Exploring Gjirokaster: Albania’s Hidden Gem

Hidden in the beautiful countryside of southern Albania lies Gjirokaster, a city rich in culture, history, and natural splendor. Although often overlooked by more well-known cities, Gjirokaster remains a hidden treasure waiting for adventurous travelers to explore. Many compelling reasons make this charming city worth including in your travel plans.

The timeless architecture of Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster boasts timeless architecture, showcasing an amazing collection of Ottoman architecture and earning the title “The City of Stone.” Moreover, the well-preserved stone homes, decorated with wooden balconies, create a stunning atmosphere.

1- House of Zakat:

Perched somewhat on the mountain slope with a roof resembling a tin hat from the 1930s, the House of Zakat casts a shadow and is considered the best example of a typical Ottoman tower. Additionally, it features lower floors built of stone for safety reasons and main rooms showcasing decorated walls and ornate fireplaces.

2-The house of Skëndulatë:

Next to the ethnographic museum stands the House of Skëndulatë, which has passed the test of time despite being over 250 years old. Additionally, the tall building is supported by stone foundations reaching the windows of the first floor. It features finely crafted ceilings and a unique construction model that adds to its historical charm.

Gjirokaster Castle:

Perched on a hill overlooking the town, is a strong fortress with a time-tested history dating back to the 12th century. Guests can take in breathtaking perspectives of the surrounding landscape while exploring its medieval ramparts and underground dungeons, showcasing its crucial role in shaping Albania’s history.

The rich heritage of the culture:

Perched on a hill overlooking the town, the strong fortress of Gjirokaster Castle has a time-tested history dating back to the 12th century. Guests can take in breathtaking perspectives of the surrounding landscape. Additionally, they can explore its medieval ramparts and underground dungeons, showcasing its crucial role in shaping Albania’s history.

Albanian Folk Iso Polyphony

Designated as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Spiritual Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO, Albanian Folk Iso Polyphony stands as the most recognized Albanian cultural heritage phenomenon internationally. In addition, it serves as a testament to Albania’s rich and diverse cultural legacy.

The birthplace of Ismail Kadare: 

Literature enthusiasts will particularly appreciate Gjirokaster as the birthplace of Ismail Kadare, Albania’s most renowned writer and Man Booker International Prize winner. Moreover, his childhood home, transformed into an exhibit, offers valuable insights into Albania’s literary history.

The birthplace of Enver Hoxha:

Enver Hoxha, the former leader of Albania, was born in Gjirokastër, with his birthplace now a museum dedicated to his life and legacy. Furthermore, the house, a traditional Ottoman-style stone structure, is situated in the historic center, surrounded by narrow cobblestone streets and historic buildings.

Natural Beauty:

Gjirokaster’s natural beauty, characterized by green valleys, rolling hills, and crystal-clear rivers, offers abundant opportunities for outdoor adventures and eco-tourism initiatives. Moreover, the area’s beauty is unspoiled, providing the ideal setting for outdoor enthusiasts and eco-conscious travelers alike.

Mount Çajup

Mount Çajup, a prominent peak near the city, stands at an elevation of approximately 1,824 meters. Moreover, it is a popular destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. The area around Mount Çajup offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including the valleys, rivers, and villages that dot the countryside below.

Warm Hospitality: 

A major part of a trip to Gjirokaster is the authentic Hospitality of the locals. When sampling homemade food in a local taverna or chatting with a helpful shopkeeper, Visitors are warmly welcomed into the bustle of daily life. This feeling of camaraderie and community leaves a lasting impression on tourists even after leaving the city.


Gjirokastra’s traditional cuisine, passed down through generations, includes dishes like pasha qofte and shapkat, showcasing the rich flavors and cooking elements unique to the region.The culture of mahogany is a tradition passed down through the generations, not only on the tables of the stone city, but also in the surrounding areas.

Pasha qofte:

If you pass once in Gjirokastër, don’t leave without trying the famous pasha qofte of this area. It is called so because it was cooked for Ali Pasha Tepelena and the composition is rice meatballs, cooked in white or red sauce. It is simple to prepare, but full of taste when consumed, it was not for nothing that it was Ali Pasha’s favorite. T


Another popular recipe from this area is Shapkat, also known as cabbage with corn flour or pispili. It represents a typical dish that generations have preserved and continues to be full of flavor even today.

Gjirokaster offers a captivating mix of history, culture, and natural beauty that’s certain to impress even the most experienced travelers. Exploring its quaint streets, taking in panoramic views from the Castle walls, or immersing oneself in the vibrant cultural landscape encourages exploration and curiosity. So why delay? Take a trip to Gjirokaster and experience the wonder of Albania’s hidden treasure.

Apollonia archeological park

All roads lead to Albania: What you need to know before traveling to Albania

All roads lead to Albania: What you need to know before traveling to Albania

From its stunning beaches and Mediterranean climate to its rich history and culture, there is something for everyone in Albania. Why all roads lead to Albania? More than 2000 years ago, the Romans built great roads to connect with Rome. Via Appia which was Rome’s first road, linked both sides of the Adriatic Sea through Via Egnatia. Starting in Dyrrahium (modern-day Durres, Albania), Via Egnatia stretched through valleys and mountains in the southern Balkan to end in Constantinople (now Istanbul). Traveling in Albania connects you with the ancient history of the Illyrians, Greeks and Romans. Moreover, you will follow the footsteps of Julius Caesar on the eastern part of the Adriatic Sea.

Today tourism in Albania is turning into a very important industry. Considering it a unique experience, many famous travel magazines like New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller, etc recommend it as a travel destination for 2023. Travelers choose Albania because it’s out of an ordinary destination. Within a small area, one can experience a diversity of activities. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at the best things to do in Albania, the best time to visit, how to get around, where to stay, and whether is it safe to travel in Albania.

Apollonia archeological park
Apollonia archeological site, a key town along Via Egnatia

The best things to do in Albania

Visit the Albanian Riviera: The Albanian Riviera is one of the most beautiful and popular tourist destinations in the country. With its charming beaches and Mediterranean climate, it’s no wonder why. Dhermi Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the Riviera and is perfect for soaking up the sun. Qeparo’s old town standing on the edge of rocky hills is in symphony with southern Italy. And hiking in Llogara National Park will offer the best panoramic views of the Ionian Sea and its islands. Whereas, Gjipe beach makes you feel in a remote and tropical paradise. Down south facing Corfu Island, Ksamil has the best sandy beaches in Albania.

Explore the archeological sites: Albania has a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Butrint archaeological site, and the medieval city of Gjirokaster and Berat. The ancient city of Apollonia was a key town along the Via Egnatia, where famous Roman people like Julius Caesar and Augustus hang around. Bylis, Amantia, and Oriku created a koinon (political community) along the Vjosa river. History buffs can enjoy traveling between 10-12 days around Albania to adore archeological remains.

Ksamil beach and Corfu Island on the horizon

Hiking in the mountains: Albania has one of the highest average altitudes in Europe, approximately 700 meters above sea level. Options to hike are numerous, from the Albanian Alps to the Sharr mountains in the north, to Tomorr and Nemercka in the south. Most of the trails are open and clean from snow from June until November. 

Spend a weekend in Tirana: The Albanian capital is one of the growing capitals in the Western Balkans in terms of population and economy. It offers a buzzy nightlife, impressive museums, and many outdoor activities.

Go for birdwatching: In Albania are annually observed over 315 bird species, many of them nesting here. Along the coastline, you can go to see water birds such as flamingos, pelicans, or herons in the lagoons of Karavasta, Narta, and Kune-Vain. Additionally, Drinos and Vjosa valley are frequented by different raptors.

A Little Egret resting in Karavasta Lagoon

The best time to visit Albania

The best time to visit Albania is between March and October when the weather is warm and sunny. However, the country’s charming coastline and Mediterranean climate make it a popular destination for visitors all year round. Spring and autumn seasons are best for exploring city life, while July and August are good to spend relaxing on the beach. The most popular winter destination is the city of Korce. It offers a cozy Christmas atmosphere, delicious cuisine, and ski slopes in the village of Dardhe.

How to get around Albania

There are several ways to get around Albania, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The best way to see the country is by car, as this gives you the most flexibility in terms of where you go and what you see. Alternatively, you can take the bus between big cities. Besides being slow, you may not be able to get to all of the places you want to go.

Practical information for visitors to Albania includes knowing that most people speak Albanian, although English is also widely spoken. The country uses the Albanian Lek as its currency, and visitors need to have cash when traveling around the country. Paying by card is not that common in Albania.

Guesthouse in Shkoder
Tradita in Shkoder

Where to stay in Albania

When it comes to finding accommodation in Albania, there are a few different options to choose from. The capital, Tirana, is a good place to start your search for hotels and hostels. There are also many apartments for rent in Tirana if you’re looking for something more long-term. Guesthouses (Albanian: Bujtinat) are another option for accommodation and are typically family-run businesses that provide a more traditional Albanian experience. Recently, the Albanian government is supporting local farmers to invest in their land, and spending time with these friendly people is an exceptional event.

Is it safe to travel in Albania

Albania is open for travel from all countries, and most domestic restrictions have been lifted. To illustrate, Albania is ranked 41 on the 2022 Global Peace Index. Considering safety categories such as physical harm, theft, daytime/nighttime safety, or women’s safety, tourists in Albania are pretty safe. In general, there is a welcoming atmosphere for foreigners. Regarding health and medical, it’s advised to tourists to bring international travel insurance. Public hospitals have increased their service, and many private hospitals offer good assistance. In terms of terrorism, there has never been any attack in Albania.


No matter where you decide to stay in Albania, you’re sure to have a memorable experience. The locals are friendly and welcoming, making Albania the perfect place to relax and enjoy a vacation. And with so much to see and do, you’ll never be bored in this lovely country.

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Lin village

Top 10 places to visit in Albania – off the beaten path

Top 10 places to visit in Albania - off the beaten path

Are you planning to visit Albania and you like to explore hidden gems?! Albania is a small country to visit, yet it is filled with many unique places to see. Covered by mountains from north to south, you will find many things to do in Albania. Besides the natural beauty of Albania, you will see different traditions and lifestyles on these hidden destinations in Albania.

If you are a traveler that wants to go off the beaten path, you will find these destinations attractive and exceptional. Many of you can easily reach these villages in Albania, but to enjoy the best you might need to hike a little. Remember to travel slowly in Albania and experience first-hand with locals.

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Voskopoje is a village 15km away from the city of Korce. It stands between mountains and wild forests. Voskopoje used to be a cultural center during the Ottoman Empire. Communities of Albanian, Greeks, and Vlachs were co-living peacefully here until the 19th century. Today, Voskopoje has a different vibe from the rest of Albania and is considered “Paris of the Balkans”. Many of the old ancestors have returned and have opened new guesthouses. Travelers decide to visit Voskopoje because of the many Orthodox churches. You can hike to St. John the Baptist’s Monastery and nearby Shipske village, in a beautiful trail matching up churches and pine forests. Others visit Voskopoje to enjoy the local food and chilly weather.

Lin village
Lin village by the Lake Ohrid


Lin is a tiny village by Lake Ohrid and is an ancient settlement of humanity. A peninsula covered by archeological sites and crystal emerald waters. Most locals are fishermen that go out in the lake to catch Koran (an endemic trout fish of Lake Ohrid). The socialists built many bunkers here, and used them to patrol the lake. You can take a short hike around the peninsula to adore the natural beauties and history.


The town of Permet is on the bank of river Vjosa and at the foot of Mount Nemercka. A quiet city with friendly people and beautiful valleys bursting with roses. Generally, Permet is famous for the Bektashi community, a Sufi Islam sect widely practiced in Albania. Independent travelers choose to visit Permet for the purpose of connecting with nature. Traditional Guesthouse Permet and Ferma Albanik are run by friendly locals who love nature. Try to spend an overnight here to support the local community and get closer to Mother Earth. Additionally, you can drive the Fir of Hotova national park in a 4×4 car.


Nivica is in the center of Laberia province, alongside high mountains. Uniquely the region has a medieval water aqueduct, high waterfalls of Peshtura, and deep canyons of Nivice. Equally important is the historical fact that the people of Laberia played a significant role in the independence of Albania. You can easily reach Nivica from SH4 road, just at the entrance of the city of Tepelene. Camp Nivica and Camping Lekdushi – Shehu are two sustainable accommodations where one can fully embrace nature.

Flamingos in Narta Lagoon
Flamingos in Narta Lagoon

Narta Lagoon

Narta is the second-largest lagoon in Albania on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. A part of the lagoon is a salt marsh, which creates perfect conditions for birds to rest here. It is an incredible place for birdwatching of flamingos, dalmatian pelicans, or little terns. Surprisingly on the west are sand dunes that separate the sea from the lagoon. They have a height of 5-6 meters and offer beautiful views of Sazan Island. In addition, on the south is Zvernec village and its small island, where is the Monastery of Saint Mary. It’s open to the public all year round. Remember to bring a pair of binoculars when visiting Narta Lagoon.


Generally, the east of Albania is remote due to the high mountains. Peshkopi is one of the few small towns settled in this part of the country. It’s next to the border with North Macedonia, and you reach it from Tirana following the Road of Arberi. The town is famous for its thermal waters. Following this, Albanians visit hotels with Sulphur baths to cure rheumatism issues. Mountain tourism is increasing in Peshkopi as you can hike various trails in Korab – Koritnik nature park.

Trail of colors, Shishtavec
Trail of Colors in Shishtavec. Photo by Ermal Hallaci


Shishtavec is a village in the northeast of Albania and is the center of the Gorani people. As a result, locals speak the Albanian language and Goranski dialect. Obviously, it’s a multicultural place and appealing to ethnographers. The mountain pastures in this region are famous for the diversity of flora. Consider going hiking during summertime when trails are full of colors. You will be walking right on the border between Albania and Kosovo.


Lepushe is on the north edge of Albania, on the foot of the Albanian Alps. It’s less known than Theth or Valbone, yet the valley has many things to offer. During winter the area has a high snow density and is great for skiing. In summer travelers visit the valley to hike Vajusha peak. Additionally, hikers can reach several peaks such as Berizhdoli or Grebeni. The asphalted road to Lepushe has some of the most panoramic views in Albania. 10 km from the village is the border with Montenegro, which takes you to the rest of the Prokletije Alps.

Lepushe, Albania
The trail to Vajusha peak from Lepushe village


Qeparo is a seaside village in Albanian Riviera. By comparison, it’s less frequented than other villages like Dhermi or Jali. Qeparo is more frequented by families and is quite peaceful to enjoy the beach. Besides the bay, Qeparo has an upper old village. It offers amazing views of the Ionian Sea and olive grove hills. Locals of Qeparo produce some of the best olive oil in Albania. Seek to spend a night in the upper town to catch beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Sotira Waterfalls

Sotira waterfall is a tourist attraction on the foot of Mount Tomorr. You reach it by driving from the city of Gramsh. Then it takes approximately 1-hour hiking from the village of Sotire. The water flowing from Mount Tomorr creates some waterfalls of 20-100 meters in height. Remember to be careful when reaching the waterfall as the terrain is slippery.

Sotira waterfalls
Sotira waterfalls

I am a national tourist guide in Albania, and I get to travel a lot around the country, so I can guarantee you that these destinations have a different feeling. To avoid the big crows during high tourist season, head to these villages, and you won’t be disappointed. Overall, one can spend 10 days on average traveling around Albania.