A Comprehensive Article about Durrës and Golem. You will discover not only the beaches of this coastal region, but also find a list of the best hotels, attractions, and plenty of other useful information for those who are planning a vacation in Albania.
Durrës and Golem: Facts and Brief History
Let me explain why this article covers two cities simultaneously.
Durrës is the second-largest city in Albania, surpassed in size only by the capital, Tirana. Approximately 120,000 inhabitants call Durrës home. It is not only a tourist resort, but also a major industrial and prominent port city. Moreover, Durrës is one of the oldest cities in the entire Balkan region.
In contrast to Durrës, Golem is much more modest. It’s more of a settlement or village that would have remained so if not for its proximity to the expanding Durrës. Today, both settlements have grown so much that their boundaries have merged.
Helpful to know:This entire resort area is now referred to as Durrës-Golem-Kavajë, named after the beaches that have become intertwined. Read all about Albania’s resorts and how to choose the best one in a separate article.
A Brief History
For you to understand why Durrës is considered one of the oldest cities on the planet: officially founded in 627 BC, its mentions date back even earlier. Imagine a city with more than 2,640 years of history.
Durrës was conquered, destroyed, and rebuilt over many centuries. Throughout its history, the city was part of:
- Illyrian Kingdom
- Roman Empire
- Byzantine Empire
- Venetian Republic
- Ottoman Empire
- Only in 1914, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, did Durrës become part of independent Albania.
Interesting to know:The city’s zenith in history was during the Roman Empire’s rule. During this time, the Romans invested heavily in infrastructure development in their colonies.
In Durrës, they built forums, amphitheaters, roads, and promoted trade. There were almost 400 years of peace here. For that time, it was remarkably peaceful.
- Around 100 BC, the Romans constructed a crucial road.
- The Egnatia Road, also known as the Via Egnatia.
- It spanned over 1,000 km.
- Beginning in Durrës, it ended in Constantinople.
- It served as a crucial trade route and enabled the rapid movement of armies across the edges of the Roman Empire within two months – lightning speed for antiquity.
- Today, the Egnatia Road is almost entirely gone, but its segments, including an existing bridge over a river, can be found in the suburbs of the city of Elbasan. You can read more about this location by following the provided link.
How to Get from Tirana to Durrës?
When it comes to this, there’s no problem at all. Durrës is only 40 km away from Tirana and 30 km from the country’s main airport. Buses from the capital run daily, every half an hour.
Important to know:There are numerous direct routes from Tirana to Durrës. But there are even more routes where Durrës is a midway stop. So, when searching for routes from Tirana to places like Gjirokastër, Vlorë, and Berat, be aware that they all pass through Durrës.
- In the article linked, you will find information on viewing schedules, where buses depart from, and you’ll also find details about reaching Durrës by train. All this is covered in the article about Albania’s public transport.
- Ticket price: 150 lek (1.5$)
- Travel time: 35-50 minutes depending on the route.
- You can also travel directly from Tirana’s airport to Durrës. More information about this method is available in the article about Mother Teresa International Airport.
Where to Stay?
Before I recommend a few options, I want to clarify certain aspects. This often confuses tourists, although it’s quite straightforward (but not exactly so).
- Often, when a hotel is offered by a travel agency, you start searching and find that one source refers to the hotel in Golem, while another refers to it in Durrës. Be aware: it’s the same hotel. Today, as I mentioned earlier, the boundaries between the cities are almost nonexistent, and even the locals are often unsure about whether a place is in Golem or Durrës.
- This confusion is further compounded by the fact that Albania lacks addresses. Addresses exist, but they’re only street names. House numbering isn’t customary here. How this is even possible, and what a poor tourist should do, is covered in the article about accommodation in Albania.
Helpful to know:In the newer resort area of Durrës, there are more options for independent travelers, with a prevalence of apartment rentals and apart-hotels. In Golem, you’ll mostly find hotels that cater to package tourists. If you’re looking for a ready-made tour to Albania, most options will be in Durrës and Golem. Not because it’s the most popular resort, but simply because there are more options for that kind of stay.
Below is a dynamic hotel ranking for this resort. You can click on any hotel to see photos, read reviews and descriptions, and even find out prices for your chosen dates.
I particularly recommend paying attention to some highly commendable options on this list, such as:
- Apartament CDS – Spacious apartments with a terrace and sea view, right by the beach and relatively close to the old city and attractions.
- Hotel Vila Koral – A fairly new beachfront hotel with excellent reviews from tourists.
- Sea View Apartments ELDO – Stunning apartments with sea views.
- Ventus Harbor Hotel – A splendid hotel right in the harbor of the old city of Durrës.
Durrës and Golem: All About the Beaches
I won’t delve into detailed descriptions of each beach. Instead, I will provide general insights to assist you in your hotel search. Key points to remember:
- The Durrës-Golem-Kavajë resort is located along the Adriatic Sea.
- All the beaches in this area are sandy. Some feature tightly packed dark sand, particularly in the port area of Durrës.
- There are also beaches with fine white sand, mainly in Golem.
- There are no pebble beaches in this resort.
Now, for the most crucial detail. Durrës is a port city, boasting the largest and busiest port in Albania. 90% of maritime transport passes through this port.
- Port coordinates: 41.315989, 19.456331
Important to know:Everything north of (above) the Durrës port is the old city. Here, you’ll find all the major attractions and a beautiful waterfront. There are almost no beaches in this part of the city, and those that do exist can barely be called beaches. Everything south of the port is the resort beach zone, with predominantly hotel construction.
As a tourist, here’s an essential tip:
- Are you traveling around the country, with a beach holiday planned for the south of Albania, on the Ionian Sea resorts? And are you spending only 1-2 days in Durrës? In that case, look for accommodation in the old part of the city, north of the port. Here, the infrastructure is better, the promenade is beautiful, and all the attractions are concentrated.
- However, if you plan to stay for a beach holiday in Durrës or Golem, then search for hotels south of the port.
- The city center will be a bit far, but you can take a taxi or a bus to explore.
- Cafes and restaurants are plentiful everywhere.
- Tip: Look for accommodation closer to Golem, farther from the port. The water near the port is murkier, and the beaches are less attractive.
Interesting to know:Through the provided link, you’ll find a ranking of the best beaches in Albania.
Attractions and Places to Visit
By now, it’s clear that all the landmarks are concentrated in the old part of Durrës. In the resort beach development south of the port, the main focus is on the sea. If you’re seeking a cultural experience, you’ll need to head to the center of Durrës. But I’ll tell you right away, spending one day or perhaps four hours will suffice to explore all the interesting sites.
- All the landmarks mentioned in this article can be found on the travel map.
- The most comprehensive list of excursions in and from Durrës for tourists, provided by local guides.
A symbol of the city, standing shoulder to shoulder with the amphitheater. You’ll find this tower on almost every postcard featuring Durrës. As the name suggests, this tower was built by the Venetians. It was constructed in the 14th-15th centuries, when Venetian influence was waning, and the Ottoman Empire’s power was rising. The tower’s primary purpose was defense against Ottoman threats. The Venetian Tower, however, did not fulfill its intended role.
- Nevertheless, it has been remarkably well-preserved. It’s one of the few structures from the Venetian era that remains.
- The Venetian Tower marks the starting point of the ancient Egnatia Road. Although built much later, this is where the first kilometer of this significant route was located.
- Coordinates: 41.309716, 19.446954
- Previously, there was a cafe on the tower’s walls; it is now closed and inaccessible.
- You can only view the tower from the outside. It’s free and accessible 24/7.
- Time needed: 5 minutes.
Author’s Rating:6 out of 10. In reality, there isn’t much to do here. However, passing by, you might stop for a moment to take a photo. I give credit to its well-preserved condition and its location; it’s unlikely you’ll pass by without noticing it.
Or rather, what’s left of it. While it was a full-fledged defensive fortress in the Middle Ages, today only a portion of its fortified wall and a few small structures remain. Cafes and restaurants have taken residence within the castle grounds, where you can enjoy a coffee.
- It’s located right behind the Venetian Tower, about 50 meters away.
- Entrance is free and open around the clock.
- Coordinates: 41.310550, 19.445822
- Time to allocate (excluding coffee breaks): 5-10 minutes.
Author’s Rating:4 out of 10. A very modest attraction. There are numerous fortresses in Albania, nearly in every city. Most have been preserved better than Durrës Castle. Nevertheless, since you’ll likely pass by, give it a look by turning your head 🙂
Byzantine Trade Square or Forum
It’s referred to by both names, but it was indeed a trade square. These ruins date back to the 6th century AD. It was the largest market in the entire region at that time.
- Coordinates: 41.315005, 19.445773
- About 400 meters from the Venetian Tower.
- The ruins are fenced off, waist-high.
- You can view the trade square for free, 24/7.
- Time needed: 5 minutes.
Author’s Rating:1 out of 10. Is it possible that Durrës’s landmarks aren’t impressive?) That’s true. While the city is ancient and almost as old as Rome, there are no architectural or historical masterpieces here. It’s disheartening that landmarks with a history of 1-2 thousand years are left amidst litter without supervision, as if no one cares about them. However, this is a widespread issue in all of Albania and perhaps its only drawback. The trade square is no exception – it’s very dirty and uninteresting to look at.
If you’ve just arrived in Albania, you’ll notice litter everywhere. Even the amphitheater, which is further along, is even dirtier. But within a week, you’ll get used to it, and the bottles and papers around won’t stand out as much.
Ancient Amphitheater of Durrës
This structure evokes mixed emotions among all tourists.
On one hand, the Durrës Amphitheater stands as a grand architectural monument. Here are a few facts about it:
- The amphitheater was built in the 1st century AD. It’s a genuine example of ancient architecture.
- For the first 300 years, it served its intended purpose for gladiatorial combat.
- The amphitheater is oval-shaped and measures 132 by 114 meters.
- It’s the largest and oldest amphitheater in the Balkans that is still preserved. This is not my claim; it’s a fact from Wikipedia.
- In my opinion, the amphitheater in Croatia’s Pula is even larger and better preserved, with the same construction period: 1st century AD.
- It could accommodate 20,000 spectators!!! Imagine how populous the city was in Roman times. By the way, during the Ottoman rule in the 18th century, there were no more than a thousand people living in Durrës.
On the other hand, the amphitheater appears rather neglected, with plenty of litter around it. Despite being a state-protected architectural monument and charging an entrance fee, the destination’s financial management remains unclear.
- Coordinates: 41.312243, 19.444975
- If you don’t enter the amphitheater’s inner areas or the stands, you can view it for free, 24/7.
- If you want to explore the interior, the ticket price is 300 lek (about $3).
- Ticket booth hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 9 AM to 5 PM; Sunday until 2 PM; Monday – closed.
- Time needed: If you’re just looking around, you can walk around it in about 10 minutes. If you plan to enter, allocate about half an hour.
Author’s Rating:9 out of 10 for historical significance and 5 out of 10 for condition. In short, there’s some disappointment about this place. However, everyone should definitely visit. It’s a symbol of an entire era. After all, the amphitheater is nearly 2000 years old.
Royal Villa of King Ahmet I Zogu
There’s not much up-to-date information about this place on the internet. I won’t go into its complete history. I’ll only mention that it’s located in Durrës on a hill, 120 meters above sea level. It was built as a summer residence for the first and last king of Albania. The villa was constructed in 1937, and after World War II, the communists came to power.
Enver Hoxha, who ruled the country for 40 years, used this residence for his high-ranking guests. Over the years, notable figures like Nikita Khrushchev, Jimmy Carter (the US president), and many others stayed here.
- Coordinates: 41.314524, 19.438377
- Today, the villa has been thoroughly plundered, closed off, and surrounded by a high fence. Many claim that you can explore the abandoned building. This isn’t true. A tall fence with barbed wire and six locks prevent access.
- Time to allocate: about 20 minutes, mainly to enjoy the views.
Author’s Rating:6 out of 10. Despite being abandoned and fenced off, the building is well visible, allowing for a thorough observation. Additionally, beautiful views of the city and the sea can be enjoyed from this spot. As a bonus, there are a dozen military bunkers near the foot of the villa, constructed during Enver Hoxha’s regime throughout the country.
What Else to Visit in Durrës?
In principle, these are the main attractions of the city. To be honest, there isn’t a single site that would astonish a tourist. You can visit all these attractions in just a couple of hours. If you have extra time and are a fan of churches and museums, here are a few more places:
- Archaeological Museum of Durrës
- Coordinates: 41.311376, 19.440116
- Old Mosque of Fatih
- Coordinates: 41.311063, 19.445833
- St. Paul’s Church
- Coordinates: 41.310653, 19.448795
- New Promenade in the Old City – an excellent spot for watching the sunset
- Coordinates: 41.310499, 19.434953
Durrës and Golem: Pros and Cons, Travel Tips
Here’s the thing – if you’ve already booked a package to Albania specifically to this resort, don’t be disheartened; you’ll have a great time. If you’re still deciding on a vacation spot, I recommend considering the charming city of Vlorë on the Adriatic coast, or even better, the Ionian Sea resorts.
Overall, Durrës and Golem might not live up to the expectations you’ve formed from online reviews. You can come here for 1-2 days, stroll through the old city’s streets, visit the amphitheater and the waterfront, and then head to the southern part of the country for a beach vacation.
However, if you do decide to vacation here, here are a few tips:
- Look for accommodation far from the port in the south, at least 2-3 km away. Ideally, choose a place near Golem Beach. The sand is whiter there, and the port is hardly visible.
- Keep in mind that Tirana is 40 km away. On weekends and holidays, locals come to Durrës and Golem to relax by the sea. Whole families arrive, and during the peak season, the place is bustling with people.
- In the author’s opinion, this is the dirtiest resort and beach in Albania. The reason remains the same – the high number of people, many of them locals. Albanians have a unique attitude towards litter.
- The only real advantage of Durrës is its infrastructure. It’s a major city with everything you need: large stores, markets, hospitals, hair salons, and more.
Useful to know:If you’re the type of traveler looking for a place to stay for a month in a city with good infrastructure and beaches, consider Vlorë. It’s also a large city with all the necessary infrastructure, but it lacks the port and the excessive number of local vacationers. It’s much cleaner, and it offers the same pros as the larger Durrës, minus the cons.
Durrës and Golem are excellent for a couple of days. If you need a beach, look for accommodation in Golem. If you’re seeking attractions, then the old city of Durrës is your choice. Spending a few days here (preferably on weekdays) is great. But if you have the opportunity, it’s better to head south, where the beaches are better, the attractions are more interesting, and there’s a greater variety.
Resources to help you plan your dream trip to Albania
- Flights at the best prices with juicy discounts
- Car rental in Albania (cheaper – only by bus):
- Hotels and apartments throughout the country: Booking
- Tours, excursions and activities (including extreme ones):
- Comprehensive travel insurance: EKTA
- eSIM virtual sim card in Albania
- Taxi and transfers: Intui.Travel