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  • Writer's pictureKrista the Explorer

Best Albania Road Trip Destinations For First Time Visitors

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

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Albania is one of the most underrated countries in Europe and is a practically untouched gem along the Mediterranean. It has some pretty incredible mountainous landscapes to enjoy, pristine coastlines that easily rival Greece, beautiful historic towns and cities to explore, vast archaeological sites to discover, and a mouthwatering selection of traditional Albanian food to try. Any first time visitor to Albania will be impressed with just how many things there are to do here and the best way to see all that the country has to offer is by planning an Albania road trip.


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Renting a Car in Albania

Albania is a very budget friendly country and that carries over into the cost of car rentals too. The easiest way to rent a car in Albania is to book your pickup at Tirana airport but if you’re thinking of spending a few days in Tirana then I suggest picking up the car on the day you intend to leave the city because the driving in the city centre is a little crazy. Some rental companies will have offices in Tirana’s city centre so you won’t need to return to the airport to get your vehicle.


I chose to rent my automatic car with Capital Car Rental for one week in Albania and I couldn’t have been happier with the service I received. I picked the car up from their city centre branch which was easy to find on foot. The check-in and pickup process went very smoothly and the car I received was in perfect condition and incredibly clean inside. CarPlay was available on the screen as well so I had access to Google Maps at all times while driving. The sunroof was great for the sunny days driving through the mountains and along the coastline!


Capital Car Rental is very budget friendly considering the quality of the vehicle you’ll receive and the staff are always on hand to help if you need to contact them while you’re on the road. The vehicles are fully insured and there are no hidden rental fees either.


Driving in Albania

If you’re planning a road trip in Albania you need to be prepared for the roads. Seeing Albania by car is the best and most convenient way to explore the country since public transportation isn’t the most reliable in the remote areas. But the driving in Albania can be a little wild at times. If you’re a confident driver then you should have no problems adapting but if you’re a nervous driver you may need some time to get used to the roads and other drivers around you.


I kept myself to the speed limit and didn’t take any risks and I was perfectly fine. Most of the main roads in Albania are very well paved but if you’re intending to get off the beaten path then you may need to look into getting a 4x4 vehicle for safety reasons.


In some instances you may be required to obtain an international driving permit depending on the country that your drivers license was issued in. I have a Canadian drivers license so I wasn't required to do so but I would recommend double checking just in case before you rent a car to be on the safe side, especially if you're driving with a US license.


Getting a SIM Card in Albania

My phone plan covers almost all European countries - except Albania. There are two phone providers located at Tirana airport and they both offer tourist SIM cards for the same price. I went with Vodafone since I was familiar with the name and they have different data options to choose from which are very cheap compared to other countries in Europe.


Places To Visit in Albania

Choosing the best Albania road trip destinations vary depending on personal interests and what part of the country you’re intending to travel to. This was my first time in Albania so I decided to explore central and southern Albania by choosing a few tourist hotspots and some less visited attractions in Albania too.


Tirana

Large museum in Tirana with tiled mosaic above entrance.
National Historical Museum

The Albanian capital is often overlooked by tourists in favour of nearby Durres and other more scenic destinations. Tirana does have a charm all on its own though and is definitely worth spending at least a day exploring. Many of the main attractions, such as Skanderbeg Square, Bunk'Art 2, the House of Leaves Museum, and the Blloku neighbourhood, are within walking distance of one another so you don’t need to worry about public transportation. Although the city’s history only dates back to the 17th century, this budget friendly European capital has some fantastic places to visit and unique restaurants too.


Berat

View of Berat from the new bridge crossing the river.
View of Berat

If this is your first time planning a trip to Albania then you need to add Berat to your Albania road trip itinerary. This stunning historic town is one of the most visited places in Albania and is the perfect place to base yourself from for a couple of days. Berat is well known for its rare Ottoman style houses that have been beautifully preserved as well as its narrow cobbled streets. The town is only small so it’s easy to see in a day but if you intend on visiting Berat Castle make sure you bring comfortable walking shoes.


Osumi Canyon

View of a large canyon in the mountains in Albania.
Osumi Canyon

Have you ever thought about rafting in Albania? The best place to do it is in the Osumi Canyon. We joined the Albania Rafting Group on a day trip from Berat to the Osumi Canyon which was organized by Hotel Castle Park. It costs €60 and includes transportation to and from the canyon, a safety brief, rafting equipment and clothing, and lunch following the rafting experience at a local restaurant. This is an incredible experience in Albania and the perfect activity if you love nature and water sports.


Apollonia

Main temple inside the grounds of Apollonia.
Ruins of Apollonia

Visiting Apollonia will make you feel like you’re in Greece since these ancient ruins were once a Greek colony. At its peak in the 4th century it was an important trade and economic centre - even the Roman emperor Augustus studied here! This archaeological site in Albania should take approximately 90 minutes to walk around and once you’re done you can take a look at the Archaeological Museum as well as the impressive monastery.


The entry fee for Apollonia isn’t expensive but if you want to save a little bit of money you can purchase your ticket online for only 500 ALL (around €5) on the day.


Gjirokaster

Historic street lined with white Ottoman houses in Gjirokaster.
Old town of Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster may look similar to Berat but they couldn’t be more different. This is another fantastic Albania road trip destination to add to your itinerary. It’s known as the “city of stone” because of its Ottoman-era houses carved from stone and its cobbled streets. The two big highlights in Gjirokaster are the Old Bazaar and Gjirokaster Castle but it’s worth taking some time to wander around its historic streets as well. If you don’t have time to stay here overnight, Gjirokaster is known for being a popular Albania day trip option due to its small size.


There are numerous archaeological sites near Gjirokaster that are easy to drive to as well such as Hadrianopolis (free entry), Antigonea (300 ALL), and Phoenice (300 ALL).


Butrint

View of the amphitheatre inside the ruins of Butrint.
Butrint

One of the top things to do in Albania for history lovers is to visit the impressive Butrint National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a short drive from Ksamil and is also a popular day trip option from Corfu. This site has been inhabited since prehistoric times but gets its name from Greek mythology. It was also inhabited by the Romans and came under the control of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.


Butrint is very impressive to walk around. It's been beautifully preserved in many areas so it's easier to imagine what the site would have looked like in ancient times compared to less complete sites. I would recommend arriving at opening time to avoid the tour groups that show up and to spend at least 2 hours walking around the park. You can purchase your ticket online for 800 ALL to save time at the ticket office and there is parking available on site if you arrive early enough.


Ksamil

Small sandy beach with wicker umbrellas set up above chairs.
Beach in Ksamil

If you like beaches then an Albanian Riviera road trip is the perfect option. The entire coastline is stunning but Ksamil in particular is one of the most popular places to visit in this part of Albania. This hidden paradise offers visitors beautiful sandy beaches, fresh seafood, and year round Mediterranean vibes for a fraction of the cost of other locations along the Med. I only had time to stop here for a few photos before moving on but it was absolutely breathtaking.


Llogara National Park

View of the sea from the top of the Llogara Pass.
Llogara Pass viewpoint

One of the most beautiful drives in Europe can be found in the Llogara National Park. The Llogara Pass connects Vlore with Saranda and you’ll need between 3 and 4 hours to drive this route if you want to stop at some of the incredible viewpoints. Along the route you’ll pass through the mountains, thick wooded forests, drive along the Albanian Riviera, and drive through some quaint villages as well. Make sure you stop at the very peak of the Llogara Pass for the best view of the mountains and the coastline (there are restaurants here too).


The Blue Eye

Clear water with light blue bottom inside a forest.
The Blue Eye

The Blue Eye is a popular tourist attraction in southern Albania and can easily be reached either as a day trip from Gjirokaster or from Saranda. It’s a unique natural spring with beautiful turquoise and blue colours that make it seem almost magical. You’ll have to walk 20 minutes from the parking lot to get here or you can rent one of the electric scooters if you don’t think you can walk up and down the hills.


Parking at The Blue Eye costs 200 ALL for 3 hours and you’ll need to pay an entry fee of 50 ALL before you can walk over the bridge (cash only). Although this is a unique Albania road trip destination I was left slightly disappointed with the crowds and people deciding to swim in the water even though it’s prohibited.


Vlore

Waterfront in Vlore with small fishing boats in the water at sunset.
Waterfront

Many people decide to visit Vlore for its beaches but the city has a lot more to offer visitors and is worth spending at least 2 days at. It’s one of the best places in Albania to visit and has a fantastic old town to explore as well as nearby Kanine Castle and Zvernec Island which are both good half day trip options from Vlore. I spent a couple of days in Vlore and was able to see all of its attractions in one day which left me with some extra time to drive to other points of interest close to the city.


Byllis Archaeological Park

View of the Byllis Archaeological Park surrounded by a valley.
Byllis Archaeological Park

If you’ve run out of places to visit in Vlore or simply want to explore some more archaeological sites in Albania, then Byllis Archaeological Park definitely needs to be on your list. The city was built between the 4th and 5th century BC and was once the largest city in the south of ancient Illyria. This off the beaten path attraction in Albania offers visitors a huge site to walk around as well as stunning views of the valley below. It costs just 400 ALL to enter and you’ll most likely be the only one there since it’s not along the usual tourist route.


Where To Stay in Southern Albania

Hotel Castle Park

Hotel Castle Park is a unique accommodation option in Berat surrounded by a forest with stunning mountain views. Although it’s not located directly in the centre of Berat it’s less than a 5 minute drive from the centre and offers guests a quiet retreat. Guests have the option of staying in the main building which is built like a castle or in one of the small villas. I stayed in the standard triple room which was rustic by design and felt like a cozy log cabin. Breakfast is included with the booking and you’ll be treated to a nice traditional Albanian breakfast in the beautiful dining room which in the evening is a popular slow food restaurant.


This hotel is more than just a place to sleep for the night though. Hotel Castle Park offers numerous guided tours and activities in the surrounding area too. Earlier in the blog post I mentioned the Osumi Canyon rafting tour with Albania Rafting Group which is a once in a lifetime experience and easily doable even for beginners.


I was also able to join one of their authentic Berati cooking classes which takes place in the kitchen. During the cooking class you’ll make several traditional Albanian dishes and learn more about where the local products come from. Afterwards you’ll be able to enjoy your creations while marvelling at the mountains in the distance.


You can take a look at their selection of tours and activities on their website. If you have any special requirements or want to go somewhere specific the owners are more than happy to try to accommodate you to make your stay at Hotel Castle Park all the more memorable.


>> Click here for the most up to date prices at Hotel Castle Park <<


No trip to Albania is complete without planning a road trip. It’s the easiest and most convenient way to explore the country and you’ll be able to visit attractions that a lot of tourists may miss out on. Some of the best Albania road trip destinations are off the beaten path so don’t be afraid to visit lesser known areas too. Yes, the beach towns in Albania are breathtaking and there are a lot of things to see in Tirana and some amazing attractions in Gjirokaster and Berat to visit but it’s great to think outside the usual tourist box sometimes too.


Always make sure you have cash on you because a lot of places in Albania are cash only and there are limited ATM machines outside of the cities.


Have you been on a road trip in Albania before? Or perhaps you’re still deciding about what route in Albania to take? If you have any questions about visiting Albania please feel free to reach out through email or Instagram and I’ll help as much as I can.


 

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