Thinking of spending your holidays in Albania? The best base for a perfect seaside getaway is Saranda, located in the south of the country.
Sunny weather, sandy beaches, interesting history, good value for money, and plenty of nearby attractions – there are so many great things to do in Saranda and there is no way you will be bored there.
A fellow blogger, Kat from A Way Abroad, prepared this Saranda guide that will help you plan your trip and what to do in Saranda. Read on and enjoy your holidays in Saranda, Albania!
Ever visited the Balkans? If so, you know how fantastic and highly underrated this region is. If not, allow me to let you in on the secret: this is a region you’ll instantly fall in love with.
The Balkans include Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Western Turkey, and of course, Albania. The area is known for incredible landscapes, friendly locals, and mouth-watering food, and Saranda, Albania is no exception.
Also, since Albania isn’t part of the EU, most nationalities can spend 3 months here (U.S. passports get 1 year), without having to worry about EU regulations or a Schengen Visa.
Located in southern Albania, just at the border with Greece, Saranda (Sarandë), this coastal town is just the getaway you’ve been looking for. Don’t expect all-night wild parties, gleaming malls, or bustling streets, but if you’re instead motivated by great beaches, fresh seafood served at scenic restaurants, and a relaxing atmosphere, add Saranda to your list.
The Best Time to Visit Saranda
I’ll be honest, before visiting this region, I assumed Greece (and surrounding areas) were always warm and sunny. Ignorance led to that belief and was whipped out of my brain with the gusts of wind that greeted us when we arrived in Saranda in March.
So, let me go ahead and stop you from thinking as I did. Albania is a destination with 4 seasons. While you won’t face snow in the winter, unless you head away from the beach and into the mountains, you will still get 4 distinct seasons that could derail your travel plans if you’re not prepared.
In general, the seasons are:
- Winter: Highs in the 50s F, wet, cloudy, quiet
- Spring: The weather starts to heat in April, some days are in the 70s, other days back in the 50s. Rainy, quiet
- Summer: Highs in the 90s, blue skies, crowded with tourists
- Fall: The weather varies like in spring, and stays warm through September and starts to really cool again in October, quiet
The seasons in Saranda don’t just dictate the weather, they also dictate the crowds and what’s open. When we arrived in March, many places, especially along the promenade were closed. Everything really started to open up in May, some things waiting even until June.
From June to August, the tourist season is in full swing. You can expect a livelier, busier environment, which will be better for the socialites. Introverts will thrive visiting in the other 3 seasons when fewer tourists are around.
An Important Travel Note
When the weather is warm, Albanians thrive outdoors. Most coffee shops, restaurants, and bars will expand into the streets, the windows and doors will stay open, and people will be eager to soak up the sun.
When the weather is cold, or even just a bit chilly, you’ll find everything closed and people huddled indoors.
While this is pretty normal, I wasn’t ready for the amount of cigarette smoke indoors. It feels like everywhere we went (bars, restaurants, cafes), there were a handful of people smoking.
While not so much a problem in the summer when you can get some fresh air, it was my biggest con against Albania in the colder months. Although, if you’re a smoker, I think you found your promised land!
What to Pack for Your Trip
As you can imagine, what you pack for your trip to Saranda, Albania will greatly depend on when you’ve decided to visit. Regardless, the Albanian Riviera is a pretty relaxed place and Saranda is no exception. While there are some pretty great restaurants with sea views, even the nicest ones are still beach-casual.
I’ll break down the list from essentials to seasonal wear so you can get a better idea of what you should pack.
Essential Packing List
- Comfortable shoes
- A pair of jeans
- Socks, underwear, bras
- Laptop + charger
- Phone + charger
- A rain jacket
- A day pack (for day trips or beach days)
Winter Packing List
- Extra pair of jeans
- Warm loungewear
- Wool Socks
- Winter jacket (ideally waterproof)
Spring/Fall Packing List
- Extra pair of jeans
- Pair of shorts
- 1-2 Sweaters
- Long-sleeve t-shirt
- Beach Towel
Summer Packing List
- Pair of shorts
- Tank tops
- Beach Towel
Where to Stay in Saranda
In general, Saranda is pretty small. You can walk from one extreme side of it to the other in about 30 minutes, so long as you’re sticking to the road that lines the ocean. In my opinion, everywhere you need to go in town is well within walking distance. The heart of town is right at the center of the curve of the bar.
There are taxis here but unless you schedule them in advance, they can be tough to find in a bind. There are also busses but they’re mainly used to get to other towns like Ksamil or Butrint National Park, but more on those places later.
The town itself is built on a pretty steep hill. The roads run practically parallel to each other and are talked about in numbers: Road 1, Road 2, Road 3, Road 4, and Road 5. Road 1 is the one that lines the beach, Road 5 would therefore be the road farthest up the hill away from the beach.
With that in mind, choosing the perfect area to stay really depends on how much exercise you want to put in to get to your hotel or apartment.
While I was in Saranda, I stayed at an apartment on Road 5 and was rewarded with a fantastic view from our living room and balcony. From sunrise to sunset, we had incredible views of the blue water of the Ionian Sea. There are still shops and restaurants up there so you won’t be too isolated, although the heart of Saranda is certainly along the water. From Road 5 to the park in the center of town, you can expect a 15-minute walk.
Keep in mind that for the most part, you’ll get more bang for your buck on the higher-up roads than you would for a place along the sea, but then again, with a place on Road 1, you’d just be steps from the water.
Top Things to Do in Saranda
Alright, you’ve waited long enough- let’s get into the good stuff. Here’s the Saranda travel guide you’ve been patiently waiting for!
If you’re planning to work remotely from Saranda like I did, you should have plenty of time to do everything on the list, but if you’re strapped for time, choose 2-3 things that seem the most fun to you.
Stroll Along the Promenade
Saranda has a pretty great promenade that will probably become your favorite spot in town. Regardless of where you find yourself along the bay, you’ll get great views of the colorful hills, crystal clear water, and Corfu just across the water.
For a quick meal, it’s hard to beat a delicious and cheap gyro with the bay as your backdrop, for something a bit less like fast food, you’ll have your pick of the litter for seafood and meat dishes.
I highly suggest you eat your fair share of oysters and drink plenty of Albanian white wine while watching the sunset over the Ionian Sea. Trust me, it’s a match made in heaven and easily one of the best things to eat in Saranda. It’s so good in fact that most spots have well-priced mussels on their menus.
My favorite restaurant in Saranda is Limani. It’s a great place for mussels, fish, pizza, and views. Next door to the restaurant is a great bar and dessert spot. They look connected but are actually two different places. Another favorite place for its secluded atmosphere and delicious pasta is Restaurant La Petite. Here, you can go for a romantic dinner, or come for breakfast or lunch and use their private beach for the day.
While those are my favorite spots for lunch or dinner, I recommend you start your day with Albanian brunch at Marini. The brunch is apparently for 2 people but you can certainly share it with more or expect leftovers.
Rent a Scooter and Spend the Day in Ksamil
Ksamil (the “k” is silent) is easily one of the best places to visit in Albania and should be top of your list while in Saranda. Ksamil really takes the cake for beautiful beaches and since it’s only about a 15-minute drive from Saranda, it’s easy and quick to get to.
Depending on the weather, I recommend renting a scooter and driving yourself. While the roads in Tirana and other big cities can be hectic, the drive from Saranda to Ksamil is pretty relaxed.
If you’re not comfortable driving or the weather is less than ideal, you can catch a bus from Road 1 to Ksamil. You can also opt to get there via a boat tour or go hiking along the coast as we did. Although in both of those options you’d want a guide.
While in Ksamil, the only real thing to do is relax. There are good beaches in the town center and lining the coast all the way back to Saranda. During the off-season, most restaurants are closed so be sure to pack a lunch, but in the summer months, there are plenty of great places with sea views and seafood.
Go Back in History at Butrint National Park
Don’t forget to add this UNESCO World Heritage Site to your list while in town. Just down the road from Ksamil, Butrint is well worth the visit and can be visited as a day trip or by just quickly passing through.
You can either visit Butrint on your own or as part of a tour. We went on our own and really enjoyed ourselves. Although, a friend with us was very interested in history and knew a lot about the area to share with us.
Butrint is home to ancient ruins, some around 2,500 years old. This area was inhabited by nomadic tribes, Greeks, Romans, and early Crusaders. It’s an important piece of history for so many different cultures and really interesting to see it in person.
The ruins are actually still being uncovered and are in relatively good condition. There’s also a museum at the national park that’s really insightful.
You can go for a highly-rated day tour from Saranda that covers Butrint National Park as well as other great places in the area – click here for details.
Hop on Over to the Greek Island of Corfu
Only about 45 minutes away by public ferry, you can visit Corfu as a day trip or a weekend getaway. Corfu was worth visiting and a nice change of scenery during our months in Saranda. You can save some money by buying round-trip ferry tickets.
Corfu might actually be where you start your trip or end it. It’s a common way to get to Saranda, by flying into Corfu and then taking the ferry across the bay.
While in Corfu, I recommend you eat, eat, and eat some more. While the food in Albania is seriously fresh and delicious, Greek food is really hard to beat in my book.
Just remember to pack your passport!
Get a Bird’s Eye View of Town
Enjoy a pretty easy hike to Lekuresi Castle and/or Monastery of 40 Saints for great views of Saranda. Both are relatively near each other and can be visited back to back if you’re enjoying the walk. Otherwise, if you only plan on visiting one, I’d suggest Lekuresi Castle as your destination.
During the summer, the castle is also a restaurant. It’s privately owned and well-maintained. When we hiked up there in April, the family let us enjoy the grounds, even though they weren’t yet open for the season. I’m pretty certain you can check out the area at any time but should only expect to have a meal with your view in the summer.
The Monastery of 40 Saints is pretty run down but still a nice spot in nature to see. Our dog especially loved being able to run freely in the grass up there as no one else was in sight.
Head Out of Saranda for a Natural Phenomenon & History
The last thing you should do while in Saranda, Albania is to see the Blue Eye and stroll through Gjirokaster. Commonly combined among tour groups, it’s also easy to explore these spots on your own.
When driving in or out of Saranda to anywhere else in Albania, you’ll most likely drive by Gjirokaster, making it an easy pit stop. You’ll only need to add a slight detour to also see the Blue Eye.
Blue Eye is an incredibly clear turquoise pool where you can see depths of up to 50 meters. It’s prohibited to swim there to protect the environment but it’s not unlikely that you’ll see people swimming anyways.
Gjirokaster is the City of Stone. Its architecture is an ode to the Ottoman Empire and truly a unique sight to see. While in the city, you’re best off exploring on foot. Enjoy the bazaar in the center, stock up on some souvenirs, and hike up to the castle for some great views of Gjirokster and the surrounding mountains.
If you don’t have a car, you can join the tour from Saranda to both Gjirokaster and Blue Eye – click here for details.
Enjoying one of the Best Places to Visit on the Albanian Riviera
With this Albanian guide, you’re ready to fully enjoy this hidden gem of a beach destination.
Year-round, this is a great place to spend some time but expect it to really come alive in the summer months when the sun is shining and everything is open. But, for a quiet off-season retreat, the beaches won’t disappoint in any season, you just might need to exchange your swimsuit for a sweater!
Author’s Bio: Kat is the founder of A Way Abroad and is sometimes a nomad, sometimes an expat who has lived around the world since 2013. She’s currently working online from Montenegro but who knows where she’ll end up next. You can follow Kat on both personal and business Instagram.
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