A Grand Review of the Capital of Albania – the city of Tirana. We will delve into all the topics that captivate every traveler. You will not only discover all the landmarks of Tirana but also learn about navigating the city, finding the best places to stay, and locating flea markets.
Tirana: General Facts and Brief History
The section about the city’s history might not always be the most exciting information, but it remains highly informative. It aids in better understanding the mentality and peculiarities of Tirana and can even prove useful during your journey. Therefore, I will succinctly highlight the essential aspects of the history of Albania’s capital.
- The first mentions of settlement in this location date back to the 15th century AD.
- Compared to other ancient cities in Albania, Tirana is quite young. For instance, Berat is 2400 years old.
- The founding year of Tirana is considered to be 1614.
- Tirana was founded by the Turkish general Suleiman Pasha.
- During this period and until the 20th century, all of Albania was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
- For nearly 400 years, Tirana stood at the forefront of resistance against Ottoman rule.
- Rebellions erupted constantly, accompanied by frequent executions and punitive measures against the local population.
- Despite Tirana’s strategic location at the crossroads of major trade routes and the potential for urban growth, persistent conflicts hindered its development.
- In 1912, Albania gained independence for the first time in its two-thousand-year history.
- Then, in 1920, during the Albanian Congress, Tirana was declared the capital of Albania.
Interesting fact:In 1920, when Tirana became the capital, the city was home to only 11,000 people. Today, Tirana’s population is around 450,000, and if you include the suburbs, it’s about 800,000.
- Following 1920, Tirana experienced a period of rapid growth. Then came World War II, the rise of the communists, and Enver Hoxha’s era. Afterward, there were 40 years of dictatorship in the country.
Today, Tirana stands as a modern, European capital, eagerly advancing towards the EU.
Tirana: Where to Stay?
The range of accommodation options in Tirana is vast. You can stay in hotels of any star rating or opt for apartments. The advantage of apartments lies in having a kitchen, which is convenient even if you don’t cook much. To choose the right living area, you need to know a few facts:
- 90% of the city’s landmarks are located quite compactly.
- Getting around on foot is not complicated.
- Only 2 significant attractions are located on the outskirts of Tirana, but we’ll cover that later.
- In Tirana, public transportation is limited to buses, which operate until 11 pm.
Useful to know:This is a universal rule for any city, but in Tirana, it holds true 100%. Choose accommodation in the city center; this will greatly simplify your transportation and movement around the city. Since Tirana is constantly plagued by traffic jams, public transportation and even taxis are not the best idea.
Below is a dynamic rating of the best hotel and apartment options in Tirana. You can click, view photos, and read reviews.
However, there’s a special option for connoisseurs. In the heart of Tirana, there’s an unusual building visible from all parts of the city. It’s the tallest building in Albania and is located right next to the main Skanderbeg Square. The building is called the TID Tower, and today it houses the 5-star Maritim Hotel Plaza. If your budget allows, I recommend considering it.
Tirana: Getting Around the City
Much has already been discussed about this; I’ll summarize it all in one place and add some additional points:
- Tirana lacks metro, trams, and other forms of public transport. Only buses are available.
- The city’s population, including its suburbs, is approaching 900,000 people.
- Traffic is a massive problem in Tirana today. During rush hours, the city experiences severe gridlock.
- Additionally, there’s a dire parking situation in the city center. Parking is prohibited on the main streets, and the adjacent streets are equipped with paid parking.
- There are 2 zones: Zone A – 100 lek/hour, Zone B – 50 lek/hour. However, even in paid parking zones, there’s hardly any space available.
Tip:If you’ve arrived in Tirana by car, make sure to find accommodation with private parking.
- For detailed information about Tirana’s buses, schedules, and ticket prices, read the article provided in the link.
- Another excellent option is taxis. Taxis are not very expensive in Tirana, but during rush hours, it’s best to avoid them as well.
In summary:If a car is essential for your journey through Albania, it’s the opposite in Tirana. Walking is the simplest option here. Nearly all the interesting places are located in the city center.
Regarding your travel plans and routes across the country, you will find detailed route options in the provided link. In brief, here’s some advice for those arriving and departing from Tirana Airport:
- Upon arrival, rent a car at the airport.
- Start your journey immediately based on your itinerary: typically, it includes Durres, Vlora, and further south.
- Toward the end of your trip, return to Tirana to drop off the car and spend 1-2 more days in the city without it. It’s easier to explore the city without a car.
- This approach will also lead to some cost savings, as you’ll return the car a couple of days earlier.
- However, if you decide to navigate Tirana by car, please read the article: Traffic Rules, Roads, and Parking in Albania. Pay special attention to parking and payment methods.
Tirana: Where to Dine?
You’ll have an extensive array of choices. When it comes to enjoying a meal, Albanians truly have a passion. You definitely won’t go hungry here. And as for coffee shops with Turkish coffee, they’re practically countless. Personally, I enjoy Albanian cuisine, but to ensure you have a pleasant experience, especially if you’ve just arrived in the country, keep in mind:
- Service at Albanian restaurants isn’t as swift as what you might be accustomed to. No one is in a hurry here.
- Waiting 30-40 minutes for your food is normal. It might be faster at times, but not always.
- Credit cards are rarely accepted at restaurants. Have Albanian lek on hand.
- Salads: all ingredients are usually cut quite large.
- Read more about Albanian cuisine here.
Below, I’ll recommend just two places in Tirana – one restaurant and one casual eatery. However, in any case, there are plenty of great places to dine in Tirana.
- Restaurant of Albanian Cuisine “Tek Zgara Tirones”.
- Coordinates: 41.327172, 19.807487
- 1 km from Skanderbeg Square
- Reasonable prices
- Generous portions
- I recommend trying the grilled meat
- Xhomllik Eatery.
- Coordinates: 41.335023, 19.836704
- There’s no sign, so you won’t find it by its name.
- This family-run “restaurant” with plastic chairs is owned by an ethnic Italian. He calls his place a pizzeria.
- Yes, they serve pizza and more. Everything is delicious. But the highlight here is the daily grilling of chicken and cooking of lamb heads.
- Naturally, the grill with the lamb heads is right on the street, making it easy to locate the place.
Tirana Attractions: Complete List
Next, there will be a list, prices, operating hours, and the author’s (my) ratings for all the main attractions in Tirana. I’ll tell you where you should definitely go and what you can skip. You’ll find all these sites on the map and all the places mentioned in this article via this link: travel map. It will help you create your perfect itinerary and not miss anything.
Important to note:I’m not particularly fond of the theme of churches. Since there’s much to see in Tirana beyond churches, temples, and mosques, there will be minimal information about them, only the most significant ones. If you set your mind to it, you could spend three days just visiting mosques in Tirana.
Furthermore, I won’t fabricate attractions just to make the list longer. This is often done, and sometimes even a single Skanderbeg Square is split into five separate attractions. Even without these tricks, the list will be substantial.
- The most comprehensive list of tours in Tirana and its surroundings offered by local guides. There’s no better selection elsewhere.
The main square of Tirana and Albania. The square is named after the Albanian leader who fought for the country’s independence under Ottoman rule. Today, Skanderbeg is a national hero. Monuments are erected in his honor, and squares, streets, brandy, and much more are named after him.
As the square acquired its current appearance during the era of Enver Hoxha, it strongly resembles the socialist style seen throughout countries of that bloc.
- Skanderbeg Square is accessible 24 hours a day and free to enter.
- It’s the center of all major events. The country’s main Christmas tree stands here, all holidays and fairs take place here, and even the largest Covid-19 vaccination campaign occurred here. Everything about the coronavirus in Albania, where to get PCR tests, and entry rules.
- Coordinates: 41.328107, 19.818316
- Time to allocate: 30 minutes
- On the square, you’ll find these important landmarks:
- Monument to Skanderbeg (on horseback).
- Ancient mosque of Et’hem Bey
- National Theatre of Opera and Ballet of Tirana
- National Historical Museum of Albania
Author’s rating:10 out of 10. You might not feel the same level of excitement, but this is the heart of the country. All walking routes start from here. Even if you have just 2 hours in Tirana, head here first.
The clock tower is located immediately behind the Et’hem Bey Mosque, just 100 meters from Skanderbeg Square. It was built by the Turks in the 19th century. At that time, there were no clocks, and a bell from Venice was hung at the top, which rang every hour. This was necessary for people to know when to pray, as over 60% of Tirana’s population followed Islam. Eventually, the bell was replaced with clocks, and this happened more than once. Today, there’s a clock on each of the tower’s four sides.
- Coordinates: 41.327735, 19.819750
- Operating hours: 9 am to 6 pm
- You can climb to the top of the tower for a beautiful view of central Tirana. It’s just 90 steps to the top.
- Ticket price: 200 lek (2$)
- Outside viewing of the tower is, of course, free and available 24 hours a day.
- Time needed: 5 minutes if not climbing, or about 20 minutes to the top of the tower.
Author’s rating:I give it a disappointing 3 out of 10, and this is due to the negligence of Tirana’s authorities. This serves as a prime example of how authorities treat historical monuments all over the country. To give you some perspective, there were no tall buildings in central Tirana, except for two buildings built during the socialist era. The clock tower was visible from everywhere, and it offered a 360-degree view from the top. However, in late 2021, two business centers were constructed just 5 meters away from the tower. It’s a disgrace.
BUNK’ART 2 – Minister of Internal Affairs’ Nuclear Bunker
A little background: Enver Hoxha was the leader of socialist Albania for over 40 years. He was the country’s paramount figure. The second most important person in the country was always the Minister of Internal Affairs. For those who haven’t read a brief history of Albania, I suggest doing so. Due to fear of external attacks, the country built 700,000 bunkers. But among them were two MEGA bunkers capable of withstanding a nuclear strike.
- The first bunker was for Enver Hoxha, which is logical, and I’ll write a bit about it below.
- This is the second bunker, built for the current Minister of Internal Affairs. Unlike Hoxha, the ministers changed every few years.
- As this bunker was intended for the second person in the state, it’s now called Bunk’Art 2.
- Today, it houses a museum. You not only have the chance to view exhibitions but also to walk through the corridors of this bunker. It was said to accommodate around 2,000 people. Its dimensions will astonish you.
- This bunker focuses on the history of Albania from World War I to the present day. It’s not solely about military themes.
- The entrance to the bunker used to be directly from the basement of the ministry building. However, a modern entrance in the style of the bunker has been constructed nearby 🙂
So, what do you need to know about this place:
- Coordinates: 41.327043, 19.819570
- Operating hours: 9 am to 8 pm, but during the low season, they reduce the hours by 2. Closes at 6 pm.
- Ticket price: 500 lek (5$)
- Official website: https://bunkart.al/2/home
- Time needed: 1 hour
- Located 100 meters from Skanderbeg Square
Author’s rating:8 out of 10. For understanding, this bunker and the Hoxha bunker are quite similar – in terms of size, furnishings, some exhibits – but they differ, and Hoxha’s bunker is more extensive. If you have to choose, it’s better to visit Hoxha’s bunker. However, it’s located on the outskirts of Tirana, while this one is right in the city center. I’ve visited both and don’t regret it.
BUNK’ART 1 – Enver Hoxha’s Bunker
Hoxha’s bunker is situated on the outskirts of Tirana, 5 km from Skanderbeg Square. This is one of the two major attractions located outside the city center. All other attractions are very compact and can be visited on foot.
And if the previous bunker focused on Albania’s history, most of the exhibits in this one are related to Enver Hoxha’s era and his personal life.
The bunker is built into the rock, and you’ll be amazed by the long hundred-meter tunnel entrance. Inside the bunker, apart from living quarters, there’s even a grand hall, a cafeteria, and much more.
- Coordinates: 41.349836, 19.860535
- Operating hours: 9 am to 5 pm, and until 4 pm during the low season.
- Ticket price: 500 lek (5$)
- Official website: https://bunkart.al/1/home
- Time needed: at least 1 hour
Author’s rating:9 out of 10. Personally, I liked this bunker a bit more than the previous one. In any case, visiting one of these bunkers is a must, and better yet, both. These are not just military museums; they are actual nuclear bunkers from the Cold War era. By the way, Enver Hoxha never lived to see the completion of the bunker; construction was finished six months after his death.
Dajti Mountain Cable Car and Park on the Mountain
This is the second remote attraction in Tirana. An important note: the cable car and Hoxha’s bunker are located 300 meters apart. Plan to visit both attractions on the same day.
Mount Dajti is located on the outskirts of Tirana and offers an excellent panoramic view of the entire capital. You can reach it by car or take the cable car. I strongly recommend the cable car, of course. The mountain’s height is 1,613 meters. Tirana, on the other hand, is situated at an elevation of 100 meters above sea level, so you can imagine the ascent.
Today, a complete recreation complex has been built on the mountain. Besides the stunning observation platform, you’ll find:
- A restaurant with panoramic views
- Numerous children’s playgrounds – a paradise for families.
- A mini-golf course
- Horseback riding
- Buggy rides through the valley
- A roller skating rink
- A shooting range
- A pigeon coop
- A spot for paragliding. By the way, read about this in the article about tours and excursions in Albania.
- Cabin travel time: 15 minutes
- Starting point coordinates: 41.350731, 19.860851
- A round-trip ticket costs 1,000 lek (10$)
- Prices for everything on the mountain are as high as the mountain itself
- Time to plan: locals come here with their families for almost the whole day. But if you’re just ascending the mountain and not engaging in additional activities, an hour should suffice for a leisurely walk through the park.
Author’s rating:9 out of 10. Despite being one of the country’s most expensive attractions, it’s well worth it. Just for the cable car ride and the panoramic view of Tirana, you should come here. Plan about 3 hours for the cable car and Hoxha’s bunker, and then stroll around the city center.
Tirana Castle and Pedestrian Street
If you were brought to this place and asked where you are, your answer would be: in some European capital. In this attraction, I’ve combined several things at once.
- Pedestrian promenade street.
- Coordinates: 41.326146, 19.820353
- Street Name: Shëtitorja Murat Toptani 2
- Beautiful, green, quiet, and with plenty of eateries to grab a snack or have coffee.
- Tirana Fortress, or rather what’s left of it. What remains are the walls and a few towers.
- Coordinates: 41.326412, 19.822136
- Not much is left of the castle itself. But today, on the medieval street right inside the fortress, a cool pedestrian street with a gastronomic flair has been established.
- Simply come here for a leisurely stroll and a coffee.
- The street inside the castle.
- Coordinates: 41.325677, 19.822683
- Street Name: Kalaja e Tiranes
- Prices at the establishments here are above average.
- Right at the beginning of the street near the fortress is the large Toptani shopping center by Albanian standards. Read about shopping in Albania and this mall in the linked article.
Author’s rating:10 out of 10. A classic, tidy, well-maintained pedestrian zone in the city center. Make sure to come here for a stroll.
The Old New Bazaar of Tirana
An essential place for any tourist. Only at the bazaar can you truly understand and feel the local atmosphere. It used to be the old bazaar, and then about 8 years ago, it underwent reconstruction and is now referred to as the new bazaar.
In conversations with locals, you might hear both terms. Know that they refer to the same place. Although the bazaar is not very large in terms of size, you’ll find:
- A fish market
- A meat market
- Vegetables and fruits
- Flea market and second-hand items
- And many souvenirs to take home
- As well as cafés and restaurants
- For everything about the markets of Albania, and particularly the main market of Tirana, the New Bazaar, read the linked article.
- Bazaar Coordinates: 41.325677, 19.822683
- Operating hours: Before 9 am, there’s not much to do here. It’s better to come around 10 am. Also, by 6 pm, there’s not much activity left. Albania isn’t the kind of country where people rush to the market at 6 am 🙂
- Time needed: The market isn’t large; 30 to 60 minutes should be enough for a leisurely stroll through the rows.
Author’s rating:8 out of 10. The place is fantastic, but it lacks grandeur. The flea market is rather small. Be sure to visit the fish market just to see what’s on offer. And remember, Tirana and Albania are not like the East. Nobody will hassle you on the market here as they might at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
The most ambiguous attraction of Tirana. Why it’s called a pyramid, you’ll understand from the photo below.
Very briefly: After the death of Enver Hoxha, his daughter designed a building that was supposed to become a museum dedicated to her father. She was allocated a prime piece of land in the center of Tirana, and three years after Hoxha’s death, the museum opened its doors. That was in 1988.
In 1991, after the fall of the communist regime, the museum closed. Initially, it was used as a conference hall. Then, during the Kosovo War in the 1990s, the Pyramid served as a NATO base. In the 2000s, a nightclub named “Mummy” was opened inside the Pyramid. After that, it fell into disuse, and youngsters gathered there to paint graffiti on the walls and have beer.
The authorities attempted about five times to demolish the Pyramid and replace it with a business center. However, each time, the building was preserved as a historical and cultural heritage.
Interesting to know:In 2020, a reconstruction plan for the Pyramid finally emerged and was approved by all parties. Funding was allocated for it as well. In late 2021, work began, and the Pyramid is now surrounded by a fence. It’s a classic construction site today. Knowing Albanians, the work here might take about three years
- Coordinates: 41.323062, 19.821637
- In a couple of years, perhaps by 2024, this is expected to become an entertainment center.
- But for now, you can only look through the fence and observe the process.
Author’s rating:1 out of 10. There’s nothing much to do here at the moment. We await the Pyramid’s reopening. If anything changes during your visit, please share in the comments.
The Authentic Bunker
For those who have just arrived in Albania and started their journey from Tirana, it means you haven’t yet seen the real bunkers, of which there are 700,000 in the country. Not counting the two mega-bunkers; there are no more like them. So, not far from the Pyramid, there’s a genuine Enver Hoxha-era bunker. This is an excellent chance to get acquainted with this Albanian architectural phenomenon :).
Inside, it’s clean, and you can descend into the bunker and see it from the inside. As 99% of the other bunkers across the country are abandoned: covered in trash, bottles, or simply blocked entrances, this one is a shining example of cleanliness.
- Coordinates: 41.321007, 19.820206
- Completely free and accessible 24/7.
- Time to allocate: 5 minutes.
Author’s rating:6 out of 10 if you’ve been roaming around Albania for a couple of weeks and have seen hundreds of these bunkers. But for those who’ve just arrived, 9 out of 10. By the way, such bunkers were designed for one family. With 700,000 of them in Albania and a population of 2.5 million, that’s almost one bunker per family!
Enver Hoxha’s Residence
The primary residence of dictator Enver Hoxha. This is where he lived, although he worked elsewhere. He ruled Albania for 40 years.
- Coordinates: 41.320914, 19.817369
- The residence is closed to visitors. You can only see it from behind the fence.
- Time to allocate: 5 minutes.
Author’s rating:2 out of 10. It’s a regular, neat two-story villa. Nothing exceptional. But what’s astonishing is that everyone expects that a person like Hoxha, who built a nuclear bunker with 7-meter walls, had a personal security detail of a thousand people, would live in such a place. There’s no 10-meter fence, no minefield, no defensive structures. Just a villa, surrounded by similar houses, a waist-high fence here and there, and nothing more! It almost seems like a middle-tier bureaucrat lived here at most. And there’s absolutely no sense of luxury.
Grand Park of Tirana
The central park in Tirana and the main weekend retreat for locals. There’s no need to go into extensive details here. It’s a beautiful, classic leisure park, just as we are accustomed to. It features a summer amphitheater, playgrounds for children, numerous walking paths, cafés, and a lovely lake.
This is a place to come for a leisurely stroll if you have some time in the city.
- Coordinates: 41.312649, 19.822247
- The park is entirely free and open 24/7.
- Time to allocate: The park is quite extensive; you could spend many hours walking around. But if you have the time, plan to spend 1-2 hours here. Have some ice cream, walk by the lake, feed the ducks and geese that are abundant here.
Author’s rating:5 out of 10. A classic leisure park as we understand it.
Tourist Tips and Itinerary Timing
Above were all the main attractions in Tirana. Yes, I didn’t list the long array of museums, churches, and mosques. You’ll find them scattered throughout the city. But I’m not a fan of the church theme in my travels, and there’s no point in listing every single church.
Here are some global tips for tourists:
- If you’re arriving and departing Albania through the only airport (rather than entering via land borders), plan your route around the country so that you head straight to the coast from the airport. Then, in the final 1-2 days of your vacation, spend time in the capital.
- Also, despite Tirana being a sizable city and the capital, you can easily see all the attractions in 2 days. Even 1 day if you’re determined.
- The first day, spend your time wandering around the city center.
- For the entire second day, plan to visit the cable car, Mount Dajti, and Enver Hoxha’s main bunker. All of these are on the outskirts of Tirana and are quite close to each other.
- But if time is really tight, and you want to see everything, you could manage in just one day. Though the pace won’t be leisurely; it’ll be more of a “whirlwind tour of Europe.
In conclusion: Tirana is the city that welcomes tourists or sends them off on their Albanian journey. In either case, it leaves only pleasant impressions. Yes, there’s not a week’s worth of activities like in Rome or other European capitals. But you definitely need to allocate 1-2 days, and Tirana won’t disappoint. It’s a lively, safe, colorful, European city where tourists are genuinely welcomed.
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