Albania

7 Things To Know Before Traveling To Albania

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Written by By Maria from NorthernAlbania.com

Sometimes dubbed as “Europe’s forgotten country”, Albania has remained under the radar for many, usually due to negative, misleading stereotypes.

Known as ‘Shqiperia’ in the Albanian language, this country holds some of the most stunning and diverse nature in all of Europe. There’s intense history, incredible food, and a rich, cultural heritage to learn about while visiting Albania.

It’s also referred to as the “land of Eagles” – you can easily recognize the Albanian flag by the double-headed eagle. In the same regard, if you meet Albanians and ask them about their heritage, they’ll make the eagle symbol with their hands to display their cultural pride.

visiting albania

Top Tips For Visiting Albania

After living in Albania for almost two years, I want to give you the best inside tips for visiting this gorgeous, but quirky Balkan country.

Albania is still pulling itself from the grips of recent communism while dealing with ongoing government corruption. Traveling isn’t the most straightforward since things change rapidly and in a different way from how most are used to in Western countries. There has been quite a bit of progress to make things easier for tourists.

Here are 7 up-to-date tips you need to know before visiting Albania.

It’s Difficult To Travel Fast

One of the biggest mistakes I see travelers making is that they assume Albania is similar to other destinations they have visited. This is simply not the case. It’s not possible to travel Albania quickly, but that’s also the beauty of it. This is due to many factors like the slower pace of life, infrastructure, and geography.

Albania follows the typical Mediterranean lifestyle, which means things operate slower. This means you can’t squeeze as much into a day. Albanians like to take their time to enjoy a long coffee, afternoon naps, and of course long, social meal times.

Infrastructure in Albania is still developing. The recent surge in tourism has helped get the wheels moving but corruption in the government simultaneously puts the brakes on. Meanwhile, locals adapt the best they can. When visiting, it’s important to keep this in mind, so you can lower expectations and have an open mind.

Geography plays a huge role in making things slower. Albania is a very mountainous country, making traveling around more time-consuming. There are plenty of amazing canyons, waterfalls, hot springs, ancient ruins, and castles to visit, but they are deep in rural areas. Plus, most things aren’t well known or ‘discovered’ so sometimes finding these cool places takes a bit of time exploring.

visiting albania

Try To Hike In Alternative Locations

Hiking is one of the best ways to see Albania, especially since attractions actually require you to hike to them. The ‘Albanian Alps’ in northern Albania are known for being a hiking paradise.

Unfortunately, most travelers go to only two particular towns in the Albanian Alps because that’s what big bloggers visit and recommend in their guides. Also known as the Accursed Mountains, this range covers a large area so there’s lots more to discover. I’d encourage you to check out alternatives to Theth village, especially since your tourism money can do a world of good for families in other villages. Plus, it will help to curb the over-tourism issue that Theth is starting to face.

visiting albania

Learning About Albania’s History Is Important

Part of Albania’s more recent history, includes almost half a century of the communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, making life for the Albanian people very difficult.

While in the capital of Tirana, make sure to pay a visit to some of the museums. The House Of Leaves museum specifically shows how Hoxha’s government spied on the Albanian people through things like listening devices, checking mail correspondence, and even commissioning citizens to be informants. At that time, anybody could be an informant – your husband, wife, brother, sister, or friend, which created a lot of distrust among people. The ‘punishment’ from Hoxha’s government was extreme, meanwhile, they showed propaganda to the outside world making it seem like life in Albania was good.

I’d highly recommend the House Of Leaves museum to learn about these things, especially since it is set up in the original building where this surveillance happened. Bunk’Art 2 and the National Historical Museum are other great places to learn more.

visiting albania

Accessibility Can Be An Issue (Especially In The Off Season)

Though most visitors in the summer months, Albania has been growing in popularity so tourism is picking up and becoming year around. Many travel guides advise you based on experiences from visiting during warm weather.

Winter means fewer buses and some destinations can’t be reached.

Albania is quite diverse with 6 different climates. Theth National Park is in the subarctic climate, so even in April, it might not be accessible due to snow and unsafe road conditions. Similarly, the southern town of Korce can be hard to access due to weather. During these times, buses won’t be as frequent so it’s important to thoroughly check the ‘off-season’ bus schedule before departing. If there are only one or two buses a week to a place, you could go without realizing it and be stuck there for a while.

At least, by taking the bus, you don’t need to know about driving on unfamiliar roads in unknown conditions, since the local drivers know what to expect. Before renting a car, make sure to speak with locals about road conditions for your desired destinations. Even in the best of conditions, there are many roads not suitable for regular ‘city’ cars. So to avoid paying for damages, get an appropriate vehicle if you want to take rural roads.

Pssst – Driving wasn’t permitted for most individuals during communism. This greatly limited road development and maintenance for half of the 1900s. This is largely why you’ll find poor road conditions nowadays, and also crazy driving practices.

visiting albania

Consider Albanian Riviera Alternatives

Easily the most visited region is the Albanian Riviera. With some of the best beaches in Europe, the gorgeous stretch of coastline has risen in popularity at an alarming rate. This has triggered a lot of unsustainable tourism, with little to no regulations.

During communism, Albanians were kept in terrible circumstances and even now, there are not many opportunities to pursue. This has forced a large portion of Albanians to leave and seek better education and wages elsewhere. Many who remain see this tourism burst as a way to pull them and their family from struggling. Since this is condensed so much in one area of the country, it has created some issues.

Visiting the Albanian Riviera is still wonderful, I’d highly recommend it. Keep in mind that it will be extremely congested and overpriced in July and August. It’s also not the end all, be all of Albania. There are so many other great places that could do with the influx of tourist revenue.

Here are a few swimming alternatives:

  • Visit some beaches north of the Riviera like Rana E Hedhun Beach (Thrown Sand Albania) or the Cape of Rodon.
  • Cool off in the mountains – swimming at Prekal Canyon (near Shkoder) or Syri i Ciklopit (Cyclops Eye near Tirana), white-water rafting near Berat, visiting Nivica waterfalls and canyon.
  • Explore the thermal hot spring near Permet (temperature can vary, but usually it’s warm, not hot) – the best time to visit is in colder months.

visiting albania

What To Know About The Drinking Water

There’s a lot of conflicting information about whether you can drink the water in Albania. The main issue that keeps tourists and locals alike from drinking the water is not bacterial. This is a common issue in the likes of Asia so many travelers assume that when locals say you shouldn’t drink the water it is the same reason. 90% of the time that is not the case.

Water quality in the Balkans can range from amazing to terrible within 30 mins of driving or less. This is mainly because the water coming from the mountains is great for drinking. When you go closer to the sea or *most* cities, the water is over-treated, meaning that the chemicals are very harsh on your body.

Some people get stomach aches right away and some get it after a week or a month. Either way, it’s not good whether you feel it immediately or not because the excess chemicals can actually dehydrate you the more you drink, and who knows what other issues.

Many travelers have told me they boiled their tap water, so they didn’t need to spend the money on buying it – except boiling only helps with killing bacteria. It does not remove the excessive amount of chemicals.

To save money and plastic, you can purchase a large 5L or 8L for 100 lek or 10L for 200 lek.

Commonly visited areas:

  • Tirana – it’s advised to buy water
  • Shkoder – water comes from the mountains so it’s okay to drink, check the individual building though
  • Seaside towns (Sarande, Himare, Vlore, Shengjin, etc.) – it’s advised to buy water

When in doubt, ask the locals. They will be up to date on the drinking water standards. More importantly, ask someone from the place you are staying. Even if water quality is good in the area, if the building is old, the pipes might be contaminating the water for drinking.

The only time you might run into a bacterial issue is if you are in the mountains and the water source level is low – but it’s not common. What do I mean by this? If you are hiking in the extremely hot months of July, August, or September, water levels are lower than normal which means there is a higher risk of bacteria from the physical bottom of the water source. This was my personal experience staying at a guesthouse in Valbona in September. Myself and other hikers were getting sick because of the water, while locals weren’t because they were used to the water.

visiting albania

Staring Culture

As foreigners, you might notice some things that seem unusual or ‘quirky’. One of these is that Albania has an intense staring culture. It can take a bit to adjust to the staring, especially since in other places, rude behavior often follows someone staring. In Albania, it’s seen as a normal way to assess someone and it’s not interpreted as rude by any means.

Though it’s common among all ages, the older generations are known for long stares. This can do with growing up under the Hoxha dictatorship – not being able to trust those around you and being cut off from any foreign influence. There are many older Albanians that have never met foreigners before, so the staring is out of curiosity, not malice.

For women, it’s important to note that guys will stare, but won’t do anything else. It’s not common for guys to approach you or follow you. They might say the Albanian equivalent of “OMG” to their friend if you walk by a cafe but that’s about it. Compared with my experience living in the US and Western Europe, I feel way more respect and safety. I’ve traveled all over Albania by myself and never felt unsafe. Albanians of all ages have helped me, like finding the right bus stop, gone with me to buy medicine, given me directions, let me use their phone hotspot, and so much more!

visiting albania

Final Thoughts

I hope these tips help you plan your visit and make you more confident in traveling to Albania. Though there are some important things to remember, all of the wonderful things about Albania truly outshine the small negatives. It’s a great place to explore and relax, especially if you’re looking for a chill, Mediterranean getaway.


Author’s bio: Originally from the US, Maria has been living abroad for the last 5+ years in Scotland, Ireland, and now Albania. After falling in love with the Balkan region of Europe, she founded Northern Albania, where she is based full-time. Follow Maria on Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and Facebook.


Further reading

I published many articles about Albania that you might find useful when planning your trip there. Here are some of them:

If you are looking for articles about a specific destination – check out the map with all the articles I’ve published (and their locations).

Travel Resources

You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for the place to stay in Albania

Never travel without travel insurance, you never know what might happen and better safe than sorry. You can check the insurance policy for Albania here.

I recommend joining organized tours to get to know the place better and to visit more places during your trip. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide – click here.

Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.


For the end I left a few announcements that might interest you:

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  • I’ve included a few handy links of services and products I personally like and use so you can plan your own trip to Albania too. They are often affiliate links. This means I will get a small commission if you book/purchase anything through my links, at no extra costs for you. Thank you!

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