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    About Albania – Tirana and Beyond

    Location: Albania

    We had Albania on our itinerary in 2020 when we had to cut our travels short and return home due to the Pandamit. It’s taken four years to get Albania and other Balkan countries back onto our itinerary. We are so glad to finally visit and to learn all About Albania – Tirana and Beyond.

    Cobbled Streets of Berat Albania


    As is true for all the Balkan nations we have visited, the history here is wildly chaotic. And yet the people are steadfast and resilient. A product of oppression and occupation and much more over thousands of years. In all the Balkan countries we have visited, from Bulgaria to Slovenia, Croatia to Romania, we have found wonderfully welcoming people happy to share their homeland.

    Born to Albanian Parents, Mother Teresa is much revered


    History here, well it would take volumes to cover it. As is true through out Central Europe the area known today as Albania was passed from Byzantines to Venetians to Ottomans. The Romans made an appearance, as they always do. But it is the more recent history of the past century that is so fascinating, frightening and frankly it’s a story that needs telling. I knew very little about this tyrannical leader and totalitarian regime of the recent past and I expect most other people are the same. I certainly am no expert, but here is a brief timeline from what I learned;

    Communist era gun bunker in the middle of the city
    Gun bunker entrance

    About Albania – Tirana and Beyond

    1918 -At the end of World War I Italy occupies Albania

    1921 – Yugoslavia invades Albania

    1921 – Ahmet Zogu comes into power and will continue in and out of control of the country for the next 18 years, declaring himself King.

    1939 – Mussolini attacks Albania

    1941 – Albanian Communist Party founded; Enver Hoxha becomes first secretary. He is a staunch Stalinist.

    1946 – Enver Hoxha becomes prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and commander-in-chief.

    1961 – Under Hoxha, Soviet Union breaks diplomatic relations, Albania looks towards China for support.

    1967 – Hoxha regime conducts violent campaign to extinguish religious life in Albania; by year’s end over two thousand religious buildings were closed or converted to other uses. Albania is declared “the world’s first atheist country,” religious leaders are imprisoned and executed.

    1975 – 1991 – Hoxha creates authoritarian state with no roads in or out. A complete closure to the outside world and absolute isolation for Albanian people.

    1985 – Hoxha dies and Ramiz Alia is his successor.

    1991 – Communism falls in Albania.

    1992 – Democratic Party wins election. Former President Alia and eighteen other former communist officials, including Nexhmije Hoxha, wife of late dictator Hoxha, arrested and charged with corruption and other offenses.

    The “Pyramid” originally a shrine to Hoxha is now a school in Tirana
    A piece of the Berlin Wall displayed in one of Tirana’s parks.

    Albania Today

    Thirty-three years after the fall of communism in Albania, it is a much different place. The country continues to find its way out of the decades of oppression. As a visitor however, you will find a vibrant city in Tirana, despite traffic gridlock and some persistent air pollution. Efforts are being made for new roads and infrastructure upgrades, but as of this writing there are way too many cars for the quality of the roads. Both parking and driving etiquette is non-existent. Multiple high-rise buildings are under construction and unique and beautiful architecture abounds.

    View from Kruje

    Albania awaits entry into the European Union, and they have waited for a couple of decades. Government corruption seems to be the stumbling block. Hopefully they can move forward in a positive way.

    Our Six Day Visit

    During our time in Albania we based ourselves in Tirana in an Airbnb. We had a car, although we regretted it on several occasions. Driving here is not for the faint of heart and gas is $8USD a gallon. To get around Tirana however, we parked the car and walked and took the bus. Multiple taxi options are also available. We spent two days in the city of Tirana and we recommend the following.

    As we often do on day one of visiting a new city we signed up for a free walking tour with FREE TOURS. Our guide was excellent, spoke perfect English and had a great grasp of the complicated history of Tirana. During our two hour tour we visited the Skanderbeg Square, which is the heart of the city and named for Albanian National Hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu. Skanderbeg is revered for defending the country against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century. Our guide described all the new construction in the city and changes being made to attract tourism. We visited the “pyramid”, originally a shrine to Dictator Enver Hoxha but today a school. He also explained the Bunk Art Museums (more on that below) and pointed out several other museums in the city. Finally he shared with us some great restaurant options. A perfect introduction.

    Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu
    National Museum of History

    On Our Own

    Following our tour we headed out to explore more deeply several places in the city. We started at the Et hem Bey Mosque, a beautiful historic mosque right on Skanderbeg square. Throughout all the occupations and historical violence, this mosque was saved partly because of its unique beauty and design. The minaret was broken in WWII but replaced after the war.

    Gorgeous interior of Et hem Bey Mosque
    Unique and beautiful exterior Et hem Bey Mosque

    Next we visited Bunk Art Two. There are two Bunk Art museums, Bunk Art One is further out of town (more on that below) but Bunk Art Two is located right behind Et hem Bey mosque. Both museums are built inside former bunkers, built to protect the communist elite in times of war or nuclear attack. Bunk Art Two is smaller and easily accessible from the city. Learn more here.

    Decompression Chamber Bunk Art Two
    Communications Equipment Bunk Art Two

    PizarirRi New Bazaar – we ended our day strolling through the city’s New Bazaar, a colorful and lively area for locals and visitors alike. Our guide recommended this to us for traditional Albanian foods as well as crafts and people watching. We had an excellent meal at Oda, a old family restaurant serving traditional local food.

    New Bazaar
    Oda Traditional Food
    Local salad always has cucumber and tomato
    Stuffed peppers are a traditional Balkan food

    Day Two in Tirana

    Dajti Express Gondola – we took the bus to the foot of the gondola, and we are so glad we didn’t try to drive in the crazy traffic. The bus was clean and efficient and cost 40 cents USD. We arrived pretty early to the gondola and there was no one there. It was Sunday and we were surprised. We rode the gondola up and admired the views. Slowly more people started to arrive so we headed out to do a hike. We had trouble finding the trail head, because a big fence had been erected. But we eventually scooted around it and did a nice but not too strenuous hike traversing the side of the mountain. The area is a bit run down with tacky tourist tzotskis, but I recommend you do the gondola when in Tirana especially for the views. The Gondola is closed on Tuesdays.

    View of Tirana from the gondola

    Bunk Art One – Located at the foot of the gondola, so a perfect activity to do at the same time. This is the original Bunk Art museum, opened in 2014. Located inside this massive bunker designed to protect the communist elite in case of nuclear or other warfare. It is five stories deep set into the mountain. Be sure to have a light jacket or sweater because it is very chilly. Most of the displays are available in English. It’s a fascinating look into the mindset of the communist leadership of the time. Sad and frightening for those who died and those who lived through the tyrannical leadership of Enver Hoxha.

    Bunk Art One
    Bunk Art One

    Day Trips Outside of Tirana

    With our car we chose to do day trips from Tirana on three days. All of the places listed here can be done with a tour, or a taxi from Tirana. All can also be overnight destinations on their own. But we chose to do them as day trips. Let me reiterate however, driving in this country is not for the faint of heart.


    Duress – a popular summer destination, Duress sits on the Mediterranean Sea about 30 min from Tirana. But, of everything we did in Albania, Duress was my least favorite. The town has a few historic sights including a Roman Amphitheater and Venetian Tower, but the sites and the town overall seemed rundown and in need of some tender loving care. The beach was covered in sea-grass during our early April visit.

    Sea grass and a messy beach in Duress
    Roman Amphitheater Duress


    Berat – Possibly my favorite place we visited in Albania, the UNESCO World Heritage site offers a beautiful river front location on the Osum River with ancient 2500 year old village and winding cobbled streets. Berat is known for its “one over one” windows and a is showcase of traditional Albanian life. It’s a straight up walk to the fortress above the city (also driveable) but absolutely worth seeing this beautiful Castle of Berat and walled site dating to the 4th century.

    Berat Walled city and cobbled streets
    Osum River and The Arched Bridge of Gorica


    Lake Bovilla – the drive to Lake Bovilla was crazy. We probably would not have done this day trip if we had better understood how rough the road was going to be. But, we made it and were so glad we did. We arrived early and were the only people there. We assumed no one else was dumb enough to tackle the road. But then vans of tourists started to arrive and even taxis. So if you want to come to Bovilla but don’t want to try and drive it, there are multiple transportation options.

    Lake Bovilla is a reservoir built high in the mountains and the crystal clear turquoise water is a sight to see. You pay 100 lek (1 USD) to climb stairs to the look out at the top, and this is what makes the drive worth it. Mind blowing beauty.

    Just a snapshot of what the road was like
    Climbing to the peak
    Oh the view

    Close By

    Kruje – It’s another winding drive to the medieval village of Kruje, but it’s not so far and I’m glad we went. We enjoyed climbing up to the old castle and shopping in the colorful historic bazaar. There are several museums too as well as hotels and restaurants. Kruje is the birthplace of Albania’s National Hero Skanderbeg.

    A beautiful day at the Kruje Castle
    Kruje is famous for it’s colorful and traditional bazaar

    Final Thoughts

    Be sure not to miss the local coffee culture. Albanians spend hours in sidewalk coffee shops. It really is a huge part of the daily social life of nearly everyone. In fact our tour guide, somewhat tongue in cheek, said he thinks all the coffee shops make people lazy…they spend too much time drinking coffee with friends. During our stay we of course tucked in to as many coffee shops as we could. And, we made a visit to Tirana’s only Microbrewery, The Taproom by Pan’s Microbrewry.

    I love good coffee and Albania has it
    Refreshing stop at The Taproom by Pan’s Microbrewery

    About Albania – Worth a Visit

    Lake Bovilla

    Rough around the edges, indeed. But for me, it’s beautiful to see this rising star of a destination working to overcome all of its troubling past. If you love history like I do, unique culture and strong and resilient people, you will love Albania. Come and see why Albania is one of the most anticipated emerging destinations in the world. Come and see what is happening here – About Albania – Tirana and Beyond.

    Coming up in a future post I’ll tell you about our visit to Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia. This could be a day trip from Tirana, but we chose to spend several days. Stay tuned to learn more about this beautiful region of the Balkans.

    More next week about Lake Ohrid

    Thank you for reading my post About Albania – Tirana and Beyond. See last week’s post A Visit to Knossos Palace, Heraklion Crete here. We thank you in advance for commenting on our posts, sharing and pinning. And for being faithful followers of My Fab Fifties Life adventures around the world.