The people...wow. I have met a lot of really nice people around the world, but this is one of those rare places where total strangers treat you like old friends. Maybe it was because I look like a clueless tourist, but I hope I am a seasoned enough traveler now that I don't look that way anymore. I believe that the Albanians are just genuinely that friendly.
Plus, the street food is great...and cheap.
This country has an incredible mix of new architecture blending in with the old Communist era buildings. Plenty of parks, and lots of open air art.
Don't forget to visit the beach!
The capital city, and one of the pleasant surprises of my travels.
I had heard from others that Albania was a little rougher around the edges than the other Balkan States, but you wouldn't know it from visiting Tirana. I found it to be a great mix of classic and modern architecture,. Along with an abundance of street art and pretty decent public transport system.
Skanderbeg Square is the heart of Tirana and the home of the Opera and the National History Museum. Other must see areas are the Bunk Art Galleries, and the Dajti cable car for the views.
Favorite Places to visit in Tirana
Start your visit right in the center of town.
a huge pedestrian square in the town center, with some of the attractions right next to it. One of the things I really enjoyed here was the obvious contrast between the Soviet era architecture and the modern buildings.
Just a block off the square, this is an art exhibition dealing with history of Albanian oppression housed in an old underground bunker. There is also a Bunk Art 1, located on the northeast side of town, featuring contemporary art.
A very popular cable car that runs nearly 5 kilometers and takes about 15 minutes heading up to Dajti Mountain and Dajti Adventure Park. Worth it for the views of Tirana. Not for those with a fear of heights.
Walking around and enjoying street art. There are a number of items scattered around town. From the informal murals on buildings, to the large "Reja" (cloud).
Along with the beaches, there are some Roman ruins and a Museum of Archeology here to keep me occupied. It is hard to remember all of the history of this place from the Bronze Age thru the Illyrians, Macedonians, the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Bulgarian Empire; and finally in 1912, the start of their on and off path to independence.
Of course, for most people, it is the beaches and resorts that people come to visit. Durres has miles and miles of beaches.
Favorite places to visit in Durres
Assuming you want time away from the beach; here are a few places I enjoyed during my visit.
Amphitheatre of Durrës
Located just a couple blocks of the water, this 20,000 seat amphitheater built in the 2nd century has bene partially excavated and restored. Admission was very affordable, and you can walk around in peace. When I entered, I was the only one in the place.
The Tower of Durres
When I visited, I was disappointed that this was closed, and covered, for refurbishing. For future visits, it would be nice to see these remnants of the old city walls, dating from the 1st to 5th century,
Archaeological Museum of Durrës
right on the main road leading along the water, this museum has an impressive collection of sculpture dating back to the Roman Empire. Definitely worth a visit.
Taking the bus in Tirana.
This is an unusual process as you do not pay when you get on. Instead, you just get on, then a man will walk up and down the bus gathering fares from all the passengers as you ride. The fare was only 40 LEK ($US .34) and having something closer to exact change will help. Don’t expect to hit the ATM, get a 5000 LEK bill and be able to change that on the bus.
The bus from Tirana to Durres
Catching the bus from Terminal Bus Station in Tirana was easier than I expected. I was really overthinking it.
You just arrive at the station (the number 7 bus from behind the National History Museum drops you right in front of the station), walk down the line of busses, looking for one that has a Durres sign in the front window. As you get near, the employee will probably call out Durres also to help you out. He grabbed my bag, put it underneath, and I hopped on. Simple.
Just like the local busses, the fare was gathered after we left. I paid 200 LEK (US$ 1.70) for the bus to Durres, and with traffic, it took about 40 minutes.
Getting from the airport in Tirana
There is a bus from the airport to the center, but it only leaves once per hour. Also, when I get to the central bus station, I will probably need a taxi since I will have my suitcase with me. So, I went the easy route this time. One of the few times I took a taxi from the airport.
I normally don’t like taxis from the airport, because it is simply the easiest way to rip off a tourist. However, that was not my experience in Tirana. I was charged a reasonable fare to get to my Airbnb in the center (2500 LEK – US$ 21.21). Plus, in this instance, Google Maps took us to the wrong place. Despite my not speaking a word of Albanian, the driver figured out we didn’t get to where I wanted to be. And, it wasn’t a great neighborhood, and it was Sunday night. We figured out the right place. He insisted I get back in the taxi and get me where I needed to be. And, he didn’t charge a single penny more for the hassle. At that point, I knew I was going to enjoy Tirana.