Over the years, tourism has started to grow in Albania, with countless people visiting to dive into the country’s historical and cultural heritage and roam around the beautiful landscapes. Tirana has become a very developed city with good roads, beautiful buildings, and a booming restaurant and bar scene.
There are lots of different stories to tell, which are showcased in many interesting museums. Visit for a day or two to enjoy the city’s colorful architecture, lively boulevards, and rich culture.
1. Skanderbeg Square
At the very center of the city, you’ll find Skanderbeg square, a large open area surrounded by several important sights of Tirana. This interesting meeting point is one of the best places to start your journey through the city.
On the square, there’s the National History Museum with its impressive mural, some of Tirana’s colorful government buildings, and an Ottoman-era mosque with a clock tower. The combination of all these different architectural styles perfectly represents Tirana’s variety of influences.
If you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll notice that this is also a spot loved by the locals. During the day, it might be a bit emptier, but around the evening, many people gather here to hang out and join in on whatever live event is taking place. There are typically also a few street artists working on their craft and people selling small products. If you can, come back to take a pleasant evening stroll and soak up the lively atmosphere.
The Story of Skanderbeg
The square is named after the national hero Skanderbeg, a military commander who fought off invading Ottoman forces for 25 whole years before his death in 1468. He temporarily relieved the region around Tirana and Krujë from being ruled over by another empire. Though this happened a long time ago, many locals remain proud of this bit of Albania’s history (you can spot his statue in the middle of the square).
2. Et’hem Bey Mosque
The small 18th-century Et’hem Bey Mosque on Skanderbeg square is an incredibly unique place of worship. It’s one of the oldest mosques in the country and a powerful symbol of the survival of faith. This is because the mosque is one of the few that resisted the communist regime. For almost half a century, the authorities banned Islam in the country. But at the fall of communism in 1991, the square filled with thousands of people gathering to practice their religion. This ultimately led to religious freedom in Albania.
Though the exterior is already beautifully decorated, it’s worth looking inside. Everyone can enter the mosque by leaving a small donation, and covers are available. Take a moment to admire the interior with its stunning frescoes depicting plants and waterfalls, which is rare imagery in Islamic architecture.
Albania’s complex history is sometimes difficult to imagine. However, to better understand it, you’ll have to dive into its dark past, and there’s no better place to do that than in Bunk’Art. This museum has two locations, Bunk’Art 1 and Bunk’Art 2, both set inside an underground nuclear bunker. Focusing on the history and contemporary art, you’re guided through the rise and fall of the communist regime in Albania.
As the museums are underground, they’re a perfect sight to visit on a hot summer day. You can discover the museums by yourself, with the extra option of an audio tour (through an AR app). Alternatively, you can join a guided history tour through the entire city, which includes the Bunk’Art museum.
You’ll easily find the entrance, as it sticks out of the ground in the middle of the city. While you make your way through the astonishing tunnels, you’ll come past more than 20 different rooms that were built for the politicians and military of the communist era in case of a nuclear war. Discover how the secret service ‘Sigurimi’ bugged a room or read about the many stories of political persecutions. This is one of the interesting things to do in Tirana.
4. Visit the Local Market
While walking around the city’s unique neighborhoods, make your way to the street market on Rr. Çameria. This area has lots of little shops and stalls selling all sorts of products, from clothing, rugs, and bags to various delicious fruits. Best of all, this market is where the locals love to spend their time and go shopping, making it a fun local thing to do in Tirana. The market is open daily from 8 AM till 6 PM and closed on Sundays.
Tip: The Albanian people are incredibly friendly. When you’re interested in an item, don’t hesitate to ask for it, but get ready to bargain. Most people speak some English, but otherwise, you can use Google translate to communicate.
5. Pyramid of Tirana
The Piramida of Tirana is an incredibly unique and culturally-significant building, completed just before the fall of communism. It was initially built to honor Albania’s ex-communist leader Enver Hoxha. Now, the building stands abandoned—a curious remnant covered in colorful graffiti. (Edit: The Pyramid is currently under construction) Nevertheless, it remains an interesting thing to do in Tirana as it’s close to many other sights in the city.
6. Blloku Area
Tirana is a relatively young city with an incredibly vibrant atmosphere. This year, it even received the title ‘European Youth Capital 2022’, crowning the city’s efforts of creating a rich program dedicated entirely to young people. Because of this, you’ll find many neighborhoods with lovely cafes, delicious restaurants, and fun (cocktail) bars.
One of the best areas to take part in the social life of the locals is Blloku. While you walk through the tree-lined streets, you’ll find this neighborhood dotted with great places to go for a drink or a bite to eat. Take a break from sightseeing with an espresso or a delicious lunch at one of the many cafes. As the weather in Tirana is mild year-round, most have a large terrace where you can sit and watch people walk by.
Make sure to return to Blloku at the end of the day, as the area is just as vibrant at night. You’ll find the streets beaming with cozy lights as doors open to fantastic restaurants, bars, and pubs, often with karaoke or live music.
7. House of Leaves
House of Leaves is an interesting museum that allows you to dive deep into the surveillance methods of the state, which were used to control the country’s very own people. The museum has two floors, both dedicated to fascinating documentation of the various equipment and techniques used by Sigurimi (Albania’s secret police).
What makes it even more interesting is that the museum actually lies in the old secret police headquarters. Additionally, the name ‘House of Leaves’ comes from the fact that the building was purposely hidden from the public by layers of leaves—a technique used in warfare. The entrance to the museum costs 700 LEK (6.10 USD) per person.
8. Ministry of Agriculture
Besides the Ottoman styles and communist architecture, there are dozens of colorfully painted buildings all over Tirana. Most of them are centered around the bustling neighborhood of Blloku and are an incredible sight to look at. From vibrant pinks to bright yellows, the colors add a nice touch, revitalizing the city.
Best of all, Tirana’s earned a reputation for these colorful buildings due to the city’s mayor being an artist. He began this painting campaign to give Tirana a more modern look. Take a moment to marvel at the colorful government buildings, especially the Instagrammable Ministry of Agriculture. Walking past these buildings is one of the best things to do in Tirana, Albania.
9. Visit the National History Museum
One of the highlights around the famous Skanderbeg square is the National History Museum in Tirana. With its soviet-style mural, you’ll immediately spot it when you stroll around the area. The museum goes beyond the communist period, back to the very beginnings of Albania. In chronological order, from ancient Illyria B.C. to the post-communist era, the rooms guide you through the country’s complex history.
Discover the archeological wealth in the different pavilions of the museum, observing thousands of items from different periods in Albania’s history. The most treasured exhibitions are those in the Pavilion of Antiquity, which covers stories from the late Palaeolithic (prehistoric era) to the early Middle Ages. Expect to spend about 2 hours walking around the museum.
10. Grand Park of Tirana
Though Tirana is a busy urban area, it’s also managed to incorporate nature. Just south of the vibrant Blloku neighborhood, you’ll find the city’s enormous Grand Park, which is one of the best things to do in Tirana. Spanning 230 hectares and enclosing a large artificial lake, it’s a great area for an afternoon walk.
The locals love to come here for some fresh air or exercise. The trail looping around the lake is about 5 kilometers long, so only embark on it if you’ve got the time. In the park, you’ll also find the old Presidential Palace and the tombs of several Albanian national heroes, from politicians to writers and philosophers. Take a moment to soak up the sun while you admire the calm nature next to the bustling city. There are also a few lovely riverside cafes where you can grab a nice cup of coffee and enjoy the beautiful views.
When visiting Tirana, Albania, one of the best ways to discover the city is to join one of the free walking tours given by local volunteers. These tours take you past the city’s iconic sights and offer a more detailed insight into them. The young guides are very knowledgeable and help you understand the country’s fascinating history, culture, and people.
The free walking tour in Tirana starts from the Opera house at Skanderbeg Square and happens twice daily, every day of the year. The first starts at 10 AM, the second at 2 PM (wintertime) or 6 PM in the summer. Hear Albania’s stories through the locals as you make your way through the diverse city. Most tours also include some time at one of the museums, a coffee break in Blloku, and a visit to some local favorites.
Best Cafes and Restaurants in Tirana
Tirana (and Albania in general) has a mix of history, culture, and religions, all coming together in one big melting pot. This means there are many delicious cuisines you can choose from in the city, from traditional Albanian dishes to Italian pasta or Middle Eastern grill. This diversity, together with a focus on local ingredients and seasonal products, makes Tirana more and more of a worthy gastronomic destination.
Though many meals can be meat-heavy, there are plenty of delicious vegetarian choices, too, from tzatziki (like in Greece) to incredible stuffed peppers and eggplants. Some of our favorite places to eat were:
- Artigiano at Villa
- L’Osteria Restaurant (pasta)
- Happy belly (juices)
- Komiteti Cafe
- Tartuf Shop (Truffle)
For a memorable foodie experience, consider going on a city tour of Tirana with food tasting along the way!
Where to Stay
If you’re making a road trip through Albania, you’ll most likely start and end your journey in the capital Tirana. With a fascinating history and culture to be discovered, we recommend staying at least one or two nights in the city.
There are plenty of good neighborhoods to stay in the center, all within walking distance from many of the things to do in Tirana. Zona 1, Blloku, Tregu Çam, and 21 Dhjetori are all great options. If you are traveling on a budget, there are also plenty of low-cost options in Tirana (search for your hostel here).
It’s about a 30-minute drive from the airport to the city center. The most affordable way to do that is by shuttle bus, which leaves for Skanderbeg Square. The bus is called Rinas Express, leaves about every hour from 8 AM till 11 PM, and costs 300 LEK (2.60 USD). If you would rather grab a taxi instead, expect to pay between 20 – 25 USD.
If you’re staying in the center of Tirana, then you can easily get to most of the must-see sights on foot. You can find lots of them around Skanderbeg Square or just a few blocks away. There are many lovely boulevards alongside the streets of Tirana, making it a pleasant way of getting around.
If you’ve rented a car, then prepare yourself for the slightly chaotic traffic in Tirana. Many drivers don’t follow all the rules, so always keep an eye out. Finding parking in Tirana can be a little challenging, so you might have to drive around a bit to find a proper spot or car park to park your rental car.
How Much Does Tirana Cost?
Albania is incredibly affordable; you can get a big meal for two people (a salad and two main courses) for just 10 EUR (10.30 USD). Hotels, hostels, activities, and entrances are all also reasonably priced.
Best Time to Visit Tirana, Albania
Albania is known to have very hot summers and mild winters. Most people visit in the summer, and though Tirana won’t be packed with tourists, it’s growing in numbers each year. Especially if you’re traveling through Albania on a road trip, we recommend visiting in the shoulder seasons: May/June or September. This is the perfect time to enjoy the warm weather and sunny days but without lots of crowds.