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So, you’re visiting Tirana? This is a city I got to know well during my Balkan itinerary of 2022. The capital of Albania will never be my favourite city in Europe but I still had a great time and found lots of things to do in Tirana, plus even more things to eat!
Accommodation: Booking.com / Hostelworld
Getting there: flight / car / bus
Activities in Tirana: GetYourGuide / Viator
Visiting other Balkan capitals? Check out what to do in Belgrade, Skopje, Pristina and Sarajevo
Read next: the ultimate Albania itinerary for 1-2 weeks
How long to spend in Tirana?
A day in Tirana is enough to whizz around the highlights. However, I would recommend spending two days in Tirana so you can head up to Dajti Mountain on day two.
How to get to Tirana
By air – Flights from other European cities start from as little as €15. Browse flights to Tirana with Skyscanner, selecting ‘whole month’ (if you can be flexible) to get the best prices.
By bus – If you’re coming by land, get the Flixbus to Tirana. I can vouch for the Flixbus as an affordable way to get around Europe. Unfortunately, it doesn’t connect cities in Albania, just Tirana with other capitals like Skopje (North Macedonia) and Podgorica (Montenegro).
No trains currently service Tirana.
Where to stay in Tirana?
- Budget – for a fun and social hostel, stay at Trip’n’Hostel or for a quieter more luxurious hostel, pick Vanilla Sky Boutique.
- Mid-range – Deluxe Tirana has breakfast, hot tub, free parking and aircon from €50 a night.
- Splash out – Arte Boutique hotel is a 5* hotel with a reasonable price tag of €170.
- Browse Tirana hostels and apartments on Booking.com and hostels on Hostelworld.
What to do in Tirana, Albania
From history to food and day trips, there’s plenty to keep you busy. I’ll run through the best places to visit in Tirana plus fun activities and – most importantly – where to eat!
Take a free walking tour
I regularly take free walking tours but few have been as good as this one. Perhaps it’s because Albania’s fascinating – and harrowing – history is so recent that you get a first-hand account, or at least hear stories passed down from the guides’ parents.
The tour is an incredible insight into communist rule and the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha that kept Albanians imprisoned in their country with no connection to the outside world. After learning that the locals hadn’t seen a banana until 30 years ago, my mind was truly blown!
Tirana Free Walking Tour departs daily at 10am and 2pm from Skanderbeg Square. Give what you think the tour was worth; I’d suggest at least €5-10. As well as the OG tour, they do Spanish-speaking tours, in-depth communist history tours and pub crawls at a surcharge.
Learn about mass surveillance at the House of Leaves
In my opinion, the most interesting thing to do in Tirana (aside from the free walking tour) is visit the House of Leaves. This two-story house painted in a pinky hue and surrounded by trees could easily be mistaken for any period property. In reality, it’s the old headquarters of the Sigurimi: Albania’s secret police.
The museum is dedicated to propaganda, spy equipment and devices for recording communications. Whilst visiting, you can see real footage from cameras that were planted in embassies, homes and even obscure places like fridges! Nowhere was off-limits in the communist era.
Originally an obstetrics clinic, the house became the headquarters of the Gestapo during German occupation then, after independence, Hoxha’s People’s Republic of Albania. The regime only ended in 1991 and it wasn’t until 2017 that the house opened as a museum.
During a visit, compare the reality of the regime with propaganda by donning headphones and watching state-produced propaganda on retro TV screens. To learn about Albania’s past, the House of Leaves is engaging and informative.
Entry fee: 700 lek (€6.20). It’s the most expensive attraction in Tirana but I’d say worth it.
Opening times: 9am-6pm, Mon-Sat; 10am-3pm, Sun.
Ride Dajti Ekspres for fantastic views
For spectacular views of the city and surrounding countryside, a ride on the Dajti Ekspres is a fun thing to do in Tirana worthy of a half-day excursion. It’s the longest cable car ride I’ve ever taken, measuring 4,670 metres and taking a full 15 minutes to reach the top.
Tickets can be purchased at the lower station for €6 return. During summer months, it’s best to arrive early to avoid queues.
Getting there: from Tirana Central Bus Stop, board the blue Porcelan bus destinated for Dajti. The journey should take 20 minutes and cost 40 lek each way. You can also catch a taxi for around 700-1,000 lek.
Tip – I’d suggest checking the weather before you go because, right after my visit in August, there was a freak storm and I believe people were stuck at the top of the hill for a long time! If a storm seems to be brewing, head down sooner rather than later.
Go underground at Bunk’Art1 – a cultural thing to do in Tirana
This repurposed Cold War bunker is located close to the cable car lower station so it’s easy to combine these two Tirana attractions during a half-day excursion from the city. I’d recommend 1-2 hours in the bunker, and around the same for Dajti Hill including the cable car ride.
Bunk’Art1 is the original but, because there’s a Bunk’Art2 in the city centre, many people visit that one instead. I much preferred this Bunk’Art1 as it’s far bigger with more interesting exhibits and some modern art. So, if you’re visiting Dajti Mountain, make sure to visit.
Bunk’Art1 tells the tale of Albanian contemporary history from German occupation to Italian fascism, WWII and Enver Hoxha’s communist regime.
The exhibits are displayed in interactive ways with lifelike re-creations of events and places, complete with fake snow and audio. One room that needs no dramatisation is the real-life bedroom of Enver Hoxha. Although staying in the nuclear bunker never became a reality, he visited to partake in practice drills.
Entry fee: 500 lek (€4.50). I paid 800 lek for a combined ticket to both Bunk’Arts.
Just a stone’s throw from Skanderbeg Square, Bunk’Art 2 is a smaller bunker repurposed into a history museum. Although I preferred learning about Albania’s past at the House of Leaves, it’s worth a visit if you’re sightseeing in Tirana city centre and don’t have time to visit Bunk’Art1.
However, in my opinion, it’s not the best thing to do in Tirana: I was happy to leave because this smaller bunker feels claustrophobic and many of the exhibits are confronting. Sensitive types may want to give it a miss…
Entry fee: 500 lek (€4.50). I paid 800 lek for a combined ticket to both Bunk’Arts.
Sightsee around Skanderbeg Square
Skanderbeg Square is the main square, surrounded by several Tirana tourist attractions. Like most European cities, statues (including the Skanderbeg Statue of a historic leader on his horse) hint at the country’s history although – unlike most cities – the square isn’t quite to scale. It’s enormous and feels eerily empty even during the busiest summer day.
A few things to do in Tirana surrounding the square include…
Geek up at the National History Museum
While the House of Leaves and Bunk’Arts will fill you in on Albania’s contemporary history, the National History Museum is one of the best places to visit in Tirana to understand the previous centuries. You can’t miss it when wandering the main square because there’s a huge mural covering the front of the museum.
Although it’s slightly old school and dry, there are interesting artefacts like mosaics, jugs and jewellery. I always marvel at how a pair of earrings from the 6th century can be in better shape than my H&M earrings I bought 3 months ago!
Entry fee: 500 lek (€4.50).
Opening times: 9am-4pm, Tues-Sun (closes at 3pm on Sun), closed Mon.
Visit Et’hem Bej Mosque
In the corner of Skanderbeg Square, this practising mosque is used by Tirana’s Muslim community. Although 70% of the population follows Islam on paper, my tour guide on the free walking tour joked that 90% have never been to the mosque! Although these stats may not be accurate, his point was clear: Albania is officially Islamic but not devout.
Still, at Et’hem Bej Mosque you will see locals at worship in this pretty mosque. Tourists are welcome to poke their heads inside; there’s no entry fee.
Climb Tirana Clocktower
While visiting Skanderbeg Square, climb the clock tower for views over the city. I love to do this whenever I visit a new city to see everything in scale. From the grand historic centre to the communist apartment blocks on the outskirts, it could only be this part of Europe.
I learnt while visiting Kulla e Sahatit that when the clock tower was built, it had no clock face so people had to count the chimes to work out the time!
Price: 200 lek.
Opening times: 9am-6pm. When I visited at 1pm, it was about to close for an afternoon break so avoid the middle of the day.
Find the arty Cloud installation
According to the Cloud’s website, this modern art structure is ‘inspired by the concept that geometry and constructed forms can merge with the natural and the human’. Understand? No, me neither.
Whether you’re into modern art or not, the Cloud is a quirky feature of Tirana located close to the castle. Admire the Cloud now because it moves between European cities so it won’t be here forever.
Spot music notes on Murat Toptani Street
When walking between the Cloud and Tirana Castle, take the chance to promenade along Toptani Walking Street. Named after the noble Toptani family of the Ottoman era, this is easily the nicest street in the Albanian capital with a canopy of trees shading the locals and tourists who amble by. For a relaxed thing to do in Tirana, join them!
A unique feature of Toptani Street is the pavement shaped like a music staff and the benches designed to look like music notes. Although it looks pretty, musicians may notice that the clefs are upside down and won’t create any type of melody when played together. I would never have noticed but our walking tour guide revealed this fact to us.
Admire the Tirana Pyramid & Bell of Peace
Although no one would associate Albania with pyramids, there’s one quirky attraction in Tirana that may surprise you.
Originally built as a museum dedicated to Enver Hoxha in the communist era, no explanation is needed as to why it fell to ruins! It’s since been used as a conference centre and a NATO base during the Kosovan War. These days, it’s somewhat a ruin but worth viewing from the outside.
The fate of Tirana Pyramid is currently undecided. Some want it demolished while others hope it will be repurposed, remembering this dark era of Albanian history and turning it into something better.
Beside it is the Bell of Peace, a monument dedicated to lives lost to riots after pyramid schemes financially toppled the country in 1997. Sadly, this monument is dilapidated as of 2023 so don’t expect too much from this attraction!
Pass through Tirana Castle complex
If you’re expecting an actual castle (and I can see why you would be from the name ‘Tirana Castle’), you may be disappointed. Albania is full of castles and most places I visited had one high up with panoramic views. Tirana Castle is quite different because the historic remains no longer exist, and it’s now a modern quarter with shops and restaurants.
Still, it’s an ambient place to visit in Tirana with shops selling souvenirs (although it’s cheaper to buy them elsewhere) and some nice, sit-down restaurants, surrounded by old Byzantine/Ottoman walls. It’s particularly atmospheric when lit up at night.
Stop at Namazgjah Mosque Tiranë
Namazgjah Mosque is one of the most impressive places in Tirana. Despite having space for 10,000 worshippers (not that there are that many people practising, our walking tour joked), the largest mosque in the country is yet to open.
Our guide told us that it’s set to open in January… But that’s said every year so no one knows which January! I guess time will tell.
In the meantime, it’s worth wandering by to admire this spectacular structure. To compare and understand the religious diversity in Albania, continue your Tirana sightseeing towards…
Katedralja Katolike (dubbed Mother Teresa Cathedral) is one of the prominent Catholic churches in Tirana. It’s an impressive building with some interesting artwork telling the story of Mother Teresa. Born in North Macedonia to Albanian parents, her life is intertwined with Albanian history and identity.
Entry is free. Next, for a cultural thing to do in Tirana, head to a third religious house…
The Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
The Orthodox Cathedral is an important place for approximately 20% of Albanians who identify as Orthodox. With a different look to the main mosque and catholic church, this house of worship is covered in colourful religious murals beneath a vast gold chandelier and detailed ceiling that took over 3 years to complete.
It’s a beautiful building that’s worth dropping by.
Shop & eat at Pazari i Ri Bazaar
For food and sightseeing in Tirana, I can suggest visiting Pazari i Ri Bazaar (the New Bazaar) located a 15-minute walk from Skanderbeg Square. At the centre of this area is a modern market building with vendors selling fruits, veggies and regional produce such as honey and jam.
To eat, there are several popular restaurants along the main road close to the market. For a stamp of approval better than any TripAdvisor review, pick any busy one packed with locals. Oda Traditional Albanian Cuisine is a fantastic place to try typical Albanian dishes like lamb and stuffed peppers or eggplants.
Most of these typical Albanian restaurants won’t cater to vegan and vegetarian diets so, if that’s you, I’d suggest eating in…
Enjoy Blloku neighbourhood
My favourite Tirana neighbourhood was easily Blokku. Unlike the city centre with its museums and galleries, this isn’t a place for ticking off the key Tirana attractions; it’s more about relaxing in a leafy, residential neighbourhood and enjoying quality food and coffee. It’s also the best place for nightlife.
I would definitely recommend staying in a hotel, hostel or self-catering apartment in this part of town.
Eat your way through the best Tirana food
I highly enjoyed eating and drinking in Albania. Depending which part of the country you’re in, the cuisine is varied with influences from Greece, Turkey and Central Europe.
Albanian food can be heavy so you may not choose to eat it for every meal. Luckily, Tirana has a decent selection of international restaurants. Since so many Albanians move to Italy to work as chefs and then return home with culinary finesse, there’s fantastic Italian food… And it’s much cheaper than eating in Italy!
A few of the best places in Tirana to eat include:
- Restaurant Piceri Era – this is an amazing place to eat Albanian food in the Blokku neighbourhood. Top dishes include meatballs in yoghurt with pistachio, plus the dolma (stuffed vine leaves). You’ll pay around €20 for two people with two courses & drinks!
- Oda Traditional Albanian Cuisine – as mentioned above, this is a highly-rated restaurant in the New Bazaar. There’s a shaded patio for dining on summer days.
- SushiCo – if you’re in the mood for Asian food (my eternal mood), there’s nowhere better to eat delicious sushi! The wonton soup was also tasty and they have a great selection of wines.
- Pastaria – a friend who’d been living in Tirana for several months told me this is the best place for pasta and she was right. The dishes are outrageously cheap (around €5 a plate) and there are endless sauce options. I would kill to eat the shrimp truffle tagliatelle again!
- Gjelber (healthy food) – this is a fantastic cafe with healthy wraps, salads, bowls and sandwiches plus fresh juices and smoothies. Prices are affordable.
- Happy Belly/Eat Smart (vegan food) – this tiny cafe serves the healthiest and freshest food in Tirana. The owner is lovely and clearly cares about making her food the best it can be.
- Friend’s Book House – this is a colourful and atmospheric cafe near the river. It’s great whether you want to dine with friends in the bright front room or escape into the backroom for solo reading, studying or working.
Enjoy the coffee scene
The best places for speciality coffee are Antigua Specialty Coffee or Coffee Lab. If you’re not nearby these Blloku cafes, find any Mulliri Vjeter: they’re the Starbucks of Tirana! The iced coffee isn’t bad although everything is served in plastic even to drink in.
However, you don’t need a flat white to enjoy the Balkan coffee culture. Locals can be found from morning to night in cafes drinking cheap and cheerful coffee. It’s a big part of the culture so I recommend joining them!
Take a food tour
If guessing what to order in restaurants sounds hit and miss, consider recruiting a helping hand. There are several food tours of Tirana but this city & food tour with 5* stars on Viator (powered by TripAdvisor) is your best bet.
Including breakfast, lunch, snacks, coffee and raki (famous Balkan liquor), you’ll explore the capital with a local guide who will fill you in on the history and culture, of which food is a big part.
This is a fantastic option for foodies wondering what to do in Tirana. I love doing these when I travel because they’re fun and hands-on, plus you usually make friends with other travellers and learn from the local guides.
Book a cooking class for €45 including a local market visit and the chance to try several beverages and appetisers before making your own tasty Albanian lunch.
View Enver Hoxha’s house from the outside
Being so recent, Albania’s dark and fascinating history can be seen everywhere. One such place is Enver Hoxha’s old house located in Blokku south of the river. Allegedly, the interior is frozen in time as he left it.
Sadly, the residence is currently closed to visitors. What you can do is wander by and peer into the grounds of this unremarkable-looking (but historically poignant) house and grounds.
One thing’s for sure: the city around it has changed considerably! Beside it is now a KFC (jokingly called communist fried chicken), the polar opposite of the controlling regime that once prohibited independent business and wealth to individuals.
Relax in Grand Park
Need to escape the city? If so, one of the best things to do in Tirana is take a walk in the enormous park that dominates the south of the city. With several walking trails, a huge lake, outdoor cafes and even an outdoor cinema in the summer months, Grand Park is a wonderful oasis of peace and greenery.
En route from central Tirana to the park, stop at Antigua Specialty Coffee for the best coffee in Albania, just minute’s walk from the entrance to the park.
Let your hair down & experience the nightlife
Tirana has a lively nightlife, much of which can be found in the cool Blokku neighbourhood. I was impressed with the quality cocktail bars. Some of the best places to go in Tirana for nightlife are:
- Colonial Cocktails Academy – despite the questionable colonial-era theme, this is a fun and lively bar with fantastic cocktails. Not only do they taste great but they come in beautiful cups and glasses.
- Radio Bar – ask anyone where to go for drinks in Tirana and this cool bar will come up. The interior is full of retro clutter and there’s a large terrace area for summer drinks. They serve a huge range of cocktails; my favourite was the basil smash.
- Nouvelle Vague – I liked this bright and colourful bar with a great range of cocktails. It’s not somewhere to order your classics like margaritas and mojitos; instead, pick one of the house blends using Albanian ingredients like honey, berries and jam. They’re all unusual and tasty.
- Komiteti Kafe Muzeum (raki cocktails) – in terms of the interior and ambience, this is one of the coolest bars in Tirana. Calling itself a ‘cafe museum’, it’s full of eclectic items from Albania’s past from patterned sofas made from the national flag to old TV sets and radios. I’m not the biggest fan of raki when drinking it straight but the cocktails were delicious.
Spot street art
Tirana isn’t packed with street art (I found the Zagreb street art more impressive) but there are some colourful corners should you go looking.
The cool murals I found all seemed to be beside Mulliri Vjeter cafes but this may be because these are everywhere! The pink girl mural is beside this Mulliri Vjeter north of Skanderbeg Square and the colourful apartment block below is beside Mulliri Vjeter in Blokku.
See the open museum of Tirana
Although there are some specifically repurposed bunkers like Bunk’art 1 and 2, there are also plenty of empty bunkers close to the city centre that act as open museums, telling the tale of Albania’s past.
Go check them out in the daytime. After dark, such spaces are probably best avoided.
Things to do near Tirana
If you have exhausted the activities in Tirana, never fear because there are lots of fantastic places nearby. A couple of day trips to consider from the capital include:
One of the most scenic places near Tirana is Lake Bovilla, just under an hour’s drive away. It’s a lovely spot for swimming and picnics in the summer and, if you’re feeling energetic, hiking adventures around its banks.
One way to visit is by hiring a rental car for the day with Rentalcars.com. Without your own transport, the best way to visit is via a small group tour with Viator includes a gentle hike up to Mount Gamti with the chance for swimming afterwards and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. A day well spent!
History buffs will enjoy a trip to Durrës, the oldest city in Albania. Durrës has two sides: the ancient ruins and the seafront. Since the beach is quite built up and crowded, I’d suggest focussing on the history of this fascinating port city, just a 40-minute drive from Tirana.
Visiting this quaint village is akin to stepping back in time. Just 20 minutes from Tirana, Krujë can be reached by car, bus or organised day tour. Whichever mode of transport you take, be sure to visit the castle, climb the old bell tower and learn about the history in the museum.
Combine both Krujë and Durrës into one day with a guided Viator day tour
I’m sure you’re exploring more of Albania than just Tirana so here are some stops I think you’ll love! Don’t forget to check out my Albania itinerary for more photos and descriptions, plus where to eat and stay in each place.
After exploring the best things to do in Tirana, head off to…
Although Shkodër is a nice city in its own right, the appeal is certainly the Albanian alps that surround it. The remote Theth and Valbona region is accessed most easily from Shkodër, although even this can require a couple of connections and a ferry ride depending where you begin your hiking adventures!
From Shkodër (a 2-hour bus ride from Tirana), I embarked on a 2-night countryside escape helpfully organised by Wanderers Hostel. After a bus, a ferry ride (worth it for the amazing views alone) and another bus, I arrived in Valbona where I spent a night in a homestay before the Valbona Pass hike the following day. Following another night in a homestay in Theth, I caught a shuttle bus back to Shkodër.
It was a wonderful experience I’ll always remember. I’d highly recommend the Theth region if you have time!
My favourite place in Albania was Gjirokastër. Although it’s technically a city, it feels more like an adorable village. With Ottoman history, pretty mosques and a colourful bazaar with shopping opportunities aplenty, it’s a calming place to relax and wander.
It also boasts unique regional dishes not found elsewhere. Foodies take note!
Hostel suggestion – Stone City is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in. It’s like a boutique hotel on a shoestring budget.
This UNESCO heritage city boasts centuries of history, surrounding countryside filled with canyons, waterfalls and wineries, and a unique dining experience at Lili Homemade Food. Although I still preferred Gjirokastër, I’d happily go to Berat again. It’s a gem!
The Albanian Riviera
With the beaches of Greece and the prices of Southeast Asia, this is a wonderful part of the world that I’m convinced is set to boom in coming years. Sarandë and Ksamil get all the attention (and undeniably the Ksamil beaches are something out of a luxury catalogue) but Himarë was my favourite. There are fewer crowds, lower prices and fun hostels like Sun Bakers.
Thanks for reading!
I hope you have a better idea of what to do in Tirana and you’re looking forward to your trip. Albania is the best. Have fun!
More Balkans posts:
- Balkans backpacking itinerary
- 2 week Romania road trip
- How to spend a weekend in Sofia, Bulgaria
- The perfect itinerary for Montenegro
- Things to do in Kotor, Montenegro
- The top attractions in Skopje (North Macedonia)
- Things to do and see in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
- The best places to visit in Sarajevo, B&H
- The ultimate Croatia itinerary
- 5, 7 or 10 day Slovenia itinerary
- Things to do in Belgrade, Serbia
- What to do in Pristina, Kosovo
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TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING ALBANIA
Getting around by air – I use Skyscanner and search by month to see the cheapest dates.
Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in European countries (and all around the world).
For buses around Europe, I use Flixbus. It doesn’t connect cities in Albania but it does connect Tirana to other European capitals.
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide and Viator.
Need travel insurance? I use True Traveller (for UK & Europe residents) since it’s affordable but covers everything you’d need including various activities, valuables and pre-existing conditions. Unlike some companies, they insure you if you’re already travelling / don’t yet have your flight home booked. Get a quote.
For travel insurance for other nationalities, I recommend Hey Mundo and for long-term digital nomad travellers, I suggest Safety Wing.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!