The Albanian Riviera is an incredibly underrated part of Europe that stretches 100+ miles from Durres to Ksamil, along the Ionian Sea. The waters are crystal clear and aqua blue. The beaches are dotted with umbrellas, sunbathing chairs, and tourists from around the world. And the general vibe is one of, “we’re here to have fun and party”. The people are incredibly warm and inviting, and the area is filled with hidden beaches and secrets waiting to be discovered.
My time spent on the Albanian Riviera was one for the books. But without proper instructions, it can be difficult to navigate. In this guide, you’ll find eight things to see and do on the Albanian coast, practical information for getting around the area, and a suggested itinerary for seeing the Albanian coastline.
8 Things Not to Miss When Visiting the Albanian Riviera
1. Visit Gjipe Beach
Gjipe Beach is hands down the best beach in Albania, and one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve EVER seen. Crystal clear water, jagged cliffs to jump from, and a beautiful canyon behind you. The best thing about Gjipe (which also happens to be the worst), is that it’s relatively hard to access so there aren’t *too* many people visiting. A boat comes and clears people out pretty early in the afternoon leaving the beach to those who chose to hike to Gjipe versus taking the boat.
Gjipe Beach is located about 10-miles north of Himara and five miles south of Dhermi. To access Gjipe from Himara you have to either drive and park and then walk 20-30 minutes to the beach, or you can take the boat (with many other tourists) for 2000 lek. We chose to drive to the beach where we parked for 200 lek and made the trek down the canyon to the beach. The hard part about this is that the walk is rocky and moderately difficult to get back up (make sure to bring good walking shoes and wear PLENTY of sunscreen because the walk isn’t shaded!). But the good thing about driving yourself is that once the tourists leave on the boat, the beach is much more secluded.
Gjipe does have a couple of bars and places to eat food, but we chose to bring our beers and water to save a little bit of money. I’d also recommend purchasing water shoes – the beach is rocky and difficult to walk on without shoes.
2. Rent a Car and Drive the Coast Line
Driving in Albania can be quite scary, but the Albanian coastline is incredibly beautiful. With hairpin turns, crazy drivers, and epic views on both sides (mountains on one, beaches on the other), renting a car just might be worth it!
Plus, if you don’t rent a car the other option is to travel by bus and the rides are long! Also, to get to more remote places you’ll have to connect to another bus or figure out a ride from somewhere else.
3. Visit Livadi Beach
Another fun beach near Himara is Livadi. Livadi is only three miles north of Himara (between Himara and Gjipe). Livadi is beautiful, with crystal clear water and rocky beaches (bring water shoes!). But also, there’s a fun area where you can rent kayaks and have access to a beach bar and a bigger, covered bar behind it. To find the spot that I’m talking about simply place yourself near Boho Bar.
4. Eat Shrimp Saganaki in the South
Ahh, the first time I had shrimp saganaki was with my good friend Sam who has been living in Albania. (Without her I would have never tried it!). Although shrimp saganaki is traditionally Greek, it’s served all over southern Albania in Saranda and Ksamil. Shrimp saganaki is typically made with shrimp, feta, and tomato sauce.
I suggest trying this dish at Paradise in Saranda and Beach Bar Restaurant Korali in Ksamil.
5. Stay in Ksamil
Most locals told me to skip over Ksamil because it was “an overrated part of Albania”, but I would agree to disagree. Ksamil was one of my favorite places that I visited on the Albanian Riviera. And although I didn’t get to stay long, it’s left a lasting impression and I’m sure to go back again one day.
When you visit make sure to eat at Beach Bar Restaurant Korali! I recommend the fried calamari, shrimp saganaki, and mussels.
6. Visit Himara
While most locals told me to skip Ksamil, most locals told me to definitely visit Himara! And they weren’t wrong. Although I loved Ksamil, I would say that the beaches near Himara (specifically Gjipe) were much more remote, beautiful, and had fewer tourists.
What I didn’t love about Himara was that I thought the food was pretty terrible and there didn’t seem to be a great nightlife. I ate at Acta Restaurant, Taverna Stoli, and Himara ’28 Restaurant and wouldn’t recommend any of them. (Although of the three, Himara ’28 Restaurant was the best).
7. Take a Day Trip from Saranda to Gjirokaster
Gjirokaster is a charming town located about an hour north of Saranda. Its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; a well-preserved Ottoman town. While you can rent a car and drive from Saranda to Gjirokaster, I don’t necessarily recommend it. The roads getting up to the town are difficult to navigate and you’re much better off taking a bus instead.
If you do want to rent a car in Saranda, you can rent one for around €30/day (automatic and manual) from the owner of Fun& Sun Hostel Saranda (easily reached on WhatsApp – +355 69 702 444). Please note, I don’t recommend staying at this hostel in Saranda.
Read more about Gjirokaster: The Best Things to Do in Gjirokaster
8. Take the Ferry from Saranda to Corfu
A ferry runs daily from Saranda to Corfu transporting you from Albania to Greece in just under two hours! While the Albanian Riviera is incredible, I suggest taking full advantage of the ferry to Corfu so that you can venture around the island for a bit and bask in the Greecian sun!
Planning on crossing the Ionian Sea to Greece? Make sure to read What You Need to Know When Taking the Ferry from Saranda to Corfu
2 Things to Skip Over on the Albanian Riviera
1. The Blue Eye
Located about 30 minutes outside of Saranda, the Blue Eye is a natural phenomenon where you can see over 50 m to the bottom, thus creating contrasting colors in the water. While it’s beautiful, it’s completely tourists and not worth the visit. You have to pay to enter and then when you arrive there are many tourist shops set up outside. I went at 8 am on a Saturday and there were already so many people there making it hard to even see the water.
2. Staying in Himara (for Too Long)
I was told by many locals that Himara is the best beach area in the Riviera. However, I found Himara to be quite underwhelming compared to Ksamil. While I don’t recommend skipping Himara (Gjipe Beach and Livade Beach are well worth it), I just wouldn’t stay in the area for too long.
Getting Around the Albanian Riviera
The truth is, navigating the Albanian Riviera is no easy feat. While the drivers in Albania are quite reckless, I highly suggest renting a car to drive the coastline. This is because the buses won’t stop at the quaint beach towns along the way (or the best places in the Albanian Riviera), but instead, they’ll drop you off at the bigger cities and tourists areas along the way.
If you’re coming to the Rivieria from Tirana, you can easily pick up a car at the airport and drive down south. Another option is to ask around. I know several people who asked if anyone knew anyone that would rent them a car for cheap (about $30/day), and that’s how they navigated the coast.
Suggested Itinerary for Visiting the Albanian Riviera
If you plan to make an Albanian Riveria trip, the Albanian Riviera itinerary that I would follow would be…
From Tirana, drive south to Berat to spend a couple of days. If you feel strongly about heading straight to the riviera, then instead head west to Durres and drive south from there. Make your first stop at Gjipe Beach before driving south to Himara to spend the night. After spending one night in Himara, visit Livadi Beach (in my opinion, these are two of the best beaches in Albania) before going further south to Ksamil.
If you have the time, I would then circle back up to Saranda, take the ferry to Corfu for a day or two, and then head back to Albania to drive up to Tirana and return the car. (A plus to taking the bus at this point would be that you don’t have to circle back up to Tirana). If you want to leave your car in the south, don’t forget to mention that to your car rental company. You can do that but there’s typically a hefty fee involved.
Navigating through Albania can be challenging (especially navigating through the Albanian Riviera), but I hope that this itinerary helps! For a more complete guide to traveling throughout Albania make sure to read The Ultimate Albania Travel Guide.
For more suggestions on things to see and do in Albania, make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel by searching #ppinalbania or under the highlights “Albania”