Albania

albania essential Information

Albania is one of Europe’s lesser visited Mediterranean countries and is somewhat of a rarity in Europe. Nestled between the Slavs to the north and Greeks to the south, Albania has retained its own culture and customs and is blessed with pristine beaches, interesting classical sites and rugged mountainous landscapes. It is the road less travelled but with our Albania Top Destinations, you will never be short of inspiration for what to visit.

During our stay in Albania we hitch-hiked from the Montenegrin border, heading south, straying between the coast and the inland before we turned east and hitch-hiked into Macedonia.

Albania complete budget travel guide

Visas

Visa friendly

Travelling to Albania couldn’t be easier if you are from one of the countries that doesn’t need a visa to enter the country. Check out the information below to see if you are one of the lucky ones…

No visa – 90 days

EU citizensand citizens of the following countries do not requite a visa to enter for up to 90 days:

Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda23, Argentina, Armenia2, Australia1Azerbaijan2, Bahamas23, Barbados23, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei23. Canada1, Chile, Costa Rica2 3, El Salvador23, Guatemala2 3, Holy See, Honduras23, Hong Kong2, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan2, Kosovo1, Macau23, Macedonia1, Malaysia, Mauritius23, Mexico23, Moldova23, Monaco, Montenegro1, New Zealand1, Nicaragua23, Panama23, Paraguay23Saint Kitts and Nevis23San Marino1, Serbia2, Seychelles23, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey2Ukraine2, United States1, Uruguay2 3, Venezuela2 3

1 - may enter using the ID card.
2 - citizens of these countries staying for more than 90 days within the period of six months, need to obtain visa type D.
3 - states, whose citizens enter without visas due to their visa liberalization with the Schengen area.

Visa but only for the summer I’m afraid – 90 days

Citizens of the following 6 countries may enter Albania without a visa during the period 25 May – 25 September:

Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates

Visa policy of Albania map. backpacking and hitchhiking in Albania

All other countries

If you country isn’t one of those listed above, then you need to apply for a visa at an Albanian embassy. Check out this useful page with listings for where you need to apply and the Albanian government page for the application form and more information.

Berat, Albania (18) - Tomorri Mountain and goats. backpacking and hitchhiking in Albania

Advantages of hitchhiking in Albania

On the whole, the Albania hitch-hiking experience is a very positive one. The people are usually friendly and are more than willing to help.

The road network is relatively simple with the added bonus that the major roads tend to go through the centre of town, a big advantage any hitch-hiker would appreciate.

Albania is also relatively budget friendly with essentials being affordable when contrasted with the surrounding nations. Extra money can also be saved by wild camping which is safe and pretty much hassle-free.

Additionally if you are an EU citizen you don’t need a visa for stays of up to 90 days.

Berat, Albania (1)

Disadvantages of hitchhiking in Albania

Despite the many positives, there are some things that the hitch-hiker does need to be aware of. The principal being that some drivers will expect money, since private taxis are a common form of public transport. Learning the simple phrase ‘jo para… jo problem?‘ (no money … no problem?) is normally enough to make clear that you are not willing to pay for the ride.

Another potential problem remains the possibility of corrupt border officials and police. Whilst we were hitchhiking in a truck across the Montenegrin border, a border guard stopped our lorry from leaving until he had extracted his own private bonus, then a few kilometres further down the road we were stopped again by a local policeman also looking to extract their own pound of flesh.

In Albania, English is not widely spoken, so unless you speak Albanian or Italian, it may be difficult to communicate with your drivers. 

Berat, Albania (20)

Food & Drink

What’s on offer?

Eating out options in Albania are influenced heavily by the surrounding regions so expect the Balkan staple grilled lamb or mutton, the Ottoman influenced qoftë (grilled lamb rissoles) and qebab (kebab) and the ubiquitous Italian fare (pizzas, pasta …), which is much loved in Albania. There are, however, some unique Albanian dishes to try for those with an interest in the tastes of the local culture and the ingredients tend to be locally produced and seasonal especially by the coast where you can get fresh and tasty seafood for affordable prices.

Pasta with seafood served in a beach restaurant near Spille, Albania. backpacking and hitchhiking in Albania

Short on cash?

When hunger strikes and you are trying to eke the last little bit out of your penny, the budget Albanian snack options include the greasy Balkan burek (pastry filled with cheese, meat or spinach) and the Greek cholesterol busting sufllaqë (kebab meat and chips rolled in flat-bread). Also keep an eye out for the pastiçeri (pastry shops) where you can pick a wide variety of dough-based goods for cheap prices.

And to drink … ?

When it comes to drinks, coffee is the master of all it purveys in Albania. Locals drink it at all times of day and it is traditionally served in the Turkish style (thick with sediment at the bottom) although in recent times espressos are becoming more popular.

Despite being a Muslim country Albanians tend to have a lassez-faire attitude to drinking, with the local strong stuff of choice being raki (usually unflavoured, and distilled from grapes: thanks Anubis14) which is commonly consumed with food.

Spille, Albania (5) - Ania enjoying her seafood. backpacking and hitchhiking in Albania

Accommodation

Where to sleep?

Sleeping options in Albania’s larger cities, range from top-end hotels (50-130 €) slightly less expensive hotels (30-50 €) to more budget friendly hostel (9€-15 €) and private accommodation options. However, be aware that in Tirana during the summer, the cheaper options tend to become overbooked very quickly. Outside the more tourist orientated cities, your best bets are private home stays or wild camping, which is extremely common among backpackers as there are no mines and the locals don’t seem to mind much.

Camping in the forest near Spille, Albania. backpacking and hitchhiking in Albania

Weather

Perfect climate by the sea, wet up in the hills

The weather in Albania is greatly dependant on the region you are in, due to the effects of its long coastline and highland hinterlands, and is subjected to a variety of weather patterns during the winter and summer seasons. Broadly speaking, however, the closer you are to the coastlines, you can expect a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and temperatures around 30oC–40oC and mild, wet winters 10oC–15oC. The inland region’s weather is greatly effected by elevation, with greater daily variety than the coastal areas. Temperatures are significantly lower, especially at night, and rainfall is much higher throughout the year.

Spille, Albania (6) - sunset seen through a hut. backpacking and hitchhiking in Albania

Language

Albanian everywhere, Italian very useful, English amongst the young

The national language of Albanian can be divided into two mutually intelligible dialects: Tosk, spoken in the south, and Gheg, spoken in the north. It is spoken by the overwhelming majority of the nation and is also the official language of Kosovo and a minority language in Macedonia and Greece.

Many Albanians are conversant in a second language with the most common being Italian, so it is a good idea to learn some phrases in Italian before you set off, although in the south of the country Greek is widespread. The use of English is growing, especially amongst the young, but is only really common in Tirana and the other tourist cities.

Tirana, Albania (20) - Placard demanding better housing, Roma protest on Sheshi Skënderbeg. backpacking and hitchhiking in Albania

Money & Costs

The extra zero explained

Whilst travelling in Albania you may notice that some of the prices are written in unbelievably large numbers. Don’t panic, it is not a scam, it is just that some older Albanians still naturally use the old currency, so, for instance if somebody quotes you a price of 8000 lek, the real cost is 800 lek. Many shop-keeps will instantly correct themselves when seeing your stunned expression but nonetheless it is better to confirm the price to avoid confusion.

Changing money

In most towns, it is possible to change money at a currency market which is usually located outside the main post office or state bank. It is not illegal, and you save yourself the 1% bank commission, but do be sure to double check the money like you would at any place. Also, be aware that is extremely difficult to change your leks outside the country, so exchange them or spend them before you leave.

albania average costs

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Current exchange rates

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Health

Don’t drink the tap water!

Jokingly referred to, by some, as ‘Hoxha’s revenge’, the tap water in Albania is not good to drink, despite what some locals may tell you. Also avoid going for a swim in the water at Durrës as there have been some reports of nasty skin infections as a result. The general rule must be, don’t fall ill in Albania as the underfunded healthcare system is pretty poor.

Tirana, Albania (50) - Interesting building on Bulevardi Bajram Curri. backpacking and hitchhiking in Albania

Transport Tips

Slow going whatever way you choose to go

The roads in Albania are not great to say the least and traffic is a serious problem in Tirana. There are no international rail connections, and the national connections are limited to an infrequent service between Tirana and Shkodra, Fier, Ballsh, Vlorë and Librazhd and a slightly more frequent Tirana-Durres link. The timetable for all trains in Albania can be found here.

Buses and furgons (mini-vans) run on an ad hoc basis and finding a) where they go from and b) what time they leave can be a frustrating business. Tirana has no proper bus station which helps add to the chaos and in southern Albania buses are frequently suspended during the winter months or when there aren’t enough people to make it profitable for the driver. Nevertheless, an extremely sketchy outline of Albanian bus timetable listing can be found here but note, it is often subject to change and overall its probably better to hitchhike.

Berat, Albania (10) - bridge. backpacking and hitchhiking in Albania

Types of road

There are around 18,000km of roads in Albania, of which 12,920km are paved. Major cities tend to be linked with single carriageways but there is a dual carriageway connecting the port city of Durres with Tirana & Vlore. There are 4 road classifications in all, but be warned that most rural roads are in very poor condition.

Albania hitchhiking essentials : Autostradale signMotorways (Rrugë Autostradale: A roads) are typically multi-lane carriageways and they form a partial north-south spine down the country. The speed limit is 110 kilometres per hour (68 mph) but they are relatively scarce as there are only three (A1 – 3). Hitch-hiking on them is a grey area.

Albania hitchhiking essentials : State road signState roads (Rrugë Shtetërore: SH roads) are the bedrock of the Albanian transport system and are the main city-to-city linking roads. They are typically single-lane carriageways with a speed limit of 90 kilometres per hour (56 mph). Hitch-hiking on them is legal.

Albania hitchhiking essentials : District road signDistrict Road (Rrugë Rrethi: RR roads) complement the main road system and typically have a speed limit of 40 kilometres per hour (25 mph) in built-up areas or otherwise 80 kilometres per hour (50mph). Traffic is light and hitch-hiking is legal.

Albania hitchhiking essentials : Municipal road signMunicipal Road (Rrugë Komunale: K roads) are mainly country roads which are infrequently used and rarely paved, and hitch-hiking on them is legal.

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There are four general speed limits in Albania:Albania hitchhiking essentials : Speed limits in Albania

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40 km/h (25 mph) within inhabited places

80 km/h (50 mph) outside inhabited places

90 km/h (55 mph) on expressways

110 km/h (68 mph) on motorways

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.Road map of Albania

Albania hitchhiking esentials: road map albania - ezilon

source: ezilon.com

Absolutely essential hitch-hikers phrasebook

– Hello – Tungjatjeta. (toon-jah-TYEH-tah) formal Tjeta. (TYEH-tah) informal
– Thank you – Faleminderit. (fah-lehm-meen-DEH-reet)
– Yes – Po. (poh)
– No – Jo. (yoh)
– Please – Ju lutem. (yoo LOO-tehm)
– Excuse me. (getting attention) – Më falni. (mah FAHL-nee)
– How are you? – Si jeni? (see YEH-nee?)
– Well, thanks. Jam mirë, faleminderit. (yahm-MEER, fah-lehm-meen-DEH-reet)
– Goodbye pafshim (meer-oo-PAHF-sheem)
– Hitch-hiking – autostop – (ow-toh-STOP)
– I don’t have money – Unë nuk kam para (OO-neh nook come PAH-rah)
– We don’t have money – Ne nuk kemi para (neh nook KEH-me PAH-rah)
– Money – Para (PAH-rah)
 I’m going … – Unë po shkoj … (OO-neh poh shkoy…)
– We are going to … – Ne po shkojna … (neh poh shkoy…)
– Where are you going? – Ku po shkoni? (koo poh SHKO-nee…)
– Can we go with you? – A mund të vij me ju? (a moond teh veey meh you?)
– I am … – Unë jam… (OO-neh yam)
– My name is … – Quhem … (CHYOO-hem …)
– I am from … – Unë jam nga… (OO-neh yahm ŋga…)
– What is your name? – Si e ke emrin? (see keh EHM-reen?)
– Pleased to meet you. – Më vjen mirë. (muh VYEHN MEER)
– I don’t understand. – Nuk kuptoj. (nook koop-TOY)
– now – tani (tah-NEE)
– today – sot (soht)
– yesterday – dje (dyeh)
– tomorrow – nesër (nehsr)
– friend – mik (meek)

Very useful when they ask you where you’re staying. The concept of Couchsurfing is often too difficult to explain, so just say you’re staying with a friend. You can also use this word to express the relationship between you and your fellow travellers.

– Can you stop? – Mund të ndalosh?
– I want to get out. – Dua të dal jashtë (dua teh dahl YAH-shteh)
– Turn left – Kthehu majtas (ktheh-HUH mai-TAHS)
– Turn right – Kthehu djathtas. (ktheh-HUH dyahth-TAHS)
– Straight ahead – drejt (drayt)
– here – këtu (KER-too)
– Do you have …? – A ke … ? (a keh…?)
– Bus station – Stacion autobusi (STAH-tsyon AW-toh-boo-see)

You should know this word and listen out for it to avoid situations when your driver, in their best intentions, takes you off the road and drives you to a station.

– Train station – stacion treni (STAH-tsyon TREH-knee)
– Help! – Ndihmë! (ndeem!)
– Look out! – Kujdes! (kui-DEHS)
– street – rruga (rroo-GAH)
– road – rrugë (rroog)
– roundabout – jodrejtpërdrejt (YO-dreht-per-dreyt)
– crossroads – udhëkryqi (oo-theh-kroo-CHEE)

Spille, Albania (11) - boat on the beach

Border Crossings

Albania neighbours 4 different countries: Montenegro (to the north), Kosovo (north-east), Macedonia (east) and Greece (south).

Albania – Montenegro

There are three border crossings between Albania & Montenegro:

  • The busiest border crossing is located at Hani i Hotit (Albania) – Božaj (Montenegro) on the E762 – SH1 and links the important Albanian town of Skhkoder and the capital Tirana with the Montenegrin capital Podgorica. It is the obvious crossing if you are heading south. We have used this border crossing ourselves and it was completely hassle-free, but be prepared to wait long if you are in a truck. There are lots of lorry drivers and it’s possible to negotiate your ride with them while they are waiting for their papers to be stamped.
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  • The coastal crossing at Muriqan (Albania) – Sukobin (Montenegro), which is on the E851 – SH41 and connects Ulcinj (Montengro) to Shkoder (Albania), is also simple enough to cross but expect long waiting times, especially for cars, and try to avoid walking across the no man’s land because it is an extremely long way.

Albania – Kosovo

There are four border crossings between Albania & Kosovo

  • The busiest, and most convenient border crossing at Morinë (Albania) – Vërmicë (Kosovo) lies between Kukës (Albania) and Prizren (Kosovo) on the SH5/M25 main road.
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  • The northern crossings are more difficult to reach from the Albanian side, with a lot less traffic, but if you trying to head north to Pec (Kosovo) or Gjakovë (Kosovo) then you can use the Qafa e Prushit (Albania – Gjakovë (Kosovo) crossing hassle free.

Albania – Macedonia

There are four border crossings between Albania & Macedonia

  • The two most important border crossings are located on the north and south side of Lake Ohrid. The northern Qafë Thanë (Albania) – Ќafasan (Macedonia) crossing is located on the SH3 / A2 highway and was quick and problem free when we passed through it.
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  • The southern Tushemisht (Albania) – Sveti Naum (Macedonia) crossing is located 5km east of Pogradec and is normally crossed on foot, so if you are travelling by bus you will need to wait for another bus the other side,

Albania – Greece

There are five border crossings between Albania & Greece

  • The Kakavia (Albania) – Ktismata (Greece) border crossing lies on the SH4/22 highway and is the busiest route if you are travelling nearer to the coast. There are also three other border crossings located within a few hundred kilometres and reports say they are also possible to cross on foot, however at the Tre Urat – Konica crossing expect long delays.
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  • If you are travelling to Thessaloniki (Greece) take the Kapshticë (Albania) – Krystallopigi (Greece) border crossing which connects Korçë with the north-east of Greece.

 

8 Albania Top Destinations

 

Berat2 days

Houses on the castle hill, Berat, Albania Top DestinationsThere is no more picturesque town in Albania than Berat, with its whitewashed Ottoman houses snaking up the hillside to the castle sitting imperiously above. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008 and things to visit include the 14th century Kalasa (Citadel) which is fascinatingly still a functioning part of the town and populated by around 100 people, two interesting museums: Onufri Iconography Museum & Berat Ethnographic Museum and two distinctive neighbourhoods: Mangalem, which lies north of the river and is the traditional Muslim area and Gorica, south of the river and Christian.

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Kruja 1 day

Albania Top Destinations: Wikicommons - Kruja, AlbaniaSmall enough to be explored in a few hours on foot, medieval Kruja is extremely important in Albanian culture as the birthplace of nation hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg and site of the country’s heroic defence against the invading Ottoman forces in the 15th century. The sights to visit include Kruja Castle and the giant Skanderbeg Museum located within as well as the wooden Old Bazaar which is stocked with traditional handicrafts.

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Tirana 2 days

8 Albania Top Destinations: Tirana, Albania (53) - Pyramid of Tirana and gardensAlbania’s capital and biggest city is noisy, disorganised, underfunded and certainly not for the faint-hearted, but considering that it spent the majority of the last half a century under a totalitarian isolationist dictator, Tirana is a surprisingly lively place. Historical monuments are scarce but for the committed explorer there are a few gems to be found. Skanderbeg Square, is the spiritual home of the city, surrounded with many of the city’s most important structures: National Historic Museum, Et’hem Bey Mosque & the Kulla e Sahatit Clock Tower. For fans of brutal communist architecture the Pyramid makes for interesting viewing and be sure to check out the Blloku district, which once was the home from the Communist elite and now is the city’s most fashionable quarter. To guarantee your budget stay in Tirana, read our article about visiting the Albania capital on the cheap and check out the 11 things you can do for free in Tirana.

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Spille 1 day

8 Albania Top Destinations: Sunset on the beach near Spille, AlbaniaAlthough not the obvious beach destination in Albania, the tiny village of Spille is perfect for those with a small budget and a sense of adventure. The underdeveloped sandy beach is a nice change from other hotel heavy beach resorts and is perfect for a bit of wild camping. Throw in fresh seafood at reasonable prices, and all in all you will not regret the decision to walk the path less travelled.

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Theth & Valbonë2 days

Albania Top Destinations: Wikicommons - Valbona National Park, AlbaniaThe villages of Theth & Valbona are set deep in the Albanian Alps (also called the Accursed Mountains) which offer some of the best nature and hikes in the whole of the Balkans. The most popular route is the walk from Theth (745m) across the Valbona Pass (1759m) and onto Valbonë (995m), following the ancient mule track linking the tribal regions of Shala and Nikaj, and takes about 7–8 hours in total. Access to the mountains is obtained from the north-east, through the village of Bogë, but be aware that in the winter the area is almost deserted as inhabitants flee to Shkodra to avoid the chill.

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Gjirokastra 2 days

Albania Top Destinations: Wikicommons - Gjirokastra, AlbaniaThe hillside town of Gjirokastra, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is in many ways defined by its imposing Citadel which is an unavoidable sight from any point of town. Built in the 6th century but significantly enlarged in the 19th century, the castle has been put to many uses including as a prison by King Zog, the Nazi’s during WWII and Hoxha’s Communists during the later dictatorship. Be sure to check out the shell of an American Jet which was allegedly forced down in 1957 after being accused of spying. Other sights include the 19th century Ottoman housing in the Partizani district and the Old Bazaar.

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Butrint 1 full day in enough

Albania Top Destinations: Wikicommons - Butrint, AlbaniaLaying 18km south of Saranda are the ancient ruins of Butrint one of the forgotten jewels of Antiquity. The site was first developed by the Greeks in the 4th century BC who quickly established a grand theatre and sanctuary but it reached its zenith during Roman times who expanded the settlement and built an aqueduct, a Roman bath, houses, a forum complex, and a nymphaeum. Burtint was abandoned in the middle ages after a major earthquake flooded most of the city and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.

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8 Albania Top Destinations: Map fo Albania with a question mark.
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⑧ And what would you recommend?

What should be our number 8 in your opinion? We are very curious to hear where you’ve been and what you liked, so please share your knowledge and experience in the comments!

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Albania Top Destinations Map

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blue square  Recommended by our readers. If you have any further suggestions get involved below the line…

Our Experience

We hitch-hiked in Albania as part of our ‘The Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013‘ trip and covered 416km by thumb. During our stay in the country we managed to hitch-hike our way from the Montenegro border to the Macedonia border with relative ease. Accommodation was a more tricky, as finding couchsurfing hosts was next to impossible. Instead, we found the cheapest hostel in Berat and Tirana, and camped when we could.

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written by: Jon

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