Albania is a captivating country. With mountains to the north and the sea to the south, there’s so much goodness stuffed into one small country. And the best part of it all? Albania is not only incredibly affordable, but it’s a great destination for every nurse to visit! Albania is relatively easy to get to with connecting flights from major cities in Europe. Plus, in eight days you can see a vast majority of the country allowing you to discover the beauty and warmth of the landscapes and people.
This is part of my “8 Day Vacay” series! A travel series aimed at nurses who are looking to take 8 days off from the hospital (with no need to take PTO) and travel to destinations both near and far. For more information, read A Guide to the “8 Day Vacay” and How to Make the Most Out of Your “8 Day Vacay”
How to Spend 8 Days in Albania
Written for nurses, this guide begins on a Wednesday (after working Sunday, Monday, Tuesday) and ends on a Wednesday so that you can get back to the hospital for your three shifts (Thursday, Friday, Saturday). After spending three weeks in Albania, you’ll discover the absolute highlights of this country in this 8-day guide.
Highlights of Visiting Albania
- Albanian Alps
Before reading any further, make sure to check out The Ultimate Albania Travel Guide
WEDNESDAY – Depart from the USA, fly into Tirana
Leave Wednesday for arrival in Tirana on Thursday. There is only one airport in Albania and it’s in the capital (Tirana), which is located in the middle of the country.
If you’re coming from a small state (like me – Nebraska), I tend to search for options from the nearest international airport to bring down prices. So for instance, I would search for flights out of Chicago instead of out of Omaha. I’ve always had the best luck when I use Kayak as a search engine.
THURSDAY – Arrive in Tirana, head straight to Berat
Because you’ll be spending one night in Tirana at the end of your “8 Day Vacay”, I recommend getting a bus/car and heading straight to Berat to begin your trip.
TRANSPORTATION TO BERAT
There are two ways to get to Berat from Tirana. The first is by bus, which is cheap but the journey is much longer. The second way would be to take a taxi from the street or arrange a ride with Daytrip; both options are much more expensive but will save you a lot of time and hassle.
If you choose to take the bus the drive is 2-3 hours depending on the number of stops made and costs 400 Lek. Essentially you’ll need to take a taxi from the airport which costs a flat rate of 2,500 Lek (make sure to get cash at the airport as the taxis don’t accept credit cards). Tell the driver that you want to go to the bus station that will take you to Berat (there are multiple bus stations around Tirana). The good thing is that buses are frequently leaving to go to Berat so you shouldn’t have any trouble catching one. Once you arrive in Berat you’ll take the local bus (costing 30 Lek) to the old town, which takes about 5-10 minutes. If you don’t want to take this final bus there will also be taxis waiting for you.
Buses from Tirana to Berat run from 6:30 am to 5:30 pm every half an hour. Although in my experience, the bus left once it was full which took a full hour.
If you’d rather take a private taxi to Berat the costs should be around 10,000 Lek (give or take) and should take two hours. You can simply grab a taxi from the airport or if you’d rather pre-arrange it to ensure a ride straight to Berat, I encourage you to book ahead with Daytrip.
WHERE TO STAY IN BERAT
I recommend staying at Guesthouse Arben Elezi. It was an affordable choice and the location with perfect, right in the old town halfway between the Castle of Berat and River Osum. The rooms were nice and spacious with AC, the wifi was strong, and the breakfast that was included was excellent. Plus there’s a super cute terrace on top of the guesthouse where you can have drinks and watch the sunset.
THINGS TO DO IN BERAT
Berat is small so even if you have only a few hours of sunlight to explore, it should give you enough time to see the highlights of the town. For lunch (or dinner), I highly recommend eating at Homemade Food Lili. This was my favorite restaurant in all of Albania for local Albanian food and the service was impeccable. There are only about five tables to sit at so I highly recommend making a reservation ahead of time.
After lunch set out to walk along Gorica Bridge, visit the Ethnographic Museum, and make time to see Berat Castle at sunset. If you want to eat dinner at Berat Castle, I recommend Tymi (also serves local food), or if you want to venture outside of the city then I recommend dinner and a wine tasting at Alpeta Winery.
FRIDAY – Leave Berat, head to Gjirokaster
After spending a day in Berat, it’s time to head to another cute Ottoman-style town – Gjirokaster. Because Gjirokaster is equally as small as Berat, you don’t need a whole lot of time to see the town and therefore there’s no need to rush out of Berat if there are still things you want to see and do there. (To give yourself enough time, I would say you need four hours to properly see Gjirokaster).
TRANSPORTATION TO GJIROKASTER
From Berat, I recommend taking a bus to Gjirokaster. Gjirokaster is located south of Berat, and the ride should take about 2.5 hours. Make sure to check with a local (hotel staff, Airbnb host, etc) about bus times as the bus may only leave a couple of times a day to get to Gjirokaster. The ride should cost no more than 900 Lek.
If you want more flexibility, you can always ask a taxi driver to take you to Gjirokaster or book a ride with Daytrip for around $120.
WHERE TO STAY IN GJIROKASTER
I highly recommend staying at Stone City Hostel in Gjirokaster. While I don’t generally choose hostels, I honestly liked this accommodation more than some hotels I’ve stayed in. If you plan to visit Gjirokaster in the summer, make sure to make a reservation for Stone City ahead of time. There are also private rooms available for booking if you don’t generally prefer sleeping in a dorm.
THINGS TO DO IN GJIROKASTER
Like Berat, Gjirokaster is quite small and compact making it easy to see in one day. I highly recommend prioritizing visiting the Skenduli House, a well-preserved Ottoman-style house built-in 1823. At the Skenduli House, a man or woman will take you through each room explaining the significance of why each room was built. The cost of entrance is 200 Lek.
The next thing I would prioritize visiting is the Gjirokaster Castle. This castle is the second largest castle in the Balkans (behind Krujë Castle). It’s made up of two museums, a prison, an old clock tower, a festival stage, and more. I suggest visiting the castle in the evening (closer to sunset) when it’s a little bit cooler. The cost of entrance is 400 Lek, and if you want to access the museums and prison it’s an extra 200 Lek. I highly recommend going into the museums and the prison as a majority of the castle’s history (and Albanian history) can be found there.
If you have extra time and are interested in learning about history, the Cold War Tunnels cost 200 Lek and a guide will take you through this underground maze. The tunnels were built when Enver Hoxha was in power as a precaution in case of a nuclear attack. The tunnels were never used but are still in good shape today.
For more information on visiting Gjirokaster, don’t miss The Best Things to Do in Gjirokaster
SATURDAY – Leave Gjirokaster, head to Shkoder
After spending one night in Gjirokaster, I recommend heading up north to the Albanian Alps. While I didn’t think that Shkoder was anything special, hiking Valbona to Theth was one of my favorite things that I did in Albania. And to do that you have to spend a night in Shkoder first.
TRANSPORTATION TO SHKODER
To catch a bus from Gjirokaster to Shkoder, you’ll have to first go to Tirana and switch buses there to head onwards to Shkoder. To catch a bus from Gjirokaster, head to the gas station (Kastrati) at the bottom of the hill from the old town, and across from that is where your bus will be. To Tirana, the bus costs 1000 Lek and will take around 3-4 hours. You’ll need to buy a ticket (you don’t need to do this ahead of time) at the bus station called “Agjensia Argjiro”. At the time of writing, the buses leave at 0500, 0600, 0700, 0800, 0900, 1000, and 1530; but again, double-check with a local to make sure the schedule hasn’t changed.
Once you arrive in Tirana the bus will drop you off in the same lot that the bus from Shkoder leaves. The ride from Tirana to Shkoder takes about 2.5 hours and costs 350 Lek.
WHERE TO STAY IN SHKODER
There are many accommodations throughout Shkoder, I stayed at The Wanderers Hostel because they do a great job of arranging transportation to/from the mountains. While the rooms were subpar (although there are private rooms available), The Wanderers Hostel can arrange everything (guesthouses, bus rides, ferry rides, etc) for you. Plus they store your bags for free and even help you get a taxi or bus when you return to Shkoder. While you can go at it alone, or ask a different accommodation to help you set up the logistics of your hike, Wanderers took the stress out of it for me.
THINGS TO DO IN SHKODER
While you’re in Shkoder some popular things to do are to bike to the lake (Shkoder is very flat and therefore very bike-able!), visit the Castle, and visit the Site of Witness and Memory museum. Across the street from the Site of Witness and Memory museum is an authentic (and incredibly cheap) Albanian restaurant, Peja.
SUNDAY & MONDAY – Hike the Albanian Alps; Valbona to Theth
The last leg of your trip will be spent hiking through the Albanian Alps. The ride to get from Shkoder to Valbona leaves around six or seven in the morning so make sure to have your bags packed and everything ready to go the night before.
FROM SHKODER TO VALBONA
To get to Valbona you’ll need to take a bus two hours to Lake Koman; take a 2.5-hour ferry across the lake, and then get a ride to your guesthouse in Valbona. Again, The Wanderers Hostel arranged this all for me, but you can arrange it on your own if you want to.
The price of getting from Shkoder to Valbona is approximately 2200 Lek (700 Lek/ticket for each bus and 800 Lek for the ferry). In total, the journey from Shkoder to Valbona takes about five hours.
There are tons of guesthouses to choose from in Valbona. I stayed at Arben Selimas and couldn’t recommend it enough. Arben Selimas is located right on the river nestled up against the mountains. The homeowners are incredibly kind, helpful, and thoughtful. If you stay here, a one-night stay with lunch, dinner, breakfast, and a packed lunch costs €25. Make sure to have cash on hand!
If you don’t stay at Arben Selimas, some things to consider include… does your guesthouse serve food? There are no restaurants in Valbona and the market carries the bare minimum. You’ll also want to consider if a driver will be available to greet you when you come from the ferry. And lastly, you’ll want to check if there’s an available ride to the trailhead for you to begin your hike. This is because some guesthouses are located pretty far from the start of the hike. Arben Selimas is located 2.5-miles from the trailhead and they provide morning transportation for €10 total.
FROM VALBONA TO THETH
The hike from Valbona to Theth is about 10+ miles (depending on where you start and end) and takes on average about seven hours. I got a ride to the trailhead and a ride was waiting for me when I got to Theth to take me to the guesthouse, which means I hiked 8.5 miles in approximately 4.5 hours.
For the first two miles of the hike, you’ll be walking on flat, rocky, land. At mile three your incline greatly increases (expect to gain about 1,000 feet in one mile) and finally smooths out when you get to the peak of the hike.
I highly recommend beginning this hike early in the morning (I started at 6:45 am) to beat the heat. At the beginning/middle of the hike, there is little to no shade.
I encourage you to bring drinks and snacks for the hike, but the good thing is that there are two cafes (one before you summit and one after) where you can get food, drinks, and even use the bathroom.
Once you get to Theth, there are many guesthouses to choose from. I stayed at Pjeter Cuni Guesthouse Zariklis. The location was great and the family was very accomodating by offering us rides and arranging the bus back to Shkoder for us. The only issue I had with this guesthouse was that there was no air conditioning (meaning the rooms got incredibly hot), and the food wasn’t as great as the first guesthouse in Valbona. The cost for a one-night stay with lunch, dinner, and breakfast was 3000 Lek.
GETTING FROM THETH TO SHKODER
Your guesthouse in Theth can arrange transportation for you back to Shkoder when you’re ready to go. The cost should be around 1200 Lek and will take about three hours.
Please note, you do NOT have to spend the night in Theth. As long as you get to Theth by 2 pm you can get on the last bus back to Shkoder that day. I recommend staying in Theth because the village is quite charming, especially after a long day of hiking.
For more information on hiking Valbona to Theth make sure to read: Everything You Need to Know About Hiking from Valbona to Theth in the Albanian Alps
TUESDAY – Leave Theth, head to Tirana
From the Albanian Alps, head back to the middle of the country to explore Tirana before leaving.
TRANSPORTATION TO TIRANA
From Theth you’ll need to get on a bus to Shkoder and switch buses there to get to Tirana. Your guesthouse should be able to arrange a ride to Shkoder for you, which will cost 1200 Lek and take about three hours. The bus from Shkoder to Tirana will cost 350 Lek and take about 3.5 hours.
Don’t forget you’ll need to pick up your bags from your hotel so make sure to budget time for this!
THINGS TO DO IN TIRANA
Depending on how much time you have in Tirana, my favorite thing that I did was visit Bunk’Art 2. Bunk’Art 2 is a unique museum that goes into detail about what life was like when Enver Hoxha ruled Albania. It’s located down in a bunker, of which over 170,000 were built in Albania out of pure paranoia of a nuclear attack. The cost to enter is 500 LEK ($5) and I would say you can spend as little as 30-minutes in the museum, up to two hours depending on how much you’re reading the plaques on the walls.
Besides its fascinating history, another thing that I liked so much about Tirana was the number of really great restaurants in the city. For dinner, I recommend eating at one of the following restaurants: Tribe – an upscale restaurant near the old caste; Mullixhiu – a top 50 restaurant in the world; or dine on seafood at La Gioia.
If you have more time to spend in Tirana, make sure to read How to Spend One Day in Tirana
WEDNESDAY – Leave Albania, fly back to the USA
Remember, because Albania is ahead of the US time-wise, you should be able to leave on Wednesday and arrive back in America on Wednesday. Hopefully, you’re refreshed, (maybe a bit depressed), and ready for your shift to start on Thursday!
If you have additional time to spend in Albania then there are other great things in the country to focus on.
East of Berat and Gjirokaster is a town called Korce. It’s mainly known for its beer, Korce beer is one of the most popular brands in Albania. I didn’t get a chance to visit Korce, but many travelers throughout Albania claimed that Korce was one of their favorite cities. If I were to add this on I would visit between Berat and Gjirokaster.
If you’re visiting Albania in the summer then perhaps you want to head to the coast to spend time on what is referred to as the “Albanian Riviera”. The coastline is dotted with beautiful beaches such as Gjipe Beach (my favorite), restaurants, small towns, and of course – crowds. If you want to visit the Albanian Rivieria, make sure to check out this post. I would do this after visiting Gjirokaster and then from the coast make my way back towards the Albanian Alps in the north.
While you’re already visiting Berat in this guide, if you have the extra time I’d recommend spending two nights in Berat instead of just one. This is because there’s a great day excursion from Berat that I would recommend going on. You can find the information about that here.
If you’re feeling inspired to book an “8 Day Vacay”, make sure to check out my other recommendations for getting away from the bedside!