Wild and deserted mountains, beautiful river canyons and hospitable people, this is the real Albania. This Balkan country has so far preserved its original character the most. In some places, time literally stopped. But it is slowly starting to approach the west, so you need to go here as soon as possible, before it starts to be flooded with tourists. We have prepared for you the most beautiful places in Albania, which you can drive through, for example, as a road trip. We have a lot of practical advice and tips for this. And what’s the best part? We filmed all these places as part of our mini-series Roadtrip to the Balkans. So don’t hesitate and discover Albania with us.
Shipping to Albania
It is definitely worth having a car to explore Albania. There is no direct train/bus line from the Czech Republic to Albania, so the journey with several transfers will take at least two days. Connections are not much better in Albania either, and you cannot get to the mountain valleys without a car. The fastest route by car leads through Hungary, Serbia and Kosovo. However, you will have to pay 15 euros/passenger car for compulsory insurance to Kosovo, because our green card is not valid there. Therefore, it is better to go through Bosnia and Montenegro. If you drive outside the paid sections, the journey will be only 3 hours longer, much cheaper, and most importantly, with lots of views. At the same time, you can divide the 18-hour long journey (Ostrava – Skadar) into several days and get to know the beauties of Montenegro .
The first thing we will of course do is go to the mountains, of which there is no shortage in Albania. Right on the border with Montenegro lie the Albanian Alps, which are known in Montenegro as the Prokletije National Park . In the heart of the Albanian part of the mountains is the village of Theth , which is a good starting point.
You will recognize the adventure of these mountains as soon as you arrive, as the last 16 km of the road is on a broken gravel road, which is not good to go without an offroad 4×4 drive. It is therefore necessary to leave the car in the Thores saddle, where the new asphalt road ends, and continue by taxi from there. The price for a jeep ride is quite high, 50 euros/person. one-way trip, or 60 euros return. For similar money or even cheaper, it is possible to rent the necessary car in the city of Skadar and thus you can drive the journey yourself. There is also a bus from Skadar, which is even cheaper. You can also walk to Theth like we did. The tourist route first copies the one for cars and then shortens the switchbacks in various ways.
Theth and surroundings
Theth is a pretty mountain village in an even more beautiful valley, through which a crystal clear river flows briskly . Here you will find several accommodation options, including a campsite. You can go on a trip to the surrounding hills, specifically to the highest peak of the entire Maja e Jezercës mountain range (2694 m). We were interested in a walk along the river, where one admires the canyon on one side and the tall limestone peaks on the other. If you reach the village of Ndërlysaj, refreshments await you in two bars. At the upper one, you can cool down in the dammed lake.
Then continue along the path to the Blue eye . Here you will find a small waterfall and a spring that resembles an eye in color. The beautiful atmosphere is completed by colorful butterflies that are not afraid to sit on your hand. The place is getting a bit commercial, locals have started selling snacks here and a restaurant has been built here. From this point of view, it is probably better to look at the Montenegrin side of the mountains, where you will be completely alone in the morning. You can get back to Theth by the same route or you can start climbing Thores Pass to the car. The route is well-trodden, but as is customary in Albania, not very marked . So it is good to have a map on your phone and check the location. Also, in this section, the marked trail in mapách.cz does not correspond to reality, so it is necessary to improvise a little.
Another mountain center is the village of Valbonë , which is reached from the other side of the mountains. But if you are not coming from Kosovo, which has its own specifics, then the journey here is somewhat lengthy. But not far from Theth is the city of Skadar on the shores of Lake Skadar.
Lake Skadar is known primarily for its nature. The Montenegrin half is even protected by a national park and the entrance fee is quite expensive (more info in the article about Montenegro). On the Albanian side, there is no danger of such a thing, so you can freely admire the lake. However, there is also no possibility of a trip on a boat, etc., and there is nothing left but to find a free place to swim. This is how we rolled by the pier in the town of Shirokë. The water is clean and pleasantly warm . If you look around a bit along the way, you’re sure to meet a turtle, striding across the road. In general, there are many of them in Albania, and you will come across them mainly in the early evening. The well-being is somewhat spoiled by the ubiquitous garbage, which Albanians simply do not deal with. They throw them on the ground instead of in the trash and it seems normal to them. Especially around big cities like Skadar, it’s pretty miserable.
Tip: If you want to see Lake Skadar and its surroundings from a height, go up to Rozafa Castle . The castle is more of a ruin and not very interesting, but the views are nice. The entrance fee is approx. 2 euros/person.
But you won’t come across garbage at the Komani Dam. On the contrary, you will get to a wonderfully clean environment surrounded by mountains.
Komani Dam is referred to as a lake. But according to the dam, it is a dam on the Drin River, which is the largest river in Albania . Allow plenty of time to arrive as the last 30km to Palaj-Gushta/Komani villages will take at least an hour due to potholes. The icing on the cake is the bridge over the Drin river with a crumbling railing and occasional holes along the edges. But everything can be easily managed. Leave the car in front of the tunnel and go to the dam through the rock, because access to the dam is prohibited due to the power plant.
Tip: Use the excellent Natura campsite to spend the night under the dam . They cook divinely, the prices are cheap, and above all, the alcohol is almost free. If you still want to spend the night for free, use this parking lot (GPS: 42°5’59.747″N, 19°48’52.631″E). But it may happen that you will be kept company by the guards of the dam.
There are two main ways to get to know the river/dam. The first alternative is to cross by ferry and by car to the port of Fierzë . During the two-and-a-half-hour cruise, you will sail through a considerable part of the Drin river, whose valley is enclosed by mountains, completely flooded and inaccessible without a boat. It is a good idea to buy a ticket in advance to reserve a seat, because the ferry only goes there in the morning and back in the afternoon. You can also take a ferry trip without a car, leaving for Fierzë at 9:00 a.m. and returning at 1:00 p.m. One trip costs 6 euros/person. In this case, you only need to buy the ticket in the morning on the ferry, because there will definitely be room for people. More info about prices, booking and times > here<. Definitely don’t buy a ticket in advance from sellers at the wharf who offer higher prices. If you are sailing with a car, arrive at least an hour before departure so that you have time to find your way around the hustle and bustle. When the ferry arrives, which seems to be its last voyage, a real circus begins with the loading of cars.
Swimming in the river Lumi and Shalës
But we didn’t want to sail that long, so we preferred the second option. This is to use the services of one of the boatmen, who will take you in a small boat along the Drin river and then turn into its branch, where the Lumi and Shalës rivers meet . Here, after agreement, he will leave you a width of 3-4 ha, so you can walk along the river upstream. Even if you reach the beach and restaurant after a while (it is also possible to sleep), continue along the river as far as possible. Walking through the canyon is great and you will find great places to swim. The further you go, the more alone you will be. The water is wonderfully clean and very refreshing.
On the way back, you can ride in the current of the river and the boatman will pick you up at the agreed time. The boat trip takes about an hour and the scenery is beautiful . The price of the return voyage depends on the agreement, the standard is 10 euros/person. Alternatively, for 100 euros, you can book the whole boat for a group or a romantic couple. We recommend not to be fooled by dubious sellers who offer the same trip at twice the price. After such wonderful natural places, a little bit of city wouldn’t hurt, so we’re off to Tirana.
Tirana and the town of Krujë
Before you decide to join the endless traffic of cars heading to Tirana, make a stop in the foothill town of Krujë. Walk through the preserved part of the castle (free), or visit the museum dedicated to the national hero Skanderbeg. The local Ottoman bazaar is a real rarity . Perhaps you can choose a souvenir from the number of handmade products on offer. The view from the top of Mali i Krujes is ideal for sunset . You can climb here (GPS: 41°31’1.564″N, 19°48’7.734″E) on foot or by car. The view from the high rock of the setting sun, the sea and the surrounding area will surely excite you. You can also spend the night comfortably in the parking lot at the viewpoint. Nobody solves it in Albania.
Tirana is the capital of Albania and as usual, traffic is heavy and spaces are scarce. You need to steel your nerves a little and ride the so-called “Albanian”. That means plugging in wherever there is a hole, regardless of who has priority. Almost all parking lots near the center are paid. We managed to find a free place here (approximate GPS: 41°18’23.112″N, 19°48’51.714″E). From there it is about three km to the center. First you pass a small dam behind which is a pleasant park. You can relax comfortably in the park, get water from the taps and there are also public toilets. Continue to Mother Teresa Square . From there, a direct main street will take you to Skanderberg Square, which is the largest in Albania. On the way, stop at a small bunker, of which there are approximately 170,000 in the country. Communist dictator Enver Hoxha had them built all over the country for fear of invasion.
Make a small detour to the dilapidated cultural center in the shape of a Pyramid, the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Xhamia e Namasgjasë mosque . Islam is the predominant religion in Albania and it is quite evident here. When you arrive at Skanderberg Square, you will see an architectural mishmash. Islamic culture is mixed with communism here. On one side, the nice Edhem Bey Mosque and the Clock Tower , on the other side, the Opera House and the National History Museum, reminding of the bad communist times.
Tip: Each withdrawal from Albanian ATMs is charged approximately LEK 700. You won’t save even if you find an ATM at your bank branch. So it is more advantageous to have the money ready in advance.
Apart from the view from Mount Dajti, Tirana doesn’t have much more to offer. It’s not the prettiest capital, but it’s got something going for it. If you are looking for a really nice city, go to Berat.
Thanks to its white terraced houses, Berat is on the UNESCO list. You will understand why it is nicknamed the city of a thousand windows when you arrive. Park along the Osum River and climb up to the ramparts. Inside the castle there are nice stone streets, small churches and from the top of the walls you will have a view of the whole area. In addition, if you go before 9 am, you will have free entry. We are located in a lowland area that is heavily used for agriculture. If you veer off the main road into the fields, you may come across locals harvesting watermelons and perhaps share them with you. The lower one is, the more one gets to know the Mediterranean climate. In summer, it is not unusual to experience temperatures above 40 ℃ inland, so it is nice to go to the sea to cool off.
Albania is definitely not as wild as it used to be. We didn’t manage to experience the old adventurous times, but according to the stories, things are much calmer there now. This (unfortunately?) also manifests itself at sea. Albanians have invested a lot in seaside resorts and in some places hotels are mushrooming. The result is overcrowded beaches full of sunbeds and umbrellas. People probably like it, but we like solitude and peace. Despite the great boom in tourism, you can still find a few nice places where you will feel like you are in the Caribbean on the shores of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas .
After crossing the mountains of Llogara National Park and starting to descend the switchbacks, turn off to Palasë Beach . It will still be a while before the local resort arrives, so until then you can relax undisturbed on the beautiful sandy beach or admire the underwater world of the national park along the rocks. If you snorkel carefully, you might come across a moray eel . Free camping was also possible in the parking lot at Dhrale Beach. Gjipe Beach or Caverns Beach is also nice . You will have to walk here either on the path above the canyon or from the resort of Jalë, where parking is paid. You will definitely like the canyon and the beach with a small cave.
If you don’t mind a bit of exertion, head to Filikuri Beach . After the town of Himarë, turn off the main road and drive uphill on a broken road. You can leave your car in front of the restaurant (GPS: 40°5’18.463″N, 19°45’9.251″E). It is a short distance to the beach from here, but on a rather steep slope, on which there is an auxiliary rope stretched in places so that you can hold on. It is better to have sturdy shoes and expect to have cold feet, because the Mediterranean vegetation is thorny. As is often the case, one must suffer for beauty. The beach lies under the rocks, enclosed in a small bay and is really beautiful. Besides, you will be almost alone here. Will you spend the night in the car or on a pebble beach?
The last thing we liked was the beach (GPS: 39°59’57.828″N, 19°53’36.452″E), which is loosely connected to Bunec Beach . They are only separated by a long pier, from which you can easily jump. If you go down to Bunec beach, turn left and follow the narrow road along the sea for approx. 500 m to the parking lot to the restaurant, where you can park freely and spend the night. It is of course up to you whether you choose deserted beaches with no facilities or prefer one of the resorts, for example in the vicinity of Sarande or Ksamil. In any case, swimming will be nice. Especially if you are right across from the famous Greek island of Corfu . When you tire of the salt water, take a trip to the Lengarice River.
Lengarice River Canyon
If you drive to the river from one of the mentioned beaches, you will have quite a long way to go. You can divide it into several sections and stop at the next Blue Eye or in the town of Gjirokaster. This spring (GPS: 39°55’25.572″N, 20°11’32.991″E) is probably the most commercial. There are several restaurants with facilities and a small fee is collected at the dam for leaving by car. But if you haven’t been to any spring in the color of the eye, be sure to stop here. The town of Gjirokaster is similar to Berat, and also on the UNESCO list. You can walk through the historic center or for 200 LEK/person. look at the castle. Rather than historical attractions, you will see nice views of the surroundings and the Drin river valley. Both stops do not take much time, so you will arrive at the Lengarica River in half a day .
Right behind the nice stone bridge, you can take a dip in the thermal springs , which have pools. But it is much better to first go to the canyon upstream. The river has excavated an amazing canyon several tens of meters deep and it is up to you how long you will walk between the rocks. At the time of our visit (2019), there were good facilities for free camping at the thermal springs. It’s also nice that you don’t have to pay any entrance fees or parking fees. The next day, walk along the trail to the overlook above the canyon (GPS: 40°15’14.200″N, 20°27’11.494″E). You will see it again from another side and you will hardly come across a tourist. Albania really has a lot to offer and you certainly won’t be able to do it all during your visit. But the place you should definitely go is the peak of Korab.
The highest in the end
Velký Korab (2764 m) is the highest mountain in Albania and Macedonia. It lies on their common border. You can go here from both the Albanian and Macedonian sides. We have prepared an exit from Albania for you. The route starts from the village of Radomirë, which is dominated by a nice mosque . After turning off the main road, the last 4 km are on broken gravel, so it’s up to you to drive this far. A red-yellow sign starts at the Korabi Hotel and will lead you to the top. Sometimes there are new signs that sometimes lead elsewhere, but eventually the paths converge. Unfortunately, mainly in the meadows , both signs disappear , so sometimes you will have to rely on your sense of direction or ask the helpers, who drive cows and sheep to pasture. Beautiful views of the surrounding hills will open up to you all along the way.
Get water in the well and continue climbing. By the time you reach the little saddle on the border, you’ve pretty much won. From there it’s a short walk to the top. At the top you will meet tourists from Macedonia and the atmosphere will be great. After 9 km with an elevation gain of 1,500 m, one is thoroughly exhausted, but the views are great. The return route down is now going better. The trip is definitely a full day, we recommend leaving early in the morning so that you can catch up with everything. Due to the elevation gain and poor signage, it is only for experienced hikers .
So those would be our most beautiful places in Albania. As always, we have prepared some practical information for you.