The very best things to do in Berat Albania, including Berat Castle and a day trip to Osumi Canyon – plus instructions for how to travel from Tirana to Berat by bus.
Berat in central Albania is an elegant stone-and-alabaster city wreathed in fig trees and cleaved by the Osumi river.
An ancient Illyrian settlement turned Byzantine frontier town, Berat is best-known for the Ottoman houses that cascade down both sides of its gentle valley. Portals cut into the stone facades lend Berat the epithet ‘The City of a Thousand Windows’.
Berat is home to one of two UNESCO-listed historic centres in Albania (the other being in Gjirokaster), making it a must-see for history and culture lovers.
Between the unusual Berat Castle and the medieval bazaar, local cuisine, a lively cafe scene, and one of the handsomest Ethnographic Museums in the Balkans, Berat has a lot to offer. Not to mention the spectacular valleys and canyons within easy reach of the city. There are so many reasons to add a few days in Berat to your Albania itinerary.
Here is a list of the very best things to do in Berat, plus my Berat travel and transport tips.
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Berat Albania travel info
How long to spend in Berat?
We stayed in Berat for 3 nights. If you want to take your time in the city and get out into nature, two full days plus an extra evening is the perfect amount of time to spend in Berat.
Berat is compact; it’s possible to see the highlights of the historic Old Town and the castle in a day. I highly recommend staying at least one night so you can catch the sunset and see Berat lit up after dark.
I don’t recommend trying to squeeze Berat in as a day trip from Tirana, unless you have your own transportation or you’re joining an organised tour.
If you’re coming to Berat from Tirana like we did, you might also like to read up on these Tirana city tips and recommended day trips from the capital.
How to get from Tirana to Berat
Getting from Tirana to Berat by bus is affordable and easy.
Mini buses (33-seaters) bound for Berat depart regularly from Tirana’s South Albania Regional Bus Terminal (⚑). According to the timetable at the station, buses leave every hour or so. However, like furgons, mini buses tend to depart only once the bus is suitably full. You shouldn’t ever have to wait more than 40 minutes.
All buses seem to go via Durres, which adds an extra 45 minutes to the journey. On the plus side, the highway from Durres to Berat is fantastic – smooth and straight the whole way.
The drive from Tirana to Berat takes 2 hours and 15 minutes, or a little longer if there’s traffic. The fare is 400 lek per person. Buy tickets from the steward on board the bus.
When you arrive in Berat, the bus terminates at the Berat Bus Terminal located 3 km north of the Old Town (⚑). From here, you can either jump on a green city bus that will take you to the centre (30 lek per person), or take a taxi straight to your hotel (we were quoted 500 lek).
Where to stay in Berat
Villa 97: This is probably the best-value accommodation in Berat. Rooms are super simple but spotlessly clean. We really liked the self-check in system (just call the owner when you arrive to get your room number). All rooms have en suites and air-con. For 15 Euros a night, you can’t really go wrong. Check prices & availability on Booking.com.
Guesthouse Arben Elezi: More upmarket but still great value, this guesthouse has well-appointed rooms and a massive rooftop terrace with lovely views of the city. Breakfast comes included. This is where Ross’s parents stayed in Berat – needless to say we spent a decent amount of time mooching around on their terrace! Check prices & availability on Booking.com.
The best things to do in Berat
Here are the best things to do in Berat, plus a suggested day trip. At the end of the list you’ll find an interactive map to help you navigate your way around Berat.
The long brushstroke of chestnut-coloured rooftops that make up Berat’s historic centre is painted through the Osum river valley. Twin peaks rise on either side. Gorica Hill, the taller of the two, wears a stony crown: The formidable Berat Castle.
Berat Kalaja is the biggest castle in Albania. Unlike other fortifications in the region that have been hollowed out over time, Berat Castle is mostly in-tact. Within its walls, you’ll find a vast citadel complex comprised of stone streets, houses and Byzantine churches mixed in with ruins from various epochs.
Having visited dozens of fortresses in the Balkans, Berat Castle feels completely unique.
The area is also referred to as ‘Castle Quarter’ because many families still dwell inside the citadel walls. Some homes have been converted into guesthouses, restaurants or souvenir shops. Others remain private residences.
As you wander around, it’s not unusual to see men herding sheep, kids kicking soccer balls and women selling lace and embroidered tablecloths from little stalls set in front of their homes.
Berat Castle isn’t a relic – it still has a heartbeat. One of the nicest things to do in Berat is join locals in their evening stroll around the grounds.
Apart from the walls and ramparts themselves, key points of interest within Berat Castle include the 14th-century Church of Saint Trinity and the remnants of the old acropolis, including a subterranean water cistern.
Designated lookout platforms offer the best panoramas over Berat, but you can find nice views from just about anywhere – including epic sunsets.
It takes a long, steep climb up a slick stone road to reach Berat Castle from the lower town. It’s open 24 hours. Officially, an entrance fee of 100 lek applies between 9am and 6pm, but we weren’t charged on the two occasions we visited.
You’ll need a few hours to explore the interior part of the castle (plus another 30-90 minutes for the museum – see the next section).
If you prefer to go with a guide, try this walking tour of Berat Castle.
Onufri Iconography Museum
The Onufri Iconography Museum (Muzeu Kombëtar Ikonografik Onufri) was established to protect the icons, artworks and artefacts salvaged from the ruins of Berat’s religious buildings.
If you’re going to choose just one museum to visit in Berat, make it this one rather than the Ethnographic Museum.
Located inside the castle grounds, the museum is housed in the Dormition of St. Mary Cathedral, a three-naved Byzantine basilica that was restored in 1797. The entrance leads to a preserved part of the cathedral where you can see the original alter, amvona and Bishop’s Throne, all covered with ornate frescoes and wood carvings.
The second part of the museum is gallery-style. A sizeable collection of Orthodox icons, paintings and other ephemera is displayed against white-washed walls. There are a few works by Onufri, the 16th-century archpriest and painter for whom the institution is named.
The museum offers an audio guide, although it wasn’t operating at the time of our visit. I do recommend taking it if you get the chance as signage inside the museum is limited.
The Onufri Iconography Museum is open every day from 9am until 6pm in summer (May 1 – October 15). In winter (16 October – 30 April), the museum closes early at 4pm (2pm on Sundays) and doesn’t open at all on Mondays. Entrance costs 200 lek.
Explore Mangalemi Old Town
The river valley that runs through Berat dissects the city into two precincts: Mangalemi and Gorica. There’s not any meaningful difference between the two today – but in centuries past, Mangalemi was traditionally the Ottoman Quarter, with Christians living over the river in Gorica.
Mangalemi, the larger of the two neighbourhoods, fans out under the castle’s wing. Houses inch up the hillside like creeping vines drawn towards the sun, all vying for a precious slice of that priceless Berat view.
Spiraling stone streets and alleys link impressive Ottoman-style houses. Halveti Tekke, Berat’s Dervish House, the Bachelor’s Mosque (currently under restoration) and other Old Town landmarks are located in the Mangalemi area.
National Ethnographic Museum
Mangalemi hosts Berat’s National Ethnographic Museum, one of the grandest Ottoman houses in the city. We’ve visited a dozen of these house museums in the Balkans: Berat’s Ethnographic Museum is the biggest and one of the most remarkable we’ve seen thus far.
As is customary, the house is set up as it would have been when it was first built. Interestingly, you can see the bathroom – most house museums have this part of the property closed off.
Entrance costs 200 lek, and the museum observes the same summer/winter hours as the Onufri.
Wander Gorica Quarter
Gorica Bridge, a seven-arched stone landmark with a similar design to the Ottoman bridge in Visegrad, links Mangalemi and Gorica.
Over in Gorica Quarter, the architecture is just as beguiling and the streets equally precipitous. Many homes have been designated cultural landmarks and are signposted with information boards.
Climb Gorica Hill
Clamber up the sloping stone streets behind Hotel Muzaka to find your way to the top of Gorica Hill. On the way up, you get wonderful front-on views of Mangalemi’s houses and Berat Castle silhouetted against the distant mountains.
Try Berati cuisine
If you’ve been travelling in the Balkans for a while, you’ll notice some immediate (and delicious) differences with Albanian cuisine. Berat has a few specialty dishes that you should go out of your way to try.
Homemade Food Lili: The most unique restaurant in Berat. Food is homespun and unpretentious; try the fergese, pumpkin burek (seasonal), and chicken cooked in yogurt. Homemade wine and raki is also served. It’s the hospitality that really makes this place special – let’s just say Lili is not who you might imagine!
There are only five tables, so booking a few days in advance is essential (when we were there, we saw a dozen hopeful people get turned away).
Restaurant WilDor: This restaurant serves traditional fare in a lovely air-conditioned dining room. We ate grilled vegetables with balsamic, and a local Berati dish of pork cooked in a clay pot. It’s popular with tour groups, so it’s a good idea to arrive early for lunch.
Hotel Mangalemi: The terrace here has some of the nicest views in Berat. Meals to try include the homemade sausages, ‘Berati schnitzel’ (pork stuffed with hard cheese) and pispili (spinach pie with a cornbread base). The white bean salad with pickles, parsley and slices of fresh lemon is just the thing on a hot Berat day.
If you’re looking for edible souvenirs (raki, jams, wildflower teas) to take home, there’s a nice gift shop in the Hotel Mangalemi lobby.
Go for a sunset xhiro on Boulevard Republika
Xhiro is a tradition all over Albania. Come sunset, entire towns and cities empty out onto the streets. People lap up and down for hours on end, stopping to chat with friends, play a game of outdoor chess, or sip coffee in outdoor cafes.
In Berat, Boulevard Republika is the most popular place for a xhiro. The huge pedestrian drag is lined with cafes on one side and Lulishtja, a green buffer that runs between the street and the river, on the other. If you want a local experience, strolling here on a crisp evening is one of the funnest things to do in Berat.
If you need a cool place to sit for a few hours, Gimi Kafe (one of the first cafes closest to the Old Town) has excellent air conditioning and WIFI.
Take a day trip to Osumi Canyon & Bogove Waterfall
The landscape around Berat is characterised by dramatic mountains and gorges. If you have some extra time, I highly recommend doing a combined day trip to Osumi Canyon and Bogove Waterfall.
Bogove Waterfall is an hour south of Berat, just past the town of Polican and its shuttered kalashnikov factory. It’s a 40-minute walk from the main road to the rock pools. The area is divine, green and shady with deep swimming holes and cascading falls. Just be wary that the water is numbingly cold!
Osumi, Albania’s largest canyon, is further downriver, another 30 minutes south of Bogove via the same treacherous road. A series of viewpoints around the rim of the canyon offer spectacular views. There are a few spots where you can drive down and have a swim in the warm river. In spring, you can also do white water rafting through the canyon.
Two tourist booking agencies in Berat organise day trips to Osumi and Bogove. We paid 20 Euros per person (group of 4) for the full-day excursion with a car and driver.
If you prefer trekking to driving, this guided 18 km hike through the canyon includes transfer to and from Berat.
Things to do in Berat Albania: Map
My favourite things to do in Berat, mapped out for your convenience.
Here are a few key resources and websites that might come in handy for organising your trip to Albania.
– Find affordable flights to Albania using Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).
– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Albania and apply for an expedited visa online.
– Find a great price on a hire car in Albania using the comparison website, Discover Cars. Check out my Balkans road trip guide for route inspiration!
– Find the best Albania hotel deals on Booking.com, book an Albania hostel, or find a unique Airbnb (use this link to sign up and get $55 AUD off your first booking).
– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Albania on Get Your Guide.
– Pick up a copy of the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for the Western Balkans (published October 2019).
Where to next?
- Continue south to Gjirokaster, Albania’s second UNESCO city
- Go east to Korca, the beautiful City of Serenades
- Press north via Tirana to the Albanian Alps for the spectacular Valbona Theth trek
- Jump on a Balkan road trip to explore more of Albania and its bordering countries
What are your favourite things to do in Berat?
Leave a comment below and let me know what I missed!