Not many people can tell much about Albania and its capital Tirana. The country, once isolated from the rest in the communist era, has undergone the massive changes in the past two decades. The city of Tirana once grey and dull, 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, vibrant cafe culture and to learn a bit about its, at times, rough past.
What’s the best time to visit Tirana?
Being blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate, Tirana is ideal to visit all year around. The temperature rarely goes below 0C 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 into fireworks which transform Tirana’s sky into a light spectacle you can’t see elsewhere in the world.
Few facts about Tirana:
The largest Albaninan city and its capital, Tirana was established in 1614 by Sulejman Bargjini. It all started with the Old mosque, a small commercial centre, and a turkish bath. During the 20 century, in the communist era, the city of Tirana and the country of Albania were under a strict rule of Enver Hoxha. During that time, the country has been isolated from the rest of the community for half of the century. Upon the death of the Dictator, the country opened its borders and moved towards a free market economic model. 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 in the cityscape, the contemporary architecture is slowly transforming the appearance of the city into a modern European metropolis.
One Day in Tirana Itinerary:
Top things to do in Tirana, Albania
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 in the center. It’s also a center of the transportation, so whether your accommodation is a bit further from the city center it’s the easiest point to reach by the public transportation. The square is currently undergoing construction works that started in 2016. The Pedestrian Square Project will give the square the new, contemporary look, enable greater green space areas and will use 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 pavillions, that go from the Antiquity all the way to the Pavilion of Communist Terror. The special one is the Pavilion of Mother Teresa, who was of Albanian descent. There is also a nice gift shop at the end with some nice traditional Albanian clothing and the pottery. The entrance fee is only 200 Lek (1,5 Eur).
Walk the Murat Toptani street
This nice pedestrian street is a city’s tree-lined, lush and quite oasis opposite to the traffic-clogged streets of Tirana. It starts from the National Art Gallery, goes through Justinian castle remains and ends up with the newly opened Toptani Shopping Centre. 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 place to have a drink there.
Drink espresso coffee
While still at the Murat Toptani street, don’t miss a chance to drink some espresso coffee, cause Albanians serve very delicious one. Being located right across Italy, with the nearest point only 70km, there is a high Italian influence in this country. Therefore, the culture of drinking espresso coffee is widespread all over the Albania.
Have a lunch at the traditional Albanian restaurant
One of the greatest restaurants of the 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 ambience since it’s fully decorated with traditional Albanian furniture and decoration. Their vegetable dishes are amazing, so don’t miss a chance of trying their peppers with cheese or stuffed eggplant. Meat dishes consist mainly of lamb and their table wine is really a good one. 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 its fresh made ice-cream and they really know how to make a good one. There are many ice-cream shops all around the city it would 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 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 is designed by the renowned Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto as a Serpentine pavilion in 2013. This steel structure, is not only an artwork, 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 to snap some nice photos.
Visit the lively Blloku area
This lively block used to be a restricted residential area during the Communist era, where the ordinary citizens weren’t allowed in. Today it’s pretty much the most exciting entertainment and shopping destination in all the 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 being 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 Blloku area
It’s a dinner time already. 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 into 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 owns 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. The garden at the back is a nice place to sit and enjoy the buzz of relaxed conversation.
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 capitals. 100 Albanian Lek is less than 80 euro cent.
Taxis in Tirana are very cheap and reliable. The ride within Tirana center costs from 300 to 400 lek. Try to negotiate the price before setting off, since many drivers tend not to use taxi meters.
In case you have more than just one day in Tirana, check out Tripadvisor for detailed list of all the top things to do in Tirana.
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