I have a confession to make. Southern Albania was never one of my bucket list destinations.
If you’re like I was then you probably don’t know much about the countries blisteringly eventful past, let alone the name of the capital (it’s Tirana, just in case).
Albania only crossed my path when I recently spent a week in Its neighbour, Montenegro. The hostels I was staying in were full of people who’d just come from Albania. These fellow travellers were absolutely raving about this little known country.
They cited ridiculously cheap food and accommodation, the friendliest people, rugged untouched scenery, and a Riviera set to boom.
Not wanting to feel left out, and the fact my planned trip to America fell through, I hopped on a plane to Corfu. After landing I immediately caught the 1 hour ferry to the bottom of Albania.
Saranda – 2 nights
Saranda is the town which your ferry from Corfu docks. This is rather handy as it’s also your first destination in Southern Albania.
The traditional seaside town has some great activities and day trips that allow you to delve deep into Albania.
Lekuresi castle is an amazing place to visit any time, but especially at sunset.
The site is an hours walk from the city centre or a 10 minute taxi.
The castle was built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (what a name) in 1537 who needed control of the harbour. At its top the castle offers stunning 360* views of Saranda and the surrounding countryside.
The castle has an open air restaurant on top that is truly picturesque. Booking here for a date night will definitely earn you some major brownie points.
Saranda is a great place to try traditional Albanian food. You’re also by the sea so this includes delicious sea food.
There are plenty of restaurants on offer throughout the town from simple cheap places to waterfront elegance.
A great little place is Te Bequa In the centre of town. Here you can have traditional meat with potatoes, meatball stew, bread, and a beer for £4.
This popular beach is a 30 minute bus ride from Saranda and is a great place to spend half a day.
The turquoise waters are perfect for you to relax in and swim to the nearby islands.
There nothing much on these islands but they’re still fun to swim to.
The restaurants are a little pricier than Saranda but offer some tasty food nonetheless.
There’s also a quieter beach further along called ‘the last bay’, if you’re looking for something a little more peaceful!
Butrint National Park
A further 15 min bus ride on from Ksamil beach will take you to Butrint.
The park is one of 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Southern Albania. and is situated deep in a stunning valley. Here you will find castles, a cool rope ferry service, and ancient ruins.
This 95km² park is also a haven for nature. It contains wetlands, lakes, plains, and salt-marshes. In total all of these environments are home to over 1200 species of plants and animals.
There is a small section of the park that costs 700 lek (£5-6) to enter. In here theres some ruins but we thought it was a little pricey so just explored the rest of the park!
Himarä – 1/2 nights
Himarä is 90 mins north along the coast from Saranda and offers stunning scenery and a day trip to remember.
A day trip to Gjipe bay could well be the highlight of your trip to Southern Albania, it was for me!
The bus from Himarä will drop you at the head of a 1 hour trail that takes you along a deep canyon to the beach.
Along the way there are plenty of panoramic view points. Don’t forget to make plenty of echoes in the canyon.
The beach itself does attract a few visitors but it stays remarkably quiet.
The beach also has the clearest water I’ve ever swam in!
For strong swimmers, a 1km swim south of the beach will lead you to a smaller secluded beach only accessible by sea.
Along the swim you’ll find plenty of caves carved out by water to explore and once on the new beach you will find another large cave to explore.
Swim 5 min further and you’ll see another huge cave with a secret. In here is a tunnel that you can swim through that takes you to the other side of the cliff!
Berat – 2 nights
Berat is your first inland destination and its rustic history won’t disappoint. The town of a thousand windows is a popular destination for travellers in southern Albania.
Citadel of Berat
Overlooking the town is the famous ancient castle. A short but steep 30min walk will take you to it’s gates.
From the castle you have full uninterrupted views of the Berat and the surrounding area.
The castle is pretty unique because it has a small town inside it with people living there!
The cobbled streets have plenty of little shops and cafes for you to explore. It’s a great spot to chill and have a drink with the stunning views.
About a 90 minute drive from Berat are some of Europe’s most stunning canyons.
The canyons of Osumi rise up to over 150m and tower over the river running below.
You can view the canyons from above on a new platform that has been installed. However, if you want to delve deep into the canyons then you can.
When the river is full in the early months of the year then a rafting trip will show you the grandeur of the canyons.
In the later months when the river is low you can trek into them!
The promenade of Berat is a great place to be in the evenings. At night the whole town flows out to eat, drink, play chess, and socialise.
Being in this atmosphere with the backdrop of the lit up town and castle is a sight to behold!
A wine tour in the hills surrounding Berat is a great evening activity to relax and drink some fantastic wine.
The tour will teach you about the unique grape picking process from Berat. You will also learn about the effects that communism had on wine making in the country.
As you sample each wine surrounded by hills of vineyards, you’ll get a little tipsier. After the wine you will move onto the Raki which is the locally grown spirit that packs quite the punch. Drink at your own risk 😉
Tirana – 1/2 nights
The capital of Tirana has come a long way in since the collapse of communism in 1991. What was once a poor city with no infrastructure is now a thriving and chaotic capital that has so much to offer.
The bunker museum is a great attraction where you can learn about the communist past of Tirana and Albania.
The museum is built into one of the nuclear bunkers built in the capital by the regime in 1986. This one was built into the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It’s one of the countries 175,000 communist era bunkers!
Just off from the bunkers tunnels are small rooms, each with a different story to tell. In some rooms there is a cool augmented reality experience you can do with your phone to find out more info.
It’s great for English speaking travellers as all the exhibitions have English translations, unlike the national museum!
Toptani Street is a relaxing pedestrianised street to watch Tirana life go by as you sip on the famous local coffee.
The tree lined street has oodles of cafes and restaurants for you to choose from.
Some are old and traditional while others are new and bustling with young Tiranaians! <- is that what they’re called?!
The Tirana Pyramid
The imposing and rugged concrete structure that is the Pyramid of Tirana is a strange and ghostly attraction in centre of the city.
Finished in 1988 the pyramid was a museum to Albania’s deceased communist leader Enver Hoxha.
After the fall of communism 3 years later in 1991, the structure has had several purposes. However, most of it is now dilapidated and a eery hark back to communist Albania.
It’s a great place to explore. You’re technically not allowed to climb it but everyone does!
The longest cable car in the Balkan’s will take you to the top of Tirana’s Mount Dajti.
The 25 min ride will provide you with stunning views as you look back at Tirana sprawled out in front of you.
At the top you’ll find bonus views of the countryside on the other side of the mountain.
You’ll also find a rotating 360degree cafe to gawk at the views from.
Now I didn’t actually go on this. You have to let me off though, there was an earthquake in Tirana when I was there! And not even a small one – 5.9 magnitude! I really didn’t fancy going on the cable cars in case another one struck. I think they were closed anyway!
This one week Southern Albania itinerary will let you delve deep into the young countries culture and history.
From stunning beach destinations to mountains towns and on to the bustling capital.
Tailor this Albania itinerary to suit your needs and fall in love with this stunning country.