We have a new favorite city, and it might surprise you: Tirana, Albania. Tirana isn’t exactly top of mind for jet-setters looking for their next destination, but maybe it should be. There’s plenty to do in this fairly large city, with scenic national parks, charming coastal towns and picturesque mountains just a short drive away.
Tirana is the perfect example of a city with a painful history that has embraced remembrance. The communist reign of Albania and dictator Enver Hoxha are preserved in the form of museums and statues all over the city. And while their presence is somewhat controversial, one thing is certain: Albania is committed to remembering its past.
With so many great things to do in this historic city, we’ve narrowed it down to our favorite things to do. Here are 17 awesome things to do in Tirana, Albania.
1. Visit Skanderbeg Square
Skanderbeg Square is the central point in Tirana’s city center. This massive pedestrian walking area is best known for “Monumenti i Gjergj Kastriotit.” This statue features Albanian military commander Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu, who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire.
But there is way more to Skanderbeg Sqaure than this statue; there is also an opera house, the National Museum of History, the Et’hem Bey Mosque, and even a carousel. With so many things to do in Skanderbeg Square, leave yourself plenty of time to browse around this bustling part of town.
2. Take a picture with the Tirana Sign
We know it’s a little cheesy, but we love taking pictures with city signs! The more colorful and artistic, the better! Tirana’s city sign didn’t disappoint. Located in Rinia park, this beautifully painted sign even has a red heart that you can sit in.
3. Visit a Bunk Art museum
We’ll be the first to admit that we are not typically museum people, but the Bunk Art museums looked too cool to skip. Situated in nuclear bunkers from Albania’s communist era, the Bunk Art museums document one of the most troubling periods of Albania’s history.
We visited Bunk Art 2 since it is located very close to Skanderbeg Square. It reconstructs the history of the Albanian Ministry of Internal Affairs from 1912 – 1991. You learn a lot about the “Sigurimi”–the political police responsible for doling our harsh persecution under the reign of Enver Hoxha.
4. Check out “The Cloud” art installation
We love seeing beautiful art as we travel, but sometimes it can be a bummer to have to pay admission to a museum. Tirana has a solution to that problem, commissioning “The Cloud” art installation in the city center. It’s completely free to visit, and it’s some of the coolest modern art we’ve seen in Eastern Europe.
This interactive piece of art was named the cloud because from far away, it really does look like a cloud! Composed of white cubes stacked on top of one another, you can climb to the top of this art for an even better view.
5. Visit the Pyramid of Tirana
The Pyramid of Tirana offers concrete evidence of Albania’s history. Constructed in 1987 shortly before the fall of communism, the Pyramid of Tirana now has a somewhat controversial presence in Tirana. The city is torn over whether or not to destroy it; some wanting it to serve as a monument to remember that painful period, others wanting it destroyed since it was built to honor dictator Enver Hoxha.
Today, the Pyramid sits in disarray. Windows are shattered, walls are graffitied, and shards of glass are all over the ground. History aside, it is definitely a cool building to look at. And while you can’t go inside, you can admire the building from outside.
6. Peruse the National History Museum
The National History Museum is an excellent way to learn more about Albania’s history and culture. Located centrally in Skanderbeg Square, this museum features a beautiful mural on the front of the building that depicts Albania through the ages.
7. Go Shopping at the New Bazaar
The newly renovated New Bazaar is just one of Tirana’s latest investments in updating the city. Located in a historic residential neighborhood, this bustling market features vendors selling everything from fresh produce, to meat, antiques and toys. Great restaurants and shops surround the bazaar, so there is plenty to do in this beautiful area.
8. Visit the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
The Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral is a beautiful church located in Tirana’s City Center. The church features beautiful stonework, and allows visitors to enter to see the church’s interiors. It’s well worth to see this beautiful piece of architecture in person.
9. Explore the Regency Casino
When we first walked by the Regency Casino, our first thought was: “Wow, what’s in that building? It’s so cool!” We were really surprised when we found out it was a casino. But there’s so much more than gambling here. There are also great restaurants and shopping, and a beautiful fountain pond out back.
10. Visit the Tirana Castle
The Tirana Castle is a historic fortress that has now been turned into an area with shopping, restaurants and art. This bustling area is a great place to take a night time stroll, plus there is live music playing a lot of the time.
11. Go Shopping at Toptani Shopping Center
The Toptani Shopping Center is one of the largest malls we’ve ever been in. With 8 stories of shops and restaurants, there are so many places to shop it’s almost overwhelming. Here, you’ll find shops for pretty much anything you need: Clothing, shoes, furniture, home goods, beauty supplies, etc. If you get hungry, check out the food court on the top floor.
12. Visit the Great Mosque of Tirana
The Great Mosque of Tirana is currently being constructed and when completed, it will be the largest mosque in the Balkans. With room for 5,000 people to pray at one time, this gift from the Turkish government is well worth a visit. We walked by it and it was still undergoing construction, but you could see how massive and beautiful it will be when it is done.
13. Grab a drink on the rooftop patio at Ges Tarrace
Ges Tarrace is one of the cool local spots that we discovered during our time in Tirana. It’s located on the 5th floor of a building about a 10 minute walk from Skanderbeg Square, and it is also right next to our Airbnb! We first spotted it from our living room window, and knew we had to check it out. It didn’t disappoint.
Stop by Ges Tarrace for a relaxing evening with beautiful views of the Tirana skyline. They have a full bar with moderately priced drinks, as well as a food menu. We ordered a beer and a vodka lemon and the total was 7 euros.
14. Hike to the Cave of Pellumbas
One of our favorite things that we did while in Tirana is hike to the Cave of Pellumbas. It’s located a short 30 minute bus ride from Tirana, and it’s one of the coolest hikes we’ve ever done! To get there, take the 7 AM bus from the Southeast Bus Station in Tirana to Pellumbas and get off at the last stop.
The hike takes about an hour to get to the cave. The trail is pretty steep and rocky during certain portions, so bring plenty of water and food. Once you arrive at the cave, you can explore inside. We used our iPhone flashlights, but we recommend renting headlamps. There is a small shop where you can rent the headlamps when you get off the bus.
15. Admire the Colorful Buildings
You can’t help but smile when admiring the cheerfully colored buildings of Tirana. We’ve never seen a city with so many colorful buildings, ranging from red to pink to yellow and so much more. Just by strolling around Tirana’s city center, you’ll happen across many of these buildings. Our personal favorite? The red building with yellow patterns pictured above.
16. Stay at a historic hotel
Tirana is home to some truly incredible hotels, many of which are located near historic sights or are even located in historic buildings. Take the time to learn about the area that you are staying in from the locals who are very happy to share!
When we were in Tirana, we stayed in an Airbnb to save money. But that didn’t stop us from wandering by all the beautiful hotels and learning from the nearby statues and plaques.
17. Take the Dajti Ekspres Cable Car
The Dajti Ekspres Cable Car offers the most breathtaking views of Tirana. Located a short 15 minute bus ride from the Tirana city center, enjoy the relaxing cable car ride up Dajti Mountain. Once at the top, you can enjoy drinks or food at the bar/restaurant.
Tirana is an amazing city with so many great things to do. Whether you are a history buff or a foodie, you’ll find plenty to love about Tirana. We spent an entire week in Tirana and there was no shortage of great things to do.
One of the first things we recommend doing in Tirana is getting some of the local currency. Many of the places we visited were cash only, so it was very helpful to have cash on hand.
Check out our video for more details on what we did during our time in Tirana:
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