In this article, you will learn all about the city of Lezha, how to get there, and its attractions. Additionally, you will receive valuable recommendations and tips.
Most tourists come to know this town while passing through from Tirana to Shkoder. You won’t miss the outlines of the fortress on the hill – that’s Lezha and its main attraction, the medieval Ottoman fortress. But more on that later.
General facts about Lezha
As with many Albanian cities, the history of Lezha begins in antiquity. It was initially a Greek colony named Lissos, founded by the ruler of Syracuse. Then, it became a Roman camp – Lissus. The Venetians (and now Italians) called the city Alessio, while the Serbs and Turks referred to it as Lesh.
Evidence of Lezha’s ancient history is primarily seen in the well-preserved cubic stone masonry of the fortress walls.
Like most Albanian cities, throughout the centuries, Lezha has been the subject of conflicts and internal disputes among kingdoms, empires, principalities, and even small clans.
It was in Lezha, in the year 1444, that a meeting of Albanian princes and representatives of noble families, led by Gjergj Kastrioti known as “Skanderbeg,” took place. Skanderbeg persuaded them to form an alliance against the Ottomans and led the resistance. This alliance is known in history as the League of Lezha.
Today, Lezha represents a typical Albanian town with a population of around 18,000 people. The city is located on the Drin River, which flows into the Drin Gulf (Adriatic Sea) nearby. However, reaching the shore from Lezha is not very convenient, so it cannot be said that Lezha is on the sea.
How to get to Lezha
The main highway connecting Tirana and Shkoder passes through the city, making it easily accessible by both car and bus.
Buses depart approximately every hour from 4 AM from the terminal in the northwest of Tirana (directions to Durres, Shkoder, the airport, coordinates 41.34434, 19.77683). Ticket prices start from 250 leks. Buses and minibusses travel to both Shkoder and the cities in between Shkoder and Tirana, with all of them making a stop in Lezha.
Useful tip:Even if you board a bus from Tirana to Shkoder or vice versa, ask the driver to stop in Lezha. That’s what everyone does. For detailed schedules, where to check, and prices, you can refer to the article on public transportation in Albania.
Whether you take a bus from Tirana or drive by car, the travel time will be almost the same – just over an hour (55 km from Tirana to Lezha).
- On the following link, you can find a comprehensive overview of the city of Shkoder.
- If you love visiting very small towns and enjoying their atmosphere where there are no tourists, then on your way from Tirana, besides Lezha, there’s another town where you can spend 2-3 hours – Kruja.
Where to stay in Lezha
In reality, very few tourists stay overnight in Lezha, as it is mainly a “transit” city. But if you do happen to miss the last bus or your car suddenly breaks down, I can recommend excellent options.
All accommodations are in the city center, within walking distance of the main attractions:
- Jolly Hotel – a good 4-star hotel located at the foot of the fortress hill. The highlights include breakfast on the luxurious terrace on the 13th floor. Rates start from 49 euros.
- Cappuccino Apartment – a convenient option for renting apartments, especially if you are traveling with a child or prefer having breakfast “at home.” Prices from 33 euros per night.
- Hotel Liss – another “hotel” option with excellent guest reviews. Rates start from 60 euros.
Attractions in Lezha
Lezha doesn’t have many attractions to draw tourists here. Let me tell you about all of them – both two.
- Lezha Fortress
- Skanderbeg Memorial.
Lezha Castle is primarily intriguing because its walls were constructed and reconstructed based on ancient (Greek) period walls. This is evident from the masonry: large cubic stones belong to the ancient Greek era, almost two millennia ago. The higher, uneven (chaotic and primitive) masonry is from the Ottoman period.
Remnants of Greek walls can be found throughout the city on the left bank of the Drin River. The area where the fortress stands today was once called the Acropolis during ancient Greece.
Interesting to note:Remarkably, there are no remaining structures or even remnants of Byzantine walls within the fortress. Although Lezha was certainly under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, which inherited it from the Venetians, it is possible that both the Venetians and Byzantines considered the state of the ancient walls satisfactory and did not rebuild them.
The fortress sits atop a hill, so you can reach the gates by car or on foot (one road). The ascent is about 150 meters in height, and the distance is almost 2 kilometers from the city’s central square (aptly named after Skanderbeg).
Inside the fortress, there are hardly any intact structures. Small wells, cellars, arches, gates, and the ruins of a mosque with a minaret are what remain. Time (and the Ottomans after Skanderbeg’s death) have not been kind to these sturdy stones.
- Coordinates: 41.78358, 19.65057
- Ticket cost: 300 leks
- Approximate time to plan: about an hour for the ascent to the fortress (if on foot), 30 minutes inside for a leisurely stroll.
My personal rating:5 out of 10. There is not much whole and interesting left inside the fortress. You can visit it for the opportunity to touch the stones that were shaped by the hands of ancient Greeks, the very ones who built Athens and Delphi three thousand years ago. However, if you are driving from or to Montenegro, Lezha Fortress and Shkodra Fortress are right on your way.
The national hero of Albania, Georg Kastrioti, known as “Skanderbeg,” instilled terror in the Ottoman Empire for almost 30 years. He won numerous battles against the Turks but tragically succumbed to malaria from a mosquito bite in 1478.
Legend has it that his final refuge was found here in Lezha. Despite Skanderbeg’s conversion between Christianity and Islam, the Catholics decided to bury him in Lezha at the Church of St. Nicholas.
Interestingly:There’s a legend that the Ottomans feared and respected Skanderbeg so much that after his death, they framed his remains in gold and crafted them into amulets.
Today, only the walls remain of the Church of St. Nicholas. Surprisingly, the Albanians did something quite uncharacteristic by not demolishing or reconstructing it; instead, they covered the church’s ruins with an ancient-style canopy, evoking a touch of the Soviet era.
Inside the church stands the memorial – Skanderbeg’s tomb. The walls display coats of arms, representing battles and other legendary exploits of the renowned commander.
- Coordinates: 41.78269, 19.64325
- Ticket cost: We entered for free. However, we were informed that sometimes there might be a ticket seller near the entrance who asks for a symbolic, yet varying amount (100-300 leks, $1-3).
- Time to allocate: 5 minutes, as there’s only one room to explore.
Personal rating:3 out of 10. It’s interesting to briefly visit the interior if you can enter for free.
Tips and recommendations for tourists
Most tourists don’t linger in Lezha for more than a couple of hours, and we also advise the same.
If you’re traveling by car, it’s straightforward to drive to the fortress’s entrance and spend about an hour for a stroll.
If you’re taking the bus to or from Shkoder and Tirana, ask the driver to stop in Lezha. After your visit, you can easily catch the next bus since the “Tirana-Shkoder” highway is quite busy, and public transportation runs from early morning to late evening.
Moreover, just 4 km away from Lezha, you’ll find the beautiful Shengjin Beach, which ranks among Albania’s top 10 beaches.
In conclusion, even though Lezha is not a well-known or popular tourist city, it’s worth stopping by for an hour or two. However, there’s no need to make a specific trip here.
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