Gjirokastër: One of the most beautiful cities in Albania. This ancient city is nestled not on the coastline but in the mountains, yet it annually attracts millions of tourists, or perhaps hundreds of thousands 🙂 Albania has two inland cities that are a must-visit. Both have a history of over 2000 years and are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. One of them is Gjirokastër, the city we will delve into further.

  • And the second ancient city is Berat – the city of a thousand windows. You can read a detailed account about it in the link provided.
Gjirokastër albania
View of the center of Gjirokastër.

Gjirokastër: A Brief History and Facts about the City.

Allow me to narrate the history briefly and concisely, without excessive elaboration.

  • The city was founded in the 1st century BC.
  • It was a Roman colony, and after its decline, it became part of the Byzantine Empire.
  • Following the fall of the Byzantine Empire, from the 12th to the 14th century, Gjirokastër was part of the Principality of Epirus.
  • Then, the fate of the region followed a course similar to that of its surroundings.
  • In 1417, the Ottoman Empire swiftly conquered all these lands, ushering in a peaceful era that lasted almost 500 years – a period of prosperity and development for the region and the city.
  • However, in 1912, the Ottoman Empire disintegrated.
  • The First World War followed, then the Second World War, during which the city was successively occupied by the Italians, Greeks, and Germans.
  • After the Second World War, Albania came under the rule of the communists led by Enver Hoxha. He seized power in the country and became a dictator for the next four decades.

Interesting to know:

A unique phenomenon – Gjirokastër has the status of a “museum city,” which is even more prestigious for Albania than being included in UNESCO’s World Heritage list, to which Gjirokastër also belongs. Enver Hoxha bestowed this status upon the city, and do you know why? Because he was born here.
Gjirokaster old city
View from the fortress to the old bazaar. Those white buildings in the center and the perpendicular streets constitute the old bazaar. We will delve into that later.

How to Get There from Tirana and Saranda

I mention this everywhere, and I’ll mention it here too. Albania is not a country where traveling by public transport is comfortable. It exists, but its regularity, route network, and speed are not up to the mark. The country is very small, but you can spend a whole day on a bus traveling from point A to point B. Therefore, it is better, easier, and faster to go to Gjirokastër by car. But if that’s not an option for you, then:

  • From Tirana to Gjirokastër, on average, there are 8 daily departures.
    • The ticket price is 9-10 euros.
    • The first bus leaves at 5 AM, and approximately every one and a half hours thereafter.
    • Travel time: 4 hours.
    • For the current schedule on your dates, information on the bus station, how to buy tickets, and more, refer to the article: Public Transport in Albania.
  • It is also easy to reach Gjirokastër from the popular tourist destination, Saranda.
    • There are no direct buses from Saranda to Gjirokastër.
    • However, there is a huge number of transit routes that pass through Gjirokastër:
      • Saranda – Vlora. Be careful, some of the buses on this route do not pass through Gjirokastër, so it’s best to confirm in advance. All other buses always make a stop in Gjirokastër.
      • From Saranda – to Korcha.
      • From Saranda – to Elbasan.
      • Saranda – Berat.
      • Saranda – Durres.
      • Travel time: 1 hour.
      • The ticket costs 200-400 leks (2 – 4 euros) depending on the carrier.
      • In fact, transit buses from Saranda to Gjirokastër run every half hour.
from tirana to Gjirokaster
If you’re unlucky, you might have to spend 4 hours on one of these buses. However, nowadays, most of the buses are already new.

Where to Stay in Gjirokastër?

Let me share a bit about the timing. Although Gjirokastër is an incredibly charming city, lovers of medieval architecture will be delighted here. Fans of mountains and beautiful views will be exclaiming with joy at the top of their lungs. But in reality:

  • The city’s population is only 18,000 inhabitants.
  • It is a very compact settlement.
  • You can visit all the city’s sights at a leisurely pace in about 4 hours. If you don’t go to the Ali Pasha Bridge, then 2-3 hours will be enough.

Important to know:

Usually, tourists don’t stay overnight in Gjirokastër. They make a transit stop here. The standard travel route is from Saranda to Permet for the thermal springs, and on the way, they make a stop in Gjirokastër. Or from Berat, they head to Saranda for the sea.

But if you do plan to stay overnight here, below are some excellent options. The list is dynamic, so you can view photos, read reviews, and find a complete list of rental accommodations in Gjirokastër.

Where to Dine in Gjirokastër?

Throughout the country, there is an abundance of dining establishments. In Albania, you will never go hungry. Gjirokastër is no exception. I will recommend only two places that I like, and they are located opposite each other – just 15 meters apart. Both are not far from the main entrance to the fortress on the hill. Both serve Albanian cuisine, and the food is delicious and reasonably priced.

  • For more on Albanian national cuisine, read here.
  • Taverna Tradicionale or Taverna Kardhashi.
    • Coordinates: 40.071123, 20.137219
    • A family-run restaurant with around 10-14 tables.
    • The owners are Albanian.
restaurant in Gjirokaster
Taverna Lani, and the owner himself, is a great guy and cooks deliciously.
  • Taverna Lani
    • Coordinates: 40.071167, 20.136966
    • A family restaurant with 4-6 tables. Very small.
    • This restaurant doesn’t even have waiters. The owner and his wife will serve you and cook the food themselves.
    • The owner is Greek, by the way, his name is Lani 🙂
    • Such cozy places are rare to find nowadays. Just take a look at the menu.
best dishes of albania
You won’t find such a menu easily nowadays.

Both restaurants have a warm atmosphere, so you can choose whichever you prefer.

Landmarks and Must-See Places

Below, you will find a list of all the city’s landmarks, prices, coordinates, ratings, and useful tips.

Important to understand:

The city is situated in the mountains, on several hills. All movement within the city involves descents and ascents. There are almost no level stretches here.

Gjirokastër Castle

The castle has a history, just like all the fortresses in the Balkan region. It was built in the 9th-10th centuries, and its main purpose was defense. Over its 1000-year existence, the fortress was captured and destroyed by various conquerors, but each time, new owners repaired and rebuilt it.

Today, it is one of the largest fortresses in Albania and one of the best-preserved. It is located in the city center on the highest hill. By the way, beneath the entire hill, there is a tunnel used by the locals, which cuts the travel time to another part of the city by about 10 minutes.

Gjirokaster fortress hours
Castle Walls from the Outside. The fortress is very large in terms of area, as you will see once inside.
  • Entrance coordinates: 40.072824, 20.139254
  • Coordinates for the tunnel entrance beneath the castle: 40.074338, 20.140721
  • Opening hours: during the high season from 9 AM to 7 PM, and during the low season until 5 PM.
  • Ticket price: 400 leks (4 euro)
  • The castle is very spacious and includes:
    • The Gjirokastër Museum, with an additional entrance fee of 200 leks (2 euro).
    • Everything else is included in the main ticket.
    • Main Square of the Castle
    • Prison
    • Clock Tower
    • Airplane Exhibit
    • Commercial Street within the Castle Walls
    • And, most importantly, from the castle walls, you will enjoy breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding area.
  • Plan to spend about an hour at the castle.
Gjirokaster clock tower
Main square inside the castle, clock tower, and view of the Albanian mountains.

Author’s rating:

10 out of 10. This is the most important landmark, and it is visible from any part of the city, just as any part of the city can be seen from here. Visiting Gjirokastër without seeing its symbol is like going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower.

The Old Bazaar, also known as the Old Town

The main shopping street of the city. It is located 200 meters from the castle, right on the hillside. All streets of the old bazaar are laid at quite an angle. Here, you will find the largest selection of Albanian souvenirs. By the way, I recommend reading an article about what to bring as a gift from Albania. It contains interesting ideas.

Moreover, this part of the city is under the protection of UNESCO, and it is forbidden to redevelop it. The architecture of the 17th-18th centuries is fully preserved here. Just take a look at the photos, and you’ll understand everything.

Gjirokaster bazaar
Central street of the Old Bazaar. There’s a considerable uphill slope here.


There is another road to the castle, and you might accidentally miss the old town. Below are the coordinates of the center of the old bazaar. You won’t be able to drive here; you’ll need to park in the lower part of the city. I advise going to the castle through the old bazaar along these streets.
  • Coordinates of the center of the old town: 40.074236, 20.138531. Plan your route through this intersection, and you won’t miss it.
  • Shops here operate from around 10 AM to 5 PM. But it’s simply beautiful to stroll around even without shopping.
  • If you walk without stopping to buy souvenirs, 20 minutes will be enough.
Gjirokaster old houses
At the main intersection of the old bazaar, there is a medieval well in the floor of a building. Enter to see it for free.

Author’s rating:

10 out of 10. This is another place you shouldn’t pass by. It is a must-visit.

Zekate House

A beautiful house from the time of the Ottoman Empire. It belonged to the chief administrator of the city, which, in simple terms, means the first person in the district after Ali Pasha, who governed all Albanian territories. In essence, he was a Turkish “official.”

The house is very well preserved, and inside, on its four floors, there is a museum showcasing the interior of the 18th-19th centuries during the Ottoman rule.

Gjirokaster attractions
Zekate House is excellently preserved.
  • Coordinates: 40.074838, 20.132396
  • Ticket price: 200 leks
  • Opening hours: from 8 AM to 8 PM
  • Time to visit: 30 minutes
  • From the upper floors of Zekate House, you can enjoy a stunning view of the city and the castle.

Author’s rating:

6 out of 10. It is an excellent place, but it doesn’t evoke as much emotion as the castle and the old bazaar. There is another similar house of the wealthy Ottoman Skënduli family (40.075399, 20.135428), entrance fee is 300 lek (3 euros).

Ali Pasha Bridge

Simply a magnificent bridge in an incredible location. The bridge was built by the Byzantines, and later, it was reconstructed by Ali Pasha, whom I mentioned above. The bridge was part of an important trade route with Constantinople. The surprising fact is that it is still remarkably well-preserved and fully serves its main function. Locals still use it to lead their goats and sheep to pasture.

  • Coordinates: 40.064731, 20.131689
  • It’s about 1.6 km from the castle. The elevation gain is 150 meters.
  • The one-way journey will take 30-40 minutes.
  • The bridge is completely free and accessible 24/7.
  • And the best part is, there’s no one here.
Gjirokaster ali pasha bridge
Ali Pasha Bridge in the gorge. This place is vastly underrated by tourists.

Author’s rating:

9 out of 10. Yes, the walk is quite strenuous, and the road here is not smooth asphalt, but the place is worth it. I’m deducting a point only because it’s quite far 🙂 By the way, there’s another Ottoman bridge in Gjirokastër, which I’ll mention below, and it’s easier to reach.

What else to see in Gjirokastër?

Above were all the main landmarks of the city that will leave a lasting impression on you and are a must-visit for every tourist. If you exclude the Ali Pasha Bridge, you can explore the city in 2 hours. But if you include the bridge, and you should, plan for about 4 hours to cover the entire city. And then you can move on.

But if you decide to stay here for a night and have some extra time, below are a few more attractions. They are widely discussed on the internet, but in reality, they are just time-fillers. There’s nothing particularly special here, but if you have time, you can take a stroll and have a look.

  • Ruins of Gjirokastër Mosque
    • Coordinates: 40.076323, 20.140858
  • Main Mosque of the City
    • Coordinates: 40.073913, 20.138031
  • Church of St. Sotir
    • Coordinates: 40.075802, 20.143295
  • Ethnographic Museum
    • Coordinates: 40.075598, 20.134795
  • Obelisk of Gjirokastër
    • Coordinates: 40.074672, 20.138080
  • Kordhocë Bridge
    • Coordinates: 40.061069, 20.173546
places to visit in Gjirokaster
Kordhocë Bridge, right by the road.

Kordhocë Bridge (built by the Ottomans in the early 19th century) is right on the road; you can stop for 5 minutes when passing by. However, there isn’t much of a beautiful view here, and there’s a lot of litter, with various hoses and wires scattered around. The bridge looks more like a dump than a landmark.

albanian television
Giving an interview to Albanian television right on the bridge.

Interesting to know:

Right here, we gave an interview to Albanian television, or more precisely, participated in a discussion for a feature: why there are so many amazing and well-preserved cultural landmarks in the country, but they are all surrounded by dirt and garbage, and no one is taking care of them.

Travel Tips

I believe I’ve covered everything about Gjirokastër. I’ll give you just one piece of advice. Most of you will come here by car. And even though you can almost reach the castle by car, as the locals do, please don’t. The streets are narrow, entirely covered in cobblestones, and some slopes seem to reach 45 degrees. Okay, I might be exaggerating as a fisherman. But you don’t need to drive there. Leave your car at the large intercept parking lots.

  • Parking 1: 40.076999, 20.144275. A large parking lot 100 meters uphill – for buses, do not park there, especially in high season. Fine 1000 lek.
  • Parking 2: 40.075037, 20.139958. Parking cost from 200 lek (3 hours).

And finally, read the article: “Is it worth going to Albania for a vacation if you have doubts?” It will dispel any hesitations you might have.

In conclusion: the ancient city of Gjirokastër should be included in the itinerary of every traveler in Albania. The city and its landmarks are truly magnificent, and in addition, Gjirokastër is situated at the intersection of all major routes. It’s only an hour’s drive to Saranda, half an hour to the Blue Eye, and 20 minutes to the most beautiful road in Albania. And I could go on listing for a while.

Wishing you vibrant and unforgettable emotions on the ancient streets of Gjirokastër!

Resources to help you plan your dream trip to Albania

  • Flights at the best prices with best discounts
  • Car rental in Albania (cheaper – only by bus):
    • DiscoverCars – a major international resource
    • LocalRent – the leader in the Albanian car rental market. Very low deposits, even in cash.
  • Hotels and apartments throughout the country:
    • Hotellook – compares prices among dozens of platforms and offer you the best one.
    • Booking – large online booking platform.
    • Agoda – even more accommodation options in Albania.
  • Tours, excursions and activities:
    • GetYourGuide – more than 550 tours
    • Viator – 920+ excursions and activities throughout the country
  • Comprehensive travel insurance: EKTA
  • Internet and Calls:
    • Airalo eSIM in Albania from $4.5
    • DRIMSIM – universal SIM card (or eSIM) in any country in the world.
  • Taxi and airport transfer: Intui.Travel