In this article, you will discover whether it’s worth traveling to Elbasan, how to get there, what interesting things you can find in this city, as well as some advice and recommendations for travelers.
Elbasan cannot be called a tourist city. If you see a tourist here, they most likely ended up in Elbasan just as accidentally or in passing as you did. I will now tell you what you can do in the city while waiting for the return bus or minibus home.
General facts about Elbasan
Elbasan is the third largest city in terms of size and population in Albania. About 140 thousand people live here (including all suburbs, while the city itself has only 75 thousand).
However, the population is gradually decreasing. The city’s defining enterprise, the steel mill, has now been transformed into a recycling factory. This has diminished the city’s appeal in the eyes of Albanian workers.
The history of the city’s origin is quite intriguing. The city is first mentioned as the Roman camp of Scampa on the Shkumbini River, situated along the ancient route (Via Egnatia) from Durrës to Constantinople. By the way, you can find a part of this ancient road and a bridge not far from Elbasan. But more about that later.
Then, for over a thousand years, the city disappears from chronicles and re-emerges only in the 15th century. The Turkish sultan erects a fortress on the city’s site and names it Il-basan, which translates to “the fortress” At that time, the fortress held strategic significance in the war against Skanderbeg’s armies.
Interesting to know:Elbasan was a center of resistance against Ottoman rule in the 19th century. And in the early 20th century, the Declaration of Independence of Albania was signed right here.
How to get to Elbasan
Elbasan is located 40 kilometers from Tirana. There are several options to get to this city:
- By personal (or rented) car: just about an hour on a good road.
- Additionally, Elbasan lies on the route of buses to Korça, Pogradec, and even to the borders of Greece and North Macedonia.
- From Tirana, buses depart daily to Elbasan every half hour from the southeast terminal near Grand Park and the University of Economics.
- Similarly, from Durrës, buses start from the central bus station of Durrës. It takes about an hour and a half to reach Elbasan.
Important to know:The bus ticket from both cities costs the same – 250 Albanian lek (about $2.5).
- There’s another option for “connoisseurs” – the railway. You can reach Elbasan by train from Durrës and from Tirana (via Durrës). The journey will be long (about 3 hours from Durrës) and somewhat challenging (as Albanian trains are a unique experience).
- Two trains a day depart from Durrës at 5 AM and 1 PM. But you need to check in advance, as schedules might change. The trip costs 230 lek. For more about this unique phenomenon, Albanian railways, read in the article: Public Transport in Albania.
Where to stay in Elbasan
As mentioned earlier, Elbasan is not a touristy city. Tourists and travelers rarely wander here, except “in transit.” Aggregators offer not that much accommodation in Elbasan, but overall it’s cheaper than in touristy cities.
Therefore, I’ll suggest a couple of options where to stay, in case you miss your bus home.
- Imperial Hotel IH – luxurious lobby, and the rooms are neat and clean in a European style. You can book a room starting from 30 euros.
- Rezidenca SHOPI – excellent aparthotel, located at the entrance to Elbasan from Tirana. There’s an underground parking. Apartments start from 33 euros.
- Real Scampis Hotel – this is a gem! A modern hotel inside the walls of the old city fortress (more about it later), surrounded by a garden. The restaurant is also here. Highly recommended! Rooms start from 35 euros.
- Hotel Vila Imperial – understated, minimalist, expensive. A good hotel with rooms starting from 50 euros right in the city center.
- CastleHouse – a restored house within the fortress grounds. Spacious – perfect for a large family or group of friends. From 70 euros.
- Hotel Guri – this stylish boutique hotel catches your eye as soon as you enter the fortress grounds. Excellent location. Rooms from 60 euros.
Places to Visit in Elbasan
Elbasan is a large city, but it’s not rich in attractions. Depending on the weather and your curiosity, your stroll through Elbasan will take from a few hours to half a day.
Here’s a list of the main attractions in the city:
- Elbasan Fortress
- Clock Tower
- Royal Mosque
- Church of St. Mary
- Byzantine Bridge Golic on the Via Egnatia
I won’t provide a personal ranking for each attraction in Elbasan, as if you’ve made it to Elbasan, you’ll likely visit them all anyway. However, the famous Golic Bridge, located nearly 20 km from the center of Elbasan, might not be visited by everyone.
- You can find all the attractions of Elbasan on the Travel Map of Albania.
The first thing you should see in Elbasan is the fortress. As mentioned earlier, it was constructed in the 15th century during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II. However, archaeologists suggest that the Ottoman fortress was built upon ancient Byzantine walls. What transpired in Elbasan and what the city was called during the Byzantine rule remains a mystery. Written records of that era have not survived to our time.
The fortress has a rectangular shape. Today, only a few towers and portions of walls on the southern and western sides have endured. During the Middle Ages, the entire city’s population could fit within its walls.
Interesting to know:During the Byzantine Empire era, this region was inhabited by Christians. Yet, after the Ottoman Turks’ arrival, the townspeople began adopting Islam. By the 17th century, two communities formed within the fortress: Christians lived to the north and Muslims to the south. As a result, you’ll find churches and temples on the northern streets of the fortress and mosques to the south. But more on that later.
- Coordinates: 41.11305, 20.08181
- Open 24/7 and admission is free.
- Estimated time to plan: from an hour to three, depending on your walking pace and desire to explore the ancient alleys of the fortress.
To the right of the central entrance of the fortress, you will immediately spot the tall clock tower (“sahat kula” in Turkish). Similar towers can be seen in many Balkan cities that were under Ottoman rule. They were built so that more townspeople could see the time for prayer. The tower in Elbasan was constructed in the late 19th century.
- Coordinates: 41.11338, 20.08243
- Open 24/7 and admission is free. However, you cannot enter it or ascend to the top.
- Estimated time to plan: three minutes. You can easily include the tower’s observation in your walk around the fortress.
King Mosque in Elbasan
The next few minutes will be spent reading about the main religious buildings in Elbasan.
So, the King Mosque. It is located around two hundred meters from the fortress gates on the southern side. Generally considered the oldest mosque in Elbasan (dating back to the late 15th century), but the concept of “old” when it comes to religious buildings is relative. As you might learn from the article on Religion in Albania, many such buildings were destroyed by communists in the 1950s and 1960s. This mosque faced the same fate. What we see today is a “modern replica,” essentially a reconstruction from 2013.
- Coordinates: 41.11414, 20.08107
- The mosque is still active.
- Plan 3-5 minutes to observe it as you stroll through the fortress alleys.
Church of St. Mary in Elbasan
An ancient Orthodox church and monastery. It was founded in the late 15th century, but the first services were held 70 years later. Situated within the fortress, closer to its northern part, the church boasts intriguing architecture. However, entering its interior is challenging. It was restored after a fire in 1812 and remains an architectural monument protected by the state.
- Coordinates: 41.11573, 20.08042
- Entrance costs 200 lek, but it’s challenging to enter as it’s still an active monastery.
- If you manage to enter, allocate 15-20 minutes to admire the architectural beauty and unique frescoes.
The following attraction isn’t within the city itself but 18 kilometers away, towards Pogradec. It’s the Golik Bridge, a part of the ancient Via Egnatia road. Romans built this road across the Balkans, from Dyrrachium (nowadays Durrës) to Byzantium (also known as Constantinople, now Istanbul). Byzantines used this road, and they constructed a bridge over the Shkumbin River.
The actual road (paved like the bridge) is no longer present. After all, nearly 2000 years have passed.
You can only reach this place by car, especially if traveling between Pogradec and Elbasan. Public transport does not operate in this region.
- Coordinates: 41.17066, 20.26186
- Strolling across the bridge is entirely free.
- Allocate around 40 minutes: 5 minutes from the highway to the “parking” area (where you find a spot for your car), 10 minutes on foot to the river, and another 10 minutes to walk around the bridge.
- Is it worth coming here? If you have a rental car (or your own) and haven’t seen ancient Byzantine bridges yet, then definitely yes.
Author’s rating:5 out of 10. Meaning either go or don’t go. If you’re traveling around Albania by car, you’ll likely see a couple more bridges like this. If you’re traveling from Elbasan to Pogradec, stop for half an hour.
As we’ve mentioned many times before, stumbling upon Elbasan is purely coincidental. Tourist trails do not lead here. However, if your journey brings you to this town, it’s worth pausing for 2-3 hours to have lunch and stroll through the streets of Elbasan.
If you’re interested in religious landmarks, you’ll find Elbasan more appealing. After all, the main attractions in the city are directly connected to religion.
Elbasan is among the five largest cities in Albania and deserves your attention, even if just for a couple of hours. We are confident that every city in your journey through this country can captivate and interest you. However, if you only have 7-14 days to explore Albania, you can confidently skip it. There are much more exciting places in Shqipëria.
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