The Albanian Riviera is home to some of the best beaches in Europe. Its turquoise waters are warm, calm, and impossibly clear. And many of its best beaches are still largely undeveloped and beautifully unspoiled.
This post covers the best beaches in Saranda and the Albanian Riviera, from secluded coves to bustling resorts. It’s an area I know well, having spent over a month living here earlier this year.
This stunning little corner of Europe still feels wonderfully undiscovered. However, more and more people have started coming here each year. It seems like the secret is almost out about this amazing place.
Southern Albania’s spectacular natural beauty, incredible weather, and warm hospitality make it a perfect place for tourism. It’s only a matter of time before this really starts to take off here.
I strongly recommend you visit before this happens.
For now, prices are still low and you can have many of these incredible places virtually to yourself – especially if you come outside of the main high season.
Where is the Albanian Riviera?
The Albanian Riviera is the southernmost section of Albania’s Ionian Sea coast. It stretches from the city of Vlorë all the way down to the southern border with Greece, taking in much of Vlora County.
The beaches here are some of Europe’s best-kept secrets. As well as the vibrant coastal towns of Sarandë and Himarë, there are several picturesque villages to explore, including Dhërmi, Vuno, Jal, Borsh, and Ksamil.
Best beaches in Saranda
Saranda (also spelt Sarandë) is a major transport hub for the region. The town enjoys a fantastic natural setting, on a curved bay framed by mountains.
The beaches in Saranda itself aren’t the most beautiful or spectacular ones on the Albanian Riviera. However, they are still great, have plenty of facilities, and – crucially – are easily reachable without needing a car.
Saranda’s main beach is located in the heart of the town (known as Qender, or Centre, in Albanian). It’s the most popular beach in Saranda and is only a few minutes’ walk from the town’s most popular attractions.
The sea here is calm, crystal clear and the beach itself is surprisingly clean and nice, given its urban location, making it a popular spot for swimming. There are places where you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas, but this is a public beach so you’re free to bring your own stuff with you too.
You can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and jet skis from a few places along the front. There are a few diving/jumping platforms and lifeguards patrolling the main section of the beach. You’ll also see boards advertising boat tours, which usually leave from the main harbour.
The main Saranda beach runs east from the port, along the seafront promenade. This is a beautiful spot for a stroll at any time of day, but I particularly like it at sunset when the whole bay is painted with bright colours and the lights of Saranda can be seen twinkling around the bay and up into the surrounding mountains.
Head to Elvis Coffee Bar for a fun evening drink or two. This place has a great atmosphere, reasonable prices, and is owned by a (hilarious and genuine) Elvis impersonator.
From here, you’re only a stone’s throw from some of the best restaurants in town. My favourite is a place called Haxhi, which serves a range of Albanian and Mediterranean dishes, including delicious fresh local seafood. The waiters are lovely and the food is fantastic.
Private Saranda beaches
As well as the main (free) Saranda beach, there are a few private beaches and beach clubs in Saranda.
Technically, nobody can stop you from swimming at these beaches, whether you pay or not. However, you aren’t allowed to put your towel down on the beach or bring your own umbrella.
One of the most popular private beaches in Saranda is Mango Beach, located 3 kilometres south of the centre of town. To get there, you can either walk, take a taxi, or jump on one of the regular buses that run from Saranda to Ksamil (tell the driver you want to get off at Mango Beach).
If you have your own car, you can also drive there and the beach has a private car park that’s free for customers of the beach club.
At Mango Beach, you need to pay to rent sun loungers and umbrellas, and you can order food and drink to be delivered to your lounger. There’s also a regular bar and restaurant.
As you’d expect, the prices are quite inflated here. You need to pay 1,200 Lek (€10) for a couple of sun loungers and an umbrella, and the drinks and food are more expensive here than in town.
During the peak summer months, this pebble beach can get extremely crowded, so you’ll need to arrive early to ensure you get a good spot.
They have regular DJs and music playing throughout the day and into the evening. Personally, I prefer beaches that are quieter and more secluded, but if you’re looking for a lively beach party vibe, this is a great place.
If Mango Beach is too busy, check out Flamingo Beach which has a similar vibe and is the next beach along (in the direction of Saranda).
Plazhi Era is another private beach in Saranda. This one is much closer to the centre of town, just 5-10 minutes’ walk from the Port of Saranda in the western Kodrra neighbourhood.
The setup here is much the same as Mango Beach and Flamingo Beach. However, its location close to the centre of Saranda means this place can get particularly busy during the peak tourist season (June-August), especially on weekends.
There are plenty of sun loungers and umbrellas for rent here, as well as several cafes, bars and restaurants near by. The sea itself is shallow and perfect for swimming or snorkelling.
Best beaches near Saranda
Many of the best beaches in Albania are located in the area surrounding Saranda. Here are my favourites.
Beaches in Ksamil
Ksamil is a tiny coastal town located 12 kilometres south of Saranda, close to the border with Greece. From here it’s only 3 kilometres across the Ionian Sea to the Greek island of Corfu.
The small town (it’s more of a large village) lies around a sheltered bay. It’s known for its warm, crystal clear turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and picturesque little islands that lie just offshore.
The best beaches in Ksamil include Ksamil Beach (Plazhi Ksamilit), Paradise beach, Lori beach, and a small cove on the edge of the town known as Last Bay. You can swim from most of these beaches to the Ksamil islands.
However, here’s the thing with the beaches in Ksamil. While they are undeniably some of the most beautiful beaches in the area, they are also some of the most popular beaches to visit.
They can get very crowded during the summer which, for me, does spoil them a bit.
If you’re able to visit during the shoulder seasons (ideally May or September), you’ll probably enjoy them more. There’ll be far fewer tourists, and the whole place will be quieter and, well, just nicer.
There are many excellent hotels in Ksamil. Check out this post on the best places to stay in Ksamil.
Pulëbardha Beach is located just north of Ksamil, on the narrow strip of land that separates the Mediterranean Sea from Lake Butrint.
If the sandy beaches in Ksamil itself are too busy, this could be a perfect alternative. Framed by cliffs and with electric blue water, it’s an incredibly tranquil spot and one of the more secluded beaches close to both Saranda and Ksamil.
This beach isn’t totally wild – there is a simple restaurant and a place where you can rent sun loungers. But otherwise it’s pretty unspoilt.
It’s also fairly easy to access using public transport. Just take the bus that runs from Saranda to Ksamil (or vice versa) and tell the driver you want to go to Plazhi i Pulëbardhës.
You’ll need to walk (or drive) 1.7 kilometers along a little dirt track to get from the main road to the beach. But that helps to ensure it doesn’t get too busy :).
If you’re up for a short-ish hike along the coast from Pulëbardha Beach, I recommend also visiting the more inaccessible (and even more beautiful) Shpella e Pëllumbave beach. This hidden beach is really stunning and is one of my favourites in the area.
Plazhi i Manastirit
Plazhi i Manastirit (Monastery Beach) is located a couple of kilometres north along the coast from Pulëbardha Beach.
The two beaches are fairly similar. The main difference is that Plazhi i Manastirit is located a mere 200 metres off the main road, making it slightly easier to access.
It’s often slightly busier as a result, but is still much quieter than many of the other beaches in the area.
Krorëza Beach is one of the most gorgeous, completely untouched beaches on the Albanian coast.
It’s perfect for swimming, snorkelling, or simply chilling out.
The only catch is that this beach is only accessible by boat. You’ll find several operators in Saranda that include this and several other beautiful beaches on their day trip itineraries.
The village of Lukova (or Lukovë) is situated 20 kilometres north of Saranda on the main coastal highway.
Lukova beach is larger and has a few restaurants, tavernas and bars. You can hire sun loungers and umbrellas here for significantly less than in Saranda or Ksamil.
Rivers beach is smaller and (usually) quieter, but there are still a couple of little restaurants here plus a few guesthouses where you can stay.
If you don’t have your own car, you can get to Lukova village using public transport. From here, you have to walk the last few kilometres down to the beaches. Alternatively, you can try to hitch a lift (usually pretty easy to do in Albania) or flag a taxi if you see one.
Other beautiful beaches on the Albanian Riviera
Here are some other great beaches that I definitely recommend visiting too.
The 7 kilometre long Borsh Beach (Plazhi i Borshit) is the longest beach on the Albanian Riviera.
This is a popular spot for windsurfing, kayaking, and other watersports, and the azure water is incredibly clear.
Borsh is one of the places where tourism in Albania first started to take off in the years after communism. There’s a great selection of restaurants and beach bars, plus a pretty decent range of affordable hotels and guesthouses here.
It’s particularly popular with backpackers and budget travellers, although in recent years a number of upmarket places have started to appear here too.
The beach is big enough that, even at the peak of the summer tourist season (July-August), it’s normally possible to find a quiet spot.
Gjipe beach (Plazhi i Gjipes) is one of the most beautiful beaches in Albania, and one of my favourite beaches in the world. It’s relatively inaccessible, although this helps to ensure that it never gets too crowded.
The beach is hidden away in a small bay at the end of the steep-sided Gjipe Canyon. Surrounded by cliffs, the natural location is stunning, and the water here is clear, calm, and the most incredible shade of electric blue.
To get there, you have a few options. If you have your own car, there is a car park located about 1.5 kilometres from the beach, from which you need to walk along a rocky track to get down to the cove. Alternatively, you can take a boat trip to Gjipe beach from Himare (or Dhërmi) during the summer season.
Gjipe beach is an awesome place for wild camping if you have the right gear.
To learn more about this amazing beach (and Gjipe Canyon), including detailed information on how to get there, check out this blog post.
Potami beach is located on the very edge of Himarë and is the nicest beach in the town. There are a few bars here and you can rent sun loungers if you wish, but it’s still very peaceful and unspoilt, despite being easily accessible.
The water is clean, warm, and full of marine life. It’s a great spot for swimming, snorkelling, and catching the sunset.
I lived in Himare for just over a month and really fell in love with the place.
Another of my favourite beaches in Albania, Livadhi beach is located in the next bay along from Himarë.
The beach is about 1 kilometre long and is framed by cliffs, olive groves, pomegranate trees, and forested hillsides.
The view from Livadhi beach up towards Himara castle, perched on top of one of the hills, and the dramatic mountains beyond look like something out of a fairytale.
My favourite spot for swimming and snorkelling is the far right side of the beach (as you look out to sea). Head out to the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs and you’ll see countless fish, plus loads of other colourful marine creatures like starfish, urchins, and anenomes.
I used to come here most days when I lived in the area – it’s a really special place.
There’s also an incredible coastal hiking path that runs from here up along the cliff tops and connects Livadhi with a number of other fantastic beaches in the area.
Aquarium Beach and Jale Beach
Aquarium beach is a tiny wild beach hidden inside a crescent-shaped cove surrounded by rocky cliffs.
Jale beach is larger and more developed, but still really beautiful.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time at both of these places and they’re both great. Check out this detailed blog post on how to get to them.
Dhërmi is a particularly attractive village on the Albanian Riviera. It’s built into the hillside and is known for its gorgeous whitewashed buildings with orange tile roofs.
It’s a great place to come if you’re looking for somewhere a little quieter than Saranda or Ksamil, but still with plenty of facilities nearby.
Dhermi beach lies below the main village, at the end of a fairly steep (paved) road and is one of the most popular and beautiful beaches in Albania. This is one of the last beaches along the Albanian Riviera before you get to the mountainous Llogara National Park, and the views from here up towards the dramatic mountains are spectacular.
Dhermi is also one of the most upmarket beaches in the area. Here you’ll find a great range of high-end guesthouses, villas, and luxury resorts. It’s fairly pricey for Albania, although still much cheaper than equivalent places in nearby Greece.
See here for my pick of the best hotels in Dhërmi.
There are many excellent bars, restaurants, and cafes serving up delicious local dishes including plenty of freshly-caught fish and seafood.
Next door to Dhermi beach, the area around Drymades beach (which then becomes Palasa Beach) was, for a long time, a cheaper alternative. However, it’s currently undergoing a fairly major construction project, with several luxury hotels being built.
When I first visited Albania is 2015, I wild camped on Palasa beach and Drymades beach. It was awesome!
Sadly, however, this isn’t permitted any more. There are a few official campsites though (like this one) where you can pay to pitch your tent and use their facilities.
Fun fact: Palasa beach is sometimes called Caesar’s beach. Julius Caesar landed and rested his army here during his invasion of Macedonia in 48 BC.
Other must-visit destinations on the Albanian Riviera
The beaches in Saranda are definitely one of the main highlights of the region. But there are many other fantastic places to visit here too. Here are some of my favourites.
Llogara National Park
Llogara National Park is a wild area of rugged mountains and dense forests. Spanning an area of over 1,000 hectares, it’s home to some of Albania’s most spectacular scenery, with incredible views out across the Ionian Sea.
Llogara National Park is home to a range of wildlife, including otters, wildcats, wolves, vultures, and golden eagles. It’s a dream destination for hikers, nature lovers, and paragliders, as well as those looking for a peaceful place to escape.
The coastal road from Vlorë to Sarande (highway SH-8) passes through the park and is one of the most scenic drives in the Balkans. At the highest point – the Llogara Pass (1,043 metres) – you can enjoy breathtaking views all the way along the Albanian coast and across to the Greek islands of Corfu, Mathraki, Othonoi, and Soukia.
Porto Palermo Castle
Porto Palermo Castle is an impressive defensive fortress located in the bay of Porto Palermo, just south of Himara.
It was originally constructed by the Venetians in the 15th century, but was then largely rebuilt and fortified by Ali Pasha Tepelena – an Albanian ruler and Ottoman statesman who governed the region from 1815 to 1822. The castle is set on a small island, connected to the mainland by a thin causeway.
Porto Palermo is now a popular tourist destination and houses a museum with artefacts from Ali Pasha’s reign, ranging from weapons and tools to coins and jewelry.
This amazing historical site is an atmospheric and fun place to explore. You’ll discover secret staircases, gunpowder towers, dungeons, hidden underground chambers, and defensive cannons.
Butrint National Park
Butrint National Park is both a nature reserve and an archaeological site located just outside Ksamil in the far south of the country.
The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is made up of a network of wetlands, lagoons, salt marshes, freshwater lakes, and islands. According to UNESCO, Butrint has “a special atmosphere created by a combination of archaeology, monuments and nature” and is “a microcosm of Mediterranean history“.
Ecologically, the lush, green area is an important habitat for over 1,200 species of animals and plants, including dolphins, turtles, otters, kingfishers, and wild boar.
Archaeologically, the area is no less important. Butrint has been inhabited since around 50,000 BC (yes, that’s over 50 thousand years) and the site contains a large and varied collection of historical ruins. These include ancient Greek temples, a Roman theatre, Byzantine churches and tombs, medieval fortifications, and two castles.
The ruins at Butrint offer an incredible insight into Albania’s long and varied history and are well worth exploring for a few hours.
If you’d like to learn more about the fascinating history of this ancient city, and to gain a genuine and authentic insight into modern-day Albanian life, check out this excellent tour. You will explore some beautiful hidden gems and the experience includes a lunch where you’ll enjoy a range of delicious local produce.
Alternatively, there are several trails throughout the park that you can explore on foot or bicycle while admiring stunning views across Lake Butrint and out towards the Greek island of Corfu.
Albanian Riviera Hotels
There’s no shortage of accommodation options on the Albanian Riviera, ranging from simple budget guesthouses to luxurious 5-star resorts.
If you’d to stay in a place with lots of restaurants, bars, and things to do, I’d recommend looking for somewhere in Saranda or Ksamil.
See here for my pick of the best hotels in Ksamil.
If you prefer places a little quieter and more out of the way, check out Himarë or Dhërmi.
I always use Booking.com to search for and compare the best deals on accommodation.
You can also use this handy feature:
Best time to visit the Albanian Riviera
The Albanian Riviera enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine per year.
The most popular time to visit is during the summer (June-August). However, this is when the prices are highest and the beaches are busiest.
Personally, my favourite month to visit the Albanian Riviera is September. The weather is still great (but not too hot), the sea is warm, prices tend to be lower than during the summer season, hotels are less crowded, and it’s much easier to find good deals.
May and October are also great months to visit, with temperatures typically in the mid- to high-20s Celsius.
From late-October onwards, the majority of hotels, restaurants, bars, and tour operators close down for the winter. This period might be ideal if you’re looking for peace and quiet, and for those keen to snag bargain accommodation from one of the places that do stay open. But there won’t be much in the way of activities or nightlife.
How to get to Saranda and the Albanian Riviera
The nearest international airport to Saranda is Corfu. From here, you can catch a ferry to Saranda – it only takes around 30 minutes, and there are several departures per day in the summer.
Alternatively, you could fly to Tirana and either take the bus to Saranda (5 hours / approx. €10) or rent a car and drive yourself.
I recommend going for the self-drive option if you can. That way, you can explore the beaches of Saranda and the Albanian Riviera at your own pace, stopping off along the way, and it makes everything much easier.
Be sure to take the route that goes along the main coastal highway (SH-8), which is one of the most stunning roads I have ever driven on. If you have time, stop off at Gjipe Beach, Jale, and Himarë along the way.
Albania is an awesome country for a road trip!
Car hire in 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.
Alternatively, you can use this tool to compare options:
Many countries’ driving licences are recognised in Albania. If you’re coming from the UK or the EU, you can drive in Albania with your regular 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.
Final thoughts on the best beaches in Saranda and the Albanian Riviera
Whether you prefer your beaches lively and bustling or secluded and tranquil, the beaches in Saranda and the Albanian Riviera are a dream destination for a relaxing beach getaway.
The combination of impossibly-clear warm waters, great weather, low prices, and fascinating culture is an ideal recipe for a fantastic trip.
It’s easy to see why this little corner of Europe is becoming increasingly popular. If you’re looking for a truly unique beach holiday experience, these places should be well and truly on your list.
Come soon though, before the secret’s out!