Not many people can tell you much about Albania and its capital Tirana. The country, isolated from the rest of the world during the communist era, has undergone massive changes in the past two decades. The city of Tirana was once grey and dull, but today boasts colors, charm and loads of fun. One day in Tirana surely isn’t much, but it’s enough time to fall in love with the city’s laid back style, great Albanian cuisine and vibrant cafe culture and to learn a bit about its, at times, rough past.
What’s the best time to visit Tirana?
Blessed with mild Mediterranean climate, Tirana is ideal to visit all year round. The temperature rarely goes below 0 degrees C, so it’s ideal as a winter destination, too. New Year can be a great time to visit, since the people of Tirana are very much into fireworks which transform the city sky into a light spectacle you can’t see elsewhere in the world.
a Few facts about Tirana
The largest Albaninan city and the country’s capital, Tirana was founded in 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini. It all started with the Old mosque, a small commercial centre, and a Turkish bath. During the 20th century, in the communist era, the city of Tirana and the country of Albania were under the strict rule of Enver Hoxha. During that time, the country was isolated from the rest of the world for half of century. Upon the dictator’s death, the country opened its borders and moved towards a free market.
Today, Tirana is the cultural, political and entertainment center of Albania. While the relics of its Ottoman, Italian and especially communist past are still present, the contemporary architecture is slowly transforming the appearance of the city into a modern European metropolis.
One Day in Tirana Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Tirana.
Visit the Skanderbeg Square
The main square, Sheshi Skënderbej, is the city’s central plaza where all the most important cultural buildings are placed: the National History Museum, the National Library, City Hall and the Et’hem Bej Mosque as well as the Skenderbeg statue. It’s also the main transport hub, so even if your accommodation is a bit further from the city center it’s the easiest point to reach by public transport. The square recently underwent massive construction works that ended in 2017. The Pedestrian Square Project gave the square the new, contemporary look with the use of the stone material taken from all the corners of Albania.
The National History Museum
The National History Museum is the city’s biggest museum and one of the most impressive communist buildings in the city. It’s where you can learn a lot about Albanian culture and its turbulent history. The museum is divided into nine pavilions that go from the antiquity all the way to the Pavilion of Communist Terror. The Pavilion of Mother Teresa, who was of Albanian descent, is particularly interesting. There is also a nice gift shop at the end with some nice traditional Albanian clothing and pottery. The entrance fee is only 200 Lek (1,5 Eur).
Walk the Murat Toptani street
Murat Toptani pedestrian street is a city’s tree-lined, lush and quiet oasis opposite to the traffic-clogged streets of Tirana. It starts from the National Art Gallery, goes through the Justinian castle remains and ends up with the newly opened Toptani Shopping Centre. A wide variety of restaurants, cafe bars and shops can be found along the street, but also a cinema and an experimental theatre. Even if you just do a quick stroll, you’re going to love its slightly different atmosphere. During the warm months, the trees form a nice shadow path, so it’s a great idea to have a drink there, too.
Drink espresso coffee
While still at the Murat Toptani street, don’t miss a chance to drink some espresso coffee because Albanians serve a very delicious one. Being located right across Italy, with the nearest point only 70km, there is a big Italian influence in this country. Therefore, the culture of drinking espresso coffee is widespread all over Albania.
Have a lunch at a traditional Albanian restaurant
One of the greatest restaurants of traditional Albanian cuisine you shouldn’t skip on your trip is Oda restaurant. It’s located at the Luigj Gurakuqi street, but may be a bit harder to spot at first. This authentic restaurant not only serves the best traditional food, but also has a typical ambient since it’s fully decorated with traditional Albanian furniture and decoration. Their vegetable dishes are amazing, so don’t miss a chance to try their peppers with cheese or stuffed eggplant. Meat dishes consist mainly of lamb and their table wine is really good. Not to mention how cheap everything is.
Have an ice-cream for dessert
If you crave something sweet after your lunch, you should try some Albanian gelato. The Albanians are very famous for their fresh made ice-cream and they really know how to make a good one. There are many ice-cream shops all around the city, and it will be hard to miss one.
Do some shopping at the Myslym Shyri Street
Rruga Myslym Shyri is where many fashion and retail stores are located. This tree-lined street is basically completely filled with shops, so you can easily spend a few hours wandering the street, shopping or just window shopping. There are a few tailor shops that offer great deals on women’s or men’s suits.
Visit the Cloud Pavilion
The Cloud Pavilion was designed by the renowned Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto as a Serpentine pavilion in 2013. This steel structure is not only a work of art, but it serves as a cultural and social open space. Its transparent appearance makes it look cloud-like and very artistic. Being located in the park area, it’s a great place to relax a bit, have a snack and snap some nice photos.
Visit the lively Blloku area
This lively block called Blloku used to be a restricted residential area during the communist era, and ordinary citizens weren’t allowed in. Today, it’s pretty much the most exciting entertainment and shopping destination in all of Albania. The area is packed with boutiques, shops, trendy bars, cafes and restaurant. It’s a great area to spend a late afternoon and night, especially during the warmer months.
Visit the famous Hoxha pyramid
This abandoned pyramid-shaped structure, even though it is in a state of disrepair, is one of the greatest Tirana landmarks. The former museum of Tirana was designed by the daughter of the communist leader Enver Hoxha and built in 1988. Today, the building is covered in graffiti and no longer in use. Still, it remains a local and a tourist gathering place, especially for kids who never miss a chance to climb the pyramid all the way to the top.
Spend an evening in the Blloku area
It’s time for dinner. In Blloku, there are numerous restaurants to choose from. Artigiano offers a wide range of different food and tastes, beautiful interior and very good service. It’s pretty affordable, too. If you’re looking for a more cozy atmosphere, Ala Sante should be your pick. Their fish specialties are highly recommended.
Spend your night at the vintage Radio bar
For some after dinner drinks, head to Radio bar. This vintage looking bar owes its name to the owner’s collection of antique Albanian radios. You’re going to love its communist-era inspired interior and the vibrant atmosphere. They also offer a great selection of cocktails, wines and beers. Their garden is a nice place to sit and enjoy the buzz of relaxed conversation.
Where to stay in Tirana?
Xheko Imperial Hotel
Xheko Imperial Hotel is an exceptionally luxurious hotel in the very heart of the city. It’s located in a fairly quiet area with lots of local cafes and restaurants, but still super close to the main square and all the main city’s attractions. It provides a high quality accommodation and a superior guest service in a comfortable and luxurious settings, perfect for both business or leisure travelers.
Eler Hotel is a stylish hotel, located in the center of Tirana at one of the main city’s avenues, pretty close to the main square. The room design is characterized by the white furniture, gold details and warm lighting that together create a great sense of comfort and luxury.
Dream Hotel is a charming boutique hotel located pretty close to the city center and all the main city’s attractions. The rooms combine eclectic contemporary style with antiques and original artworks and offer super cozy and comfortable stay in one of Tirana’s best neighborhoods.
Extra tips for visiting Tirana
– Although many Albanians, especially young, do speak English – Italian is spread more widely than any other foreign language.
– Tirana is super cheap compared to many other European capital. 100 Albanian Lek is less than 80 euro cent.
– Taxis in Tirana are very cheap and reliable. The ride within Tirana’s center costs from 300 to 400 lek. Try to negotiate the price before setting off, since many drivers tend not to use taxi meters.
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