Albania (Albanian: Shqipëria) is a country in the Balkans with nearly 3 million inhabitants. The country has been part of Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire until its first declaration of independence in 1912, and is one of few traditionally Muslim nations in Europe.
|Coastal Albania |
the long narrow strip between about 10 and 30 km wide along the whole Albanian coast, bordering both the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea
|Northeastern Albania |
the inland region to the north of the Shkumbin River, bordering Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia.
|Southeastern Albania |
the inland region to the south of the Shkumbin River bordering Macedonia and Greece, and including the great border lakes, Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa.
- 1 Tirana (Tiranë) — the capital. Trees and mountains surround the city. Mt. Dajt is a popular tourist site for a great view of the city.
- 2 Elbasan - A large, poor, intriguing industrial city that is full of life. The market is fascinating, and the breakfast "Bugace" legendary. The Via Ignatia, an old Roman road to Istanbul, runs through the city.
- 3 Berat — Thought to be one of the oldest towns in Albania, it is a new member of the UNESCO world heritage list. Berat has long been known as the "city of 1001 windows" because of its unique Ottoman/Albanian architecture. It has a well preserved castle with residents still living inside its protective walls.
- 4 Fier — Lively seaside city, and only about 8 km (5 mi) away from the ruins of the ancient Illyrian city of Apollonia.
- 5 Gjirokastër — another UNESCO city, located in the south is known for its unique Ottoman period architecture. There is a large castle on the hill in the middle of the city which served as a jail for many generations. A Military Museum and Art Gallery are now located inside. Gjirokastër is also the birthplace of former communist Leader, Enver Hoxha, as well as Albania's most internationally famous author, Ismail Kadare, their homes now serve as museums.
- 6 Korce (Korça) — Located in southeast Albania, several miles from the Greek border, this city is full of life during the summer when you can find couples and families strolling through the city's main park, Parku Rinia. You can hike to the top of the beautiful mountain Moravia and view the city and its surrounding landscape. Don't miss the Korca Brewery (famous throughout Albania) which sponsors a week long Beer Festival every August!
- 7 Kruje (Krujë) — ancient city of the national hero Skanderbeg. It consists of beautiful mountains; Skanderbeg's castle is now a museum. Kruje also contains an old style bazaar with shops selling traditional goods amid cobblestone streets. Kruje is known for it's carpet craftworks.
- 8 Shkodra — the biggest town in Northern Albania. Shkodra is considered the capital of Albanian culture. In Shkodra is located "Migjeni" theatre, the first in Albania and also was held the first cyclic race and also the first football match and the first photograph was developed (by Marubi). The Rozafa Castle is a major tourist attraction here,but also "The Great Cathedral", "The mosque Ebu Beker" etc.
- 9 Vlorë — Lively seaside city, nice beaches south of town. Passenger ferries to and from Italy dock here.
- Albanian Alps — This mountainous complex on the north of the country forms the border between Albania and Montenegro. Rich on rainfalls, sheep, bare rocks and scenic views it is one of the places in Albania you should see. One of the places where you can be less than 10 km away from the nearest village and still have a day long trip there.
- 2 Albanian Riviera — Featuring crystal clear waters, unspoiled beaches, and picturesque villages, this is the Mediterranean coastline as it once was.
- Butrint — Largest archaeological site from Greek era in Albania. It lies on the coast in the southernmost tip of the country, near the Greek border. Minibuses are available from Saranda.
- 5 Durres — is Albania's main entry port and one of the most ancient cities. The town's ancient amphitheater is the biggest in the Balkans.
- Ksamil — An absolute gem on the edge of the Butrint national park.
- Leskovik — Town in the beautiful mountains of Southeastern Albania
- 6 Lura National Park — a 1,280 hectare national park with high mountains, big meadows, and glacial lakes.
- 7 Shëngjin — A growing beach town located in northwest Albania known for its Adriatic Sea views.
- Tomorr — Mountain ridge in the southern part of Albania, not far from Berat. This part of the country is formed by parallel mountain ridges (up to around 2000–2500 m) separated by valleys. Although the ridges are not very long, they offer few days of hiking with enormous scenic beauty and fantastic panoramic views. Tomorri is one of the most known ridges with a Bektash monastery and chapel on the very top.
- Palasa, Near Himara - is a beautiful village in Himara with great beaches and amazing nature. This is the place where Julius Caesar rested his legion at the pursuit of Pompey. There are no touristic resorts, but you can ask for an apartment at the local caffe. The apartments usually are with two rooms and a toilette, but usually clean, safe and comfortable
- 8 Pustec contains Albania's share of Lake Prespa, which forms Prespa National Park. This is also an area of much history, evidenced by the multiple cave churches found near its villages as well as on the island of Maligrad.
|Currency||Albanian lek (ALL)|
|Population||3 million (2014)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Schuko, Europlug)|
|Time zone||Central European Time to UTC+02:00 and Europe/Tirane|
|Emergencies||112, +355-127 (emergency medical services), 128 (fire department), +355-129 (police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
While the relative majority of the people in Albania are of Muslim heritage (55-65%), according to the polls, around 35% of the Albanians are agnostics; 22% are atheists; 19% are Muslim; 15% are Orthodox; 8% are Catholics and 1% are of other religions. "Mixed" marriages are very common.
Traditional Albanian culture honors the role and person of the guest. In return for this place of honor, respect is expected from the guest. Albanians enjoy the long walks in the city streets, drinking coffee, and among the younger generations, participating in nightlife activities such as cafe lounging and dancing.
Albania is a poor country by European standards.
The name of the country Albania means Land of the Eagles.
Beginning in 1385, the Ottoman Empire was able to take control of what is now Albania. In 1443, a revolt started, led by George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. This revolt was stamped down only in 1479. The end of Ottoman rule in Albania occurred in 1912, and Albania became a country again.
In 1939, Albania was conquered by Fascist Italy and was subsequently occupied by Nazi Germany. Albanians very effectively shielded their small local Jewish population and a few hundred foreign Jews, giving Albania the distinction of being the only country occupied by the Nazis to end World War II with more Jews than before the war.
Following the defeat of the Axis powers at the end of World War II, a Communist government was established, presided over by resistance leader Enver Hoxha. Albania became famous for its isolation, not just from the market-run democracies of Western Europe, but from the Soviet Union, China, and even neighboring Yugoslavia. Hoxha also declared Albania to be the first "atheist state" and thus the anti-clericalism found in many branches of communism was stronger than in other communist regimes. Even as the Iron Curtain came down and communists lost power throughout Eastern and Central Europe, Albania seemed intent on staying the course, alone.
But in 1992, several years after the death of Hoxha, the Communist Party relinquished power and Albania established a multi-party democracy with a coalition government. The transition has proven difficult, as governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread gangsterism, and disruptive political opponents. Today Albania is moving closer towards neo-liberalism, with EU integration as its goal; Albania signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU on June 2006, and became an official candidate country in 2014, thus completing the first major step towards joining. In 2008, Albania received an invitation to join NATO.
With its coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas, its highlands backed upon the elevated Balkan landmass, and the entire country lying at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns during the winter and summer seasons, Albania has a high number of climatic regions for so small an area. The coastal lowlands have typically Mediterranean weather; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate. In the lowlands and the interior, the weather varies markedly from north to south.
The lowlands have mild winters, averaging about 7°C (45°F). Summer temperatures average 24°C (75°F). In the southern lowlands, temperatures average about 5°C (9°F) higher throughout the year. The difference is greater than 5°C (9°F) during the summer and somewhat less during the winter.
Inland temperatures are affected more by differences in elevation than by latitude or any other factor. Low winter temperatures in the mountains are caused by the continental air mass that dominates the weather in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Northerly and northeasterly winds blow much of the time. Average summer temperatures are lower than in the coastal areas and much lower at higher elevations, but daily fluctuations are greater. Daytime maximum temperatures in the interior basins and river valleys are very high, but the nights are almost always cool.
Average precipitation is heavy, a result of the convergence of the prevailing airflow from the Mediterranean Sea and the continental air mass. Because they usually meet at the point where the terrain rises, the heaviest rain falls in the central uplands. Vertical currents initiated when the Mediterranean air is uplifted also cause frequent thunderstorms. Many of these storms are accompanied by high local winds and torrential downpours.
- January 1: New Year's Day
- March 7: Teacher's Day
- March 14: Summer Festival
- Easter (moveable)
- Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha (Islamic high holidays)
- October 19: Mother Teresa Day
- November 28: Independence Day
- November 29: Liberation Day
- December 8: Youth Day
- December 25: Christmas
There is no longer a visa charge for any foreigners entering Albania.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, nationals of the following countries/territories can enter Albania without a visa: Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia *, Austria *, Azerbaijan, Belgium *, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria*, Canada *, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus *, Czech Republic*, Denmark*, Estonia *, Finland *, France*, Germany *, Greece *, Holy See, Hong Kong SAR, Hungary *, Ireland *, Iceland *, Israel, Italy *, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Latvia *, Liechtenstein, Lithuania *, Luxembourg *, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta *, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands *, New Zealand *, Norway *, Poland *, Portugal *, Romania *, San Marino *, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia*, Slovenia *, South Korea, Spain *, Sweden *, Switzerland *, Taiwan (Republic of China), Turkey, United Kingdom *, USA *, Ukraine, Qatar - in the period 25 May - 25 September 2012. United Arab Emirates - in the period 25 May - 25 September 2012. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - in the period 25 May - 25 September 2012. (Those countries with an asterisk can enter with an ID card).
States whose citizens may enter without visas due to their visa liberalization with Schengen area: Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Brunei, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Mauritius, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, El Salvador, Seychelles, St. Kitts and Nevis, Uruguay, Venezuela, Macao (China). For staying more than 90 days within the period of six months, they need to get visa type D.
There is a €1 road tax for the first 60 days of your stay. For every additional day it is €1 per day. Be sure to receive a receipt and keep it with you, as guards may request it upon exiting the country as proof of payment. The former €10 entrance fee per person has been abolished. The Albanian guards are very nice and do their best to help out and will, on occasion, allow fees to be paid in dollars or will forget to charge you. It's worth making sure you've got the Euros on you as the customs officers at Mother Teresa airport don't give change.
Be careful not to be charged the €1 road tax again when leaving the country. In that case the border guard assumes that you didn't pay the road tax when entering the country.
Tirana's "Mother Teresa" International Airport TIA IATA is located just 15 minutes away from the city. It is served by numerous European carriers such as British Airways, Alitalia, Lufthansa, Austrian, and the low cost carriers Eurowings and Belle Air. There is a large and modern terminal and a tourist information center.
You can book your taxi online with MerrTaxi Tirana 24/7 and it will cost you €10,99. The national toll-free number to call a taxi is 0800 5555. The international number to call a taxi is +355 67400 6610.
At the airport exit there are also numerous taxis 24/7 that can take you to the city. The taxi fee to the city center is €11-€15 (1500 - 2000 lek). Taxi fees to other locations are available here.
There is a bus that runs once an hour between the airport and Skanderbeg Square, called Rinas Express. It costs 250 lek each way and leaves on the hour from both the airport and from Skanderbeg Square. It runs from about 8AM to 7PM. The trip takes around 25-30 minutes. From the airport exit doors, walk towards the parking lot past the taxi touts to find the bus stop. At Skanderbeg Square, the bus stop is located around the northwest corner, near other bus stops. The bus is not only punctual but sometimes even early, so plan to be there a few minutes in advance. Do not be intimidated by the signs not mentioning "airport" or any variation of it at the Skanderbeg Square stop. "Rinas" means the bus goes to the airport. If in doubt, ask the locals, who will be happy to point you to the correct bus.
Another cheaper and convenient way to reach the Albanian Riviera in Southern Albania is by landing in Corfu and taking the hydrofoil to Saranda.
It is not possible to enter or leave Albania via train. There are, however, trains that operate within the country. Though the service is limited, the price is inexpensive. There is no direct service to Tirana, due to closure of the capital's only railway station. Tirana is served by renovated Kashar station located 10 km west of the capital.
You can reach Tirana by coach from
- Tetovo, Republic of Macedonia (7 hr, € 15)
- Prishtina, Kosovo (4,5 hr, € 10 )
- Sofia, Bulgaria (12 hr, € 35)
There is a daily bus link between Ulcinj in Montenegro and Shkoder.
There is also a shared taxi (mini buss) from the parking place next to the market in Ulcinj. It goes at 1PM and costs €5; it takes 1.5 hr. The stop is not marked, a reservation can only be made by finding the driver in the cafe at the corner of the parking place. Ask around and be persistent, as not all the locals know about this. There are also scheduled buses from Kotor to Tirana, passing through Podgorica (at 10:45), and Shkoder.
There are also buses running daily from Ioannina to the border at Kakavia (9 daily, €5.70, 1 hour). From there it's a short walk between the Greek and Albanian checkpoints. Just make sure you don't delay, as the furgon (minibus) to Gjirokastra won't wait for one extra passenger and you will be forced to haggle with predatory cab drivers. In Gjirokaster you can buy a bus ticket to Atens, Greece or anywhere in between. The Buses are new, cheap, air conditioned, and stop along some gas stations.
- Ferries to Durrës arrive from Bari (9h, €50) and Ancona (19h, €70). A high-speed service operates from Bari (3h, €60).
- There are also two reliable overnight ferry services operated by Skenderbeg Lines and European Seaways from Brindisi to Vlore.
- Ferries from Corfu to Saranda every day.
- Ferry between Brindisi and Shengjin by European Seaways operating twice a week in the summer (2015).
Yachts can be anchored at Albania's only marina in Orikum, south of Vlore. Contact Orikum Marina for details.
You can reach Albania by car from anywhere crossing through major cities of the neighbouring countries such as:
- Podgorica, Montenegro
- Ohrid, Macedonia
- Prizren, Kosovo
- Thessaloniki, Greece Thessaloniki is far away from Albania
- Ioannina, Greece
To enter the country, ensure that your International Motor Insurance Card is valid for Albania (AL) along with the Vehicle Registration and a Power of Attorney from the owner if the car is not yours. The border guards are very strict about allowing cars through without these documents.
The road between Ioannina, Greece and Tirana (E853/SH4) is of sufficient quality. Construction works between Tepelene and Fier are mostly finished (2014). The new portion between Rrogozhine and Durres is also mostly complete (2014). This is the main north-south route between Montenegro and Greece.
The road between Struga, Macedonia and Tirana (E852/SH3) is of a sufficient quality. There are a lot of slow moving vehicles along the curvy mountainous route so extra caution must be exercised especially around corners or during over-taking. A new motorway is being constructed between Elbasan and Tirana (2011).
The road between Prizren (Kosovo) and Tirana (Albania) (E851/A1/SH5) is to the levels of quality found in other parts of Europe. Extra caution should be exercised along some bridges near the Kosovo border, as they have not been widened while uncontrolled access points are becoming dangerous. Also beware that cows run free on the motorway: there is no fence and before dusk they return home using the motorway itself.
The road between Shkoder (border of Montenegro) and Tirana (E762/SH1) is of sufficient quality for driving but there are a lot of slow moving vehicles and uncontrolled access points so extra caution must be exercised especially during over-taking. A portion between Milot and Thumane has been widened to dual carriageway standard.
There are two border control points in the north of Albania with Montenegro. The narrow windy road from Ulcinj, Montenegro to Shkoder via Muriqan/Sukobin (E851/SH41) is used mainly by locals. There is a new Montenegrin section near the Albanian border. However, it is worth a try to avoid heavier traffic on the newly built main road (E762/SH1) between Hani Hotit and Shkoder. Ask any police officer to point you in the right direction from Shkoder. They are helpful, courteous and friendly.
Albania is geographically a small country and as such it is possible to leave by taxi.
A taxi from downtown Pogradec to the Macedonian border at Sveti Naum is about €5 (and less than 10 minutes). After Albanian exit procedures, walk about 500m down the road to the Macedonian border control. The beautiful Sveti Naum church is very close by, and from there you can get a bus north around the lake to Ohrid (110 Macedonian denars). (prices April 2010)
A taxi from Ulcinj in Montenegro to Shkoder in northern Albania costs about €30. It takes 1hr. You do not have to change at the border, the taxi will bring you all the way. (June 2010)
Some taxis can take you into Greece; however most will not go further then Ioannina.
Most people in Albania travel by public bus or private minibuses (called "furgons"), which depart quite frequently to destinations around Albania. Furgons have no timetable (they depart when they are full) and in addition to big cities provide access to some smaller towns where buses don't frequently run. Furgon stations aren't always in obvious locations, so you can ask around to find them, or keep an eye out for groups of white or red minivans gathered together. Destination place names are generally displayed on the dashboard, prices are never posted (but to get an idea, Tirane to Vlore is about 600 lek). Furgons are loosely regulated, and provide a real "Albanian" experience.
From Tirana, many furgons a day depart to Shkoder, Durres, Elbasan, Fier and Berat. Furgons departing to the south like Gjirokaster or Saranda tend to depart fairly early in the morning. Generally, furgons cost a little more and go a little faster, but can be uncomfortable over long distances because of the close quarters with other passengers.
Buses are more comfortable and cheaper, and although slower, they run on a time schedule (though it is almost impossible to find a printed schedule anywhere in the country) and are generally well regulated. There are different bus stations in Tirane for northbound buses (Shkoder, Leizhe, Puke, etc.), and southbound buses (Saranda, Gjirokastër, Berat, Vlore, Fier, etc.)
Limited services operate between Durres, Kashar near Tirana and Shkodra, perhaps also elsewhere. The train route from Lezhe to Shkodra has scenic beauty. The Tirana (Kashar)-Durres trains (and vice versa) depart up to 8 times a day. Timetables are available here or here (June 2017). You get the most accurate information on the spot in the train stations. Usually there are handwritten timetables. The trains in Albania are in poor condition, despite the route from Tirana to Vlore looking convenient on a map, the more wealthy Albanians never use trains and if not travelling in their own cars, use the many mini-buses. On the other hand, trains offer more space than often overloaded minibuses.
A train ride is a must-see, as there are few such enjoyments in Europe these days. Tickets are very cheap and the journeys are very long, but the views and the atmosphere are usually priceless. Among the things you will see in this unforgettable journey are people working their land with primitive tools, beautiful landscapes and wild terrains, houses under construction with various things hanged on to guard against the bad eye, and a chance to meeting some interesting passengers mainly from rural areas. On most stations you'll find people selling sunflower seeds, fruits, chewing gum and many other different things - very unusual in Europe.
Note that the train from Tiranë to Librazhd in the center of the country first goes west to Durrës, so that the trip from Tiranë to Elbasan takes several hours, while the actual direct distance is about 30 km. So you may consider to take a bus to Elbasan, also because the western part of the country is not nearly as scenic as the eastern part.
The roads between the important destinations have been recently repaved and fixed, and offer most of the security measures one would expect on a highway. However be aware that some highways are not fully completed, and contain uncontrolled entry-exit points. There are no fees for using the highways.
Beware of minor roads. Road surfaces can be poor, deeply pitted, or non-existent, and sometimes a decent paving can suddenly disappear, necessitating a U-turn and lengthy doubling-back. It seems all the expensive cars in Albania are SUVs, rather than low-slung sports cars - and for good reason. Ask the locals in advance if travelling away from a highway.
Highways have frequent changes in speed limit (sometimes with little apparent reason). And there are frequent police mobile speed checks. Police will also stop you if you have not turned on your car lights.
Ensure you travel with driving licences and insurance documents (ask your car hire company for these) to present to the police.
Car-driving behavior on the highways is not as orderly as elsewhere in Europe. Expect cars to pull out in front of you, little use of indicators, and hair-raising overtaking. Lanes on dual or triple carriageways tend to be observed. Also expect pedestrians, horses or donkeys cross highways or walk on them. In the mountains, roads can be quite tight and windy with hairpins and serpentines requiring frequent gear shifting and braking. Drivers are encouraged to always keep a spare tire in case of emergency, and check engine liquid levels to avoid overheating.
Navigation is pretty easy although some maps of the country are out of date or contain errors. It is strongly recommended to have an up to date GPS, as new roads are being constantly added to the Albanian road network. In case the GPS does not work, its good to have an alternative good paper or internet-based map.
In the cities, and especially Tirana, many roads are being upgraded, fixed, and renamed. Because of that, traveling by car inside the city will be slow and difficult. Tirana suffers from great traffic congestion during mornings and midday.
A very nice ride is the SH8 Vlorë-Saranda mountain road. It is a typical Mediterranean road and offers an amazing view of the sea from the mountains. The road to the top of Dajti mountain is very bad, though does not (just about) require a 4x4.
Gypsy and beggar children may approach your car at major stop lights. Nudge slightly forward to get them off your car and if necessary go into the traffic intersection to get rid of them. The locals will understand.
Around Greek holiday seasons, including Orthodox Easter, the roads leading to/from Greece can be crowded with cars with Greek plates of Albanian immigrants going to Albania or returning to Greece after their holidays.
Renting a car is a good option to choose, but the practice is fairly new in the country. Rental companies are available mainly in Tirana Airport, and Tirana proper. Various travel agencies may offer such services as well.
There is a lack of respect for people riding on bikes on the highways. Also there are few places to put your bike. These and other challenges make Albania a difficult cycling destination, but a rewarding one. Often, asking around to see if you can stay in somebody's home or camp in their garden is the only option. Food and water are easily available in the frequent roadside cafes and bars.
It is OK to camp in all not strictly private places, and even if the places are private there should be no problems with your stay, ask if you doubt.
Be aware that it's very hard to get parts or repairs of modern bicycles.
Hitchhiking is not very common in Albania; however, many people will pick you up if they are able.
Albania has varied cultural influences. In the south you can see the legacy of the Turks and Greeks, whereas in the north you can see many ancient Illyrian ruins.
- The coastline is always a place to go, with its clear turquoise seas, and its many islands cast upon it, like in Saranda, the southern most coastal city in Albania. Note that more than half of the coastline stretching to the north of Vlore and up to the Montenegrin border contains sand beaches while the Albanian Riviera stretching south of Vlore is made up of rocky beaches. Along the Albanian Riviera, from Vlore to about Qeparo there exist mainly wooden villa complexes, bed and breakfasts, camping sites and a few beach resorts as accommodation facilities. Llogara Pass is a mountain pass located near Llogara National Park offering a majestic view of the riviera from above. Nearby is found Cesar's Pass, the place where Julius Cesar passed in his pursuit of Pompey.
- Dajti Mountain, a popular sight in Tirana allows you to get a whole green view of the capital.
- A walk around southern cities like Butrint, a UNESCO world heritage site, is always ideal and memorable. Butrint is home to many ancient ruins.
- Castles are in many cities in Albania. Their beauty reminds anyone of the ancient times of Albania, and the world. There is Petrela Castle near Tirana, Rozafa castle in Shkodra, the inhabited castle of Berat, and Skanderbeg Castle in Kruje, (named after the national hero and now a popular museum holding his belongings).
- Albania has thousands upon thousands of bunkers, many of which are scattered in cities and across the countryside.
Almost two-thirds of Albania’s geography is either hilly or mountainous. These enable outdoor recreation potential and of course impressing off road cycling. There is a renewed interest in adventurer tourism in Albanian famous attractions. Various destinations in the Northern Alps, with elevations as high as 2,700 m, beckon to all types of “adventure seekers”. Specifically, the towns of Vermosh, Thethi, Razëm, Bogë, and Valbona can all serve as destination points for expeditions.
In the mountains you can also find cultural experiences. You can also explore Albania’s pearl, Albanian Coastline. The Albanian coast begins in the northwest at the Buna River delta, which marks the Albania-Montenegro border, and extends southward until it reaches Stillo Cape at the Albanian-Greek border. Including various lagoons and harbors, the coast stretches for a total of 450 km and touches two seas: the Ionian in the south and the Adriatic in the north. All the above mentioned, in a single country on a couple of wheels.
- See also: Albanian phrasebook
- Albanian is the official language.
- Italian is often viewed as the de facto second language due to various Italian occupations, the most famous being during World War II.
- English is understandable in Tirana and to a lesser extent in frequented tourist cities.
- Greek might also be encountered in the southernmost areas of the country. Note that as Albania has a lot of immigrants in Greece, from which around 200,000 people have returned and now live in Albania.
- Macedonian is also occasionally understood in areas near Pogradec and Korca.
From a country of 3 million, there have been about 1.2 million emigrants, and many of them have returned to Albania from countries such as Germany, France, Greece (especially those in the south of Albania) and Italy so you'll find a lot of people who speak the respective languages. Older people may speak Russian as well.
Exchange rates for Albanian lek
As of January 2018:
The national currency is the lek (plural lekë, ISO code: ALL). The euro is widely accepted.
Some Albanians write prices with an extra zero. They are not trying to charge you 10 times the going rate; they are merely using the old currency.
Many rural convenience stores will not accept any other method of payment other than cash (Albanian lek). However supermarkets, the better bookstores and the better boutique stores will accept credit or debit cards. The most widely accepted cards are Visa, MasterCard, and Diner's Club.
In all the Albanian cities you can find numerous shops, which offer different goods, of well known marks, Glasses, antique objects, etc. Of great interest for the tourists are the traditional bazaars of Kruja, Korca, Shkodra, Gjirokastra and Tirana, where you can find the artisan works produced by Albanian people during th years. You can buy woody carved objects, ceramics, embroiders with popular motifs and also cooper objects. Albanian shops are open at 09:00-20:00 usually, and until 22:00 at summer. Most of the shops stay open on Sunday.
Souvenirs: raki, alabaster bunker ashtrays
Tipping has not become a full-spread custom in Albania, but getting its popularity. Generally, 5-10% is considered a good tip, but it is not always expected. You may just round up the bill.
Restaurants are very easy to find. Albania, like the Balkans in general, has a primarily Turkish influence in its cuisine. This influence stems from over 400 years of Ottoman rule in the region. Recent influences after the fall of communism in the early 1990s have been from Italy and Western Europe in general. Most of what is available in neighboring countries such as Greece and Italy will be available in Albania, particularly in the larger cities.
Many people grow fruits and vegetables around their houses, most popularly all kinds of grapes, (red, black, green), that are used to make raki.
Albania is a very mountainous country, and these mountains have scattered olive trees that influence Albanian cuisine. Salads are usually made with fresh tomato and onion. Most Albanian people make their own bread, but going out for meals is very common.
Some sort of hearty stew is commonly included in Albanian dinners. These stews are easy to make, and flexible with ingredients. They include potatoes, onion, rice, etc.
If going to Albania, expect lamb to be the main meat in many places. Lamb there is naturally fed, and does not have any odor like it does in North America. Two byreks and an ayran is a very common breakfast, so try it to understand why.
- Byrek - a type of savory pie is also common, and is made in different ways. One way is with spinach and feta cheese. Another is with ground meat and onion. Byrek Shqipëtar me perime is often considered the national dish.
- Tavë kosi - It is a simple dish of baked lamb and rice, served with a yogurt sauce. It is sometimes referred to as a national dish in Albania.
- Qofte të fërguara - Albanian fried meatballs with feta cheese. Traditionally served with fried potatoes or rice.
- Cheese - lots of different types but mostly feta cheese. In village shops be prepared that you'll get the cheese in less hygienic way then in supermarkets but it's worth to try as it's usually delicious and in very good price (try those higher priced first). The "Gjirofarma" feta cheese is similar to the Greek feta cheese, although a bit more expensive. However, most of the restaurants, especially in Tirana and the southern part of the country, use this cheese. It's very delicious, and it's one of the few cheeses that are exported from Albania.
Desserts and snacks - Don't forget to check out the many pastry shops (pastiçeri) offering a wide variety of tasty pastry including delicious cakes and:
- Baklava is a popular dessert and is always made as a dessert during New Year's Eve.
- Oshaf - A fig and sheep’s milk pudding
The preferred alcoholic hard drink is raki that is locally produced in small towns as well as in many homes in the countryside; in some instances you may run across men washing down breakfast with a few shots. Try the mulberry rakia - Albanians are the only people in the world that produce this drink with mulberry and plum, and it's very delicious, especially around Gjirokaster. The number of homemade beers, wines and raki is as varied as the population itself; the quality of these drinks is as varied as the quantity available. Non-alcoholic drinks range from the well-known international and regional soft drink brands to the locally produced ones. You can find any type of soft drink in Albania, as well as natural mineral water,energy drinks, etc. Qafshtama water is considered the best water and found in much of the country.
Boza , a popular sweet drink made from maize (corn) and wheat is a traditional Albanian drink, and Albanians have been known as the best boza makers in the world. You can also try Dhalle, a kefir-like drink closely linked to ayran.
Inside the cities, hotels are abundant and prices per night start as low as €15. Hotels are usually clean and their staff in major cities generally speak English and/or Italian.
Outside the big cities, hotels are less common, but in places like Gjirokastra can be excellent value (e.g., 1000 lek). If, for any reason, you find nowhere to sleep, the Albanian people have always been known for their hospitality, and will treat you like royalty as you stay with them.
Albania is generally a safe place to visit but there are some safety precautions you have to take before visiting the country.
- In some Albanian cities like Berat there are no traffic lights and thus crossing on the road can be dangerous
- Avoid places that are deemed as slums and are sketchy, things like pickpocket can happen and also violence can occur, so avoid bringing valuables in those areas.
- Albania does have speed limits, but most people do not follow them. If you are driving on the highway, you have to pay extra attention to avoid car crashes . If you are not a good driver it is highly recommended that you take a bus.
It's best to drink bottled water, but potted water is usually drinkable too. The food in Albania is mostly healthy anywhere you go in the country but be aware in the summer months whether the food has been properly refrigerated as it gets very hot. You can walk around to stay fit, as many people do in the capital, especially around the Artificial Lake but be aware that the city suffers from severe air pollution. At summer, insect repellent should be taken as the mosquito season is very active especially near former swamps and along the Western lowland. Be careful at the beaches because shards of glass and sea urchins are common on the sea floor. Also, pharmacies and other stores are closed from about noon-4PM; so, bring all necessary medicine with you. Health clinics in small towns or village areas are not well equipped, so trips to nearby cities can be expected. Also, many Albanians smoke cigarettes. It is a normal thing and expect it everywhere. The government has banned smoking in restaurants but this is not really observed.
Albanians are very hospitable. Even more so than the rest of the Balkans, elder males expect to be shown respect on account of their age. Men of the family have to be respected in particular. Shake hands with them and do not argue about topics such as religion and politics. Certain topics are strictly taboo, although they may be fine in the United States or other countries. Homosexuality is one good example. Don't speak about gay rights, no matter what. Just remember that the situation changes a lot according to the location (village or city) and the people with whom you speak as well. Of course, in the hidden north, avoid topics that go beyond local understanding, but be sure that in Tirana you will find very cosmopolitan people that are as open to new ideas as the citizens of Western Europe. There is nothing particular to worry about; all you need to remember is to respect local people as much as you do back home.
Sometimes, if you stay for a night or so at someone's house, don't be surprised if you see a big, old AK-47 Kalashnikov hanging at the wall. It's pretty normal for Albanians to keep guns in the house.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Albania during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
In Albania it's common for men to kiss cheeks of males of their age or younger, even the first time they meet them. This is especially true for the regions of Fier, Tepelena, Vlora and Gjirokastra. In Northern Albania, they will simply touch each other's cheeks, but not kiss them. Women also kiss one another, sometimes from the first time they meet, but men and women do not kiss each other on the cheek unless they have been friends for a long time. Kissing cheeks between young people, 15–20 years old, is however very common. If you are a man, or a woman with a group of men, don't compliment females, unless they are under 10–12 years.
If a baby is in the family, always ask to see him or her, and don't forget to add a compliment (usually "Genka i shendetshem, me jete te gjate" or "What a sweet baby" works best).
If you speak a language where there are different formal and informal words for "you" in singular and "you" (like Italian, Greek, German, etc.), be aware that some Albanians do not use the formal form in their language. Sometimes, even the prime-minister is addressed with "ti" (the informal word for "you", "tu" in Italian, "Du" in German or "Esi" in Greek), if the journalist is a friend of him. However, when meeting people for the first time, it's better if you address them with the formal word, although they will shortly after ask you to address them with the informal one.
Policemen in Albania are often polite. They usually never stop foreign cars, but if you rent a car, they may stop you. However, when they see you are a foreign tourist, they will immediately tell you to go on (usually with a "Ec, ec, rruge te mbare" which can be translated in "Go on. Have a nice trip"). When this happens, it's very polite if you respond with a "Faleminderit" ("thank you" in Albanian).
Albanians love dancing, especially during weddings. If you are attending a party, don't be afraid to dance! Maybe you don't know the traditional dances, but try to learn.
Officially 220 V 50 Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travellers should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Albania.
Unexpected power outages without prior warnings are common in Albania. This is largely dependent on the amount of rainfall the country receives in any given year, as virtually all of electricity is generated from hydro plants in Albania. However this is becoming more and more rare. Only in Tirana you will not have power outages but expect so in other cities. Although all major cities and most of the towns have back-up generators, however it is best to err on the side of the caution and ask whether the place has a generator or not beforehand in order not to, say, get stuck in an elevator.
You can buy a local Vodafone or ALBtelecom prepaid sim card starting from 600 lek. You need to provide a passport to purchase a prepaid sim.
You can go from Shkoder in northern Albania to Ulcinj in Montenegro by taxi or vans. Fares can be negotiated between €15 and €20, it takes between 1 and 2 hours. From Ulcinj you can take busses to some of the main cities in Montenegro, including Bar, Budva, Kotor and Podgorica. You can leave by plane from Rinas international airport. You can go to Greece by Gjirokaster at the border crossing at Kavavi. You can leave for Italy from Durres or Vlora. From Saranda you can go to Corfu, Greece. You can go to Kosovo from Kukes on the new highway. There are also border crossings into Macedonia.
Crossing into Macedonia at the border between Pogradec and Ohrid, Macedonia is fairly straightforward. From Pogradec, one can take a taxi to the border - this will likely cost around €5 and take around 10 minutes. Once you get to the border, it is possible to walk into Macedonia, but do not expect to find taxis on the other side of the border. Instead, hire a taxi on the Albanian side (€25, 40 minutes to Ohrid) or wait for the minibus that turns around at the border. This bus comes every few hours and is the same bus that services the Sveti Naum Monastery, which lies a few kilometers from the border. If the bus does not show up, your best option would be to head to monastery's parking lot a few kilometers distant to find the bus (check Google Earth first to get a fix on its location).