Things to know about Albania
Albania sees around 4 million visitors enter its borders each year, significantly less than other closeby countries such as Italy (50.7m) and Greece (23.6m). However, with its Mediterranean climate, golden beaches, mountainous landscapes, interesting history, affordable prices, delicious local cuisine and friendly people, the country has everything a tourist could possibly want from a European adventure.
In the last year, I was kindly invited to spend time in Albania with a friend’s family on two different occasions, and have had the opportunity to learn so much about its culture and people through the locals themselves. So I thought it was about time I passed on my new found knowledge of the country I previously knew absolutely nothing about to convince others to also visit this amazing place.
Albanians are proud of their country
The first thing you should know is that Albania is the English name, Albanians actually call their country Shqipëria. So don’t freak out and think you’ve flown into the wrong country if you hear a local call it this!
No matter where you go in Albania you will see flags hanging from windows and buildings, and locals are always keen to tell you about the country and its interesting history.
Albanians are the friendliest people
I may be slightly biased as both times I have visited Albania I have been staying with a friend’s family, however, Albanians are honestly some of the friendliest people I have met on my journeys all over the world.
From the moment I arrive in Albania I am greeted with hugs and kisses and many, many offers of food. Everyone is constantly trying to make me feel welcome and offering any assistance they can. I get spoilt rotten during my visits to Albania and I am always made to feel like a part of the family (which is a big deal as Albanian families are extremely close).
Even the locals I have met outside of the family have always been friendly and welcoming, from the helpful staff in restaurants to these old men who were playing a game of chess on the street and allowed me to take a photo.
Albania is extremely affordable
If you’re coming from a country like the UK to Albania, you’ll easily be able to live like a king on a backpackers budget.
Albania is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll receive poor quality. You get great value for money when spending in Albania, with beautiful 5* beachfront hotels for as little as £40-50 a night and dishes such as this giant Nutella and fruit filled crepe for under £1.
But remember to get some cash
The currency in Albania is Lek, and the conversion rate is £1 to L144.6 (May 2018).
Many places in Albania, especially in smaller towns and cities, will only take cash (or just won’t take international cards) so make sure to get some cash out when you arrive.
Even in large cities, some cash machines won’t take international cards, but just keep looking around and you’ll likely find one that does (try big banks such as BKT and Tirana Bank).
Hiring a car is the best way to get around
The most common mode of transport in Albania is driving.
Hiring a car is also the best way to get around when visiting Albania as a tourist, but be careful of bad drivers and uneven road surfaces. Before the fall of communism in early 1992 there were very few cars in Albania, and these were used only by government officials, so driving is a newer phenomenon and therefore drivers may be a little bit on the erratic side.
However, this shouldn’t put you off driving as Albania is a beautiful country to explore by car, just be careful, don’t drive too fast, and always be aware of what and who’s around you.
You’re unlikely to get anywhere by train
You’re highly unlikely to get anywhere by train in Albania, whether it’s within cities or between different regions. Train stations are now just abandoned relics and the trains themselves are run down and run on a very limited schedule. Most locals would tell you to not bother trying to catch one.
There are buses and furgons (minibuses) if you need to take public transport, however, working out the schedule and finding stops can be a little on the difficult side. Make sure you do your research in advance and are flexible on timings.
Albania has beautiful beaches
If you’re already planning to visit Albania as a tourist, you’re probably already aware of the beautiful beaches lining the Albanian coastline.
If you’re sticking around the capital city of Tirana but fancy a day or two at the beach, head out to the nearby coastal city of Durres where you will find Durres beach, the biggest and most visited beach in Albania.
Otherwise, you can head down south to the Albanian Riviera, where golden beaches meet the turquoise waters alongside the Riviera’s more traditional coastal villages.
But there’s also so much more than the beaches
As well as the white sand beaches, Albania has plenty of busy and exciting cities such as Tirana and Durres, historic architecture, castles and archaeological remains, mountain villages and plenty of adventure.
Here are just a few activities you can do when visiting Albania as a tourist:
Rafting in the Vjosa Valley.
Albanians take pride in their food, and rightly so
Remember to bring your elasticated trousers when visiting Albania as you WILL eat A LOT!
Albanian’s take great pride in their food, especially their traditional local dishes, so it’s only polite to give them all a try. Everything I have ever eaten in Albania has been delicious and full of unique and amazing flavours, and trust me I have eaten a lot! Plus, it’s all super cheap so you can keep eating to your heart’s content.
Albanian dishes you must try:
Byrek – layers of thin flakey pastry filled with meat, cheese or spinach. You will find these absolutely everywhere you go in Albania, and locals will eat them with any meal or as snacks on their own.
Petulla – the Albanian version of fried dough (doughnuts), served with home-made honey, jam or even feta cheese.
Fëgesë – green and red peppers, skinned tomatoes, onions, cottage cheese and spices, baked until it forms a thick stew-like consistency and served with bread.
Tavë Kosi – lamb baked in an earthenware dish with eggs and yoghurt. A popular winter dish in Albania.
Cheese – goats, cows, sheep. This country really loves its cheese, so make sure to make the most of the abundance of different types available when visiting Albania as a tourist.
Albania has amazing sweet treats and cakes
Albania is also heaven for those with a sweet tooth. With ice-cream galore and shops selling tasty sweet treats around every corner, you can’t help but snack when visiting Albania. There are just too many amazing cakes, pastries, baklava and ice-cream flavours to choose from.
Albania is safe
As mentioned above, a major thing I noticed during both of my times in Albania is that there aren’t many touristsat all, especially compared to every other European country I’ve visited.
One reason for this is that many people still believe that visiting Albania as a tourist isn’t safe. Well, I can safely tell you that that is not the case at all. I’ve always felt extremely safe when walking around anywhere in Albania and, as I mentioned earlier, the locals are very friendly and welcoming towards tourists.
If you’re anything like me, the only danger when visiting Albania as a tourist is returning home 2 stone heavier than you arrived.