Saranda – the #1 resort city in Albania. It offers everything tourists need: excellent beaches, crystal-clear sea, well-developed infrastructure, mountains, a plethora of attractions, and even the possibility of visiting Greek islands. All of this in one small town on the coast of the Ionian Sea.

saranda albania where to stay
The Main Promenade of Saranda at Sunset

Saranda: General Facts and Brief History

Saranda is a small town with a population of around 14,000 people. The city is located in the southernmost part of the country, on the shores of the Ionian Sea. I’ll briefly recount the history of the city, as you can read more on Wikipedia. Moreover, the history of all cities in this region is quite similar.

  • The first mentions of the Illyrian settlement Onhesmos in this area date back to the 1st century BCE when the Roman Empire governed these lands.
  • After the fall of the Roman Empire, control shifted to the Byzantines, who subsequently founded the Agia Saranda monastery in this location.
  • Following the Byzantine era, there was a period of military conflicts, regional wars, and other internal strife.
  • However, in the 14th century, the Ottoman Empire captured these lands, leading to a period of peace and prosperity lasting for 500 years.
  • The Turks built roads, bridges, fortresses, and promoted trade.
  • This lasted until 1912 when the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and Albania gained its independence.
  • Subsequently, there were World War I, World War II, and the rise of communists led by dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled for over 40 years.
  • For more detailed information on the history of Albania, read here.

Interesting Fact:

These lands have always been inhabited by Greeks. Greece long claimed the southern part of Albania, including Saranda. The turning point came in 1914 when Greek troops invaded Albania, but six major European powers halted the war. They granted Greece full control over the Aegean Sea in exchange for recognizing Albania’s territorial integrity.

Today, over half of Saranda’s residents are of Greek ethnicity. Greece’s influence is not only visible along the city’s promenade. In any restaurant’s menu, you will find Greek dishes, and signs and labels are duplicated in the Greek language.

how to get to saranda
All signs around Saranda are duplicated in Greek.

How to Get from Tirana to Saranda?

By car, it’s a breeze. The one piece of advice is to take the SH8 route along the coast, passing through the Llogara Pass. This road is considered the second most beautiful in Albania. Read all about the pass and the panoramic viewpoint where two seas meet here.

  • Route length: 270 km from Tirana
  • Travel time via the Llogara Pass: 5-6 hours. The route through Gjirokastër is about an hour faster.

Useful to know:

Gjirokastër is also one of Albania’s coolest attractions. You can and should visit it on your way back. Read the full review of Gjirokastër here.

Below, you’ll find some information for those traveling without a car. Although public transport in the region is not highly developed, bus connections with Saranda are generally reasonable.

  • There are 5-6 daily trips from Tirana to Saranda.
  • Ticket price: 15 euros
  • Travel time: 5-6 hours
  • Coordinates of the Saranda bus stop where buses arrive and depart for Tirana: 39.875054, 20.006655
  • Check the current schedule and prices for your date on this resource:
tirana saranda bus
These are the buses running the Saranda – Tirana route today.

Saranda: Where to Stay?

Saranda is wonderful because it offers all types of accommodation in Albania for tourists. There are guesthouses, apartments, and excellent hotels. There is plenty of housing right on the waterfront with a view of the sea. However, since Saranda is the most popular resort in Albania for tourists, prices tend to rise during the season more than anywhere else in the country.

saranda apartments
Our favorite apartments are in the city center. There are many options like this in Saranda. The view of the center and the main promenade.

Below, you’ll find some recommendations for the best hotels in Saranda and a small list of very cool alternative options. All lists and links are dynamic, so you can open them, view photos, read reviews, and descriptions. At the links at the end of the article, you’ll find a complete database of rental accommodation in Saranda.

Useful to know:

If you are considering only 5-star hotels, I’ll disappoint you a bit. Albania has its shortcomings in this regard. In the article linked, you’ll read everything you need to know about 5-star hotels in Albania.

Where to Eat in Saranda?

Briefly and to the point. In Saranda, like everywhere in Albania, you won’t stay hungry. There is an enormous number of eateries. But among them, one stands out above the rest.

  • HAXHI Restaurant. This is a family-owned restaurant managed by the whole family, including children and parents. The children are over 40 years old already 🙂
  • Moreover, they are Greeks, and you can feel the Greek touches in the menu. For example, they serve Tzatziki, which is a purely Greek dish.
  • The restaurant is located right in the center, just 50 meters from the main promenade.
  • Coordinates: 39.873657, 20.012227
  • Not only does it boast a fantastic interior, but it also offers a view of the sea. There are about 10 tables with a sea view, and most of them are always occupied.
saranda restaurants
On the second floor, there is the restaurant, and behind me is the sea.

HAXHI Restaurant specializes in seafood. The menu always includes king prawns, octopus, calamari, all cooked on the grill. You can also ask for the “fish of the day,” a whole fish also cooked on the grill. The menu also includes dishes with chicken and beef for those who do not fancy seafood. The service is excellent, and the prices are average for the city.

Saranda Attractions

Now, let’s provide a list of all the main attractions in Saranda, along with prices, opening hours, brief descriptions, and recommendations. I hope this will help you choose the ones that interest you the most.

In truth, Saranda itself has very few attractions, and you can explore them all in an hour or two. However, since the majority of tourists come to Saranda by car, there are plenty of cool locations within a 50 km radius to suit all tastes.

saranda attractions
In the photo: Saranda’s main attractions – the promenade, beach, and fortress on the hill.

Lëkursi Castle

This fortress, well-preserved and located on a hill on the outskirts of Saranda, is visible from any part of the city. The Turkish Sultan built the fortress in 1538 during the rise of the Ottoman Empire.

The fortress was constructed as an essential defensive point to control the strait between the mainland and the island of Corfu. Unlike other Albanian fortresses, this one is relatively young and has never been conquered, which is why it has been so well-preserved.

  • Distance from the city center via a good road: 3 km
  • The fortress is open 24/7.
  • Admission is free.
  • There is a restaurant, more like a bar, open from 12:00 to 2:00. By the way, prices here are quite high for Saranda.
  • Recommended time: You can spend 10 minutes just visiting the fortress. But it’s better to allocate an hour to catch the sunset with a glass of wine here.
saranda castle
View from the restaurant in the fortress – the sea and the city.

Author’s rating:

8 out of 10. The fortress itself is nothing extraordinary. Yes, it’s beautiful, but very small. You should come here to watch the sunsets. The view of the entire city is simply breathtaking. And as a bonus along the way, you’ll encounter 3-4 Enver Hoxha bunkers. By the way, you can easily walk here from the city center in 40-50 minutes. It only seems like the fortress is far and high. In reality, it’s not that scary.

Ruins of the Synagogue

These are the ruins of a Jewish Synagogue that existed here in the 5th century. In general, there’s not much more to say, as the photos speak for themselves.

places to visit in saranda
So here is the entire attraction.
  • Coordinates: 39.874632, 20.006730
  • Located right in the center of Saranda, 100 meters from the main promenade.
  • The actual ruins are behind a small fence. You cannot enter beyond the fence.
  • Access is available 24/7. Free of charge.
  • Recommended time: 5 minutes.

Author’s rating:

1 out of 10. Well, as you can see, there’s not much to do here. There’s not much to be interested in unless you’re a fan of ancient ruins.

Fish Market of Saranda

Not exactly a market, but I love such places, and they are rarely mentioned in other places in Albania.

Every morning, fishermen sail to the city’s main pier and sell their catch of the night. If you have an apartment with a kitchen, you have the opportunity to buy something for dinner and cook it. And even if you don’t, it’s interesting to take a stroll and see the market.

  • Coordinates: 39.873893, 20.008572
  • Timing: There’s no exact schedule, but usually from 7 am to 9 am, or until the catch is sold out.
  • Fishermen sell fish, shrimp, and octopuses (if caught) directly from their boats.
saranda fish market
Fresh catch straight from the sea.
buy fish in albania
And the cats also wait for their share of fish.

Author’s rating:

7 out of 10. It’s a very atmospheric place that immerses you in the spirit of Albania. Even if you don’t need fish, take a stroll and have a look. Prices for fresh fish depend on the species and size, averaging around 700 – 1500 leks per kilogram. That’s 7 – 15 euros.

Main Beach and Promenade

This is the heart of day and night life in Saranda. You’ll find yourself strolling here every day. The Saranda promenade is a classic spot in any Mediterranean resort town – a beach, palm trees, restaurants, and a concrete promenade. You definitely won’t miss this place.

  • Coordinates: 39.873409, 20.011614
  • This area is vibrant all year round, even in winter.
  • The promenade stretches for about a kilometer.
saranda promenade
The main promenade of the city.
best beach in saranda
Saranda’s central beach. In fact, there are about 20 beaches within a two-kilometer radius.

Author’s rating:

A place you definitely won’t miss or pass by.

Awesome Trip to Corfu Island

If you’ve come to Saranda and have a Schengen visa in your passport, here’s a great idea. A few kilometers from Saranda is the Greek island of Corfu. You can take a ferry and spend 1-2 days there, rent a car, and explore the entire island. It’s a fantastic mini-trip.

  • During the season, 3-8 ferries depart daily from Saranda.
  • Travel time: just 25 minutes.
  • Departure port coordinates: 39.871453, 20.003437
  • Transport company: Finikas Lines
  • For more details about this ferry, prices, where to check the current schedule, and buy tickets, read the article: Ferries of Albania.
corfu from saranda
View from our apartments: on the right is a piece of Saranda, and in the center, Corfu Island.

Author’s rating:

10 out of 10. If you have a couple of spare days and a Schengen visa, a trip to Corfu is a fantastic idea for a mini-adventure. When else will you be on the Greek islands?

More places to visit near Saranda

Above, I mentioned the attractions located in Saranda itself. However, within an hour’s drive of the city, there are many more fantastic places to see. You can visit these attractions in a day and easily return to Saranda for dinner. Here’s a list, and you can read detailed reviews of these attractions using the provided links:

  • Ksamil – 7 km from Saranda
    • Here you’ll find: paradise beaches, an oyster farm, and the Ali Pasha fortress on an island.
  • Ancient city of Butrint – 11 km away
  • The Blue Eye Spring – 18 km away
  • Himara Town – 50 km away
    • Cool beaches, a fortress, and a submarine bunker.

And there are also Borsh Village, Dhermi Town, Gjirokaster Town (link to the review was at the beginning of the article), the SH75 road – the most beautiful road in the country, and much more.

Travel tips

Saranda is the favorite resort among tourists. It offers the best beaches, beautiful sea, mountains, and excellent infrastructure. By the way, Saranda attracts the most travelers during the fall and winter seasons. Many come here for one or two months. Yes, swimming might be cold at this time, but there’s no snow, and the temperature occasionally warms up to +18 degrees Celsius.

Here’s a piece of advice for you:

  • It’s great to stay in Saranda and take trips to Ksamil for the beach. It’s just a 10-minute drive by car.
  • When you plan your ideal route in Albania, and if you have some free days left, it’s best to spend them all in Saranda.

In conclusion: Saranda is a genuine resort. True, the city doesn’t have a great number of attractions, and most of them are located outside the city. But this is not a drawback. Saranda is the jewel of the Albanian Riviera and, objectively, the liveliest city on the Ionian Sea coast in Albania.

If you’re looking for a beach resort vacation, Saranda is an excellent choice!

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