Even if Shkoder, Albania is often an entry or departure point in the country when crossing the border with Montenegro, the city doesn’t get that much recognition among tourists. But in fact, this is one of the best places to visit in Albania! Not only there are some cool things to do in Shkoder but the city can be also a great base to discover some incredible nature in the northern part of the country.
I finally managed to visit Shkoder recently – on my way to Montenegro, I’ve decided to spend one day in Shkoder to see what the city has to offer. The weather wasn’t unfortunately on my side as it was raining heavily but even then I managed to find and enjoy some great Shkoder attractions. And the poor weather resulted in some dramatic, moody views of the area around that were simply perfect.
If you are planning a trip to Albania be sure to head north to see this part of the country as well, so different from the popular south. You can use Shkoder as your base to explore this beautiful area but give the city some time too – it might seem a bit random at first but you might end up pleasantly surprised with Shkoder just like I did.
Where is Shkoder
With a population of a bit over a hundred thousand inhabitants, Shkoder is the 5th largest city in Albania, located in the very north of the country, right on the shore of Lake Shkoder. Tirana, the capital of Albania, is 100 km south of Shkoder and the border with Montenegro is only 10 km away from the center of the city.
Why visit Shkoder
The majority of tourists who visit Shkoder come here because the city is a convenient stop on the way to/from the Albanian Alps (Accursed Mountains) or Montenegro which makes it a great opportunity to check what to see in Shkoder. And it has plenty, enough to spend at least one busy day here.
There are impressive ruins with beautiful views of the area around, the only photography museum in Albania (and a really good one at that), and incredible nature right on the outskirts. Even if you don’t plan to stay overnight here to continue your journey to another destination it’s worth visiting Shkoder as one of the day trips from Tirana.
How to get to Shkoder
There are buses and minibusses at least every hour from Tirana to Shkoder, departing from the bus station in the northern part of the capital and arriving at the central part of Shkoder (Sheshi Demokracia). The journey takes around 2 hours and the ticket should cost around 400 leke.
There are also direct buses from Montenegro (Ulcinj and Podgorica) however the schedule is not that reliable so it’s best to ask before if they are really running. When I was going from Shkoder to Ulcinj there was supposed to be a bus at 9 in the morning (according to the info in the tourist information) but it never arrived so I was forced to take a taxi (which was 20€ so not that bad but still, that was not the plan).
You can also go from Tirana to Shkoder via Lake Koman – that’s what I did. I took the 5 am minibus from Tirana to Lake Koman, then took the return ferry on the lake and afterward caught the minibus to Shkoder, arriving in the city around 5 pm. It was a bit crazy but the views of the lake were mindblowing!
How to get around Shkoder
Some of the Shkoder attractions are located a bit away from the center – the best way to get to them is by bike. Shkoder is mostly flat (except for the castle) so riding around is a nice way to get around the city. The alternative is walking around (although some places are a bit too far for that) or catching a taxi, which shouldn’t be too expensive anyway.
Things to do in Shkoder
And now let’s finally talk about the best things to do in Shkoder.
Visit Rozafa Castle
Even if it is located a bit away from the center (some 3km), this is definitely the biggest of all the Shkoder attractions. The impressive ruins of the 14th-century castle, built on the steep hill near the shore of the Shkoder Lake and at the confluence of the Buna and Drin rivers towers above the area, offer spectacular views of the city and beyond. You can clearly see the amazing Lake Shkoder from here (including its part in Montenegro), on a clear day you can also admire the panorama of the nearby breathtaking Accursed Mountains. The legend says that the name of the castle, Rozafa, is a testimony to the woman who was buried inside the walls to support the structure.
But while the views are the reason itself why it’s worth visiting Shkoder Castle, the ruins are pretty great too. Since the hill the castle is built on has been at a crossroads already in ancient times, it was inhabited already back then. The recent works on the hill confirmed that this was the most important center of the Illyrian culture in the territory of Albania.
The ruins we can see today date back to Venetian times who took over the castle in 1396 and expanded it. The most important event in the castle’s history was the battle of Shkoder in 1478-1479 when the heroic defense of the town was led from there.
During the Ottoman times, Rozafa Castle was the seat of the local administration and after they moved to the city in the second half of the 18th century, the army stayed there.
Today Rozafa Castle is one of the most important landmarks in Albania, popular among tourists visiting the country. Inside the castle, you can see three courtyards with traces of the past clearly present there. You will see remnants of the Illyrian wall, medieval cisterns, and Venetian residences. Next, you will find the ruins of the Church of St. Stephen from the 13th century which was transformed into a mosque during Ottoman rule. In the last courtyard, you can visit the museum that tells the long and turbulent history of the place.
Before visiting the castle check the opening hours (I almost missed visiting it). There is a small fee to visit the ruins and another ticket to see the museum.
Wander around the center
The center of Shkoder might not offer many attractions but it’s really pleasant and perfect for wandering around.
The main pedestrian street, Rruga Kolë Idromeno, is lined with numerous cafes and restaurants and is a favorite place for locals to go for a stroll. That’s also where you will find the impressive Ebu Beker Mosque, built in the 1990s and recently renovated to its shining look.
When wandering around you will also stumble across numerous statues (some of them pretty weird) as well as the clocktower without the actual clock. Altogether the nicely renovated center is a great place to feel and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the city.
Visit the Photography Museum
Marubi National Museum of Photography is the only photography museum in Albania, located conveniently on the pedestrian Rruga Kolë Idromeno in the center. Its origins date back to the mid-19th century when the Italian artist Pietro Marubbi founded the ‘Photo-Studio Marubbi’ in Shkoder which was later led by three generations of the Marubbi family.
Today the museum, located in a nice historical building, shows a great collection of photos showing the development of Shkoder and Albania in the past two centuries. Even if you are much into photography it’s worth visiting the place to see those historical images and what life used to be like in the area. Besides the photographs, you can also see here old cameras or the photo darkroom, as well as the temporary exhibitions.
Enjoy Shkoder Lake
Shkoder Lake is the largest lake in the Balkans, divided between Albania (1/3) and Montenegro (2/3). The area is heaven for all bird lovers, around 280 kinds of birds live here (which is around 50% of bird species in Europe). Some of the birds you can see here include pelicans (very rare in Europe), herons, and cormorants.
But even if you are not into ornithology you would still enjoy Shkoder Lake. The lake is surrounded by amazing mountains that together with the pristine nature create a beautiful landscape.
The most popular activity here is a boat ride and I can definitely recommend it. You can see the lake from a completely different perspective and then you will be able to appreciate it to the fullest. You can also rent a SUP or kayak to enjoy water activities – click here for details.
The easiest access to the lake on the Albanian side is from Shkoder. Head to the nearby Shiroke village (not far from the castle) and wander along the lake or go on a boat trip. This is such a pleasant and easy getaway from the hustle and bustle of the central part of the city.
See Mesi Bridge
Located some 5 km away from Shkoder, Mesi Bridge is a perfect example of Ottoman architecture. It was built over the Kir river in the 18th century by the local Ottoman pasha. The bridge is made of stone and has twelve arches. Together with the surrounding landscape, it is one of the most picturesque places to visit in Shkoder and around.
Stay at Hotel Tradita
I hardly recommend hotels as attractions in the city but Hotel Tradita really was one of the highlights of my trip to Shkoder (and because of heavy rains I had to stay inside much more than I planned).
As the name indicates, the hotel is designed in the traditional style. Both rooms and common areas are full of local artifacts that are such a beautiful addition. You can also enjoy delicious local food here and in the evenings you can listen to live regional music. The prices are affordable and definitely a good value for enjoying the local culture.
Go for day trips
Shkoder can be also used as a base for some great day trips around North Albania or even Montenegro.
Besides spending the day enjoying Shkoder Lake, you can also head to the magnificent Accursed Mountains to admire some breathtaking views or go for the ferry ride on incredible Lake Koman and see the mind-blowing landscape around.
Since Montenegro is only a short drive away you can hop across the border and visit Ulcinj or Stari Bar with impressive remnants of the stone town destroyed by the earthquake in 1979.
If you are planning a trip to Albania here are more articles I published about this great and underrated country that you might find useful:
- What to see in Albania – my favorite places and more!
- 27 Great Things to Do in Tirana, Albania
- Kruja, Albania – a Perfect Day Trip from Tirana
- A Complete Guide to Visiting Lake Koman, Albania
- Gjirokaster, Albania – the stone gem of the Balkans
- Your Ultimate Travel Guide to Saranda, Albania
Or if you plan to continue your trip to Montenegro after visiting Shkoder here is the article with the best places to visit in Montenegro.
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