What is truly amazing about Valbona and Theth, is that tourism grows slowly and sustainably over here. A few years back, the locals prevented the construction of a large chain hotel. So there are mostly small guesthouses around here and a responsible, conscious mindset for the surrounding nature.
Theth National Park (pictures by my friend Jule)
When asking fellow travelers for one of the best highlights on their Albania itinerary, many of them agreed on the ferry across Lake Koman. With more than 30 kilometers, this lake sits right in between Albania’s most spectacular mountain landscape.
You can stay in an accommodation right by the lake or next to the beautiful Shala river valley “Lumi i shales”.
With good weather, you get constant amazing views. Unfortunately, we were surprised by heavy rains and storms when we wanted to head to Koman, so we couldn’t make it. I hope, you’re luckier!
This ferry used to be the only way to reach the Valbona valley if you wanted to avoid the adventurous gravel road. So you can perfectly combine the ferry ride with visiting Valbona.
Heads-up: It only runs once a day at 10 a.m.
Route along the Black Drin
If you love driving off-road, then you should think about driving along the Black Drin. This route in Albania’s northeast leads you along winding serpentines and adventurous bridges with spectacular views of the Black Drin river valley.
You should definitely have a proper 4×4 vehicle and love traveling off the beaten path. But I’m sure this route can be an amazing adventure on your Albania itinerary.
How many days do you need for an Albania road trip?
To get a nice overview of the country with its different parts you should plan at least 2 weeks in Albania. The country is quite diverse and you should see some of its different regions (seaside, mountains, national parks, cute towns).
Also, be aware that the roads aren’t the best everywhere and there are many mountains in Albania. So you have to take some time to drive from one place to the next.
If you’ve got more time, three weeks are even better. This gives you the opportunity to dive deeper into the local culture and to slow down a bit.
How to get to Albania?
If you’re planning your Albania itinerary with your own car or a camper from Central Europe, you can drive all the way down passing through Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro (all amazing countries worth seeing as well). So driving down to Albania (or up again) can be an adventure in itself.
As we were in Italy
before, we decided to drive down through Italy and take a ferry from Bari (Italy)
to Durres (Albania). The overnight ferry took around 9 hours and was quite comfy (book a bed in a cabin! — it’s not that expensive. We paid around 200 Euros for a car and a cabin for two people).
On the way back to Germany, we took it slow and stopped in Montenegro and Croatia. This was well worth it!
The ferry from Bari to Durres
How to get around Albania?
Well, you can travel through Albania by public transport, as there’s quite a good bus network. And it’s not expensive at all.
Also within the capital, Tirana, you can easily get around by bus for 40 LEK (around 0.30 US $) no matter how long the ride. You don’t have to buy a ticket in advance, just pay on the bus. But Tirana is easily walkable as well. And it’s more fun, don’t you think?
In my opinion, driving around Albania yourself is a highlight itself.
There are so many panoramic roads, such as the coastal road between Dhermi and Borsh, the Llogara Pass, the ride next to the blue river on the way to the Blue Eye, or passing through Tepelene on the way to Lengarica Canyon. And of course, the road along the viewpoints next to Osum Canyon.
During the last few years, more and more roads have been renewed. So an Albania road trip isn’t as exhausting as it used to be with the many gravel roads just a few years back.
Just Tirana has stayed the same and is still full of traffic jams. And well, you have to get used to the Albanian way of driving. It can happen that someone passes by five cars with their warning lights on, no matter if it’s a windy road.
By the way, there are no tolls to use Albanian highways, fuel was a bit cheaper than in Central Europe, and we never had any issues finding accommodation with free parking.
Ferry to Durres & driving in Albania
Suggested Albania itineraries
2 weeks Albania itinerary
Arrival in Durres (by ferry) or in Tirana (by plane):
Tirana (2 days)
Berat (2 days)
Gjrokaster (2 days), with a day trip to Lengarica Canyon
Albanian Riviera (3-4 days), with a day trip to Butrint
Koman Lake & Albanian Alps (3-4 days)
Arrival by land in the north of Albania:
Take the same route, just start in Koman Lake & Albanian Alps, and then head to Tirana
2 weeks Albania itinerary (click for interactive map)
10 days Albania itinerary
If you’ve only got 10 days in Albania, I’d suggest skipping one stop of the 2 weeks itinerary (e.g. the north of Albania, even though it’s such a stunning landscape).
Otherwise, it can get quite stressful. Here’s an example:
Tirana (2 days)
Berat (2 days)
Gjrokaster (2 days), with a day trip to Lengarica Canyon
Albanian Riviera (3 days), with a day trip to Butrint
You could also decide to visit either Berat or Gjirokaster and add a stop at Koman Lake in the end.
3 weeks Albania itinerary
With 3 weeks in Albania, you’ve got enough time to dive deeper into the culture. Take the 2 weeks Albania itinerary and extend your time in the places you’d like to see more in-depth. Alternatively, I’d suggest visiting Lake Ohrid or adding an overnight stop in Llogara National Park.
Good to know
When is the best time to visit Albania?
As a huge fan of the low season, I’d say September-October and May-June are perfect for setting off for an Albania itinerary. In July and August, it can be really hot and quite crowded, especially along the coast. You can perfectly avoid these crowds a few months before and after the high season. But don’t wait too long, as many parts of the country are located above 1000 meters above sea level, so it gets very cold in winter (with lots of snow).
We were in Albania end of September and had perfect warm weather, a few nice days by the beach, and experienced a very authentic country without the tourist masses.
Where to sleep on your Albania road trip?
While cruising through Albania, you can see campers parking everywhere. There are some campsites, but wild camping is allowed in most places. And isn’t it just perfect waking up next to a canyon, river, or lake?
Just be aware that you need permission to camp in national parks.
But you can also plan your Albania itinerary with a car and stay in guesthouses. We only booked our first nights in Tirana in advance and didn’t have any issues booking our accommodation just 1-2 nights in advance. This way, we were super flexible and were able to stay in one place as long as we liked.
How expensive is traveling in Albania?
Traveling in Albania is quite cheap. We mostly stayed in cute, nice guesthouses for around 3500 – 6000 LEK (30 – 50 Euros) per night for two people in a nice double room. There are even cheaper options (and of course more expensive ones as well).
Food is also really affordable. Most dishes cost around 400 – 700 LEK (4 – 6 Euros). So with two mains, one side to share and two drinks we usually paid around 1700 – 2500 LEK (15 – 22 Euros) for a dinner.
Be aware that you mostly have to pay cash. Only few accommodations, restaurants, and shops accept card payments. So always have enough cash at hand.
Tip: Credins Bank is the only bank in Albania where you can withdraw money without a fee. So look out for the yellow bank.
Is traveling in Albania safe?
You may have heard that Albania has a bad reputation when it comes to safety. Maybe it’s due to their dark past and those many horrendous crimes during communism, or due to Mafia activities. Maybe it’s just the media exaggerating.
From what I learned and from my own experience, however, this reputation is entirely wrong.
It even seems like many Albanians are aware of their country’s reputation and want to convince you of the opposite. Especially our hosts in different guesthouses welcomed us with open arms and extreme helpfulness. In some areas, they even told us that they don’t lock their doors because the neighborhood is so safe. So we felt safe during the whole time in Albania.
Of course, there are also pickpockets in Albania. This happens everywhere. So use your common sense and have an eye on your valuables, just as you do in any other European country. And during a road trip in Albania, try not to leave any valuables openly visible in your car. Then you’ll be fine.
What about Internet? Can you use EU roaming in Albania?
As Albania isn’t part of the EU, you can’t use your EU mobile data (that’s free within the EU if you’ve got an EU simcard). You can buy an Albanian Simcard instead. Go with Vodafone, as they provide the best network across the country. There are tourist packs for 1 week, 2 weeks, or a month for a few Euros. As I had to work remotely I decided on a large data pack with 28 GB for 1700 LEK (15 Euros). If you’re traveling through other Balkan countries such as Montenegro, you can also use that simcard there.
Food in Albania
Albanian food is a nice mixture of Mediterranean, Greek, and some Italian influences.
Often you can share small plates (just like Meze in Greece or Tapas in Spain). We never had any problems finding vegetarian options.
Here are some examples of traditional Albanian dishes:
Stuffed vegetables (e.g. eggplant, peppers, or pumpkin) – often stuffed with rice, mixed vegetables and sometimes cheese on top
Ferges – Like a vegetable casserole with cheese
Pispili – Spinach cake
Byrek – Like a pie with a soft pastry
Qifqi – Rice balls (A special from Gjirokaster)
Sarma – Stuffed wine leaves
Qofte – Fried vegetable balls
Petulla – The typical Albanian “pancakes”, but they’re fried, more like donuts
Raki – There’s no way of leaving Albania without having some Raki (locals often even drink a glass with their coffee in the morning)
Byrek | Stuffed peppers | Albanian “pancakes”
The Albanian language
Most Albanians don’t speak English, or just very very basic. But usually, you’ll find your way around communicating with hands and feet.
If you speak Italian, this can help you a lot (they Albanians watch a lot of Italian TV, so their Italian ist better than their English).
Did you know that the Albanian language is one of the oldest languages in the world? And even more peculiar, there is no similar language (as it’s neither part of the Roman nor the Slavic family).
So here are a few words that are helpful on your Albania itinerary. I noticed that whenever we spoke a few words in Albanian (just a simple “hello” or “good night”) often changed the atmosphere completely. We received huge smiles and waves, just because we were trying to speak a few words. So give it a try (the way I wrote the words is not correct, it’s just to make it easier for you to pronounce them):
Sustainable travel in Albania
Oh, dear. As spectacular as Albania could be, there’s a huge downside that you constantly encounter during your time in Albania: The amount of trash!
Albania has an enormous garbage problem. You come across trash everywhere you go: On the way to the beach, on the streets, while hiking. And you can desperately look for litter bins in most places.
While you drive through the country on your Albania itinerary, you may see someone in the car in front of you opening their window and throwing out the packaging of their snack. It’s horrible!
Also, you see many suffering animals across Albania – from dogs on way too short chains, to sick stray cats, and donkeys held in terrible conditions. As an animal lover you have to realize, that animal welfare has not yet reached many places in Albania. And most of the strays live in between all that horrible trash.
Why does Albania have such a huge trash problem?
The issue is rooted in history
: After the country was largely isolated from the development in Western countries during communism, Albania was almost overrun by new products and all that plastic packaging.
Product marketing reached people faster than any awareness of the consequences that waste has on the environment. Thus, rivers and nature were flooded with garbage even before people had ever heard terms like “landfill” let alone “waste management”.
Even today, the infrastructure for proper waste disposal simply doesn’t exist. To create such an infrastructure (e.g. with comprehensive waste collection or garbage cans) would imply tax increases. However, the population is rejecting this because people do not understand its benefits and are very skeptical of the authorities, communities, and the state (due to the long history of corruption in the country). People simply don’t believe that higher taxes would make for an improvement but instead fear that the money won’t be used for that purpose at all.
However, there is one positive example in the country: the city of Shkodra. Here, a candidate for mayor has announced that she would raise taxes but has also made clear that the population will benefit from that. She was indeed elected and has already been able to make a difference. So far, unfortunately, she remains a rare individual example.
Recently, however, a National Waste Management Strategy
was introduced, which provides a roadmap to 2035 through which principles such as “circular economy” are to be advanced. In my eyes, there is still a long way to go and it is high time before people, the environment, and animals drown in waste.
Albania’s nature & animals drowning in trash
What can we do as travelers?
Be aware that your trash as a traveler may also end up on the side of the road or in a river, even if you dispose of it in a proper garbage can. That’s why it’s even more important to cause as little waste as possible.
Try to stick to a few rules to avoid waste:
Avoid any plastic packaging (say no to any plastic bags but bring your own tote bag instead)
Buy fresh fruit or freshly prepared snacks instead of packed snacks like chips or cookies
Bring your own cosmetics instead of using the shampoo samples in any accommodation
Say no to plastic straws, plastic cups etc.
And give some love to stray animals! Many dogs and cats yearn for some cuddles more than for food. If you give them some water or a bit of food, you can make them even happier. In case you see an injured animal, bring it to the closest vet!
Besides the trash problem, a large part of Albanians live in poverty. When living on less than 100 Euros per month for a whole family, they have other issues than proper waste disposal. That’s why it’s important as a sustainable traveler to support locals whenever you can. Buy groceries at local shops, eat in local restaurants and stay at local’s accommodations.
When you’re cruising around in a camper, make sure to only use biodegradable products for showering and washing your dishes. This way you can make sure to leave as few harmful substances as possible in the environment.
Lost places & bunkers
Another thing that catches your eye in Albania is the large number of abandoned houses and bunkers that you see everywhere.
These traces of communist times are still spread across the entire country – over 170.000 bunkers will surprise you on the most random spots while you’re hiking, on the beach, walking past a backyard, or a field. Like large, gray mushrooms they’re leftovers of a dark past.
I can definitely recommend visiting one of the two bunker museums in Tirana to learn more about the history of Albanian bunkers and its communist past.
Bunkers & lost places in Albania
Bunkers everywhere in Albania
Albania – a wrap-up
Albania in three words: Byrek | canyons | trash (yes, sadly that’s one of the things that left a mark)
Did you know? The most famous Albanian is … Mother Theresa. Yep, she was actually Albanian!
Favorite photo spot: The most narrow part of Lengarica Canyon. Those steep walls are just incredible!
Favorite food: Stuffed eggplants
Can’t miss: Going for a hike, no matter if it’s in a canyon, in the Albanian Alps, along the coast or in a national park
Did I inspire you for your Albania itinerary? Or is there anything else you’d like to add to this Albania travel guide? Let me know and leave a comment below!