I was still on my 16 week tour of Europe and had made my way from Montenegro to Albania and for a country that I was very nervous about entering, it completely surpassed my non expectations and has been one of my favourite countries on my European tour.
What do I love about it? It has mountains, it has beaches, UNESCO sites, and it has a very colourful capital city with great bars and restaurants. In fact, there are so many different areas of the country that spending a week here just wasn’t enough.
Is Albania safe?
Definitely. Being reasonably newish to tourism they adore tourists and will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. I even hitchhiked here although I don’t recommend doing it if you’re solo.
What language do Albanians speak?
Albanian, and many speak Italian thank to Italian programmes being aired on television during the Communist times. Many also went to Italy to work (you can reach Italy by boat from Albania). English is hardly spoken so make sure you take some key phrases with you but I got by with body language and very poor Italian. Just remember to say ‘Ciao’ when you say goodbye.
Is it cheap?
Yes, a 3 star hotel will cost you from just £15 upwards and a hostel bed from £8. Buses are very cheap although you have to ask local people where they go from. Tirana Backpacker Hostel have an excellent map with all the bus stops as they haven’t quite grasped the concept of central bus stations yet. My favourite place to eat are the Creperies where you can order a crepe from £2.50 with every filling from tuna salad to the more sweet kind. The one in Sarande is open well after the bars shut too – perfect.
What currency do they use?
Albanian Lek. Roughly speaking £1 will get you 165 Lek, €1 = 140 Lek, $1 = 103 Lek. Click here for the current exchange rate.
What’s accommodation like?
I camped, stayed in hostels and stayed with a local family. Camping in Albania is incredibly easy. Wild camping means you can camp anywhere although you may get approached to pay €5 for pitching your tent. If you don’t have your own tent and don’t want to camp alone then consider staying in a pre-pitched tent within camping grounds with entertainment and others for company.
In the Albanian Alps, you can choose homestays which I thoroughly recommend. You get to stay with a local family for £28 full board and it’s great for solos as everyone eats lunch and dinner together around a large table. Hostels are generally good and Tirana Backpackers in the capital are so helpful with information for your onward travel.
Places to see in Albania
Shkodra – Unless you stay at the lake, there’s not that much to see here except the castle with apparently great views of the lake (make sure you go left for the entrance and not right which I did and walked for an hour before realising it wasn’t the way in and then gave up getting to the top). The area near the casino is great for restaurants at night too but everywhere seems to close quite early. There are only 2 hostels here and I stayed at Mi Casa es Tu Casa which was clean and sociable but the rooms were a little overcrowded.
Theth – In the Albanian Alps, the village of Theth is dotted with stone houses and a rocky landscape with great walking tracks and clear, mountain air. The journey time from Shkroda is approx 5 hours with the majority of the time on winding, rocky roads which adds to the rustic experience. This area is totally different from the rest of Albania and it is so relaxed that you'll want to stay for longer than a weekend.
Tirana – A lovely capital city with a large manmade lake, pretty colourful buildings and surprisingly good bars. I didn’t make it to the museums but if you want to go then make sure it’s not on a Monday when they close.
Dhermi – Buses from Tirana take 6 hours and the scenery is gorgeous! The bus drops you off at the top and it’s a 20 minute walk down the winding hill to Dhermi to the beach areas.
Vuno – This is a little locals town in the mountainside on the route between Dhermi and Himare and has a really lovely feel. There is only one shop which doubles up as a restaurant and bar where you will find the locals and occasional donkey walking past.
Sarande – A seaside city with a Mediterranean climate and great beaches. From here you can visit the ancient city of Butrint, the ‘Blue Eye,' Ksamil and monasteries. This is one of my favourite places to stay.
How to get to Albania
Crossing the border from Ulcinj bus station in Montenegro you can either go straight to Tirana on the new direct bus route or to Shkodra, the first town in Albania. Buses only cost approx £5 although taxi drivers may try and tell you that there aren't buses across the border – there definitely are. This is a great website for buses in Albania once you arrive in the country but be prepared to wait for the bus to leave as they may not run at the exact schedule and sometimes wait for the buses to fill up before leaving.
If you're travelling in Greece, ferries operate from Corfu to Sarande and cost €19 to €24 depending when you travel.
Is Albania good for solos?
As Islam is the biggest religion in the country it is wise to cover up in the cities or local towns, especially Shkodra where men sat outside cafe shops are likely to stare. Any towns or cities on the beaches are a very different story. Travelling as a solo female here was a great experience but I wouldn’t recommend it for the first timer or the virgin solo; more for the seasoned solo who enjoys the whole rustic travelling experience. If you enjoy getting in a taxi and not being too sure of where you’re actually being taken then this place is for you.