Balkans

Easy 2 Week Albania Itinerary for Nature, Culture & History

This easy Albania itinerary has a strong focus on nature, history and culture. Use it to plan the perfect 2 weeks in Albania or more, travelling exclusively by bus (no car required!).

After travelling overland in the Balkans for 6 months, Albania stands out as one of my favourite countries in the region.

In a short space of time, you can sample beautiful UNESCO Old Towns, incredible trekking in the Albanian Alps, and bask in the cafe culture of Albania’s cosmopolitan capital city, Tirana. That’s to say nothing of the beaches along the Albanian Riviera and other natural wonders, including falls and multiple Blue Eye water holes.

This easy Albania itinerary by bus focuses on history, culture and cuisine, with a bit of nature thrown in.

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About this Albania itinerary

This Albania itinerary follows a slightly unconventional route, starting in Shkoder in the far-north and ending in Korca in Albania’s southeast. Fitting with my travel style, it prioritises destinations that highlight culture, history and cuisine, with some nature time as well.

You’ll notice that there are no beaches on this Albania itinerary. If you’re a beach person (and it’s the right season), you can easily slot in a few days on the Albanian Riviera after Gjirokaster. At the end of the itinerary, I’ve included more options for extending your stay.

When is the best time to visit Albania?

We visited Albania in mid-June – summer, and the start of the high season. Because Albania is still relatively a relatively off-the-beaten-track destination in Europe, it doesn’t tend to get overcrowded, even in the cities. An exception would be the beaches along the Albanian Riviera, which do get busy in the summer months (especially July and August).

If the Valbona Theth trek is on your Albania wish list, remember that the high mountain pass is only accessible at certain times of year. The best time to do the trek is between June and September, but the trail might be open as early as May and as late as November depending on weather conditions.

If you’re planning a visit for high season (June to August), there are a couple of things you should book in advance, including your accommodation in Tirana and most importantly your transportation for the Valbona Theth trek.

In this detailed guide to the Valbona Theth trek, I provide instructions and links for booking the Koman Ferry and van transport from Shkoder.

How long will this Albania itinerary take?

I’ve purposefully kept this itinerary quite loose so that you can adjust it to fit your schedule. However, you’ll need a minimum of 2 weeks to cover all the points mentioned.

We did this itinerary in 3 weeks travelling at a slow pace. If you have longer to spend in Albania, you can easily extend your itinerary by adding on the Albanian Riviera or more trekking in the north.

One of the best things about travelling in the Balkans is being able to hop across the border. From Albania, you can easily continue your travels in Ulcinj and Montenegro, Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia, Kosovo, or Thessaloniki and Northern Greece. The choice is yours!

Sample 2 weeks in Albania itinerary:

  • Day 1: Shkoder
  • Days 2-5: Valbona & Theth
  • Day 6: Kruje
  • Days 7-9: Tirana
  • Days 10-11: Berat
  • Days 12-13: Gjirokaster
  • Day 14: Korca

Getting around Albania

Before visiting, I heard lots of horror stories about bus travel in Albania that made me quite anxious about getting around. In the end, I had nothing to worry about.

Compared to some other countries in the region (Slovenia, for instance), bus schedules are a bit looser and the roads are a bit rougher. But all things considered, buses in Albania run pretty smoothly. Stations tend to be well signposted (if not a bit chaotic), there are plenty of bus services running in all directions, and vehicles themselves are usually quite modern, with AC and plenty of luggage room (though don’t expect WIFI or USB portals).

Bus tickets in Albania are well-priced, making this a budget-friendly way to travel.

We did this entire Albania itinerary using a combination of furgons (minivans) and coach buses, plus one ferry. If you want to replicate our route, I’ve included full public transportation instructions for getting from place to place under each destination.

Top tip: In Albania, you can use the website Gjirafa to check bus routes and schedules.


Some people elect to hire a car in Albania and self-drive. If you want to go down this path, I recommend using comparison website Discover Cars to find the best deals on international companies and local agents. Check out my round-up of the best road trip itineraries in the Balkans (including Albania) for more inspiration.

Browse Albania car rentals here on Discover Cars.

Where to stay in Albania: Hotels recommended in this itinerary

For quick reference, here is a list of all the accommodations recommended in this Albania itinerary. Further details can be found under each destination.


The perfect Albania itinerary for nature, culture & history

Arrive and start your Albania itinerary in Shkoder

Recommended time in Shkoder: 1 night

When you arrive in Albania, I recommend heading straight to Shkoder (Shkodër) in the country’s north-west. Shkoder is the jumping-off point for trekking in the Albanian Alps. The city itself is small and friendly, and will offer you a good introduction to Albanian history and cuisine.

Shkoder sits on the edge of Southern Europe’s largest lake, Lake Skadar. We did a boat trip on the lake from the Montenegrin side during our road trip (the huge marshland straddles the border), but it’s also possible to explore the lake starting from Shkoder.

Like most cities in Albania, Shkoder is very walkable. Explore the Old Bazaar area, visit the Ethnography Museum, and wander down the main pedestrian street at dusk. The Ebu Bekr Mosque dominates the city’s skyline and can be visited outside of prayer times.

My top recommendation for Shkoder is to hire a bicycle and ride south. A long path follows the two twisting rivers that branch off from the lake, connecting the city with a set of smaller villages where you can find cute restaurants and waterfront cafes.

Rozafa Castle, Shkoder’s medieval fortress, contains a small antiquities museum. It’s located high on a hill, making it a great place to watch the sunset over the lake.

Here are more great things to do in Shkoder.

Shkoder. © jkraft5 via Canva.com

Where to stay in Shkoder

Boutique: Hotel Tradita – beautiful boutique rooms finished with Albanian textiles, set inside a 17th-century building. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Mid-range: Sweet Living Apartment – a self-contained, one-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city, with full kitchen and bikes for hire. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Budget: Our Way Hostel & Guesthouse – comfortable dorms and private doubles with a colourful courtyard for socialising. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

How to get to Shkoder

From Tirana: If you’re arriving at Tirana International Airport, take a direct bus to Shkoder from Stacioni Autobusave Zona e Veriut (see the exact location here). Coaches and furgons leave every hour between 7am and 5pm, with extra afternoon services on the half-hour between 11am and 6pm. Tickets cost 300 Lek, and the journey takes 1.5-2 hours.

From Durres: If you’re coming from Italy on the Bari Durres overnight ferry, you can either take a direct bus to Shkoder from Durres station, or change buses in Tirana.

From Montenegro: Buses from Ulcinj on Montenegro’s southern coast bound for Kosovo make a pit stop in Shkoder on their way through. In summer, there are two afternoon services on this route.


Take the Kolman Lake ferry to Valbona

Recommended time in Valbona: 1 night

Leaving Shkoder, press north-east into Albania’s mountainous border region in preparation for the Valbona Theth trek. This is by far the most beautiful part of the country and vies for the most dramatic natural landscape in the whole region.

The first step is to cross Koman Lake and the Drin River via a massive prehistoric gorge carved through the mountains. After a few hours on the water, the legendary Koman Ferry terminates in the village of Fierza, where you then jump in a furgon to travel the rest of the way to Valbona (Valbonë).

For full details about getting from Shkoder to Valbona and instructions on how to buy tickets, see this guide.

Valbona itself is small and peaceful, with a scattering of lodgings set in its verdant valleys. When you arrive, eat a home-cooked dinner and get an early night – tomorrow is going to be a big day!

A ferry on a blue river.
The Kolman Lake ferry.

Where to stay in Valbona

Guesthouse: Guesthouse Mehmeti – spotlessly clean family run guesthouse in a serene location. Home-cooked meals are fresh and tasty, and staff speak English and can organise a car transfer to the Theth trailhead. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.


Hike to the alpine village of Theth

Recommended time in Theth: 2 nights

Detour: The Valbona Theth hike requires a medium level of fitness. If you’re not keen on the trek, take the Koman ferry as instructed above and spend a couple of nights relaxing in Valbona instead.

The walk from Valbona to Theth was the highlight of my time in Albania. Because of the altitude, you can only do the trek in the warmer months (we still saw traces of snow in June!).

It’s hard to describe the trek without going on and on – but in a nutshell, it involves ascending a steep mountainside, crossing a pass, and walking down the opposite side of the mountain into Theth village. There is no other way to get from A to B, so you have to carry all your gear with you and organise lodgings on the other side (for this reason, I recommend leaving your big luggage in Shkoder).

Make sure you’re prepared – read up on my top tips for the Valbona Theth hike, including critical information about a handy shortcut.

Once you get to Theth, stay for a couple of nights so you can relax and take in the mountain air. There are a number of short walks around town if you need to stretch your legs after the hike, including one trail to a Blue Eye.

Theth is more pleasant than Valbona, which is one of the many reasons I recommend doing the hike in this direction.

A woman stands atop a large white boulder in Albania.
En route from Valbona to Theth.

Where to stay in Theth

Guesthouse: Guest House Flodisa – simple family run guesthouse with an excellent free breakfast included. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Farm stay: Bujtina Polia – a tranquil property in the centre of Theth featuring light-filled rooms and an on-site restaurant. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.


Return to Shkoder

The jeep ride back to Shkoder from Theth is a bit of a rough one (3-4 hours over bumpy dirt roads), so I recommend spending an afternoon and night in Shkoder to break up the journey before you continue south.

Stay at the same accommodation in Shkoder so you can collect your bags.

A nice way to spend an evening in Shkoder is with a walk through the city park, stopping off at some of the textile and handicraft shops along the main street. Indulge in a full spread of Albanian cuisine at Peja Grill, or treat yourself to a meal in the courtyard at the historic Vila Bekteshi.

If you’re fighting fit after the trek, you can always head straight through to Kruje or Tirana without stopping in Shkoder for the night.


Learn about Albanian history in Kruje

Recommended time in Kruje: 1 or 2 nights

Kruje (Krujë) is only 20km north of Tirana, so most people end up visiting as a day trip from the capital. Since it’s on the way from Shkoder to Tirana, I suggest stopping off for a night or two – if only to spend the night sleeping inside the castle complex, which is a very special experiences.

Kruje was Albania’s first capital and is the spiritual home of the country’s most revered leader, Skanderbeg. The military hero is memorialised in a wonderful museum located adjacent to Kruje Castle, which overlooks the Old City. On a clear day, you can see right to the Adriatic Sea from the top of the old walls.

I enjoyed Kruje for a couple of reasons. It’s quiet – most tourists visit for the day and leave at dusk, which makes wandering the cobbled Old Bazaar after dark all the more atmospheric.

Secondly, there are a couple of guesthouses located inside the castle grounds. It’s a really unique experience to wake up and eat breakfast amongst the ruins.

A stone castle atop a green hill.
Kruje.

Where to stay in Kruje

Mid-range: Rooms Emiliano – a wonderful family-style guesthouse inside the castle complex. Wander amongst the ruins at night and eat breakfast with a view in the morning – it’s a very special place to spend a night or two! Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

How to get to Kruje from Shkoder

There are regular buses from Shkoder to Tirana that can drop you off on the highway in Fushë-Krujë, the new part of Kruje.

In the absence of a bus station, coaches leave from the roundabout in the centre of Shkoder (see the exact location here) every 45-60 minutes between 6am and 5pm. Tickets cost 300 Lek. There is a large white sign on the street marking the departure point and advertising the times.

When you get on the bus, inform the steward that you want to jump off early in Fushe-Kruje (the ticket price will be the same). They will drop you off on the highway. From there, walk east into town towards the bank and George Bush Statue to pick up a minivan, which will take you to Old Kruje on top of the hill (roughly a 20-minute drive; 100 Lek).

Vans stop just shy of the castle grounds. If you’re staying at the very top of the hill, you’ll need to either walk or take a taxi the rest of the way (approx. 300 Lek).


Immerse yourself in Tirana, Albania’s hip capital city

Recommended time in Tirana: 2-4 nights

After starting your Albania itinerary in the tranquil north, Tirana will be a bit of a shock to the system – in a good way! Some of the most interesting museums and galleries in the Balkans are located in Tirana, including the famous Bunk’Art, which is set in one of Albania’s disused nuclear shelters.

Cafes, restaurants, street art, quirky architecture and communism-themed bars are just some of the other things to check out in quirky Tirana.

Read my full guide to Tirana here.

Only have one day in Tirana? My Tirana itinerary covers the best city sights plus a few hidden gems to give you a perfect introduction to Albania's capital.
Tirana.

Where to stay in Tirana

Luxury: Arté Boutique Hotel. Old-world opulence (think parquet floors, emperor-sized beds and velvet drapes) behind a historic facade in the Blloku neighbourhood. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Boutique: La Suite Boutique Hotel. Modern luxury (white marble bathrooms; generous timber-floored suites) on the river near the Pyramid of Tirana. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Mid-range: Bujtina Shqiptare. Homely self-contained apartments with full kitchens and private balconies 700m north from Skanderbeg Square. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Budget: Tirana Backpacker Hostel. Mixed dorms and private singles in a friendly hostel with outdoor gardens and communal lounge spaces. Conveniently located 10 minutes’ walk west from Skanderbeg Square. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Airbnb: A-Tirana Apartment. This contemporary, light-filled apartment sleeps 4 and has all the mod-cons of a boutique hotel nestled inside an atmospheric 1968-built Commieblock. Sign up here for a $55 AUD discount off your first Airbnb booking.

How to get to Tirana from Kruje

Make your way back down the hill to Fushe-Kruje by van or taxi. A constant supply of coaches, furgons and city buses ferry passengers between Kruje and Tirana, so you’ll never have to wait more than 15 minutes for a departure.

The trip to Tirana takes 30-60 minutes, and tickets cost 150 Lek.


Visit Berat, the ‘city of a thousand windows’

Recommended time in Berat: 2 or 3 nights

Berat is the first of the twin UNESCO Listed Old Towns you’ll be visiting on this Albania itinerary. Nicknamed the ‘City of a Thousand Windows’ for its signature architecture, Berat oozes with old-world charm.

Spend your days in Berat ambling along the twisted cobble streets of its two opposing neighbourhoods, Mangalemi and Gorica, the old Muslim and Christian quarters. Eat yourself silly at the terrific Berati restaurants in town, and set a day aside for a trip to the incredible Osumi Canyon and waterfalls outside the city.

Read my full guide to Berat here.

White and stone houses.
Mangalemi Old Town, Berat.

Where to stay in Berat

Boutique: Hotel Klea – basic rooms in a charming stone building nestled inside the Berat Fortress complex. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Mid-range: Villa 97 – simple self-check rooms with en suites and air-con. Check prices & availability on Booking.com.

Budget: Berat Backpackers Hostel – a well-regarded budget option in the Gorica neighbourhood. Check prices & availability on Booking.com.

How to get to Berat from Tirana

Buses and furgons bound for Berat depart every 30-60 minutes from Tirana’s Regional Bus Terminal – North and South (see the exact location here). The journey takes approximately 2 hours, and tickets cost 400 Lek (bus) or 500 Lek (furgon).

In Berat, buses terminate at the Terminali i Autobusave 3km north of the Old Town (see the exact location here). From there, you can either take a city bus (30 Lek per person) or a taxi (500 Lek) to reach the Old Town.


Continue to charming Gjirokaster

Recommended time in Gjirokaster: 2 nights

A small city in the mountains cut from slate and stone, Gjirokaster (Gjirokastër) is absolutely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Albania. Like Berat, it’s Old Town has been recognised by UNESCO for its cultural and historical value.

As well as a meandering Old Bazaar and unique fortified houses, Gjirokaster boasts a hilltop fortress that houses a fantastic museum. An easy walk from town, you’ll find an Ottoman-era aqueduct nestled in the hills.

Read my full guide to Gjirokaster here.

A woman stands in front of a display of brightly coloured carpets in Albania.
A carpet shop at the Old Bazaar in Gjirokaster.

Where to stay in Gjirokaster

Mid-range: Bed and Breakfast Kotoni – quaint guesthouse with city views and a spectacular complimentary breakfast. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Boutique: Hotel Muse’e – 200-year-old property fitted out in proper Gjirokaster style. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Luxury: Kerculla Resort – modern hillside resort with a generous outdoor pool and commanding views. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Budget: Stone City Hostel – popular dorm accommodation with free walking tours of Gjirokaster for guests. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

How to get to Gjirokaster from Berat

Take a city bus back to the Berat Bus Terminal to board a coach or furgon for Gjirokaster. Tickets cost 900 Lek per person, and the trip takes around 3 hours.

In Gjirokaster, buses terminate at the bottom of the hill. To get to the Old Town, either walk or pick up a taxi – just be careful to negotiate the price first (we unfortunately got scammed by a driver in Gjirokaster and ended up paying triple what we should have).


Finish your Albania itinerary in Korca

Recommended time in Korca: 2 nights

Korca (Korçë) is unlike any other city in Albania in terms of both its look and feel. Located in the south-east corner of the country close to the border with Greece and North Macedonia, Korca’s history is intertwined with Greek and Romanian heritage, giving the city a distinctly European feel.

Pretty architecture, a huge cathedral, and the oldest school in Albania are among Korca’s claims to fame. While you’re there, sip on a Birra Korca at the brewery, cafe hop in the restored Old Bazaar, and visit the outstanding National Museum of Medieval Art.

Read my full guide to Korca here.

A city and large church with tree-lined streets.
Korca, Albania’s City of Serenades.

Where to stay in Korca

Boutique: Hani I Pazarit – a historic inn inside with Old Bazaar, featuring a sweet internal courtyard and an acclaimed restaurant. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Luxury: Life Gallery Hotel – a modern and minimal boutique choice with floor-to-ceiling windows and free-standing baths. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Mid-range: Bujtina Oxhaku – a lodge-like guesthouse with city views and homely rooms. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Budget: Stacioni Hostel – a popular hostel (dorms and privates) that offers free bike hire. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

How to get to Korca from Gjirokaster

Furgons coming from Saranda make a pit-stop in Korca before continuing on to Gjirokaster. At the time of our trip, there was only one van a day leaving in the early morning. I recommend going down to the bus station the day before to inquire in person. Note that these vans leave from the station office opposite the roadside where you got dropped off.

Tickets cost 1,300 Lek per person, though the price does fluctuate with the cost of fuel. The trip takes 5 hours.


Depart from Korca

From Korca, you can either take a bus back to Tirana via Pogradec (3.5 hours) or continue your travels overland into Greece or North Macedonia. We took a bus from Korca to Thessaloniki.

Another option is to go halfway to Pogradec then catch a bus to Ohrid on the North Macedonian side of the lake.


Albania itinerary map

Extend your Albania itinerary: Other places to visit

The Albanian Riviera

Albania is famous for its white-sand beaches along the Adriatic coastline. There are dozens to choose from – some have been developed into resorts, while others remain hidden gems. Saranda and Himare are good places to start. Find more Albania beach recommendations here.

Butrint

Occupied by both the ancient Greeks and Romans, Butrint is home to a spectacular arena and a range of other ruins. It’s a must-visit for history buffs. Butrint is located at the very southern tip of Albania’s coastline, so the easiest way to visit is on a day trip from Saranda. Read more about visiting Butrint here.

Pogradec & Lake Ohrid

Lake Ohrid, which Albania shares with neighbouring North Macedonia, is one of the prettiest landscapes in the Balkans. Pogradec is the biggest town on the Albanian side and serves as a nice base for exploring the lake and surrounding wineries. If you’re game, you can even hire a bicycle and circumnavigate the Ohrid in a day, crossing two international borders along on the way.


What to pack for Albania

  • A good quality backpack. The easiest way to get around Albania is with an anti-theft day pack and a large pack for your main luggage. Here are a few of my favourite minimalist backpack designs for inspiration.
  • A scarf (women). A lightweight cotton scarf is my number one travel item. In Albania, it will come in extra handy for covering your hair when entering a mosque or Orthodox Cathedral. This neutral travel scarf goes with anything, and it even has a hidden pocket.
  • Walking shoes. From cobbled streets to rocky peaks, comfy walking shoes are absolutely essential for Albania. I love these ones for women, while my partner lives in these waterproof shoes.

Albania essentials

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).

More Albania travel resources


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