What is Butrint National Park?
About a 15-minute drive south of Ksamil, you’ll find Butrint National Park, a stunning 29-square-kilometer park with an important archaeological site in Albania. Shaded by trees and surrounded by wetlands, the location has gained both the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a RAMSAR-Wetland Site of International Importance.
Unlike other historical sites in the Mediterranean region, Butrint has been able to preserve both archaeology and nature. This co-presence of historic structures and landscape is exactly what makes it a unique and worthy place to visit.
The park will introduce you to different artifacts and buildings dating from the Iron Age (1200 – 600 B.C.) up until the Middle Ages. Many of these monuments, located in the Ancient City of Butrint, are still intact.
This includes the city walls, a baptistery, a roman theatre, and two castles. While you walk among the impressive ruins of ancient civilizations, take a look at the various local plants and animals that live in the area.
Things to see in Butrint National Park
As you make your way over shaded paths, it’s difficult not to imagine all the different people that lived here. Every corner has its own unique story to tell. The Ancient City of Butrint is the main draw for tourists to visit the park, offering many different monuments amongst the stunning nature. From castles to fountains and old walls to theatres, there’s much to explore within Butrint National Park.
The Triconch Palace
Many of the remains in Butrint are beautiful Roman townhouses and villas spread across the archaeological site. One of these private residences, the Triconch Palace, is one of the most impressive ones to see.
This original townhouse was developed into a grand palace around 400 A.D. with elegant rooms, beautiful mosaic floors, and a central courtyard. The name, however, derives from the triconch dining room attached to a riverside entrance. The rising water was eventually reason for the owner to abandon the Palace, leaving it for fishermen until the late 6th century.
The Lion Gate
Along the ancient wall surrounding the archaeological site, you can spot the so-called Lion Gate. This monument takes its name from the image above the entrance, depicting a lion biting the head of a bull.
This was not part of the original wall, which dates back to the 6th century B.C., but was instead placed there many centuries later—a perfect example of different ages in history blending together. Take a moment to admire the quirky construction of the gate and the beautiful Roman spring behind it.
Museum of the Ancient City
Amidst the ruins of these historical empires, there’s also a Museum of the Ancient City that reopened in 2005. Situated in the Acropolis castle, this museum presents a chronological overview of the history of Butrint, starting from the Iron Age all the way to the Late Middle Ages. This is the perfect place to soak up all the century-old stories of Butrint.
The Marshes and Vivari Channel
The site blends perfectly together with the beautiful nature of the park, the reason for its proper preservation. The entire area is protected, including the marshes and the small water channel at the entrance of the Ancient City.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to go swimming in the park. However, you can walk down to the shores for a beautiful view of the marshland that hugs the archaeological site. If you’re really eager for a swim, head up to the town of Ksamil for a cooling dip in the Adriatic Sea.
Entrance Fee & Opening Times
The price to enter Butrint National Park for foreigners is 700 LEK (6.10 USD). There are many layers to the park, and the more you walk around, the more you discover, always delving deeper into the area’s history.
The park is open all year round from 8 AM till sunset, and the museum in the Acropolis is open every day from 9 AM till 4 PM. This famous national park is huge! Expect to spend about 1,5 to 3 hours in the park, visiting the different archaeological sites, stunning ruins, and historic buildings.
History of Butrint
Butrint has been inhabited since prehistoric times as the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city, and a bishopric. Followed by a period under Byzantine rule and Venetian occupation, Butrint was eventually abandoned in the late Middle Ages by the Ottomans when marshes started forming in the area. Butrint served as an important port and trading center on the Adriatic Sea throughout all the ages.
Fun fact: Butrint’s name comes from the word buthrotos, meaning ‘wounded bull’. This name is based on a Greek myth where the offering of a bull failed on the neighboring island of Corfu. In the myth, the bull escapes and manages to get back to the mainland. This was seen as a sign from the gods that a settlement needed to be built in that exact location.
The earliest findings date all the way back to between the 10th and 8th century B.C., with the most prominent monuments of the park located in the Ancient City of Butrint. You’ll find 2400-year-old defensive walls and a chapel dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. Butrint later fell under Roman rule and underwent huge construction. From that period, you can spot well-preserved temples, fountains, a Roman theatre, and the bridge crossing over the Vivari channel.
Butrint is also home to impressive early Christian art and architecture, such as the baptistery and many stunning churches. The last rule that held Butrint was the Ottoman Empire, which abandoned it after Albania’s Declaration of Independence in 1912. Most of the monuments that you can visit today were discovered only about 100 years ago. Since then, Butrint National Park has become one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country.
Tips for Butrint National Park
- The archeological site is surrounded by marshes, meaning that many mosquitos zoom around. Make sure to bring some non-toxic mosquito repellent with you, a great way of traveling more sustainably.
- Many trees in the park offer shade from the sun, but bringing a hat is always a good idea.
- Bring cash with you, as the whole of Albania is pretty much a cash-only country.
- With picturesque waters and mountains surrounding Butrint National Park, you can easily come here for the views alone. Finish your walk at the small castle for the prettiest views of the site!
- Bring a packed lunch with you to enjoy amongst the ancient ruins. And drink lots of water, especially during the summer months when it gets really warm.
- Wear good shoes to walk comfortably on the paths with loose gravel.
- If you’re on tour, make sure to leave a tip for your guide as a sign of appreciation.
- Leave the park better than you found it, don’t leave any garbage behind. Albania is still developing when it comes to cleaning up trash. Help protect nature by taking all your rubbish with you and try to travel plastic-free!
How to get to Butrint National Park
Butrint National Park is definitely worth the visit on your Albanian Riviera trip, and there are several ways to get there. The most flexible option to get there is by driving a car. Located in the southwest of Albania, it’s approximately a 30-minute drive from the city of Sarandë or a 15-minute drive from Ksamil.
If you’re not traveling Albania by car, there’s also a local bus that departs from both of these locations. In Sarandë, head to the ferry terminal, which is where the bus station is. The bus departs and returns to Butrint from here with a quick stop in Ksamil, which takes about 45 minutes. You can also visit Butrint National Park on a day trip from the Greek island of Corfu.
Where to Stay
The closest place to Butrint is Ksamil, a beach village on the Albanian Riviera that’s part of the national park. Ksamil has plenty of quint accommodation options, from apartments and guesthouses to small hotels with views over the gorgeous turquoise waters. See all accommodation options in Ksamil.
Best Time to Visit Butrint National Park
The national park is open all year round, meaning you can visit anytime throughout the year. Albania has mild winters and hot summers, each providing a unique experience at the archaeological sites. During the summer months and vacation times, it can get busier in Albania, with bigger crowds visiting Butrint National park midday around lunchtime.
The best time to visit the national park is in the morning or later in the afternoon when it’s much quieter, more peaceful, and less hot.