Albania is the one Balkan country we haven’t visited. But it’s at the top of our wish list.
Albania is a little country in the Balkans that is off-the-beaten-path for most travellers. However, Albania has some incredibly beautiful places to explore. You can explore the untouched beaches of the Albanian Riviera and hike in the remote Albanian Alps. There are beautiful historical cities, like Berat and Gjirokaster (both UNESCO World Heritage sites). And you can take “one of the World’s greatest boat rides” at Lake Koman and explore some breathtaking nature at the Blue Eye of Theth, the Cape of Rodon and the Springs of Drilon.
In this guide, I will take you through the 12 best places to see in Albania.
1. Ksamil beach & islands
Ksamil beach is a paradise-like beach in the South of Albania. When you see the pictures of Ksamil beach, you won’t actually believe this is in Europe (it looks like a tropical destination!)
The beach of Ksamil is set on a tiny peninsula with perfect white sand. The seawater is incredibly clear, so it is a perfect spot for snorkelling.
In front of Ksamil beach, there are the four little Ksamil islands. The islands are uninhabited. From the beach, you can swim to the nearest island. Or you can rent a kayak or a boat to explore the three islands that are further away. The highlight are the twin islands, which are connected to each other via a narrow strip of land.
Although many travellers like to stay in the nearby Saranda city, you might consider booking a hotel or B&B in Ksamil. Although Saranda has all the restaurants, nightclubs and bars, Ksamil is a little village with a relaxed atmosphere. In Ksamil, you can spend your evening at a restaurant on the beach and watch the sunset over the Adriatic.
2. Blue Eye of Saranda
The Blue Eye of Saranda is a truly unique spot in Albania. In essence, the blue eye is a freshwater spring. But what sets this water spring apart from others is its mesmerizing beauty.
The Blue Eye of Saranda is a beautiful natural pool with a bright blue colour. The bright blue colour of the spring is so breathtaking, you actually won’t believe it is all-natural. The pool is named the blue eye because it looks like a human eye. When you look into the pool from the top, it is as if you are seeing a large human eye staring back at you.
In the middle of the pool, you see a dark spot. This dark spot is the underwater cave from where the spring pumps water to the surface. This dark underwater cave actually looks like the pupil of a human eye. Then surrounding the pupil, you see the bright blue water and the waving underwater plants which look like the iris of a human eye.
Many tourists like to jump into the blue eye of Saranda from the wooden plateau on the top of the pool. There is actually signage that states jumping in the pool is forbidden but it usually does not prevent tourists from having a once in a lifetime opportunity. The pressure of the water spring is actually so high that the moment you hit the water you are pushed back up to the surface.
It remains a mystery how deep the Blue Eye of Saranda is. Many divers have tried to descent into the underwater cave. However, it is a very dangerous mission because the divers have to push against the enormous water pressure of the spring. This is why no diver has managed to reach the bottom. Although we know the Blue Eye is at least 50 meters deep nobody knows how much deeper it is. It remains a mystery!
More: The Blue Eye of Saranda
3. Lake Koman Ferry
The Lake Koman Ferry is a breathtaking boat trip that you can take in the North of Albania. Bradt Travel Guides actually described the Lake Koman Ferry as one of the World’s greatest boat trips.
Lake Koman is a very long lake, similar to a long river that turns and twists through the mountains. You can take a car or minibus from Shkoder city to the Koman village where you can board the Lake Koman Ferry. The ferry boat then takes you on a 3-hour journey from Koman to Fierze.
The ferry boat trip on Lake Koman is absolutely stunning. The boat moves silently through the mountain ranges. The ferry boat turns and twists along the water of the lake, revealing new stunning views with every turn.
Actually, the ferry boat was not at all intended for the tourists. It was merely designed as a manner of transportation for the locals, who live in these remote areas. However, because the ferry boat trip is so beautiful, tourists from all around the world started travelling to Koman to experience this memorable boat journey.
4. Berat (UNESCO World Heritage site)
Berat has the most beautiful old town in Albania. If you only have time to visit one city in Albania, I recommend you choose Berat!
Berat’s old town centre is actually a UNESCO heritage site. There are two old neighbourhoods called Managalem and Gorica, which were built on the slope of the hill. The little white houses in the neighbourhoods were constructed in the late 18th and 19th centuries when Albania was a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
Regardless of its history, Berat is a tourist spot that locals and tourists like to visit because it is a very beautiful city. When you stand in the valley and you look up at the old neighbourhoods, you see all the little houses that look down onto the valley. Berat is also known as the city of a thousand windows because all the little windows of the houses.
The city has a very romantic and Italian feel. There is a beautiful boulevard with little coffee houses. And there are fantastic restaurants, where you can sit on the terrace, eat some traditional lunch and take in the breathtaking views.
You can also hike up to the top of the mountain to explore Berat Castle. This massive fortress has stunning views of the old neighbourhoods in the valley, the Osumi river, the old Gorica bridge and Mount Tomorr in the distance. What I personally like most is that people are actually living in little houses inside the castle’s walls. Therefore, Berat Castle feels alive and thriving, rather than a shrine of the past.
5. Kruje Castle
Kruje Castle is a classic day trip destination for people who stay in the capital city Tirana. It is a beautiful historical castle on a hilltop about 45 minutes from Tirana.
Within Albania, Kruje is one of the most famous towns because Kruje Castle used to be the home of Albania’s national hero Skanderbeg. He was a great military commander who united the different tribes and noblemen in Albania to fight against the Ottoman Turkish invasion. For 25 years he managed to keep the Ottomans from occupying the North of Albania.
In Kruje, you can visit the castle of Skanderbeg which has a stunning panoramic view of the entire Tirana valley, Durres beach and the Adriatic Sea. Furthermore, inside the castle, you can explore the Skanderbeg Museum, which tells the story of the hero. Another highlight inside the Kruje Castle is the Ethnographic Museum. The ethnographic museum used to be the house of a rich Albanian family during the Ottoman empire. Visiting the museum, you get a unique insight into what life was like for a rich family and how self-sufficient they were.
On the slope of the hill, there is a traditional bazaar market with handicraft items and souvenirs. Finish your day by driving up to Mount Sarisalltik on the top of the hill. From this point you get a stunning view from 1176 meters above sea level.
6. Blue Eye of Theth
The Blue Eye of Theth is a beautiful natural pool in the North of Albania. And before you ask, yes, Albania does have two blue eyes: one in Saranda and another one in Theth.
In the North of Albania, you can visit the Albanian Alps. This is a gigantic mountain range on the border of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. The Albanian Alps is a popular destination for hikers and adventurous travellers. There, you can visit the tiny mountain village of Theth. This beautiful village is surrounded by the impressive peaks of the mountains. From Theth village, there is a well-known hiking trail that leads to the Blue Eye of Theth. It takes either 3 hours hiking or a short drive (by 4 wheeler) to the trailhead. Then from there, you hike for 1 hour to get to the Blue Eye of Theth.
Your journey is absolutely worth it. The Blue Eye of Theth is a magical blue pool. The water is incredibly clear, so you can see every underwater plant or rock on the bottom of the pool. The pool is filled by a rushing waterfall. It is such a serene location and something you cannot see anywhere else!
7. Dajti Express Cable Car (Tirana)
If you are staying in Tirana, the capital city of Albania, then I highly recommend you visit the Dajti Express Cable Car.
The Dajti Express is a cable car on the outskirts of Tirana city. From the city centre, it will take you approximately 20 minutes to get to the boarding station of the cable car.
The cable car will take you from the bottom of the hill to a height of 1613 meters on Mount Dajti. The journey with the cable car lasts only 15 minutes but it is absolutely beautiful.
With the cable car, you will fly across treetops and mountain cliffs. You look down on little farmhouses with beautiful gardens. And, as you fly higher, you get an amazing panoramic view of the city of Tirana.
At the end of the cable car journey, you arrive on the Dajti mountain balcony. On the mountain balcony there is a variety of entertainment. You can visit the clifftop restaurant, the rotating bar, the mini-golf course, ride a horse, go carting and much more.
The combination of the beautiful view of Tirana’s city centre, the relaxing cable car journey and the variety of entertainment make the Dajti Express Cable Car a perfect destination for a day trip in Tirana.
8. Bunk’Art 1 Museum (Tirana)
The Bunk’Art 1 Museum is the most fascinating museum in Tirana. If you check TripAdvisor for the best things to do in Tirana, Bunk’Art 1 is always ranked on number 1 or 2.
Bunk’Art 1 is completely different from a traditional museum. Because Bunk’Art 1 is an exhibition located inside a massive communist bunker.
From the end of the Second World War until 1992, Albania was ruled by a strict communist dictator. Albania was completely isolated from the rest of the world, similar to North Korea today. Because the dictator was frightened that a foreign nation would attack Albania, he constructed 173.000 bunkers all over Albania.
One of the largest bunkers was a gigantic complex on the outskirts of Tirana. This massive bunker was intended to accommodate the Albanian government and the political elite. It never happened – the dictator died, communism ended, and the foreign attack on Albania never occurred.
The gigantic bunker has recently been converted into the impressive Bunk’Art 1 Museum. You can walk through the airy concrete bunker and learn about Albania’s strange communist history. It is much better than any museum you have ever seen because you actually get to walk through Albania’s history and experience it.
9. Cape of Rodon
The Cape of Rodon is one of the most beautiful natural places to visit in Albania. It is a peninsula – with a long stretch of mountains – that points into the Adriatic Sea.
From Tirana, you must drive for approximately 2 hours to reach the Cape of Rodon. The route to the Cape of Rodon is very picturesque, as you pass through little villages where you can see the locals gardening and sit on their terraces.
When you arrive at the Cape of Rodon, you must hike for approximately 45 minutes through the hills. At the end of the trail, you will have the most breathtaking view you have ever seen.
You look down on the Cape of Rodon, which is completely overgrown with lush nature. The rough waves of the Adriatic Sea crash into the rocky peninsula. And in the distance, you can see the sun sink into the sea.
You can descend from the hill towards the Cape of Rodon and visit the ruins of Rodoni Castle. This castle was built by Skanderbeg, Albania’s national hero, as an access point to the Adriatic Sea.
Then on your way back, you must wade with your bare feet through the sea. Along the coastline, you will see beautiful wild beaches. Going to the Cape of Rodon is still quite adventurous as this location remains untouched and is mainly visited by locals. But that is exactly the beauty of the Cape of Rodon.
10. Butrint archaeological site (also a UNESCO site)
Butrint is the most impressive historical site in Albania. It is an archaeological park in the South of Albania and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At Butrint, you can see the ruins of an ancient city as it changed and developed throughout history. It was initially a Greek colony that later became a Roman city, a bishopric, and a part of the Venetian Republic.
But what is most impressive about Butrint is its beautiful setting. The ruins are set on a little peninsula surrounded by water from the Vivari channel and Lake Butrint. You basically go on a walking tour on this island and along the route, you see the beautiful ruins of the ancient city. The archaeological park is a stunning combination of history, lush nature and calming water.
Another advantage of Butrint is that many of the ruins are easily recognizable. For instance, the Roman theatre, a baptistery with a mosaic floor, a gate with a lion symbol and a grant Venetian castle.
You can visit Butrint in about 2 hours at the start of your day and then in the afternoon, you can relax on the nearby Ksamil beach & islands.
11. Gjirokaster (UNESCO World Heritage site)
Gjirokaster is a historical city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is known as the stone city, because Gjirokaster has a stunning town centre with old stone houses.
Gjirokaster is a UNESCO city because it has typical architecture dating back to the Ottoman period. When Albania was a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Gjirokaster was ruled by the Albanian governor “Ali Pasha of Tepelena”.
Ali Pasha is a very interesting figure in Albanian history. He became rich by being a thief and robber on the street. And then with his riches and his charms, he became a regional governor who reported to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
Ali Pasha based his local government in Gjirokaster and many of his followers and government elite built beautiful luxurious houses in Gjirokaster.
You can also visit the giant Gjirokaster Castle on the top of the hill to get an amazing view of the old town centre and the characteristic stone houses. Gjirokaster Castle has a very interesting history as it was used as a prison by the Albanian king Zog and the Communist Regime.
I recommend you can start your visit to Gjirokaster by exploring the castle. Then you take a look inside one of the traditional houses, like Skenduli House or Zekate House. And in the afternoon, you stroll through the lovely Old Bazaar Market in the town centre. Gjirokaster is also very close to the Blue Eye spring, so it makes sense to combine the two attractions in one day.
12. Springs of Drilon
The springs of Drilon is a very romantic and idyllic location. This freshwater spring leads into the massive Lake Ohrid on the border of Albania and Macedonia.
Within Albania, the Springs of Drilon is known as a relaxing destination. There is a calming river with beautiful white swans. The old trees surrounding the river lean into the water. And there is a beautiful Chinese-style bridge.
The Springs of Drilon are a very calming destination. You can take a leisurely walk by the water or rent a little rowing boat. You can take some beautiful pictures on the bridge. And there is a lovely restaurant with wooden terraces above the water.
If you are planning to explore the East of Albania and cross the Albanian border to Montenegro, then I highly recommend you stop for 1-2 hours at the Springs of Drilon. It is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Albania.
Manon is an Albanian Tour Guide who organizes 1-day, 2-day, or multiple day private tours in Albania. She does it all, including arranging your transport and being your personal English-speaking guide. She’ll show you the most beautiful places in Albania!
Have a look at her website to see many of the tour options available.