Traveling Albania – The Pearl of the Balkans

Traveling Albania

Albanische Flagge

Holiday in Albania – doesn’t that sound adventurous? Here you can find out everything about your trip to the Balkans. We took a road trip from Cologne to Albania and have compiled everything you need to know. I also give you some great tips and places that are suitable for a stopover.

Situated in the south of the Balkan peninsula with borders to Greece, Kosovo, northern Macedonia and Montenegro, a small country about the size of Belgium makes the hearts of all adventurers and nature lovers beat faster. Albania is still considered an insider tip… The increase in tourism can already be seen in the towns of the Albanian Riviera, such as Sarandë, Vlorë and Himarë, where hotels and flats are already lined up next to each other. From mountain tours in the “Albanian Alps” to the cultural interior and the beautiful beaches – there is something for everyone.

Kühe auf der Straße

In Albania (apart from the pulsating capital) one has the feeling that time has stood still. Stress does not seem to exist in this country. It is not unusual to see a donkey still being used as a farm animal or to cross paths with a shepherd and his cattle. Although Albania is in Europe, you will find few American chains, which is why the city centres are very different in terms of what they offer. Even though few people speak English, the curiosity and open-mindedness of the locals is evident.

Roadtrip to Albania

In the beginning, we spent a long time deciding whether we should fly and rent a car locally or travel by car. In the end, for the sake of the environment, we decided to travel by car, as there were some exciting places we wanted to see along the way. The quality of the roads is usually sufficient, so that a reasonably experienced driver should not have any problems. Nevertheless, the roads and the traffic are of course not comparable with Germany.

Preparing for our road trip to Albania:

voller KofferraumAt first, the feeling of knowing that you have at least 4,000 km to go before you get back was admittedly a bit oppressive. Will my car hold out? Do we have to worry about the car being broken into? These were just some of the questions that went through our minds before we left. However, the feeling pretty much subsided after the first leg.

We divided the journey into sections of 6-8 hours each, which turned out to be quite feasible. In order not to be stuck with the relatively high fuel costs, we advertised each journey on the Blablarcar site (car-sharing app). This turned out to be a complete success – our rides were permanently booked out and we hardly had any costs for diesel on the entire trip to Albania. On top of that, you met exciting and partly local people who could give you one or two golden tips. We started in Central Albania due to the weather.

Our route through Albania:

Way to Albania: Cologne – Ingolstadt – Zagreb – Plitvice Lakes – Zadar – Split – Mostar – Dubrovnik -Vlorë

Way back: Shkodër – Podgorica – Belgrade – Budapest – Munich Cologne

The itinerary had turned out to be full of lucky reef, as really all the stops were also a highlight in themselves. We were particularly impressed by the stops at the Plitvice Lakes, Mostar and Dubrovnik. In this article, however, we will focus entirely on your trip to Albania. Please make sure you fill up with the right fuel during your trip. I can recommend the Kastrati petrol station chain, and you’d better pay the extra price for the higher-quality fuel. Unfortunately, our car broke down in southern Albania (even though we bought the more expensive diesel at a small petrol station). The good thing is that the workshop costs in Albania are very manageable and we were able to get the car running again for about 50 € (after 4 hours of work).

Top 5 highlights for your holiday in Albania

1) Wild camping and the feeling of freedom

As a reader of my article, you surely expected a more “tangible” highlight from our holiday in Albania. Is there anything more awesome than pitching your tent under olive trees right on the beach?! Albania has a lot to offer in itself, but the feeling of being able to do whatever you want without anyone caring is really special. That is to say: we looked for the absolute highlights in Albania ourselves. Of course, camping is not allowed on private property.

2) Albanian alps

In the north of the country is the Prokletije, better known as the “Albanian Alps”. The highest peak is Maja Jezerce at 2,694 m, so it’s not really a rival to the Alps. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a fantastically beautiful mountain range. In particular, the hike from Theth to Valbona is probably the most famous in the country and a must for every visitor to Albania.

Since most of the road to Theth is a narrow gravel road with severe potholes and steep slopes, we decided to take a bus. This costs about 10 € per person. The plan: by bus to Theth, continue to Valbona and from there back by bus via the Koman reservoir. Unfortunately, we strayed a bit from the clearly marked path and thus made another hike by mistake. Nevertheless, the area itself is a highlight, and the pictures we were shown underlined what a dream this hike is.

3) Albanian Riviera

South of the city of Vlore stretches the Albanian Riviera. Picturesque bays and great beaches stretch along this stretch of coast. Most accommodation is in the towns of Vlore, Himare, Sarande and Ksamil. Unfortunately, these towns are now quite overdeveloped and designed for tourism.

If you are looking for secluded beaches, you should take a look at the beaches between the cities. There are plenty of places where it is worth pitching your tent for one or two nights. Unfortunately, the beach in Ksamil is already a bit overdeveloped, but in our opinion it is the most beautiful of the tourist beaches with its offshore island to which you can simply swim.

4) Berat

The city of 1000 windows is one of Albania’s top highlights in all blogs and travel guides. In 1961, it was designated as a museum city and has even been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. The city districts of Mangalem, Gorica and the castle fortress of Kalaja are particularly worth seeing. The new town of Berat hardly differs from other Albanian towns and was therefore rather uninteresting for us. The cityscape of Berat is characterised by Ottoman architecture.

Mangalem: The highlight of the city, which is why it is called “the city of 1000 windows”. Very densely packed houses with large windows facing the valley – this is the characteristic feature of the city.

Gorica: On the other side of the river is the most original quarter of Berat. From here you have a breathtaking view of Mangalem. You can reach the quarter via the Gorica Bridge and leave it again via a newer bridge. Even though there is not much to do here, it is interesting to stroll through the narrow streets and soak up the medieval flair.

Burg Kalaja: Kalaja Castle is located above Mangalem and offers a great view of the city. However, mainly into the distance and the other side of the river and not of Mangalem itself.

5) Gjirokastra

The city in southern Albania is one of the oldest in the country and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. The oldest buildings can be found on the mountain, while the city becomes more modern towards the river. Overnight accommodation can be found in both the old and the new part of the city. We decided on a meadow in front of the city where we pitched our tent. The older parts of the city are characterised by small castle-like houses with their characteristic stone roofs. In those days, other materials for covering the roof were simply too expensive. The stones had the advantage that they acted as thermal insulation. In summer they protected the house from heat and in winter from cold. Nowadays, they are hardly used any more, as it is very costly and alternative material is cheaper to have.

Travel tips for your holiday in Albania

  • Albania is not in the EU, which means you cannot pay with €.
  • Apply for a green insurance card or check whether your car insurance covers Albania.
  • Freshly pressed olive oil and honey are good to buy at the markets.
  • Remember the vignettes for the countries you are driving through (especially Slovenia and Austria).

Foodguide for Albania

Due to Albania’s location in the Balkans, you will find many dishes here that are familiar from the menus of Turkish or Greek restaurants. Börek, pita, stuffed vine leaves, biftek, qofte, moussaka are typical dishes that can be found in many restaurants in the country.

Oshmare Korcë: A traditional dish, similar to the Kaiserschmarrn from Korce

Flia: Northern Albanian/Kosovar dish – similar to a pie. The filling is usually kajmak (similar to cream), but sometimes cheese, yoghurt or sour cream.

Tavë Elbasani: Casserole of baked lamb or sheep meat in a spicy soured milk sauce and eggs.

Fërgesë Tirane: Casserole from Tirana made of roasted peppers, tomatoes and brine cheese.

Entry to Albania

Even though Albania is not part of the EU, entering the country is easy. You can enter with your identity card or passport. Only the waiting time at the border crossings can be shorter or longer, depending on the time of day. It is advisable to carry a green insurance card with you, otherwise you will have to take out short-term insurance in Serbia and Montenegro for about €15 each.

Frequently asked questions about your holiday in Albania

17 days! You didn’t expect such a clear answer, did you? Of course, how much time you need for Albania also depends on your travel speed and interests. I think 2 to 3 weeks is a good guideline for your trip to Albania. Of course, you won’t get bored afterwards, but it is possible to see the important and worthwhile things in Albania in this time.
Especially the older generation has a fixed image of Albania. They know about the Kosovo war and the unscrupulous Albanian mafia, so Albania is a country you should not go to. This is in stark contrast to what travellers tell us. We unconditionally agree with the travellers’ opinion. Albania itself makes a very sleepy and backward impression. There were no reasons to feel unsafe. We got to know Albania as a very safe and quiet country. We didn’t see any stress or crime anywhere. When we asked an Albanian about the prejudices, he leaned forward, looked at our licence plate and replied with a smile: “The Albanian criminals are all with you, it’s peaceful here!
The biggest enemy of the traveller – the rain can of course also throw a spanner in the works here. Therefore, you should think carefully about the time of year to spend your holiday in Albania. Depending on what you have in mind, the months of April to October are best. If you want to swim, you should travel to Albania between May (June) and September. We were there from the end of May to the middle of June and had bad luck at the beginning because it only rained. 
No, Albania is probably one of the cheapest countries in Europe. For one euro you get about 126 lek (as of 04/2020). The prices for diesel and especially petrol are much cheaper in Albania than in Germany. You can eat out very cheaply and the prices in the supermarkets are also very reasonable. Because of the proximity to Italy, you can buy Barilla pasta for less than 1 €. You can buy fresh fruit and vegetables particularly cheaply from street vendors. If you are travelling with a tent, you can also cross the costs for overnight stays off your list of expenses.
Buses run between cities in Albania. Most buses run in the early morning hours. Since we think the interesting thing about Albania is not the cities, we recommend a road trip – either from Germany or with a locally rented car. An exciting alternative would be to explore Albania by bike. Since you can camp almost everywhere for free, it is not necessary to have a camper or caravan to sleep in. Hitchhiking is of course also possible in Albania.
Yes, Albania is a great holiday destination for families with children. Even though I don’t have any yet, I don’t see why not. There is a lot of nature, accommodation is cheap, you can get most of the food and the distances within Albania are not that long.

Next post: Plitvice Lakes – Croatia

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About Us

We are Julian & Naomi and we love to travel the world and immerse ourselves in other cultures. We have an adventurous, spartan, sustainable and reflective travel style. In our opinion, the greatest adventures are experienced when you do things on your own and try to live like a local. The taste of a country is best captured on the road
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