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  • Writer's pictureKrista the Explorer

Top Things To Do in Gjirokaster, Albania

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

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After you’ve visited Berat, which is often referred to as the “town of a thousand windows”, your next road trip stop in Albania has to be Gjirokaster. Both UNESCO World Heritage Sites are equally worth visiting but they couldn’t be more different in terms of architecture, their unique points of interest, and even the food. Gjirokaster is also known as the “city of stone” or the “city of a thousand steps” and once you arrive in this historic town you’ll immediately notice the beautiful Ottoman-era houses and narrow streets carved from stone.


Gjirokaster’s history is directly tied to the construction of its castle, although evidence suggests the site has been inhabited since the 4th century. Historical records from the 14th century refer to the town in its Greek name when it was part of the Byzantine Empire and by the 15th century it fell under Ottoman rule for five centuries.


It may not be a large town but there are some fascinating things to do in Gjirokaster during a day trip and numerous historical and archaeological sites nearby that are worth driving to such as Antigonea and Hadrianopolis. Here are the top Gjirokaster attractions to add to your itinerary.


Things To Do in Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster Castle

View of a clock tower inside the castle at Gjirokaster.
Gjirokaster Castle

Gjirokaster Castle is by far the main attraction in Gjirokaster, perched high on a cliff overlooking the town. This incredible fortress is the second largest castle in Albania and is home to Gjirokaster Museum where you can learn more about the unique history of the town. Entry to the castle costs 400 ALL and if you don’t visit the museum it should take you no more than an hour to walk around. I would recommend visiting near closing so there are less people in your photos.


Old Bazaar

Centre of Gjirokaster's old town with white painted buildings.
Old Bazaar

One of the top things to see in Gjirokaster is the Old Bazaar. This is the very centre of the town and although it dates back to the 17th century it was almost completely destroyed in the 19th century and had to be rebuilt. The buildings have all been constructed in a similar way and adapted to the slope of the town. The Old Bazaar is a popular area with tourists looking to purchase souvenirs or find something to eat.


Close to the Old Bazaar is the Cold War Tunnel Museum which was built in the 1970’s and has survived in its original state. It costs 200 ALL to enter and should around 30 minutes to explore.


Explore the shops

Row of shops in Gjirokaster selling various colourful souvenirs.
Shop in Gjirokaster

The centre of Gjirokaster is very tourist-oriented and in the peak travel seasons you’ll find it difficult to move with all of the crowds. Once you’ve taken the time to visit the main points of interest in Gjirokaster it may be worth spending an hour or two exploring the various shops in and around the Old Bazaar. Many of these are tacky souvenir shops but you’ll find some hidden gems here too.


Bazaar Mosque

Historic mosque in the centre of Gjirokaster on cloudy day.
Bazaar Mosque

The Bazaar Mosque is one of the most important cultural monuments in Gjirokaster and is located in the Old Bazaar. It dates back to the 17th century and was the only mosque in the town that was spared destruction by the communists in the mid-20th century. It’s open daily for visitors and admission is free so take a look inside if you have the time.


Grab some juice from Kodra Sweet Hill

Dark red juice in plastic cup outside ice cream shop.
Orange and strawberry juice

You can find Kodra Sweet Hill in the Old Bazaar, not far from the Bazaar Mosque. They’re well known in the town for their ice cream but they also have a great selection of freshly made fruit juices and smoothies. The prices are very cheap and you can mix and match the fruit to build a drink to your liking.


Gjirokaster Obelisk

A tall stone obelisk elevated between houses in Gjirokaster.
Obelisk

One of the more unique and less visited attractions in Gjirokaster is the Obelisk. I wasn’t able to locate this monument, even using Google Maps, so the photo I took is from the entrance to the castle. Gjirokaster Obelisk is a symbol of education in Albania and was built near the site of the first school in Gjirokaster where the Albanian language was secretly taught under Ottoman rule.


Visit the museums and fortified houses

An historic fortified house in Gjirokaster on a foggy morning.
Skenduli House

If you’re interested in learning about the history and culture of Gjirokaster then I would recommend going inside at least one of the fortified houses located near the Old Bazaar. Skenduli House is one of the most popular options and the best preserved Ottoman house with a history dating back over 300 years. Another option is Zekate House which was built in the early 19th century.


As well as the fortified Ottoman houses, you can learn all about Gjirokaster through the various museums located in the old town such as the Ethnographic Museum, the Museum of Palorto Mosque, and the Gjirokaster Museum.


Buy some local souvenirs

Artisan shop in Gjirokaster selling carved stones with paintings.
Local artisan shop

If this is your first time visiting Gjirokaster then chances are you’re going to want to take home a souvenir or two. While there are a lot of tourist shops located in and around the Old Bazaar not many of them are artisan shops. Take some extra time to explore the side streets of Gjirokaster’s old town because there are a lot of shops that sell handmade goods and souvenirs there.


Edua

Vegetable soup with bread and side of moussaka.
Edua

There are a lot of restaurants in Gjirokaster to choose from but unfortunately a lot of them are tourist oriented and don’t serve the best quality food. If you want to try some traditional homemade Albanian food based around local produce then you have to visit Edua. They have a phenomenal seasonal menu as well as a small shop inside so you can purchase some of the locally made products as well. I enjoyed it so much that I went to Edua for dinner both of the days I was in Gjirokaster.


Ali Pasha Bridge

A lush green mountainous landscape with sheep crossing.
Ali Pasha Bridge

If you’re short on time but want to do some hiking in Gjirokaster then a short walk up to Ali Pasha Bridge is a must. This is a unique thing to do in Gjirokaster and is a bit off the beaten path, with a strenuous uphill walk through various residential areas, but it’s worth it for the incredible views! If you arrive at Ali Pasha Bridge near 5pm you may be able to catch a glimpse of the farmers herding their sheep across the bridge to another field. I was a little late but I still saw the sheep - albeit after they had crossed the bridge.


Wake up early to explore Gjirokaster

Old town street in Gjirokaster at sunrise.
Gjirokaster

My last advice about what to do in Gjirokaster is to wake up as early as possible! The weather in Gjirokaster can vary due to its geographical location so at sunrise you may experience some fog or low cloud coverage but you’ll have the town all to yourself which is a rarity for such a popular town in Albania. In my opinion this is one of the best things to do in Gjirokaster and you definitely won’t regret it.


Where To Stay in Gjirokaster

Hotel Argjiro

Having problems choosing where to stay in Gjirokaster? Luckily for you I’ve found not only a fantastic historic hotel in the town centre but also one that’s undergone recent renovations so it has all new facilities for guests. Hotel Argjiro is located at the base of the Old Bazaar and across the road from a free parking garage in Gjirokaster too. The building was originally constructed in 1891 as a family apartment and from 1930 until 2002 it operated as a hotel in some form. By 2016 it had reopened its doors as the newly renovated Hotel Argjiro!


I stayed in one of their double rooms which was very spacious and included a desk, a small seating area, a large bathroom with a walk-in shower and toiletries, and an incredible view over the rooftops of the Ottoman houses from the window.


The buffet breakfast in the morning offers a huge selection of traditional Albanian food, freshly baked goods, and fruits. You’ll find a lot of unique breakfast options here and breakfast is included with the booking which is great. You can also enjoy the seating and bar area in the lobby throughout the day. Out of all of the hotels in Gjirokaster you won’t find one better in terms of amenities and location than Hotel Argjiro.


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


Some visitors to Albania think that they need to decide between Berat or Gjirokaster but you can easily see both if you have two days to spare. Gjirokaster has a lot to offer tourists in terms of culture, history, and cuisine so any first time visitor to Albania should have this beautiful historic town on their itinerary. I spent 2 days in Gjirokaster and used one of these days to explore some of the archaeological sites nearby which are worth it too!


If you're looking to rent a car while you're in Albania and have arrived through Tirana, check out Capital Car Rental who have offices at Tirana's airport as well as in the city centre.


If you have any questions about visiting Gjirokaster, or how to get here from Tirana or Vlore, please feel free to get in touch with me via email or reach out to me through Instagram where you can follow along with my latest travels and find some helpful tips too.


 

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