For many years, I heard friends talk about their adventurous trips through the unique Albanian Alps. This little gem in the Balkans still seemed overall untouristed and was therefore a priority on my bucket list. Recently, Albania has become a much more popular destination through social media. I was all the more delighted to receive a wedding invitation; the perfect chance to finally explore Albania myself.
Today, I share my ultimate 5-day itinerary through Albania including three UNESCO World Heritage sites between Tirana towards Butrint in the south and back.
Day 1: Kruja
Our journey began with a day trip from the capital Tirana to Kruja, a historic town known for its medieval Old Bazaar and the legendary Kruja Castle. The old market is a heavenly street for admirers of traditional crafts, such as the typical colourful carpets and woodwork, and local delicacies. The Skanderbeg Museum, located inside the castle, gave us a controversial introduction into Albanian history and pride.
Day 2: Tirana
Just before the wedding of our friends, we hunted for city highlights in Tirana, the vibrant capital of Albania. We started our half-day walk at the central Skanderbeg Square with its Et’hem Bej Mosque, a historical milestone for religious freedom in Albania, the Clock Tower and the Palace of Culture. The museum Bunk’Art 2 is a former bunker that gives insights into Albania’s dictatorship. Then, we continued towards the Pyramid of Tirana with its panoramic view and towards the artistic Blloku district with its trendy cafes and lively atmosphere.
Day 3: Berat
Our next stop was Berat, a city renowned for its well-preserved Ottoman architecture and the historic Berat Castle. The city’s picturesque streets and ancient churches make this little mountainous town a UNESCO World Heritage site worth exploring.
Both from the bottom of the old town and from the very top of the castle mountain, beautiful panoramic views await Berat’s visitors. We stayed at a wonderful B&B from 1898 that made us feel like locals. I would have loved to stay some more nights and slowly wander around the old town.
Day 4: Gjirokaster
Continuing our journey, we arrived in Gjirokaster next, another UNESCO World Heritage site known for its stone houses and cobblestone streets. Driving through the steep and narrow streets of its old town was a challenge. I was happy to park the car and explore the city by foot. The Gjirokaster Castle provided us a window into the region’s past, while the local cuisine really gave us a taste of authentic Albanian culture.
Day 4: Blue Eye & Butrint
Our itinerary included a day trip to Blue Eye, a natural spring of mesmerizing blue hues. It’s embedded in the National Park Blue Eye with a total area of 293.3 ha. Hiking lovers may spend beautiful days roaming around the lake and its surrounding forest area, which is home to a large variety of plants and wild animals. It’s home for example to wolfs (canis lupus), jackals (canis aureus), roe deers (capreolus capreolus), wild cats (felis silvestris), otters (lutra lutra), foxes (vulpes vulpes), mountain partridges (alectoris graeca), common buzzards (buteo buteo), owls (bubo bubo) and salamandras (salamandra salamandra).
A one-hour drive further, we reached the ancient city of Butrint, an archaeological marvel that showcases Albania’s rich historical legacy. Butrint was an ancient Greek polis and later Roman city and the seat of an early Christian bishopric in Epirus. In shoulder season, we had the area almost for ourselves. I can imagine the tourist crowds in summer.
Day 5: Gjirokaster
As our tour came to an end, we hiked parts of the Egyptian Vulture Train in Gjirokaster, which hold some breathtaking panoramic views towads the Ali Pasha Bridge (also: Dunavat Bridge). The latter bridge was formerly part of a larger aqueduct complex, which supplied the Gjirokaster Castle with water during the 19th century.
Afterwards, driving back from Gjirokaster to Tirana took us about 3.5 hours, just before our flight back home.
My ultimate 5-day itinerary offers an introductory blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Personally, I found one of Europe’s most hospitable peoples in Albania, who still cherish their traditions. As a blogger passionate about international exchange, I encourage travelers to explore Albania in shoulder season. There’ll be less crowds and more opportunity to really get in touch with the locals.
Next time, I would love to go on outdoor adventures in the Albanian Alps and explore the country’s northern parts. You can get more inspiration from The Albanian National Tourism Agency.