about an hour. Concerts are held in the castle in the summer.
Rruga Flamurit, Sarandë, Albania
Before heading out to explore the Albanian Riviera, visitors to the small Sarandë Museum of Tradition get an introduction to local ethnology and archaeology. A block from the harbor, the space displays traditional clothing, rugs and weaving looms, as well as old amphorae and musical instruments. The collection includes a drawing by the 19th-century British poet and artist Edward Lear of Sarandë’s original stone watchtowers, which stood until the recent building boom.
Unnamed Road
Himarë has one of the best seaside promenades on the Albanian Riviera, with the coastal Ceraunian Mountains as a dramatic backdrop. The town and nearby villages have long been a center for Albania’s Greek community, which is reflected in the large number of Orthodox churches and the plethora of Greek tavernas. The Castle of Porto Palermo, constructed by the Venetians and located on the bay, is one of the most dramatic and interesting historic sites along the entire length of the Albanian Riviera.
Sarandë, Albania
Less than 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Sarandë, the Blue Eye Spring is a national park named after a 43-meter-deep (140-foot-deep) pool that resembles a pupil and iris: The various colors of its crystal-clear natural springwaters change from its center to its edges. In it, some 15 liters (four gallons) of pure water per second surge to the surface. The spring, like the surrounding oak woods and flower-dotted landscape, was long open only to the Communist elite, though now everyone is welcome to visit.

Finiq, Albania
The area near Sarandë is rich in ancient sites, including this one that is just eight kilometers (five miles) to the east of town yet feels remarkably remote. The hilltop settlement of Finiq, or Phoinike, was first established in the 5th century B.C.E. by the Chaones, a Greek tribe in ancient Epirus, but it was inhabited well into the Byzantine era. Its 12-feet-thick stone walls were built to protect the ancient residents against Illyrian attacks. The ruins today include a small temple, a theater, remains of houses and Roman cisterns.
Sarandë, Albania
Modest in décor, Gerthela is one of Sarandë’s most authentic seafood restaurants. Located on Rruga Jonianet, the seafront boulevard facing a palm-tree-lined promenade, the restaurant has its own wood stove and serves sea bream, as well as calamari, prawn and mussel pasta dishes. Albanian wines are featured, as are Greek and Italian vintages.
Sarandë, Albania
Visitors to Sarandë don’t generally come to the 16th-century Lekursi Castle for its haute cuisine—but who can resist a sunset nibble on a patio overlooking city and sea? The menu goes beyond the selection you might expect at a museum café and includes traditional grilled meats and fish, accompanied at times by Albanian folk music.
Rruga Astrit Karagjozi
Its interior is warmly rustic, but alfresco dining is as good as it gets at the Taverna Kuka in Gjirokastër, with its trellised garden and views of the minaret and the town’s famous “tower houses” up the hill. Come hungry and ready for generous servings of Albanian meatballs and grilled lamb.
Rruga Ismail Kadare
In the shadow of the mid-18th-century Bazaar Mosque, the Gjirokastër Bazaar is known for handmade wood pieces, handwoven rugs and artisanal crafts such as delicate lace items. Nearby cafés selling pastries offer a nice break from negotiating the steep ups and downs of the stone streets.
Rruga Jonianet
Sarandë’s seaside boulevard, Jonianet, is where you’ll find most of the city’s best restaurants and, at one end, a small farmers market where you can buy raki and local wines. Also along the length of the promenade are vendors selling jewelry and crafts, as well as spots to purchase sweets and ice cream to enjoy on a stroll.
For years, there’s been talk about expanding the tourist infrastructure at the UNESCO-listed Butrint ruins, but for now it’s nicely low-key. This means souvenirs within the site largely come in the form of high-quality embroidered clothes, as well as handmade crafts from a community-operated shop and local training program.
Rruga Taulantia 32 Durrës AL, Durrës 2000, Albania
Originally opened in 1951, the tri-level Durrës Archaeological Museum, near the waterfront and the city’s 6th-century walls, benefited from a four-year overhaul started in 2010. The country’s largest such museum, it’s the place to engage with wave after wave of empires and cultures that passed through Albania. In addition to its displays, ranging from small ancient coins to Greek terra-cotta figures and Roman tombstones, the museum hosts classical music concerts by international artists.
Durrës, Albania
What cognac is to France, Skënderbeu grape brandy is to Albania, an enduring iconic product of the nation. Located on the road to Tirana, the Skënderbeu Cantina is the only one with a government permit. In the distillery, guests taste brandies aged in oak barrels for up to 13 years and known for their caramel and toffee aromas. Visitors can also take home a bottle of the herbal liqueur fernet and traditional grape and fruit raki.
Currila, Rruga Taulantia, Durrës 2000, Albania
In a high-rise building on the waterfront, Vertigo’s intimate seating in front of floor-to-ceiling windows promises optimal sea views, as does a bright and airy veranda. A large wine cellar complements the Italian-inflected restaurant’s seafood and dishes like beefsteak Florentine. Comfy white lounge chairs fill a separate bar area.
Rruga Albanopolis, Krujë, Albania
A hodgepodge of artisan goods and fine handicrafts, from brass trays and woven shawls to antique musical instruments, is sold in the old bazaar of the ancient town of Krujë, near Tirana. Along the cobblestone Rruga Albanopoli, with its soaring white minaret, some dozen shops can be found under the tile roofed buildings restored in the 1960s.
Unnamed Road
Overlooking a reservoir from its handsome stone facility, the Kokomani Winery, just inland from Durrës, is a popular place to pick up north coast regional wines like the fruity red Shesh i zi or dry white Shesh i bardhe. Olive trees and tables with thatch umbrellas offer a relaxed tasting experience in the garden.
Rruga "Skenderbeg"
As quirky travel experiences go, a drink at the bar at the Torra Veneciane (the Venetian Tower) stands out. Guests enjoy drinks and snacks under umbrellas atop one of the city’s most distinctive historic landmarks—a 15th-century fortification erected when the city was controlled by Venice. It’s the place to sample raki, the hearty brandy popular in many Balkan lands, and often made in Albania from grapes or apricots.
On day seven of our Bike Beyond Boundaries tour of Albania’s World Heritage Sites, we cycled from Gjirokastra, birthplace of feared dictator Enver Hoxha as well as renowned writer Ismail Kadare, over the steep Gjerë mountains to the straits of Corfu and our next UNESCO World Heritage stop: beautiful Butrint. In this lush archaeological complex, we found ruins dating back to Hellenistic times, representing 2,500+ years of Albania’s turbulent history. The government-protected site is now home to 26 endangered species, including the wolf and the white-tailed eagle, making it the country’s richest site for bio-diversity. After devouring plates of seafood pasta in the restaurant adjacent to Butrint National Park, we passed olive and eucalyptus trees, wetlands, lagoons and meadows. We climbed the stairs of the theater, performed onstage, then followed the path to the Triconch Palace and 6th century baptistry. Past city walls and gates, we arrived at the summit, where Butrint’s acropolis once stood. Looking across the turquoise water of Vivari Channel to the Straits of Corfu, we could see the fortress that may have been built by Ali Pasha Tepeena, ruler of northwestern Greece and southern Albania for more than 30 years.
Sarande SHA22, Sarandë 9701, Albania
This place is in the middle of nowhere in Southern Albania. There is no bus stop. You just have to motion to the driver to pull over at the side of the road when you see a promising looking dirt trail. You take that trail off the main road, all the time assuming that you couldn’t possibly be in the right place. And then, almost inexplicably, there is a sign for the Blue Eye and a guard, sitting in a booth along the road. He’ll collect a few coins from you, and then you keep walking. If you’re lucky, a truck driver or local tourist will pick you up along the stretch of windy, dusty road that weaves along the side of a body of water that gets ever clearer as you move along. At the end of the trek, you’ll find the clearest, bluest water you’ve ever seen, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to eat on the little floating deck they’ve installed in the river that flows out of the Eye. The restaurant serves heaping plates of lamb ribs, grilled over charcoal and big bottles of cold Albanian beer, all for a few dollars. A short walk up a dirt path from the restaurant lies the main destination: a coldwater spring of unknown depth and unbelievable color that bubbles up into a green little grotto. It’s often too cold and fast for a swim, but it’s refreshing to put your feet into and beautiful to hang around. There is also a small hotel for people who want to spend the night or can’t manage to catch a bus onward before nightfall.
1 Rruga Evlia Celebi
If the walls of Gjirokastra’s brooding castle could talk, they’d tell tales of Ali Pasha’s 19th century reign, when the tyrant used his hilltop fortifications as a communist prison. What remains of their secrets is now revealed in gun-filled corridors, overgrown gardens and dark punishment cells. Closed as a prison in 1971, the space is now the National Museum of Armaments. To reach this UNESCO World Heritage site, our band of cyclists ditched the bikes and began at the top of the cobbled street punctuated by artisan shops. The steep trek to the castle disclosed the truth behind Gjirokastra’s nickname: City of 1,000 Steps. In its dank interior, more secrets of a prison built in 1929 emerged: the vaults were once holding cells for King Zog’s enemies, then used by the Nazis during their occupation of Gjirokastra. What made the trek to the top truly worthwhile was the jaw-dropping vista of Gjirokastra spread before us. With its slate rooftops and 19th century buildings glinting in the sun, I understood why the Albanian government declared it a Museum City in 1961: to preserve its architectural heritage and authentic Albanian spirit. Finally, we came to the coup de grace: remains of a two-seater jet. The truth behind it depends on what story you believe. The Communists': it was an American spy plane forced down in 1957. The pilot’s: he sought permission to land at Rinas Airport when his plane developed problems. At which point, Albanian authorities confiscated it.
Lake Ohrid, Albania
Looking for a European locale as a possible retirement area, we traveled to Albania. A one hour flight from Rome, we landed at Tirana airport, rented a car and made our way to Lake Ohrid and the town of Pogradeci.. There we had a lakeside lunch and sat looking at this beautiful Lake Ohrid which shares its waters with Albania and Macedonia. We just might retire there.
Dhërmi, Albania
In Dhërmi, a Greek-speaking town on the Albanian Riviera with a celebrated beach, the freshly pressed olive oil is legendary; the olives come from groves that stretch up the coastal hills. Honey produced around the nearby Llogara National Park is similarly famous and can be bought directly from roadside vendors.
Rruga Driloni
My Bike Beyond Boundaries tour of Albania’s World Heritage Sites began at the Millennium Hotel, at the base of the Gramoz Mountains in tiny Pogradec. Set directly on Lake Ohrid, the Balkans’ deepest lake, the tiny town begs for fishermen to plumb its bounty, which stretches across eastern Albania’s border to Macedonia. A successful catch teams with the local Koran fish, a tasty version of trout. Our cycling group devoured succulent morsels at dinner, alongside myriad organic salads and side dishes. The morning after our feast, I was up early. In the misty morning, I stepped out on my private balcony at the Millennium and gazed down on the empty boats peppering the lake’s shores. Was I looking at the craft that had delivered last night’s Koran to our evening meal?
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks