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Located in Southern Europe, part of the Balkan countries, Albania is an incredibly underrated destination offering everything from drool-worthy beaches in the south to towering mountains in the north. Albania shares its borders with Greece, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Montenegro. It’s a country that has a fascinating history of war and communism, a place with friendly locals, so many outdoor adventures to be had, charming towns, and small mountain villages; all while being incredibly affordable.
I spent three weeks exploring the ins and outs of Albania and while it’s a country where you have to dig deep to find the “good stuff”, trust me when I tell you, the good stuff is there and the dig is worth it. This Albania travel guide will cover everything you need to know about visiting Albania (which you should) while giving you practical tips on where to focus your time, how much money to budget, and more.
Before reading further, make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel and search #ppinalbania or look for the highlights “Albania 1” and “Albania 2″ for a visual representation of the country and suggestions on things to see and do!
The Ultimate Albania Travel Guide
History of Albania
Albania’s history is fascinating and has shaped the country and made it into what it is today. For starters, Albania was one of the most communist countries after WWII and is often considered one of the harshest communist countries in all of Eastern Europe. Communism fell in December 1990 but the locals are still grappling with the ripple effects that communism had on their country for years.
Enver Hoxha, Albania’s ruler from 1944 until he died in 1985, led Albania as a communist state. He was paranoid – building bunkers and underground tunnels in case of attack (which were never used). He turned friends and neighbors against each other by making them “spy” on each other and feed information to the government. And he didn’t allow people to leave the country. When he did finally let tourists in, they had to abide by the Albanian rules and even look a certain way if they wanted to visit.
Today things in Albania have turned around and although the country is still dealing with the effects of communism, Albania is now a part of NATO and is applying to also join the European Union (EU).
Is Albania Safe to Visit?
When people ask if it’s safe to visit Albania, it might be older people who know Albania as being a communist country. Today, it is quite safe to be a tourist in Albania as crime (aside from petty crime) against tourists is quite rare. Crime usually happens between locals and the most common (illegal) thing someone may approach you about is purchasing drugs. (I was approached one time asking if I wanted to buy cocaine or marijuana and I simply said, “no”, and wasn’t bothered again).
Overall, as a solo female traveler traveling through Albania, I felt very safe the entire time. No two experiences are the same, however, so I recommend that you follow simple safety steps like guarding your drink, never drinking too much, and not telling people your exact location. For more safety tips and why it’s important to follow your gut as a solo female traveler, make sure to check out this post.
SAFETY TIPS TO FOLLOW
- Copy your passport. Keep a copy in a separate place from where you keep your passport. Take a picture on your phone and send it to loved ones in case anything were to happen.
- Copy your vaccination card and keep pictures of it on your phone as well.
- Know the number and address of the US Embassy (or whatever country you’re from). In this case, the US Embassy number is +355 4 224 7285 and the address is Rruga Stavro Vinjau 14, Tirana, Albania.
- Know how to dial out – the code for Georgian numbers is +355.
- Know how to contact the police – 112.
- Travel with travel insurance to ensure that you’re covered in case anything were to go wrong. I prefer to use World Nomads.
When to Visit Albania/Weather
Because of Albania’s strikingly different landscapes (beaches in the south; mountains in the north), the country sees all four seasons but temperatures can also greatly vary depending on whether you’re at the beach or in the mountains.
The warmest months, and also the most crowded, are July and August. This is when most people flee to the beaches on the west coast of Albania, known as the Albanian Riviera. If you’re looking to come at a time where there are fewer visitors, then perhaps shoulder season would be for you. The shoulder season is May-June or September-October. I recommend skipping Albania in the winter as most towns close down and the mountains are inaccessible to hiking due to snowfall.
I visited Albania in July and it was wicked hot. In my opinion, the best time to visit Albania would be in June or September.
What to Wear in Albania
The dress code is pretty relaxed in Albania. You can pretty much get away with wearing whatever you want, just make sure to dress for the weather! Assuming you’ll be visiting in the warmer months make sure to pack lots of flowy dresses, skirts, and swimming suits. Even if you don’t plan to visit the beaches, there are tons of rivers to swim in throughout Albania.
SHOP MY ALBANIAN LOOKS!
Albania operates on the Lek, although many places also accept Euros. At the time of writing, 100 Lek = 1 USD. There are ATMs located everywhere throughout the country but beware that the charge to remove money from the ATM can run you $6-$7 not including what your bank charges you. I did find one ATM in the country that didn’t charge a fee to remove money which was the Alpha Bank.
When you visit Albania you’ll need to have cash on hand. Most restaurants, especially once you get out of Tirana, don’t have credit card machines. Almost everything is paid for in cash including many hotels and guesthouses.
As for affordability, Albania is incredibly affordable. Although the Albanian Riviera can start to get more expensive in the summer months, overall, you can find affordable dining options, bars, and places to stay throughout the country.
Getting Around Albania
My biggest qualm with Albania was the difficulty in getting around. For this reason, I highly recommend renting a car (which I didn’t do) especially if you want to see more secluded beaches and be the boss of your own time. If you do rent a car, know that drivers are pretty crazy and rarely follow the rules of the road.
The buses in Albania are affordable, prices are determined by how far you go and charge anywhere from 300 Lek to 1200 Lek. On one of my buses, the driver was charging foreigners more money than locals so make sure to ask a local ahead of time how much the ride should cost. You don’t need to reserve any tickets ahead of time, just show up and you’ll pay the driver once you get on or off the bus.
The issue with taking buses in Albania is that the buses operate on their own time. They usually leave once they are full, meaning you can sit for quite a while waiting for people to get on the bus. And in my experience, I found that not only was it difficult to find bus schedules online, but they rarely followed what was posted online. If you plan to travel by bus be patient and know that you’ll eventually get to wherever it is that you’re going.
At this time Albania does not have any affordable private driving options and there is no Uber or Lyft in the country. There are taxis all over if you do need a ride a short distance and they do use meters. Make sure to discuss a price before getting in the car or kindly ask that they use the meter when driving you.
Lastly, hitchhiking in Albania is quite common and usually pretty safe. If you feel comfortable doing this know that it is normal in the country.
RENTING A CAR IN ALBANIA
If you do decide to rent a car in Albania, you will need an international drivers license along with your normal drivers license. You can get one from AAA or get an express license here.
I generally prefer to rent from Enterprise for their great customer service, car availability, and competitive pricing. I also like to use QEEQ to search through other options to make sure I’m getting the best deal.
Food and Drink
Albanian cuisine (especially in the south), is largely influenced by Italy and Greece. Despite the many Greek and Italian restaurants throughout the country, Albania does have traditional food both heavy on meat and carbs. The most popular traditional foods are lamb and veal, yogurt appetizer (typically yogurt and olive oil), Albanian feta cheese (or hard white cheese), byrek (Albanian pie) stuffed with cheese, meat, or vegetables, kackavall (a cheese mix served as an appetizer), and lots of stuffed vegetables. You should know that “pumpkin” in Albania refers to zucchini and that the traditional Albanian dessert is trilece or milk cake.
For drinks, Albania has Albanian beer, wine, and the local specialty liquor – raki.
Tipping in Albania
One of my most common questions, when I arrive in a new country, is, “Do you tip?”. As a traveler, I think it’s always important to follow local customs whether or not you do those things at home. Tipping is usually done at restaurants, bars, and for services such as getting a hair cut, manicure, pedicure, etc. The standard is to leave about 10%. It is not typical to tip taxi drivers.
Language and Simple Phrases to Know
The official language of Albania is Albanian but a lot of people, especially in tourist areas, speak English. The only time I struggled a bit with language barriers was when I was in remote villages in the Albanian Alps. If you do visit Albania, I encourage you to practice these simple phrases before you go!
- Thank you – Faleminderit (fal-ah-mind-erit)
- Hello – Pershendetje (persh-end-dat-yay)
- Goodbye – Mirupafshim (me-ru-pa-sheem)
Spending three weeks in Albania was a treat. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling slowly, getting to know the locals, and seeing everything from the beaches in the south up to the mountains in the north. If you plan to visit Albania expect to be met with kind locals, hidden gems, and prices that will blow you away (in a good way!). I hope that this Albania travel guide has prepared you for your trip to Albania! If you have any questions, about visiting Albania, please leave me a comment below.
Are you itching to plan a trip to Albania? Here are some more specific guides to the cities, towns, and regions in Albania:
How to Spend One Day in Tirana
Visiting Berat Albania in 2 Days
8 Things to See and Do in the Albanian Riviera
The Best Things to Do in Gjirokaster
Everything You Need to Know About Hiking from Valbona to Theth in the Albanian Alps
How to Spend 8 Days in Albania