Tirana, the capital of Albania since 1920, is an understated Balkans destination. Once one of the least desirable cities to visit in Europe due to Communist rule and an economic downtown, it now has a growing population and a lively buzz in the city. With several budget airlines offering flights, read our guide to the best 48 hours in Tirana.
Travel Essentials for the best 48 hours in Tirana
Airline: Wizz Air from London Luton (LTN) to Tirana (TIA). From £30, return.
To the city: 30 minutes by airport bus that runs every hour.
Cost: 305 LEK (Adult). The driver takes Euros but pay in local currency as it is cheaper.
Airport distance to centre: 17 kilometres.
Need to know
Visa: From 1st January 2021, UK residents can Albania visit for a maximum of 90 days in any 180 day period.
Travel: Detailed information on the FCDO website.
Currency: Albanian Lek (£1 = 140 LEK approximately).
Travel Adapter: Type C (Europlug) and Type F
Language: Albanian and some Italian. English is widely spoken.
Best time to visit: June to August.
Time: GMT +1.
Quick facts about Tirana
- Dates from between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago.
- Has the largest ever mosaic built from over a million coffee beans.
- Modern Tirana was founded in 1614.
- Awarded European Youth capital for 2022.
- Tirana (and The Vatican) are the only capital cities without a McDonalds.
Day 1 of 48 hours in Tirana
- Skanderbeg Square (Main Square) – Free.
- Et’hem Bey Mosque – Free.
- Clock Tower of Tirana – 100 LEK (Adult).
- Bunk’Art 2 – 500 LEK (Adult).
- Reja – The Cloud – Free.
- National Arts Gallery and Statues – Free.
- Fortress of Justinian (Castle Wall) – Free.
- Rruga George W. Bush (George W Bush 3 Street) – Free.
- Tanners Bridge– Free.
- Saint Paul Cathedral – Free.
- Pyramid of Tirana – Free.
- Peace Bell (Kambana e Paqjes) – Free.
- Blloku – Free.
- Enver Hoxha’s Former Residence – Not accessible.
- Resurrection Cathedral – Free.
- House of Leaves – 700 LEK (Adult).
The main square is called Sheshi Skënderbej in the centre of Tirana. The square is 40,000 square metres) and flanked by the National Opera House. Other buildings line the square, and no Balkan capital is complete without an imposing statue. In this case, the Skanderbeg Monument is a throwback to an Albanian national hero who resisted Ottoman rule a few hundred years ago.
Et’hem Bey Mosque
At the time of visiting, Hadji Et’hem Bey Mosque was undergoing renovation. However, the frescoes are visible on the exterior walls. Under Communist rule, the mosque, built in the 1790s, was not accessible.
Clock Tower of Tirana
The Clock Tower of Tirana, standing 35m (114.8ft) tall, is next to the Et’Hem Bey, the same architect created both. After climbing the 90 steps to the top, there are decent views over Skanderbeg square. Entry is cheap, but opening times are sporadic.
Bunk’Art 2 was a Communist-era nuclear bunker, secretly built between 1981 and 1986. A series of underground tunnels run below the Ministry of Affairs. Some of the exhibits in the 24 rooms are distressing, so not suitable for children.
It opened to the public in 2015 and portrayed the period from 1941 to 1991 whilst Albania was under Communist rule. The focus of this nuclear bunker was intelligence and surveillance and is, in our opinion, the most interesting attraction of 48 hours in Tirana.
Reja – The Cloud
The Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto designed this landmark structure in 2013. It is possible enter, but the structure is aesthetic.
National Arts Gallery and Statues
Founded in 1954, this building has a look and feel of a Communist-style building. The purpose is to promote arts and culture.
At the rear of the building are statues of Vladimir Lenin (minus his right arm), two statues of Joseph Stalin, and a damaged portrait of Enver Hoxha. Opposite them is a young female soldier, facing up to these rulers.
Fortress of Justinian (Castle Wall)
Tirana Castle is a fortress wall. Inside of finding a castle, one discovers a wall about 6m (19.7ft) high with a huge wooden door and covered in vines opposite a modern shopping centre. Behind the wall are nice boutique shops and cafes.
Rruga George W. Bush (George W Bush 3 Street)
Walking to the end of the pedestrianised area with the fortress on the right-hand side is George W Bush 3 Street, one of Tirana’s main streets. The former US President visited in June 2007.
An 18th-century Ottoman stone bridge that is 8 metres long. It was the route used by livestock to enter the city, but now only pedestrians walk across it. The bridge remains an important cultural heritage monument.
Saint Paul Cathedral
This Roman Catholic church has a statue of Mother Teresa at the entrance. There is a stained glass window to the left of the front door featuring Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa.
Pyramid of Tirana
The most controversial landmark in Tirana is the Pyramid of Tirana. It opened as the Enver Hoxha Museum in 1988 and built at the cost of $4 million. It remains the most expensive building ever constructed in Albania.
During the 1999 Kosovo war, it served as a NATO base and then a local radio station. Today the building is derelict. People sleep inside, and although there is security present, many people still choose to climb the building.
Peace Bell (Kambana e Paqjes)
Opposite the Pyramid of Tirana is the ‘Bell of Peace’. This was made from the shells of 20,000 bullet cartridges (weighing about 500 kgs) collected by children in 1997 during the war. Ringing the bell sends out a message of peace. The bell is quite high, so you’ll have to really jump in the air to ring it.
Blloku was a restricted residential area of Tirana where the Communist leaders lived. Boutiques, bars and restaurants now line the streets. The first international fast food restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken, opened in 2016 directly opposite the former residence of Enver Hoxha.
Enver Hoxha’s Former Residence
This three-storey luxury house belonged to Enver Hoxha. In the basement was a swimming pool and a tunnel for a quick escape.
He didn’t like to travel much, although he did visit North Korea. Enver spent the last ten years of his life at the villa smoking fancy imported French cigarettes along with his wife, Nexhmije Hoxha.
Despite the ban on Western literature, Hoxha was a voracious reader, ordering books by the truckload.
On the edge of Skanderbeg Square is the Resurrection Cathedral. This church opened in 2012, is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the Balkan Peninsula.
The dome and tower with 16 bells are separated from the main building. The cathedral cost millions of euros to build.
House of Leaves
The Museum of Secret Surveillance or House of Leaves. The name leaves come from things hidden in the woods and leaves of books and files on people.
It was the secret police headquarters, also known as the Sigurimi, during the Communist era. Under German occupation, the Gestapo used the building. From 2017, the public was able to experience the 31 surveillance rooms.
Day 2 of 48 hours in Tirana – Mount Dajti
- Porcelani Blue Bus from The Clock Tower of Tirana – 40 LEK (Adult single – ask for a Biletë Urbani)
- Mt. Dajti Ekspres Complex (Cable car) – 800 LEK (Adult return)
The Dajti Express Complex, about 25 kilometres east of Tirana, includes a mini-golf course, a clifftop restaurant and a hotel.
Most people visit Dajti for the cable car ride and the panoramic views from the top of the mountain, which is 1100 metres above sea level. The cable car passes above a small lake, a forest, farms, and some hidden bunkers. The final part of the ride is a sharp ascent. The 15-minute ride is the longest cableway in the Balkans. At the top are several hiking trails.
The perception of Albania is that people are rude, and there is not much to see. In my experience, I have to disagree. All of the Albanian people I encountered were very friendly and helpful. The city felt safe to walk around, even at night.
So Tirana perhaps does not have the appeal of other cities, but if you enjoy history and want a cheap destination, Tirana could be perfect. It is a small city, easy to navigate, and somewhere different. With 48 hours in Tirana, our guide covers the main
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