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!
Table of contents
- 1 Arriving to Tirana
- 2 The Pyramid – the concrete symbol of the city
- 3 Colorful Tirana
- 4 Tirana street art
- 5 Visit Tirana to enjoy amazing cafe culture!
- 6 New life of bunkers
- 7 The best view of Tirana
- 8 Skanderberg Square – the main attraction of Tirana
- 9 Green Tirana
- 10 Tirana practical information
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!
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!
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!
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!
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