kamila

Can't live without travels! Wherever she goes she always looks for alternative spots or street art. A huge fan of Central Europe and off the beaten path places and a living proof that you can balance full time job and extensive travel!

Visit Tirana – the funkiest capital in Europe

The majority of people I know who had the opportunity to visit Tirana don’t have the best opinion about the city. Apparently the capital of Albania doesn’t have many interesting sights, the list of things to do in Tirana is rather short and the city is overall rather ugly. Well, to be honest these opinions made me even more excited to visit Tirana as I felt this is my kind of the city! And I was so right!


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Visit Tirana

Arriving to Tirana

I arrived to Tirana in the early afternoon. The bus from Saranda dropped me off some 3 kms from the center and my hostel but I didn’t mind walking all that way. I was really curious to see the capital of Albania, the city I was hoping to visit for such a long time.

With every passing minute I could see this is an unique place, one of a kind. As I was walking I was wondering if I can compare Tirana to any other capital but I came up with nothing. And that was the beauty of Tirana for me!

Visit Tirana

The Pyramid – the concrete symbol of the city

I came to Tirana totally unprepared. I knew very little about the city and well, with such an unfavorable opinion it was difficult to find information about the city I’d actually find useful. I’ve seen some pictures around so I knew more or less what to expect.

But there was one place I was especially hoping to see and so headed to right away – the Pyramid. It’s such an absurd structure, located in the very heart of the city, looking like it’s about to collapse anytime soon.

The Pyramid was designed by the daughter of Enver Hoxha (then the ruler of the country) and completed in 1988. At first it served as the museum dedicated to the leader only to become couple of years later the conference center, the NATO base (during the Kosovo War at the end of the 20th century) and eventually the broadcasting center of one of the local TV stations.

That’s also where youngsters hang out, often climbing to the top of the Pyramid. I was tempted to go up there too, just chickened out a little bit as you also have to go down somehow… But still I really enjoyed the place and spent there some time, just sitting and taking all the atmosphere in.

The rumors say that the Pyramid might be destroyed anytime soon but I truly hope this will not happen as it’s one of the greatest places in Tirana, the symbol of the city!

Colorful Tirana

Tirana is probably the most colorful capital in Europe. On the sunny day like I had I was really overwhelmed in colors all around me!

Couple of years ago the mayor of Tirana then (currently the prime minister of Albania) – Edi Rama who is also an artist and a painter – has decided to put some more life in the capital. And he did so by giving it more colors!

Most of the buildings were repainted in the bright shades, with different patterns on them (some reminded me a lot of works of Friedensreich Hundertwasser whose most famous buildings can be found in Vienna). Even now, years after this colorful revolution of Tirana urban space, the effect is really great, even if slightly faded.

I’ve read that bright colors have a positive impact on people and that what happened in Tirana too! Even I felt happier in a way when I spent the day surrounded with all that color!

Tirana street art

Not only the houses are colorful in the capital! Tirana street art scene is booming too! I found so many great works around: murals on the walls or smaller paintings on the electricity boxes. I stumbled across a new piece every couple of minutes and I wasn’t even looking for them!

What’s more there are numerous funky sculptures around that seem very random but altogether fit very well to the city! For me the coolest one was the installation in front of the National Arts Gallery – you literally can step inside this piece of art and be part of it!

Visit Tirana to enjoy amazing cafe culture!

One of the greatest things to do in Tirana is enjoying the amazing cafe culture. Just like in Kosovo, there are all kinds of cafes literally everywhere and they are filled with people of all ages.

The best ones are located in Blloku – once the neighborhood only for the members of the party, these days the most trendy area of Tirana. Each street is lined with restaurants, boutiques and cafes and they all are bustling with conversations and laughter all day long.

I was there in the morning, in early afternoon and then in the evening and it all looked the same, busy like in the beehive. The atmosphere was just unbeatable! It was one of those places where I could easily imagine being a digital nomad, based in Tirana, as those cafes looked so welcoming either for working behind your computer screen or hanging out with friends!

New life of bunkers

A random house in the heart of Blloku is where Enver Hoxha used to live. You might know that he was a little bit paranoid about the safety (to say the least) which resulted in some 750.000 bunkers spread all over the country – one for each family. Even now you can find these mushroom shaped concrete structures everywhere – on the beach, high in the mountains or in the middle of Tirana.

One of the bunkers was transformed into the museum and culture center – Bunkart. Unfortunately most of the sources online said it is closed on Tuesdays and that’s exactly when I was in the city. But the whole idea sounds just great and this itself if one of (many) reasons why I would gladly visit Tirana again!

The best view of Tirana

But as much as I loved all these things in Tirana my absolute highlight was the bar on top of Sky Tower. I went there for the coffee break around noon and the place was almost empty so I could easily take a picture every few minutes without feeling (too) stupid.

The view from the top is really amazing, the best in Tirana! You can see the whole city in bright colors with breathtaking mountains in the background. The bar rotates around so you can admire Tirana from every angle while sipping your drink at the table. I must say at first I felt a little bit dizzy when I felt the motion but couple of minutes later I was just too focused on enjoyig the view – and it was just stunning!


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Skanderberg Square – the main attraction of Tirana

The main tourist attraction in Tirana is Skandenbeg Square in the very heart of the city, named after the national hero of Albania.

Normally it’s a lovely green space with the statue of Skandenbeg in the middle and important buildings around, such as the Palace of Culture or National Historical Museum (with the famous mosaic at the building front). Unfortunately during my visit in Tirana the square was under major reconstruction so I couldn’t full enjoy it. But that’s ok, I felt very well at the Pyramid or in Blloku anyway!

Green Tirana

What surprised me the most in Tirana was how green the city was. Part of this feeling might be the magnificent mountains in the background but I really have excepted a concrete jungle. Tirana was nothing like that!

Among the colorful houses there were numerous green oasis and main streets were lined with trees! Parks were perfect to chill out at and actually there were some people who just lied around on the grass reading a book. I gladly joined!

I know that Tirana isn’t the most beautiful capital in Europe (actually it is probably somewhere towards the end of such list). But sometimes it’s not about the historical old towns with stunning architecture.

Tirana is a perfect example of the city that has a wonderful, vibrant atmosphere that perfectly fits to its funky look. It’s probably the quirkiest capital in Europe but that what makes it so great! I understand why so many people didn’t like Tirana but for me it was one of the coolest cities I’ve visited recently and I’d gladly return there to enjoy it some more!

Tirana practical information

How to get to Tirana?

Unfortunately as of today there are no low cost airlines flying to Tirana however Wizzair announced to start flights from Budapest from April 2017. You can find the best deals for flights at SkyScanner, the website I always look for my flights as it has these cool features of choosing „anywhere” as the destination and „any month” for the cheapest option.

There are no international trains arriving to Tirana and local connections are very limited. The public transport in Albania is based on buses / furgons (mini bus). There is no main bus station in Tirana and places were the buses arrive / depart from depends on the destination. For example my bus from Saranda arrived to the bus station in the western part of the city while I caught a furgon to Pogradec from near the Quemal Stafa Stadium, close to the Pyramid. Locals should be the best source of information

Where to stay in Tirana?

There are numerous accommodation options available at decent prices in Tirana. I stayed at Hostel Fredi which was very centrally located, only few steps away from Skanderberg Square. I really can recommend this place, not only for the location but also a really good quality for this price! Basically accommodation around Skandenberg Square or in Blloku are your best options in Tirana. You can book a place to stay here!

Where to eat in Tirana?

For the taste of Albanian cuisine I can recommend you Oda restaurant. It’s a little bit hidden and rather small but the food there is really delicious at very affordable prices! When I visited there were no other customers but I blame the time of the day and the lack of tourists in the city. At least I didn’t have to wait long for my meal!

Tirana packing list

Since you will be walking a lot (everything is at rather close distance, just overall it is a lot!) you will need a decent shoes. And sunglasses as the sun can get very strong here (I experienced it at the beginning of October). Lifestraw Bottles can be a good idea too! Other than that you don’t need anything special for Tirana, just the usual things.

I never go anywhere without a travel insurance as you never know what might happen. You can get yours here, at World Nomads!


Are you planning a trip to Albania? Do you like the Balkans as much as I do? I’ve created a Facebook group where you can look for advise or inspiration and share your travel stories and pictures from the Balkans and beyond. Join now!

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If you think of visiting Albania or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:

If you’re looking for articles about any place in particular this map with posts might be useful for you. Or just take a look at the „destinations” page.


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14 Sty '17

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There are 12 Comments.

  1. My byliśmy w Tiranie w lipcu parę godzin. Przyznam że miasto zrobiło na nas naprawdę okropne wrażenie niestety. Wydało nam się trochę egzotyczne. Podobały nam się mega niskie ceny w kawiarniach. Natomiast odnalezienie autobusu do Sarandy było naprawdę epopeją. Twoje zdjęcia wyglądają naprawdę ładnie.
    Stacja Bałkany latest post…Świąteczny Nowy SadMy Profile

  2. 23:08 16/01/2017

    Nie wiem, jak Tirana może robić okropne wrażenie. To jedno z najpozytywniejszych i najbardziej kolorowych miast, w jakich byłam. I o ile uwielbiam podróżować z moimi dziećmi, to do stolicy Albanii chciałabym wrócić bez nich, by móc rozkoszować się klimatem knajpek w Ex-Blokku. Tirana to miasto nieco egzotyczne dla przeciętnego Europejczyka, ale mega pozytywnie zakręcone, w którym nie sposób się nudzić. Dla podróżujących autobusami: są dwa dworce, w zależności od kierunku, w jakim chcemy jechać – dla podróżujących na północ i dla podróżujących na południe. Przemieszczanie się może być nieco kłopotliwe, więc warto wcześniej sprawdzić lokalizację.

    • kami
      22:01 28/01/2017

      ja trochę rozumiem te rozczarowania Tiraną. Fakt, jest bardzo kolorowo i z jajem, ale większość turystów jednak lubi klasyczne atrakcje i dla nich Tirana jest słaba. Tylko koneser w pełni doceni to miasto ;) a co do dworców to nie do końca się zgodzę, bo sama z jakiegoś dziwnego parkingu koło bloków jechałam dalej ;) ale dla mnie to część lokalnego folkloru po prostu

  3. I really like the pyramid. It reminds me of the cathedral in Lapa, Rio!
    Arianwen latest post…A CabinZero Luggage Review and Free GiveawayMy Profile

    • kami
      22:02 28/01/2017

      true! I haven’t looked at it that way but you are right, it doesn look similar!

  4. Cheri
    01:22 24/01/2017

    I liked the format of this post – highlights and then practical information. Very useful for these more out of the way places!

  5. This makes me want to check out Tirana! How’s the internet speed though? One of the major pains of working on the road is finding great internet speed, which has been a problem for me for the past couple of months in Latin America. Even the speed in Mexico City, where I am currently based, is a quarter or half the speed in Europe/US/Asia.

    • kami
      22:03 21/02/2017

      You definitely should go there, it’s amazing! I didn’t complain at all at the internet speed but also I didn’t pay that much of the attention to it so unfortunately I’m not the best source of information here

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