Albania is the best place most people have never heard about...
So where you heading on holiday?,” everyone asked.
‘Albania!!’ I said, with excitement in my eyes.
The perplexed looks I received were of genuine concern, confusion, and awe.
This was not the first time I had set off somewhere to an unknown destination no one I knew had ever heard of. One time I moved to China. Another time I planned a trip alone to Africa to go to Zanzibar for a few weeks.
For some reason, there is an idea that Albania is unsafe. I don’t know which gangster movie they watched, but tourism in Albania is increasingly more popular in recent years, crime is not tourist-related and World Nomads notes that it’s limited to petty crime (valuables, small theft). As a female solo traveler, it's really important to me to feel safe and the more blog articles by solo female travelers I read, the more comfortable I became with the idea of going alone there. I will say, if you've not traveled alone before to countries where it tends to be a bit unpredictable, then try somewhere easier like Spain or Portugal where transportation is on time and reliable and the guess work is taken out of it. I hate to use cliches but Albania is pretty off the beaten path so it's harder to buy tickets online, etc., but don't let that deter you if you're looking for an amazing holiday destination. Read more about staying safe while travel here.
You love budget travel. But why Albania?
THIS!! It's my happy place :)
Albania is one of my new top beach destinations and best unexpected surprises I’ve had in a while, after Croatia and Slovenia - both of which I hadn’t even considered visiting until I was living in Europe. I had some Albanian colleagues of a friend who showed me their beach photos of Ksamil and that's all it took!
Like many tourists, over the years, I visited Western Europe hotspots without venturing East of Germany or Italy.
Everyone goes to Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece for beaches, but Albania is not what most people dream about when they think of paradise beach destinations - even though it's on the Adriatic Sea. Fair enough. Since it’s one place people don’t know anything about. All the Albanians I met in Munich were such nice people I thought it sounded like a cool new place to explore and I was not disappointed!
But it’s nothing like I ever expected at all; Albania blew me away (sorry for the cliche!)
Here are the top 5 reasons Albania should be on every budget beach lover’s list
I've always been a budget traveler. So let’s get this out of the way since you probably found this article looking for cheap places to go. If you live in Europe like I do, you’ve probably been to the main summer holiday getaways and they're pretty pricy. Since I have been to most of those places, I am always on the lookout for someplace new and exotic to explore within Europe, which is why in recent years, I have ended up exploring Eastern Europe and the Balkans more. Albania gives you more bang for your buck every time and it's an amazing place.
So, what do I consider budget prices?
For me, a place where I can eat a full meal of seafood or meat, salad, and get wine or beer for EUR 5-10 per person. This ends up being roughly 1100-1200 LEK.
Most of the hostels included breakfast as well of fresh bread or toast, boiled eggs, tomato and cucumber, fig jam, and hot coffee.
I honestly never had a bad meal here and I can't say that about many places. There is a big variety of dishes and flavors and everything is delicous and fresh.
However, I think the biggest challenge in Albania is transportation, but this is what makes it an amazing place because it IS truly off the beaten path. If you are someone who NEEDS to be somewhere by a certain time, rent a car, but Albania is a country that moves a bit slower and it’s a bit more disorganized. However, be aware that driving in Albania presents other safety issues as drivers tend to be kind of crazy. Otherwise, public transport in Albania will drive you insane if you’re used to being on a tight schedule or somewhere with, you know, bus STOPS and you need to be in control all the time about exact times.
Schedules tend to change but here is an official site on the transportation or bus.
Busses are cheap in Albania and you can get all over the country, starting at about 200 LEK. The most expensive bus I took was 1000 LEK (around 8 EUR) from Gjirokastër to Tirana. Bus stations kind of end up being parking lots or the side of the road or in front of supermarkets, etc, and you tell the driver where you're going, and they charge you accordingly. The best thing to do is ask at the hostel/hotel, so you can go and wait for the bus. The drivers are super helpful, just tell them where you’re going and they will try to drop you off even closer to your hotel if it’s by the highway. I admit, this kind of approach is not for people who like to know when they leave and when they arrive. The busses don’t generally have bathrooms, and they tend to be microbusses that are quite old. If you like comfort, try hiring a taxi service. There are several online.
Here's one for shuttles so if you're with people and can share the price it could be a good option.
Here’s an expat site that details the bus situation.
Try KAYAK.com for car rental and you can even find something with insurance for around 25 EUR a day. Personally, I think the driving in Albania is a bit crazy but if you’re sticking around Ksamil in the south for example, there are plenty of beaches in the area and being able to drive there is very advantageous so you don’t have to pay for taxis from Saranda to Ksamil and the outer more hidden beaches in the area.
If you’re someone who is 100% set on sandy beaches, Albania is not for you. I used to think a ‘real beach’ had sand. One factor in the Adriatic that keeps some people away is that the Adriatic, beaches are mostly pebbles or small stones, with exquisitely clear water that is a deep azure or turquoise. I urge you to explore this notion that a beach has to has sand. Sand gets everywhere. It sticks to you. it gets in your swimsuit, in your shoes, sticks to your towels. It gets everywhere. everywhere.. This is how I fell in love with Europe's pebble beaches. You can stop on the side of the road where there's a deep lagoon and just dive in and jump out without having to clean off anything but the salt water. It's amazing.
My top beaches in Albania:
Dhermi - the best beach in my opinion but less accessible. You can take the bus from Vlore, Saranda, Tirana or Himara and let them know you want to get off at Dhermi. They let you off at the side of the highway and you can get a taxi down to the village or walk but that takes 20-30 minutes depending on you and how hot it is. There are various places to stay and it’s better to stay down by the beach instead of by the village as there is mainly a boardwalk with restaurants and bars. Dhermi is small and there is not much to do but it’s a beautiful and quiet place and great to go and relax with the best beach that never ever feels crowded. There are lots of sunbeds, and you can rent umbrellas for shade for around 7-10 EUR. I love this beach but the downside is getting back to your lodging involves almost always a hike up the hill somewhere if you don't have the money to stay by the beach.
Try this restaurant Vela e Barde
Himarë - this is a great place for activities, boat tours, restaurants. There are plenty of accommodation options that are affordable and many include breakfast as well. The public beach itself is decent but it’s a place to stay to be close to everything and there are many beaches in the area to visit as well. The food options there are fantastic and there is a nice evening beach vibe and lots of Albanians on holidays and the feel is nice.
Try Himara Seas the Day for awesome day trips around the beaches nearby. Absolutely wonderful and worth every penny.
Gjipje - accessible best by boat from Himarë either on a tour or you can also drive there but at the moment there is only camping so it’s more difficult to stay. Bring an umbrella or lots of sunscreen as this is a great place but it doesn’t have many shade options, but the beach is spectacular. There is one restaurant with great seafood and a few burger and snack places to get drinks as well.
Try the octupus salad at Restaurant Rrapi Gjipe.
Ksamil - this is a wonderful area with lots of different beaches. It’s very family-friendly and there are many shallow water areas great for kids. It’s a bit crowded in the summer but there are lots of activities, restaurants, beach nightlife. It’s easily reachable from Sarandë by bus or taxi. Everything is nicely within walking distance and the prices are pretty decent for lodging and it has a nice safe feel to it as well if you're traveling alone and don't want to feel out in the middle of nowhere.
From Ksamil, Pulebarda beach is harder to reach but you can take a taxi 20 min outside of town to get there. negotiate price. It's worth it!! go early if you want to get a sunbed.
3) Food and drink
Albanian cuisine is a fresh, delicious mix of foods from the region. If you like Mediterranean food such as Greek salads with feta, or Italian cuisine such as homemade linguine with seafood, or grilled fish or steaks and veggies, this place is like paradise.
There is plenty of variety to cater to any kind of taste and if you like wine, Albania has lots of wonderful options. There are many Muslims in Albania, and it’s easy to find Halal food as well if you’re looking for that.
Every meal we had was incredible and the prices are more than fair. Expect to pay between 5-10 EUR for a dish.
The people in Albania are absolutely wonderful and they have a very friendly and open culture. They’re so helpful and are extremely excited that you’re visiting their country. Funny enough, many people couldn’t believe that I’d been there 3 times already and recommended the country to so many people. We found that it was easy to get around with English, but many Albanians also speak Italian, and we also met many who had worked in Germany or France so I feel for many tourists it’s possible to communicate in many of the European languages as Albanian is not similar to other languages so don’t expect to understand much :D
Because of its geography, Albania has been part of many prominent civilizations including Byzantine, Greeks, Romans, Ottoman Empire, so there are plenty of amazing ruins to go visit. My favorites were Butrint where you can see an old amphitheater. Butrint National Park is right outside of Ksamil and you ca either get a bus or rent a car to get there. Check info here.
Albania has a very interesting history (albeit tragic in many cases during the last century) in that it was isolated for decades under a dictatorship. As a consequence, there are bunkers all over the country, including some in the capital city of Tirana, where you can visit.
In Gjirokastër, check out the castle. Check out the museum which holds thousands of years of history.
In fact, the whole city of In Gjirokastër is an incredible place to wander around.
There is really good food, awesome hostels, and plenty of cafes and outdoor bars and restaurants to walk around all day.
Make sure you bring water in the summer it gets HOT walking around the cobble stoned streets.
Amazing architecture and super nice people I loved my time there and wished I could have stayed longer.
For hostels, my favorite was:
Stone City Hostel Gjrokastar.
There is also a museum in one of them called Bunk'Art. In Tirana, I would always start with the free walking tour to get oriented with the city and the things to do there. Tirana is filled with cafes, museums, great restaurants, and a park on top of the mountain you can reach via cable car.
I love this restaurant it has a great atmosphere, great food and beer.
So those are my top reasons why Albania is one of my top European beach destinations. The people are wonderful, I felt safe, the beaches are amazing and the food is absolutely amazing, especially if you love sea food and wine! :) Read more about safety while traveling here.
Does Albania sound like someplace you would go? Have you ever been? Would you? Let me know in the comments! :)
ANDREA HUNT - Online Transformational Life Coach & EFT Tapping Practitioner based in Munich, Germany
I'm an accredited transformational life coach from Animas Centre for Coaching UK and a member of the International Coaching Federation. I'm also a Level 2 practitioner in EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) and a member of AEFTP (Association of Emotional Freedom Technique Professionals).
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