Have you ever considered to visit Tirana? Most people haven’t. First of all, few tourists visit Albania. Secondly, even if they do, they rather focus on beaches than cities. Nevertheless, Tirana’s a vibrant city with a lot to offer and here’s why you should visit it.
Charming locals in Tirana
Many nations are being said to be hospitable, but few can compare with Albanians. Since tourism isn’t well developed out there, locals aren’t used to meeting foreigners every day. They’re happy to see people are interested in their country and consider this interest as something special. Some of them get surprised when they come across travelers. They might ask why you decided to visit their country as if Albania wasn’t surprising enough for the answer to be obvious. If you show them your enthusiasm, they’ll feel happy and flattered. Most of them are proud of their culture while being modest at the same time, which creates quite a unique combination.
They’re also very warm and helpful. Just go to the streets of Tirana and ask someone for directions – most likely they’ll walk with you all the way to your destination. If you get into trouble, let’s say your phone’s out of battery, and you need to make an urgent call, just ask a random person on the street to borrow you theirs, and they’ll not only say yes but also be sincerely happy they can help.
Unlike in many touristy cities, in Tirana people don’t seem to care so much about pretending for the sake of attracting vacationers. Their support is honest, so is their warmth, smiles and welcoming attitude.
Cozy bars and cafés
The Albanian love for coffee is being expressed in obvious ways. Wherever you go in Tirana, you can see plentiful coffee shops, one lovelier than the other. In central parts of the city, such as the Blloku neighborhood or the Main Square and surrounding areas, you can find lots of cozy cafés with specifically designed interiors. Some of our favorites: Komiteti, a café combined with the museum; the Rooms, a cheerful and colorful place that can easily boost up your mood; a bit hipster-ish, adorable bar called Nouvelle Vague.
As soon as you get out of the center, you’ll find other kinds of cafés, simpler and more old-style, charming in a whole different way. That’s where locals go to sip their coffees without getting all fancy.
As for the nightlife, Tirana is not precisely a party city. There are only a few decent clubs, but you can easily find good bars. Many of them are sort of a hybrid, playing the role of cafés during the days and turning into bars in the evenings. If you’re into books and atmospheric pubs, we recommend the Hemingway Bar. For cultural events you can visit the Tulla Center, many concerts are being held there. If you like lounge bars with imaginative, modern design, Beirut should fit your taste. These are only a few examples, Tirana has many cool places. If you enjoy hanging out in bars, that’s your city. Just be careful – the number of alternatives and low prices can turn into a full-time barfly.
Cheap and delicious food
Tirana is a paradise for foodies. Many small restaurants are serving local delicacies, that’s where you can get a delicious lunch made of several different dishes for a price as low as 3the equivalent of 3-4 Euros. Don’t miss a chance to try fried kashkaval (cheese) or, in case you’re not vegetarian, order some grilled meat. You can also use the opportunity and have a taste of dishes characteristic of other countries. Italian cuisine is trendy in Tirana. The quality is as good as in Italy, but prices much lower. One example: Vita99, a restaurant specializing in Italian pasta. If you like to cook, you’ll enjoy the variety of fresh products you can find in Tirana’s small shops and street markets. Fruit, vegetables, and meat are perfect. No chemistry, all natural, brought to the stores straight from Albanian gardens. These kind of organic products are hard to find in other countries, and even if you do find them, they’ll have the “bio” label which makes them doubly expensive.
Tirana isn’t exactly beautiful. It doesn’t have Eiffel Towers or Big Bens. Its architecture is rather raw, and it won’t steal your heart at first sight. If you give it a chance though, you might find lots of interesting sites. You can’t leave the city without visiting the Pyramid, a famous, quirky structure from the communist times. The National Art Gallery has several fascinating exhibitions, including both modern and older art. You can wander around the Blloku neighborhood, visit the Clock Tower and the National Historical Museum. There are also several notable churches and mosques. To rest a bit of the city’s hustle and bustle, take a walk to the lake and stroll about the city’s largest park located beside it.
Tirana is a relatively new capital, established as Albania’s central city in 1925. Before it became what it’s now, the city went through numerous stages: years of the Ottoman rule, the World War I, the World War II and period of fascism, then finally turning into the capital and being ruled by communist forces. It hasn’t been long since the communism finished, but the city is now rapidly developing. Nevertheless, the evidence of its history is still to be seen all around. Some of the grey buildings were painted in bright colors, but many remain gloomy. Some streets were renovated, but many are in a terrible shape. Cars are still a new thing (until 1991 Albanians were not allowed to own private vehicles), so the traffic is crazy. Exploring Tirana’s history can be a great adventure, and it’ll help you to understand the city’s current state.
Lots of possibilities for day trips
Albania’s not a large country and Tirana’s located more or less in its center, so there are lots of options for pleasant excursions. Visiting the South might require more than one day, but you can easily make day-trips to nearby cities, such as Skhodra or Kruja (both of them have lovely castles). You may also visit Durres, a coastal port town; it only takes about an hour to reach it. Even closer is the Mount Dajti, a mountain standing proudly on the outskirts of Tirana (you can get there with a local bus). For nature-lovers, there are many beautiful places in the northern part of Albania. Valbona Valley National Park is amazing. It’s situated about 70 kilometers from Tirana. The same distance away there’s the Patok Reserve, a beautiful area on the coast. One thing you should keep in mind: the transportation isn’t always fast. Some places can be easily reached by buses, but to visit national parks, nature reserves, etc., you might need a car. Luckily, you can find lots of rental car companies in Tirana, and they aren’t costly.
There’s something about Tirana that makes it unique. As we have mentioned before, it’s not pretty. No cute little houses, no sparkling canals, no beautiful medieval churches, no Baroque castles – and yet it’s captivating. Its charm comes from the colorful crowd, from the eccentricity of architecture, from the mixture of old and new blending into one crazy entirety. You can see street vendors selling all sorts of surprising stuff on one side of the street and fashionable boutiques on the other. You can see the representatives of older generation slowly sipping their coffees in simple cafés and energetic youngsters chatting loudly in fancy bars. Car drivers abuse the horns making noise all the time, the traffic is insane, streets are full of holes – it’s wild, but if you have a sense of adventure, you can find this chaos somewhat fascinating. Even if some of the streets are gray, they seem cheerful when the lights are on in numerous bars, shops, and houses. Besides, the most important of all that is the temperament of locals, their warmth, humor, and hospitality – that’s what Tirana’s unique atmosphere is mainly made of.
Are you convinced to visit Tirana? Let us know! And share this article with your friends, so they too could hear about this bewitching yet over-looked city.