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The Perfect Albania Road Trip: This Place Is Epic! (UPDATED 2023)

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Albania is awesome.  Really awesome.  This little country in South-East Europe has everything.  Extremely varied scenery, mountains, forests, stunning beaches on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, crystal clear waters, and beautiful architecture.  

In this post I’ll set out some ideas for the perfect Albania road trip.

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Road trip Albania - stunning coastal views

Albania was a closed country for much of the twentieth century, under a strict and insular communist regime.  But that’s now very much a thing of the past.  

Today, Albania is a fast-changing, modern democracy with a huge amount to see and do.  

The potential for tourism here is immense, easily equal to some of its better-known neighbours (Montenegro, Greece, etc.).  

But whilst Albania is slowly creeping onto some people’s travel radars, for most it still remains a mystery.  That makes it a fantastic place to explore now!

** If you need a visa to visit Albania, I recommend using iVisa.com.  Their online visa processing service is quick, secure, and easy to use. **

Albania Road Trip Itinerary - Where To Go In Albania

With so many fantastic places to see and visit, it can be hard to choose where to go in Albania.

This is only a suggested Albania road trip itinerary, but I can highly recommend all of the below places.

It’s a circular route, so you could start and finish anywhere along it, depending on where you’re coming from.

You can drive across the whole country in a few hours and could squeeze this Albania itinerary into one week at a push (especially if you didn’t spend too long at each of the beaches).  But it would be fairly rushed.  

I always prefer to travel slowly and would recommend taking at least two weeks to do this Albania road trip, if possible.  That way you’ll get much more of a feel for the places you’re travelling though.  You’ll almost certainly meet more people too 🙂

Tirana

Most flights to Albania go to Tirana, the capital and most populated city in the country.  So you will probably be starting your Albania roadtrip here.  Even if you aren’t, it’s a cool place and I’d recommend including it on your Albania itinerary. 

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Trips to Albania typically start in Tirana

There is enough to see and do in this quirky, fun city to spend at least a day or two here.  There’s also delicious food to be found all over the city.

A great way to get a feel for the city is to go on a walking tour.  These are organised by local people who are passionate about their city, its history, interesting architecture, and unique culture.  

Walking tours usually depart from the steps of the Opera House on Skenderbej Square, in the city centre.

One of the city’s most unusual, and interesting, sights is Bunk’Art 2.  This communist-era nuclear bunker was built by Albania’s paranoid former dictator Enver Hoxha in the 1980s.  Today, it is a museum dedicated to the country’s history.  Well worth a visit.

My other top recommendations would include a visit to the Natural History Museum of AlbaniaGallery 43 (an excellent art gallery)and the beautiful Et’hem Bey Mosque

The Tirana Sky Tower’s top-floor bar offers a panoramic view of the city.  It’s a perfect place for a drink at sunset, after a long day of sightseeing.

Check out my post on the best restaurants in Tirana.

Vlorë

An easy 2.5 hour drive south-west of Tirana is Vlorë, on the Adriatic Sea.  The road from Tirana to the coast is in excellent condition and you shouldn’t have any trouble navigating this first stretch.

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You'll see many sunsets like this on your Albanian road trip

Vlorë is a coastal resort town, and a gateway to southern Albania, with many hotels and a good selection of restaurants.  The town itself is not particularly beautiful, but it has decent amenities and a laid-back seaside vibe.

There is a beach at Vlorë, but it’s nothing on the beaches you’ll be visiting later on this road trip in Albania.  So don’t worry about spending too much time here.

The Llogara Pass

South of Vlorë, the journey starts to get really beautiful.  In fact, the coastal drive between Vlorë and Sarandë is easily one of my favourite roads in the world.  

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Seeing the best of Albania by car

The main coastal highway takes you through some truly spectacular scenery.  Think Amalfi Coast, but without the other tourists (and a fraction of the cost).

As you approach Llogara National Park, on the slopes of the Ceraunian Mountains, the road starts to ascend fairly steeply.  There are many hairpins and switch-backs, as you snake your way ever higher.  

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Try hard to keep your eyes on the road, though I guarantee this will be difficult.  The scenery is really stunning.

Finally, you will reach the Llogara Pass, the highest point.  Stop at the beautiful viewpoints and enjoy the breathtaking views.  The azure sea sparkles in the sunlight as you gaze south over the Albanian Riviera, while Çika Mountain towers over you.

mount-cika-and-the-albanian-riviera-epic-drive

If you’re into hiking, there are several excellent trails in Llogara National Park, including a challenging 14 kilometre hike to the summit of Mount Çika and back.  This is one of the best ways to enjoy the stunning landscapes and dramatic scenery.

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I love this place and I’m sure you will too.

The Albanian Riviera

Albania has some of the best beaches in Europe (fact), and most of them are on the Albanian Riviera.  This mountainous stretch of the Ionian Sea coast runs between Sarandë and Vlorë, and the drive is epic.

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First glimpse of the Albanian Riviera

Here are some of the best spots on the Riviera to include in your Albania itinerary.

Dhërmi

Shortly after you descend from the Llogara Pass, you will come to Dhërmi.

This picturesque little coastal town is a great place to stop, either for lunch or overnight.  Just beware, it can get quite crowded in the peak summer months.

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Not in October though 🙂

In Dhërmi you’ll find a range of options for food and accommodation, and it’s a stone’s throw from some amazing beaches.  The town itself enjoys a beautiful setting, with crystal clear blue waters and a backdrop of craggy mountains.

See here for my pick of the best hotels in Dhërmi.

Drymades Beach

If Dhërmi beach is a little too crowded, Drymades beach is another good option, and is only a 5-minute drive away.

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However, at the time of writing, a big construction project had just started there.  I imagine that soon this area will be covered with luxury hotels, so best visit now before it becomes too spoilt.

Gjipe Beach

If you prefer your beaches more secluded, definitely check out Gjipe beach.  This idyllic stretch of sand is a definite contender for best beach in Albania.

The car park for Gjipe beach is a 15 minute drive south of of Dhërmi.  This beach doesn’t have direct road access, and you’ll need to walk 1.5 km along a gravel track from the car park.

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Be sure to include Gjipe Beach in your Albania road trip itinerary

It’s definitely worth the walk.  The little cove you’ll reach is beyond beautiful.  Outside of the summer months, you can often have the entire place to yourself.

If you have camping gear, this is an awesome place to spend the night.

Himarë

Once little more than a sleepy fishing village, Himarë is now a well-known (and much loved) beach town.  It’s also gaining a reputation as one of Albania’s best backpacker destinations.

himare-seafront

In general, it’s quite a bit cheaper here than nearby Dhërmi.  There are a number of budget-friendly hostels and cheap guest houses in Himarë.  And you won’t struggle to find cheap but excellent bars and restaurants.  

The whole place strikes the perfect balance between being well geared up for tourism, but at the same time not feeling overly commercialised.

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There are two main parts to Himarë.  The modern town center is located on the seafront and has one main street and a little harbour.  

Then there’s the area around the historical castle ruins (called Himarë Fshat), which is perched at the top of a hill overlooking the bay. This second area is a real hidden gem.  

himare-fshat-castle-and-old-village

I rented this place (Maria Apartments) up there for a month and loved it so much.  It’s incredibly peaceful, and you have an amazing view of both Himarë and Livadhi beaches.

Himarë is a very cool place and deserves to be on your Albania itinerary.  I’d recommend spending at least a day or two here.

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Livadhi beach: one of my favourite places in Albania - spot the little green car!

Borsh Beach

Another great beach on the southern Albanian Riviera, Borsh beach is an easy 30 minute drive south of Himarë.

Borsh is one of the longest beaches in Albania, stretching for several kilometres.  It’s also one of the most beautiful.  The area has also not been overly developed, adding to the charm.

One of the best beaches in Albania

Here the sea is almost impossibly clear and turquoise.  It’s perfect for swimming and snorkelling.  You can also hire kayaks or sailing dinghies from the vendors near the car park.

This is another fantastic place to camp on the beach.  Alternatively, there are many affordable hotels.  You can feast on fresh seafood in one of the many beachfront restaurants, or head to one of the more secluded sections and barbecue for yourself.

Sarandë

About an hour south of Borsh beach, you will arrive at Sarandë.

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This medium-sized town is much busier and more developed than the idyllic little towns and villages that surround it.  

A good stop-off on your Albanian road trip

Sarandë is certainly not a quiet, peaceful place.  But on the other hand, it does have a large range of accommodation options, from budget to high-end hotels, several excellent restaurants, and a variety of bars and other nightlife.

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This is a personal choice, but I prefer to stay in smaller, quieter places.  If you’re like me, instead of Sarandë, I’d suggest spending the night in Ksamil, 14 km further south.

Ksamil

Ksamil is a beautiful little village in the far south of Albania.  It is located in a sheltered bay, with white sands, crystal clear waters and a few islands offshore.  

Ksamil-beach-and-harbour

Ksamil is a popular spot, due to its proximity to Sarandë, and its stunning setting.

This is another place with a fledgling backpacker scene, so you won’t struggle to find decent budget accommodation and places to eat and drink.  There are loads of beach bars and restaurants with terraces that are great places to sit and unwind.

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There are several nice beaches in the bays around Ksamil, where the water is clear and great for snorkelling.  This is one of the best ones.

You can even swim to some of the little islands in the main bay.

Check out this post on the 10 best hotels in Ksamil.

Butrint National Park

A short drive (or 5 km walk) from the centre of Ksamil is the ruined city of Butrint.  This fascinating site has been occupied for thousands of years.

Today you can see the remains left by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Venetians.  It’s well worth a visit if you have the time.

The ruins are located inside the larger Butrint National Park.  This peaceful and picturesque place surrounds a large lagoon and consists of a number of freshwater lakes, salt marshes, islands, and reed beds.  

It’s an important habitat for over 1,200 different species of plants and animals.

Blue Eye

20 kilometres inland from Sarandë is the famous Blue Eye (Syri i Kaltër, in Albanian).

It’s a natural spring where fresh water emerges from the ground into a deep pool, which then flows out into a larger pool that drains into a little river.  

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Road trip Albania - the Blue Eye

The water is extremely clear, and from above looks like an eye, with a dark centre and a lighter coloured ring around the edge.  It’s really beautiful, and is surrounded by tranquil forests of pine, walnut, hazelnut, and cherry trees.

Nobody knows quite how deep the pool is.  Divers have descended to fifty metres, but haven’t been able to go any further down inside.

The water stays at a constant 10 degrees Celsius, and there are signs saying not to swim in the pool, though many people still choose to take a dip in the water surrounding the Eye.

blue-eye-saranda

 

The parking area is located here (Google Maps), 1.5 kilometres from the natural pool.  To get to the Blue Eye itself, you walk along a newly-made path, through some very picturesque scenery.  You can also hire an e-scooter if you’d prefer.

There’s a picnic area and a little restaurant next to the Eye that serves traditional Albanian food.  It’s a pleasant spot to spend an hour or so, and the beautiful trees provide some welcome shade.  

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Here you’ll also find a drinking fountain that’s constantly flowing with fresh water from the Eye.  Fill up your water bottle here, it’s really delicious!

Gjirokaster (an incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Heading back north, I’d definitely recommend spending at least a day or two in and around Gjirokaster, the “Stone City”.  This amazing old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is incredibly atmospheric.

Here you will find some of the best examples of Ottoman architecture in Europe.

Wandering through the maze of cobblestone streets, past carpet sellers and artisans making clothes and jewellery, feels like going back in time.  

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The medieval castle perched on a hill is a popular tourist destination and offers fantastic views over the old town and its surroundings.

Bizarrely, inside the castle grounds, you will find a U.S. Air Force plane that crash-landed in 1957.  The aircraft was confiscated by the Albanian government, which believed that the Americans were using it as a spy plane.

Learn about the turbulent history of this fascinating little city by taking this excellent walking tour.

view-of-clocktower-and-mountains-from-gjirokaster-castle

Gjirokaster is also a fantastic place to take a traditional Albanian cooking class.

If you have the time and want to stretch your legs after all of the driving, there are several great hiking trails in the mountains surrounding the town.  Head to the tourist information centre in the main bazaar for maps and further info.

Gjirokaster is a really awesome place and definitely deserves to be on your Albania road trip itinerary.  I’d recommend spending at least one day here to see all the sights.

Berat

About three hours north of Gjirokaster, Berat is another well-preserved Ottoman city.

This historic town, known as the “City of a Thousand Windows”, is actually spread over two locations.  The lower area beside the river bank is called Mangalem, and this is overlooked by Kalaja which is dominated by a medieval castle.

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Albania road trip - don't miss Berat

Visit Albania runs guided walking tours of the old city which give a fascinating insight to the rich history of the area, and the city’s inhabitants through the ages.  These tours are really great, I’d thoroughly recommend joining one.

For accommodation in Berat, the castle itself contains a few guesthouses which are excellent and have fantastic views over the old town below.

From Berat, it’s an easy two hour drive back to Tirana.  On the way, check out Çobo Winery, a great family-run vineyard with beautiful grounds.

Suggested Albania Road Trip Itineraries

Here are a few example Albania itineraries to help you plan the perfect trip.

These all assume that you will be flying into and out of Tirana.  But because each itinerary is a loop, you could start and finish at any point.

bee-hives-in-albania

1 week Albania itinerary

With only one week, you’ll need to move quickly, but you’ll still be able to see a decent amount of the country.

Here’s the itinerary I’d suggest:

  • Day 1: explore Tirana
  • Day 2: drive to Vlorë, spend the afternoon and evening there
  • Day 3: drive over the Llogara Pass, check out Dhërmi beach, stay in Himarë
  • Day 4: spend the day exploring the local beaches (Gjipe is my favourite)
  • Day 5: drive to Sarandë, look around, then drive to Gjirokaster (via the Blue Eye, if you have time)
  • Day 6: explore Gjirokaster
  • Day 7: drive back to Tirana (via Berat, if you have time)

10 day Albania itinerary

With 10 days, you can either try to visit more places or spend a bit longer getting to know the ones mentioned above.

Either way, I’d recommend spending two days in Tirana to get a better feel for the city.

You could also spend a night in Sarandë, and visit Ksamil and/or Butrint if you fancy.

2 week Albania itinerary

2 weeks is an ideal length for your Albania itinerary.  In this time, you’d easily be able to visit everywhere mentioned in this post.

Here’s a rough suggested itinerary:

  • Day 1-2: Tirana
  • Day 3: Vlorë
  • Day 4: Llogara Pass, hike in Llogara National Park
  • Day 5: Dhërmi beach, Himarë
  • Day 6: Hike from Himarë along the coast, checking out the various beaches between there and Jalë beach
  • Day 7: Gjipe beach
  • Day 8: Sarandë
  • Day 9: Ksamil and Butrint
  • Day 10-11: Blue Eye, Gjirokaster
  • Day 12-13: Berat
  • Day 14: return to Tirana
livadi-beach-from-himara-castle

How To Get To Albania

Several airlines fly to Tirana from other European cities.  If coming from the UK, you can fly direct with either British Airways or Wizz Air.

I use – and recommend – Aviasales to find the best deals on flights.  Their search engine is really easy to use and often picks up on promotions and discounted fares that are missed by other comparison sites.  You can search across a range of dates, and it suggests the best dates and times for you.

Give it a try!  Click here to compare the cheapest flights available.

An alternative (and often cheaper) option is to fly to Corfu and then take the short (forty minute) ferry to Sarandë.  If you’re doing this, you can easily start your Albania road trip from here, and still follow the above route.

If coming from Italy, there is an overnight ferry from Bari to Durrës, which also takes cars.  I took this ferry earlier this year and it was great.  The cabin was super comfortable, and it’s a really atmospheric way to arrive in the Balkans.

From Greece, there are daily buses to Tirana from Athens and Thessaloniki.

How to reach Albania by road (with your own car)

Albania shares land borders with Montenegro (north-west), Kosovo (north-east), North Macedonia (east), and Greece (south/south-east).

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These borders are all open and straightforward to cross, making it relatively easy to reach Albania by road from other destinations in south-east Europe.

You can also take your car on the ferry from Bari to Durrës (above).  This is likely to be the most convenient option if you’re coming from Italy, or other destinations in western Europe.

(If you are also visiting southern Italy, spend at least a few days in Naples – it’s one of the best, and most underrated, cities in Europe.)

Where To Stay During Your Albania Road Trip

Albania is still a very affordable destination, by European standards.

Most locations have a variety of budget hotels and guesthouses and you usually won’t struggle to find a double room for €30 per night, including breakfast.  

They can be even cheaper in less touristy areas, as well as during off-season periods.  Popular places fill up during the summer months, so it’s a good idea to book ahead if you’re travelling then.

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Wild camping on the beach is usually my preferred option. It's also free!

Those travelling on a larger budget will find a number of luxury hotels and spas.

Booking.com is a good place to look for deals.

Click here to compare the latest prices.

Airbnb is becoming increasingly popular in Albania.  I’d always check out the listings on offer wherever you are planning to visit.  Sometimes the most beautiful places can be a steal.

Hostels can be found in the towns and cities which are popular with backpackers, including Tirana, Himarë, Sarandë, Gjirokaster, and Berat.  These are usually high quality and you can often snag a dorm bed for around €10 per night.

Alternatively, you can search here:

Camping

The cheapest (i.e. free) option is to wild camp, which is possible on many of the country’s stunning beaches.  You shouldn’t have any trouble doing this as long as you steer clear of the busier places.  

If you have your own car, it’s usually straightforward to find a secluded spot and pitch up for the night.  This is also one of the best ways to keep your Albania road trip itinerary as flexible as possible.

Don’t expect many facilities, but this is an awesome way to keep costs down.  Plus you get to fall asleep to the sound of the waves 🙂

Check out this article where I review the best tents for wild camping.

In short… One of the best tents that money can buy is the MSR Hubba Hubba 2-person tent.

Best Time Of Year To Do An Albania Road Trip

You can visit Albania any time of year.  However, the winters are cold (icy, steep, winding mountain roads = bad), and the summers very hot (and crowded, especially on the coast).  

The best time to visit Albania is either during the spring (April-June) or autumn (September-October).  The weather is pleasant, making it ideal for outdoor activities.  You’ll also avoid many of the crowds, and may even be able to blag some off-peak discounts for accommodation.

Berat
Best time to visit Albania: April-June or September-August

Albanian Road Trip Safety

Albania is a very safe country to visit.  Crime against foreigners is rare, and most Albanians are extremely welcoming and hospitable.

Petty crime does occasionally occur, though probably no more than where you live.  Take the same precautions as you would anywhere, and you’ll be fine.

Albanian roads are the only places where your safety is likely to be at risk.  (See next section.)

Car Hire In Albania - Localrent Albania

The best deals on car hire in Albania are usually found on localrent.com They compare the prices of local car rental companies, which tend to be significantly cheaper than the big international hire companies.

I definitely recommend that you check out Localrent Albania if you need to hire a car for your road trip through Albania.  Prices are often lowest if you pick up your rental car from Tirana Airport.

Click here for the latest prices.

Alternatively, you can use this tool to compare options:

Many countries’ driving licences are recognised in Albania.  If you’re coming from the UK, you can drive with your UK driving licence, without the need for an International Driving Permit (IDP)

Car hire companies may impose their own requirements, so it’s always best to check with them before arriving if you need to hire a car.

Driving In Albania

Okay, I know.  This is an article about how to plan an Albania roadtrip.  However, I ought to mention one thing:  

Driving in Albania is super fun, and the best way to see the country.  But it’s not for the faint-hearted.  Drivers can be aggressive (e.g. regularly overtaking on blind hairpin corners at three times the speed limit).  

If you’re a confident, competent driver you’ll be fine.  Stick to the limit, and if people are on your tail, just pull over and let the nutters past.

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Albanian roads

Some roads are in fantastic condition, others are not.  Beware of potholes, especially in rural areas.  And I’d avoid driving at night, as it’s much harder to spot animals/potholes in the road (and you’ll miss the amazing scenery).

Best Tours In Albania

You can browse through and book some of the best and most high-rated Albania tours on Viator.

There are many different tours to choose from. Some are short day trips with guides, others are multi-day (or even multi-week) trips where all of your transport and accommodation is taken care of. It’s up to you what style of trip appeals to you most.

Or, take a look at some of these options:

 

Enjoy your Albania road trip!

Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

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2 Comments

  1. Loved the articles. We’re planning to drive from Dubai to Oman in February and your road trip and advice is timely and helpful. We’ll let you know how it goes ????

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  • I’m Alex Tiffany.  Former corporate city robot; lifelong travel addict.

 

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