Few people outside of southeastern Europe have been to the tiny country of Albania. In fact, up until the 1990s, the then Communist government of country wanted to keep it that way. Isolation from the rest of the world was the norm for Albanians and partly due to this, the country and it’s people suffered for decades. That however is rapidly changing. Sure, it is among the poorest countries in Europe (in terms of GDP) and rife with corruption, but Albania is opening up the the rest of the world. That, my friends, makes the country an interesting place to visit.
To visit parts of Albania now is almost like going back in time. It’s a country that is still relatively unspoiled and underdeveloped, which some may consider a negative. For the off-the-beaten path explorer, this makes it one of the last places in Europe not to be engulfed with modernization.
Be forewarned though as this is for a limited time only. The country is rapidly developing and, given perhaps 15 years, may become unrecognizable with a Starbucks on every corner and cell tower on every hill. This is probably the time to visit Albania before it turns into just any other European country.
Places to visit, things to see and do Albania
ButrintThe ancient site of Butrint (a.k.a. Buthrotum) possesses some of the most underrated archaeological ruins along the Adriatic coast. Once home to the ancient Greek Chaonian tribe in the 6th century BCE, the city of Butrint later was occupied by Romans and Byzantines until the middle ages when it was abandoned after an earthquake. Today you can see the ruins of what was once a great amphitheater, acropolis, public baths and other civic buildings. Butrint has also been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Vlora (a.k.a. Vlore)Cheap and along the Adriatic, Vlora is one of Albania’s most popular getaway destinations. The city also has a great deal of historical significance, being the place where the Albanian Declaration of Independence from the Ottoman Empire was proclaimed in 1912. For more on Vlora, click here.
Llogara National ParkLocated along the coast, Llogara National Park is a favorite destination for Albanians looking to get some respite from the the city. Set atop 2,500 acres of government-protected land, Llogara is home to many species of wildlife including various types of deer, the European wildcat, the Griffon Vulture, the Golden Eagle (the national bird of Albania) and the Eurasian otter. The park has several cabins, hotels and hostels that can serve as a base for those who wish to go hiking or even camping in the park. You can also travel down the Qafa e Cezarit or “Caesar’s Pass,” the road taken by Julius Caesar while pursuing his arch-nemesis Pompey.
Lake KomanNormally one would call a beautiful lake a natural wonder, but this one is actually manmade. Known as Lake Koman, this lake in northern Albania was created in 1978 by the damming of the Drin River. The “lake” that was created has now become a popular tourist attraction with it’s famous Lake Koman Ferry that meanders through the fjords and mountains that make up this picturesque part of Albania.
TiranaIf you want to see what a hip and up-and-coming southeastern European city in transition looks like, venture to Albania’s capital, Tirana. Long gone are the boring concrete buildings and armed police patrols that seemed omnipresent during the country’s Communist era; Tirana today is motley collection of colorful buildings that form trendy new neighborhoods with lots of bars and a thriving nightlife scene. The city also has many historical monuments and museums including Skanderbeg Square, the famous (and kind of odd) Enver Hoxha Pyramid, the National History Museum and several old mosques and churches that are worth visiting.
Gjirokastra (a.k.a. Gjirokastër)The town of Gjirokastra is arguably one of the most beautiful areas in all of Albania. Built around an old Ottoman-era fortress, Gjirokastra is famous both for the beautiful Drina Valley that surrounds it as well as its well-preserved buildings, many which are over 400 years old.
BeratAt one time one of the most prosperous and important cities of the Balkan parts of the Ottoman Empire, Berat today has become a sort of museum town. Known locally as the “city of 1000 windows,” Berat is famous for its natural beauty as well as centuries old buildings and fortress/castle.
The city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
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