Shkodër or Shkodra is one of the northernmost Albanian cities. I will tell you everything a tourist needs to know about this city and even more. Why people come here, what to see, and how much time to allocate to the city. Read on for a complete overview of the Albanian city of Shkodër.

shkoder castle view
View of Shkodër and Lake Skadar from the walls of Shkodër Castle. Simply breathtaking!

Shkodër: Interesting Facts and Brief History

It’s essential to have a brief understanding of the place you plan to visit, even just the basics. The city boasts several unique facts, so don’t skip reading about them. However, I won’t reprint ten pages of Wikipedia here.

  • Shkodër is one of the oldest cities in Albania.
  • The Illyrian tribes, even before the Romans, established a fortress here as early as the 4th century BC.
  • In 168 BC, Shkodër was conquered by the Romans, leading to significant development. They built roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.
  • After the fall of the Roman Empire, Shkodër came under the Byzantine rule and later, from the 14th century, under the Ottoman rule.
  • In the 19th century, as the influence of the Turks began to decline, Shkodër experienced a brief period of independence, if one can call it that.
  • However, peace was rare in the Balkans during that time, with local wars and conflicts erupting here and there.
  • After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1912, these lands were sought after by both Serbia and Montenegro. This meant a new war and new casualties.
  • Yet, in 1913, the London Conference of the six major powers decided to include Shkodër and its surroundings in the new independent Albania.
  • Brief peace and tranquility were established. But then, a few years later, came World War I, World War II, and 40 years of Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship.
shkoder city center
Pedestrian zone in the city center.

Interesting Fact about Shkodër:

Shkodër is a major Albanian city, with its suburbs totaling over 115,000 people. Surprisingly, the city doesn’t have a single traffic light. In the past, a tax was imposed on traffic lights, which led the local residents to rebel against it, deciding to live without traffic lights. They say, though I can’t confirm, that it’s the only city in the world with a population over 100,000 and no traffic lights.

How to Get from Tirana to Shkodër?

It’s straightforward, even using public transport. While other parts of Albania might have questions about the regularity and variety of routes, there are no such issues here.

  • Shkodër is located 12 km from Montenegro and 95 km from Tirana. It serves as a crucial economic and transportation center between Albania and Montenegro, ensuring excellent connections to the capital.

As for driving by car, I won’t elaborate. Just open your offline maps app and hit the road. The roads are generally smooth, not hilly, with good surfaces, but some parts may be narrow with traffic jams while others offer excellent routes. The drive takes around one and a half to two hours.

By bus from Tirana to Shkodër:

  • Buses depart from Tirana to Shkodër every hour, and during peak hours, every half-hour.
  • Travel time: 2 hours
  • Ticket price: 400 lek (4 euros)
  • Departure coordinates from Tirana: 41.344224, 19.776741
  • Departure coordinates from Shkodër: 42.068217, 19.511166
  • The route to Shkodër passes through the town of Lezhë. You can find more about the city in the article provided in the link.
how to get to shkoder
These are the buses that run on the Shkodër – Tirana route. They have recently been upgraded.

Useful tip:

You don’t need to buy tickets in advance. When the bus arrives, board it, take any available seat, and the conductor will come to you during the journey to sell you a ticket. Important: they only accept cash, no cards.

Shkodër: Where to Stay?

As it is a significant city, Shkodër offers a wide range of Albanian accommodation options, unlike smaller towns. You can find good hotels, apartments with kitchens, guesthouses run by locals, and, of course, hostels.

Below is a dynamic rating of the best accommodations in Shkodër. You can click on each option to see photos, read reviews, and find the complete database of rental properties in the city.

Below is an excellent option from our last trip with a view of the central pedestrian street of the city.

shkoder hotels
There are many accommodation options in the center of Shkodër. The view from our window.

Where to Eat?

When it comes to food in Albania, there’s no problem anywhere. There is an abundance of eateries, cafes, restaurants, and taverns. The food is delicious, the portions are relatively large, and the prices are reasonable. You can find comprehensive information about cafes and restaurants in Albania through the link, including tips on tipping, waiting times, and what to order.

Shkodër is no exception; you won’t go hungry here. However, I’d like to recommend a place that serves traditional dishes from Kosovo and Serbia. Although they are neighboring countries to Albania, finding Kosovar cuisine in Albania can be challenging.

  • Name: Peja.
  • Coordinates: 42.064602, 19.516571
  • The owner is from Kosovo, and they serve:
    • Kosovar pie
    • Serbian pljeskavica and ćevapi
    • The draft beer they offer is exclusively Kosovar and goes by the name Peja. For a detailed article about alcoholic beverages in Albania and wines, check out the link.
    • The prices here are below average for the city.
best restaurant in shkoder
Don’t pass this place by; it’s an excellent eatery. I wholeheartedly recommend it

Shkodër: Attractions

Even though the city has a history of over 2400 years, it’s challenging to say that there are landmarks at every turn. Nevertheless, there are impressive places, one of which most tourists overlook. Below is a ranking of what to see in Shkodër, complete with coordinates, descriptions, prices, and operating hours.

Important to know:

If you’ve noticed, throughout this guide, I provide coordinates instead of addresses. In brief, Albania lacks house numbering; they only have streets. So, you’ll have to find your way around :). For more on how this is possible, how the locals cope with it, and what to do for tourists, read the article: Accommodation in Albania for tourists.

Rozafa Castle

The main attraction of the city, a symbol of the entire region. Rozafa Castle’s construction began as early as the 4th century BC by the Illyrians. The fortress sits atop a hill on the outskirts of the city. I won’t delve into the complete history of the castle, as it’s quite similar to other fortresses on the Balkan Peninsula.

It took a long time to build, changing hands multiple times through captures until it finally became a museum :). That’s a brief summary of nearly 2,500 years of history.

rozafa castle in shkoder
Main square of Rozafa Castle. The territory is much larger than shown in the photo.

Legend:

Three brothers struggled for a long time to construct this fortress. Everything they built would collapse the next day. At a family council, they decided to sacrifice Rozafa, the wife of the youngest brother. She bravely accepted this fate but asked to be walled in a way that she could continue to feed her child. Thus, she was bricked alive with her child in a niche at the entrance to the fortress. Afterward, the construction of the fortress progressed more rapidly. Oh, those savages. By the way, the niche where Rozafa was bricked is still there today.
  • Coordinates of the fortress: 42.046424, 19.493639
  • Ticket price: 400 lek (4 euros).
  • Opening hours: from 9 am to 6 pm
  • Parking is available. During the high season, it’s paid, and during the low season, it’s free.
  • The fortress is quite substantial, one of the largest in Albania. Allow at least an hour to explore it leisurely.
  • There’s a cafe inside the fortress where you can have a snack or enjoy coffee/beer.
rozafa castle in shkoder entrance fee
View from the fortress walls overlooking the surroundings.

Author’s rating:

9 out of 10. If you find yourself in Shkodër, this is a must-visit. It’s genuinely one of the best fortresses in Albania, and Albania has plenty of them. The only downside is that it’s quite far from the city center, about a 4 km walk one way.

Mes Bridge

Mes Bridge was built in the 18th century to connect Shkodër with local villages. Literally, MES, if there was such ancient Albanian, translates to “center” or “middle.” And the name Mes Bridge means “bridge in the center.” It doesn’t claim to be the truth, but that’s how the locals explained it to me.

  • Today, it is one of the longest Ottoman bridges. It spans almost 110 meters.
  • Mes Bridge is well-preserved and serves its primary function to this day.
    • However, it’s not suitable for vehicles as it’s too narrow, so an adjacent road bridge was built.
  • The bridge is open 24/7, and people, goats, and sheep freely walk across it.
  • Coordinates: 42.114542, 19.575113
  • Time to spend on the bridge: 15 minutes will be sufficient.
shkoder mes bridge
It’s an incredible landmark, but it’s far away 🙂

Author’s rating:

8 out of 10. The bridge is amazing, something we don’t have. It’s in excellent condition, but there are two downsides. 1. It’s on the outskirts of Shkodër, on the opposite side from Rozafa Castle. It’s 8 km from the city center and 12 km from the fortress. If you don’t have a car, there aren’t many options for getting there, only by taxi or on foot. But walking 12 km one way for a 15-minute visit? And the second downside: there are other bridges in Albania, even older ones built by the Byzantines, that are just as well preserved and freely accessible.

Therefore, if you don’t have a car and plan to travel further through Albania, the fortress is a must-see, but you can skip the bridge. If you have the time and desire, Mes Bridge won’t disappoint you.

Center of Shkodër

Here, I have gathered everything into one list. The city center or old town, call it what you will. It’s the place where every tourist visits. There’s an enormous number of eateries where you can grab a bite to eat. Beautiful architecture is what you’ll find in Shkodër:

  • A pedestrian street with cafes and souvenir shops. By the way, there are several pedestrian streets here, more than five. This is the heart of the old center, and the entire neighborhood is pedestrian-friendly.
  • The main Catholic Cathedral of Shkodër – Santo Stefano.
  • The main mosque of Shkodër – Abu-Bekr.
  • The Photography Museum.
  • You’ll need at least 2 hours to explore the center of Shkodër on foot.
  • Coordinates of the main pedestrian street and tourist center: 42.068402, 19.515532
shkoder walking tour
Strolling through the city center is pure pleasure.

Author’s rating:

10 out of 10. Even if you have just an hour in Shkodër, visit this place. Conveniently, the main pedestrian street is right next to the bus terminal from Tirana.

Travel Tips and Itinerary

Shkodër is a beautiful, clean, and tidy city in Albania that is underrated by tourists. The tourist flow here is much smaller than in the south of Albania, where most of the major attractions are concentrated.

Shkodër has two major drawbacks:

  • It is far from the main attractions of Albania, most of which are located in the south of the country.
  • Shkodër does not have access to the sea. It’s about 15 km from the city to the Adriatic coast.
    • Everywhere, it is mentioned that Shkodër is located on the shore of Lake Skadar. Technically, this is true, but the city itself doesn’t have direct access to the lake.

As a result, the city is impressive, but people don’t purposefully travel here. For 99% of tourists, it’s a transit city. Realistically, there’s not much to do here for more than a day. You can take a bus from Tirana in the morning and arrive in Shkodër by lunchtime. Half a day is enough to explore the city center and Rozafa Castle. And if you take a taxi, you can also visit Mes Bridge. By the way, the taxi from the center to the bridge and back will cost a maximum of 10 euros.

So, why do people go to Shkodër?

That’s the main question, and below is the answer. As you’ve already figured out, most people pass through Shkodër in transit. The lion’s share of visitors are those heading to/from Montenegro. The border crossing is just 11 km away from Shkodër. However, this is not the interesting part.

Useful information:

People go to Shkodër to embark on a circular route through the Accursed Mountains in the Albanian Alps.

Although there are not many tourist attractions in this part of the country, the Accursed Mountains, a ferry ride of 50 km through a rocky lake, hiking across a mountain pass in the most remote part of the country, a waterfall, and the Blue Eye (not the one in the south) – all of these are part of the route through the Albanian Alps. And the only way to reach it is through Shkodër.

This circular route is truly exceptional and will leave an indelible memory. However, unfortunately, not all tourists make it here.

  • For a detailed route description, click on the link: how we hiked through the Accursed Mountains of Albania in 4 days!
shkoder theth transfer
These are the Accursed Mountains: pretty cool, right?
shkoder koman lake bus
And this is us on the 50 km-long ferry crossing towards the Accursed Mountains.

In conclusion: Shkodër is a fantastic town, and you’ll enjoy it here. But there’s not much point in traveling here solely for the city itself, unless you have time to spare. You can explore the entire city in half a day, and there’s not much else to do here. There’s no sea, no lake. However, if you have the time and can spare 3-4 days from your journey, then head to Shkodër exclusively for the Accursed Mountains. It’s a truly out-of-this-world place.


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