Albania travel guide
Idyllic beaches, warm weather, rich history, spectacular mountain scenery and bargain prices; it sounds like an impossible wish list for a European destination. Yet Albania fulfils all of these criteria and more besides. Over the past quarter of a century, this Balkan land has gradually emerged from its austere communist cocoon and savvy travellers have been taking note.
The capital, Tirana, is a curious and cosmopolitan place. Its countless communist-era apartment blocks have been enlivened with licks of brash, bright paint, and in parts of the city these sit shoulder-to-shoulder with Ottoman and Italian architecture. It is haphazard and disorderly, but wildly alive, with the constant whir of traffic and cacophony of voices adding to the buzz.
Leading down to the Greek border is Albania’s greatest asset: the Adriatic coastline (touted as the “Albanian Riviera”). It would be disingenuous to call it undiscovered; the beaches here draw significant sunbathing crowds during July and August. Even so, these heavenly stretches are fresh to foreign tourists, and among the best in the Med. If you can tear yourself off the towel, there are also interesting remnants of Greek, Ottoman and communist history to be explored in nearby towns. Of particular note are the now deteriorated and occasionally repurposed domed bunkers, paranoid follies ordered by the isolationist ex-ruler Enver Hoxha.
Further inland, stony hiking trails weave among the lunar, sun-bleached mountains, where remote rural villages offer up a warm welcome to any inquisitive visitors. With unpaved, pot hole-strewn roads and unreliable bus routes, just getting to the country’s interior can be an adventure in itself. But when the logistics of travel prove taxing, there’s always the dangling carrot of lovingly-prepared meals, tasty wine and ever-hospitable locals to spur you onward.
With its winning combination of sandy beaches, engaging history and affordable prices, Albania’s once-unsung charms are now being shouted from the garishly-coloured rooftops.
28,748 sq km (11,100 sq miles).
2,906,593 (UN estimate 2016).
105.3 per sq km.
President Bujar Nishani since 2012.
Prime Minister Edi Rama since 2013.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Public security is generally good, particularly in Tirana, and Albanians are very hospitable to visitors. Crime and violence does occur in some areas, but reports of crime specifically targeting foreigners are rare. There have been occasional shootings and small explosions, but these appear to be related to internal disputes over criminal, business or political interests.
There have been reports of luggage stolen from hotel rooms and public transport, particularly in the coastal resorts of Vlore and Saranda. Be vigilant and keep valuables in a safe place.
In December 2009 Albania officially declared it had met its ‘Ottawa Convention Article 5’ obligations and had reached mine-free status. However, when visiting hill towns on the northern border with Kosovo and Montenegro you should take care, particularly if hiking and follow the signs warning about unexploded landmines and other unexploded ordnance. Demining is ongoing on the Kosovo side.
Driving can be very hazardous. Roads are poor, especially in rural areas. Street lighting in urban areas is subject to power cuts. Elsewhere, even on the major inter-urban arterial routes, there is no street lighting. If you are travelling at night, watch out for unmarked road works, potholes and unlit vehicles. Four-wheel drive vehicles are often more practical on rural and minor roads.
Albanian driving can often be aggressive and erratic. Deaths from road traffic accidents are amongst the highest in Europe. Police have taken some measures to decrease the number of accidents. Minor traffic disputes can quickly escalate, especially as some motorists could be armed. Avoid reacting to provocative behaviour by other road users. If you are involved in a traffic accident, even a minor one, you are supposed to wait until the police arrive. This will usually happen quickly in built-up areas.
If you are intending to import a vehicle into Albania, make sure you have all the necessary papers on arrival at the border. Consult the Albanian Embassy in London before you leave. The British Embassy will be unable to help anyone attempting to bring a vehicle into Albania without the correct paperwork.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is recommended.
A list of incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
In 2009 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safely oversight in Albania.
We can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
There are some local press reports that jet skis and boats being rented along the coasts may lack adequate safety precautions and equipment.
The Albanian National Environment Agency reported in 2016 that 83% of beaches in Albania are of a very good or good standard but the report raised concerns over a small number of beaches including beaches in Durres, Vlore and Saranda which are polluted as a result of inadequate sewage disposal and treatment.
Tension between religious groups and expression of extremist views is very rare, and attitudes to western countries are overwhelmingly positive.