Shut off from the rest of Europe and the world for four decades under the rule of Enver Hoxha from 1941 – 1985, this small, fun and vibrant city is a welcome surprise for most visitors. Nestled between the stunning Adriatic Coastline, just 37km west of the city and the inviting Dajti Mountain National Park to the east, which can be reached by cable car from the city, the location of the Albanian capital couldn’t be better. Whether you want to soak up the history, find adventure in the outdoors, hang out in the trendy cafes and bars or see some of the stranger sights around the city, there are plenty of things to do in Tirana to keep you entertained.
We spent nearly a week exploring the city and absolutely fell in love with the Albanian capital. The city is small enough to get around on foot, the locals are friendly and welcoming, there’s some great food on offer and a large expat community of ESL teachers and NGO workers that bring a little international influence to this vibrant Balkan capital. Whether you have a few days or a few weeks, here are our favourite things to do in Tirana, that every visitor should add to their itinerary.
10 Of The Best Things To Do In Tirana, Albania
See The Monuments At Skanderbeg Square
The undisputed centre of Tirana is Skanderbeg Square, where all of the city’s most important monuments are located. The large, open square is watched over by a statue of national hero Skanderbeg on horseback, standing where a statue of Joseph Stalin used to be before communist rule ended in Albania. Many of the most popular things to do in Tirana are located on the square or nearby, so this is a great place to start your first day in the city.
Two enormous Albanian flags are always flying in the square and should you happen to visit during a national holiday, this is where the festivities will be taking place. The National History Museum, the Clock Tower, Et’Hem Bey Mosque and the Opera House surround the square, making it easy to check out these sights from this central location. The Bunk Art museum is also nearby as is the bus stop to reach the Dajti Ekspres cable car. If you have time during your visit, it’s worth coming back at night to see the monuments lit up and to see the place come to life with locals when the sun goes down, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
Learn About Albania’s Checkered History At The National Museum
For history buffs, of all the things to do in Tirana, the National Museum should be top of your list. Divided into eight different sections, running from the Paleolithic era to communist rule, the museum does a great job at showcasing the country’s fascinating and colourful history. The museum houses more than 4,750 pieces spanning centuries of life in Albania. Finding the building shouldn’t be too difficult as the front is decorated in a huge mosaic depicting the different times in Albanian history.
Tip: If planning a visit to the National Museum, it is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-5pm, Sundays from 9am-2pm and is closed on Mondays. Price of entry is 200 Lek.
Dive Into Tirana’s Bunk’Art Museums
During Enver Hoxha’s reign as leader of Albania, he had more than 750,000 concrete bunkers built all over the country, which can still be seen today. Scattered through the most remote parts of the countryside, in small towns, villages and even in the capital city, the bunkers are a stark reminder of the iron grip the country was held in under the communist regime. Nowadays, however, some of these bunkers have been restyled, repurposed and modernized to store animal feed, house shops and, in Tirana, become art galleries.
The original Bunk-Art 1 is on the outskirts of the city occupying a huge concrete bunker designed for Hoxha and his closest personnel to retire to in case of attack. The underground bunker is 5 stories inside with some rooms dedicated to telling the story of the dictator through different items on display, while other rooms house art displays and others are empty. The central assembly hall, designed for Hoxha’s government to meet in when in hiding, now hosts music concerts.
Closer to the centre of the city is Bunk’Art 2, located just off Skanderbeg Square. The former nuclear attack shelter has been converted into a contemporary art museum, which also houses photographs and other items that highlight the political persecution of more than 100,000 Albanians during the communist regime from 1945 to 1991.
Tip: Bunk’Art 1 is open from 9am – 4pm Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday) and admission is 500 Lek. Bunk’Art 2 is open daily from 9am – 6pm with admission costing 500 Lek.
Get Your Must-Have IG Snap At The ‘I Love Tirana’ Sign
Looking for the perfect ‘Gram shot from your trip to the Albanian capital? Then head to Rinia Park in the centre of the city and keep an eye out for the colourful I Love Tirana sign on the eastern side of the park. Painted regularly in bright colours and patterns, the sign has become something of a signature of the city, complete with the giant heart-shaped bench in the middle that is just crying out for you to get creative on with your poses!
On the walls surrounding the park, you will find people selling secondhand books and there is a decent selection of books from some vendors. This can be a great spot to pick up some bargain reads for the next leg of your trip. Of course, if you’re a dog lover (like us) and are in need of some dog-time, be sure to come back to the park in the evening, when local dog owners take their furry friends to play here.
Check Out The Bizarre Pyramid Of Tirana
Finding a giant pyramid in the centre of Tirana was not something we expected. The pyramid of Tirana looks as out of place as you might expect and it’s continued existence in the city is a hotly debated topic among the locals. Built as a museum to honour Enver Hoxha after his death in 1985, it was known locally as the “Enver Hoxha Mausoleum” until the attitudes of the Albanian people changed after the fall of communism.
This weird, marble tile covered structure is almost completely derelict now, except for one independent broadcasting company who is still operating there. However, it is a big hit with local skaters and graffiti artists and is a popular hangout spot for the youth of the city. The question is, though, for how long? As the government wants to demolish the building and the locals want to preserve this strange piece of their nation’s history, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the Pyramid of Tirana.
Take A Stroll Down George W Bush Street
In June 2007, George W. Bush was the first-ever president of the United States to visit Albania. To celebrate this historic event, as it was deemed by the mostly pro-American public, Tirana went all out decorating the city in stars and stripes to welcome the then American president. Posters were put up all over the capital displaying slogans such as “Proud to Be Partners”, as well as a giant image of the president, which was hung in the centre of the capital. To take things one step further, it was decided that Puntorët e Rilendjes Street, which runs directly in front of the Albanian Parliament would be renamed George W. Bush Street to commemorate his visit for future generations.
Renaming the street followed in Kosovo’s footsteps after they named a street in the capital Pristina to Bill Clinton Boulevard in 2007 and even erected a statue of the former president for his help in ending the war in Bosnia. Tirana officials held back a little more, choosing to only name the street to immortalise the former president. And, it’s only one of two George W. Bush Streets in the world with the other located in Tbilisi, Georgia, making it a worthy photo op for those seeking out some of the more unusual things to do in Tirana.
Hang Out In The Hip And Happenin’ Blloko District
Hip, trendy and oh-so-happenin’, the Blloko District is the place to be in Tirana. Are you hanging for an all-day brunch menu? Need a decent espresso? Or just can’t hack another bowl of mashed polenta? If so, the Blloko District is everything you have been looking for and more! The best restaurants, cafes and bars occupy this end of the city with something for every taste. Catering to the international community in the city and the more affluent locals, there is a huge range of cuisines from around the world including Thai, Japanese, Italian, Albanian, Turkish and so much more. From contemporary dishes to traditional Albanian fare and from fancy cocktails to budget beers, Blloko is the perfect place to unwind and relax after a day of exploring all of the things to do in Tirana.
Tip: If you’re cravinga good brunch of poached eggs, pancakes, fritatta and other delicious, then don’t miss Coko Bistro and Bar for our favourtie breakfast food in town. They also serve lunch and dinner and they have both vegan and veggie options marked on the menu, which is in English. A little fancier and more expensive for Tirana but a nice treat!
Get Lost In The Albanian Capital City
Ok, so don’t actually get lost but definitely go and wander, explore and go on an adventure around the Albanian capital city. The best part of visiting any city is exploring, and while it’s great to see the main attractions, there’s no better way to experience a city than to tie up your laces and hit the pavements.
Consider a stroll along the peaceful tree-lined banks of the Lana River or check out some of the many green areas scattered throughout the city. Hang out in Skanderbeg Square and watch the world go by or just walk the streets and soak up the vibes of the city. Join the locals in one of the seemingly 1,000’s of Mon Cheri cafes – Tirana’s answer to Starbucks – and admire the views of the surrounding mountains. Spend your time however you like and remember that sometimes one of the best things to do in Tirana, can be to quite simply do nothing at all and just enjoy where you are.
Head For The Hills On The Dajti Ekspres Cable Car
One of the things we enjoyed the most about Tirana is the easy access to nature. Surrounded by the mountains and hills of the Dajti Mountain National Park, you never feel that you are trapped in a concrete jungle but instead have the solitude of nature right there on your doorstep. Being able to get out into the nearby mountains so easily from a capital city is not always that easy but the Dajti Ekspres Cable Car allows you to do get into the wilderness quickly and affordably. What’s more, you get the added benefit of riding the longest cable car in the Balkans, travelling a total of 4,670 metres from the city to the top of the Dajti Mountains.
To reach the cable car, you need to first make your way to the cable car base station, located about 5 kilometres outside of the city. From the ‘bus station’ (it’s just a stop at the end of the line) near the Et’Hem Mosque and the Clocktower to the east of Skanderbeg Square, look for a bus for Linze. Double-check with the driver that the bus is going to the Dajti Ekspres before departing – the trip to the base station will take about 25minutes. When you get off the bus at the other end, it’s about a 10minute walk uphill to the cable car station.
The Dajti Ekspres is open from 9am – 9pm in summer (May 1st to October 31st) and from 9am – 7pm in winter (November 1st to April 30th) – it’s closed every Tuesday. A round-trip ticket will cost 800 Lek. There is a decent restaurant and café at the top aptly called Panorama with incredible views over Tirana, so be sure to bring some extra cash for that. From the top, you can spend your time admiring the views, playing minigolf, horseback riding or you can explore the trails through the Cherry Pass and on to the summit of Tujani, at 1583m it is the highest point that can be reached on foot.
Tip: When you’re leaving the city centre for the Dajti Ekspres, it’s best to bring cash with you, as although there’s an ATM at the cable car station, it is often out of order.
Sample Some Local Albanian Food
Meandering around Tirana, you might be forgiven for thinking that you have been transported to Italy with the amount of pizza on offer. And while the pizzas are cheap and delicious, you should definitely seek out a few of the local specialities. Many of Albania’s most popular dishes are inspired by the flavours of the Ottoman Empire and in more modern times, Greece, Italy and Turkey are the major influences on the cuisine. Byrek is a major staple in Tirana, a savoury pie stuffed with cheese, spinach, tomatoes and/or meat all wrapped in filo pastry.
As vegetarians, we struggled a bit finding where to eat in Tirana as meat typically features quite heavily in the local cuisine. However, there are always some fresh salads, warming soups and some veg sides that you can choose from if you find yourself in a similar situation. If you’re vegan, we would definitely recommend carrying food with you as if the food is meat-free, it will most likely have a lot of cheese instead.
And, whatever you do, be sure to wash your local meal down with the national tipple of choice, Raki. This grape brandy really packs a punch and is often homemade meaning that no two bottles are ever the same! If alcohol isn’t your thing, try an Albanian coffee, which is very similar to Turkish coffee and is strong enough to keep you moving through all of the things to do in Tirana at lightning speed!
Our Tips For Visiting Tirana, Albania
Where To Stay In Tirana, Albania
As the city is relatively compact and most of the sights and transport links operate from the centre of the city, it’s best to stay central. When considering where to stay in Tirana, we recommend focusing on the following areas:
As one of the most famous areas of the city, this is one of the best places to stay in Tirana. With some of the best cafes, bars and restaurants in the city, you can enjoy all of the culinary delights the city has to offer and all within 15minutes walk of Skanderbeg Square.
Located between Skanderbeg Square and the Lana River, this is a large central neighbourhood that makes a great base for exploring Tirana. We stayed at an Airbnb in this area during our week in the city and it was an ideal location with easy access to the centre.
If you really want to be in the centre of things with where you stay in Tirana, you can’t get more central than Tregu Cam. In this area, you will find all of the major landmarks and museums around Skanderbeg Square. You will also be 15-20 minutes walk from Blloku for dining out.
No matter where you choose to stay in Tirana, there is a wide range of accommodation options available. We went with Airbnb while we were visiting but there are some great choices on Booking.com and Hostel World too. Click below to find the best place to stay in Tirana for your trip.
Getting Around Tirana, Albania
Navigating your way around Tirana is quite easy as the city is relatively small. We walked everywhere we went with the exception of taking the public bus to the Dajti Ekspres. If you would rather not walk, however, there are other ways to get around the city.
Rent A Bicycle
Up until the early 1990s, cycling was the main form of transport in Tirana and the rest of Albania. You can take advantage of the city’s bike-sharing scheme, Ecovolis. The stations are manned by people rather than automatically, like in many European cities. Simply hand over an ID, get a lock from the attendant and off you pedal. Rates are 60 Lek per hour. More information can be found on the Ecovolis website, which is in Albanian only but can be translated using Google Translate.
Hire A Car
While driving around Tirana is not necessary, you might require a car during your visit. Big car rental companies such as Avis, Hertz and Sixt are all located in the city centre and also at the airport. Check the latest car rental deals in Tirana here.
Take A Taxi
You will find taxi stands located throughout the city if required. Be warned that while drivers should use the metres, they more often than not fail to do so. Be sure to agree on a fare before departing. Rates should be 300 – 400 Lek for trips within the city during the day and rates increase to 500 – 600 Lek at night time.
The public transport network in Tirana is made up of a number o intra-city bus lines. Prices are cheap at 40 Lek per journey, however, travelling around the city by bus can be slow. There are lines for the airport, suburban shopping centres an the ‘Unaze’ bus travels the ring road that loops the city centre.
Tip: If you don’t have mobile data during your stay in Albania (European providers do not offer free roaming in the Balkans as it is outside the common European Roaming area), download the MAPS.ME app from the AppStore or Google Play before you go an have access to offline maps of Tirana so you never get lost. We opted to get SIM cards from Vodafone in Tirana and they worked great. Just be sure to enquire about roaming if you are planning to visit any surrounding countries.
Stay Safe In Tirana, Albania
Tirana is a great city with great food, wonderful people and plenty to keep you busy. Although the city is quite safe, it’s always wise to purchase travel insurance before you head off on your trip. With travel insurance secured, you can enjoy your trip stress-free, knowing that if there are any mishaps along the way, you’re covered!
Over To You – Can You Add More Things To Do In Tirana?
Are you planning a trip to Tirana and looking for advice? Have you already visited the Albanian Capital and got some more things to do in Albania to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.
Brian is a travel writer, photographer, blogger, travel addict and adventure-junkie. Being outdoors, getting off the beaten track and outside his comfort zone is what makes him tick. Brian’s the dreamer in the relationship; when he’s not travelling, he’s dreaming about it! Keeping fit, cooking, music and red wine take up the rest of his time.
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