Tirana, Albania is one of the most underrated capitals in Europe, and even if the number of tourists who visit Tirana is constantly growing, this quirky city is still not the most obvious tourist destination. But Tirana can actually surprise you, in the best possible way, so be sure to include it in your Albania itinerary.
Even if there might not be major historic monuments, there are so many great things to do in Tirana that you will surely be busy checking (and enjoying) them all. Add to that a vibrant atmosphere and colorful buildings around and Tirana quickly can become one of your favorite capitals in Europe. That’s exactly what happened to me and with each trip to Tirana, I fall for this place more and more. What makes it even more interesting is how quickly the city is changing, some might not like it but I think most of these changes are for the better.
After my recent trip to Albania, I finally put together this Tirana guide covering all the best things to do in Tirana. I hope you will find it inspiring and useful if you decide to visit this great city. And if you still have any questions about visiting Tirana, feel free to join my Facebook group about traveling in the Balkans and ask there!
Table of contents
- 1 Why visit Tirana
- 2 How to get to Tirana
- 3 How to get around Tirana
- 4 How many days for visiting Tirana
- 5 Where to stay in Tirana
- 6 Best Tirana tours
- 7 Things to do in Tirana
- 7.1 Stop at Skanderbeg Square
- 7.2 Visit the National History Museum
- 7.3 Climb the Clock Tower
- 7.4 Visit Et’hem Bey Mosque
- 7.5 Stop for a drink at Panoramic Bar
- 7.6 Explore Blloku neighborhood
- 7.7 See the famous Pyramid
- 7.8 Visit Bunk’Art 2
- 7.9 Take the Dajti Ekspres cable car
- 7.10 Relax in the Grand Park
- 7.11 Find Tanners’ Bridge
- 7.12 See Hoxha’s villa
- 7.13 Shop at Pazari i Ri
- 7.14 Hang out at Tirana Castle
- 7.15 Visit House of Leaves
- 7.16 Find bunkers
- 7.17 Visit the Resurrection Cathedral
- 7.18 Shop at Libraria Adrion Bookstore
- 7.19 Enjoy the exceptional cafe culture
- 7.20 Admire the street art scene
- 7.21 Stroll the pedestrian center
- 7.22 Admire modern architecture
- 7.23 Visit Bunk’Art 1
- 7.24 Enjoy the colorful side of Tirana
- 7.25 Visit Free Ukraine street
- 7.26 Try local food
- 7.27 Go for day trips
- 8 Further reading
- 9 Travel Resources
Why visit Tirana
Tirana is often overlooked during a trip to Albania. Travelers prefer to focus on the seaside destination, amazing stone towns like Berat or Gjirokaster, or magnificent mountains. But the capital of Albania also has plenty to offer and some of the best things to do in Tirana will keep you busy for at least a day or two.
This fascinating city is crucial to learn more about the recent history of the country and understand Albania better. Tirana might not have many historical sights but the vibrant atmosphere and colorful buildings can easily suck you in and you might find yourself enjoying this quirky capital to the fullest.
How to get to Tirana
During my first trips to Albania a few years ago it wasn’t so easy to get to the country, the easiest way was usually overland via Greece. Fortunately, this has changed in recent years, and now visiting Tirana is really easy.
There are numerous flights, including low-cost airlines, who fly to Tirana from all over Europe (many of these flights are charters only in the high season, though) so planning a trip isn’t so challenging anymore.
From the airport, you can take the shuttle bus that will take you all the way to the center of the city (to the square behind the Opera). They run every hour between 7:00 am and 2:00 am from the airport (6:00 am to 12:00 pm from the center), the price is 400 lek and the journey takes around 30 minutes, depending on the traffic. You can also pre-book the transfer from the airport directly to your accommodation in Tirana – click here for details.
If you travel overland, you can arrive by bus to Tirana from Kosovo, Greece, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and numerous destinations within Albania. You can also take the ferry from a few ports in Italy to Durres, which is only 35 km away from Tirana.
How to get around Tirana
The majority of Tirana attractions are located in the central part of the city and you can easily get everywhere on foot. If you need to go a bit further away, there is a decent bus system in the city.
You can catch buses from many places in the center, inside the dedicated worker goes through the bus to collect the fee for a ride (during my last trip to Tirana it was 40 leke / ride). You will need to take the bus to get to the cable car / Bunk’art 1 or to the bus station.
How many days for visiting Tirana
I think you need at least 2 days for visiting Tirana to see all its attractions and get the feel of the city. You can spend one day exploring the center and the other going to the attractions a bit away. Add a few more days for some great day trips from Tirana (there are many of them).
Where to stay in Tirana
Tirana is a really affordable city and you can get a good quality for a decent price. That applies to accommodation too. There are plenty of places to stay in Tirana you can choose from, here are some recommended options:
- In Center Hotel (9.2/10)
- Lot Boutique Hotel (9.1/10)
- Rooftop Tirana (9.1/10)
- Hotel Boutique Restaurant Gloria (9.4/10)
- Hotel Boutique Vila 135 (9.1/10)
- Ramel Hotel (9.5/10)
- and many more!
Best Tirana tours
If you decide to join a tour in Tirana (which I highly recommend, this is always the best way to get to know a place better), here are some recommended tours in Tirana:
- Tirana Walking Tour
- A Communist Manifesto: Tirana before and after
- Cooking Classes and Traditional food tasting in Tirana
- City & Food Tour of Tirana in One Day
- Bunkart 1 & Mount Dajti Tour – includes lunch
Things to do in Tirana
And now, without any further ado, here are the best things to do in Tirana, in no particular order.
Stop at Skanderbeg Square
Skanderbeg Square, the huge concrete land in the heart of Tirana, is the main square of the city and the place where you should start your Tirana sightseeing. It was named after the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu and you can find his monument in one of the corners of the square.
The first public square was created in this place at the beginning of the 20th century and over the years it has changed its look a few times. The recent renovation that finished in 2017 made it one of the largest public spaces in the Balkans and was rewarded at a few important architectural competitions.
The place is surrounded by some of the most important buildings and institutions in Tirana: the National, Opera, the Palace of Culture, the National History Museum, and a few government headquarters, just to name a few of them. This is also where you can find a catchy “I Love Tirana” sign.
Visit the National History Museum
The building of the National History Museum is one of the most famous landmarks in Tirana, known especially for its amazing mosaic above the entrance. It shows Albanians fighting against invasion and occupation through centuries. The mosaic is huge, covering 400 m² so it’s impossible to miss it, and it is probably the best example of Socialist Realism you can find in Albania.
The National History Museum, the largest museum in Albania, is the perfect place to learn more about the country and its long and turbulent history. There are items dating back to ancient Illyria and the tour leads you through the centuries all the way to the recent times of the post-communist era (fortunately there are good English descriptions to match the artifacts). There is also part of the exhibition dedicated to Mother Teresa, probably the most well-known Albanian in the world.
Climb the Clock Tower
The Clock Tower, hidden in the corner of Skanderbeg Square, offers a great view of central Tirana yet not many seem to know about it. The tower was built in 1822 and is one of the oldest constructions you can find in Tirana.
For a small fee, you can climb up around 100 stairs to the small balcony just below the clock, from where you can admire the beautiful panorama of Skanderbeg Square, central Tirana, and beyond.
Visit Et’hem Bey Mosque
Et’hem Bey Mosque is one of the oldest and most important mosques in Tirana, works on it started in the late 18th century and lasted over twenty years. During the regime times the place was closed but in January 1991 around 10.000 people entered the mosque – this event lead to the fall of communism in Albania and was a big milestone in the recent history of the country.
Today it is possible to visit the mosque (although it has to be done outside of the prayers’ time) and admire its stunning architecture and especially beautiful frescoes. Et’hem Bey Mosque was recently renovated so it’s shining like never before and it might actually be one of the most beautiful mosques in Albania.
Stop for a drink at Panoramic Bar
On the top of Sky Hotel, you can find a Panoramic Bar where you can stop for a drink to admire the amazing vista of the whole city and surrounding mountains (on a clear day you can even see as far as Kruja).
Since it’s a rotating bar, you can just sit down, relax, sip a drink and look at the changing views outside. When I visited the place I felt slightly motion sick but it was still nothing that bad and the views of Tirana and beyond were definitely worth it.
Explore Blloku neighborhood
During the communist regime in Albania, the Blloku neighborhood was where the most important people in the county (including the leader, Enver Hoxha) lived. The area was so off-limits that it was even wiped out of the maps. Once communism collapsed and the neighborhood was available not only to the chosen ones, it became a prime hotspot for the younger generation.
This is where you will find some of the best and trendiest bars and restaurants in Tirana. The streets of Blloku vibrate with energy day and night and it seems like whenever you go there, something is going on.
Since it’s a fairly yet centrally located area, it’s really easy to get there and just wander around the streets to get a feel of the place.
See the famous Pyramid
One of the most famous landmarks of Tirana is the Pyramid – the weird structure that was built in 1987 according to the design of Enver Hoxha’s daughter (she was co-architect along with three other people).
It opened in October 1988 as the museum dedicated to Hoxha but after the collapse of communism three years later it changed its function to the conference center and later, during the war in Kosovo in 1999, it served as NATO headquarters. Afterward, it slowly fell into despair and sat abandoned in the center of Tirana.
Recently it’s been going through a major renovation to create a space open to people, especially the younger generation. Even if the interior and the function of the building will change, it will still have its funky pyramid shape.
Visit Bunk’Art 2
There are actually two Bunk’Art museums in Tirana but the Bunk’Art 2 is located right in the center (just off Skanderbeg Square) and it’s so much easier to visit that you should start with this one.
The museum, dedicated to the role of the police and security services in Albania during the communist regime in the 20th century, is located in the real bunker under the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Once you go underground you can explore the maze of narrow corridors and learn more about the difficult and tragic times for the Albanians. Definitely recommended!
Take the Dajti Ekspres cable car
I think this is one of the most underrated yet great attractions in Tirana. In 15 minutes the cable car, located on the outskirts of the city, can take you all the way to the altitude of 1613 meters, almost the top of Dajti mountain.
From there you can admire stunning views of Tirana and its surroundings (on a clear day you can even see the Adriatic Sea) or you can go hiking further in Dajti Mountain National Park. There are also a few dining and entertainment options. This is such an easy and rewarding getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.
To get to the lower station of the cable car take bus no 11 from the bus stop at Rruga Ludovik Shllaku, just off Skanderbeg Square. The bus goes in the direction of Porcelani, you pay the fare inside the bus and you need to get off at the stop Bunk’Art 1. From there it’s a 5-10 minute walk to the cable car, and the road is marked.
Be sure to check the opening hours of the cable car before you go there (I was lucky when I visited as I managed to catch almost the last ride, only a few minutes later and I would have had to go back to the center without taking the cable car).
Relax in the Grand Park
There are a few nice green spaces in Tirana but undoubtedly the best one is Grand Park, located not far from the Blloku neighborhood and occupying a big part of the central part of the city.
Within the park, you can find the large artificial lake, a few cafes and restaurants, the Saint Procopius Church (the only still existing Orthodox church in Tirana that was built before WW2), the Presidential Palace, and memorials to well-known Albanians. At the edge of the park, you can visit a local zoo and the botanical garden.
Grand Park is a perfect place to relax, wander around or just spend a nice time surrounded by the green scenery. It is also great for people-watching as the area is among the favorite spot to spend free time with locals.
Find Tanners’ Bridge
Hidden inconspicuously next to the block of flats and one of the main streets in the city, Tanners’ Bridge is one of the oldest remnants you can find in Tirana.
The Ottoman stone bridge dates back to the 18th century and was part of the Shëngjergj Road between Tirana and the eastern highlands. Once the Lanë stream (that the bridge was built over) was rerouted in the 1930s, the structure lost its importance and for years it was left neglected.
Only at the end of the 20th century, it was restored to its former beauty and now is used by pedestrians only, although it serves more as a tourist attraction and a reminder of the old times.
See Hoxha’s villa
Right in the Blloku district, you can find the villa that used to belong to Enver Hoxha, the infamous dictator during the communist times who lived here from 1975 to his death in 1985. The three-story villa looks rather modest (especially if you compare it to the splendor of Ceausescu’s house in Bucharest, Romania) but still it was incomparably better than what people could afford during his regime.
Unfortunately, the villa is closed to the public but you can still easily see it from the outside when visiting Blloku.
Shop at Pazari i Ri
If you are looking for fresh local produce as well as regional Albanian wine and raki there is no better place to get it than Pazari i Ri (the New Bazaar). It is located not far from the center, in the oldest part of Tirana which always has been known as the bazaar.
After the recent renovation, the market got a new, modern look and is surrounded by colorful buildings that Tirana is known for. While you are here you can also visit the nearby Kokonozi Mosque, dating back to the mid-18th century, one of the few mosques that survived the communist times in Albania.
Hang out at Tirana Castle
Tirana Castle, officially known as the Fortress of Justinian, dates back to the early 14th century and has always played an important role at the crossroads of trading routes that met in Tirana. Today you can see only remnants of the place but since the ruins went through a major renovation process recently, this is one of the coolest hang-out spots in Tirana.
The remnants of the castle were transformed into the modern version of the traditional bazaar and that’s where you can find the best souvenir shops with local items or numerous restaurants serving local and international cuisine.
Visit House of Leaves
Museum of Secret Surveillance (also known as “House of Leaves”) is another place dedicated to the difficult life under the communist regime. It is located in the building from 1931 that was the first maternity hospital in Albania but shortly after was used to serve as the headquarters of Sigurimi (the state security, intelligence, and secret police service during the communist times).
The building was witness to some tragic events since the place was often used for interrogations and tortures. Today it commemorates the innocent people who were spied on, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and executed during the communist regime.
In 2020 House of Leaves was awarded the title of European Museum of the Year by the Council of Europe. While Bunk’Art 2 seems to be a more popular museum to visit to learn about the communist regime, I personally found House of Leaves much more interesting and heartbreaking.
Albania is known for having countless bunkers still scattered across the country. They were built during the Hoxha’s regime, between the 1960s and 1980s, and official sources say about over 750.000 bunkers around Albania.
You can see them literally everywhere and surely you can find them in Tirana as well. When wandering around the city be careful to look around and you will be surprised how many bunkers you can actually spot!
Visit the Resurrection Cathedral
The Orthodox Resurrection Cathedral is a fairly new addition to Tirana’s skyline since it was consecrated only in 2014, although it was opened earlier, on June 24, 2012, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the revival of the Albanian Orthodox Church.
This is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox church buildings in the Balkans and it surely is impressive. Even if you are not a religious person it’s worth visiting the cathedral for its modern design and beautiful, bright interior.
Shop at Libraria Adrion Bookstore
If you are looking for books about Albania and the region (or some random books too) that are published in English or other foreign languages, there is no better place than Libraria Adrion Bookstore.
The bookstore was founded in 1994 when, after years of being closed to foreign books and newspapers, it was legal to sell international titles again. The first bookstore was opened in 1999 and today it is one of the most important cultural spots in Tirana.
Libraria Adrion Bookstore is conveniently located right at Skanderbeg Square, in the same building as Opera, so you can easily stop here when sightseeing in Tirana and choose some good books to take home with you.
Enjoy the exceptional cafe culture
Tirana has one of the best cafe scenes you will find in any European capital. In fact, Albania is the world leader in the number of coffeehouses per capita (654 coffeehouses per 100,000 inhabitants).
You can clearly see it in Tirana where you can find great cafes literally everywhere. Drinking coffee is a way of life here and since the tradition is so strong you can expect some really fine quality coffee for very little money.
When wandering around be sure to stop in at least a few cafes to enjoy this integral part of Albanian life.
Admire the street art scene
The street art scene in Tirana might still not be very big but there are some really great murals around and more and more are constantly added to decorate the walls of the capital. For a few years now there’s been an annual mural festival organized by the city’s municipality that welcomes local and international artists who create great works of art around the capital.
You can read more about street art in Tirana and find the locations of some of the great pieces here.
Stroll the pedestrian center
Part of Tirana’s center is turned into a pedestrian and became a great place for a stroll.
The best area is along Rruga Murat Toptani, next to the Tirana Castle. The tree-lined street is packed with cafes, street musicians, and performers and even if it is located right in the heart of the city it is a great, a bit hidden escape from the chaotic center.
Admire modern architecture
The center of Tirana is constantly going through the revitalization process and as a result, you can find some really amazing modern buildings, usually skyscrapers, around. I haven’t been to Tirana for a few years and I was really impressed by how much its cityscape has changed (I can understand not everyone can like the change, I actually really liked it).
The design of new buildings is often very bold and sleek and if you are interested in modern architecture, you will surely appreciate them. Somehow this new addition to the city’s scenery works really well in Tirana.
Visit Bunk’Art 1
The first Bunk’Art museum was opened in the spring of 2016 in the former cold-war bunker that was kept a secret during the communist regime. The bunker, located on the outskirts of Tirana, was meant as a shelter for Hoxha and other most important people in the country.
It has 5 levels and over a hundred rooms that eventually were turned into space to showcase modern art as well as to tell more about the 20th-century history of Albania. Some rooms were kept original, such as Hoxha’s room and office.
Even if Bunk’Art 1 is located a bit away from the center, it’s definitely worth a trip. You can combine visiting the place with taking the Dajti Expres cable car. To get here take bus no 11 just like it was described in the part about the cable car, once you leave the bus you need to walk a few meters back to the entrance to the Bunk’Art 1.
Enjoy the colorful side of Tirana
Tirana is, hands down, one of the most colorful cities in Europe. After the fall of communism, the center of the city looked rather grey and sad and the easiest way to quickly (and cheaply) change that was to add some color to the existing buildings.
Numerous buildings all over the city were painted in bright and vibrant colors, giving the place a completely new and bold look. Some buildings are just simply painted in different colors but some have funky shapes and patterns that are really cool to look at. My personal favorite is a building at Rruga Mustafa Matohiti, not far from the Pyramid, that reminds me of the quirky creations of Hunderwasser in Vienna (Austria).
Visit Free Ukraine street
Tirana was one of the first places that changed the name of one of the streets to “Ukrainian”, already on March 6th, 2022 (less than 2 weeks after the Russian invasion). The street where the Russian embassy was located was named “Free Ukraine street”, the pavement was painted blue and yellow and the Ukrainian flags were posted along the street (a few months later the Russian embassy changed its location).
This is such a symbolic and nice way to show support for Ukraine so when visiting Tirana don’t miss this street too. It’s located between Blloku and Pyramid.
Try local food
Albania has a really delicious cuisine (bonus points for having plenty of vegetarian dishes to choose from) and you can definitely try it when visiting Tirana. Some of the local dishes you should try to include Tava e Kosit, Speca të mbushura, or Fërgesa, just to name a few.
You can find some great restaurants serving Albanian cuisine in Tirana, some of the most popular are Mullixhiu and Oda, both located in the central part of the city.
Go for day trips
Once you are done visiting all the great Tirana attractions, you can stay a few more days in the city and use it as a base for some day trips around. Many of the best places to visit in Albania are reachable as day trips from Albania. These include Kruja, Durres, Berat, Shkoder, and Lake Koman. You can also hop across the border on a day trip and visit Kosovo or North Macedonia.
You can get to many places by public transport (although first, you need to get to the bus station that is located on the outskirts), or you can go on tours. Here are the highly-rated, recommended tours from Tirana:
- Private Full-Day Trip to Durres and Berat from Tirana
- Day Tour of Kruja Castle & Durres from Tirana
- Shala river from Tirana
- Private Day Tour of Pristina & Prizren from Tirana including UNESCO Sites
- Private One Day Tour of Ohrid from Tirana
As much as I like Tirana, the whole country is a great travel destination with plenty to see and do. If you think on visiting Albania, here are more articles I wrote that you might find useful when planning your trip there:
- Kruja, Albania – a Perfect Day Trip from Tirana
- A Complete Guide to Visiting Lake Koman, Albania
- Gjirokaster, Albania – the stone gem of the Balkans
- Berat, the highlight of Albania, in pictures
- Your Ultimate Travel Guide to Saranda, Albania
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