5 Tips for Traveling to Albania

I visited this wonderful country last summer with dreams of an interesting Mediterranean holiday. Albania completely lived up to my expectations of a fun and off the beaten path place to visit, complete with breathtaking beaches.

I absolutely loved my time there, but I wish I’d known a few things before jetting off. Here are my top tips for traveling to Albania, one of the Balkan peninsula’s most fascinating countries.

1. Be prepared for a language barrier – learn a few phrases before you go

As an English speaker, I’m quite privileged when I travel abroad, as I can usually find someone who speaks my language. However, this was simply not the case with Albania.

Albania was one of the first places I visited where finding people who spoke English proved difficult. In general, most of the youth spoke English very well, but many over 30 or 40 did not. Be prepared!

Learn a few general words and phrases before you go, and keep in mind that Albanian is unlike other languages, even those in neighboring Balkan countries. Brush off your charades and body language skills and you’ll be fine.

Related: 8 Tips for Traveling in the Balkans

Tips for traveling to Albania
Welcome to Albania! © Sydney Baker

Basic Albanian Phrases

  • Hello – Përshëndetje!
  • Excuse me – Më falni
  • Thank you – Faleminderit
  • Yes – Po
  • No – Jo
  • Sorry – Më fal

2. The high season is busy – don’t expect empty beaches

While US-Americans and Western Europeans might not be as “in-the-know” about visiting Albania, locals and neighboring Balkan tourists have been visiting the country for the wonder that it is for quite some time, especially the coastline!

Unless you’re willing to get really off the beaten path, don’t expect empty beaches in summertime. Unfortunately Albania isn’t quite the “hidden gem” that the general population of vacationers might be seeking. Crowds can be expected from June to August, with the latter making up the peak of the high season. For these reasons, I wouldn’t recommend visiting in August (I did only because August was when I could get time off work and school).

If you want summer weather without too many others on the beach, I’d recommend late May to late June or September. If you don’t care about swimming or prefer milder temps, April, May, and October are also nice, just note that not everything will be open in these shoulder seasons.

Visiting the Albanian coast
Visiting Saranda on the Albanian coast. © Sydney Baker

And remember, there are many beaches beyond the popular ones!

I stayed in Saranda, the capital and main hub of the southern beach area, and I also spent some time next door in Ksamil. If I’d had more time, I would’ve explored Vlore, the meeting place of the Adriatic and Ionian seas, as well as Himare and Dhermi (car necessary) to enjoy some of Albania’s most spectacular beaches. Next time, I definitely want to spend more time in the country’s south, try a different base, and explore more sandy coastlines!

If you have time to spare, try out two different bases, like Himare and Ksamil and take day trips to other places. Saranda is the biggest, but unless you’re looking to party, there are nicer places to relax.

Related: Traveling in the Balkans: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Greece

3. Buses are nice…sometimes

The Balkans are one part of Europe without a great train system, nor a ton of modern infrastructure. So, if you don’t want to drive (more on that in a minute) you’ll be taking buses between cities and sites.

Most buses work great, some are air-conditioned, and the seats can be comfortable. However, you may end up with an outdated coach without AC and whose only fan is half-broken and spraying dust at you for a four-hour ride (can you tell I’m a bit experienced with this one?)

Tirana has a central bus station where buses leave multiple times a day to all the main destinations in the country. You can ask your hotel to help you book or check the schedule, as there isn’t a consistent place where they’re posted. Alternatively, as I did take a taxi there and let the driver know where you’re going and they’ll sort it out with the bus drivers when you arrive.

You can also take buses to Saranda, Ksamil, and Gijokaster from Tirana Airport. Ask at the arrivals hall. For all buses, you just pay when you get on, in cash always. The airport buses will take Euros if you haven’t had time to get Albanian LEK.

In other towns, it’s recommended you go to the bus station the day before departure to purchase a ticket and check the schedule.

Related: How to Travel Europe Cheap. Two Weeks for $1,500 (Including Flights!)

Additionally, if you take local buses around, be prepared to be packed in way beyond capacity. One friendly guy who gave us a ride one day advised against the bus, referring to it as a “catastrophe,” we thought he was being hyperbolic until we suffered a cramped bus in 90-plus degree heat where people continued to board beyond capacity. We ended up getting off early and just walking.

Local bus stops usually have a schedule posted which is more or less accurate. You’ll pay cash after you board, usually a guy walks through the bus to collect it at some point during the ride.

Cars can be a nice option, but are also semi-terrifying

The few times we hailed a taxi or took a local up on an offer for a ride were more comfortable in some ways than the bus. The curving roads and high speeds, however, would definitely be a deterrent for me driving myself around the country. I was happy to let others take that responsibility for me!

4. If you plan to hike, don’t go in August

I speak from personal experience. I chose August because that’s when I had vacation time, but like most of the Mediterranean, this is when crowds and temperatures are at their highest. I don’t mind hiking in the heat, but over 80 degrees in the summer sun is a bit much — so ended up missing this part of Albania. I’d love to check out the mountains on my next visit, and will likely visit in spring or fall to do so.

However, August and the rest of summer is great if you want to ensure everything is open. Visit in shoulder or off-season and you’ll have far less options for restaurants and activities, plus less frequent buses.

Related: How to Get the Most out of Two Weeks in Europe

Hiking in Albania
Avoid hiking in August in Albania. © Sydney Baker

5. The food and drink are amazing

This isn’t so much a tip as an FYI and a big reason to go, but if you’re at all hesitant to visit because you’re unsure of what you’ll eat, don’t be. Bored on either side by Greece and Italy, the high-quality Mediterranean cuisine is also standard in Albania. The coffee is some of the best I’ve had in Europe (I haven’t been to Italy yet though), the seafood just as you would expect along the sea, and interesting wines from places like Kosovo and Croatia!

Related: 6 Things to Eat Next Time You’re in Kosovo

You should definitely try the mussels in the south, as they’re a local delicacy. Good pizza is also easy to find, for the reasons listed above. And don’t forget Byrek, a delicious pastry filled with spinach and/or cheese as well as Fergest — summer stew of vegetables served cold. Other specialities are Tavë Kosi which is baked lamb or chicken in a yoghurt sauce and trilece — a milk cake.

Albanian food
So much good food, so little time. © Sydney Baker

5. It’s cheap, for now…

I mostly went to Albania on a whim and a desire for an affordable beach getaway in August. I definitely paid less than I would have in the South of France, Portugal, or Santorini, but from what I’ve heard, it’s not as inexpensive as it once was, especially in peak season. Rising costs will only continue as more and more begin to discover the beauty of this charming country, so make sure to visit soon if you want the best value!

For context, I paid $70 a night for a full one-bedroom, beach-front apartment in the heart of Saranda. Meals rarely cost above $25, and that would be for a nice dinner with drinks and dessert. Long-distance bus rides range from $10 – 15.

Saranda Albania
Your Albanian adventure awaits! © Sydney Baker

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