Visit Tirana – the funkiest capital in Europe

Tirana cafes
(Last Updated On: 22/06/2019)

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 travel to Tirana as I felt this is my kind of the city and can be one of Balkan highlights! And I was so right!

Visit Tirana

Arriving to Tirana

I arrived in Tirana in the early afternoon. The bus from Saranda dropped me off some 3 km from the center and my hostel but I didn’t mind walking all that way to have a first glimpse of what to see in Tirana. 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 a 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 places to visit in Tirana and well, with such an unfavorable opinion it was difficult to find the proper Tirana guide I’d actually find useful. I’ve seen some pictures around so I knew more or less what Tirana sights 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 a 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’s 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 electrical boxes. I stumbled across a new piece every couple of minutes during my Tirana sightseeing 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 the 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! The cafe culture might have been one of my favorite Tirana attractions!

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 spot all the best things to see in Tirana and 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 a couple of minutes later I was just too focused on enjoying the view – and it was just stunning!

Skanderberg Square – the main attraction of Tirana

The main Tirana travel attraction 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 a city that has a wonderful, vibrant atmosphere that perfectly fits 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 in Tirana and local connections are very limited. The public transport in Albania is based on buses / furgons (minibus). 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 at 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 is 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!

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Tirana - the funkiest capital in Europe       Tirana - the funkiest capital in Europe

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  • Reply
    Stacja Bałkany
    15/01/2017 at 14:37

    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.

    • Reply
      28/01/2017 at 21:59

      Dziękuję. Z autobusami to chyba w całej Albanii mają problem – brak dworców jest dość uciążliwy, ale i to część przygody! Wyobrażam sobie jak tam musi być gorąco latem…

      • Reply
        30/01/2017 at 22:54

        Hej a jak znalazłaś autobus? Bo ja chciałbym może w kwietniu pojechać z Tirany do Himare, tylko odnalezienie autobusu mnie przeraża…

  • Reply
    16/01/2017 at 23:08

    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.

    • Reply
      28/01/2017 at 22:01

      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

  • Reply
    18/01/2017 at 02:43

    I really like the pyramid. It reminds me of the cathedral in Lapa, Rio!

    • Reply
      28/01/2017 at 22:02

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

  • Reply
    24/01/2017 at 01:22

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

    • Reply
      28/01/2017 at 22:03

      Thank you!

  • Reply
    Chrys Tan
    12/02/2017 at 16:23

    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.

    • Reply
      21/02/2017 at 22:03

      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

    • Reply
      Joe Cooke
      16/02/2019 at 23:28

      You won’t have any problems in Albania even the beach has WiFi and at fast speeds . Great article great city it’s a shame no mention of the fantastic night life or the cable car . Ime English and love Albania and Tirana is my favourite City in the world . No to little crime great bars pubs clubs and the freindliest people I’ve ever met . I loved it so much I moved there two yr ago and not once have I regretted that decision .

      • Reply
        18/02/2019 at 08:29

        I wrote only about things I know and I didn’t make it to the cable car but thank you for mentioning it, I really appreciate it! Hopefully, I will make it there next time! I agree Tirana is a great city and I’m glad you are enjoying it so much. I really hope to be back there soon. Cheers!

  • Reply
    08/05/2017 at 22:31

    Hi. I’ve spent the last our or two scrolling through your blog. Must admit I like it a lot, and I will check it up again before going to Lithuania and the Balkans later this year. It is an impressing load of work and love you’ve filled up your blog with, so thanks!

    • Reply
      27/05/2017 at 09:25

      Thank you so much for your kind words, I really appreciate them! If you need any help with your trips feel free to message me or join my Facebook group about travels in those regions (link above in the sidebar) – people will help you there for sure :) Happy travels!

  • Reply
    15/05/2019 at 07:02

    Here is my short story read from a magazine and confirmed by many locals about the pyramid: The pyramid was built by communist government and E. Hoxha’s family (after his death) to be his museum. Hoxha was the criminal communist leader that ruled the country for almost 50 years. He was one of the cruelest and vicious dictators of the communist regime in the World. At a time when the Albanian People was starving in an absolute hanger the cost of this building was over 500 million of American $. In order to build this ugly structure the government destroyed and criminally demolished one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of Tirana, full of great old villas, parks, tennis courts, exotic trees…originated before the communists came to power.

    • Reply
      25/06/2019 at 16:44

      Thank you for your input Jack! All the best!

  • Reply
    24/06/2019 at 19:06

    What a beautiful post of an enchanting city! I’m normally more word-orientated than a visual person, but your images just won me over and made Tirana my newest dream destination :) Faleminderit!

    • Reply
      25/06/2019 at 16:46

      Thank you Riina! Tirana is such a fun and unique place to visit, I hope you will make it there soon!

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